Fuck Violence. Listen to the Mynabirds

Laura Burhenn is sick and fucking tired of war. And gay-bashing assholes. And a lot of other things of which I am also sick and fucking tired. Lots of folks are probably sick and fucking tired of war (unless they work for the companies that profit from it), but what Burhenn did with her exhaustion and outrage is instructive:

She made one of the best albums of 2012 with it.

I know it’s only September and I know I’ve already made much of a certain Future of the Left record, but the beauty of refusing to rank things by number is that I can say that The Plot Against Common Sense and the Mynabirds’ Generals are on fairly even footing for me (along with Ugly by the Screaming Females).

Here’s the thing: Burhenn and her Mynabirds could have settled for a capable rehash of the old-timey, gospel-tinged loveliness of their debut. It probably would have been a consistent, listenable, slightly forgettable affair, but no more or less than your average She & Him album. Instead, Laura Burhenn, in a voice that is approaching Neko Case levels of beauty, decided to take a long, hard look at her country in 2012 and ask it just what the fuck it thinks it’s doing.

“Karma Debt” sets the tone by pondering what sort of colossal positive effort could possibly offset the damage done by our two (two and a half? I’ve lost count) wars over the last decade. The refrain contains one of the album’s themes in the kind of direct language I love: “I’d give it all for a legacy of love.” See, Burhenn doesn’t wanna kill the dumb motherfuckers (men, mostly) who perpetuate violence around the world; she’s pleading, sometimes demanding, that they see the folly of all this macho-asshole stuff and just knock it off.

But the genius of Generals is that it isn’t just the finest anti-war album of the current century (you didn’t really think it was American Idiot, did you?); it is also a righteous, impassioned cry against all violence. “Mightier Than the Sword” is an achingly beautiful (on a par with Andrew Bird’s “Hole in the Sky”) letter to a gay man who is considering suicide. The first time I heard it, in my car, I thought it was about a soldier returning from war. But then I put my headphones on at home and listened to the words (“Love who you love/ no matter what”) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Now I cry every time I hear “Mightier Than the Sword.” For fuck’s sake, folks: it’s bad enough that we have a government that, no matter who’s in the White House, seems hell-bent on killing brown people around the world. But we also have people in this country who will commit horrible acts of violence against a man or woman simply because they love someone of the same sex. We’ve got assholes shooting up movie theaters and racists shooting up temples and people who think the solution to both problems is more people with guns. When is it gonna be enough? As Burhenn sings (on “Disarm”), “We won’t surrender a thing by disarming.”

When the prophet Joe Strummer sang, “Let fury have the hour/ Anger can be power,” he was probably talking more about rioting for justice than about singing for peace. But I’m gonna make the educated guess that he would approve of what Laura Burhenn has done with her anger. Listen to this record, kids. And keep the violence in yer video games where it belongs.

Love who you love

No matter what

No matter how hard it may come

And I promise

You’ll be loved, my love

No matter what

You’re mightier than

Their sword-sharp tongues

 

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The Songs of Rocktober 90-81

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The countdown continues! Apparently, it takes something as important as Rocktoberfest to get me to update my blog with anything approaching regularity. I neglected to tell you an important rule when I started the countdown and that is this: I  have limited the number of songs each artist can have in the countdown to two. This is mostly to police myself; otherwise, this list would be evenly divided between the Clash, the Ramones, the Pixies, and the Hold Steady.

If you need a recap, here’s the first part of the countdown. Let’s move on, won’t we?

90. The Delgados – “All You Need is Hate” – This is well-timed. I was just saying that the Delgados need to reunite. This is basically the title track from Hate. It is simultaneously a Beatles tribute and (sort of) parody. More importantly, Alun Woodword exhorts the listener,  “Come on, hate yourself/ everyone here does/ so just enjoy yourself.” But this is no mopey emo bitchfest. It’s a bouncy pop tune carried by Stewart (Quitter) Henderson’s fuzzed-out bass and Paul Savage’s thunderous drumming. I’m thinking we could make a music video for it by just running the song under Birther news appearnces and Tea Bagger protests. Who’s with me?

89. Grand Buffet – “Casting Shadows” – Grand Buffet is supposedly a hip-hop group but, on 2007’s exemplary King Vision, they tossed this synth-punk gem in the mix and made an album that sounds like something badass sent back to us from the future in order to save mankind. That’s not hyperbole – listen to the song. You probably won’t spend a better two minutes musically today (unless you listen to “White Riot” by the Clash) I want a T-shirt that just has the last line of the song on it in big letters: “Fuck you if you really think it doesn’t matter anymore.” That’s just how awesome Grand Buffet is. If you like awesome things (and if you read Bollocks!, I can only assume you do), check out King Vision and rock out to “Casting Shadows.”

