Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Gossip Matters.

Why spend an entire week blogging exclusively about The Gossip? They're a great band, and they're one of my favorites -- but there's more to it than that.

The Gossip exploded into the cooler-than-cool, indie-r than indie community in Olympia, Washington, home of Kill Rock Stars, K Records, and the Riot Grrrl movement after moving there from their hometown of Searcy, Arkansas. In doing so, The Gossip brought the sound and perspective of the Southern, Christian-raised rural working class to the typically urban, coastal middle class orientation of punk rock. The Gossip gave a voice to the all but completely obscured Southern lesbian feminist.

The band has evolved from it's roots and grown to address new issues: on Movement, the group's second full-length album, Ditto sings about being part of the so-called in crowd, and tracks about obnoxious scene politics and shallow hipsters reverberate with a righteous rejection of scenism. The band takes it further on the following Standing in the Way of Control and Music for Men by taking on gay and trans rights issues. Ditto sings love songs about gay couples that could be about anyone, broadcasting LGBTQ issues over the radio without sensationalism or self-consciousness.

In recent years, vocalist Beth Ditto has gained arguably more attention for her appearance than for her feminist and pro-LGBTQ politics. But with the support of her bandmates, she's turned issues around sizism and fatbashing into a feminist and political issue as well, standing up for the right of women to be as large as they want, and to love their bodies as they are.

The Gossip bring radical, open-minded, anti-hate politics back to punk, which is exactly where such politics belong. They increase visibility for unseen communities within punk: queer punks, lady punks, Southern punks, and working punks, to name a few. And they do so in a creative way -- by making dance music, short upbeat songs about love, queers, and the importance of community that are capable of reaching a broad audience. Even better, now they're doing it on a major label's dime, having just released their first record for Sony's Music with a Twist Records.

Political beliefs, and the importance of one's identity to one's beliefs, are a part of the Gossip's work. It's not something tacked on after the fact, it's not incidental -- it's part of who all three members are, and is a key factor in their work. They are the embodiment of something I heard legendary activist Cleve Jones say in a speech recently: he said to a crowd of other gay activists, "You want equality? You want to be equal? Then act equal!" he encouraged the crowd. The Gossip make music about acting equal -- whether you're gay or straight, big or small, male or female -- no matter who you are.

The Gossip actually wants you to do more than act equal -- with the music they're making, they want us to dance. In a class on the politics of women's bodies, I read about how poverty impacts women physically, and about poor women who claimed that when you're faced with mounting bills, hungry children, and a system that won't help you break the cycle of poverty, the bravest thing you can do is retain your sense of humor, and laugh. The Gossip's music operates on a similar principle: when you're being treated like a second class citizen, and when your government is trying to take away your rights, when you find yourself living in fear of harassment and violence, the bravest and most defiant thing you can do is dance.

The Gossip wants us to stand in the way of control, and to live our lives. And that is why The Gossip matters.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Gossip Guide

You know all about The Gossip's new album, Music for Men, and you know their sound right now. But what about what came before? The band has a respectable catalogue by now. Read on for a brief guide to their releases!

The Early Years: 1999 - 2002

the gossip Formed in 1999, the Gossip wasted no time: they moved from their tiny hometown of Searcy, Arkansas to Olympia, WA, and released their debut self-titled EP the following year, on K Records. The Gossip sounds a bit sleepy compared to the rest of their works, but it already has the band's trademark elements: Beth's huge voice fearlessly singing about desire, disaster, girls and sex, Brace Paine's rhythmic, fuzzed out, swampy sounding guitar, and previous drummer Kathy Mendonca's deceptively simple, low-down drumming.

