A Look At The Cure


As anyone reading along will know, I have been fascinated by The Cure lately.  I have always liked them, but I think I understand their career better than ever before.  They are so much more than what their media reputation would have one believe.  An incredibly adventurous band with a strong enough personality to tie together an ocean of sound.

It is so common in the press to reduce things down to a one dimensional cartoon.  Either through luck or savvy,  Robert Smith and his band work on that level, but it’s a strange trick that they can be as experimental as they are and still hold a simple image in the collective imagination.  It allows the casual fan in while giving them the freedom to really do whatever they want.  You can always recognize The Cure, but they are as stylistically varied as Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.

Often viewed as a musical Tim Burton cartoon, though Tim Burton was influenced BY them, they are often reduced to goth or gloom or post-punk.  Music for the sad teenager hiding in bed.  They can work this way, but it is horribly reductive and only hints at what they have accomplished.  They often incorporate the psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, the dark artiness of The Doors, the cold drone of Joy Division, yet are probably more diverse than any of those bands.   (I don’t mean more groundbreaking or better.  But they are as unique and they belong to be mentioned with other great musical acts.)  They are a classic rock band with roots in the post-punk scene.  Play The Hanging Garden, In Between Days, The Funeral Party, and Six Different Ways back to back.  Aside from Robert Smith’s vocal and a sense of atmosphere, think of how different those tracks are.

Although Disintegration might be there masterpiece, The Head On the Door might be the album that best sums up their career.  At 10 songs it contains many of the various highs that their career holds in one short package.  It might not contain one of their epic six minute-plus glacial paced distorted downers that the band seems to incorporate on many of their later releases, it might not do one thing as great as some other albums, but it does everything well that’s there and provides the listener with an idea of where they can go.

They really have so many great records.  I love the dark animalistic blood lust of Pornography, the beauty of Disintegration,  the post-punk mausoleum of Faith, the varied and sometimes poppy melodies of Wish, and really most of the things they do.  Even later albums, which many fans don’t deem as great as their 80’s stuff, are full of treasures.  They always do something unique to themselves with each album, even when they aren’t breaking new ground.

I have mentioned that no matter how diverse their material is, that they always have a personality and aound.  First Robert Smith’s vocals are alway identifiable.   If you are going to like them you need to get on board with his voice, as it is a constant.  Even though he can sing with variation there is never any mistaking who is singing.

They also always create a sense of atmosphere.  Even their guitar based songs are often drenched in palatial reverbs, delays, and choruses.  Even on their relatively dry (for them) self titled album there is a sense of space.

I think more than anything they are involved in world building.  Each song is its own little cinematic experience.  The best of movies, even when they are fantasies, set up their own believable set of rules.  Even if reality is different, there is an internal logic that seems true to itself.  The Cure are like that.  There songs rarely touch upon reality in the way cinema verte does.  These little mini movies and symphonies that they create at the very least have a heightened sense of reality to them.  Sometimes their work goes all the way out to fantasy.  But even when they are at their realest, there is a sense that the emotions and senses are heightened.  You are getting an emotion, and emotions are always slightly abstract, in the extreme.  This is why they are often wrongly pegged as music for teenagers.  But music should be emotional and that is why they have made so much great music.  However, unlike so much of pop music, which is often aping emotion, you always get the sense The Cure are being true to themselves, that they are obeying the internal logic of their creations.  Even at their most fantastic there is an element of their work that stays true to the human heart.  This is why their music is outside of time and always relevant to someone.

For All My Sisters Review


I really like the new Cribs album For All My Sisters a lot.  It’s pop music in the best sense.  Pop music as played by rock band.  Despite the fact that the band is from England, there is something California about their new record.  If not for the accents on the vocals, there is something about this record that can be traced on a musical family tree back to certain elements of Weezer and even the Beach Boys.  I’m not saying that is intentional, or that there aren’t stylistic differences, only that there is a melodic sense that is somehow sunny and often melancholy a the same time.

