This Temporary Life

Love and rock are fickle things

REVIEW: Pissed Jeans – Honeys February 23, 2013

Making adult music for adult people can be a difficult thing. I, personally, adore two of the best bands doing it, The National and The Walkmen, and yet I completely understand those who don’t like it. Those two bands (The National especially) are bands for middle-class boredom, in which you have sex with people who you don’t love, drink too much wine, pretend to laugh at the jokes of people you hate, and sleep at night by taking one too many sleeping pills. There’s beauty in that. “With my kid on my shoulder I try / not to hurt anybody I like / But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out,” Matt Berninger sang on “Afraid of Everyone,” on the last National album, High Violet. The sentiment is something that is relatable, but it’s hard to really understand for a lot of people.

Where are the working class anthems for the worst parts of adulthood? My favorite of them is “The Jogger,” a tone poem of sorts off Pissed Jeans’ second LP, Hope For Men. “Promenade / The jogger / Piece of cake / Racquetball / Hiking trip / The jogger / Whole Foods / Matching outfit / Ford Explorer / The jogger.” The moment I heard that song, I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I think, when you read it, you do too. It’s a grimy, filthy, human version of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier,” behind a wall of Melvins-esque noise. Hope For Men was an album for adults like Jason Bateman’s character in Juno, who’s wife used his old Soundgarden shirt as a grungy shirt to paint in, who’s had to sell out and get a real job to make a go at a “real life.” Pissed Jeans are by no means a success story: four albums and 9 years in, frontman Matt Korvette still works as an insurance claims adjuster, trying to hide his other life from his coworkers, he said in a recent interview. One might take an issue with that fact, but the way I see it, they’re a band that thrives due to its connection to banal minutiae.

Four albums in, Pissed Jeans have done little to change their sound. They have, however, honed their craft in a really interesting way. Where Shallow was a bit of a sloppy, cacophonous mess, the band has steadily refined their messiness, to the point where that clutter is nearly collected into easy-to-navigate piles. Listening to Honeys makes you feel like the last 15 years never happened, and that the grunge movement is alive and screaming, even if it has seen its hairline recede a little bit. Korvette is only 30, but it’s clear that he’s got a firm grip on the issues with growing up and being forced into growing up. Through all the fuzz, it’s hard to pick out everything, but key phrases and themes (such as that of Fight Club style fantasy murder) that present themselves for digestion. There’s a line, about halfway through the album on “Cafeteria Food”, that sums a lot of things up: “Hey there project manager / I saw you eating cafeteria food / I know that seems like like a healthy choice / I argue that isn’t true.” The song itself is a lumbering mass of bass fuzz, and it does nothing but enhance the bile in his words: “You think you’ve got it all figured out, except where to send your kids to school.” There’s a Bukowski lite tone to his anger on the song, and the album in general, where each bitter line is a mix of pity and jealousy, even if it can’t ever decide which it wears better.

Pissed Jeans are a bitter pill to swallow. Even when you enjoy their music and what they’re saying, like the anti-misogynist screed “Male Gaze,” it’s hard to really connect with the music in a meaningful way. You shouldn’t take this as me detracting from the raw power of the band, and how truly awesome Honeys is. They fill a very specific gap that has been missing in music, and even as a sweatervest wearing dad, I click a lot with the visceral imagery and energy of the band’s drunken, angular wailing. You have to come at the band with the right angle, or else you’re just going to view them as a bunch of meatheads wailing on their instruments for no good reason. If you’re willing to let them into your heart, Pissed Jeans are going to fill the same hole that they fill in mine, and you’re going to find yourself trying to figure out just how to tell people about them. If you don’t understand their music – and I’m sure a lot of you will find yourself in that position – I would suggest listening to Slings + Arrows again, and going back to your desk.

 

REVIEW: How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion February 20, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — TemporaryLife @ 2:32 am
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We fade away.

When I was 13, I used to take daily walks on this massive trail that went near the apartments we lived in, which took at least an hour-and-a-half to traverse. Along this trail was a very short tunnel that went under a road, and one day, I noticed that there was something doodled in that tunnel: “so much blood from such a tiny little hole.” I am young enough that it was incredibly easy to simply go home and look that lyric up, and I discovered that it was from “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails. Not long after this, I went to Fred Meyer to attempt to buy this album – only to be turned down because, really, who wants to sell a Nine Inch Nails record to a 13-year-old? “My parents won’t allow it – they’re Nazis,” I told the clerk, who looked to be maybe four years older than I was. She didn’t budge. It wasn’t a big deal – I had the thing, I just wouldn’t buy it. This story is unique for me because, unlike the experience of choosing between Muse and Modest Mouse, this decision did nothing to affect my personal time line. In fact, if pressed to tell you what I bought instead, I probably couldn’t – what happened after I was unceremoniously denied was nowhere near as important as that act. This story is nothing compared to the inner struggle of Trent Reznor, and even in the pit of despair that I seemed to have taken up Vegas-style residence in, I knew that there was further down to go – and Nine Inch Nails was it.

