Culturespill » Columbia Records

Bruce Springsteen: He’s Bringing Darkness Back

26th November

 

bruce-springsteen-the-promise-2010.jpeg

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything genuinely “dark” from the artist not always known as “The Boss.” Back before his working man’s hero act became as kitschy as a Phil Levine poem with factory smoke in it (or, for that matter, a Rick Springfield song), he explored a totally believable and sincere American mythos that hadn’t yet washed away in the saccharin production of Born in the USA or his last two albums, Magic and Working on a Dream–possibly the weakest one-two punch of releases in the man’s career. Even the brilliant Tunnel of Love LP in 1987, which he wrote while digging himself out of the smoldering ruin of a marriage gone bad, sported claws that were sharp to the eye but clipped occasionally by his preference for sonic excess over the spare,  bleeding wound of the “NY Sessions” of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, for example, where there’s no band and it’s just Dylan spitting at the world and the woman who razed it as the buttons of his coat audibly rap his acoustic guitar while he plays. (Even today Dylan can’t help but backstroke through his disappointment in, well, everything, singing “dreams never did anything for me anyway / even when they did come true” on his 2009 album Together Through Life.)

It’s precisely that sort of disappointment and resignation in which Springsteen found such an articulate voice that his songs became the working-class narcotic of a generation. You’ll hear it once again on The Promise–outtakes from the sessions that brought us the masterpiece Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978–and really for the first time since tracks like “Downbound Train” or “One Step Up” from his ’80s prime (although moments on the excellent comeback albums Devils and Dust and The Rising come close). But if these are the explorations that culminated in Darkness, they were recorded somewhere inside the blazing sunrise that preceded it. Disc one opens with an absolutely bombastic take on “Racing in the Street,” where Roy Bittan’s fluttering piano work cheers up the distant organ riffs that approximate the version we know so well by now. But then somebody starts blowing the guts out of a mouth harp, Max Weinberg starts beating the balls off his drums and Bruce gradually builds toward the unhinged howl he lets loose on tracks like “Adam Raised a Cain” or “Something in the Night.” Violins sneak into the mix like a Facebook message from a good buddy you haven’t heard from since high school, and ultimately you end up with the unthinkable possibility that the sum of all this is actually superior to the standard version we’ve been listening to for the past 32 years. Unthinkable, yes—until you hear it for yourself.

And that’s just the first track of a double disc package with 21 songs on it. If you’re already exhausted, you’re starting to understand what it’s like to listen to what Springsteen calls “the music that got left behind.”

Six-and-a-half minutes into “Racing,” the whole beautiful mess slow-fades into a stunning little track called “Gotta Get That Feeling” whose production has Little Stevie’s fingerprints all over it. Van Zandt’s adoration for Wall-of-Sound-era Doo-wop is no secret to anyone that has listened to his “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” radio show for more than five minutes. The arrangement sounds like Phil Spector gets into a head-on collision with a mariachi band and, miraculously, both parties survive. The horn section is haunted by the ghost of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” while Bittan’s bright piano once again drives a backbone through the song.

A couple tracks later the gorgeous “Someday (We’ll Be Together”) opens with a jangle of mall-Santa bells and a sluggish drum beat that sounds like the Ronettes got piss drunk and recorded a midnight version of “Be My Baby” at the speed of sleep. The song sweats with the kind of desperate desire that only a 20-something kid from Jersey still groping for the dreams he followed out of Asbury Park can convey.  It is emotionally riveting, impactful stuff.

Springsteen’s take on “Because the Night,” though, is the diamond in the mine of disc one. Inevitably eclipsed by Patti Smith’s downright vicious interpretation that made the track famous the same year that Darkness was released–with Bruce’s version of the song left to gather dust until now (although he did include a live version on his huge live offering, Live 1975-1985) —Springsteen’s take burns to life with the youthful radiance that makes his clumsy 1973 debut record and its follow-up so much fun to listen to. It’s hard to hear the song through Patti’s signature version, but if you can somehow tune Patti out for the length of the song and listen to Bruce’s version on its own terms–admittedly not easy; that woman has a voice that bellows from the center of the earth—the track bears a gush of fruit to reward you for the effort.

Disc two gets off to a remarkably coy start against the explosion with which Disc one begins, as a pretty forgettable rock-ballad called “Save My Love” sounds as tossed-off as the title. But things quickly turn around with the jumpy “Ain’t Good Enough For You” that brings to mind the brilliant “Spirit in the Night” from Greetings from Asbury Park, with an instantly catchy piano riff cushioned in the fabric of so many deep-voiced backup singers. Then everybody starts whistling, applauding and laughing like they just happen to be celebrating Bruce’s birthday as they lay down the track. 1970s-era Bruce never quite figured out how to put together the kind of taut, radio-ready single he mastered in the ensuing decade, but “Ain’t Good Enough for You” suggests that he already had it in him–he just didn’t yet care to go there.

“It’s a Shame” crackles with life from first moment to last, knee-deep in a gritty guitar riff that turns the track into possibly the most accessible rock song Springsteen ever put to tape in the 1970s, while “The Promise” and “City of Night” rein in the enthusiasm with gray-skied ballads that thrust the lives of the forgotten under the unforgiving glare of Springsteen’s America. A penniless scamp is taking a taxi to see his sugar baby somewhere on 12th & Vine in the middle of the night, someone’s cashing in his dreams out on Route 9, and everybody carries on despite a gnawing feeling that they left their lives behind them somewhere.

