Friday, April 30, 2010

(Me-Morrissey)=And And And(A Big Smile and Two Thumbs Way Up)

The other day, I was listening to Your Arsenal, and I realized that Morrissey and I have very little in common. He likes to write and record music, I like to listen to the music he writes and records, we both look smashing in a billowy, blue-sequence shirt unbuttoned down to our navels, but after that, I see very little similarities between the two of us.

Now granted, I don't know Morrissey. I've never met him, I've never spoken to him (I have seen him live and that was rather amazing), and in all honesty, I haven't even read a whole lot of interviews with the man. Still, I know we aren't similar, mainly because I've decided that there are a handful of songs that truly represent Morissey's character ("The First of the Gang" is not one of those songs. I have a very hard time believing Morrissey was some kind of street tough wreaking havoc on the streets of Manchester. Sorry Moz, the image just doesn't ring true). I hear an absolute sincerity in "I've Changed my Plea to Guilty", there seems to be genuine malaise and melancholy on "My Love Life", and he seems to be genuinely happy on "Now My Heart is Full", but above and beyond everything else he's done, "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" sound like Morrissey to me.

I'm not saying Moz is a dick, or even that he's not that good of a guy. He quite possibly is a fantastic gentleman, and at the absolute least, he is a remarkable singer/songwriter/performer, but there's something about him that makes me think he is just little bit petty. Certainly, this song was written and recorded 18 years ago, and a great deal of personal growth can occur over the course of nearly 2 decades, but that doesn't matter. To me, Morrissey then is the same as Morrissey now because my only gauge of him personally is his music, and although it's stayed consistently good over the past 18 years, it's also stayed consistently spiteful.

So for this reason, I'm sure that Morrissey and I have little in common, because I can honestly say I do not hate it when my friends become successful. When my friends enjoy an exuberance of success, I can say with the utmost sincerity that I am not simply "happy for them", it actually makes me happy. I enjoy it when my friends achieve something that gives them something they didn't have before. Both personally and professionally, it impresses me when my friends set their minds to reaching a goal and do their best to go out and make that goal their bitch. Don't get me wrong, when my friends out-stride me in the race towards success, it puts an internal spotlight on my meager treading of water in the ocean of life (how's that for a mixed metaphor...), but I don't begrudge them a single bit. It simply highlights my own failures at attempting to be the man I once thought I would become. (I apologize for the sympathy-pandering self-deprecation.) But when my friend Tyler Keene e-mailed me a song he recorded with a fella named Nathan Baumgartner that he met after moving to Portland, OR, I was met with a wholly new, unexpected, and I have to say, rather creepy feeling...pride.

Pride is supposed to be a feeling a parent feels for a child, or a grandparent feels for a grandchild. Uncles and aunts can feel it for nieces and nephews because I know I am proud as hell of the people my little guys (and not so little guys, kids grow up fucking fast...) are becoming. I guess even a kid can be proud of their parent once they get to a certain age and phrase it right. As long as a child is old enough to be taken seriously (I'm thinking 27 or older), and says "I'm proud to call you my...(insert gender specific parental title here), or your parent has learned to live with or overcome some sort of extreme adversity (i.e. being paralyzed, beating addiction, etc., etc.), then it's okay, but outside of those examples, pride is weird. In my slightly oddball mind, pride should be an emotion reserved for a blood relative (a spouse or significant other works as well, but it's still a tiny bit weird if you're not married). Felling pride for a friend is, well, not a normal feeling. But nonetheless, there I was, positively beaming.

