Mel Gibson Breakdown (Literally)

July 8, 2011

I was in a brief discussion about how a lot of Mel Gibson movies seem to have Christ-like figures, or Christian messages in them.  They also have lots of ‘splosians.  Here’s a diagram so you can keep them straight.

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Interview with indie-popper When I Was 12

November 5, 2009

*cough* Hi… well, um, Twee is back, sorta.  You know?

Depending on which circles you hang around in, Twee is either hailed as “punker-than-punk“, or maligned as “music for bedwetters.”  Nevertheless, the most misunderstood pop genre continues to tout cuteness over coolness and has the market cornered on Growing Up Awkward.

Twee has always been the most unapologetically emasculate sect of “Indie”, but it always seems to hover, smirking, just on the outskirts of popular music.  It’s too catchy to ever be marginalized, but it’s just too fey for the trampy-or-macho American taste.  Pitchfork’s excellent essay of all things Indie Pop, “Twee as Fuck” said it well:

…”indie” and “alternative” became popular in precisely the hard-rocking, masculine, centralized form that indie pop usually shied away from. The mainstream honed in on the underground’s hard-rock side, and, acts like Superchunk and Modest Mouse would go on to become Important Bands; acts like Tiger Trap and Heavenly would, for good reasons and bad, fade into history. And there on the television, ironically, was the K-tattooed Cobain, still wearing his cardigans and covering songs by the Vaselines.

So there twee sits, like the kid not picked at recess, rewarding anyone willing to seek it out.

Maybe it’s because of the excellent Juno soundtrack, but twee artists seem to be on the rise again.  The playfull Architecture in Helsinki, sallow Vivian Girls, the spider-fearing Boy Least Likely To, and the self-referential spunk of Los Campesinos!, have all attracted the blogosphere masses in the past few years (and, oddly, a large number of television commercials to boot). Fast on their heels are artists like New Jersey’s When I Was 12 – producing the sonic equivalent of a painfully joyous (or joyously painful?) prolonged adolescence.

I ran across WIW12 searching a now-defunct music site and really enjoyed their aesthetic.  The endearing strum-hook-and-harmony style burrows deep into your head and doesn’t go away — like a library volunteer into Franny & Zooey.

Earlier this year their principle songwriter, Adrianne, was nice enough to swap a few Q&A emails with me before their first non-basement gig of her young career:

Brian B (BemBang): First things first… Who’s in the band, or is it a “swinging door” type thing where there’s a core and people come and add vocals and accompaniment etc?

Adrianne Gold (When I Was 12): First things first… When I Was 12 consists of two main members: Adrianne Gold and Camille Bayas. Then some other beautiful revolving members; our friend Brianne Evans did some harmonies on “Dear Eskimo” with her angelic voice, and my guitar teacher, Mike Yelle assisted with lead guitar. When we play live friends Jenn Diaz plays bass, and Will Samtur on drums. We are so lucky to know so many wonderful people.[ …] It’s been a little hectic we’ve been getting offered shows and things lately!.

BB: Good to hear you’re busy… I hope things are going well. Is there some sort of tour in the works? When I hear the name “When I Was 12″, I immediately think of both the charming and awkward aspects of that transitional age… was that the aim?

AG: We still have two more months of high school so we’re not exactly planning a tour but we’ve been getting offered a lot of shows lately! I suppose so about the name, I mean we definitely try to be charming and I definitely am a bit awkward!

BB: Ha. Since there’s not much info about you guys online I couldn’t tell if you were in high school, or if you were just channeling your inner-highscooler to write the songs.

Your music, lyrics, production, etc seem very attuned to what I would consider classic indie-pop/twee. That is to say; sweet, clever, and fixated on youthful experiences… even when the person singing may be 30+ years old.

Ha. You’re the real deal, apparently.
What inspiration do you draw from … musically or otherwise?

AG: We are the real deal! We write about things on a high school level because it’s what we know! It’s what we are familiar with. But like I said only until June! We are so excited for summer and then of course for college! We are inspired by so many things.

Camille really likes bands such as: Los Campesinos! Beirut, The Submarines, and Seabear. I on the other hand am insanely inspired by Bright Eyes (of course, who isn’t!) Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, and Saturday Looks Good to Me. We were actually just featured on an online mix CD, “Birdsongs, Beesongs – Eardrums Spring Compilation 2009″ and so was Saturday Looks Good to Me! So that was exciting to see!

Inspiration otherwise would of course include every boy i’ve ever known, even if only for five minutes. The boys who’s hearts I’ve broken, the boys who have broken my heart, and the boys who have yet to break my heart. Boys in bookstores, coffee shops, New Brunswick basements, and any other place you can imagine. However! I did write about my grandmother, “You Me & Symmetry” is about my grandmother, I love her. We still do arts and crafts together.

BB Hahahaha yes, the album is definitely heavy on the boy-crazy.
So…  you brought it up…  you’re from Jersey.

NJ tends to get a bad rap; some of that probably because you’re so close to the self-proclaimed cultural capital of the world.

Many big names spent time in New Jersey… , George Clinton/P-funk, Les Paul, Sinatra, Springsteen among them. What are your feelings about ‘repping from a place that has been home to many musicians but also the target of many a joke?

AG: Well I’m going to college in Philadelphia so soon i’ll have that rep and I can’t wait! It’s such a great area and so many opportunities arise there! However New Brunswick is a pretty fun area in New Jersey just last friday, we played a basement show there! Such a great vibe, I mean those are people who love and understand music! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for those at my high school!

