Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kat's Korner: When (Cloud) Nothings Matter

Kat: In an alternate universe, Kurt Cobain never died.

So grunge survived Billy Corgan's drama trauma tantrums and Eddie Vedder's inherent superficiality.

In this universe, Billie Joe Armstrong was the rule and not the exception so strong women like Tori Amos and the Deal sisters didn't result in the male panic that led to the abomination that was rap metal and Fred Durst's tiny limp bizkit.

No, grunge survived and thrived and, in that universe, Liz Phair's just released Let On Me (her response album to the Replacements Let It Be) and Cloud Nothings' just released Here and Nowhere Else.

But something happened, blame it on Olivia and Peter and the entire Fringe gang, somehow Cloud Nothing's album crossed over into our universe and will be released on Tuesday.

Listening to Here and Nowhere Else it's as if Mothers Spears and Timberlake told their  children to do their homework instead of trying to make a buck off them.

Yes, people, it's as though music never ceased to matter and kids still grew up wanting to play instruments.

While Jayson Gerycz wails away on drums and TJ Duke thumps that bass, Dylan Baldi steps up front on guitar and vocals on the eight tracks that make up the new album.

"I go outside and see all these things that should be real," Dylan sings on the opening track "Now Here" while also noting, "You're not the same as me but I know we share a thing."  Suddenly, we're back in the glorious land of grunge.

Not just because of the powerful music which finds the band playing like they're in danger of slipping off a turntable stage but also because of the what's being said with lyrics.

Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake never seem more fake and uninterested in women than when they do their little boy vulgar talk in those high pitched voices that drip with all the sexual desire of a "You go, girl!" on daytime talk TV (which is to say: none at all).

Kurt got it.  Billie Joe got it.  Even Evan Dando got it.

What interested a number of women (and some men) in those and other guys sexually was the thought that we could get in there, get in their heads.  That we could know them and relate.  So Evan and the Lemonheads offering up "Big Gay Heart," for example, left us gloriously amazed as we pondered that levels existed in the blond cover boy that we'd never imagined.

Unlike today's squeaky voiced boyz who mistake vulgarity for dirty talk, grunge boys didn't have to try to be sexy, they just had to be.

Back then, you understand, genuine was something everyone strove for.

By contrast, today's Land of Timberlake is all artifice and leads down a gender constrained  road that takes you back to the fifties.

If you doubt it, just watch that God awful Cheerios commercial.  You know the one, where the bee Buzz reads gay?  And a male trying to act like a 50s man (read bastard) -- attempts to bully the perfectly happy Buzz bee.  Nelly strips Buzz of his wand -- I don't even want to go into the phallic nature of that -- and then he's forcing Buzz into a bondage outfit and lecturing him on how to speak.

That this ever flew as a commercial for cereal, let alone as an ad for children, shows just how disgusting our culture has become.

Whatever Buzz is before Nelly gets his hands on him, Buzz seems very happy.  So you'd have to be a pretty huge homophobe -- or self-loathing gay -- to want to pick on Buzz to begin with.

That's before you get into 39-year-old Nelly and his creepy nature veering back and forth between high school bully and Mr. Herbert, the pedophile on Family Guy.

You didn't get that in grunge, grunge wasn't backwards, it was now.

It wasn't peer pressure or bullying, it was being.

And how the country's been harmed in the years since it's gone.

Kurt and Tori were the gods of grunge.  But so many made contributions to the notions of who and what we were and could be.  For example, Courtney Love found a way to musically address body shape and societal demands in a manner that was never off-putting the way Lena Dunham constant braying is. It was a message of empowerment while Lena's just off-key warbling some bastardization of Whitman's Song of Myself.

Grunge required a sense of awareness but also an absence of vanity.  An absence of vanity, not of ego.  The id and the ego were all over grunge.  But vanity?  If you couldn't surrender it, you couldn't pen "Basket Case" or "Me and a Gun" or "Heart Shaped Box."

If you couldn't set vanity aside, you were stuck in the masks and poses of years past (which have all returned) where pretense was all that mattered.

Greg Dulli got it and his best work with the Afghan Whigs didn't try to deny the conflicts within or put the inner beast on a leash and serve it salt peter.

On their new album, the Cloud Nothings' "Psychic Trauma" taps into that, both with its musical loping stumble, and its lyrical point of view. With that and the confessional vomit of "Pattern Walks," the band does what the best grunge has always done, says it's okay to be f**ked up because, really, aren't we all?

"Trouble needs a home, girls, trouble needs a home, trouble needs a home, girls, will you give her one?" asks Tori on "Trouble's Lament," the single to her upcoming Unrepentant Geraldines (drops May 13th).  And it's why Tori ever mattered and why she has a career while so many of her peers were long ago discarded. Like a giant she stands because she chronicles the human condition while, all around her, everyone else is posing and pretending.

Authenticity used to matter.  And Cloud Nothings has it.  They couldn't serve up artifice right now if they tried.  They're too busy being real.

And in our universe, you can hear them Tuesday when Here and Nowhere Else drops.

It starts right now
That's the way I was before
But I can't be caught
How I was those days anymore
I'm learning how 
To be here and nowhere else
How to focus on 
What I can do myself

I'm not telling you all I go through
I'm not telling you all I'm going through 
I'm not telling you all I'm going through
I feel fine 

Somewhere in America, 16-year-old Aaron Spears, who just wanted Samantha to like him -- and maybe for her to want to play with Mr. Happy --  feels it's going to be okay.