Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beekeeping For Fun And Profit

So, like, there's this period of time in my life where I was one of those annoying trust-fund-hippies you hated in college, okay? I'm not proud to admit it, but I spent about a year-and-a-half of my life with really long hair (well, longer than now) listening to -- CHRIST, people, I'm baring my soul here -- Phish (I know -- don't start, please), and smoking so much pot I'm surprised I didn't actually shift into an alternate dimension. I wore tie-dye t-shirts and Birkenstocks. And worse yet, I felt like this was as good as it got. Listening to fucking Phish and Blues Traveler and hanging out with people whose record collections included a Bob Marley best-of, Van Morrison's "Moondance" and three badly-chosen live Dead tapes.

So the thing that pulled me out of that despicable funk was a record, of course -- Up by Minneapolis psych-popsters the 27 Various. Their lead singer, Ed Ackerson, had discovered and imbibed My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (which of course I was totally unaware of in my pot-induced haze -- the one time somebody played it for me, I thought there was something wrong with their record player) and filtered it through a uniquely midwestern pop sensibility, and something about that record just clicked. My eyes were opened. I got it. Noise was beautiful. Burying your vocals under a layer of guitar fuzz was magnificent. Repetition was fantastic. It all made sense. I cut my fucking hair, turned the amps up to 11, and started my first pop group, Deep Shag, within a few months.

Look: just about everything I know about pop songwriting and music production I learned from watching Ed (and Jay Hurley -- always Jay Hurley, but that's another blog entry). I learned how to write a song with Verses! and Choruses! and Hooks! from Ed. I learned that sometimes just repeating the same thing several times is preferable to coming up with endless new things to confuse people. I learned that simplicity was righteous, that weird noises frequently fit perfectly just where you heard them in your head, and that if you want to make a song sound good on record you have to really fucking THINK about how you arrange the god-damn thing.

And all through my life, Ed's records spurred me on, made me think, pushed my own songwriting into ever-different directions. The first Polara record came just as I was forming Lunar 9 and I stole mercilessly from it. The second one came just as Shatterproof was making big and made me think about getting Lunar 9 together yet again, and making a serious go of it this time, dammit. Formless/Functional came out just as I had discovered Drum-n-bass music and made me think it was at all possible to take dance music and warp it into the fabric of rock and roll.

I kinda lost touch with Polara for a while, right around Jetpack Blues -- hell, lost touch with everything! -- and there was a part of me that sure missed the righteous invention of the earlier stuff. But man, their new record, "Beekeeping" is maybe the best thing Ed's ever done, or at least its up there with "Up" and that first Polara record in terms of sheer songwriting brilliance and production adeptness. Case in point: head to iTunes and download "Game Over," which I think is Ed's best single, possibly ever. There's something so perfect about the verse melody and the way the chorus just hangs on it -- and the weird guitar noises that slip in and out between both speakers during the whole thing, its a complete package, man, and it rocks.

Then have a listen to "Another Phase," which has a hugely melancholy vibe but slips into such a celebratory chorus you won't fucking believe it, or "Talk Me Down" which wields a wicked Dandy Warhols organ as well as a magnificent melody, or "Both Ends Burning" which pulls out the phony horn stops the same way some of my shit does, and just as unapologetically. And make sure you make it to "Out Of Your Hands," which is so damned heavy it almost shouldn't exist, and the gorgeous, optimistic finale "Live And Learn" which is almost gospel in its exhultation.

Dude, if there was any point you dropped off the Polara train, you need to JUMP THE FUCK ON right now, again, because this is seriously some of the best music the man's ever made. After a great solo record a few months back, for him to come out with something this solid and righteous in so many ways -- well, shit, there's more to come, for sure, so LISTEN, okay?


MissTrixi said...

3 blogs in 2 days?!?! You so crazy!

*sigh* I wanna see pictures of Drug Hazed Hippy Jonny! I've only seen one from the Deep Shag days....and the word Shag did come to mind!

(sorry, that went kinda PG-13 there! *shock*).


Jon Hunt said...

Oh, you've seen 'em -- I showed you those pics of me and Marcy, with me looking like I'm about to pass out from all the HEAVY that's floating in the air.

Febrifuge said...

Awesome, this goes on the list. And "Jetpack Blues" was MY intro to Polara, and you know how I love the shiny polished pop with a fuzzy core. The older stuff still seems a little beepy-scratchy to me.

Jon Hunt said...

See, I'm so much more the beepy-scratchy kind of guy, but I'm rediscovering Jetpack Blues. Heh -- I was just sore that the song I sang on didn't make the cut for the album, it was my favorite!!

Superbadfriend said...

Damn, your passion for music is so contagious, Jonny. You make me want to learn how to play an instrument. And like, sing 'n stuff.

How awesome of you to to give props to the peeps who influenced you, too.

Very cool.


LAP said...

The only question I have is it as addicting as ketchup flavored potato chips?

Anonymous said...

Holy shit, I knew you during those days but never thought you sunk to the Phish level!


Remember Johnny Murphy? And Jay, working at Espresso Royale for a hundred years? OMG.

SO MUCH goddamned pot smoking! It was gross. I was dating a guy who lived on 5th St. SE who made me listen to shit like 24-7 Spyz and PRIMUS, of all things. Ugh. I was high enough to think it was GREAT.

Ed Ackerson. I still have the "Yes, Indeed" single with the FUCKING HILARIOUS Shakespearian liner notes. I remember parties at the "Sherburne house," I think it was called......

Ahhh, reading your blog is downright scary sometimes. I should probably take the plunge and look you up since I'm in L.A now too. Christ.

MissTrixi said...


MissTrixi said...

Oops. Uh -- Jonny, posting with Trixi's login. Sharing a computer. Its an issue.

LAP said...

So I haven't listen to all of every song you've recommended, but I will say that I've listened to "E Flat" and "Both Ends Burning" on Polara's myspace page over and over since you posted this.

Jon Hunt said...

I'm wracking my brain as to the identity of "anonymous." Most probably but not definitely a girl. Remembers Johnny Murphy. Knew Ed Ackerson. Knew Marcy most likely. Hung out at Ralph and Jerry's. Yet prefers to remain anonymous, which rules out, like, Deva Suckerman or Anitra or Kristi Brudos, people who'd probably jump on here and go "JON! IT'S ME!"

So who the hell are you?? Its driving me BANANAS!

Jon Hunt said...

Wait, Starla?

belsum said...

Trix- next time you're in town come over. I have the scrapbook from Deep Shag days. Lots of good stuff in there.

Looking forward to the Polara show tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hehe. Wouldn't you like to know.

I know I should stop torturing you and just send a fucking e-mail...but we'll see. Write some more shit about those olden days, I'll comment, and maybe you'll figure it out. I'm hesitant to reveal any online identity because of my job, so just bear with me.

Either way, I think your blog's hilarious and I'm really glad to see you're doing well.

Jon Hunt said...

Becky? Liz? Mischka? AGH -- its driving me nuts!

steve zahn said...

I listened to Phish back in the day too. It was the 90's after all. Of course I was becoming a famous movie star so I knew those guys really well. I know all the famous people. It's pretty awesome to be a super star.