Great Fucking Albums #27: Le Tigre (Self-Titled)

Open this link in a new tab and keep reading. We’re going to listen to a song.

Maybe you were cognizant during the 90s. Do you remember Riot Grrrl? If so, you get one point, go to the next question. Do you remember it fondly? You get five points, next question. Are you a dude? Hooray, 20 points and I’m buying you a beer, because I really want to meet you. I’m serious. Where are you guys? A number of conversations I’ve had with other penis-owners about Le Tigre and other Riot Grrrl bands follow a distressingly common structure:

  1. Girlfriend is into this new band.
  2. Dude forced to listen to record / dragged to show.
  3. “Man-hating” experienced!
  4. Girlfriend morphs into lesbian and takes flight on majestic labia wings, never to be seen again.

These guys don’t just “not care for” this music, they blame it for ruining their lives. I’m not even— wait, are you listening to the song in the link? Isn’t that just catchy as hell?— Can you be angry or annoyed, but also having a good time? I’ll bet Kathleen Hanna thinks so, and I kinda think that’s what she set out to display with Le Tigre. Bikini Kill was the band that shitty ex-boyfriends needed to hate; shouldn’t they have self-selected out by the time Le Tigre rolled around? It’s like nobody got the memo when the music started being really fun.

The song you’re listening to, “Deceptacon,” neatly encapsulates pretty much everything you need to know about Le Tigre. If you don’t like this song, you probably won’t like the rest of the songs on the album. As a bonus, it pokes fun at NOFX, who, I just decided, are good stand-ins for the kind of nonsense, misapplied-masculinity douchebaggery that permeates… well, practically every music scene ever.

Check out NOFX’s “Kill Rock Stars” (I’d link to audio but I can’t seem to find any other than the Weird Al version— strange!), read the lyrics to Deceptacon, and know that NOFX also has a song called “Linoleum.” Too much work? I’ll break it down for you:

  1. Fat Mike sounds like Weird Al if Weird Al were boring and untalented.
  2. A lot of guys get really, really defensive when someone points out that they just might, in even a tiny way they didn’t realize, be contributing to a culture that gives gang rape a shrug and a hand-wave and insultsdegradesobjectifies and creepily pedolizes women.
  3. A lot of music sounds the same and that’s fucking boooooooooooooooooooring.
  4. It should be OK for women to do the same things as men, feel safe, and not have people lose their shit over it.

So why does Le Tigre qualify as a Great Fucking Album? Well, it rocks ass, for one thing; it’s also what pop-punk should actually sound like— but probably most impressively, this album is a badass teaching tool for feminism that doesn’t alienate male listeners. If you know a teenage boy, get him this album. With luck, it will open wonderful doors to X-Ray Spex, Sleater-Kinney, Patti Smith, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Screaming Females, and all kinds of other awesome stuff. He will learn that such questions as “what’s it like to be a girl in a band?” are stupid and unnecessary. Most importantly, it will help populate my world with more guys I want to buy a beer instead of slap in the coin purse.



Serve the People

Handsome Furs

Sound Kapital

2011 Sub Pop

by Chorpenning

Until very recently, I was in a bit of a rut with my video games. It started with me playing Red Dead Redemption, a game which has garnered much critical ballyhoo and even a little bit of hullabaloo. Well, the truth is it’s an all right game, I suppose. But it chose some inopportune moments to get buggy on me and the end was artificially padded to the point that I almost decided not to finish it (seriously – and there’s a spoiler in here, if you give shit – toward the end of the game, while you’re busy waiting for the sudden and inevitable betrayal to come, you have to shoot some crows to protect your corn. And if you don’t shoot enough of them in a short enough amount of time, you fail the “mission” and have to redo it. This is not some optional side quest, mind you – you have to do it to get to the end of the fucking game!). But I did finish it, I quite enjoyed the actual end of the game, and then thought I’d go for something more lighthearted and fun; so I picked up Dead to Rights: Retribution (I call this time my “dead” phase of video gaming)… and put it down barely an hour in when I realized that it is probably the worst video game I’ve played in the last three years. Poor design, wonky combat, having to walk around the same two or three levels over and over again. It’s a game that tends to show naked contempt for you as a player of video games. Take heart – I got it for free. So but anyway, after Dead to Rights: Retardation, I started to wonder if maybe there was something wrong with me. Like maybe I just suddenly didn’t like video games as much as I used to.