That's Not What I HeardIn January of 2001 the band put out its first album, That's Not What I Heard, on Olympia's famed Kill Rock Stars. From start to finish the album bursts with energy and defiance, and each song explores the band's original Southern gospel punk sound. Beth Ditto howls about love lost, love gained, fighting with other women, and making up with them too on songs like "Swing Low", "Where the Girls Are" and "Hot Date". As provocative as the songs are, it's clear that they are not meant merely to titillate -- their purpose is to make Ditto's voice, and her Southern Christian-raised diy lesbian perspective heard. From the beginning, the Gossip aren't playing songs about sex to be skeezy, they're doing it as a form of activism. And by this time, they're already capable of taking that activism live, as you can watch in the video below from 2001:

Movement: 2002 - 2006

Movement After some extensive touring in the US, the Gossip finally put out a second ep, Arkansas Heat in 2002. Though the title feature's the group's Southern home state, you can already hear them getting away from that influence on this EP. The full length Movement (2003) bravely speeds up the tempo, fuzzes out the guitars even more, and focuses on crafting a new indie dance style. Both guitars and percussion are louder and challenge Beth's overpowering voice, and Beth takes it back a notch. The whole band learns to balance itself better on this album, and the result is a satisfying, sunny Southern-fried post punk album that seemingly never gets old. Beth mixes critiques of the indie scene into her lyrics about love, loss, and "dancing", taking shallow scenesters to task for their focus on shoes and hairstyles, and the band works to create a real community with this work.

Dance Dance Revolution: 2006 - right now

Standing in the Way of ControlIn 2006 the Gossip shocked their fans with Standing the Way of Control: a relentless assault on the conservative US government that draws mainly on....disco? The band leaves behind the deliberately sloppy distorted guitars and tin can drums for smooth, glossy, cool beats that almost sound like they could have easily been made in the late 1970s. New drummer Hannah Blilie, who's style is higher and more sibilant than Mendonca's was, helps the band breach this identity crisis with flair, while Beth and Brace experiment with new sounds and perfect their new brand of activist disco punk. The album is chock full of songs that would travel easily from the picket line to the dance floor, an impressive feat for any band, I think.

SITWOC launched the band's unexpected success in the UK. The Gossip toured extensively in Europe and put a lot of time into doing press their in 2007. Watch this footage of them from a Portuguese music festival:

The band follows up their new found popularity in Europe with Music for Men, a further exploration of gay life and gay rights, love, and European dance music. On this record the group experiments with keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines -- but somehow at the same time manages to keep it true to their punk roots. For ten years the Gossip have been seeking out barriers and taking sledgehammers to them. Let's hope they do it for ten more, and beyond.

Want a full Gossip discography? Try their Wikipedia page, which is pretty detailed and well-done.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Gossip, Folks! week Edition

In the continuing saga of Gossip, Folks! week here at R&tSG, Hump Day Treat today brings you the brand new single from Music for Men: "Heavy Cross"!

BUT there's a bonus --- this week we also have The Gossip's criminally underrated cover of "Are You That Somebody?" The video is from a 2007 performance in the UK, taken by a fan that also took some superb videos of Sleater-Kinney back in the day:

So enjoy these Gossip songs, new and old (especially the "Vogue"-era Madonna feel of the first video) on this lovely Hump Day!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music for Men is officially out!

The day we've all been looking forward to has finally arrived: The Gossip's fourth album, Music for Men, is here! The album is available worldwide digitally. Non-digital versions will be available in stores in early October.

Watch the Music for Men informercial (yes, there's an informercial!):

This new album is meant to reach exactly the audience it refers to: men. As Ditto explains to Clash Music, "I think people who are really down are really gonna think it’s funny, or they’re really gonna get it. It’s really ironic, but it’s really true; I think the idea of making a feminist record for men is really cool. Because we already know that we’re oppressed — men need to know that we’re oppressed." The band is clearly committed to making socially conscious and politically aware music. Kudos to them for sticking with this on their major label debut.

But socially conscious and feminist doesn't mean the group doesn't have a sense of humor. Beth Ditto followed this statement up with, "I wanted it to be a hit in Ibiza. I wanted it to be gay like that."

Still not sold? Well thanks to you can preview the entire album before you spend your hard-earned pennies on it! Here's the link: Music for Men by Gossip | Listening Party

For further reading:
Clash Music: Gossip on New Album, 2 Jun 2009

Clash Music: Gossip - Full Uncut Interview

Monday, June 22, 2009

That's Not What I Heard! The Truth About the Gossip

*****It's Gossip, Folks! Week here at Rock and the Single Girl! In celebration of the release The Gossip's fourth full length album and major label debut, Music for Men, for the next 6 days R&tSG will feature musings, music, photos, and video of the acclaimed PDX-by-way-of-Arkansas trio, (The) Gossip. Already a fan? Turn up the volume and get ready to dance. No idea who they are? Turn up the volume anyway, and get ready to be converted, because The Gossip is just that kind of band.*****

I got hooked on The Gossip the first time I saw them live, back in the summer of 2000. My high school best friend had their new record, and she was going to see them; when she invited me to go with her I reluctantly agreed. "What if I don't like them?" I fretted, almost falling off my seat as the 7 train turned by Shea Stadium. "Don't worry", my friend said, expertly maintaining her balance as the subway car rattled and shook. "Trust me, you'll like them."

