Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Experimental Edition

On this particular hump day, Rock and the Single Girl presents Erase Errata, and their single "Tax Dollar".

Erase Errata is a lot of things, but right now, I'm kind of feeling the jittery, tightly wound percussion of their sound, and how comparable it feels to a bad day at the office in which you're running around frantically, fighting with various office machines, and drinking too much coffee. Erase Errata's appeal lies in its ability to convey a manic urgency through sound. It's like listening to a florescent light seizure, and to be able to create a certain feeling, especially such a strange one, with music is what we as musicians all want to be able to do, right? It's a skill that EE has down pat.

This live video from South By Southwest, that halcyon of indie music cool, is one of my favorite videos on all of youtube. It's a well-done video, even with its shaky camera and less than stellar sound. You've got a good, clear view of all the members of Erase Errata, not to mention a few seconds of Hannah Blilie of The Gossip rockin' out on the left-hand side of the stage! But to bring it back to EE: I fell in love with Jenny Hoyston as a performer and guitarist because of this video, and also realized just how amazing drummer Bianca Sparta is. Perhaps that's why it holds such a special place in my heart.

But for those of you who prefer the clarity of an official video, here's a link.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Slacker Edition

It's turning out to be one of those days: I overslept and couldn't eat breakfast, felt all off while I was teaching, skipped my office hours because it looked nice out (but then of course it started to rain), and now it's almost 4:30 and I have a TON of stuff to do. I'll probably be working well past 7 tonight.

Such days require breaking out one of your best vintages. So today, Rock and the Single Girl presents: Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation"!

I'll be honest: I have mixed feelings about Joan Jett. I'm not really familiar with her more recent work, and her earlier stuff sometimes seems simplistic. HOWEVER: there's some buzz abrewin' about the new movie that's coming out about The Runaways, with which Jett is very much involved. And I've been wondering lately about the initial reception to The Runaways and to Jett's solo work. It occurs to me that nowadays, I tend to take 'girls with guitars' and female-fronted bands for granted. There aren't enough of them, of course, but I'm still spoiled by the amazing work done by bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile, and by the existence of musicians like Marnie Stern and Anita Robinson. What was it like for Joan Jett -- with her 'androgyny' and tough appearance, with her insistence on writing her own songs and playing her own music, with her ultimate decision to start her own label -- back when mainstream music only had women like Linda Rondstadt and Stevie Nicks to offer? She's not my favorite musician of all time, but Joan Jett is a true pioneer, and I'm grateful for everything about her, from her Gibson guitar to her sometimes off-putting leather clothing.

So on this slow-going hump day, turn up the volume on your computer, and celebrate Joan Jett and her "Bad Reputation" -- and celebrate your own, too!

This Hump Day Treat is dedicated to my girl Alma, from Rock Camp. Without Alma and her admiration and respect for JJ's accomplishments, I never would have come to appreciate either her solo work or her work with The Runaways.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shit on the radio.

I recently made the long trip home over spring break. I was incredibly excited to get away from school for a bit, and when I got there, I was in a great mood. I had some time off, I was home, the weather was beautiful, I was about to see family and friends. Sitting in my car at a red light not too far from my parents' house, I thought that it was the perfect moment to put on my favorite radio station. I turned off my iPod, popped the adapter out of the cassette player and set the tuner to 92.3. That's right: my station is K-Rock, "New York's Only Alternative" (not to be confused with K-ROQ FM from Los Angeles....), and has been since I was 12.

I was in for an unhappy surprise though. I put on 92.3 and the song I found confused me. It sounded like the tail end of "Womanizer" by Britney Spears. Definitely not a song that would be on K-Rock's regular playlist, I thought to myself This must be a joke or something. But when "Womanizer" ended, Lady Gaga came on next, and I was forced to accept that this wasn't a prank: it was that dreaded beast, the Format Change. My station is now 92.3 NOW FM.

This isn't the first time 92.3 has changed formats; for awhile a few years ago it was a talk radio station. Before that, it was the greater New York area's quintessential 'alternative' station. My best friend from summer camp, Jen, who shared my love of Nirvana and Soundgarden, got me into tons of great bands when we were kids, because she convinced me to switch from Z100 (the station the popular kids listened to) to K-Rock. I vividly recall listening to the radio with Jen, and getting excited over hearing Green Day, Garbage, Veruca Salt, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, and countless other great late '90s bands.

