About spydabass

I write words in a music way

The End.

So yeah, this blog is done. It’s been over a year since my last update. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

I guess it’s pointless to point this out now, since most folks that read my stuff have assumed as much by now and moved on. But I think there are still a few lil buds who subscribe to this RSS feed and are waiting patiently for more reviews. Maybe one or two people.

So to them I say: you won’t get them. Not here. But I am still writing them! I keep my Tumblr updated almost daily with capsule reviews mixed in with longer reviews and in-depth posts on stuff I care about. My big project right now is Digital Get Down, a teen pop review blog I started earlier this year. I still love writing about music and plan on doing it for a good long time.

Just, y’know, not here.

I am writing a “farewell” post only because this is a blog I maintained for almost 6 years, a blog that used to be the only place I felt comfortable saying how I really felt about stuff, a blog that sparked my interest in music writing as a young little 18-year-old man. I wrote lots of garbage over the span of 5 years, garbage that I intend to keep up here forever and ever cuz I like reading it and cringing. Lots of embarrassing overhype and swear words and insulting bands I’d never heard. 5 years of me figuring out how to write about music, stumbling and scraping and puking all over myself and occasionally doing OK.

It was fun. I will miss it.

Before I close up shop forever, I would like to give you an impression of where my head is at right now. About all this music writing business. Because I am going through a heavy “I have no idea what the heck I am doing” phase that I am struggling to fight my way out of and I need some time to make sense of it. This seems like a decent place to try.

When I started this blog as a youngman I didn’t intend it to be a music blog. It became a music blog because music was the one thing I loved more than anything. So it became the one thing I wanted to write about more than anything. That is it, really.

The process was simple. I listened to music, music slinked into my heart & filled it with A-grade love, and that love made writings come out.

Music love fueled me and I wanted to let it out any which way I could, to share it with as many folks as possible, to make people feel the same love I was feeling. This, to me, was what music writing was.

I was cool with this for a while.

Edit: I was REAL cool with this for like five years??

Edit: I was so SO cool with this that during those five years music reviews were all I could write with any degree of confidence and enjoyment. So that was all I would write. Nothing else.

But y’know. After a while the doubts started creeping in. The self-conscious no-good badfeels.

Those voices. “You’re not a real writer. You’re just a music writer. If those R.E.M. albums didn’t exist what would you be? Nothing. You would be nothing.”

“You’re piggybacking off other peoples’ talent. People more talented than you. You don’t have an original thought. You’re a cipher. A leech.”

“What are you gonna say about the Rolling Stones that nobody’s said before? Who cares. Give up. Give up give up give up give up give up give up give UP”

It got to me. It got to me bad.

I had two options. Kill the music and live life as a loveless husk, or kill the writing and let the music love build up in my heart and never ever let it out. Ever.

The choice was clear.

I killed the writing.

And so I became a nothing. A zero-sum music sucker. A sad hermit sponge too afraid or depressed or lazy to write anything, to let anything out.

This lasted for… well, too long. Way too long. Until the beginning of this year, I was barely writing anything. And I was unhappy. I was letting the love build up inside of me and giving it nowhere to go. It hurt. It was a worthless time. It was nothing but bad.

But it’s ok! I am doing better now. Things are better.

I am writing more & feeling better about writing more. This is all well and good.

But I’m still worried. Worried that those negative apathetic badfeels could screw things up again, that even the slightest unenthusiastic reaction to something I write could send me running back into my cocoon. This is a worry that I am still fighting down, as much as I hate to admit it.

I am still learning. I am learning that feeling love for a thing without expressing it & letting it out to the world is bunk. That second guessing your love, letting dumb weird brain voices make you feel like a silly idiot & stop you from shooting that love at other people – that is only going to hurt you. Hurt you deep. That hey, you might not be alive for much longer so you’ve gotta get this shit out and let people know you care about something before it is too late. That’s all that matters.

I am not over this yet. Not by a long shot. But as long as I keep loving this thing, I am going to keep fighting as hard as I can to let you know about it. That is all I can do.

