Monday, May 10, 2010

THE NATIONAL High Violet - LP

The National
High Violet
2010, 4AD Records
6 out of 10

High Violet, the new record by recent Brooklyn transplants The National is a bit of a downer. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing; it is what it is. And what it is , though, is good ...if you're in the mood for this sort of thing, that is.

You need to be in the mood for these romantic dirges to really enjoy them. Perhaps your lover has left you. Or you've been fired from your job. Maybe a parking ticket has recently been issued to you and your automobile. Worry not: High Violet has you covered.

"I don't want to get over you," inflects The National's Matt Berninger on "Sorrow" in a baritone reminiscent of Nick Cave, Stuart Staples or Leonard Cohen, but with a heavy shellac of cough syrup coating. His is a voice of longing, like an animal who has finally surrendered to a gun shot wound or toothy trap impaling its paw. "I don't have the drugs to sort it out," he later  throat-fully mellows on "I'm Afraid Of Everyone," as if the pain in his voice over the album's other 10 tracks didn't make this so, so evident.

If you're hoping for a high moment on High Violet, you ain't getting one. The Arcade Fire-esque "Bloodbuzz Ohio" may lull you into believing it might be the ray of light in the tar-covered walls of this album - what with it's shimmering guitars, jaunty percussion and such - but forget about it! Beringer's velvet hammer vocal make quick work of hope and happiness.

Now, all this moody and maudlin moaning and delicate slowcore instrumentation may not be the best pick for, say, a wedding, a graduation party or love-bugging, but High Violet is a pretty damn fine album, all the same. The National know that life isn't all rainbows, unicorns and cotton candy (yes indeed, they don't seem to frequent a lot of carnivals), and sometimes you need to wallow a bit, from time-to-time. Curled-up on a couch, watching the overcast day crawl by and wondering, "How could this have happened to me?", The National have practically provided you and your wounded heart with the perfect soundtrack.

Yes, you should to be in a sad space to fully enjoy the impact of this album. High Violet will not (NOT!) work as background music for a friendly get together. No. This is a solitary album, perfect for "alone time," replete with candles, a glass of wine and your journal. It's on 4AD, for crying out loud (oh, and you will!), and this label was practically responsible for over half of the depressing albums released during the 1990's. So there's that.

High Violet is your downtime companion - the only one you'll need. Let the tears commence.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

BIKE SNOB by BikeSnobNYC - Book

Bike Snob
By BikeSnobNYC
Chronicle Books - www.chroniclebooks.com
8 out of 10

Such is the world we live in that bloggers now even get their own publishing deals. Pounding the keyboard every day, expounding on whatever it was that occupied their time worked out just fine for Diablo Cody and Julia Powell, so why not someone who is passionate about bicycle riding? Enter BikeSnobNYC, the highly opinionated, entertaining and hilarious scribe behind the aptly named blog, bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com.

For those unfamiliar with The Bike Snobs daily reports, BikeSnobNYC (whose real identity , thanks to the need to promote this book, has recently been revealed) serves-up a daily dose of face-slapping reality on a bike culture that has become regrettably full of wall-to-wall cheek (of the face and ass variety, especially). No quadrant of the bike universe, from the gray-haired recumbent slacker to the post-ironic hipster zombie, is safe from the Snob's pointed and clever jabs. The Bike Snob's main mission in life seems to be demystifying the simple act of bicycling itself, wrestling it from the hands of exclusive and pretentious bike jocks, and making it accessible to all.

Well, with a wink and a nod, of course.

This Snobbie does with aplomb. Each of his entries reads like a hilarious dis-assembly of a culture that has become so self-serious and self-aggrandizing, that it's almost a parody of bicycling culture. From the asshole clerk behind the counter of your local bike shop, to the messenger bag-wearing none-courier, to the podium-standing pro racer with asinine hand gestures, how could a lifestyle built upon the foundation of simply moving one's legs around and around one of the best machines designed by man not expect a bitingly-clever blogger's ridicule when said lifestyle has become, well, ridiculous?

Bike Snob, much like Bike Snob's online journal, manages to condense the blogger's thoughts and feelings about bicycling into 240 pages of equal parts clever satire, brutal honesty and a genuine love of the two wheeled beast. Within these pages we find a cornucopia of bicycling factoids, New York-based bicycling history (naturally), definitions and designations of different riders, riding tips and several excellent reasons to plant your ass in the saddle and ride like there's no tomorrow. When you stop from laughing out-loud long enough (The Snob is quite a gifted comedic writer, so this will be difficult to do), it become quite evident that this man loves riding his bicycle and just wants to share that love of bicycling with you.

"A lot of people - including me - will tell you what to do with and on your bike," writes the Snob, directly to the neglected.  "...but in the end it all comes down to what works for you. And if someone else doesn't like it, just tell them what they can do. AYHSMB." Below this statement is a picture of the rear wheel of a fixed gear conversion with the phrase "ALL YOU HATERS SUCK MY BALLS" affixed in sticker-letters along the bike's rim. And that just about sums-up the intention of this book perfectly.

Bike riding may be just about one of the absolute best activities a human being can do.  The Snob knows this. Besides entertaining his readers week-in and week-out - and now, in book form - he wants you, the average, lowly mortal curious about all things bike-related to realize that riding a bike is not the sole property of elite spandex-clad cube drones who seem to use bicycling as an excuse to uncork their pent-up assholish-ness "...on the trail." Nor is it the domain of pierced and be-tatted sneering hipsters who treat their bikes more like cafe accessories than a mode of transportation. And it certainly doesn't belong to beer bong-huffing douchebag and his douchette entourage when they awkwardly navigate the sidewalks of urban avenues on their Cadillac cruisers.

Nope. Bicycling belongs to you. To everyone, really. When the day comes that "serious" pedal pushers stop taking themselves so seriously, the Bike Snob may put down his reflecting mirror and computer (maybe). Until then, let's hope the sales from this book can afford him a beefier Macbook Pro and new mirror. A bigger mirror. I mean, one of those really big suckers.