And then I played Gears of War 2. Holy shit. Yes, the plot is brick stupid, but the combat is deliciously visceral, easy to manage, and you get to chainsaw your way out of a giant fucking worm. I don’t think I’m a third of the way through the game and it has already very kindly assured me that yes, goddammit, I loves me some video games. Turns out I only like the good ones. Gears of War 2, whatever else it is, is a helluva lot of fun. And it’s fun almost immediately.

Which brings me to why I’m even talking about video games in a Bollocks! post in the first place: the new Handsome Furs album, Sound Kapital, was the perfect album to come along for me right when I was remembering how much fun video games can be when they’re not made with a seething disdain for the people who play them. Like Gears of War 2, Sound Kapital is immediately entertaining. Unlike my current video game of choice, however, Sound Kapital mixes a heavy dose of substance with its entertainment.

If there’s one theme I’ve found consistently in the two Handsome Furs albums that I own – I also highly recommend 2009’s Face Control – it’s that of people working way harder than Americans (and, presumably, Canadians) have to in order to hear or play music. Face Control was influenced by Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry’s trip around Eastern Europe, learning about underground clubs and radio stations like Serbia’s B92, a radio station that audaciously smuggled the truth out of that country when Slobodan Milošević was busy waging genocide there. Supporting that album apparently led the Handsome Furs to Burma in 2010, where public rock shows are strictly forbidden by the military fucks who run that country.

You can read Alexei Perry’s wildly entertaining version of events here but I’ll just summarize everything this way: last year, the Handsome Furs took one helluva risk to bring music to people who were taking one helluva risk by putting on a show and the best part is that Perry and Boeckner donated their proceeds to help their Burmese opening band (Side Effect, name-checked in the Sound Kapital highlight “Serve the People”) fund the recording of an album. For those of you keeping score at home, this is not only one hundred percent virtuous rock star behavior, it’s fucking awesome human behavior.

An adventure like that would have an impact on anybody, and the influence of the Furs’ visit to Burma (I will not call it fucking Myanmar, that’s what the assholes wanna call it) can be felt all over Sound Kapital. So once more, we have awesome songs about people risking their necks to hear music (the international garage anthem “Cheap Music” and the aforementioned “Serve the People”) and once more, the political themes of the record stem from the personal struggles of the people who inspired the music.

And what awesome, infectious, ragged-ass pop music it is! Where Face Control had a few unnecessary bits, Sound Kapital is fit and trim at nine tracks, at least five of which can be classified as “Fucking Awesome.” In case you’re wondering, the remaining four are still “pretty fucking great,” and are growing on me rapidly. In short, Sound Kapital is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of 2011. It’s a stunning example of the marriage of style and substance that Talib Kweli was talking about earlier this year.

Part of what I have loved about that last two Handsome Furs records is also what I have loved about Wolf Parade pretty much since “This Heart’s On Fire” and that’s the fact that Dan Boeckner doesn’t seem capable of writing a song that isn’t at least a little bit anthemic. It’s in his fucking blood. When he sings, “Nostalgia never really meant that much to me” on “Memories of the Future,” I feel like I’m hearing a mantra. Of course, this could be due in part to the fact that I’ve recently been bombarded with forwarded emails and Facebook statuses from friends that romanticize the past to an almost willfully ignorant degree (seriously, you know who’s nostalgic for the 50s and 60s? Privileged white men. I’ve never met a black dude who thinks shit was better back in the Eisenhower administration). But the phrase is couched in such hypnotically head-nodding music that the whole package sometimes comes across as a message from the future to stop living in the past (Boeckner even sings, “I have seen the future/ I will never be repatriated” on the appropriately titled “Repatriated”).

I should also point out that it takes a special talent for someone to use synthesizers as much as the Handsome Furs do without pissing me off (Wolf Parade was also capable of this. If Expo 86 was their swan song, it was one helluva way to go out). Synths appear on, I think, every Handsome Furs song and I find myself loving it. I never believed synthesizers were inherently evil, mind you, but I know that they’re very infrequently used for good. Sound Kapital is a case where they’re used for awesome, especially on “Repatriated” and my current favorite track “Bury Me Standing.”

