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Why Is Keith Murray Confused?

18 Aug

When I interviewed We Are Scientists last week (check out the first half here), one of my questions regarded the significant change in Keith’s lyricism that’s visible in their current release. Due to several factors–unbalanced food-alcohol ratio, anxiety and decreased eloquence–I’m not sure I explained my point correctly, and in turn, I would like to take a second look at this now that I have a bit more input from Keith & Chris. Before I begin, I want to clarify some things in case this post gets taken out of context. Do lyrics truly determine the overall potency of a song? No, they do not. Do the lyrics on Barbara really bother me that much? No, not really. Nevertheless, when complex gets construed as better, which is what I think Mr. Murray has convinced himself by shunning his lyrics off of With Love and Squalor because they’re “whiny,” I get pretty annoyed.

Chris, who is the voice of reason, does admit that “if for good or for bad” the lyrics on Barbara are more sophisticated. Though he did not elaborate further, I did agree with him. Not only are the lyrics from Barbara more diverse in the themes that they encompass, but I imagine the way in which they were conceived–Keith states that they weren’t topics that directly related to him, so I’m assuming constructed from an observer’s standpoint–requires a little more effort. So in turn, the scope of the lyrics do extend further than those from With Love and Squalor and did require a touch more labored imagination to do so. But do these traits make them better lyrics? Absolutely not! The problem occurs when mere phrase construction gets marked down as being the means to improvement.

This isn’t a new misconception–this kind of faulty thinking is outlined in the study of causation (usually describing why most social policies fail to address the issues they’re trying to resolve, aka “correlation does not imply causation”), in statistics (in the form of a spurious relationship), and even modern philosophy. Richard Rorty, in his book entitled Philosophy and Social Hope (1999), goes into depth regarding this kind of assessment by stating why “moral progress is not a matter of an increase of rationality.”

Nor is what Dewey called an increase in intelligence, that is, increasing one’s skill at inventing courses of action which simultaneously satisfy many conflicting demands. People can be very intelligent, in this sense, without having wide sympathies. It is neither irrational nor unintelligent to draw the limits of one’s moral community at a national, or racial, or gender border. But it is undesirable–morally undesirable. So it is best to think of moral progress as a matter of increasing sensitivity, increasing responsiveness to the needs of a larger and larger variety of people and things.

So Chris wasn’t too far off when he described the lyrical success of With Love and Squalor as arising from an “[identification] with the grade of intensity [that the listeners] then apply that to a situation in life where they had high-grade emotion;” this is the increasing sensitivity that Keith so convincingly accomplished by writing from a highly personal perspective, which people then co-opted to their own situations. Keith suggests that because he removed the specifics from the songs, they then became vague and too broad to be viewed as interesting or holistic to the experience. I feel like he might have even caved into calling them cliché if pestered long enough by the wrong person.

Yet, Mr. Murray can’t be farther from the reality of the situation. It is his responsiveness to the environments present in With Love and Squalor that make the lyrics powerful, whereas the lyrics from Barbara read like an advice book for dealing with the tragically immature. Do some of the lyrics off of the first album reek of adolescence? Yes, but it’s hard not to empathize with the narrator because they’re themes that not only everyone has experienced in their own unsteady psychological growth, but also themes that still plague us when we face rejection, loneliness, petulant intoxication, contentious denial of reality, the detrimental outcome of pushing limits, or romantic vulnerability.

Don’t get me wrong–not every single song off of Barbara breaks away from the methods used to write With Love and Squalor lyrics (Jack & Ginger, Ambition, and Central AC are obvious exceptions) and not every song from With Love and Squalor benefits from the strengths of its counterparts (Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, Cash Cow, The Great Escape are some catchy culprits). Despite this, a concern with jumping from exposition to overall statement remains a problem that plagues Barbara, much more so than in With Love and Squalor. Those few songs off With Love and Squalor with scantily clad narration are such high-powered tunes that all is forgiven–but the songs from Barbara which similarly possess a lack of emotional atmosphere cannot claim the same merit.

It’s true, though, when Chris argues that having Keith focus on playing beautiful chords suitable for a rhythm guitarist rather than fancy lead guitar parts is going to get people fussy and unreasonable. People like me, will then state that the band isn’t harnessing all their talent in creating a compelling album when they are probably expending twice as much of their musical craft and ability than normal. The fact remains, however, that the band has not completely compounded all that they have to offer in one album. They’ve definitely expanded their range and corrected prior shortcomings, but they still need a bit more of something before everything comes together in the studio.