Just, um, not here.

That’s all, folks. Thanks for reading. If you requested an album review here at some point there is a pretty OK chance I’ll end up reviewing it on my Tumblr, so keep an eye on that thing. Until then, I love you.


Album Review: “Folie A Deux” by Fall Out Boy

What do I think about the last Fall Out Boy album ever released!!

You’re going to find out!! And you’re excited.

– My respect for Patrick Stump somehow grew in leaps and bounds after he got famous, gained a lot of weight and started trying to sing like the Maroon 5 guy.

– I swear to fucking god “Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet” is an Andy Partridge impersonation. What else could it be?? That “sniffing bottle glue” line, listen to it again. It is a strange thing to hear, considering I spent most of 2005 hiding in my dorm room devouring XTC records just to get away from bands like Fall Out Boy.

– Or I could just be hearing things. Or I could just be a big fat baby

“What A Catch, Donnie” is an Elton John-styled piano ballad with Elvis Costello chiming in to sing the chorus of “Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet” for reasons impossible to understand. It features a Hey Jude-styled fadeout with guest singers from fellow Fueled By Ramen bands wistfully singing the choruses to older Fall Out Boy hits, including “Sugar We’re Goin Down” and “Grand Theft Autumn”. As if they were anthems of a dying generation. Not as strange as Pretty. Odd., but close.

– So, so close.

– They must have known they were breaking up, right?

– My perverse fascination with this record stems from nothing but my perverse fascination with trends in pop music the instant they become outdated. Now that Fall Out Boy have become an artifact, “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” warms the cockles of my heart in a way it never could have when I was 18.

– And college nostalgia. Do I even have to mention that “Sugar We’re Goin Down” became an inescapable hit right when I started college and “What A Catch, Donnie” whimpered onto the radio right when I graduated??

– The answer is “yes.”

– “I Don’t Care” is likely the greatest song this group of men could possibly hope to write. I don’t even mean that in a condescending way! It’s a good one. Compare Stump’s vocals on almost any song on this record to “Sugar We’re Goin Down” and you will see what I am aiming at here.

– “20 Dollar Nose Bleed” is catchy piano horns! What’s with that garbage spoken word outro, fellas.

– I honestly haven’t listened to this album all the way through and I am not going to now, so

Album Review: “Pretty. Odd.” by Panic! At The Disco

Oh no.

Is it possible to start a positive review of a record with those two words? Have I blown it already? Can I profess my intense admiration for a record while being baffled by its very existence? Is there still room for a “what in the hell were they thinking?”, or more appropriately, a “who in the hell thought this was a good idea??”

The answer, I think, is yes. Yes! Yes.

And so, Pretty. Odd.

Context. Pretty. Odd. was released at the tail-end of 2000s mainstream rock’s brief mid-decade obsession with classic rock, kicking off with Green Day’s Townshend homages in American Idiot and reaching its inescapable apex with the Killers’ Springsteen-ripping Sam’s Town and My Chemical Romance’s Wall-esque concept album The Black Parade. And, from the looks of it, those mall-punked teenagers of yesteryear Panic! At The Disco (I don’t remember if they still have the exclamation point in their name and I don’t feel like looking it up right now) killed that era dead. Cold dead. And all because, at the drop of the hat, they decided to make their own Sgt. Pepper’s!

“But Sean,” you might say. “Who CARES if Panic tried to rip a dad-band like the Beatles? The Killers ripped Springsteen, and they’re still huge and the best!” Point taken. But despite their blatant homages, bands like the Killers and My Chemical Romance didn’t alter their approach on those albums much – they just pulled some dad-rock influences out of a hat and grafted them onto their established radio-grind sound. There wasn’t much at risk, is what I mean; Killers and MCR fans weren’t being pushed into uncomfortable territory.

That is not the case with Pretty. Odd. Not at all. With the exception of Brendon Urie’s “Patrick Stump Jr.” vocals, there is not a single song on this record that sounds anything like the radio-friendly, modernist death march of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. No processed guitars, no dance beats. This is nothing but 60s psychedelic pop pastiche, through and through: sub-ELO piano pop, strings, mellotron, harpsichord, mandolin, fade-out singalongs, honkin’ horns, and even a fiddle-driven country-rock excursion called – I shit you not – “Folkin’ Around.”

