Tag Archives: Built to Spill
Ignored 127: Big tickets
Ignored 35: When skits went indie
“The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Skits list” from Complex Magazine is a good read and helps shine a light on the (mercifully) dying art of the hip-hop skit.
Wikipedia defines a hip-hop skit (ed. I seriously LOVE that’s there’s an entry for this) as “a form of sketch comedy that appears on a hip hop album or mixtape, and is usually written and performed by the artists themselves. Skits can appear on albums or mixtapes as individual tracks, or at the beginning or end of a song. Some skits are part of concept albums and contribute to an album’s concept. Skits also occasionally appear on albums of other genres. The hip-hop skit was more or less pioneered by De La Soul and their producer Prince Paul who incorporated many skits on their 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising.”
A fair definition but clearly not every hip-hop skit was trying to be “funny ha ha”. Some were sending a harsh message (i.e. N.W.A. sings “Message to BA”). Others were semi-scary glimpses into domestic violence and violence violence (i.e. the Notorious B.I.G. sings “Intro”). Others still spawn catchphrases that would go on to dominate UrbanDictionnary.com (i.e. Dr. Dre sings “Deeez Nuuuts” ).
As the popularity of the full-length album has largely died, the prevalence of hip-hop skits in the culture is likewise on life support. If you need further proof, check out this BBM conversation between me and my friend Ryan on the topic.
This is some #realtalk right here!
So since “the hip-hop skit” era is a thing of the past (more proof from The Onion A/V Club), here is a companion piece of sorts to the Complex Top 50. Except instead of hip-hop, this is indie rock and instead of 50, it’s five. Since middle-class college kids apparently like to make the odd skit too.
Honourable mention: Bright Eyes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor who often incorporate bits of spoken word into their songs w/o getting too skit-y.
1. The Pixies sing “You Fuckin’ Die…!”
A bit confusing since it’s only a standalone (track 11) on certain CD pressings of Surfer Rosa, “YFD” is nevertheless a landmark track in the annals of indie rock skits. I guess. It’s not overly clear what Black Francis is getting at with his f-bomb assaults but it appears it’s an imitation of Kim Deal and how she reacts when “somebody touches her stuff”. Yup, seems like a healthy band dynamic! Between this skit, the topless lady on the album cover and the weird lyrics about UFOs and physical harm, it’s no wonder the Pixies found an audience amongst those who like some guts and macabre served alongside their poppy hard rock.
2. Sonic Youth sings “Providence”
I suppose this technically could be considered a song because a spooky Jandek-ish piano track that is present through out. However, the core of this “skit” is Mike Watt’s voice mail for Thurston Moore, admonishing him for (I think) drugs and how forgetful he becomes while on drugs. There’s an interesting father-son dynamic here, which is double-interesting since Watt’s only about half a year older than Moore. A throwaway of sorts but given it’s placement within the track list of the epic Daydream Nation full-length, “Providence” does serve as a reminder of the more experimental (vague?) side that Sonic Youth had started shedding by the late 1980s.
This is probably the least surprising artist on the list since Beck took many early cues from hip-hop. And folk. And “power electronics” (not really). And television. And fast food. Flipside was primarily a fanzine but also released some music, including the “soooooo random” 1994’s Beck effort Stereopathetic Soulmanure. The album predated his commercial breakthrough Mellow Gold by a week and a bit, and contains a whopping 25 tracks. Some of these were music and some of these were not. In terms of the “nots”, you have some noise bursts, live weirdness and wonky vocal recordings. “11.6.45” is my personal favourite and features a sped-up voice mail talking about playing Pac-Man in 1945 and a Sasquatch eating a burrito. Heavy commentary on the Clinton regime, no doubt.
