newtie: Pony!

newtie: Pony! review

https://newtie.bandcamp.com/album/pony

First off let’s address the elephant in the room, any album cover with a dog smoking on it, is instantly the greatest album cover ever. You can’t beat that. If you’re not sold on the album cover itself, I don’t know what happened in your life, but you need thoughts and prayers. Okay, okay, I know this is a music blog. I can’t write a whole article devoted to how much I like the album cover. I gotta review the actual music. So the music is really, really, good. But that dog is so funny amirite? Doesn’t he know that dogs can’t smoke cigarettes? Alright, alright, I’ll review the music.

So to begin with Pony! the first track Yellowlite is incredibly ballsy. There are a lot of risks taken with this album, and for the opening track to only feature no vocals (except for humming), an acoustic guitar, and a drumkit is a bold move. Especially when the lyrics are so incredibly creative, the chord progressions wonderfully inventive, and the lo-fi feel so well done–to begin the album with this kind of intro is a bold move. Yet it pays off so well. It’s like when an actor is typecast to play a certain type of role, say Brian Cranston–who was only known for his role as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle– to hear that he was on a TV show about a high school teacher turning into a meth Kingpin, sounds like the worst possible idea ever on paper. Although on Malcolm in the Middle you could see he has potential to be a great actor. Yet it’s until you watch the transformation from a guy who is in his whitey tighteys unable to shoot a gun, to a meth kingpin, do you fully appreciate the performance that has taken place. Likewise on this album, Yellowlite shows the potential of how great this album is going to be, yet until you listen to it all the way through do you finally get why the beginning track works so well.

Gum has probably some of the most creative lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. It doesn’t get much better than “Stick a fork in a microwave, to dry your hair.” Even the chorus, “Gum, Gum, Gum, Mama give me some,” gives such a carefree attitude, that’s both really child-like and filled with gleeful abandonment. The lyrics, vocals, guitar, and tambourine just adds to this youthful exuberance. Kind of like how in pointillism, the painter uses small dots to create a landscape; newtie does the same thing with every single instrument, and lyrics comprised of non-sequiturs to paint a picture of a girl that’s carefree to a point of irresponsibility, yet as a listener we can’t help but like her.

Yet that perception changes in Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) with it’s lo-fi false starts like that of a person unable to express themselves. The guitar has a more dejected melody, and there isn’t any percussion used to lighten the mood. The lyrics aren’t non-sequiturs as before it’s more focused on the perception of someone who wallows in self loathing, and compares themselves to the girl before. This person who “Killed themselves clean” to the girl “Who loved herself, so she was never cold.” That yes, the girl before could’ve been shallow, childish, irresponsible, chaotic, etc. but she never killed herself clean, she was never cold. She never lost that child-like sense of wonder, by gaining self consciousness of adulthood. To get what I mean, back when I took acting classes, the acting coach gave this lesson on why it’s easier to be an actor as a child rather than an adult. Because as a child, say that you are on a merry-go-round, when you’re say younger than 6, the ride is extremely fun, because you can fully enjoy the ride. Yet when you’re 10 and you go on a merry-go-round, you’re all of a sudden conscious of other people’s perception of you. You frown when you get on the merry-go-round, because it is after all a “ride for little kids” and you’re a big kid, so you gotta show everyone how you’re no longer a little kid. Likewise the perception of the girl in Gum would horrifying to be compared to as an adult, yet in Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) we see the downside to losing our child-like sense of wonder.

The next song Shithead Blues, starts out with a really great groove, and continues with it’s lo-fi feel. Even the beginning lyrics starts out, by stating that, “Sitting down at the Kmart Parking lot,” (which let’s be honest I don’t think there are many Kmarts left), and blues inflected chorus of “Shit head blues” gives it a nice trip down to memory lane. Whether it’s the production, lyricism, or influences. That coupled with the lyricism about a man who, “Spent all my money, on my supposed honey,” and “You know that she loves me a lot, I think it’s true, I’ve never been one to know much, about women and such.” Gives the track a self deprecating tone that’s not heard that often in modern music. It’s especially refreshing to hear a song about women, that’s neither indulgently romantic, nor says that they don’t need women due to some innate narcissism. It just says, I dunno what I’m doing. Which let’s be real, any guy who says they got women figured out, is either trying to sell you something or has got some serious skeletons in the closet.

Honey (Tremblin’ Man) is that it’s a lot like Yellowlite, in that it’s incredibly minimalist, but it goes even a step further. It features only a harmonica in the beginning; then that gets taken away and all that is left is clapping and bluesy singing of only the word “Honey.” That’s it. And it works perfectly. You get an understanding of what is lost, not only of this person’s “Honey” but that of music as well. There’s a reason why the blues in the U.S. struck a chord worldwide and spoke to so many people. It could be to circumstance, after all, America was in an incredibly unique position after WWII to export all of it’s cultural influence. Yet this is a question I have to ask, what would be the words you would use to describe this track? Would it be cheesy? Existential dread? Depressing? No, not at all. The only word that immediately comes to my mind, is soulful. So think about it, if all that was used was vocals singing “Honey,” a harmonica, and clapping to create that kind of mood–is it hard to see why this music resonated so much with the whole world? There are only 3 instruments! Imagine what could be done an orchestra!