The album is produced by Ric Ocasek who also produced Weezer’s Blue and Green albums, and also their excellent new album Everything Will Be Alright In the End.  As I said, there are definitely some melodic moments that recall Weezer, although The Cribs have been delivering great melodies since the start of their career.  However, while Weezer, for the most part, have an easy mass appeal, despite their idiosyncrasies, The Cribs new album is more cryptic.  Despite being melodic, the guitars are more jagged, more angular.  Even their extremely melodic vocal hooks are more elusive, less singsongy.  This is rock n roll pop music filtered through British post-punk.

One of the things that Ric Ocasek does time and time again is get great guitar tones.  He does this without doing anything seemingly complex.  Aside from a couple of synth parts and extra backup vocals, there is almost nothing on this album that the three piece Cribs could not reproduce live.  Hearing a guitar overdub that plays something different than the main guitar line is rare.  Mostly it just sounds like one guitar part doubled.  If you listen to this album, the Weezer albums, or even the Bad Brains God of Love, Ocasek is able to create deep textures through guitar distortion.  He is able to take something incredibly simple and turn it into an aural painting.  Where guitars can often sound flat, he creates an incredible amount of depth, a warm swimming pool that the listener can pleasurably dive into.  This is a big deal, especially for a three piece band.

Despite the album being full of hooks, there is not anything as instantly memorable as earlier Cribs records.  There is no song that has a chorus as memorable as the song We Share the Same Skies, for instance.  This doesn’t necessarily work against it, as the album holds up on repeated plays.  The album is enjoyable on the first listen, but it is definitely a grower.  I know that I have said several times that is is incredibly melodic, and it is true that the album has very glossy production, but there is a slight sense of artiness here, just below the surface, that keeps the album from being swallowed too easily.

If I had to criticize anything, it would be that the lyrics haven’t really opened themselves up to me yet.  That’s not to say that they are bad or unintelligent.  They do not get in the way of my enjoyment either.  It’s just that, despite the album having a classic rock mix, the vocals are not buried like they are on many other indie rock records, the vocals seem part of the music more than the centerpiece.

The Cribs have consistently been at that crossroad where indie, pop, rock, and post-punk collide.  I am partial to this kind of music, but I think anyone that likes to hear guitar oriented rock music with great melodies would like this as well.  They are not doing anything groundbreaking, but they put the ingredients together in a unique way that gives them their own sound and personality.  The fact that they do have their own personality does mean they are able to expand the form on the margins, and that alone is worth something.

Vini Reilly’s Chronicle

One of my favorite guitarists is Vini Reilly.   Under the moniker the Durutti Column, he has released a vast amount of deeply emotional and often beautiful music.   The music he makes is hard to describe, because any description makes it seem less unique and engaging then it truly is.  He switches between insturmentals with songs that feature sampled voices, female singers, and his own soft whisper of a voice.  The music is mostly slow, hypnotic, and trancelike.  It can often be more akin to listening to classical music than pop music, although there are pop hooks in some of it.  It is almost always beautiful and calming, even if there is often also an aspect of melancholia to it.  It has much in common with some of Brian Eno’s work, but Reilly’s guitar almost always brings an unmistakable sound to the proceedings.  Unlike a lot of mellow or ambient music,  that may be great at creating a mood, only to dissipate when it comes from the background to the foreground, Reilly’s work holds up under closer inspection. 

Reilly is a a guitar hero whose technical abilities are always used towards the aim of emotion first.  It is extremely melodic and textural.  When he plays electric he often has a echo like sound that bounces around the aural spectrum.  Unlike many that drench their guitar in reverb and delay, Reilly can really play.  His use of effects helps create his signature sound and always adds to the feeling of what he is playing. 

Reilly was a fixture in the Manchester post punk scene.  Often undervalued, and being prone to depression, Reilly has had many hurdles to overcome.  However, he has always turned his struggles into beautiful art. 

The newest Durutti Column album, Chronicle, is a worthy addition to his cannon.  If you buy it digitally you get 25 songs for the price of one record.  This album would serve as a great introduction to his music.  As a whole it is as strong as almost anything he has done, even if there no single piece that rises to the heights of some of his most well know pieces like the song Otis

The original Chronicle was meant to be a piece that served as a retrospective to his life.  Between the initial premier of some of the music and the final release, Reilly suffered a series of strokes and the end of a long term relationship.   Reilly, someone that always seems to preserver despite being deemed fragile by many, reworked the material and recorded new pieces after these hardships.  He even had to learn to play guitar all over, despite being told by doctors that he might never play again. 