(I realize I'm kind of exposing the alter-ego here T-Boz, but I just can't write this and refer to you as Run4YoLife, not to mention, only 12 people are going to read this anyway, and I'll probably 4 of that 12...nonetheless, sorry.) Tyler and I met when I was a senior in High School, and after hanging out twice, I knew that this guy was meant to be my best friend. Tyler and I have a weird relationship. As best friends (I guess I'm speaking for him by making that plural, but I think that might be okay), we rarely discuss our personal lives. Sometimes the facts of our day-to-day lives bleed into our conversations, but it's always by accident, and it's kind of ultra-rare. I can say with a reasonable degree of authority that neither of us are uncomfortable when it happens, and, at least for me, an increase in frequency of discussion about our everyday lives wouldn't be frowned upon. In fact, (again, at least for me) it would be welcome, because it would be simply one more facet of our lives that we could share and most likely connect with. But ultimately, the day-to-day doldrums of everyday life aren't important when it comes to our friendship.

The birth of our friendship hinges on 3 inter-related factoids. 1.) I wore a Led Zeppelin T-Shirt to school, 2.) He asked me a question about a Led Zeppelin song ("Dazed and Confused"), and 3.) I could accurately answer his query. That was it. He hummed me the bass-line, I knew what it was and told him what album it was on, he bought the C.D., and then decided he should start sitting next to me in 4th hour. And we began to constantly talk about music.

Music has always been the thing that connects me to other people. I think I have a stunted personality. I think I'm a perfectly pleasant person to be around sometimes. I can be funny, witty, insightful, I try to be a good listener (though I think I always end up dominating the conversation, regardless of how hard I attempt not to), but in the end, I have a difficult time relating to people outside of the context of what music they listen to. This is a sad fact about me, it's also the plight I'm stuck with. Whether I like it or not, this is who I am. Because of this, I've always seen the music people listen to as not only an extension of who they are, but a extroverted, physical definition of who they are. Understand the music, understand the person. Is this a twisted, perverse, psychologically fucked? Probably, but oh well, it is what it is.

For this reason, I spent the first 18 years of my life feeling remarkably lonely. I had friends who liked music arguably as much as I did. I had friends who liked the same bands and the same songs, but to everyone I knew, it seemed that they simply saw a band like The Cure as being my favorite band, not an extension of me or some sort of sonic road map to my soul, but this is how I saw it. I felt that, because no one could see me in the music I loved, no one really knew me. Regardless of how many friends I had, if I were to die, I would die with no one knowing who the real me was and that's a very lonely place to be.

But then I met Tyler and we started hanging out a lot. We began to know each other through the music we listened to and I felt like I had finally found a friend who truly understood who I was. Our friendship developed and I think is now at least partially defined by the music we love. The funny thing is, we don't even really like the same music. There's certainly some overlap, but by and large, we're excited by different sounds, but we both listen to music the same way. We both look for the same things, it's just that those things happen to sometimes be a little different. But the key is, I can hear a song I know he likes, and I can see why he likes it, even if I don't agree with him, and I think he would probably say the same thing about me. Even if he doesn't like something I happen to, he seems to understand why I like it. For me, this is one of the main reasons our friendship is important and special.

So when Tyler moved to Manhattan a few years ago, he was inspired by the city and began to write and record his own stuff. He had done this before, but his songs had always been more for the purpose of making his friends laugh. They were musically-infused, well orchestrated jokes. But the stuff he was doing after he moved to NYC was different. It was serious. It was attempt to really communicate something about himself through music. This was exciting to me, because not only was he speaking the language that I understood best, but the music wasn't simply an interpretation of him through the efforts of someone else but his own words and his own music expressing his thoughts and feelings. What was even more exciting was that the stuff was good, really good.

Over the course of 3 years, he wrote and recorded a ridiculous number of songs. Some were funny, most were not, all were good, and a lot fantastic. But I have to say, something was missing. Tyler is a musician, not a computer programmer, and without a band, he couldn't tap his full potential as a performer. The recordings fell short of capturing the brilliance that was there. Songs that should have sounded mind-blowing and explosive simply sounded really excellent. But then he moved to Portland, and after about 6 months, things changed.

