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?