Other than the deeply emotional qualities of the work, one would never know that this album almost didn’t come to be in its current form.  It ranks among his best work.  There are people that write songs and there are people that just are music.  Reilly is of the latter description.  Every time he plays you feel as if his soul is laid bare.  This is exquisitely beautiful stuff.  Whether you get this album or something else by him, his work deserves a place in every music lover’s collection.  

Check out the song Synergetic on YouTube for an idea of how beautiful this music can be.  I am unfortunately on the road and cannot embed videos until I am home. 

Kiss Me Deadly

Billy Idol has a new record out.  A band I’ve really come to like over the last year is Idol’s first band Generation X.  At the time they existed they were accused as not being authentic, but the music speaks for itself.  Bob “Derwood” Andrews guitar playing is especially fantastic.  Also check out Andrews and his band Empire, who were only around briefly in the wake of Generation X, but influenced a great deal of the Washington D.C. punk and post-punk scene.

The Creativity of 80’s Post-Punk

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of early to mid 80’s punk, post punk, and hardcore.  I know that there are some of you that can’t get into that music for the dissonance involved.  To me it is just so pure.  It’s like industrial folk music.  It’s like a primary color.  You can’t dilute the stuff.  It is also music that is full of ideas.  So much of what passes as punk nowadays is bland.  It’s like pop music with loud guitars.  This stuff was primal.  I was born in ’78 and didn’t even start getting into records till the very late 80’s, so it’s not like I’m viewing this stuff with rose tinted glasses.

There were certain punk bands like Minor Threat and the Misfits that made it into my world as an adolescent, but a lot of the great bands from that era didn’t.  It seems like music was more regional then.  A lot of the East Coast bands seemed to be in my friends’ older brothers’ record collections, but ones from the west coast didn’t have as much of an impact on us in our youth. (I grew up in Pennsylvania.)

A lot of this stuff is also really interesting musically.  It used punk as a jumping off point, but wasn’t punk in the way that it is often thought about now.  This stuff was artistic, even if the working class kids that made of lot of these records weren’t thinking in necessarily an art school kind of way.  Maybe a better word would be creative.  It was creative music made by creative people.

I mean what do you make of the Bad Brains?  They sound like space aliens at warp speed.  I don’t even know if they played songs most of the time.  It’s more like four guys got together and created the sound of a mechanical whale breaching.  I don’t think their early recordings could be recreated.  They are almost like someone captured a one time natural event.

Listen to the guitar playing in the band Embrace, Ian MacKaye’s project between Minor Threat and Fugazi.  It’s so melodic, but it’s almost liquid in form.  As soon as you try to pin it down it changes shape.

Or take a listen to Black Flag’s My War.  At times it veers closer to Black Sabbath than true punk music, but that’s the thing, the really great bands from this era didn’t have rules.  It could be extremely political or it could be garish fun like The Misfits.  All this music is the sound of individuals expressing themselves.

I am an obsessive music fan that will spend hours some nights just combing the internet looking to stumble upon a new sound or a great new band.  I really really want there to be great new bands.  So many nights though, I end up hearing style over personality.  There are many bands that can create cathedrals of sound, only for those cathedrals to be hollow at the center.  I am not looking for any specific thing, other then that thing that once you hear it, you know what it is.  It’s the sound of someone expressing themselves as best they can.

We are dropping bombs on other nations.  There are people dating naked on our television screens.  People are having trouble finding meaningful work.  Doesn’t anyone have anything to say about what’s going on?!!!

Embrace and Ian MacKaye

Growing up I was influenced greatly by the east coast punk, post-punk, and hardcore movements.  One of my my heroes was Minor Threat and Fugazi singer Ian MacKaye.  Although I had heard of them before I only recently discovered MacKaye’s short lived band Embrace, which only ever put out one album.  Those of you that are fans of any of MacKaye’s work will find that Embrace is simply outstanding.  It is more melodic than most of Minor Threat and Fugazi.  However, the guitar work by Michael Hampton is completely incendiary.  Check out song two on their album, Dance of Days, up above.  Those of you that love post-punk and hardcore will find a singular sound here.