First of all – alright. Who – okay. I have so many questions about this record. Questions that will never be answered, ever. Who’s idea was this? Who was anxiously awaiting a Beatles-esque 60s pop album out of a band like Panic! At The Disco? Who allowed this to happen? Was the whole band into this idea, or was it just one guy that made the rest of them play along? Who was the intended audience, here? Panic! at the Disco fans? Did the band seriously think that consciously, obviously ripping off the Beatles would gain them even a modicum of respect? Are they that stupid??

I am coming off condescending here, but let’s not beat around the bush – I am absolutely, utterly fascinated with Pretty. Odd. Obsessed, even. I remember listening to it once when it came out and letting it slink by without a thought; my instinctive hatred of bands like Panic! got in the way. The wounds were still fresh, you see. But even then, I remember begrudgingly admiring the band, if only because they had almost consciously decided to release a record that their fans would hate. “Good for them!,” I thought, filing the record away forever.

But Pretty. Odd. stayed with me, and after putting it on again last week on a whim, I was stunned to find my admiration turning into intense, intense enjoyment. I was actually cackling to myself, listening to this record, and it wasn’t mocking laughter. Years separated from the odious sting of Panic!’s popularity, I can finally appreciate Pretty. Odd. for what it is.

How do I explain this. This record is so fucking weird to me. And not because of the music, but where the music is coming from. You know how most indie rock 60s pop homages come from musicians with a studied, encyclopedic knowledge of 60s pop tropes? People who have had these influences ground into them since birth, to the point where they have become obvious cliche? That is not the case here. Pretty. Odd. is the sound of a bunch of kids hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the radio for the first time and saying to each other, “Hey! That’s neat! Let’s do THAT now!!” without realizing that everybody on planet Earth has already done it. This is no Psnoic Psunspot. There is a naive enthusiasm here that you are not going to find anywhere else.

If this sounds like a nightmare to you, well, fair enough. Let’s get the obvious issue out of the way – Brendon Urie is not a good singer, and he is not a good fit for this material (I have never before heard a singer who somehow manages to sound pitch-corrected even when he’s singing naturally). This is not a genre for him. But otherwise, it is hard to deny the enthusiasm and love that was obviously poured into this record, as misguided an artistic choice it may have been.

I mean, they cover so much ground here it’s kind of ridiculous. Every psych-pop cliche in the book, from goofy self-aware band introductions (“We’re So Starving,” featuring the hilarious bald-faced lie “You don’t have to worry, ’cause we’re still the same band!”) to McCartney-esque throwback 20s pop (“I Have Friends In Holy Spaces,” replete with fake vinyl scratches) to regal Left Banke baroque pop (“She Had The World”). Almost every track has an over-the-top, call-and-response Hey Jude-style fadeout, culminating in the pretty guitar ballad “Northern Downpour.” And then there’s maybe my favorite track on the record, “Behind The Sea” (sung amiably by guitarist Ryan Ross, who has a considerably more bearable voice than Mr. Urie), which ends with a full minute of Van Dyke Parks-esque takin’ a stroll string music. This, coming from the same band that wrote this song.

Maybe Pretty. Odd. only has any impact in context – hearing the turgid, hookless A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out immediately before this is a remarkable experience indeed. And it only gets more interesting when you learn that Panic! will likely never release another record like it again; immediately after Odd‘s commercial disappointment, Ryan Ross and Jon Walker – the two guys mostly responsible for the sound of this record – left the group due to artistic differences. And now the split is clear: Brendon Urie wanted to do this, and Ryan Ross wanted to do this. Mystery solved.

