"But there was nothing about the little, low-rambling, more or less identical homes of Northumberland Estates to interest or to haunt, no chance of loot that would be any more than the ordinary, waking-world kind the cops hauled you in for taking; no small immunities, no possibilities for hidden life or otherworldly presence; no trees, secret routes, shortcuts, culverts, thickets that could be made hollow in the middle – everything in the place was right out in the open, everything could be seen at a glance; and behind it, under it, around the corners of its houses and down the safe, gentle curves of its streets, you came back, you kept coming back, to nothing; nothing but the cheerless earth."
Thomas Pynchon, "The Secret Integration"

This is Ian Mathers' Tumblr. I live in Canada. I've written about music and other things for Stylus, PopMatters, Resident Advisor, the Village Voice, and a few other places. Hi.



Donkeyboy — “Ambitions”

I stand by what I said about this song at the time, with maybe just a slight difference in emphasis; whatever the band thinks they’re saying, that’s the way this song makes me feel (which is a big part of why this video, rather than the cheerier dance contest one that seems to be the official version, seems more fitting to me). And if you couldn’t guess, upbeat pop songs that don’t even bother to camouflage their inner bleakness very much hit me right between the eyes. The song itself sounds very bright and confident (a little Haim like, I think now), but c’mon:

and if somebody’s going to make it
then the somebody ought to be you
and if somebody’s going to fake it
then the somebody, somebody is you
if it’s me that was going to take it
then I know that it wouldn’t be straight
and I keep telling my reflection
ambitions are already starting to fade

That’s the chorus.

Superchunk - Indoor Living (Merge)


No band can stay exciting forever. This is not to say either that long-running bands can’t stay interesting, change their sound in a positive way or anything like that. It also doesn’t mean that every band can or should be “exciting” in the first place. What we’re talking about here is as much or more social than it is musical; there are always new bands to get excited about, just because they’re new.

At the same time, bands can either keep repeating themselves (to almost inevitably diminishing returns) or expand their sound somehow. When you’re Superchunk, a band originally known as much for its high-velocity snarl and snark as anything else, the latter option means at least some of the time you’re going to replace speed and aggression with something more nuanced but potentially less immediately gripping.

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Indoor Living is my favourite Superchunk record, so I jumped at the chance to review the reissue of it for Dusted. It’s been nice to see most reviews of the reissue be so complementary; at the time, nobody really seemed to think much of it, at least as far as I could tell, and it’s a really great record. There is plenty of music from 1997 I love, but few pretty straightforward guitar rock albums from that year, or any, that I find this moving. “I care about the dumbest things” has been a bit of an internal motto for me since I first heard this record, and here I get to compare it to The Wire, so I got that going for me.

You isn’t Picastro lightening up — “State Man’s” justifiably self-loathing narrator is set to supple folk verses and droning cello refrains, and the buzzing “Vampires” sounds a bit like past collaborators Espers having a nightmare — but that’s far from the only tone here. The record begins with [Liz] Hysen and Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker singing “I turned a mountain into a relief / I shoot the harm out of everything” in unison, and not only is it beautiful, it’s comforting. The language is just opaque enough you can put any number of spins on what they’re actually singing, but the emotional timbre of their voices, one of weary protectiveness, is clear and warm.

I reviewed the new and excellent Picastro album You over at PopMatters. One of the albums of the year for me for sure, and one more people need to hear (I’m doing everything I can think of to help, obviously).


Low - Murderer

One more thing before I go
One more thing I’ll ask you Lord
You may need a murderer
Someone to do your dirty work

Don’t act so innocent
I’ve seen you pound your fist into the earth
And I’ve read your book
It seems that you could use another fool
Well I’m cruel
And I look right through

You must have more important things to do
So if you need a murderer
Someone to do your dirty work…

Still a song that gives me chills. I wrote this a little under seven years ago, and I still believe it:

Alan has always been hard on himself and the world, and his songs have the curious, powerful property of showing with painful clarity how terrifyingly easy it is to lose ourselves without noticing, and yet they remain a source of strength and comfort. The same band that sang “Are you a lion or a lamb / Are you as guilty as I am?” years ago now asks whether the Lord needs a murderer, continuing, “And I’ve read your book / Seems that you could use another fool.” What makes Low so interesting, above and beyond their musical qualities, is that these aren’t contradictory accounts—the band turn the harsh light of their search for meaning and peace on the high and low alike; the austerity of that quest is the only thing about their music that could be called monastic.

Any record where the single features Alan’s anguished cry of “My hand just kills and kills” isn’t going to mark an abandonment of Low’s central concern with how to exist fairly and happily in this world, but “Murderer” in particular is genuinely wracked, essential listening… like all true faith, Low’s is a difficult and personal one.