And of course, that night I fell in love with them -- I fell in love with their lead singer, Beth Ditto, because she was the loudest and most unself-conscious woman I'd ever seen on a stage, and more than that I fell in love with their music, with the sound of gospel-style vocals about having sex with girls over messy garage-style punk, a violent crashing mix of distorted, Southern-sounding guitars and low-tuned Riot Grrrl percussion. Watch this video from back then so you can see for yourself what I'm talking about:

I'd always been so sure that The Gossip are a really good band. It wasn't just that I happened to like them; they were actually making quality music and giving quality, energetic performances. So I was completely shocked when my friend Jess sent me this link, along with the commentary, "I don't know why I read comments, but this whole post annoyed the crap out of me":

Perez Hilton's love of the Gossip is nothing new, he's been talking them up for a long time, right? But what about Alex Bilmes' criticisms? I thought the The Gossip were beloved throughout the UK! And what about the comments? "Um Perez, nobody likes the Gossip but you"? "He's right, they suck"? "Who the fuck are these people"? I didn't realize just how much Gossip hate there is out there.

Then there are the comments about Beth Ditto's appearance. It's one thing to not like The Gossip's music, or even to hate their sound. It's another thing to be put off by Beth's opinions or the way she expresses them. It is something else entirely to bash the band because of Beth's appearance, or more to the point, her size. There is palpable contempt for Beth's so-called 'morbid obesity'.

There's not much I can say about those comments -- I don't think I need to say that it's wrong and sad that people are so shallow, in addition to being sexist and fatphobic. But I will take on the quotes from Bilmes' article. As a journalist and critic (rather than a longtime fan), I can say this about Bilmes: he's wrong.

I don't see how the fashion industry's recent interest in Ditto could possibly be an attempt to appease "feminazis" -- I don't think Bilmes understands that such a massive and lucrative industry doesn't have to appease anyone, least of all feminists. I'm suspicious of the fashion industry, yes, and I'll admit that I don't entirely understand why Beth Ditto is suddenly so chummy with Kate Moss and Karl Lagerfeld, but Lagerfeld is a powerful designer. Homeslice is not hanging out with Beth because he's worried or scared, okay? Okay.

Bilmes is equally off the mark in calling Beth a poor role model for young women. Is he foolish enough to think that young girls are going to go out and eat everything in sight and try to make themselves larger so that they'll look like her? (And if they do -- so fucking what?) As a woman myself, I can tell you that it's more complicated than that. Beth is an inspiration not necessarily to be larger, or to be 'unhealthy'; she's an inspiration to love yourself and your body even when the mainstream tells you that you shouldn't, whether it's because of boniness, flab, acne, stretch marks, 'bad' hair, or whatever 'flaws' you might have.

And finally: Bilmes calls The Gossip "a deeply average, resolutely unsuccessful rock band." I read this and thought " this true? Are they average?" As I said above, it had never occurred to me that they were anything but quality.

And I stand by this assessment. There is no one in the world making music like The Gossip -- not ten years ago when they were playing their inimitable Southern dance punk, and not now as they write and record songs that can best be described as disco punk. The Gossip are innovators, that's just the way it is. The Gossip is comprised of three very skilled musicians and songwriters, capable of evolving and experimenting with new sounds and styles. And I know, that's not really a big deal, any decent band should be able to evolve and experiment, but that's just it -- not every band out there is capable of that. I don't understand how Bilmes can call The Gossip "average".