Alright, well, now I should go use my college education for more suitable endeavors, like proposing a middle east peace solution, rather than constructing a droll argument on why I’m miffed by song lyrics. SORRY Y’ALL.

photos © 2010 Mahsa Borhani, all rights reserved


WAS review link

15 Aug

Check out this pitch blog review, complete with Michael Forester’s stunning B&W pictures and a set list (wait, they didn’t play Textbook! and it’s Nice Guys…who am I to talk though?):

We Are Scientists harness chaos at the Record Bar

audible laughter at the part where the author publishes her schedule–

Alas, this is actually my day off, and I have important meetings to attend about increasing my wealth, so I don’t even have time to get into the awesomeness that was Cincinatti duo Bad Veins.

Don’t worry guys, I got you covered. Girl is too busy talking about a “bizarre contraption” and forgot to tell us that the band were adding layers to their rich sound via an 8-track sitting in the center of the stage.

Anyways, Dear Forester,

I love you because you take the best shots and you don’t have a chip on your shoulder about it. And you sing really cheesy 80s songs where I want to throw the trivia board at you but decide not to because you emanate the sweetness of a small, happy-go-lucky dog. Also, stop hanging out at Gusto, you’re too cool for that shit.

Until the next show,

Barbara, track by track

6 Aug

So if you weren’t aware, We Are Scientists will be playing two of my favorite American cities soon with Bad Veins.

Aug. 12th
Record Bar
10 PM, $12, 18+

Aug. 15th
(w/ locals Satin Gum!)
10 PM, $13, 21+

1. Rules Don’t Stop

It’s their first single off the album, and there’s a reason why–the quick tempo, swift guitar picking, funky bass and vocal verses don’t play games when it comes to telling the listener what the deal is. Apparently Rules Don’t Stop We Are Scientists, and that is the extent of what we are told, until we reach the bridge. There, Keith intimates that the rules are meant to put a leash on unacceptable behavior, and he wants none of that. In fact, he tells the listener that breaking the rules isn’t a mistake because it makes us “so damn happy.” Really? If this song is meant to be an anthem, why do the lyrics make me feel so naïve when I sing them (which I inevitably do because the instrumentation is pretty catchy)? And the answer is not, “Because this song is not meant to be an anthem.”

2. I Don’t Bite

Every time I hear this song I feel like Keith might say “It’s pretty clear we’ll get along, it’s pretty clear we’ll get it ON!!!!” but instead he states that he “don’t bite.” My mind is not in the gutter; the clever syntax and rhythm of the line plays me for a fool, as if I should keep singing, and then there’s my freudian slip. Also, notice in the beginning that great finger slide action going on, reminiscent of Under the Sea recordings. Andy’s toms sound very nice during the chorus as well. Unfortunately, Chris’s bass isn’t written as perky as it usually sounds.

3. Nice Guys

I think this song made a good second single, because–even though We Are Scientists might not admit it–Nice Guys panders to fans of their older work by foraging back into pop punk. The song could easily join the ranks of Bomb Inside the Bomb, Secret Handshake, and Easy Kill. Chris’s bassline and Keith’s guitar also combine for a great harmony in the intro, outro, and during the chorus, while Andy beats the shit out of his kit. Keith’s lick during the bridge sounds sweet and continues the urgency of how much the band really “want it more.”

4. Jack & Ginger

If there’s one track off of Barbara that could get on a time machine and tell With Love & Squalor what is up, it’s this song. With the exception of the beeping and “strings” synth layered in the background, in addition to the guitar tone during the chorus, the composition really takes me back–especially when it hits that twelve seconds of frenetic dance-rock goodness towards the end of the song. Jack & Ginger also acts as their ultimate bar romance song to date, though Worth the Wait is a strong contender; this song is a little less depressing than Worth the Wait, however, so I give it the laurels.

5. Pittsburgh

The war-like drums and heavy bass set an intimidating mood for this song, but then Keith sings about sneaky flirting and that ruins it for me. What a “rupture in etiquette,” a real boner kill. I don’t like this song, but everyone else does so I’m not going to write about it. Before I go, though, I’ll slight it some more–the guitar parts are boring. The vocal melodies are too redundant. Also, the way the lyrics are arranged makes me think that the “one thing” is sex, and then I’m all “Oh cool. A shallow song that’s entitled ‘Pittsburgh.’ How disenchanting.” One positive observation I shall admit–this song would probably sound gorgeous if played acoustic, with just a piano.