Over time, Nine Inch Nails became a background companion in my life. I ho-hummed with the best of them about what a weak release With_Teeth was, and rejoiced at how truly good Year Zero was (confession: I stole that record from Fred Meyer after it came out, as a small bit of revenge. It is only now that I remember that I stole it along with a copy of Se7en, which actually had Nine Inch Nails music in it – how strange!) I sat atop the stairs in a house in Northeast Portland, attempting to download the surprise release The Slip, before giving up and simply going down the street with my laptop to get it from somewhere that had WiFi. I never got the chance to see NIN, but something about Trent Reznor’s music has always brought me a small degree of comfort, despite the fact that I likely would not include them in my Top 20 favorite bands. To me, this is the best way to enjoy those records: at arm’s length. Those are albums you didn’t want to truly get inside you.

Once NIN was over, Reznor started doing truly incredible things. He won himself an Oscar and a Golden Globe, for the score he did for The Social Network, David Fincher’s too-good-for-words Mark Zuckerberg biopic. Then a Grammy, for score for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He defended the necessities of the major label, and started up a brand new band, with his brand new wife, former West Indian Girl vocalist Mariqueen Maandig and long-time collaborator Atticus Ross, called How To Destroy Angels. After two EPs, it was hard to really grab onto the difference between Nine Inch Nails and this new outfit, other than the fact that there was a woman singing the songs instead. The churning, industrial aesthetic was still there – just with a different voice. However, now, there’s a full-length album to show us what they’ve all been up to.

Welcome Oblivion clearly picks up where The Slip left off. On that album, Reznor somehow tapped into a strange dissonance, where everything was clearly industrial in nature, but the beats and blips sounded like they were grown, rather than created. “Keep It Together” grows out of muddy downbeats, and the energy of the track feels like it was raised from infancy right before your very eyes. There’s a sickly, lurching calm in Maandig’s voice as she whispers over the sputtering: “I can not keep it together,” she repeats, joined solemnly and unassumingly by Reznor. It’s disorienting, and it’s hard to shake a feeling that there’s something hanging just above your head, or right behind your back, not waiting to strike, but ready for something. “And the Sky Began To Scream” feels this way as well, though it feels like a monster underneath your bed – and that monster is just as obsessed with the wobbler bass effect that you and Mary Ann Hobbs. These are not songs made for dissent – these songs are made for slightly fucked up lovers. This is a feeling that’s hard to shake when, a lot of the time, Reznor creeps in, just there in the background, where you know he’s there, but you can’t quite get him in focus.

Then something out-of-nowhere happens, and five songs in, “Ice Age” shows up. Do you remember, about halfway through Portishead’s Third, when a ukulele song shows up? This is exactly like that. Sweet little strings blip in and out, as Maandig coos about the ocean, and the color of your eyes. It’s a lot creepier than it sounds, but after the tracks before it, it’s a song that feels a lot like whiplash, especially when she sings a line like “Sometimes the hate in me is keeping me alive.” It feels even crazier when we dive back into the world that we were in before, with “On The Wing,” which is just as subdued, but with a vocoder’d haze to go with it. The height of energy comes in the form of “How Long” and “Strings & Attractors,” which present themselves as being tracks that could have been club bangers in another life, but are happier being here. That energetic peak only lasts for 11 minutes of the album’s 60-minute run time, until it dives back into the haze and honey.

Welcome Oblivion never quite rises out of that haze – though this isn’t a bad thing. How To Destroy Angels is another version of the truth that is Nine Inch Nails, if that truth were really obsessed with Loveless. On the slow-burning, seven-minute closer, “Hallowed Ground,” the band sees you out with a wash of static feedback and whitewash, and by the time that track finishes, it’s hard to even believe that it was seven minutes. That’s exactly how the entirety of the album feels – it never feels like you’ve spent an hour on the record, which is definitely a very good thing. Those first two EPs might have felt like a sign that Reznor had lost his edge, but the reality is miles away from it. It feels like, instead of losing his edge, he’s just found a brand new, increasingly interesting edge.

 

 
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