On Blast: Strangeways, Hot Fuss & fuck my life

The Smiths, the Killers, Majical Cloudz, Parquet Courts and Default Genders have been on blast.

Welcome to the 3rd entry to On Blast, a new weekly column where we share what music we're listening to, new and old.

words byBENJI TAYLOR < @BenjiTaylorWins >

The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come
I was nine years old, foolish and feeble, when I first heard "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" by The Smiths. Even to my impossibly young and tiny mind I could sense it was something special - the greatest piece of music I'd ever heard. Not that I was any kind of taste-maker savant: I was listening to Starship, The Bangles, and Mel & Kim at this time - life was so much simpler then! But something happened during those three and a half minutes - a firing of synapses, an explosion of neurochemicals, a cloudburst of endorphins – that started a love affair (one-sided, as far as I know) that would stay with me for life.

“Best of Lists” - gospel to some, anathema to others - will tell you that The Queen Is Dead is the quintessential Smiths album. But for me Strangeways, Here We Come has always been the definitive Morrissey & Marr record. From the prolonged wraith-like yowl that opens "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours" to the dying jangle of "I Won't Share You", it has it all: hooks that could disembowel a Targaryen dragon, unforgettable chord progressions, melodies that would make Orpheus weep - and it's not blighted by the production issues that blemished their debut. Subconsciously, I suspect it’s also because it was their final LP - there’s something profoundly romantic about that, as if it serves as an aural portal to connect me to The Smiths as they were in their most fractured end of days. Morrissey & Marr were two divergent halves of the perfect rock star, cruelly – or perhaps wisely - segregated into separate shells.

There’s no doubt Morrissey is a polarising figure - but people do themselves a disservice if they steer clear of his music because of his self-indulgent aggrandising. He only channeled the best of his highly literate self into The Smiths’ canon: bleakly beautiful imagery ("This Charming Man"), wry humour ('"The Queen Is Dead"), and a profound understanding of the insatiable longing and angst at the heart of the human condition ("Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"). People who tell me that The Smiths were wholly miserable haven't really listened to their work - I often find myself laughing out loud at Morrissey's lyrics – one of his greatest strengths is in how he balances humour and pathos in his songs.

I listen to The Smiths a lot, more than any other band – there’s something wildly hypnotic at the core of their music that inspires fervent devotion in many of their fans. A friend recently told me that for him The Smiths transcended religion, that they were the single most important factor in his world - of more consequence than life and death. I told him to stop being ridiculous, of course. The Smiths are so much more than that.


words bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint >

The Killers, Hot Fuss tracks 1-5
A recent Stereogum list of the best Killers songs prompted me to return to Hot Fuss. The back half is still tedious and the record’s general vibe is still sleazy, derivative, and just plain stupid, but anyone who claims immunity to this opening five-track run has to be lying. This stuff’s hooks on hooks on hooks, folks, and that’s an objective fact. In 2004, it felt like everything this band touched turned to glitter and cocaine, and these five songs are why. The synth breakdown on “Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine”? Perfect. The guitar intro to “Mr. Brightside”? Perfect. The way the key change on the final chorus of “Somebody Told Me” catapults the song into the stars? Perfect. The epic chant that closes out “All These Things That I’ve Done”? Cheesy, but perfect, and also impressively well-tailored for group karaoke. Every single glowing, nostalgic second of “Smile Like You Mean it”? Perfect! Okay, sure, I might be exaggerating a little, but for the first 20 minutes of Hot Fuss, the Killers really pulled off what they set out to do: they made it seem like hyperbole could come true.

Default Genders, “Words With Friends”
The backlash against “On Fraternity,” the first single from Default Genders (formerly Dead Girlfriends, aka James Brooks of Elite Gymnastics), was the kind of internet-engulfing bullshit that made me sick of the music before I’d heard it. So I only just this month got around to hearing last year’s debut EP Stop Pretending all the way through. While I agree with detractors that the project’s overall attitude is pissy and condescending, it’s also hard not to love the opening complaint-as-anthem “Words With Friends,” what with its addictive steel drum melody and that perfectly delivered scowl of a refrain, “Fuck that, fuck them, fuck you, ugh, fuck my life.” Here’s a new-ish jam for the misunderstood teenager in you.


Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
Wire’s Pink Flag is a record that I hold very dear, so listening to Light Up Gold for the first time was an oddly nostalgic experience. I've listened to it many times since, but that callow energy never seems to fade. It’s a clever enough record stand on its own, removed from all of the influences is so candidly wears on its sleeve. May minute-long ditties about church and bagels never lose their lustre.

Majical Cloudz, Impersonator
I’ll admit, I was a little late to the party with Impersonator. But I’ve had it on blast more than anything else this winter, and it has such emotional depth that I still don’t think I’ve quite hit bottom. It can be a gloomy listen at times, but it’s a tremendously moving one as well. Devon Welsh’s pinched baritone is the perfect lightning rod for introspection this raw. "Childhood's End" and "Turns Turns Turns" don't know how to unstick themselves from my brain.