6. Ambition

This track builds on We Are Scientists’ conceptual songwriting skills by imparting the slight feelings of discomfort and angularity referenced in Keith’s lyrics onto the listener, partially through skewing the pitch of the guitar during the second verse. Chris’s bass takes a sludgy route and his basslines during the bridge have personality. The vocal melody for the chorus disappoints me, once again. The syncopation from the verse just goes there to die.

7. Break It Up

This song reminds me of a continual obsession with video games by acting as the perfect soundtrack for cruising the world map with a naval battalion; it also rewrites themes from This Scene Is Dead by questioning partying if it’s not a means for “[being] up all night.” Bouncy basslines, solid drumming, and little “oohs” spruce up bummer lyrics into the most chipper sounding ditty. The fleeting bass during the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

8. Foreign Kicks

Shares WAS-world with earlier slow rock ballads like “Textbook” and “Spoken For,” but the guitar tone and bobbing bass have a sort of beachside feel to them. Yet, where “Spoken For” changes up the rhythm dramatically and “Textbook” profits from diverse drumming as well as a soulful chorus, “Foreign Kicks” remains as an unassuming creature and doesn’t stand out as much as it could when you take into consideration the talents of the band. I dislike the way the guitar twinkles during the verses and it really pains me to say this, but the vocal harmonies from “The Method” were better. The buildup to the last refrain of the chorus underwhelms me, and then the song ebbs away.

9. You Should Learn

My first thought when I hear this song is, “Why does the guitar have to play the same notes as the vocals during the chorus?” And then during the bridge, Keith plays the same boring riff from where he sings “learn” over and over again, even though I feel like transitional elements should be throwing something new out there. Chris’s bass and Andy’s drumming carry the whole song. With that being said, I still really like it.

10. Central AC

There’s really only one song on Barbara that succeeds at incorporating a great vocal harmony. Coincidentally enough, Central AC also displays the best of Andy Burrows’s drumming ability. Contrary to what Christopher Walken thinks, the triumph results from the three musicians’ concentrated effort at sharing the one hundred and eighty two second limelight, not from the occasional tap of cowbell. The pop-driven chorus, the vocal tempo change (“Hey, let’s take it easy for a night…”), and sweet shredding bring the house down. Hot. Damn.

Before you leave, check out this great live show review: Also, do not take my sourpuss review as an excuse to not see the show. As Abby proves in the link above, We Are Scientists are still a force to be reckoned with.

Toro y Moi

2 Aug

photo by Dustin Shey for

Toro y Moi will be coming to Kansas City twelve days from now, so if you missed Chaz Bundick play with Caribou in Lawrence earlier in June, you can check him out at the Czar Bar. Bundick released his album, Causers of This in January. Though Bundick has been linked with Washed Out (stage name of Ernest Greene)–which is why I decided to check him out–I was delighted to hear more bits of 90s r&b, pop, and funk mixed into his arrangements.

“Fax Shadow” starts a beat by looping a texture that sounds like a softly skipping record. The gentle skewing pitch in conjunction with a muffled bass, looped vocals and his own vocals–running with reverb–allow the listener to float through a soundscape laced with mystery. “Talamak”, on the other hand puts you into a groove as soon as it begins; a rolling scale peaks into an intermittent beeping synth beat that keeps the vocals company throughout the song. The overlapping effect 2/3’s of the way into the song changes it up before Bundick goes back into his chorus and then ends the song.

On his most recent release (7″ Leave Everywhere/First Date), however, Bundick launches into garage pop stylings, complete with glockenspiel. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a sucker for this sound, but I think that if Bundick makes friends with the rock monster, his talented production would be more interesting to observe in a post-punk or darkwave setting.

Also, what would you give to see a Zola Jesus // Toro y Moi collaboration? I think that would be pretty damn exciting. Speaking of which, here is “Sea Talk” from Niki Danilova’s latest work; the Stridulum EP is available at the label’s website here: Sacred Bones Records

Anyhow, Nomathmatics, Shaun Duval & MODE will be wrapping up the night after Toro y Moi’s set if you wanna dance dance dance.