If I seem strangely overzealous about a Panic! At The Disco record, it is only because I am rarely faced with a record that forces me to question my own taste. Am I so in love with the concept of a Hot Topic-flirting emo-punk band throwing away their palm-muting antics and making a their own SMiLE that I don’t even care what the music sounds like? Am I such a sucker for goofy catchy melodies that I don’t care if it’s delivered with a slight degree of intelligence? And I that weak??

It’s entirely possible, but at this point I don’t care. Pretty. Odd. is genuinely one of the strangest, most out-of-left-field records to come out of a mainstream rock band in the past decade, and for that I feel it deserves a little more recognition than it has gotten. It is a tremendously entertaining record that was guaranteed to appeal to almost nobody upon release: Panic! fans didn’t want to hear a bunch of corny old people music, and 60s pop fans didn’t want to listen to a fucking Panic! at the Disco album. The only group Panic! pleased with this record, I can imagine, were their dads. And I hope they were very proud!!

Album Review: “Songs From Northern Britain” by Teenage Fanclub

Sweet, sweet melody. Glorious fat melodic guitar. Love songs for long-lasting marriages. Pop songs to hug a wife to.

Songs From Northern Britain is a domestic pop album. It is music that comes from people who sound happy, satisfied, and grateful for what they have – three traits that were grossly uncommon in rock music in 1997. It’s an album that marks Teenage Fanclub’s transition from a power-pop-grunge outfit to a full-blown sweet kiss band for sweet couples, a transition that would only deepen with every subsequent record released since.

It’s a transition that makes sense to me. As much as I love Bandwagonesque, hearing the Fanclubs sounding like a bunch of hip longhair grungers doesn’t jive well with me. Youth and insecurity don’t become them. Songs From Northern Britain refashions the band as a group of good-hearted grownups, doggedly releasing 60s-esque guitar pop records year after year with little or no regard to current trends in popular music. That, in a nutshell, is how I want to forever view Teenage Fanclub: a bunch of old Scottish men nobody cares about.

This is not to say Northern Britain is tame, or boring, or monochromatic. It is twelve beautiful pop rock songs emboldened by clear, strong production and lovingly melded vocal harmonies. For an album swathed in domestic bliss, there is an unexpected sense of immediacy here – “Start Again” wastes no time in grabbing the listener. Hooks latch on to you and don’t let go. Songs hit the heights of sweet pop glory (the straight-up Byrds tribute “Ain’t That Enough”) and downplayed subtle grace (“Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From”) with equal aplomb. Songs From Northern Britain is the rare kind of comfortable pop record that doesn’t make you think, “well wasn’t that nice?” There’s more to it than that.

Worth mentioning – there are three songwriters/vocalists in Teenage Fanclub. I didn’t realize this until I read a few reviews mentioning it. They’re one of the few bands I’ve seen that started off having one primary songwriter (in this case, Norman Blake) and gradually blossomed into having three individually-credited songwriters sharing equal tracks on every album. Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Ray McGinley each get four tracks here, and they sound so thematically in-sync with each other that it’s almost uncomfrotable.

As far as I can tell, Fanclub records after Songs From Northern Britain skew in a more low-key, comfort-food direction, which is fine. They are only getting older, after all. In the meantime, please enjoy the following six-year video time jump:

Album Review: “Fathering” by Mark Mulcahy

So if you have come to know me in any respect over the past year you might be aware that at some point I made an attempt to list – and explain – my top 25 albums of all time. I stopped at #9 almost a year ago and never finished it, because you know, this is me we’re talking about. I’ve tried to bring myself to take initiative and actually write up the last eight albums since (the list itself has been finished for a long time and is sitting in a Notepad file somewhere) but no, no. Nothing. Too late. At this point there are so many albums on that list I would toss out – and glaring, inexcusable omissions that haunt my dreams to this day – that it isn’t really worth it.

