2019 In Alt (In The German Sense)

(Get it?)

Thu Dec 26 2019

I draw an unscrupulous line between middle-aged rockers making relevant music (Nick Cave, Kim Gordon, Thom Yorke) and those making music that only their fans ought to pay attention to—voici. Speaking as a child of the ‘90s, I have little choice but to pay attention to the surviving scions of Alternative Nation, but none of these records would make The List, this is just for fun. The Pixies came closest to making the cut but I couldn’t quite see it. Beneath The Eyrie is easily their best work this century; there are almost enough fresh nuggets on here to justify buying the record. I love “On Graveyard Hill” and “This Is My Fate” and “Long Rider” and there aren’t any really bad tracks on this album. If nothing else, it gets me excited to go see them again the next time they’re playing somewhere besides the Rave.

Like a glutton for punishment, I keep listening to every new Mark Lanegan release, even though I probably only enjoy a third or so of his catalog. The last great album he put out was with Isobel Campbell in 2006, Ballad Of The Broken Seas (the 2008 follow-up was darn good, too); since then it’s been pretty dire. The new Somebody’s Knocking might be the direst yet. You and I can sit here and listen to a song like “Dark Disco Jag” or “Stitch It Up” and it’s obvious that everything about it is horribly wrong, but we didn’t make it. It’s not easy putting yourself out into the world like that, folks; every musician should try to hang onto one good friend who will give ‘em the straight dope, but the creative ego is hard to stifle no matter what, and if Lanegan is somehow still making a living, more power to him.

Rather than make any attempt to stay current, Mike Patton seems determined to rebrand himself as a kitschy anachronism. He’s spent most of this century (aside from that pesky Faith No More reunion) indulging his affection for the likes of Jacques Brel and various other European pop influences from the ‘50s and ‘60s. He’s still on that same tack on Corpse Flower; his new collaborative LP with Jean-Claude Vannier follows a similar high-society pop sensibility, albeit with a few more modern/eclectic flourishes. It should please most completists but I wouldn’t recommend anyone else rush out and buy it; for one thing, it’s not one of Patton’s better lyrical efforts, particularly the baffling “A Schoolgirl’s Day”: “11:30 she goes home for lunch. 2:00 she goes back to school.” Are you kidding me? A two-and-a-half-hour lunch break? This is one of the best songs on the album, musically, but utterly pointless in terms of words. “When I drink too much/I shit my pants”, he croons in “Pink And Bleue”; ah, much better.

The Meat Puppets pulled a Breeders this year, releasing their first original-lineup album since 1996, Dusty Notes. The return of drummer Derrick Bostrom did not, understandably, reignite critical adulation or fan enthusiasm in the same way that The Breeders reunion did, mainly because the Meat Puppets were always too weird to make much of a dent in the culture, but also because this album really doesn’t sound like it was made by professional musicians. You can almost hear engineer Jeremy Parker stammering ‘Are…are you sure that’s what you want the synth to sound like there? Because we could easily…’ interrupted by a loud snore from one of the Kirkwood brothers. Same as it ever was? Still, as someone who loved pretty much everything this band did up to and including No Joke!, I’m happy to have them back in action. Personally, I think “Nightcap” and “Vampyr’s Winged Nightmare” are absolute vintage Meat, but especially if you’re fond of their more countryish leanings, you should definitely not sleep on this one.

That dog. was not a band I ever expected to hear from again, but ‘90s nostalgia is in such beast mode right now that I’m sort of amazed Krist & Dave haven’t announced a reunion tour with the dude from Silverchair (YET?). For whatever reason, the harmonies on Old LP aren’t as ambitious as that dog. fans are used to, but otherwise it’s not likely to disappoint. These songs are all solid, lyrics and music; you can’t even tell they’ve aged other than maybe a touch of extra world-weariness in the subject matter.

Another welcome comeback: L7 (aka the loudest band I’ve ever seen except possibly My Bloody Valentine), whose Scatter The Rats didn’t have the impact it should’ve. To me, this band was probably the quintessence of the grunge sound in every aspect, and it’s all on display here; I guess if a record like this doesn’t make a splash at the height of ‘90s nostalgia, you can draw some conclusions about how little effect grunge music actually had on people compared to grunge culture and the pop-grunge pretenders who usurped the pioneers of that scene within a couple years.

Did someone say “Third Eye Blind”? Haha! Just when I mellowed on my hate for this band, I found myself doing some Wikipediaing recently and it turns out that the singer, Stephan Jenkins, is a total dirtbag who fucks over any guitar player he touches. I’ll be damned, though, if that first album they did wasn’t packed with good songs (“Semi-Charmed Life” notwithstanding) and they put on a heck of a good live show for a bunch of has-beens when I saw them at Summerfest last year. I…don’t think I would’ve listened to their new album if I hadn’t come up with this brilliant idea for a piece solely about middle-aged alt-rockers but also Pitchfork reviewed it soooo. The album, Screamer, is completely unrecognizable as the band that made music in the ‘90s, so, um, props for evolving? Not much guitar to be heard, honestly; they now sound like Imagine Dragons or Fun., so I guess Jenkins’s belief that he’s the only important member of the band has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. His voice when not digitally processed all to hell sounds similar to what you’re used to, but his distinctive rhythmic lyrical style from the old days and his ability to craft a hook are completely absent. The only time I ever saw them live, they didn’t play anything that sounded like this, but I had no idea until last month that they never ceased being a band all this time; they’ve put out four other frikkin albums that I will never ever listen to. Oh that Stephen he’s a real potty-mouth nowadays, I’ll give him that! But yeah this album is godawful.

I’m starting to think this piece would’ve been more concise if it had been about irrelevant ‘90s bands who didn’t release albums in 2019, so I’ll just close with The Muffs. I can’t remember how I first heard this band; I was thinking they were on one of the zillions of punk comps we used to listen to back then but I can’t say for sure. I never saw Clueless or owned the soundtrack. Maybe I just bought Blonder And Blonder at a used CD store because I thought their name was cool. That sort of thing happened back then. I can certainly say now that I wish I hadn’t let myself forget about The Muffs. Bingeing on their old albums in October after Kim Shattuck passed away, a lot of emotions came back, a lot of faces of people I lost touch with, and the sting of regret having never seen The Muffs live, because maybe I would’ve stayed current with them if I had. Their last album, No Holiday, came out just days after Shattuck’s passing and it’s a bittersweet epitaph, comprised of songs that she wrote throughout her entire career that didn’t make the cut for any previous albums. It’s the scrappy acoustic ones like “Sick Of This Old World” and “Happier Just Being With You” that really get me; I think back to my youth and how important it was to have a concrete definition of yourself and what was punk, and I think The Muffs subverted all that just enough to have a far greater impact on me personally than I ever realized before. All you actually needed was attitude and good songs, and No Holiday has those things. Don’t let this band slip out of your memory, people; they never reached the heights of fame of some of their peers, but that’s society’s failure, not theirs.

Cal Roach

Cal Roach is a word whore currently being pimped sporadically by Milwaukee Record and the Journal Sentinel, and giving it away for nothing right here at you-phoria.com. He also co-hosts the Local/Live program on 91.7 WMSE FM every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and spouts nonsense on twitter as @roachcraft.

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