Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots A UFO

Really, our friend from the It's A Thing! podcast, one Mr. Jared Horney should be writing this review. I am aware of, at times love, and often enjoy the work of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices (henceforth, GBV), but Jared is an expert. He has regaled me with tales of Alien Lanes, explained the band's unique origins, defended and decried Robert Pollard's prolific ubiquity, but most of all he has shared his continuous passion for this band with me time and time again. GBV is the consummate indie band (Pavement aside). They used Lo-Fi because they had to, not for an aesthetic. It has led us down some interesting paths. A year ago, I gifted Jared a Robert Pollard card (on his Facebook wall) wherein Pollard exclaims, "I've been guided by voices to wish you a Happy Birthday." Pod-comrade Mikey recently created an amazing Game of Thrones throne of swords parody image featuring Pollard atop a throne of liquor bottles for Jared as well. This is the kind of fandom, not fanaticism, we're talking about.

Jared should be writing this review. I know that I love me some GBV, specifically the numerous times that Pollard struck gold. However, I find myself less interested in the times when he strikes only granite. I am not a staunch defender of the catalog, but I do love the work ethic. Hell, I envy it. I have olde school Bible sinned because of how much I wish I was like Robert Pollard. Oh well. With Class Clown Spots A UFO, the band's second reunion album of this year, we receive a bounty of 21 new songs. That makes 42 this year, which may actually be a sign of a slow down for GBV, but then, who's counting. On Class Clown Pollard's voice is more clearly at the forefront. The songs are peppy, poppy, and energized. This is some of GBV's best work, actually. The title track is exceptional. "Keep It In Motion" and "Billy Wire" are both wonderful. And it's only with a few minor exceptions, 2 - 4 perhaps, that Class Clown represents a must-have album, for indie rock lovers and GBV fans. The '60s vibe of "Starfire" is enough to sell you right there.

But there's a problem. A minor one. But one that is ALWAYS a problem for GBV. The songs are great, but often too short. And that means you barely get a taste before they're over. It's, at times, like listening only to the previews of the tracks. This is what Pollard does. It's the cost of admission. We accept it because we cannot NOT accept it. Still, Class Clown feels like an appetizer often. A really fucking good one. Maybe it would be too rich to eat as a meal. Maybe that's the issue. There's such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Check out Class Clown Spots A UFO below via Spotify:

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Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Yeah, I put the whole title up there. Beat that, various media outlets. Anyway, from now on, I'll refer to Fiona Apple's new album only at The Idler Wheel... as is the style at the time. Apple's first album since 2005's Extraordinary Machine came highly anticipated. That anticipation was bolstered by her NPR interview in which her eccentric genius finds oratory crescendo in simple answers about her creative process. She says, I'll paraphrase, that she doesn't have a plan; she just writes music when music happens. It's the ideal of a young person wishing for the muse to motivate them. Muses' existence aside, The Idler Wheel... delivers. It's a casual, dark and chaotic collection that pushing the boundaries of experimentation while still maintaining Apple's signature sexual growling vocals and jazz-informed piano.

Apple feels a bit symbiotic with Annie Clark's St. Vincent here. And they've followed a similar career trajectory, though Clark's to less popular renown. Both artists tapped into a new style, a new way of approaching a traditional medium. Apple changed jazz and the Lilith Fair-style lady-rock that was waxing and waning in the last half of the 1990s. Clark took a guitar-centric indie scene and flipped rock over, infusing it with dark tales, divine haunting nightmares of sound, and lyrical directness. Both Apple and Clark managed to keep their pop sensibilities too. The point of this aside though, is that Apple has cultivated a similar dark place to Clark. At times, The Idler Wheel... feels like a dangerous, demonic music box, chiming away pleasantly while planning your demise when you turn your back.

Apple has always been a mature and direct lyricist. And that hasn't changed either. There are no wispy metaphors or dances. Apple belts "I don't wanna talk about anything!" in "Johnathan," a song where Apple wants to dispense with discussion and just be with the titular man. The Idler Wheel... is dangerously exceptional. It is indirect. It is at times, on the first listen, disarming and abusive. But it grows on you like a fine, beautiful ivy or Virginia Creeper. If we have to wait this long for Fiona Apple to hear her muse again, it will be a hard wait, but with these results, it's one of undeniable value.

Listen here via Spotify:
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Notable Text: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman

When are we most ourselves? Chuck Klosterman's The Visible Man proposes that the sole deciding factor is whether or not we are alone. In the text, Klosterman's antagonist/protagonist/mouthpiece called only Y__, espouses a theory that boils down to say: Who we really are is who we never show to the world. It's an intriguing take on the Jean-Paul Sartre philosophy of Existentialism, specifically as demonstrated in his play No Exit. For Y__ and The Visible Man, "Hell is other people" is the utter, complete, scientific truth. Only when we are alone can we be ourselves. The complication, of course, comes because Y__ uses a sort of cloaking technology to observe people in their own homes* when they are alone and "actualized." Klosterman is careful, extremely, to avoid giving us too much insight into the way the cloaking works or even what we're supposed to take from the philosophy that Y__ pushes on counselor Victoria Vick through a series of phone and in-person therapist visits. Most of the time that careful cloaking of the truth within the text works wonderfully, but at other times it detracts from the essential pace and satisfaction-factor of the story. As a result, The Visible Man feels a lot like an essay collection by Mr. Klosterman, full of digressions that are on and off point, some completely analogous, but always elegantly worded. And there's the pop culture references, too. Natch.