Of all those glaring omissions – and there are lots of them, not included for one dubious reason or another – none was more inexcusable than Polaris’s The Adventures of Pete and Pete soundtrack, a record that I actually already reviewed a few years back. Reading that review again (or skimming through it – it’s hard to me to stomach stuff I wrote when I was 20), it’s obvious that I was making an attempt to disclaim my love for the record right off the bat and chalk it up to nostalgia as kind of a safety net. But the truth is that my love for those 12 tracks only grew after that review was posted, to the point that even those last four tracks I casually dismissed in the review I now view as maybe the four most important songs on the record (“Ashamed Of The Story I Told” and “As Usual”, in particular, standing as two essential pieces of melancholy). It might have just taken on a new meaning after I graduated from college and found myself alone and painfully nostalgic, but nevertheless The Adventures of Pete and Pete soundtrack has ingrained itself so deeply into my musical self-conscious that it embodies a fragile, hopelessly contemplative part of myself that no other record can hope to touch.

Why didn’t I include it in my list? Because it was music from a Nickelodeon show for kiddies and I felt weird about it. Welp.

And so we have Fathering, former Polaris singer/songwriter Mark Mulcahy’s first solo outing after Pete & Pete‘s cancellation in 1996, which somehow manages to take the Pete & Pete soundtrack’s quietest and most meditative moments and deepen them further. There are no sweet, summery pop-rock tunes here; most of Fathering consists of naked, unaccompanied electric guitar and Mulcahy’s strangely comforting voice, warbling through a set of longing, melancholic songs that almost beg to be heard at 3 the morning. And that is honestly the most concrete descriptor I can muster for songs like these; I don’t think Fathering really hit home for me until I put it on while alone in my apartment, very late at night, after a particularly rough day. It is music designed for being alone.

The key word is “comfort”, here; these are songs that envelop the listener in warmth, despite not being particularly happy songs. “Hey Self Defeater” has got to be the one of the more convincing “self-help” songs I’ve heard; elementally, the song is a friend comforting another friend, but with Mulcahy’s inimitable voice and gentle guitarwork it functions as an audible arm over your shoulder. It’s not a song that offers easy answers – the opening lines “never mind overjoyed / just start with happy” make that clear – but it offers reason and understanding to someone during a time of self doubt, which is arguably much more valuable. Simply put, it’s Mulcahy at his best. And while I can’t go to bat for most of the lyrics on the album (mostly because I am not that familiar with them), songs like “Tempted”, “In The Afternoon” and especially the aching falsetto of “Ciao My Shining Star” embody that same understanding, cutting through with a beauty that is hard to discern.

I can’t speak for the entire body of Mark Mulcahy’s work. Fathering and Pete & Pete are the only two records of his I know well; I’ve barely heard any of his Miracle Legion stuff and am only just beginning to dip into his solo work. So maybe this is the beginning of a long, fruitful musical relationship. I can only say that Mulcahy’s work digs into me in a way that, at this point in my life, I can’t fully understand.

So to make up for my shortcomings, I will urge to wait until the quietest hour in the night and listen to this:

Enya: The Memory of Trees

Hey guys,
I know you are all shocked to see me writing again so soon after my last post?? But I was reflecting on that review and realized that maybe I should talk about some music that means something to me RIGHT NOW, as opposed to my college (or high school??) days.
I’m up to my neck in a bubble bath right now (thank you BATH & BODY WORKS for inventing “Warm Vanilla Sugar” bath foam??), reading Hunger Games, and I have to admit: this experience can only be perfected by Enya’s “The Memory of Trees.”
I know what you guys are thinking: “Sean, how can you say that when, given the choice, you could listen to her virtuosic album “The Celts”??
Here’s the thing. Yes, “The Celts” is a pivotal crossover album that packs a one-two punch: being a gripping History Channel soundtrack while never losing the dulcet, silvery attraction of the synthesized Irish songstress– but it ain’t got The Memory of Trees’ track 5.
Enya’s breathy, eerie voice is iconic and unique, but so ubiquitous in her compositions that to hear a piece without it makes the musical “real estate” of that track a little more stand-out, shall we say??
It’s just piano. And buuuhhhAAAAA is it ever gorgeous?? Also, its perfect to meditate to when put on repeat.


Back to my book and my bath.