The next song Her Gun, begins with such a great chord progression that really shows off the musical chops with this album. The lyrics as always are excellent, except this time they take on a tragic tone. “She never knows to shoot her gun,” “She never knows when to have fun.” The youthful exuberance Gum is gone. Instead the lyrics plead the woman not to, “Waste a way another year.” The shift from Gum‘s fun poppy sound, to that of a more tragic solo acoustic guitar playing, only adds to the tragedy. As we now see the consequences of that carefree attitude, the creativity, spontaneity, and childishness that we the listener appreciated on Gum. Which is the tragedy of adulthood that while trying to “appear” to be more mature, we lose parts of ourselves in the process, we become less authentic, less sincere, and when push comes to shove we never know how to truly let go and have fun. Yet those who try to retain all of those traits that we lose as we become, they have to face the real world, and the real world has no patience for adults who refuse to adult. The tragedy is that the idealistic become cynical, the imaginative become dull, the funny become serious, and the youthful become old. And no other song captures this better than Her Gun. The next song Cow Tongue,which is even more minimalist than any of the tracks before it, featuring only a harmonica; plays a requiem for all that was lost in Her Gun.

Mouthwash with only it’s morose guitar playing, and self-flagellating lyrics comparing themselves to mouthwash that needs to be spit out. The self-loathing and almost envy of Lord Knows (I’ve Been Good) is fully realized. Though the self hatred here isn’t one that’s self absorbed. It’s one that is regretful for it’s effect on to others specifically the state of the woman in Her Gun. Like clipping a bird’s wings, the very act of getting involved in this woman’s life through the very adult world of dating and courtship, has caused her to be unable to fly. To live life to it’s fullest as she was able to before. Even the vocals are barely audible as though too ashamed of what they have done. It’s only in the next track we get the depth of the pain that was caused.

Black Ice sounds like the most sinister, depressing soundtrack is being played over a cassette player, and the person listening can’t be bothered even with music–as they replay it over, and over again. A type of sadness and regret that even music can’t even put into a proper context. Which is this track stands out like a sore thumb to the rest of the album, yet still at the same time retains the same lo-fi aesthetic as the rest of the album.

Finally we get to Christ Sits on the Sun, which is the perfect conclusion to this album. It would be difficult for any piece of American music to exclude it’s original muse, Jesus Christ, who in this case elevates the tragedy to that of biblical proportions. Whether people agree or not, Christianity is ingrained into the average American’s DNA–whether as a thesis or antithesis–and as newties’ bandcamp states “A twinge of the heartland,” anybody who is even if someone drives through the American heartland, at a passing glance can see Christianity’s influence on American culture. So when newtie states, “God came and spoke to them, and I myself learned how to read, and I myself learned how to steal.” The separation doesn’t merely stem from that of adulthood from childhood, but a separation from man from God.

The best way to summarize the themes of this album would be a quote from a Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” We as musicians often forget our musical heritage often times getting caught up in the latest musical trends without looking back and admiring what preceded us. We look at it as backwards, or not as sophisticated; but this album, while retreading old ground, captures the soulfulness that made American music the cultural juggernaut that it is today. Not only that, but it shows us that we don’t need the latest greatest, technology–after all Honey (Tremblin’ Man) proved to us that we can make music just by clapping and singing. Yet we often become self conscious as soon as what others might think, we become afraid to express ourselves, to have fun on the merry-go-round with our creativity, and as a result our music becomes dull and uninteresting.

newtie as I said before is ballsy, and their EP Pony! is a must listen to any musician, as it provides the formula of being creative. Which is, don’t be afraid to express yourself. Indulge in your childlike creativity, and remain true to yourself. And with a message like that, I can’t help but give this album my full recc.

Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack and Why It’s Important for Independent Artists

Now for my first analysis of an album, I wanted to do something relatively different. I could have done any of Joy Division’s albums since they’re my favorite band, but I would be missing the mark. The fact of the matter is, they were at the right place, at the right time, with the precise set of perfect circumstances to create their music. For me to write praises about them would be too easy, and it would be antithetical to this blog to write about people who already have enough written about them. Especially since most of the blog articles written are about underground musicians who are trying to make it.

So, to set the stage why I am reviewing this album, we gotta go back in time. Back when I was a struggling make believe filmmaker. When I quit trying to make films because I kept encountering the same problem. That I, and everyone that I worked with, couldn’t make the art we wanted due to some unforeseen circumstances that we couldn’t overcome . The actress didn’t like the script and refused to be apart of it, the cameras were cheap and the image quality was poor, we didn’t have good enough audio recording equipment and we could barely hear dialogue over the background noise, we didn’t know what we were doing etc.