In my post about Face Control, I mentioned that people like the staff of B92 were exactly the sort of people who ought to be celebrated in rock songs. The same is true of bands like Side Effect and all the people who helped the Handsome Furs put on their show in Yangon. That the Furs choose to celebrate people like this in songs that so frequently make my dopamine reward pathway light up like Times Square is a reason to celebrate them as one of the most promising bands working right now.

Warning: My Morning Jacket May Result in Unintended Pregnancy

I witnessed three separate diaper-changings at the My Morning Jacket show at McMenamin’s Edgefield last night. My friend Lea Anna suggested that the bands we like are “growing up,” but I would rather see this as testament to the virility of MMJ fans. And who wouldn’t want to sow some wild oats, after seeing Jim James explode on stage? Here is a man who has all the powers of a Dracula and a Sasquatch, with none of the drawbacks, plus some extra powers that probably come from the mystical combination of the two— powers like shredding ass on guitar and blasting forth with ovary-throbbing falsetto that I hope makes Prince nod in solemn approval.

Besides, after 13 years and 6 albums, MMJ had probably grown up long before I ever heard about them, and their broad set list showed it. There were plenty of tracks on hand from Circuital of course (including an impenetrably awesome rendition of “Holdin’ on to Black Metal,” complete with its very own chorus of Black Metal Girls), but the tracks seemed to be split neatly between Circuital, Z, Evil Urges, and It Still Moves, which suits a nascent fan like me just fine.

Other highlights included an extended, skull-shaking, pants-dampening version of “Off the Record;” the band chuckling along with the audience during “Outta My System;” and each song that featured the intensely badass drumming of Patrick Hallahan (spolier alert: it was all the songs).

I love being at shows where you can tell most people in the crowd are there because they clearly love the band. I go to concerts sometimes and see people that don’t look like they’re having a good time, or they’re texting or whatever, and I just want to ask: “what on earth motivated you to foot $20-50 to sit through something you’ll mostly ignore?” This show was not one of those shows. I had a doofus grin plastered on my face the whole time, and looking around saw plenty of the same, with people dancing and belting out lyrics at the top of their lungs from the pit to the nosebleeds.

So if you’ve been trying for a baby but haven’t had much luck, skip all those boola-boola fertility drugs and just go to a MMJ show. Count Sasquatch will hook you up.


Rocktoberfest Acht

So yeah, my friends and I, in a bout of total unoriginality, started this annual party called Rocktoberfest back in 2002. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of beer and friendship and meat and rocking until you break yourself. If that sounds childish and/or unimportant to you, maybe you should attend Rocktoberfest before you go judging things you don’t understand. Or maybe you’re humorless California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who doesn’t seem to like anything at all, especially if it has ever a) been in a union or b) been poor. But I digress.

This year was the 8th annual Rocktoberfest (Rocktoberfest Acht in German. So Achtoberfest, as my pal Jom pointed out while quite drunk) and we held it at my friend Badier’s mostly former house in Menlo Park, which is dangerously close to Stanford University. Having a massive party in a house that is mostly empty is definitely the way to go. Less shit to break.

I’d like to think that everyone who attends  our Rocktoberfest recognizes that, like Hold Steady albums and good beers, the most recent one is always the best one ever. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the haze of music, drunk, and smoke, I realized why Rocktoberfest feels like a holiday to those who attend it and, as a sort of bonus realization, why rock ‘n’ roll is not a terrible substitute for a religion (when it doesn’t suck, of course). Let’s deal with the last thing first: at its best, rock ‘n’ roll creates community. When you go to see your favorite band, you share in the pure joy of music with a roomful of strangers. The audience and the band are all plugged in to something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The potential exists in that moment to meet new people and make new friends. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you totally can. And maybe you should. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of an ever-expanding community that started with five guys in a house. Those five guys didn’t always get along by any means, but Rocktoberfest creates a unique present in which the past is mostly obliterated while people sing along to songs like “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand (modified by us so that the chorus is now, “This beer is out of control/ I’m gonna drink this beer/ drink this beer”) and “Holy Diver” by Dio (we poured one out for Ronnie James Dio this year). Sure, it’s silly. But what’s wrong with being silly?