BB: Congrats on going off to school next Fall… where in Philly? You’ve started playing a few shows in the area — will you be doing that this summer as well?

AG: Yes! We have a show tomorrow in fact, and then another one this coming friday and then the next! It’s all very exciting, I’m even starting to manage my stage fright a bit! I’ll be attending Drexel University actually so I’m absolutely pumped!

BB: That’s really cool that you were on the same comp as Saturday Looks Good To Me. How did that whole Birdsong, Beesongs thing happen? Are you familiar with any of the other artists on the album, or are they from all over?

Do you find yourself playing alongside / opening for the same bands… like, is there a like-minded scene in Jersey, or are you on your own singing to whoever listens?

AD: To be honest I am not sure how we were spotted but I am glad! The band Thunder Power from Omaha Nebraska on Slumber Party Records spotted us on the compilation and have now asked us to play a show when them they come through New Jersey touring! And we got invited to play a show in Brooklyn! We’ve been having so much fun and meeting so many wonderful people!

BB: What happens after this Summer. Will Camille be in the general area? Will When I Was 12 go on the back-burner once you start school up again?

AG: Camille will be attending Cornell, (Congrats to her! It’s really a great accomplishment!) On the contrary, once college begins, I hope When I Was 12 will be going full throttle! Because I write most of the music, melodies and lyrics, I am going to look for permanent members once I arrive on campus! You’ll have to wish me luck!


Hush Now

January 5, 2009

Rather than just talk about a band I would recommend going to see tomorrow night at Schubas, I asked Michael Hush, lead of pop-rockers Five Foot Nine, to tell me his favorite pop culture tidbits from 2008 (Now that it’s over).

Before I get all list-y, the Five Foot Nine play fresh, clever, well-arranged rock that most immediately reminds me of Brooklyn’s Bishop Allen. Both bands combine tasteful guy/gal harmonies, tight rhythm sections, and great sing-along choruses with charm to spare. Local swaggering glam-punk poppers The Handcuffs are also playing.

MP3: Five Foot Nine, “Back to the Tunnels” (file courtesy of Radio Free Chicago)

Here’s were Mike’s Pop Picks of 2008.

Books: as for fiction… Here are 3 novels that I really admired this year

  • Denis Johnson, “Tree of Smoke”
  • Michael Chabon, “Yiddish Policeman’s Union”
  • The Lazarus Project, “Alexander Hemon”

Movies:

Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky

  • The Visitor
  • Frozen River
  • Happy Go Lucky

Music:

  • Los Campesinos
  • Bonny Prince Billy
  • The Hold Steady

Commercial:

  • Probably Holiday Inn Express spot where the geeky marketing dude displays his dope rhyming skills on the corner in NY…

Pop Culture Moment:

  • got to be Grant Park on election night


Did You Get That Memo: Office Culture is Pop Culture

October 9, 2008

(Originally posted last February on the UR Chicago site but no longer accessible.  I had to save my baby).

Can you believe it’s been nearly a decade since Office Space? That’s roughly 36 financial quarters of bad Lumberg impressions and Swingline stapler jokes. The unforeseen longevity of a movie like Office Space -– a cynical look at corporate drones — stuck with the American audience long after its theatre run. Though the defining modern corporate farce is getting old, it seems like “life at the office” has become an increasingly prevalent touchstone. A new breed of unflinching, cynical, critical, tragi-comic and sometimes downright depressing office themed productions have hit a cultural nerve.

There have always been the silly corporate comedies and hyper-real farces a-la Office Space, Dilbert, and (can I throw in) Fred Savage’s short-lived Working, but it seems the new crop of pop-culture corporate landscapes have a biting, sad, desperate underpinning. What’s the deal?

The obvious jumping-off point is NBC’s excellent adaptation of The Office — a satire that turns a documentary-style camera on the lives of paper salespeople in first-world Nowheresville. It’s a show that’s both funny and melancholy — simultaneously hilarious and hitting a little too close to home. You’ve also got the inanity of Carpoolers, a silly single-cam show that’s the brainchild of Kids In the Hall graduate Bruce McCulloch. If you flash back 50 years and add some slick suits, the politics, binge drinking and philandering could easily be that of the sloganeering Madison Ave execs of AMC’s period drama Mad Men.

Elsewhere in the business world, author Matthew Beaumont documents the hilarity of London’s fictional Miller-Shanks office in a story told strictly through exchanged e-mail in e. If the U.K. doesn’t hit close enough to home, local cube dweller Joshua Ferris is getting stellar reviews for Then We Came to the End, a wry comedic novel chronicling the dismantling of a Chicago ad agency.

Of course, I can’t get too far into an office-themed blog without mentioning OFFICE, the group of former Chicago worker bees who produced a killer EP, quit their day jobs, and now professionally churn out bouncy pop tracks with some seriously sardonic underpinnings. Elsewhere in the music world there’s been a huge response to the National’s CD, Boxer. The album, with equal parts charm and anxiety, chronicles the Willy Loman-esque slide of a modern corporate worker into a nostalgic shut-in.

So if popular music, books and television are meant as means of escapism, what’s to say for an audience that’s developed an interest in fictionalized versions of working stiffs? Is the emergence of corporate-themed amusements just a mere coincidence, a blip on the radar, or a hint of more to come? Whatever the explanation, the subject matter has resonance and the writing is good, so I will continue to ignore the inherent irony of hanging around the office every week to talk about The Office.