17 April 2010

The Best New Album of the Year, Ever: She Got Benjy Davis Eyes

If you haven't yet read the rules for BNAYE, you can find out all about this pretentious bullshit here.

She Got Benjy Davis Eyes, or Lost Souls Like Us and the Existential Adolescence of the American South

As I listen to Lost Souls Like Us, the fourth studio album from Baton Rouge, LA band Benjy Davis Project, I'm struck by a strange feeling of déjà vu. I get the sense that, somehow, I've heard this band before. It may be because they manage to blend into their sound a mix of the sounds of diverse bands including, but not limited to Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, and Modern English. I'm not kidding, guys. Fucking Modern English (the mandolin part in BDP's "Give It a Week's Time" sounds an awful lot like "I'll Melt With You).

They never outright cop anybody's sound, or even seem to intentionally reference anyone, except for "Heart and Soul," the terrible tune everyone seems to think they know how to play and which Tom Hanks plays with his feet in Big. More on this later. The point is, Lost Souls Like Us reminds me of a lot of music I've heard before, but it never actually is that music.

But it's not just déjà vu with these guys. I also experience jamais vu AND presque vu. I experience jamais vu (never seen) because the lyrics seem to alternate between something so deeply personal for their author that I have no experiential analog, or so seemingly pat and cliché that any experience I have that might relate would be rendered meaningless in doing so. Somehow, the music and lyrics are familiar, comfortable, as if I've been immersed in them or a while. Except that I don't recognize them. I'm confronted with a weird sensation of otherness. More on this later, too.

Of course, when I say I also experience presque vu (almost seen) when listening to Benjy Davis Project, I mean that there is some quality in the music that tugs at the back of my mind. I think it’s because BDP has a consistent sound, yet ever song is intended as a single. The album-as-a-whole-album idea doesn’t exist, but it almost seems like it does or should. It’s a singular idea somewhere on the verge of coalescing, yet the whole is never actually more than the sum of its parts. And given my experience of the vu-trifecta, I can't help but feel a certain connection to one of my favorite literary characters: Chaplain Albert Taylor Tappman from Catch-22.

Chaplain Tappman knows all about the various vus and spends most of the novel as a naïve and easily intimidated man, constantly bullied by his superiors and even his subordinate, Corporal Whitcomb. By the end of the novel, thanks to the protagonist’s resolve not to be trapped by Catch-22, the Chaplain decides to remain, but persevere. Given the Chaplain’s character, this is movement forward for him, a step forward into becoming a more fully developed person. It's a mature decision to move away from immaturity, a sense of the need for development arising out of a soul not yet fully developed. It is, in fact, a metaphor for the American South and the controlling idea for Lost Souls Like Us. (Sort of. I mean, presque vu and all that.)

And this is why I mentioned both Big and Bette Davis earlier. In Big, the whole point is that Tom Hanks' character realizes that he’s not ready to grow up yet, and also not to trust Zoltar. The moment of maturity is the recognition of his own immaturity. Similarly— although the movies are almost completely different otherwise—, Bette Davis played southern belle Julie Marsden in Jezebel (which convinced many she would eventually play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind) whose break with traditional Southern social norms gets her and her love interest (and others!) into trouble. Again, the film is about a character realizing their need for maturity and development, and also not to trust southern belles.

As I said, Lost Souls Like Us expresses, both lyrically and musically, the existential angst of the American South and the struggle of traditional values against new social and cultural situations. I get the sense that it has just dawned on them that they have deep, significant cultural roots, but still ought to reference Modern English in one of their tunes. Songs like “Mississippi” express a love for the South, which is a common enough theme, because everyone seems to love writing songs about coming home to the South. On the other hand, “Send Your Love Down” is about oral sex and all I can think of is Christopher Walken’s Colonel Angus on Saturday Night Live.

This mix of traditional themes and post-sexual revolution openness represents the feelings of boredom, rebellion, and need for love and purpose intertwine in the existential milieu of boys becoming men in the American South, which is exactly what Lost Souls Like Us is about. In many ways, the songs on the album are each distinct aphorisms, each expressing either the creating of one's own identity and destiny, or confronting some kind of otherness, or, perhaps, both. Even the title hints at the idea that we are all somehow together in being lost, but that the reality of our situation is dawning on us. It is in this place we experience déjà vu and Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, the jamais vu of the new experience of the moment, and the presque vu of our own potential, lost souls as we are.

We are in it together, with Benjy Davis Project, with Bette Davis and Tom Hanks and Chaplain Tappman, what the hell, even with Modern English. As disparate as these references are, even that characteristic expresses the message of Lost Souls Like Us. The mere recognition of this otherness and the catalyst of an experience of being scrutinized and recognized by another bring us to a point where we realize our influences, acknowledge them, and perhaps even begin to shape our destinies.

And maybe this is an elaborate way to point out to Modern English that the worst possible thing would be, in fact, to melt with the other. But even if that's the case (it probably isn't), Benjy Davis Project's Lost Souls Like Us really is about the existential situation of an adolescent soul in the American South, finding themselves lost and needing to provide their own destiny. Just like the rest of us.

12 April 2010

How to Recognize Bullshit from Quite a Long Way Away

You probably listen to music. Everyone in America does. The only people who don't are people in weird religious sects/militias. My guess is that if you're in that type of organization, you haven't stumbled on this blog, except maybe accidentally by searching for how to increase membership in your organization.

ANYWAY, we're talking about music here, and everyone agrees, especially Rolling Stone writers and editors that music, especially popular music, is always very important. And I agree with them. Every album ever made is significant. The trick is only in finding out how. And I ask you, my friends, why go through the effort to find out when you could just make up reasons why an album is important?

To that end, I'll be adding a new column here at Meatiocrity called "The Best New Album of the Year, Ever." Here's how it'll work:
  • Every couple of weeks, I'll go to a local independent music store. No FYE or anything like that. I'm doing this Empire Records style. Anyway, I don't need to explain my art to you. But I will, mainly out of my own personal sense of self-indulgence.
  • I will only buy music displayed on one of the listening booths. Nothing off the regular racks. This is because I like to keep things fresh.
  • No compilations or best-of albums. That stuff is weak sauce. And everyone agrees those are almost never important or significant.
  • The album gets a full, uninterrupted listen, plus exclusive play in my car for at least 3 days. I know this is way more air time than most music reviewers give new albums, but I'm not getting these for free like they are, so I value them more.
  • I write a review where I invent reasons for the album to be culturally significant. So, basically, I write a review.
Look for the first edition of "The Best New Album of the Year, Ever" later this week.

01 April 2010

Unintentionally Inappropriate Twitter Hashtags

If you use Twitter, you probably use hash & tags. You know, as in "marijuana" and "labels so you don't forget what things are due to your indiscriminate marijuana usage." And on Twitter, when you take out spacing, capitalization, and punctuation from a sentence or phrase and throw an octothorpe in front, you get a #hashtag, which is used to identify a common topic or a topic that nobody else has ever possibly thought of.

But Twitter can be a dangerous place if you don't know what you're doing, especially when it comes to #hashtagging, which, again, is like really, really, lazy geotagging. So, to help you navigate these murky internet tides, I have listed some phrases that have drastically changed meanings when turned into Twitter #hashtags.

Hot as sparks.

Let me take you, Reyes.

Stocks tools, ample sandbags.

Is he a color, Ed?

You should beg, ay?

Sob, itch— you want a tissue?

I need an Al, now!

Makes hitting fun!

I would like tofu, C. K. Williams.