In the fall of 2009, Tyler e-mailed me a handful of songs that one of his neighbors had recorded and given him. He was impressed, but wanted to know what I thought. He wanted to know if I thought he should try to start doing something with this guy. Now, don't think I'm trying to take any credit here, because I could tell by the way Tyler talked to me about this guy that he was going to play with him come hell or high water. I could have said I was thoroughly unimpressed and my opinion wouldn't have changed a thing, but I didn't have to do that because the songs were amazing, and his performance of them was even more compelling. Nathan Baumgartner's voice is other-worldly. He sounds like Ian Curtis without the manic-depression, he sounds like Brandon Flowers without the self-important pretension, he has the intensity and inflection of Serj Tankian without any of the restraint. He is Morrissey, Bowie, Robert Smith, yet he's none of these; he sounds like every singer I had ever loved and like no one I have heard before. He is dynamic, emotive, exploratory, and fearless. His talent has given Tyler a reason to rise to the occasion, and since working with Nathan, Tyler's voice sounds more powerful, clear, and brilliant than it ever has before. He is Tyler's musical soul mate.

Nathan has grand musical presence without ever sounding grandiose. He feels lofty but with no traces of bravado. Tyler has this innate ability to hear melody in every possible crevasse, but never overdoes it. Tyler has a penchant for noise and an innate ability to find complexity in the beautifully simple. Together, these abilities (along with 4 other gentlemen who, I sadly have to admit to know literally nothing about, sorry fellas...I look forward to forming strong, complimentary opinions about you as well, given that I don't think you suck. I assume you don't, but anything is possible) create a fantastic sound, and that sound has been given the moniker And And And.

And And And is not so much a band as they are a mind-fuck experienced through a dream sequence in the most accessible Fellini film that was never made. No pretension, no gimmick, no rules. They do exactly what they want to do, exactly when they want to do it. There's no formula, there's no rubric, everything is on the table, nothing is off limits.

And And And's music has the straight-forward, melodic simplicity of The Beatles or The Beach Boys, with the depth and complexity of The Flaming Lips or The Mars Volta, saturated in the chaos of the drunkest Replacements or Pavement show that ever happened. It's easily accessible without ever sounding obvious or overdone. The songs are layered and multidimensional but never busy or self-indulgent. It's raw, sincere, down-to-business, down-to-earth Rock n' Roll music that is fun as hell and loud as shit.

They're a little punk, a little indie, a little lo-fi, thrown into a bucket full of mud and poured over top of sweet, well-written pop music. On their first album, We'll Be Better Off with the Plants, they plow into you with sweeping, Indie-Rock grandeur ("The Great Tide"), dirge into noise-drenched dirt-Folk ("Seize the Day", "I Will Still Break Your Heart"), toy with British Invasion era Pop-Rock tripping on acid and saturated in fuzz (She's Got A Gun, There is No Meaning Here), and thud and grind with Punk-soiled, American Rock N' Roll ("Seeding"), somehow managing to sound consistent and honest regardless of the aural twists and turns.

I have to be honest, I've only heard a few rough snippets from the forth-coming A Fresh Summer With And And And, but from what I have heard, this record will not disappoint me. If anything, it will only tether this band to my heart tighter than they already were. From what I've heard, it's more focused but it loses none of the rawness and honesty of the first record. It sounds bigger but not pompous or over-inflated. It's ambitious but still true to what they do. This band seems to be able to do what ever they want to and somehow remain in their element.

And And And has blown me away. I guess I might be biased because having your best friend be the co-lead singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist of a band seems like the perfect cocktail to get you drunk off bullshit, but I love music (and cocktails, both the liquids and the Hot Leg song) too much to sully its name with lip-service. When it comes to "my tunes", I cannot lie, and And And And is most definitely My Shit. Personal relationships be damned, And And And is the real deal. They are a band that you should be listening to, a band you should be watching. Two, three, five years from now, you'll be thanking me if you do because you'll be able to say I was listening to And And And when...and that's going to be an amazing feeling, maybe you'll even feel proud.

To listen to And And And music, visit AndAndAndspace

To buy And And And's music, visit Super Dream Music.

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