Toro Y Moi
August 14th
Czar Bar
9 PM, 21+, $5

supreme déjà vu

1 Jul

The first & last time I saw We Are Scientists was in 2006 at Kansas City’s own RecordBar. Never did I think that after four years I would get to experience another vivacious WAS set in the same place (I guess I will have to drink a shit ton of whiskey so I can pretend–aka black out and hallucinate–Tapper is there as well). Here are the deetz:

We Are Scientists w/ Bad Veins
Thursday, August 12th
10 PM, 18+, $12.00

for those of you who haven’t been to Recordbar, there’s a surcharge if you’re under 21 and you get kicked out right after the show. For those over 21, last call is at 1 AM because the bar closes at 1:30.

here are some prime WAS acoustic tracks because I don’t have Photoshop anymore and can’t make any graphics this year (tears of cry):

Textbook Under The Sea
It’s A Hit (Live From Union Chapel)

also I wrote an AP-level (no not alternative press, I mean advanced placement) essay on the new album which should be up in a couple weeks. In the meantime, VIVA ESPAÑA EN SUS PARTIDOS DE FÚTBOL!

Gallery opening on friday

21 Jun

Soad A. Kader, buscando el abrazo (searching for the embrace), 2009, monotype, 8 x 10 inches

This Friday, June 25th, Miguel Rivera and Soad A. Kader will celebrate the opening exhibition of their prints at Cara and Cabeza Contemporary. Miguel is the department chair of the printmaking program at the Kansas City Art Institute, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing him implement his cross-disciplinary approach to the field, first-hand. Therefore, this is one show I’m really looking forward to–after two semesters of Miguel teaching, watching the students in the department work, and coordinating printmaking shows, I’m sure he’s excited to share his fruits of labor and kick off the summer.

Both of the artists featured employ a gestural and organic aesthetic to convey their messages regarding “ideas of physical connectivity…[and] a tendency towards embracing the present.” Please come out and get a chance to view the work, speak with the artists, and check out this very intriguing space near the Kansas City Rivermarket.

Ritual: Works on Paper by Miguel Rivera and Soad A. Kader
June 19 – July 31, 2010
Opening Reception: Friday, June 25, 7 – 10 pm
Cara and Cabeza Contemporary
218 Delaware, Suite 208
Kansas City, MO 64105

catching up with local bands

18 Jun

It’s been a month and I haven’t posted, but rest be assured that I have been doing stuff related to all the cool music that’s taking the country by (thunder)storm this summer. In May I went to go see Centipede Eest and then Screaming Females, who had the relatively new KC band (first show last october) THE FREDS open up for them. They were nice enough to give me a tape which had five of their songs on them and listening to it made me glad to know that people are still keeping the DIY punk sound alive in KC. After attaining the help of the drummer from Hanna Barbarians on bass, The Freds will hopefully record some more music to put out in the future.

In other news, local Lawrence badasses MOUTHBREATHERS opened up for Psychedelic Horseshit earlier in June and blew my socks right off. Containing members from Blood On the Wall, Rooftop Vigilantes, Weird Wounds, and Boo & Boo Too, the band possesses a lot of talent and is sure to gain a larger following with more time. A year or so ago I thought that maybe the indie scene had migrated to Kansas City, but these guys make it pretty obvious that Lawrence is still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to their brand of local rock.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, KC party kings Lazy K recently opened for Pocahaunted and they made me feel like a real tool for arriving halfway into their set. Their music had a swagger and tune that sometimes grunged out with its cock out or subseded into a cool shell that, during one song, reminded me of Young Marble Giants. Their performance style is certainly influenced by entertaining antics of the SSION, but a bit darker and laid back. They also have some tapes available, so if you’re interested, hit them up!

Lastly, I’m taking a couple weeks off from covering shows–even as much as I would like to see The Prids at the Record Bar–because of the slew of shows that are coming up in early July. Yep! July is closer than you guys think! Nobunny, CAVE, and Turbo Fruits are all coming to town. I haven’t seen CAVE in almost two years and I missed Turbo Fruits when they played Lawrence in March (funny story…I was in Louisville at the time) and Nobunny skipped us on their last tour due to booking conflicts so that’s my excuse for a break and for opting out of the Lightning Bolt show.