Regardless of what Bilmes says, regardless of Perez Hilton's or even my opinion, regardless of what Hilton's commenters say, the truth about The Gossip is just this: they kick ass, on many different levels.

official website
Gossip on myspace

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Nostalgia Edition

After we talked about music websites, self-supported bloggers, and hype last night, my friend and I talked and reminisced (and maybe gossiped a little) about one of my favorite bands, Rainer Maria. We talked about what we didn't like about the band's final album, what we did like about the rest of their catalog, and then speculated about the interpersonal issues that led to their break up in December of 2006. She and I are both musicians, and we can talk about this sort of thing for hours. We also went to see them together many times during the last couple years of their career, so I can't think about that particular band without thinking of all the good times my friends and I had at their shows.

And so today, because they are on my mind, I present my favorite Rainer Maria video. It's for their song "Ears Ring", from the 2003 album Long Knives Drawn. (It might be my favorite album by them, even if their other fans prefer their earlier stuff.) Enjoy!

Feminists We're Calling You, Please Report to the Internets

Tonight one of my friends called me, and she was telling me about a band named Grizzly Bear. "I wasn't even gonna buy their album, because there was, you know, so much hype," she told me, and she said 'hype' with a lot of contempt. "Because, you know," she explained, "whenever EVERYONE says that an album is great, and I get excited about it, I buy it and listen to it and I end up hating it. Like, I'm just not impressed."

"Well, it's hard," I said. "You've got so many self-appointed tastemakers, or whatever, like, people who have blogs, and they're all telling you what you should be listening to, and it's hard to sort through everything and figure out who's a real, legitimate music critic, and who isn't." I said this with zero irony, well-aware that I am one of those many music bloggers, even if I don't consider myself a tastemaker, or tell people what to listen to.

My friend's story has a happy ending, I'm glad to report, she read some print reviews of Grizzly Bear's record, listened to it, didn't like it at first, and then tried it again and ended up loving it. And that's great, but after I got off the phone with her, I found myself wondering, who are all these music bloggers? Because I'm a bleeding heart feminist, I'm going to assume that the majority of them aren't women writers. And of the ones who do happen to be female, I'm sure only a small portion of them are self-identified feminists, and that an even smaller portion are applying their gendered experience to their album and concert reviews.

The two women music bloggers I read on a regular basis are Trish Bendix, who writes about music over at, and Carrie Brownstein, who writes for NPR's website. Who else is there? And how do we find these other unknown lady music bloggers? There are tons of live blogs out there, and as far as I know, there still isn't an efficient way to search blogs.

I started this blog because I didn't think there was anyone else out there writing about the ways in which women and gender have influenced punk and hardcore. But it's my experience that every field that has a limited number of visible women has a lot more unseen women than any of us realize.

So, readers, help me out here, and tell me: who else do you read? What other women bloggers are talking about music and art, making you think, and entertaining you? And lady music bloggers, if you're out there, we're calling you! Please report to the Rock and the Single Girl front desk, or at the very least, leave a comment and a link!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Pioneer Band Double Header

Um. Did you know that Sonic Youth put out a new record yesterday?

Yeah, neither did I. (It's called The Eternal, by the way.) But then, Sonic Youth's ability to be a cultural institution and still be totally underground, low key and genuinely cool is a major part of their appeal.

Whether you're familiar with the band's long and accomplished discography or not, it's almost impossible to not know about Kim Gordon, their one-time bass player, current guitarist, and sometimes vocalist. Gordon's art school cool attitude, pro-woman ideas, and New York City street punk style have been influencing punk artists and musicians since the '80s, just as Sonic Youth has been defining and re-defining the genre known as 'art punk' for almost 30 years now.

Over at AfterEllen, Trish Bendix writes that new track "Sacred Trickster" is "infectious" and arguably one of the band's "best tracks ever". Below is a performance of the new song from last month, along with a performance of "Antenna". So give it a spin (...or a stream?) and celebrate a long and distinguished career, instead of thinking about being stuck at work for at least 4 more hours.

Viva Voce at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, 6/04/09

(above: Anita Robinson, mid-solo)

I wrote recently in this blog that Anita Robinson is an unsung guitar heroine, and I've never been so sure of it as I was last week while watching her perform with Viva Voce in Brooklyn. Robinson is a gifted and unself-conscious lead guitarist who likes psychedelic sounds and the effects pedals needed to produce them, but who never overdoes it or hides behind her effects. And tracks from Viva Voce's new album, Rose City, showcase Robinson's skill at playing the kind of simple, elegant, keening and bending guitar lines that would make "Wonderful Tonight"-era Eric Clapton both jealous and ashamed at his clumsiness.

