If there's one thing I've learned from a lifetime spent reading music rags, it's that I'd really like to jam a fork into the skulls of most rock critics. While it's hard to write about music without resorting to high-school poetry metaphors, it's even harder to read about how a band skips across a bunch of unheard-of genres. And there is probably no single word in the entire rock lexicon that needs to be embargoed more than "jangly." Even if some hot new thing plays the guitar like the Byrds, can't we find something better to say about them than "jangly"? I don't personally have any suggestions, but let me think about it and get right back to you. The same goes for any band described as "Beatlesesque" or "influenced by the Velvet Underground."
ILLUSTRATION BY JESSICA HARTRICK
These are all very apt descriptions but they've been used so often that they no longer make sense. Obtuse references and boilerplate adjectives tend to just piss people off and scare them away. And sure, pissing people off might be the objective of the music dork trashing the newest pop fad in the local weekly, but there comes a time when people just stop taking you seriously. Rock music really isn't all that intellectual. At its essence, rock is a visceral experience that should make you want to get drunk, get laid, break something and scare the shit out of your parents. The latter two are quite often the easiest to accomplish.
Musicians and fans really want rock music to be taken seriously-perhaps to justify their love for it, perhaps to reach out to all the other lonely weirdos. But being a rock fan just isn't considered edgy anymore. Maybe all you want to do is sing along to "Bang the Drum All Day" while driving home from work on a Friday afternoon, or maybe you want to stay up too late on a Tuesday pogoing at some shitty dive. Either way, you're being kind of quaint, because the progenitors of rock 'n' roll are either dead or playing the half-time show at the Super Bowl. By extension, it's difficult not to feel a little bit like a nerd for bitching about how the Beatles' discography really should have been remastered by now.
This brings me to the Reigning Sound, the first rock band in recent memory to not suck the big ass in the sky. I heard a story about a boy and girl in Austin, Texas, whose favourite song was "Stormy Weather"-the Reigning Sound version. This is a ditty that will make you rue the fact that "life is bad and there's misery everywhere ... Me and my girl just ain't together no more. And it seems like it's rainin' all the time." This is both (a) an unhappy little number and (b) a grammatically incorrect sentiment. But it's about as uncontrollable as the weather it describes. The drums pound, the lyrics are chewed around a bit before being spit out and the guitar resembles a living thing slithering through electricity and the driving rain. There's not an extraneous second in the entire song and there's a girl in Texas who blasted it through the receiver of a telephone while screaming at her boyfriend.
That's pretty rock 'n' roll, if you ask me.
And thanks to their last record, Too Much Guitar, my neighbours probably hate my guts. The Reigning Sound is real, I guess. Their music is authentic. It's loud and ugly and obsessed with some dumb chick. The band stays pretty close to the standard dynamic of guitar, drums, vocals and bass, but they throw in some organ noise cribbed directly from the Modern Lovers or the Mirrors, who, it must be noted, were amongst the first to rip off the Velvet Underground.
There's so much aggression and general weirdness wafting through the air that we need to give voice to it. It's rock 'n' roll time.
See? Do you see what I mean when I say how difficult it is to avoid intellectualizing rock music these days? It's bad for both fans and rock music, because talking about the same bands for the last forty years has made it incredibly difficult for anything new to happen. It's a new millennium, and things still suck. At the turn of the century, we were afraid that our technology would be wiped out by the turn of a clock. Shortly thereafter, the Internet went tits up and anyone with an entry-level position as a message-board moderator had to get a real job. The same rules no longer apply. There's so much aggression and general weirdness wafting through the air that we need to give voice to it. It's rock 'n' roll time.
The Reigning Sound do not stop. Too Much Guitar is a relentless onslaught of energy and life; when it's over, my ears ring, no matter the volume at which I listened to it. Unlike their last album, Time Bomb High School (featuring "Stormy Weather"), which sought to capture the noise of their live shows, Too Much Guitar seeks to turn your stereo into the sound system at some dingy little club and then blow it out. It's off-putting at first, but by the time they bring in the chorus of "yeah, yeah, yeahs" on the second song ("Your Love Is a Fine Thing"), the Reigning Sound evolve screaming from the primordial ooze.
No one ever hears music forcing its way through the floor and thinks: "Zounds! Is that Exile on Main Street? What taste that shaggy fellow with the beer gut must have!" No, when you hear your neighbour's broomstick thump against your bedroom floor at 3 a.m. while you're listening to the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction," it doesn't mean you're making friends. But if the noise in your head is too loud and you need to drown it out, the Reigning Sound is just the thing to cure what ails you. Fuck your neighbours. On the song "Drowning," they sing: "People talk but they seldom listen. She's only seventeen but she knows talk is cheap." I'm not going to interpret those lines, but I'll tell you that when I listen to it as it speeds by, I think I know what it means and it makes me feel all right somehow. By the time the girl comes around and says, "Oh, please, please save me," I'm not so sure anymore, but I think that if I listen to it just a little bit louder I'll find the answers I need.
Frank Smith has written about music since sometime in the mid-nineties, when he fired off an angry letter to his local independent weekly. Since then, he's written record reviews and essays for the likes of Newsweek, The Dayton Voice (now defunct), the L Magazine, the Black Table, Tiny Mix Tapes and UGO.com, where he contributed to their Bands on Demand database. Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices once bounced an unopened can of beer off his head.