Studying to be too cool for school

Some people listen to music as if they’re studying for the verbal section of the SATs. Just as college hopefuls painstakingly learn the differences between verisimilitude and authenticity, many people (some of them repeat offenders) spend innumerable hours dissecting the disparities between The Fiery Furnaces and The Burning Brides. Granted, some sociopaths, like that reckless rascal Paul Verlaine, really would never learn the difference, but most of us would never actually ignite our spouses, and so the discrepancy holds meaning.

This example, however, merely represents the tip of that vast iceberg that contains all of the available music. There are those among us who write for other publications that insist on elucidating the conflicting artistic inclinations of Hominid and 90 Day Men, or the Espers and the Freuds. Now, I have absolutely no idea what any of these four bands sound like, but apparently others do. Hark! Those (wink wink) angels write. Contumacious is to recalcitrant as Squarepusher is to We Ragazzi. Didn’t know that, did you? Relax. I made up the second half. You won’t top 1500 on your indie rock SATs (neither will I, probably), but you will have time to explore the intricacies of the new Strokes album. Or you could not let music completely dictate your life and just watch the new Real World.

I’m not saying that staying on top of the ever-burgeoning underground will completely destroy your life. I would just like to advise you not to fixate on it so much. Instead of checking Pitchforkmedia.com every fifteen minutes for the release date of the new Four Tet, listen to Pet Sounds again. I guarantee that you’ll learn something new with each listen. This is the main reason I have no idea who Slicker is–I’ve only had REM’s Murmur for five years, and I’m very close to understanding the entire opening of “9-9.” Excuse me if I don’t know all the words to Weird War’s “Store Bought Pot.” There just aren’t enough hours in the day, I suppose.

Still, if you insist on keeping abreast of the lubricious (see: shifty) indie scene, allow me to recommend one of the forerunners of the underground; throw you a bone, so to speak. No, not Pavement. I know Stephen Malkmus may seem old these days, but this band played music in the actual Seventies; plus, they were far more unrecognized. I’m talking about the Flamin’ Groovies, whose 1971 album Teenage Head was supposedly deemed “better than Sticky Fingers” by none other than Mick Jagger.

This claim, however, is spurious (or specious) at best. Everything about the album screams Sticky Fingers. The music rips off nearly everything that the Stones had to offer, even their early rock influences. My bonus edition of the disc includes a cover of “That’ll Be the Day,” and an even better one of “Louie Louie.”

The reason that this album sounds vital and deafeningly alive today is that the songs are impeccable. “Have You Ever Been In Love?” sucks you in with the easy blues-rock formula that the Stones perfected, but its blinding, heartbreaking honesty compels you to play it again.

This is where I have to inform you that the Groovies once recorded for Epic. Blasphemy! I know, I know–it’s a major label. I assure you, though, that the music did not suffer. Actually, it rarely does. Listen to the Walkmen. They have just released their major label debut, Bows and Arrows, and it trumps anything they’ve ever done before. As a matter of fact, Pitchfork gave them a 9.2. The tenth point is a little low in my opinion, but a nine is pretty spectacular nonetheless. So take a deep breath and admit it to yourself–good things can come from major labels.

To boost your morale, I’ll let you know that Teenage Head wasn’t released on a major label until 1999, when BMG picked it up. Feel better now? You’ll feel even better when you play the title track for the first time. “Teenage Head” is one of the most filthiest, rawest songs ever recorded, a true garage classic. Its relentless main riff shoves its way up to the front of the song and refuses to leave, much like you and your friends at the last Mindflayer show.

Now just sip some tea, massage your temples, and enjoy the rest of the album. You still have a month until the new Pedro the Lion.

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