But Viva Voce is far more than Anita and her guitar. The band began as a duo, a creative partnership between Anita and husband Kevin Robinson, who is the kind of fearless performer capable of playing the guitar and drums at the same time without seeming obnoxious. The chemistry between Anita and Kevin seems to be the key to their previous records. In between the many guitar overdubs and oohing and aahing back up vocals and occasional old-school style funk bass line, they produce something on Lovers, Lead the Way!, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain, and Get Yr Blood Sucked Out so fun, so spontaneous, so vibrant, that you can't imagine how they could recreate it live. But recreate it live they did, and as a duo.

Leave it to the Robinsons to risk this and challenge themselves by deciding to quit their duohood, quite possibly for good. Viva Voce now includes Corinna Repp on guitar, drums, and theremin (yes, theremin!) and Evan Railton on drums and keyboard. Version 2.0 of Viva Voce is on the road in support of the new album, but you wouldn't know the recent additions were recent from hearing them play. The band played a tight, comfortable, set that was suffused with their own brand of slightly-bluesy, uninhibited, relaxed Portland indie cool. Their new songs are surprisingly somber, some moving at dirge-like tempos, with lyrics about exhaustion, homesickness, loss and futility. Where older Viva Voce sounds bright, hot, and radiates like a heat wave, Rose City is rainy, dark, moody, and lush, like its namesake.

above: Corinna Repp, l., and Anita Robinson, r.

But the band keeps their show light and energetic. In version 2.0 of Viva Voce, Kevin Robinson plays bass, and his warm, lively presence up front is felt, and provides a nice counterpoint to Anita's focused, intense guitar playing. [Sidenote: One can't help but notice this interesting role reversal -- here, a woman plays guitar, while a guy plays bass, which has long been unfairly pegged as an 'easy' instrument that girls play.] Corinna Repp helps to fill out the band's sound with rhythm guitar, percussion, drums, and yes, theremin solos. Evan Railton is a fine drummer, but I think his real contribution to this show was as a keyboardist -- new piano-driven tracks like "Midnight Sun", "The Slow Fade", and "Flora" wouldn't have worked without the sound of a brooding, forceful, "Let It Be" type keys.

The new Viva Voce only benefits from its new bandmembers. The group and its previous strengths -- its versatility, its familiarity with classic rock, its ability to take older sounds and make them seem new, -- are all enhanced. The same goes for the maintenance of the group's gender ratio: since their inception, Viva Voce has been proving, without ever discussing any sort of politics, that indie rock doesn't have to be dominated by whiny guys with acoustic guitars, and that rock in general doesn't need to be based on machismo. Viva Voce 2.0 functions seamlessly and shows that it is possible for men and women to get together and play music without the sort of off-putting sexist posturing and divisive rhetoric that seems to be audible in almost every style of popular music these days.

Above: Anita, Evan Railton, and Kevin Robinson

Friday, June 5, 2009

Courtney Hate?

sunburst graphic "This all-girl [band] fantasy I've had my whole life -- well, it's not going to happen. Like, there are fucking riot grrrls banging on pots and pans and talking about their vaginas, and that's all really lovely, but the music blows. You have to sit in your room and practice. You have to fucking learn how to play guitar."

Where to begin, dear readers, with what's wrong with this quote? Well, okay, I'll begin with a full disclosure: the Riot Grrrl movement, its music and ideas, its DIY, all ages, pro-feminism devotion to creating space for girls within punk and in other areas of life, its core idea of physical and political empowerment for young women, have made me who I am today. I can't overstate how much Riot Grrrl has meant to me. And therefore, anyone who disparages the movement is pretty much automatically dead to me.

Here's my second full disclosure: I feel like I can critique and criticize Courtney Love without malice because I once worshipped her. When I was a chubby wallflower struggling through middle school, I worshipped Love mostly because she was a woman who wasn't afraid to scream and play guitar, but also because I coveted her abrasive, loud, I'm-a-bitch-so-what attitude. I wanted to tell my tyrannical teachers, stupid classmates, and my controlling family exactly what I thought about them. But I couldn't, so I listened to Live Through This every day instead. That is, ironically, until I discovered post-riot superstars Sleater-Kinney (my love of them is already well-established though).

