Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Currently listening to: Gluecifer, "Automatic Thrill"

Hmmm, I just don't quite know what to make of Gluecifer these days. Their 2002 "Tender Is the Savage" CD is one of my all-time favorites. I love the dirty Thin Lizzy meets AC/DC hooks, Biff Malibu's manly swagger, the call-and-response background vocals. I actually wore out my first copy of it within six months. I have never worn out a CD before; to do so within six months, well, you can imagine how much I had been playing it.

So when "Basement Apes" was released the same year, I tried to like it, really, I did. But it was just so sterile sounding compared to the loose rawk they had perfected on previous CDs. But eventually I just couldn't deny it: It sucked.

Did the fact that they had signed with Sony have anything to do with it? What about bass player Jon Average quitting the band? Did they make the fatal mistake of believing their own myth? Likely it was a combination of factors, much of it having to do with signing to a major label and then either being coerced, or making a conscious effort to produce a hit. The fact that their distinctive background vocals disappeared indicates that Average had been a vital component in their sound.

Now they have a new CD, "Automatic Thrill." Like many of their fans (if you believe what's written in their guestbook) I was truly hopeful that they would go back to that heavier sound. Well, they did. It's loud, it's fast, and it's pounding -- and it still manages to go in one ear and out the other. "Tender" (itself considered a sell-out by their earliest punk-loving fans) gripped me right away and wouldn't let go. "Automatic Thrill" has yet to do that -- even after repeated listens. It's pleasurable enough when it's actually playing, but when it's over, there's nothing that makes me say, "damn, I've got to hear that again." None of the riffs stick in my head and bug me the rest of the day (though "A Call from the Other Side" and "Put Me on a Plate" come close). In other words, I doubt I'll ever wear this one out.

One problem, oddly enough, seems to be too much volume. In their quest to turn it up to 11, they've muddied those great hooks into a wall of feedback. The music in general seems uninspired, as if their main goal was to make a CD that's better than "Basement Apes," as opposed to a CD that's good on its own terms and makes the listener forget comparrisons altogether.

Of course, I'm willing to admit that I may have turned into the kind of fan I always hold in derision: One who can't stand it when a favorite artist tries something new.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Currently listening to: The Duke - Georgia Tech game

If you know anything about North Carolina, you know how rabid we are over basketball. Or, rather, how rabid most of us are. I enjoy watching a good game, but I almost never make a point to watch a particular game. This year, because we're covering the ACC Tournament at work, I've had to watch the whole damn thing. Luckily it's been pretty exciting. Tech's last-second, game-stealing score against UNC even had me up on my feet cheering. I have nothing against UNC, mind you; I just like to root for the underdog (and, yes, I know Tech was higher-ranked, but in North Carolina, anyone but UNC or Duke is an underdog).

I got off on that tangent as a segway into discussing the Esquire article that names Raleigh as the fourth most rocking city in the U.S. It's not out yet, so I haven't had a chance to really look at it and determine how informed their decision is. But the general consensus among local scenesters is two-fold: 1. Why did they pick Raleigh and not the Triangle in general, and 2. Why the hell is Pittsburgh No. 1?

I've never been to Pittsburgh, so I can't say if the accolade was deserved. Don Caballero is from there, and I understand the city has good Polish food (something you definitely can't find in North Carolina). With a quick Web search, I found pittsburghrock.com, which perhaps offers a few clues.

On the Raleigh issue, I'm a little more qualified to pontificate. Esquire reportedly cited Ryan Adams, Ben Folds Five and Cherry Valence as the reasons Raleigh is on the list, which doesn't make much sense to me. Cherry Valence is an obvious choice. They're easily the most popular band in Raleigh, and, thanks to their constant touring, their national profile is beginning to rise. Ryan Adams is a little less likely. Though a lot of people hate to admit it, Whiskeytown really did put Raleigh on the map with the alt-country crowd. But since he's gotten famous, he's had almost nothing to do with the local music scene. And, really, why should he? If you can hang out with Keith Richards, there's not much to gain from hanging out at the Jackpot. Ryan is a product of Raleigh (really, Eastern North Carolina) but he's been molded by so many other experiences that you really can no longer call him a Raleigh artist. Just like you really can't can Axl Rose a Lafayette, Indiana, artist.

Ben Folds Five is the real puzzle here. Folds himself is from Winston-Salem, and the band really got going in Chapel Hill. Now Folds lives in Australia. Evidently the Esquire folks picked Ben because the band had a No. 1 hit. If that's the case, they should have added Squirrel Nut Zippers -- another top-selling Chapel Hill band -- to the list.

The thing is this: Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill all have distinctive musical communities, as do Greensboro, Charlotte, Wilmington and Asheville. But the Triangle cities are so geographically and spirtually close together that they're really more like different neighborhoods in the same town. They feed off of, and rely on, one another. Ten years ago, the idea of a Chapel Hill sound was pretty silly to those of us who lived here. Now the same can be said about Raleigh.

So, who should have been on the list? For the life of me, I can't figure out why Austin wasn't No. 1 on the list. Not only is it chock full of bands, clubs and creative people in general, the town itself holds SXSW, one of the biggest music-industry events in the world. And what about Detroit, which has a storied history and is experiencing a renaissance thanks to the White Stripes.

My guess is that the Esquire folks decided upon their favorite musicians and then decided to see if there was a geographic link. I'm willing to bet that three staffers -- one a 40-something jazz fan, one an urban hipster and one a Dave Matthews Band fanatic -- sat down and brainstormed ways to deal with a special music section that was foisted upon them by the higher-ups. This is their compromise, which will sell issues and garner publicity, but won't do much for their cred.

David Menconi did a good job of explaining the hubub in his N&O article, which, by the way, also includes a pretty cool slide show and audio of some of the bands who really are the best around here.