Monday, June 30, 2014

In Defense Of: Stone Temple Pilots

This week's In Defense Of was contributed by Square Zeros' Jon Mann.

“Stone Temple Pilots were able to turn alternative rock into arena rock; naturally, they became the most critically despised band of their era.” — Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi.

"I had a period in my life in the 90s where I was young, dumb, and full of even more dumb." — Scott Weiland

Let’s get one thing straight — I love a shit talker.

Despite my own good nature and belief that there’s rarely anything gained by belittling someone or their achievements (Welcome to In Defense Of, where we locate the positive in impossible to find places!), there’s a certain level of braggadocio that’s like catnip to me. So
Scott Weiland, trumpeting his own greatness, no doubt.
God, what a son of a bitch.
when I heard an interview with Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland in the late 1990s where he said that STP wasn’t America’s best rock and roll band, they were America’s only rock and roll band, I bared my teeth into one of those movie smiles where sunlight glinted off a particularly pristine surface on one of my incisors.

What a son of a bitch, right?

Well, I’m hear to defend that beautiful son of a bitch and the sons of bitches with whom he cut six studio albums. Now, I’m not trying to go to bat for every one of those, but I'll dive right in to the material after I venture a few thoughts as to why STP became so reviled in the 1990s and whether that’s a sustainable position.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Know Your Record Store: Gwenaël Berthy/Melody Supreme

Melody Supreme, 115 4th St. SE, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

"Oh, yeah. Oh hell yeah, man."

The hand of fate recently contrived to deposit both Derek and me in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the same time for two different engagements. When I called him from what was probably only a five-minute shuffle away (you can walk anywhere in that town) to ask him if he wanted to run over to the Downtown Mall to interview Gwenaël Berthy of Melody Supreme, I could have mouthed his response as he said it.

"Oh, yeah. Oh hell yeah, man."

Cut to Melody Supreme on a beautiful Spring Saturday, a cup of coffee in one hand, microphone in the other.

"You're going to want to leave that coffee on that table, away from the records," the guy behind the counter suggested.

My eyebrows raised, and I smiled. Respect.

Derek and I looked at each other; this was decidedly the man we were looking for. Over the next hour, we were treated to a tour of the store and a funny and revealing conversation about Gwen's journey from France to America, where he opened his knockout record store. At the end of that hour, Derek left with the pristine copy of Mary J. Blige's 1999 LP Mary pictured above, and Square Zeros walked out with a great interview.

We can't recreate the sunny Charlottesville afternoon, but we hope you'll enjoy the interview as much as we did. Thanks, Gwen.

— JM

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Defense Of: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" by Van Halen

This In Defense Of was contributed by Reno, Nevada-based graphic designer, hair metal historian, and Atomic Punk Liz Rossi.

Radio-friendly dong-metal had its heyday around the time of my birth in the mid-80s. However, at some point circa the year 2000, I became determined to mount a one-girl revival within my own extremely limited sphere. As a military kid with poor social skills, my primary source of taste was the television; fresh off my very first break-up, I was looking for something new and cool to be. Something with edge. And who should swoop in to show me the way but good ol’ dad-rockin’ VH1.

Over the course of a month or so, my eager steps could be traced from a few well-timed episodes of Behind the Music, to reading Metal Edge magazine at the PX newsstand, to needlessly sneaking CDs past my bemused parents. The first song I learned on guitar was “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, which I warbled until everyone in earshot knew to hide if they saw me coming with a loaded six-string on my back*. Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Stryper(!), Scorpions the immersion was total. My highest regard was reserved for the teen-girl-friendly, halfway-there arena-rock poodles of Bon Jovi, but the less said about that the better.

*Bon Jovi reference, but you probably knew that. Tsk.

Suffice it to say, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to shitty hair metal. I can’t even hear the opening notes of “Cherry Pie” at a 7-Eleven without wincing inwardly — not just out of embarrassment for my teenage self — but because the music itself is just the most disposable, bland, pseudo-toughguy bullshit, memorable not for any real distinction or merit but as a corny artifact of a dark period in American history.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Know Your Record Store: Brandon Perry/Deep Cuts

Please excuse this interruption of regularly scheduled programming.

Before you had Spotify recommending you tracks, before you had Shazam to figure out that song you don't know playing in the bar, before you had AllMusic to give you a band's biography, you had the folks at your local record store. These people were musical encyclopedias with highly refined tastes and a wealth of knowledge and opinions to share: equal parts librarian and bartender — good curators, good company. 

For a while, it seemed like music's move to the web was pushing them into the margins. But it's now clear that the vinyl guru is as important as ever. Access to so much music can be overwhelming, and we all look for ways to navigate. Sure, there are plenty of neat little apps to help you out, but no algorithm is gonna knock $10 off that Japanese psych compilation you want to buy just because you're curious. Nor is it gonna let you play a show in the back of the store. 