The concept and its essential components make this book a quick read. I won't deny that it took less than a week to read, and I found myself in marathon sessions just foaming to find out what would happen next. Y__ spies on, "studying," a few people and each of these short stories, essentially those of watching people in their natural habitats like animals and remarking on their behaviors, were excellent. Klosterman takes his time, crafting lush, but not overly dramatic or overly mundane pictures of real lives. There's the lonely single guy who leaves work just to go home and do nothing on the internet all night. There's a girl who exercises all the time. A boy who talks philosophy with his friends. And more. In a way, it feels like a Richard Linklater film on par with Waking Life, where nothing happens, but through observation and contemplation we learn a lot. Except, in The Visible Man, a lion is occasionally set free into the scene, completely surprising the contemplative characters within, and destroying lives. It's really incredibly suspenseful and complex in a delightful way.

The wheels come off because of the direction Klosterman chooses to take the narrative. Seemingly only because the book could never end without some kind of forced change of course, Klosterman's Vick begins to fall for Y__ and vice versa. It's cliche, and we know that Klosterman knows that it is, but the cliche never becomes self-aware, beyond acknowledging itself. And rather than being a choice red herring, it drives the final pages of the book. Endings are important, and The Visible Man didn't go to a place that agreed with its initial tone. What starts as a thorough, thoughtful case study-cum-thriller becomes bogged down in half-hearted romance and rushed actions and explanations. The excellence and darkness written into the first 3/4 is definitely enough to demand reading this book, and perhaps disappointment won't strike every reader the way it did with me, but as with any mystery (and this novel is one), there's great risk in resolution, no matter what it is.

*I believe there's a section in Klosterman's Killing Yourself To Live, or another of his essay collections, in which he talks about his habit of looking into other people's places, specifically when he had an apartment that looked into one of a young woman. He mentions that he's not a voyeur, but that he is just fascinated by how people live in very patterned ways. It felt, to me, to be the essence of this story.
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Words On Film: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's highly-anticipated new flick Moonrise Kingdom is, as several people have summed it up, "a gateway to fall back in love with Wes Anderson." The director known for stylized costuming, colorful sets, and innovative shot selection, doesn't win with this movie because of any of those things. Sure, they help, but what makes Moonrise Kingdom special lies in its heart. Anderson had that heart in full form in The Royal Tenenbaums, where aging patriarch Gene Hackman reconnects with his family and with his ability to love and live fully. Personal growth and acceptance, the regaining of self-esteem and humanity underline every aspect of that film, covering love and life and death in heavy, but never heavy-handed doses. That ideal fell off some with the The Life Aquatic, getting stuck behind style. And while it came back in force with The Darjeeling Limited, it wasn't quite the same. And it was more confined to the REAL problems of adults, which, let's face it, we're more and more reticent to face on film since we have to face them ourselves.

With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson does something amazing. He shows us that as kids we strive to be adults, and as adults we forget what it's like to be kids... with the exception of the Khaki Scouts leaders. Sam and Suzy spend most of the movie acting the way they think they would if they were grown ups. Their experiences together are framed by their desire to be in love and to be treated like people, rather than children. Even the film's one major action sequence is framed by children trying to be what they think adults are like. Boys pretending to be men. But then, isn't that what a Scout organization is all about. It's an excuse to stop playing and start "surviving" even when in either case the root of it is human experience and intuition. So, as Anderson's child characters are busy reaching toward their perception of adulthood, all the adults are miserable in their own ways.

Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand all have their own kinds of misery predicated on their focus on their perceptions of adulthood. Being career focused, being lost in love but dedicated to another, being browbeaten and being responsible for leadership but complete unsure about how to go about it. Essentially, the adults are the kids, but they don't know it. The kids want to be adults and they shouldn't. Instead, our wonderful cast of brilliantly designed and written characters battle what they know to be right. Love. It's love that drives this film, both of the other and of the self. And Wes Anderson's underlying message seems to be, love each other, and more importantly, never stop being a kid. Kids follow what they want. Kids are actualized. Kids even pretend to adults that are more interesting than actually being an adult could ever be.

See this film. Don't miss it.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #19 - "The New Sterility"

Oh that's right, Mikey got married and that means something amazing! New digs for the It's A Thing! studio. Are they in an abandoned supply closet that's porpoise-adjacent? No. Not really. But yes. Turns out that they use this here podcast to promote chastity in Catholic nuns. Who's cool now, Minnesota Archdiocese? But if you thought this show was gonna start low joke wise and get higher, imagine this: A great Kraken of shellfish madness released from the briny deep of Mikey's ass. But don't worry, those were noble revenge farts. And if you listen you can find out why! And how! There are tunes by the epic Japandroids, The Police, and other stuff Mikey has heard while doing domestic things. In his backyard. If you're wondering what to do with birds, go no further. The Clash makes an appearance too. Jared talks about walking around. And how the right soundtrack creates a strut in your step, and how people with GIANT GOLD SHOES tend to clump more than strut. Also, don't miss the joke about Mikey's latest ailment. It's a doozy.

And that's right, I'm listening (I'm Nate) but are you? (Well, if you get that reference at all, then you did, or are, so it's almost as if I'm talking to you from BEYOND THE GRAVE*!)

*None of us is currently dead. Sorry for scaring you.

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