4. The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir sings “Happy Earth Day, Tortoise”
Tortoise was a dude friend of the under-remembered Toronto indie/funk/R&B outfit the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. He played on a few recordings and we can assume, was a roommate of band member “not that Chris Brown”. This track features Mama Brown calling up a house at 50 Palmerston Gardens, briefly performing a Weird Al-ish tune “Happy Earth Day to You” and asking Tortoise about what time the band would be playing at Toronto City Hall for Earth Day. Tortoise sounds out of it and Mama Brown sounds frustrated. Turns out the band was playing at 3:00pm. The track can been found on the Bourbon’s out-of-print 1985-1995 collection, which pops up on eBay at times.
5. Built to Spill sings “Preview”
“Preview” goes with a fake infomercial motif and closes out BTS’s sophomore There’s Nothing Wrong with Love effort. I think I’m not alone in having always wanted to hear the full versions of the five fake (real?) songs featured on this fake Built to Spill album. Wikipedia called the skit “satirical” although it’s a bit unclear what this is supposed to be a satire of. Maybe a K-tel commercial? This Amazon review says it “pokes a little fun at the mainstream punk scene and modern rock radio”. This Amazon review says it is “hilarious”. I’m not sure it’s either but it’s strangely not out-of-place either.
Ignored 19: Bored to cheers
Aside from the complementary ear plugs and requisite volume, the recent My Bloody Valentine show in Toronto was notable in that it featured two of the most seemingly-bored musicians on the planet.
MBV frontman Kevin Shields looked completely disengaged during the performance. Fellow cooer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher looked even bored-er. Speakers blared. Visuals were set to “seizure“. But reactions, energy, pulse? Nope. Just another day at the office for these two.
Why do we necessarily need our musicians to look “into it”? IMHO, effort is a nice-to-have in a live setting but it’s perhaps even more impressive to see somebody create epic art with a degree of nonchalance. As was the case with MBV in Toronto. And the entire history of J Mascis playing guitar.
Aside: seeing a band look awesomely bored on-stage while making an incredible racket is another example of how contrast is an underappreciated aspect in music. For more on this genius theory, read this.
Many outfits get tagged with the “they’re awesome live” label. This can help in terms of selling tickets and moving merchandise. However, it can also act as a distraction from the actual music (i.e. art) being created. Thusly, there are some “awesome live” acts who may not get the full artistic credit they deserve based on their on-stage antics (Fucked Up, the Jesus Lizard). The end game is they may get pigeonholed by some observers alongside other acts who exist primarily as a “spectacle” rather than “recording artist” (Gwar, Monotonix) in the traditional sense.
Google nets 18,000+ results for the expression “they’re boring live” so clearly, boredom is a concern for many, many music fans. But really, it should come down to a question of expectations. It’s not really fair to the artist to expect any random concert to provide the same brand of entertainment across the board (bored?). In the case of a band like My Bloody Valentine who took a two decade break between albums, I’d be really surprised if they did appear into it. Why would anybody think otherwise? If they really wanted to play these concerts, they wouldn’t have sat out 1993-2007.
I’d argue that the only problematically “boring” concerts are when a young-ish band get massive in a hurry (i.e. the Strokes, MGMT), focus on the substances or other distractions and start mailing in performances while they’re still in the ascension phase. This seriously is the worst but these outfits are pretty easy to spot via YouTube or Reddit or countless other outlets. Do your research and buyer beware, I guess.
So My Bloody Valentine looked half asleep. I thought the concert was beyond fantastic. Fucked Up insight CONSIDERABLE moshing while their singer strangles himself with the mic cord. It’s delightful; I’ve seen them maybe 4-5 times. Again, it’s all a matter of expectations and with a slew of online resources available to give your concert going experience an anticipatory litmus test, it’s now easier that ever to vet your “entertainment” options in advance. If you have concerns…
Bonus! 10 photos of artists who are/were really good at looking bored and being awesome.
1. Bernard Sumner, New Order
2. Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones
3. Doug Martsch, Built to Spill
4. Jamie xx, the xx
5. John Entwistle, the Who
6. John Hassall, the Libertines
7. Mark Smith, Explosions in the Sky (accepting on behalf of his band’s unjust “they’re boring live” stigma)
9. Nate Dogg
10. Neil Tennant, Pet Shot Boys (mildly related, the track “Being Boring” is completely underrated)