88. Gorillaz – “Punk” – Will our children look back at these early years of the 21st century and wonder why Chris Martin (the douche from Coldplay) is a household name while Damon Albarn is clearly the U.K.’s unsung pop genius? Probably. They’ll also wonder why Iowa could get it right on gay marriage but supposedly liberal California couldn’t. And then they’ll laugh at us for being stupid cavepeople. Anyway, you might know Albarn from Blur or you might know him from his genre-destroying Gorillaz project (or The Good, the Bad, and the Queen which featured Paul Simonon on bass). Point is, his stuff is awesome and this song is one of many fine moments on the first Gorillaz record. I have no idea what the words are, but the hand claps and kick drum are quite compelling.

87. Eels – “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” – I know, I know, it’s the song from Road Trip, which was a giant cinematic turd and douchebag buddy movie, but I’ll not fault Mark Everett for that. All the best Eels songs make magic by welding Everett’s journal-entry earnestness to kickass musical grooves (sadly, all their worst songs keep the journal-entry thing and lack the groove thing). This is a great song for Rocktoberfest because of the feeling you will undoubtedly get when Everett sings “Goddamn right/ it’s a beautiful day” while you are rocking out with all your closest pals.  (Unless you hate joy. You don’t hate joy, do you?)

86. Soundgarden – “My Wave” – This song really depresses the me now. I mean, it still kicks ass, but it reminds me that Chris Cornell used to be awesome. A spin through Superunknown, which brilliantly stands the test of time, reveals that Cornell’s supporting players were exceptional; Kim Thayil is still underrated as a guitar player and this song proves it – it’s built on his crunchy, dark, riff and carried on Matt Cameron’s powerful drumming. Not only will this song make you want to pretend Chris Cornell died in a fire, it will make you want to build a Rocktoberfest bonfire of Audioslave CDs and copies of Cornell’s horrendous new album, Scream.

85. Superdrag – “Who Sucked Out the Feeling?” – Remember Superdrag? Me either. They were nearly a one-hit wonder because of this song, which is the only song of theirs I’ve ever heard. I know they named an album Last Call for Vitriol, which is pretty badass. This is a pop tune about how formulaic and sad the record industry has become. They cut this song in the mid-90s, I believe. Unfortunately, they were all too prescient when they declared, “Look at me/ I can write a melody/ but I can’t expect a soul to care.” Crank this tune up and pour one out for the awesome one-hit wonder 90s bands (like Spacehog. Remember Spacehog? Anyone?)

84. Arctic Monkeys – “Red Right Hand” – This is a bonus track on the deluxe release of Humbug. It’s a cover of a Nick Cave song and it’s a perfect choice of covers for the Arctic Monkeys.  For people who have a hard time getting into Humbug, this song will put you in the right frame of mind. For people who like awesome music, this song will fit the bill for that too.

83. The White Stripes – “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine”  – This song is fucking ridiculous, but it’s also awesome. The White Stripes have a lot to offer your Rocktoberfest, but I like to lean more towards the more ludicrous, flailing songs in their catalog, and this is certainly that. Jack White’s guitar does everything that every other guitar player did in the 1970s, but he only takes three minutes to do it. Suck it, Yes.

82. TV On the Radio – “Wolf Like Me” – Skeptics will tell you that TV On the Radio doesn’t rock, that they’re not that kind of band. Or maybe idiots will tell you that. I’m not sure which. In any case, “Wolf Like Me” should silence the detractors. This song is tribal, primal, sensual shit – in other words, exactly what any good Rocktoberfest needs. If there is any potential for getting it on at your Rocktoberfest (and there should be), songs like “Wolf Like Me” will churn up the pheromones for sure and “teach you tricks that will blow your mongrel mind.”

81. Ida Maria, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” – On title alone, this song bears consideration. The fact that it’s catchy, raucous and built on the tried-and-true chorus/chorus/chorus song structure is icing on the cake. This song is perfect because you can sing along with it even if you’re plastered – there just aren’t that many words in the thing. It’s one of those repetitive songs that manages not to suck despite its repetitive nature. I attribute this to the fact that Ida Maria apparently has synesthesia, a condition which causes her to see colors when she hears music. How fucking awesome is that?

Another ten down the drain. And tomorrow? Ten more! I leave for Rocktoberfest in one week and I’m pretty fucking stoked to go back to Eugene and rock out with my friends. It’s not too late for you to put together your own Rocktoberfest, especially with all this free advice I’m giving you. You don’t have to thank me, though. The deed is its own reward.