I will admit that the new K-Rock really sucked. The new K-Rock didn't play anything cool or edgy, it just played rap rock and lame doucherock like Nickleback and Seether. Occasionally they threw in some alt-classics, and some classic rock. It was totally normal to hear a new Metallica song, something from Nevermind, and, say, Black Sabbath all in the same twenty minutes on K-Rock.

But it was worth sitting through bad songs to have that one moment where I would hear a great song that reminds me of my youth, something like "Interstate Love Song" or "Tonight, Tonight", and reminisce. Because things were different back then. Back then, you heard girl's voices on the radio. I remember listening to Veruca Salt, Garbage, No Doubt, and even Hole on the original K-Rock.

Back then, the guy bands were different too though. There were always more guys on the radio, and sexism was always there, but the masculinity in 'alternative rock' never felt threatening. Dave Grohl and Chris Cornell and Billy Corgan might have sung their angsty love songs, but they never wished a cheating girlfriend would die in a watery plane wreck the way Jesse Lacey does on Brand New's first radio hit. (Note: I can say that without malice because Brand New is one of my favorite bands.)

One of my classmates is doing research on sexism and mainstream radio, though her focus is on hip hop and rap music and stations. She attributes this new, more blatant sexism to the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated radio stations, and made it possible for corporations like Clearchannel to hold monopolies in communications companies. My classmate reports that because of the act, a lot of smaller, non-white, non-male radio station owners got squeezed out, and that radio in general became more homogenized.

It comforts me slightly to have that classmate's argument and to be able to blame the deplorable and non-inclusive state of radio on our government, and on ridiculous Reaganomic-type economic policies. But it doesn't assuage this gnawing "be careful what you wish for" feeling I've got in the pit of my stomach. Before this last format change, I heard one, that's right, one female-fronted new band on 92.3: two summers ago, I heard part of "Misery Business" by Paramore. And I remember wishing that I could hear more ladies' voices on my favorite station. There are tons of women artists in pop and dance music, and surely 92.3 Now will have tons of girly voices coming over its airwaves. Too bad Britney, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and their ilk aren't the girls I want.

This post is officially dedicated to Jen, my best friend from summer camp. I don't know where I would be if I hadn't taken her advice on what radio station to listen to, or if I hadn't found another girl with decent taste in music.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Almost Home Edition!

It is late in the day, but that doesn't mean it's quittin' time just yet, and that doesn't mean there isn't time to have a little musical treat. Today, in honor of their new album that was released yesterday, we have a classic from Canadian scene darlings Metric:

Unfortunately, their label has 'disabled embedding by request', but the live version is pretty kickass. And, we can still link the official! Monster Hospital

Whether you prefer the studio or live versions, get down to the sound of Emily Haines singing about mental problems to a classic and irrepressible dance beat, and get ready to go home, already! Working 9 to 5 (or 9 to whenever) will drive you crazy if you let it, so don't let it -- get dancing!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mother, may you?

Last week in class during our unit on gender, I talked about the Mirabal sisters in an attempt to teach my students about alternative constructions of motherhood. A trio of underground political activists from the Dominican Republic who were apprehended, tortured, imprisoned, and eventually killed for their attempts to bring down tyrannical dictator Rafael Trujillo, the Mirabal women carried out secret resistance work while taking care of their husbands and children. They were in part motivated to do political work by their need to protect their kids, and they encouraged other women in their communities and churches to help the resistance for the same reason. They appealed to other Dominican women as mothers, and their sense of maternal responsibility, rather than as citizens or political subjects.

Talking about this construct of motherhood, and thinking about how awesomely and unintentionally the Mirabals rejected the June Cleaver, Virgin Mary conception of momness, got me thinking about a program I saw on VH1 not too long ago. I am a total sucker for those several hour top 100 shows they do, and a few weeks back I saw VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '90s. There was a lot of "where are they now" on the show, and of course, quite a few of the female performers featured have become parents since their hits charted a decade ago.

The two performers who really caught my attention were Sarah McLachlan and Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries. Both more or less told VH1 that since they had become mothers, their music careers seemed less important.

Well, you can imagine that this disappointed me in a major way. I know that both Sarah and Dolores were only speaking for themselves, but I hate this idea that women, in any industry, are required to find motherhood more fulfilling than any other occupation. And I really hate the idea that life as a musician, particularly a rock or punk musician, is somehow automatically incompatible with being a mom.