What happened at Rocktoberfest this year was what I  imagine happened around Joe Strummer’s famous campfires at Glastonbury. Old friends met new friends, some of us had wives to bring, others had kids to leave at home. But for several hours of a Saturday, everyone was cool with everyone. For my part, I was deliriously happy. You can do this anytime you want, and you should. Gather your friends and some drinks and some great music, and celebrate your personal community. Rocktoberfest Acht was a reminder of why I love music and – more important – why I literally love a majority of the people I know. It’s not prayer and it won’t save you from much besides boredom, but it could provide you with one helluva a great night.

So, in the great words of Mr. Craig Finn, “Let this be my annual reminder/ that we can all be something bigger.” Go forward, kids, be awesome to each other, and rock the fuck on.

Sharon Jones, Leadbelly, and Why Most Soul Music Sucks Now

Let’s be clear at the outset here: I do not think Sharon Jones is any part of the reason why most Soul sucks now. To the contrary, if today’s shitty teenage Soulsters took a page from Jones’s playbook, I’d be as happy with Soul music as I would be if Otis Redding was still alive. (For the record, that’s pretty fucking happy)

The fact that I know going in what every Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings record is going to sound like has, so far, never diminished my enjoyment of those records. The obvious reason is probably that Sharon Jones has the best set of Old School Soul Pipes this side of Bettye LaVette (if you don’t know who Bettye LaVette is, stop reading this right now. Get up from your desk. Exit your cubicle. Head for your nearest music store. Realize, after a moment, that those don’t really exist any more. Get back to your cubicle. Sit down. Open a new tab in your browser – you can keep this tab open, but you can’t continue reading yet – and download, legally or less-than-legally, Bettye LaVette’s music. You are now a better person and therefore good enough to continue reading this little spiel about Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) and the second most obvious reason is that the Dap-Kings, though I have no idea what a Dap-King is, play some straight up funky soul music to underscore Jones’s crooning, strutting, and squawking.

Another reason I always love Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is that they sound the way R&B and Soul sounded when it was good. I’m sorry if you think the shit that passes for Soul now is even remotely soulful. Perhaps you should go back and listen to Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield and then maybe you’ll recognize that R. Kelly, Mariah Carey, Joss Stone, and everyone of their ilk should be jailed for crimes against truth and beauty (thank you for that phrase, Mystery Science Theater 3000′s Kevin Murphy. I give credit where it’s due and Mr. Murphy wrote the plain truth in A Year at the Movies when he asserted, “Kevin Costner is a cultural criminal and ought to be locked up for crimes against truth and beauty”). I’m not one of those old, half-dead assholes who thinks that all old music is great and all new music is bad (it wouldn’t make much sense to have a music blog on the internets if I was so in love with the past) – plenty of old stuff that old people revere is patently awful. Like Kiss. Fuck Kiss. And fuck Elvis Presley while we’re at it. If he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it only proves that monarchies are bullshit (Leadbelly was the real King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and I’m not saying that out of some unfounded belief that Elvis was a racist [I have no idea if he was or not]. I’m saying it because there are literal tons of rock songs that simply would not exist were it not for Leadbelly’s blues. I’d argue that the musicians who influenced Elvis owed a tremendous debt to Mr. Ledbetter as well. If you’ve never listened to Leadbelly, get some of his stuff from the internet when you’re done getting Bettye LaVette’s stuff). Where was I? Oh yeah – I don’t think that the only good music was made years before I was born, but in the case of Soul/R&B music, something is often missing: soul.

Sharon Jones sweats soul and then pours that Soul-Sweat into every single note she sings, which is not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. Take her new album, I Learned the Hard Way. Whether she’s admonishing her dude (“I Learned the Hard Way” and, well, most of the tracks), defending him to her moms (“Mama Don’t Like My Man”), or praising a god I don’t believe in (“Call On God” – it’s available on the “bonus version” of I Learned the Hard Way that you can get from E-Music. This version is worth getting because “Call On God” is really fucking gorgeous), Jones’s voice is strong, clear, and – thank goodness – never auto-tuned. Too much of the so-called Soul music I hear today is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overproduced, from the instruments to the vocals to the trite label-supplied lyrics. Even Alicia Keys, whose music I like (I am secure enough in my masculinity to admit that), would benefit tremendously from taking all the fucking computers and bullshit out of the studio and recording something with a real piano and her voice and nothing else. I don’t know if the modern Soul nitwits think all that hyper-produced nonsense and uber-vibrato singing sounds modern or what, but it ends up all sounding the same (i.e., like shit).