Album Review: “Into Your Head” by BBMak

In retrospect I can’t imagine BBMak actually managing to stick around long beyond 2002. The Year The Teen Dream Died. The year JT broke free from the ‘syncs, the Backstreet Boys disappeared into the ether, the O-Towners tried to “grit” up their sound and John Mayer had his first big fat radio hits. Sweet boyish vocal pop was, with each passing second, becoming less of a “thing”; the likes of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears managed to get by on brash modern sexualizations of their signature sound, but the tried-and-true vocal pop group was not to last.

Simply put, the world did not want for BBMak. They were just three sweet handsome British buddies who delivered America a hug and a kiss (respectively) with their two 2000 radio gems, the winsome “Back Here” and the definitive friendship ode “Still On Your Side.” Tracks characterized by handsomeboy charm, warm acoustic strums and perfectly blended vocal harmonies – three qualities that would not weather the Great Teenpop Purge of 2002. BBMak died for the same reason the Backstreet Boys (and, by extension, Nick Carter’s solo career) did: a refusal to modernize their sound. They were just too gosh-darned nice, for pete’s sake.

They tried, though. Ohh how they tried. Even if they knew their residency on Planet Teen was over and done with, the Sweet Daddy Maks refused to go gentle into that good night. And they did it the only way they knew how – ditch the acoustics, ramp the axes to 11 and BURN WITH ROCK GLORY*!!

*and by “BURN WITH ROCK GLORY!!” I mean “record a Don Henley-influenced follow up to their 2000 smash hit Sooner Or Later, augmenting their signature upper-register vocal harmonies with a slightly stronger emphasis on electric guitar and insistent percussion.”

2002’s Into Your Head is a summertime album for wistful teenagers. I can imagine almost every track on here fitting in just fine on The O.C. soundtrack (despite the show not airing until almost a year after this record’s release, but I digress). Whereas Sooner Or Later exemplifies clean-cut boy band sweetness, Into Your Head emphasizes jangle-poppy string-laden romantic drama. With the exception of the moderately rockin’ single “Staring Into Space,” what we have here is a collection of beach-ready summer tunes that beg to be on every teenager’s mixtape back in 2002.

I was 15 in 2002, so maybe my fascination with – and admiration for – Into Your Head is solely linked to the memories I assign to it. I never heard the full record until recently but “Out Of My Heart” was such a ubiquitous radio hit that summer that it has undeniably colored my views on the rest of the record. “Out Of My Heart” characterizes BBMak’s career twilight perfectly, with its fleeting melody and drifting guitar solo; it would not be a stretch for me to name it one of my all-time favorite summertime singles.

I guess I admire the whole of Into Your Head because, despite the obvious genericism of most of these tracks, there seems to have been a conscious effort on BBMak’s part to not deliver your usual piece of substandard singles-plus-filler teen pop product. Well-placed production tricks abound; “Get You Through The Night” bursts into vocal euphoria in its middle-eight, “Out Of Reach” swirls its chorus up and around all over the place in its final minute, and “Sympathy” busts out a string-section during its climax, for pete’s sake. These guys poured some love all over these songs, determined to deliver a solid 39-minute production-rich pop album for the kids to swoon over. And, for the most part, they succeeded.

BBMak made a killer mistake, though, one that has claimed many a pop act in their prime – they played the “legitimacy” card, a move that I am certain has not benefited a single teen pop group in the history of civilization. The Maks, you see, were one of those pop bands that actually played their own instruments and wrote their own songs (not unlike fellow teen pop casualties Hanson and SoulDecision). So, to them, the only way to break out of their obnoxious “boy band” categorization was to grow stubble, plug in their guitars and pay homage to as many FM rock influences as possible – to somehow refashion themselves as a “respectable” rock band. And so Into Your Head has, sadly, joined the ranks of other admirable-yet-commercially-flaccid records like Hanson’s “This Time Around” and SoulDecision’s “Shady Satin Drug” (the latter of which I have actually never heard, so don’t quote me on that – it could just be terrible).

Nice try, boys. I know you did everything you could. Just know that you’ll always have a fan in one young Sean David Rose. And that means a lot!!