To be clear, I don't think that Sarah and Dolores are tools of the patriarchy just because they expressed a greater interest in parenting rather than playing. It is possible for a woman to find parenting more fulfilling than a career or paid job, and I don't think that that's wrong or bad. It's not as if I think it's wrong for a woman to want kids, or to put her kids before her career, so long as it is her choice. But what about choice, and what about this constant conundrum of "Work or family?" that women are always faced with? Would a man ever have this dilemma? Were Dave Grohl or Mark McGrath or the dudes from The Spin Doctors telling VH1 about how fatherhood had made them change their priorities and put their music careers aside? Of course not.

That we never seem to see examples of women in rock who have successfully combined a personal life with a partner and/or children with a musical career that is fufilling and edgy and making a real contribution to music is really troubling to me. And even more troubling is that motherhood doesn't seem to have a place in any genre of music, perhaps most of all in punk and hardcore. It seems to me that in every genre, there are certain things women simply cannot be. I think in any genre, a female musician cannot be too 'masculine'; that's off-putting. Women artists can't be too critical or say anything too substantive, they can't seem too independent, and none of them can be 'too fat' or not fit a certain physical type. In punk and hardcore, which is youth oriented because of its derivation from the original youth culture genre, rock, there isn't much room for real adults of either sex. The conception of the mother, as the sweet, mainstream, suburban angel definitely does not fit in with the punk ideology, or what's left of rock's ideology.

It's a relief to me that it doesn't have to be that way. My beloved Corin Tucker, of Sleater-Kinney, has written some of the punkest songs of all time since becoming a mom in 2003, and a bunch of them are about actually being a parent and caring for her son. And she certainly isn't the only woman who's doing this, Kristin Hersh, Liz Phair (regardless of what I think of her later work), and Kori Gardner of Mates of State are all carrying on with their careers while raising children.

See, I don't need people like Sarah McLachlan and Dolores O'Riordan to lie about their priorities, and I don't need them to abandon their kids and go back to music. (Especially not you, Sarah....sorry.) What I do need, and want for all women and girls, is representation for EVERY kind of woman, whether they want to be moms or not, and whatever kind of mom or even just what kind of person they would like to be, in rock'n'roll, and pretty much everywhere else.

p.s. I just found out that on her new show, Megan Mullally (Karen from Will and Grace!!!) plays an aging frontwoman and mom who was in Pony, a "seminal punk band from March of 1984 to late July of 1984). She is probably the only person who could take the issue of motherhood and rock/punk stardom and make it hilarious, without even trying to make any sort of 'statement'. (There's a couple seconds of her being obnoxious onstage at 0:05!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hump Day Treat, extra early edition

Usually I post every Wednesday's Hump Day Treat from my bedroom, while I'm getting ready to go to work, or in the afternoon from my office. There's a change in plans this week because tomorrow I'll be accompanying my stepfather to a chemotherapy appointment, and this apparently will take up the entire work day. As you can imagine, the time spent at chemotherapy is really not what's upsetting about the entire affair.

It's fitting then, that this week's treat is "So Human", the catchy, upbeat new hard-times-are-for-dancing single from Lady Sovereign. It's the second single from her new record, Jigsaw, which was released in the U.S. today.

Now, just as you might have thought when I posted a video from M.I.A., you might now be thinking: what is Lady Sovereign doing here, when she is neither punk nor hardcore? It's simple really. My love of Lady Sovereign is based on four things:

1. She is a fearless solo female artist, boldly going forth in a genre with very few women performers;
2. Whether she realizes it or not, she mixes and reshapes dance, rap, and hip hop as genres in groundbreaking ways on her new singles;
3. She's funny and British;
4. She is, as far as I can tell, a great big homo.

So go and support the made-over, mature, consistently humorous, newly independent (...sort of) Lady Sovereign by dancing this Wednesday mess around to her latest video!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hump Day Treat, New Late Edition

In honor of the release this week of their new record, today's Hump Day Treat is from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs!

But instead of promoting their new single, I am celebrating by posting my favorite song by them: "Date with a Night". A driving, stomping, slightly blues-tinged ode to 'going out', this is the perfect song to listen to while getting getting ready for a night on the town -- or while sitting in your cubicle, wishing you were going out. So chase away those Wednesday Ehs by pumping up the volume, ignoring your work a few minutes, and looking forward to the coming weekend!

(Note: For those of you who are interested in new Yeah Yeah Yeahs, here's a link to the video for their new single)

Special thanks to Teresina for letting me know about the Yeah Yeah Yeah's new video!