Related to my last post about the difference between rock criticism in the ‘90s and that today, I thought about making this review like viewed through the eyes of The Real World decade — would the music stack up to the snobbery of when things were still cutting edge, or would it mire in the territory of unthinkable hipster fluff? The answer is: both. But please let me say that if these people don’t like Better than Ezra’s radio single “Rosealia,” they’re hypocrites.
Should I be COLDLY judging this album? Well, yeah. This is humanity’s ability, or inability, to truly fight back against the unconscionable political machine, right before our ears. About four tracks in, you realize that the best Battle Hymns will ever be is a viable distraction, although in many episodes, an amusing one.
Quasi is the band on whose website the compilation is available, for donation download, and which features Sleater-Kinney/Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks drummer Janet Weiss, so it’s bizarre that they wait until track eight to chime in with their own contribution. Battle Hymns opens with a feminist statement by a band called Love Always, which, honestly, I can’t stand. I mean honestly, American women thoroughly dominate professional sports. Also, they dress more scandalously than women anywhere else in the world. I don’t view them as oppressed. Don’t gimme that B.S.
Mac McCaughn’s “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)” is like Father John Misty after even yet another weed grass smoothie. It’s about as edgy as a bunion.
The party really gets started (hooray) when New York’s Boss Hog takes over, and makes a Boss Hog song for ’17 rockin’ warped with a bunch of fu**ed synth effects and voice-overs. It’ll make you think of The Vaselines “You Think You’re a Man,” if you’re a fan and you’ve heard that song. Malkmus rocks in with some industrial (and industrial-strength) cubist mayhem. But again, it doesn’t really feel like an effective PROTEST album, even at this point.
After a couple of solid, unassuming bouts with crunchy power pop, we get “Fight the Hate” by Mary Timony (who was a member of the excellent Wild Flag, if memory serves), but problematically, her projected m.o. seems to be the same here as it was in Wild Flag: be cute. And she is cute, that is, if you don’t have the knowledge in mind that we just elected a failing casino tycoon with no political experience as president.
Quasi comes eighth, and I’m like, WHY? It’s not only the trippiest song on the album yet, but one of the angriest, summoning vaguely to mind The Hives’ unforgettable polka he**-fest “Diabolic Scheme.” Credit Janet Weiss with not excessively stealing the show, but showing “restraint” (Malkmus would pat her on the back for that), plus the song is about Donald Duck and Elmer Fudd, which can be interpreted a lot of different ways. Actually, this makes me really glad I don’t live in the Northwest, for different reasons entirely.
No complaints with Libraness’ “A Kind of Survival,” but what still seems to be missing from this album is a strong, verbose LYRICAL narrative. I mean, a lot of these tracks could have just been songs these artists had sitting around, just not cut to tape yet. “A Kind of Survival” is fine, but from listening to it, it could just as easily be about eating an Eggo waffle in the morning with extra syrup. It’s even got the sticky textures to go with that. In general, these songs aren’t long enough, and there’s too much cute self-consciousness. MEDS’ “No More Fizz” is darling in a Northwest way, calling to mind lavish drunken parties of all-white goers, and it speaks of removal of freedoms, but hardly the sort of removal of freedoms that would happen by the stroke of a Trump admin. Maybe they could use some persecuted immigrants on this album, just to shake things up.
I’m now to Filthy Friends’ “Love in the Time of Resistance,” a title it would take some serious intensity to get out of tackiness territory, so I’m very relieved to find that this is not only apparently Corin Tucker’s band, but one which finds her sounding more vital and passion-honing even than she was on the erstwhile toted Corin Tucker Band. I could read further between the lines about this piece, and maybe I still will at this point, but I’d just like to add that it’s Tucker’s tendency to sound awkward and curiously, beguilingly dark that adds a lot of hidden, innate foreboding value to the proceedings here. Throw Janet Weiss into the mix and you’ve got, well, a Sleater-Kinney song, which is obviously a good thing. Carl Newman doesn’t disappoint, with a skewed synth fest calling to mind Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates.” Yes, I really just said that. It’s even got some really cool percussion. Judged as a protest album, this whole project falls palely flat, but this isn’t a communist manifesto site, it’s a musical site, to the benefit of the parties here, for what it’s worth. Anyway, conclusion: the Northwest is full of a buncha Bach-studying nerds, just like we always expected. I believe Rebecca Gates’ song is the first one up to this point to actually feature a drum machine AND a live drum set. Nice throaty guitar sound too, calling to mind PJ Harvey. And is that a tempo change? Again, good for a musical statement of placidity, bad for a protest record. Where’s Sinead O’Connor when you need her? Ah, look at me, I’m even making jokes when I should be getting pi**ed about the current political situation. Maybe it’s that we’re so savoring the EXCUSE to complain that we forget to even do the requisite complaining. Either way, there’s some good musicians showcased here, although this Doug Martsch song kind of REMINDS me of sitting on Jupiter with a feather for 1,000 years, or whatever. This Sean Croghan dude at the end is essential, but is he ripping off the Califone song title “Spider’s House”???