Some folks might be tempted to argue that Sharon Jones is simply repackaging the past in a gimmicky, perhaps even cynical attempt to sell us our own record collections all over again. To these folks, I offer this simple, elegant counterargument: shut the fuck up. Okay, seriously though: we already know that all Western music is somehow derivative of the music that came before it. The Beatles took from the blues and those guys took from slaves in the fields who blah blah blah and so on until you get back to Fuckrock the Elder, whose wailing entertainments knocked ’em dead at the Neanderthal sock-hops even though discerning cave people recognized his stuff as highly derivative of Glugnuts the Hideous’s early experiments in atonal rape-grunting. So, at the end of the day, you have to listen to the music itself and decide (for yourself only) if it’s the real thing or not. This can be hard with old-school music like Sharon Jones performs. But here’s a tip: if the music waters down the style of which it is derivative, it’s probably crap. Take, as an example, the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer has apparently made it his life’s mission to water down old, soulful swing music so that your parents can reminisce about music they never danced to at parties they never attended*. One of the unintentional results of this is that Louis Prima’s surviving family members are legally allowed to kill Brian Setzer (the government has been trying to keep this a secret for years because there’s nothing bureaucrats love more than a banal, watered down distillation of something that was once vibrant and beautiful). If you stack Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings up against, say, Otis Redding, I think you’ll find the two fit fairly well together.

But you can find all this out for yourself by listening to I Learned the Hard Way, which you should do once you get through your Bettye LaVette and Leadbelly homework. Your work is cut out for you. Get to it!

*How do I know your parents aren’t cool? I just know. Accept it. It’s not your fault.

I Can’t Review the New Hold Steady Album

Why, you’re wondering, can’t I review Heaven is Whenever, the new album by the Hold Steady? After all, they are my favorite band. It would seem to be a natural fit: they put out an album and I tell you all about how wonderful it is.

But that’s exactly the problem. I’m not going to pretend that Bollocks! is ever (or has ever been) even remotely objective, but at this point me reviewing a Hold Steady album is like an alcoholic reviewing beer. Except the Hold Steady won’t fuck up my liver.

So there’s no point in me telling you that Heaven is Whenever, despite the departure of Franz Nicolay, is probably the best Hold Steady album yet (someone on the interwub claimed that Separation Sunday was the Hold Steady’s “peak” but that’s probably the drugs talking. The best Hold Steady album seems to always be the latest one, which is really an achievement. Almost Killed Me is a great record, and they’ve only gotten better since then. I keep waiting for the Hold Steady record that’s going to disappoint me and they keep not making it). Of course I think that. At this point, it’s in my blood to think that.

If you’ve read Bollocks! much at all over the last two years, you probably expect me to say that Craig Finn’s lyrics are sharper than ever (standout lines include, “You can’t tell people what they wanna hear/ if you also wanna tell the truth”; “Heaven is whenever/ we can get together/ lock the door to your room/ and listen to your records”; and the simple, probably true, “In the end/ I bet no one learns a lesson”) and that Tad Kubler is still the most underrated guitar player in the world (opener “Sweet Part of the City” even features slide guitar and it sounds sweeter than honey dripping from the vulvas of angels*) .

So maybe you should find another reviewer to give you the nitpicky stuff. Someone will try to accuse the Hold Steady of making the same album over and over (which they haven’t) and someone else will say Craig Finn can’t sing (he’s gotten a lot better since Almost Killed Me and Heaven is Whenever is his strongest vocal performance yet). Pitchfork thinks “these new songs just don’t hit as hard,” so you can go there and try to figure out what about Heaven is Whenever warrants a score of 6.2. (Parenthetical rant:  I’ve got serious beef with scoring systems in general. If someone can’t tell how you feel about a record by what you wrote, you did a shitty job of writing. Almost every website rates things with numbers, stars, or grades like “A-“, which is bad. But Pitchfork’s numbered rating system is by far the most pretentious, goofiest bullshit ever. What the fuck are they judging, figure skating? Did the Hold Steady not land their Salchows and Lutzes to your liking? I suggest a new motto for you, Pitchfork: “No One Skates a Clean Program. Except Radiohead”) Perhaps Pitchfork didn’t notice the additional (and quite welcome) harmony vocals on nearly every track or the fact that Heaven is Whenever is heavy on chord-based riffs but not as heavy on Kubler’s guitar pyrotechnics (though those do make some appearances as well) .