We want to celebrate the human beings who make record shopping more than just a transaction. And that starts with a simple introduction. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

In Defense Of: Rammstein

This In Defense Of was contributed by Duane Gibson: economist, lawyer, German-speaker, und — wichtigsten! — Rammstein-Verteidiger. Willkommen, Freunde.
Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann + fireworks gun.
I repeat: "fireworks gun."
My most gracious editors have astutely bestowed the “In Defense Of…” moniker to this series, and it is a very efficient set-up providing multiple starting points from which the writer can choose an angle. It is also an admirably elegant construction that simultaneously elides and celebrates (with a wink) its nature as the most perfect straw man that ever did straw (this is a compliment). This has created a fecund ground in which compelling arguments have been cultivated to illuminate the various merits of things whose merits are indeed palpable and enjoyable to reflect upon, despite — and perhaps also as a result of — the mild-to-severe public derision they may have endured. However, this generally involves at least somewhat widespread public familiarity with the band, a decent portion of its catalogue, and ripe nostalgia. This, I suspect, is not one of those cases.

I come not to defend Rammstein, but to praise them. This band is fucking awesome, and their awesomeness is as pure as the band is not. 

First and foremost — the music. Gott im Himmel, the music. It is virtually wall-to-wall adrenaline and comically pansexual testosterone — relentlessly aggressive, unapologetic, rhythmic, and propulsive, like a monster truck crossed with a metronome. Even the structure of the band defies convention — an atypically large six-member ensemble, Rammstein has somehow managed to avoid a single lineup change in its twenty-year(!) existence. Their emergence onto the European scene in 1994 even precipitated a new musical taxonomy for their style — Neue Deutsche Härte, which literally translates to “New German Hardness.” Given the well-established bona fides of old German hardness, this is particularly impressive. If Type O Negative had a baby with Kraftwerk, and Nine Inch Nails had a baby with Wagner (conceived to the dulcet tones of a mashup of “Happiness in Slavery” and “Ride of the Valkyries” playing in the background, naturally), and then those two babies had a litter of six, the result would be the kids from whom Rammstein stole lunch money in middle school (and possibly still do).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Square Zeros #21: NOXIOUS FOXES (Rinoa, Jonny Action, Jack Bauer)

There's no shortage of garage rock in Brooklyn right now, and that's a good thing. But amid all that delightful scuzz and rock n roll looseness, a band as precise and sharp-edged as Noxious Foxes stands out.

The group is a force of nature — they play a dense, complex, and inventive breed of math rock that leaves you pleasantly dizzy on every listen. Layers of thick guitar and synth duel with sizzling drums for a sonic assault that calls up an early video game soundtrack played double-time and riddled with glitches and viruses. It's controlled chaos that never loses catchiness, never so out there that it would alienate the uninitiated.

What's more impressive is that it's two dudes doing it all: drummer Richard Levengood and guitarist/synthesist Justin Talbott.

Monday, June 9, 2014

In Defense Of: A New World Record, ELO

This In Defense Of was contributed by Brian LaRue, a Brooklyn-based writer and musician whose spelling and definition of "Lynnesanity" stands in stark contrast to that of his NYC neighbors.

One summer day some years back, a friend of mine came by my apartment while I was casually blasting the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1976 LP A New World Record on my stereo. I opened the front door to him chuckling loudly. “Oh, hey,” he said. “How’s your ironic appreciation of ELO going?”

“Look, man,” I spat back. “There’s nothing ironic about my appreciation of this record. It’s seen me through some shit.” He laughed again. “I’m serious!” I insisted.

I’ve been down this road before. When you cite A New World Record as an album that was there for you when it seemed like hardly anything or anyone else was — one that continues to resonate with you emotionally — you’re going to see some raised eyebrows.

I get it, though. The Electric Light Orchestra isn’t cool. There is nothing cool about Jeff Lynne, the talented singer, guitarist, main songwriter, arranger, and producer behind ELO. Jeff Lynne is rock’n’roll’s embarrassing uncle: a bearded, shades-wearing schlub who never was handsome, never really looked young, may have never written a legitimately good lyric, and doesn’t handle musical subtlety very well. When I point to the cover of A New World Record and say, “The great thing about this album is, I feel like on it, Jeff Lynne understands my pain,” I don’t expect to be taken seriously. I’m serious though.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Square Zeros Archive: We want your old songs. All of them.

Please excuse this interruption of regularly scheduled programming.

Maybe you’ve been there:

You take a few days off work and make the trip home to visit your family. Your old bedroom in your parents' house is completely different than it was when you lived there. It’s been that way for years, but it’s still kind of jarring every time you see it. You inspect. In the closet there are stacks of boxes filled with the things you didn’t take with you when you left home — old yearbooks, athletic trophies, journals, discarded T-shirts, photos, and other odds and ends you’ve forgotten about. Somewhere buried in all that mess you come across a spool of CD-Rs, an old hard drive, maybe a case of cassette tapes. You recognize your younger, sloppier handwriting:


Your old songs. Recordings that few people have ever heard, if anyone. Primitive stuff. Embarrassing stuff. Revealing stuff.