We all had grandiose ambitions, they wanted to be Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando; and I wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. I wanted so badly to make movies, that every film I watched I would take notes on: where the camera was placed, how the shot was framed, the lens filter they used, the mis-en-scène, where it was filmed, how the director got the performances he wanted etc. I wanted so badly to be an independent filmmaker. To have complete creative control over my art.

Yet my family was down to one car, and for a few weeks we had no car. I applied to every job where I lived and couldn’t even get a job in McDonalds. Reality forced me to abandon those ambitions, and with no other options I joined the Navy. The people I tried to work with stayed in school studying acting, and at this moment are still in school studying to be actors.

I didn’t do anything creative until two years into my navy career, when I found a guitar in one of our shops. I began playing it, and fell in love with it. I had complete control over it–strumming a few chords–I could create a new world. A world that was mine, a world filled with everything I liked, that I could escape to and seek shelter in.

Orson Welles’ had a great quote on this, “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” So when I was reading Akira Yamaoka’s interview, it struck a chord. When asked about what he thought about other video game composers, he said, “Unfortunately, there isn’t any game music I like. I do not have any favorite game music composer, either. It seems to me that many of the game music composers do their work as their side business. I cannot really have respect or a close feeling toward much of the game music I’ve heard. I suppose many of the video game music creators are really shallow… In other words, those people seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc.

“Of course, that is not true for all game music composers, but in any case I think there are many shallow creators who seem to do their work as a side business. Also, as to the music style itself, I don’t think there are many composers who are making really interesting music. The structure, the focus on ordinary music theory, regular instrument formations, etc… Everything like that seems very boring to me. The originality is often lacking and that’s very boring.”

yamaoka3

This is from a man from an entirely different set of circumstances from most rockbands I admire. Most of them came out during the end of the punk scene, or were–as mentioned before–in the right place, the right time, with precise set of perfect circumstances. This was a guy who was making video game music in 2001. Back then to see video games as anything other than a kid’s toy, or some nerdy niche, was absurd. Now in hindsight, we can see that video games especially during that time were art, but the rest of the world didn’t.

When reading his interview, I couldn’t help but see myself in that quote “[Video game composers] seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc..” It could be that I’m solipsistic, but I believe that no matter what circumstance a creative person is in, a creative person is going to create. Yet no other video game soundtrack I had ever heard then sounded anything like Silent Hill 2.

Take the opening song Theme of Laura, when I first played the game I couldn’t believe my ears. Firstly that it was really well done rock song; and secondly, that was so moody, and introspective. It wasn’t the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure, or some leftover soundtrack from some action movie that was never used. It was different. It was unique. It was something that I could have heard in all those bands that I admired so much, it had a unique vision that could rival Kubrick’s. In other words, it was art.

So compare Theme of Laura to another video game soundtrack by another–not so blind–Japanese video game composer.

 

Does that invoke any emotions in you other than confusion? Does that sound like an artist trying their hardest to make the best possible music? Are they doing the best they can to express themselves? No, of course not. It sounded like somebody who was in the business of making video game music because their dreams failed.

Akira Yamaoka stated that his influences for this album was Angelo Badalementi, Trent Reznor, Depeche Mode, and Metallica. I bet you that if any of them heard any track from this album–even if it wasn’t their cup of tea–would still respect the music. There wouldn’t be anybody calling Akira Yamaoka a sell out or anything like that. In fact, take listening to a track like Black Fairy you can’t help but feel the intense sense of foreboding, and creepiness. Yet most horror music, even for films, at that time sounded quite like it.

The whole album is drenched in an introspective melancholy, the kind that is so beautiful and sincere that it almost becomes comforting–which is why sadness always seems so hard to get rid of. Until, like most things melancholy it devolves into a dark sinister sound that devours any trace of hope, and you’re left with nothing but pure misery. Yet there is still hope, like when people jumping off the Golden Gate bridge still hopes that someone reaches out to save them. For a video game album to convey such deep and rich emotions, is so bizarre. It’s an album that can stand on it’s own on the music scene. Even without the video game associated with it, with it’s tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and dated game mechanics.

So why is this album important to independent artists? Quite simple. Even if your dreams fail of you being the next Marlon Brando, David Bowie, Ernest Hemingway, or Stanley Kubrick; it doesn’t mean that your dreams are over. It just means that you have to adapt. And by adapt, I don’t mean join the music industry because you know how to make music–what I mean by adapt is to work your hardest to make the best music you possibly can. To make it yours, and for your vision to shine. Even in a field of video game composers, in an industry people don’t even consider art, Akira Yamaoka created a timeless masterpiece that people will still listen to 50 years later.

Don’t stay fixated on one idea of what it means to “make it.” Stay fixated on one thing and one thing only. To make art, and music that is yours, and yours alone. And no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, stay true to yourself.