You know who you should read? Probably that Robert Christgau guy. He’s a real intellectual about this shit and he’ll probably give you some good copy on Heaven is Whenever. He’ll probably tell you all about what’s wrong with it, from start to finish. But I won’t. Because I love it. Would I sit here and tell you all the bad stuff (which is far outweighed by the skull-crackingly awesome stuff) about my fiancee? No. Because I love her and I’m going to marry her and if things don’t work out, I just might marry Heaven is Whenever.

On the bright side, Heaven is Whenever has done some brilliant housekeeping for me here at the imaginary Bollocks! office. I no longer feel compelled to compile a list of my favorite albums of 2010 this December. Heaven is Whenever is my favorite album of the year – I listened to it six times the day it started streaming on NPR’s website and at least twice a day since then. That was before the fucking album even came out! Now that it’s out, there’s not gonna be a lot of time for me to listen to other albums in my car. I might as well roll out a little red carpet that leads to my CD player and forget that my other albums even exist.

So does this make me a Hold Steady fanboy? Possibly. Hell, probably. But I’m not gonna run to your blog and tell you to kill yourself if you don’t like Heaven is Whenever (this happened to me once when I had the temerity to not like an album. I won’t say which album, but the band’s name rhymes with Shmortugal. The Pan). Whether or not you like this album is immaterial to the fact that to my refined, devilishly handsome ears, this album kicks several buckets of ass.

So what is it, you might be inclined to ask, that makes me like the Hold Steady so damn much? Glad you asked. They consistently scratch an itch that I have for fun (listen to “Rock Problems” and “Our Whole Lives” and tell me those aren’t fun songs), literate rock ‘n’ roll music. Craig Finn’s musings on death and religion are not that far from my own – I believe, as he has mentioned before, that we are our only saviors. In a godless universe, we have two powerful things to help us out: each other and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not Nietzsche, but it’s not the worst ethos in the world either. But more than that, the Hold Steady has taken the music I grew up hating (I call it Alcoholic Stepdad Music, which should let you know everything you need to about where I’m coming from), music I thought was for dead-end buffoons in dead-end towns, and they’ve spit it back to me as something uplifting, positive, and goddamn entertaining. “Beautiful” is not a word that a lot of people would use to describe the Hold Steady’s music, but it’s beautiful to me.

So no pretense here. In an era of completely bullshit objectivity, I came here to praise Heaven is Whenever. There is nothing I don’t like about this album and if that ruins whatever credibility you were lending me, I can live with that (what the hell were you doing lending credibility to a blog anyway?). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve only listened to Heaven is Whenever once today and that’s not nearly enough.

*If you’re unsure as to exactly how sweet that is, why not ask your reverend when you’re at church next Sunday?

She & Him, Puppies, and “You HAVE to Like…”

I usually post the album art for whatever album I’m reviewing, but for my review of She & Him’s Volume Two, I’ve chosen to post a picture of my dog. Her name is Asha (Swahili word for “life,” and you are free to make jokes about the Cornershop song “Brimful of Asha” all you want) and you don’t have to think she’s awesome. But she’s awesome. Where am I going with this? You can guess: you don’t have to think She & Him’s Volume Two is awesome. But it is awesome.

Before we go much further, we would benefit from a short discussion of something that I fucking hate: when people tell you that you have to love something or do something or believe something (unless that something is, say, scientifically verifiable. Like the germ theory of disease) or whatever. I’ve literally been told I have to like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” because it’s “a classic.” Well, I fucking abhor that song. Its chorus has fuckall to do with its verse, the instrumentation is nauseating, and Steve Perry sings like someone’s applying a vice grip to his balls (if someone hasn’t, they fucking well should). It’s a shitty song and I do not have to like it. I don’t have to like anything. At all. Ever. Are you reading this, Portugal. The Man fans? (Probably not.) While we’re at it, we should also do away with the myth that you have to have an objective reason for not liking something (by “do away with,” I mean “shoot execution style”). “It sounds like shit” is all the reason you need, although my preferred reasons, when pressed by some argumentative nimrod, are either 1) “Fuck you” or 2) “Your mom” or, if I’m feeling saucy, 3) “Fuck your mom.” I really like to elevate the discourse.

