"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.



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.


The New Pornographers — “Unguided” (by maeghan1edits)

As far as I know, a lot of people who like the New Pornographers still consider Challengers to be either their worst album or at least their first bad album, but it’s still my favourite album of theirs, and an album that with hindsight probably should be sitting near the top of the album list I made in 2007 (do I still make those? not in 2012, although I never say never).

Musically it’s gentler than their previous work, less explosive and more reflective. Given that a large part of the thing that people seized on to with the first three New Pornographers records was the power pop aspect of their songs, the idea that their first album that doesn’t feature anything quite as straightforwardly stirring as “The Body Says No” or “The Laws Have Changed” or “Use It” (or even “Sing Me Spanish Techno”) would seem like a damp squib to their fanbase really isn’t that weird. The song that comes the closest on Challengers, “All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth,” is pleasant enough but clearly kind of a brief diversion.

But where this album succeeds is as the most rawly emotional album of the band’s career (even the Bejar songs!). By the time we get to the end with “Adventures in Solitude”/”The Spirit of Giving” I’m often quite choked up, but what makes the album both singular and maybe a little impenetrable is… I couldn’t tell you what about. The songwriting here is as strong as ever, and sometimes on a track-by-track basis we can discern what’s going on (“Myriad Harbour“‘s New York City story, for example), but much of the emotional impact of Challengers is more about feeling than sense. What’s being discussed is, at some level, ineffable, and so the response is ineffable. There’s heartbreak on this record, and the joy of love; grief and the bittersweetness of living. When they do sing about something identifiable rather than just around a feeling, it’s almost too much.

The title track alone is kind of unfair, an unflinching depiction of infidelity that’s only about as regretful as, say, Crowded House’s “Into Temptation” (i.e. not very) and that features at least one line so lovely and packed with implication it still gives me chills. Musically “Unguided” is almost a sequel (something I didn’t notice until I happened to play the two songs in a row today), but it’s much less clear. I remember reading some negative comments on the line that gives the song its title, and that’s understandable; it doesn’t make any literal sense, and maybe not even much poetic sense. But either you’re the kind of person who hears it and instantly knows what that line, that situation, that kind of night feels like, or you don’t and you have to try and parse it out. I recommend Challengers (or a fresh listen to it) to everyone, but if you’re in the former group I’d say it’s a necessity.

you’re earning your stripes, you’re counting your stars
you’re winding your barely-working watch
you’re lucky to be on the lam like you are
you’re lucky you’ve already been caught

there is something unguided in the sky tonight

This seems like an appropriate day to reblog this post.