A big part of our goal here at Square Zeros is to unearth that kind of material and give it a moment in the limelight. Why? For one, it’s fascinating to hear what kind of music our peers were making when their musical skills were limited. We think we all benefit when people volunteer to revisit their early work — it humbles us, and, we hope, gives musicians some reprieve from the pressure to project a market-ready image in our busy and highly competitive music scenes. We also think it makes for richer interviews and more compelling content than the typical Q&A.

But we also love the songs themselves. Musicians right now occupy a unique moment in the history of recorded music. A lot of us grew up and started playing at some point in this this fuzzy period — two, maybe three decades, depending on how you count it — during which recording equipment became cheaper and more accessible, but no consumer-level cloud computing existed. The people who came of age musically during that time had the benefit of being able to record in bedrooms and attics and basements at low cost, but they weren't uploading their material for the world to see. We're stoked to hear ANY independently produced music, but it's the songs recorded in that context that we're particularly interested in. We are products of our generation, after all.

We want to preserve that music — the songs people stored on CD-Rs and cassettes and first generation iMacs before they had the option of putting it into the cloud. And we want to do it before those CD-Rs are scratched beyond recovery, before those tapes get thrown out, before those hard drives get erased.

We need your help.

With this podcast, we've spent the past few months talking to some superb musicians about their formative (so to speak) recordings, and of course the great music they make today. Right now, we have a de facto archive on our SoundCloud account of the old songs our guests have brought in. We want to start formalizing it, turning it into a large, organized, searchable archive of people's independent and unreleased music.


This is the first of many calls we'll make for your old work (and new work, if you want!) as we slowly but surely get the Square Zeros music archive off the ground. If you're interested in contributing music to the archive, email us at squarezeros(at)gmail(dot)com. We'll give you some basic guidelines on how to submit your material and how we'll present it. And, of course, we'll give you a fascinating legal agreement to sign so your rights are protected and your high school rap metal hit doesn't wind up in a car commercial or something.


In the meantime, here's some of what I found in the closet in my old room during that last trip to home.

"Modern Cartography" is the (woefully overwrought) opening track from my high school band One Step Forward's second and final album of the same name. We ended up cutting it from most of the copies we burned because it turned out kinda sloppy. The version on the one CD I had of the album was scratched beyond salvaging. Up until now, I wondered whether I'd ever hear this song again.

I also dug up an old tape with recordings of my first experiments on the Tascam four-track recorder I got when I was about 15. I'd just plug in and start layering guitar tracks to get a feel for how the recorder worked. "Bizarro I-III" were songs from a project I called Item Selector, which took its cues from the soundtrack to the Megaman 2 soundtrack, which to this day ranks as one of my favorite instrumental albums ever. 

— DJH + JM

Monday, June 2, 2014

In Defense Of: Third Eye Blind

This week's In Defense Of was contributed by Lisa Uhlman, a legal journalist, bowler, and ping pong player who recently left Brooklyn to live the dream in suburban Maryland.

I’m not an expert on much. (Baseball: kind of. My job: yes. Telling hawks apart from buzzards: yo, I’ve got expertise to spare.) But now that the last 22-plus hours of music I’ve listened to has been Third Eye Blind (I stopped keeping track after about 22 hours probably about 22 hours ago), I guess I’m an expert on that now, too.

As such, I’ve got something important to show you.

Life as I now know it began about a week ago, when my (rhetorical, I thought) question, “Wouldn’t it be fun if Square Zeros did a defense of Third Eye Blind?” morphed, in a series of slow-motion cognitive smacks to the face (“Does Third Eye Blind even need defending?” Whoa. “How has no one thought to defend them yet?” Whoa. “Wow, so honored.” Wow.), into the realization that, to defend Third Eye Blind, I’d have to listen to a shitload of Third Eye Blind.

Hell YES I would.

After staggering in this way through some strange stages-of-grief exercise that lasts just thirty seconds and culminates in a cake congratulating you on joining a Third Eye Blind cult (and out of the cake jumps more Third Eye Blind), I eagerly queued up the band’s self-titled debut, diving into “Losing a Whole Year” and vowing ne’er to come up for air until “God of Wine” had brought down the house (me: I was the house). Repeat fifty times.

(Remember “God of Wine”? Neither did I. Hint: It’s depressing as shit. Welcome back to Third Eye Blind!)

When I listen to this album, I’m transported back to 1997: it’s summertime, I have a truly debilitating crush on Tony (no relation to 3eb’s Stephan) Jenkins, and life is somehow simple but also insanely weird because I’m a horrible awkward teenager. But wait: it gets worse! When I was 15, I kind of sucked. I had no taste, least of all taste in music. To this day, I still get quiet at that moment in conversations when people start bragging about how young they were when they first started to care about music. I listened to music, sure. But I didn’t really care about it, yet.