Now having said that, there are certain things that I think nearly everyone likes and I’m baffled when I meet people who don’t like whatever thing that is. Like puppies. You like puppies, don’t you? Who the fuck doesn’t like puppies? Or ice cream – excusing, of course, the lactose intolerant. I can understand not liking foods that your body rejects out of all possible exits.

So, for people who like puppies (presumably everyone), you still don’t have to like Journey or Portugal. The Man or Jesus or pizza or sunshine (and you don’t have to like Mariah Carey, for that matter. I sure as hell don’t). But I’m betting you will like She & Him’s Volume Two. I’m betting you liked Volume One. Unless you hate joy (in which case, you might be House Minority Leader John “My Skin is Orange” Boner*. Can we say that your skin tone is natural? HELL NO, we can’t!).

The thing is, it barely makes sense for me to attempt criticism of She & Him’s Volume Two because I liked it a whole lot almost instantly and I like it more every time I hear it. I liked Volume One a lot and Volume Two does not depart much at all from its predecessor’s winning formula. Zooey Deschanel’s voice is in its usual excellent shape (and let’s pause for a second here to give her the maddest of props for blowing up the myth of the actress-as-musical-dilettante. She’s about the only actress I can think of who should definitely quit her day job and pursue music full time. Scarlett Johannsen, on the other hand, should be jailed for her blasphemous desecration of Tom Waits songs, entitled Anywhere I Lay My Head. That album was a pioneering example of epic fuck-awfulness. And those of you who think Miley Cyrus counts as either an actress or musician, well, you’ll grow up some day and be really embarrassed by the passions of your misspent youth**) and M. Ward once again creates brilliant sonic landscapes upon which Deschanel’s voice can freely frolic. Sure, like Volume One, this album is part 70’s country and part oldies radio pastiche, but it’s so musically on point that I don’t care. I’m too busy enjoying the album to point out that it’s derivative, mostly of its predecessor. If anything, Volume Two is a little more uptempo and there are a few more (quite welcome) electric guitar bits. As Deschanel sings on “In the Sun,” “Well, all right.”

I think She & Him’s success is based on three guiding principles: 1) strong melodies. If you asked me, “Matt, what is an indelible melody?”, I would point you to She & Him’s two volumes of pop awesomeness. The melodies on Volume Two are perhaps a bit stronger, but that’s like saying you won two more bucks in the lottery this year than you did last time; 2) understanding, and paying, their debt to the Beatles. I know, everyone owes a debt to the Beatles, but She & Him are two of the Fab Four’s most capable (if obvious) disciples. ‘Nuff said; 3) rarely straying past the four minute mark. This is crucial to the success of music that is so clearly nodding to music we’ve all heard before. A nine minute jam on Volume Two would, in all likelihood, sink the whole enterprise. I’ve said before that brevity is the soul of pop, and She & Him understand that.

Volume Two’s other big improvement over Volume One is the better use of M. Ward’s voice, laying subtle harmonies under Zooey Deschanel’s lovely melody lines. Volume Two is a harmony-rich album (album closer “If You Can’t Sleep” gives me chills), which is impressive to me because it manages to do so without wallowing in the Brian Wilson-worship that has permeated a lot of  indie music over the last few years (I may be committing blasphemy here, but I find Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys to be completely overrated. I’m glad he stopped singing about surfing, but can you honestly tell me what the big fuss was about Smile? No? I didn’t think so. For my money, Dark Night of the Soul, which might actually see the light of day this year***, is a much better “lost” record than Smile).

So  yeah. Not much more to say about She & Him, Volume Two. It’s awesome, though not as awesome as my dog, and you don’t have to think so but you probably will. About the album, I mean. And the dog too. You seem pretty smart.

* Spelled phonetically, of course.

** I don’t exclude myself from this. I used to own Bon Jovi albums on cassette. If I could go back in time and kick my ass for that, I would.

*** I am not blaming EMI for Mark Linkous’s death earlier this year. But I’m not not blaming them either. And since today is April 2, make of that what you will.