by Jared Stanley
An Unwilling Wobble
Aislers Set "How I Learned to Write Backwards"
has grown tired of reading sentimental, mushy, overly rhapsodic
reviews in this space, shit, sorry. It's not that I don't
hate almost every record that comes out these days...I do,
I do! That's why I do this thing instead of short blurbs nowadays.
And shit, this isn't fucking Pitchfork. Shit, if I wanted
to be a Pitchforker, I'd bang my head against a cinderblock
about fifty times before writing anything, just to get stupid
going to be the best record of 2003 (yahwn) and I don't have
to hear anything else this year to know it (on second thought
now that Deerhoof is a pop band...). The Aislers have produced
their most nuanced, and I'll just say it, difficult, album
of their career. Is it a complete success? Not entirely. It's
not the kind of album you want to put on while you're making
dinner simply because the emotional range is so extreme that
you'd start to think you were missing something. You know,
it takes some concentration.
two albums of reverb drenched, ravaged, somewhat sickly romantic
pop with a healthy dose of world weary D.T.'s, the band stretches
out. Their first, "Terrible Things Happen," demonstrated
the rare talent that can actually make a "record alone
in your room" kind of cliched thingy work. It sounded
tired, pooped out and the music drifts in and out of synch
in a pretty compelling (not annoying) way. The second album,
"The Last Match," was a more rockin' affair full
of Merseybeat farfisa shit and a whole lotta mod-punk. This
one, while superficially similar to the others, actually significantly
redefines and reinterprets the impulses of each of those records,
adding spikiness from the whole Total Shutdown/Erase Errata
school that inherited pop's little bitty crown in San Francisco
(even W. Walter moved out there). I think this has kind of
alienated the fans gained with "The Last Match"
but will, I'm pretty confident, bring them a new audience,
you know, a little more experimental-ish - you know, fuckin'
nurds like you.
Belle & Sebastian will never be mentioned in their reviews
stroke and punch kind of album. The first tune, "Catherine
Says," begins with glockenspiel and unironically brings
up God's only begotten son: "Gave my life and love to
Jesus / He's been so good to me I can't stay anymore."
And those are the first lyrics on the record! At first, I
didn't know what to make of this, but there is a kind of fearlessness
involved in making this the opening salvo on an indie record.
She sings it in her highest register, cracking way up there,
a bit like Chilton does when he gets high up. It's a pop song,
and a fabulous one, but what I like so much about the album
as a whole is its shifty zig-zags. The fucking thing is all
over the place. The next 'un, "Emotional Levy,"
has this incredible percussive thingy going on in it. It begins
with a dirgy P.I.L. (not in an overly trendy way) bassline,
and the only guitar is a percussive chicken scratch overlaid
with handclaps. Even with all of this it still sounds like
Motown (albeit on a day when H-D-H were ALL really bummed
about something). Then the song ends all a cappella too!
brings up another thing. The arrangements, which are certainly
the most sophisticated in pop music today, have the surefootedness
of the best produce-o nerds, but beyond that, the songs twist
and writhe all unexpectedly. But they're not ostentatious
about it. There is a new use of dissonance throughout this
record that actually works to the advantage of the song. The
songs sound right (all-important) but they're NOT right. They
don't have AVANT GARDE tattooed on their foreheads or anything.
All of these techniques are just kind of absorbed into the
overall palette. They're songs, not frickin' math or undanceable
dance music. Shit!
"Emotional Levy," the a cappella goes out of tune
with the underlying bassline at the end, and it sounds like
the note is being bent, which creates a nice tension, and
eliminates potential accusations of retro posturing. Phew.
It feels good to listen to melodic music that isn't painfully
dedicated to the rank backwardness of the world right now.
again, "Mission Bells," the single off the album,
does have more than a passing resemblance to Love and the
Left Banke...But it's a single ya know?
album progresses, it gets even weirder. There is a mini-suite
of songs, but they couldn't have less to do with one another.
"The Train #1" is a deft and repititious melding
of Spector and spikes. There's a big fake kettle drum sound
and a very Fire Engines-esque guitar line that almost hurts
in context of this faux orchestra. But "The Train #2"
sounds like the Dils or the Circle Jerks, with a lot of screaming
and a Smiths quote. It's paranoid and fuckin' fast. Maybe
they'll be on the next Warped Tour. Nah.
song, "Melody Not Malaise" (a statement of fucking
purpose if I've ever heard one) is, as has become routine
on an Aislers album, a show-stopping epic ballad. Again, dissonance
is used creatively, the chords of the song moving from major
to minor and back again regardless of the melody, finally
swooping into a Go Go's like chorus that can only be described
as triumphant considering the various hoops and swings the
song drags you through.
so consistently fantastic about the Aislers Set is the way
in which such retro materials aren't regurgitated with better
production and better jeans. The Aislers, as all great "indie"
bands before them, have taken the essentials of the rock tradition
and recast them as something new (Sonic Youth and "She's
As Beautiful As a Foot" for ex.), something you needed
that you never knew you needed before. With this album, the
Aislers have consolidated their strengths and made, for the
first time, an album that totally transcends the cult of indie
pop, an album that will last. You can't say that about the
other thousands of albums rammed up the poopchute of what
used to be the most innovative music in the country. It's
proof that there's a bit of life in the old dog yet.
tile photo by Jasmine J. Jopling / photo of Amy Linton from
the cover of Chickfactor #13 / both acquired through Google
image search, used without permission, hope it's OK)