Now that you know my bias, I'll move on to my petty initial reaction to this quote: Courtney Love is the last person in this universe who should be telling anyone that they need to learn how to play the guitar. She isn't exactly a virtuoso guitarist or vocalist herself, and anyone who's seen so much as a youtube video of a Hole performance can tell you that. I remember watching on Hole's MTV Unplugged as she basically sat there just holding her guitar, while the rest of her very talented band did the bulk of the work.

But Love's quote makes me feel a lot more than snark, it also kind of depresses and scares me. I mean, is this oblique sexism and apparent commitment to the patriarchal idea of 'playing the right way' really necessary? Love's quote suggests that you can't work with these crazy radical feminists; they don't play well enough, they don't play the 'right' instruments (pots and pans? Really?), and they don't write songs about legitimate 'rock' topics, because they write about their vaginas instead.

Courtney Love, despite her many flaws, and the mistakes she's made, appears to be an incredibly intelligent woman. So I hesitate to say that she doesn't 'get' Riot Grrrl, but that's kind of how it seems. Riot Grrrl is about the deliberate rejection of patriarchal standards in rock, and especially in punk. It's not about playing 'badly' or refusing to learn how to play, but about questioning where our standards for how music is supposed to sound or how an instrument is supposed to be played come from. This is of course derived from previous punk ideology, but Riot Grrrl brings a necessary gender and class perspective to the conversation. It's no coincidence that white, middle to upper class men, who can afford and obtain things like private lessons, studio time, mastering, full time touring, etc, dominate almost all genres of music, including punk. Riot Grrrl deliberately rejected those standards, in favor of punk rock and life that is more inclusive and more accessible.

I wonder sometimes if Courtney Love is jealous. Anyone who's read any of her many biographies knows that Love has despised Riot Grrrl for some time now. Does anyone else remember when Love punched quintessential Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill in the face backstage at a Lollapalooza tour stop? (Yes, kids, Lollapalooza used to be a cross-country tour.) Hanna was at the all day outdoor concert event as a guest of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth, a band Love admires. Hanna and Bikini Kill also worked with Joan Jett, who produced and guests on some BK songs, and I'm willing to bet that Love was a big fan of The Runaways back in the day.

Something else that can be gleaned from her biographies is that Love has always had problems with other women, especially her mother. I remember thinking, back when I was kid reading about her life, that Love must have felt betrayed by her mother, and that she must have been really wary of the other girls in the detention facilities where she was placed throughout her teens. Love seems like she still doesn't trust other women, and rather than working with them, Love competes with them.

And ultimately, Courtney Love wants to win. She doesn't want change, she doesn't want the sexual, feminist revolution that Riot Grrrl called for. I don't know what exactly she wants, if it's fortune or celebrity or whatever, but whatever it is, she wants it for herself. Love comes across as terribly selfish. (I think her selfishness is what I really liked about her when I was younger.) But now that I'm an adult, I understand that that selfishness is more antithetical to riot grrrl, feminism and women's continued progress in rock than any bitchy comment or physical assault toward Kathleen Hanna could ever be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Evening Edition

This week's late-in-the-day hump day treat brings you Texas' Girl in a Coma, who have just released their sophomore record, Trio B.C. *cheers and applause* !

It's rare that you get to hear queer, female, Mexican-American border voices in current rock and punk, and GIAC bring all three perspectives. They play a kind of fuzzy, jangling, driving rock that draws from old school rock'n'roll of the Buddy Holly and the Crickets sort, and invigorate the old form with an edgy and confrontational slink-and-swagger that is both lethal and enjoyable. I got to experience it for myself last year when I saw them open for Tegan and Sara, and their set had an energy that even the Twins from Above the 49th Parallel couldn't quite match. They did a fantastic performance of their single "Say", the official video for which you can see here!

So sit down, relax, pour yourself a different kind of Hump Day Treat, and finish off this rainy (at least in New York) day with this mid-tempo, modern classic.