May 4, 2009

Hockey, chocolate milk, SI

This post is long (unintentionally, but long nonetheless), so buckle up:

The new Art Brut album has three major things going for it:
1) The title.
2) The lyrics.
3) Frank Black's production.

About the latter: it almost sounds like a Pixies record.

Not that Art Brut sound anything like Black Francis' old band, but he handled the production as if he were producing the Pixies. Guitars, bass, vocals sound squeaky clean and distinct in the mix. Maybe the only thing that sounds un-Pixie-ish (how's that for a word) are the drums, which are sloppy and sort of muddled. But that might be intentional, because the rest of the album sparkles.

Take this song from an older album and compare to this song, "Alcoholics Unanimous." That bass bounces in and out clearly as if Kim Deal herself were plucking it. On another song on the album I noticed lead guitar lines that reminded me of something like Joey Santiago's solos on "Vamos" or "Bone Machine."

That's not to say the Bruts are musical virtuosos. Far from it, but that's not really the point. They're a fractured, shambolic garage band at their core. Something like a nerdier British Hold Steady or Replacements (to whom they dedicate a song on this album).

"Alcoholics" kicks off the album, and I was hooked right away. I don't know if it was the music or the lyrics, but they both just work (especially the backing parts: "I've been making mistakes/ Lots of mistakes!/ I'm hiding it well/ Not very well!/ But I don't feel great/ Last night we tried to warn him!").

The second song, my favorite, is called "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake." It's an ode to youth. Or arrested development. Or something: "DC comics and chocolate milkshake/ Some things will always be great/ DC comics and chocolate milkshake/ Even though I'm 28/ DC comics and chocolate milkshake/ I guess I'm just developing late/ DC comics and chocolate milkshake/ I never got over that amazing taste."

I always hear the phrase "deceptively simple" bandied about regarding bands like this. But I think it's a BS term that doesn't really mean what people think it does (does it actually mean that it's difficult even though it looks simple, or vice-versa?). So I won't use that to describe them. I think a better term here would be "willfully simple" or even "coyfully simple" (if "coyfully" is even a word).

I remember seeing part of their set at Pitchfork a few years ago and walking away unimpressed. Seemed like bullshit to me, with bandleader Eddie Argos prancing around up there like a jackass and not singing, but kind of talking, over punk music. But I was also dehydrated and on the other side of the park. I'm glad I didn't write them off.

Argos seems to revel in sounding, on the surface, like a jerk who can't sing or can't write more than a few chords, but there's obviously something deeper there.


That little review was longer than I expected, so to my other point quickly. I recently purchased the David Halberstam-edited Best American Sportswriting of the Century. It's got some solid pieces, including a nice W.C. Heinz piece on Red Grange that I loved.

But so far, the one that intrigued me most was this one called "The Making of the Goon" by Johnette Howard (it's the second piece posted there, I couldn't find a legitimate copy). It's the only hockey piece in there (I think) and it is what it says it is, so I won't explain it any more.

Considering how much of Halberstam's book is about boxing (a whole section devoted to Mohammad Ali), it's kind of disappointing but not surprising that the only hockey story they can muster is about a fighter and, oh, not about superstars like Steve Yzerman or Wayne Gretzky, or about what I think might be the most difficult in the sports world (goaltending).

And then today I stumbled across this similar piece on the Washington Capitals' Donald Brashear, from the Washington Post. It's in the similar vein of "humanizing the hockey enforcer." It's good, but again, I wonder: can anyone write a good piece about hockey that isn't about goons? Anyone?


Finally, I bought the Zach Greinke Sports Illustrated yesterday, just so I could read Joe Posnanski's feature on him (for anyone not in the "know," he's now my new favorite sportswriter...seriously, if I could subscribe to the Kansas City Star I would just to read him, but they don't go this far south).

It's the first time I've purchased one in a long time - maybe three, four years.

The quality of the magazine has gone down, as Tony noticed on this space before. They ran a 10+ page feature on surfer Kelley Slater. Which is fine, except but the cover story on Grienke was two pages. And there's lots of filler (like 20 pages of BS in the front) before the actual articles. They could have done away with all of that crap and made each article longer and more substantive.

Disappointing, for a former subscriber.

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Blogger Tony said...

I wrote off Art Brut at Pitchfork!

May 4, 2009 at 9:48 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

I think we all did. Maybe you led the charge. I don't remember. Like I said, I was dehydrated and didn't actually watch the set close-up. I do remember finding it "meh."

May 4, 2009 at 9:55 PM 

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