Even the best of Bruce’s more recent output makes clear that in the twilight of his career he can only hope to approximate the desperate streets he wandered in song decades ago, but that’s why The Promise is such a welcome gift. The package as a whole has its flaws—some of the tracks should have stayed where Springsteen left them—but as a whole these 21 songs bring back to life the soiled rags and busted dreams of the America he used to sing about. It’s the America where there is work to be found in Darlington County if you know where to look for it, the America where “Johnny works in a factory and Billy works downtown,” and when they get home they rinse the grime from their faces and go out racing in the streets with their ’32 Fords.

Gianmarc Manzione
gmanzione@culturespill.com

The Promise: The Spill from Around the Web

Pitchfork: “Still, despite the lack of consistency, the 22 new songs (there are 21 tracks, but “The Way” is a hidden bonus track at the end) are mostly very good and occasionally great. None feel like they should have been on Darkness, but almost all of them holds up to repeat plays and stand on their own as very good Springsteen– easily on the level of mid-level stuff on The River, say.”

Chicago Tribune: “What’s less appreciated about the era chronicled on “Promise” is the large volume of exceptional music that didn’t make the final cut, left to languish unheard except for a few live performances and covers by other artists — until now.”

SoundCheck:  “Of the new songs, longtime fans will be familiar with most, yet the material has never been released with such solid in-studio treatment. “Rendezvous,” for example, has made occasional concert appearances over the years, but to hear it so alive and fresh is a revelation.”

The Guardian: “Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise, stuff that didn’t make it on to his 1978 LP Darkness On The Edge Of Town, is an astounding artefact in its own right; most artists would cheerfully claim these studio-floor sweepings as their magnum opus.”

Music Radar:  “That’s clearly evident among the 21 tracks we get to hear for the first time on the second and third discs of this release; a dizzying ride through American popular music, liberally borrowing instantly familiar motifs. The 10 tracks that comprised Darkness’ on its release in 1978 were carefully chosen to reaffirm Springsteen’s literate singer-songwriter reputation, but the music here is less concerned with cementing a specific identity.”

The Quietus: “Well, the first disc is where all the goodies are. There are songs here that could (and would) be massive hits. The dark, brooding version of ‘Because the Night’, later to become a hit when Patti Smith recorded it, is impressive. It oozes a menacing aspect that’s sometimes lost in translation.”

L.A. Times:  “As a set, the previously unreleased material feels experimental, not in tone but in spirit. Some songs, like the brooding hymn “Come on (Let’s Go Tonight)”, are the seeds of others on “Darkness.” Others could stand on any Springsteen album, relating familiar tales of freedom or peril on the highway, or love in dark tenement corridors, within arrangements that lack the sharpness of the “Darkness” material but often have more warmth.”

SoundSpike:  “No song on “The Promise” belongs on “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The 21 songs, many of them unknown except to the most avid of bootleg collectors, are imbued with the ambition of “Born to Run,” the influence of the Jersey shore — aka “home” — and traditional Springsteen themes, like the search for sanctuary and redemption.”

PopMatters:  “There are alternate takes of tracks, and the best of them is “Racing in the Streets”. A bit dustier than its album version, this one feels more like a stomping full band than the spacious, piano-y cut that made Darkness, and the buzzing intensity here might actually outdo the original. Elsewhere, “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)” is an early take on “Factory” with wholly different lyrics. The feel, however, remains pretty much the same with discussion of men walking around “with death in their eyes”, and people headed to a party down the road to escape, if for a night.”

The Gossip and the Great Fat Majority

24th April

Gossip

“I like the word “fat” . . . what’s funny is that they treat it like a minority, but it’s actually the majority and I wonder why we haven’t gotten it together, because we are the majority . . . really most of us are fat asses, you know.”

– Beth Ditto, The Gossip

If the jury was still out on whether Arkansas is the armpit of America–it is, after all, the birthplace of Wal-Mart–Beth Ditto has donned the black robes, adjourned court in a characteristically thunderous manner, and settled it once and for all: “Fuck, no. No. Never,” she says as Matt Gonzalez of Pop Matters asks if she’d ever consider moving back to Searcy, her small hometown in Arkansas where lesbians are subject to the fiery wrath of the Lord and “punk” is the new communism, “There’s no way, no way. No, no, no.” OK, OK, we get it: Arkansas sucks. When you’re talking to Beth Ditto, a Southern Baptist lesbian punker with a penchant for feminism and fried squirrel, you kind of expect her to tell you how she feels about things. And she does. This is a woman who holds nothing back in life–not on stage, not over the phone, not anywhere. And that’s why she fronts one of the greatest bands to surface from the festering pond of indie rock in years.

That Ditto’s band The Gossip garners far greater notice in the UK than in the US is proof enough of their greatness–take The Eels, for example, a monumentally significant group summarily ignored in the States but whose every album’s considered for record-of-the-year honors in NME editorial meetings–and so it’s no shocker that their first record for Columbia, on subsidiary label “Music with a Twist” which seeks LGBT talent, is a live album cut at a club in Liverpool before a writhing crowd of 500 people whose stunned shrieks accompany every wail, lick and thump the band delivers. Whether those shrieks are gasps of horror or expressions of joy is anyone’s guess–the two emotions tend to be interchangeable at most Gossip shows, especially when Ditto starts taking her clothes off–but Ditto, a proudly rotund modern incarnation of the Mama Cass she adoringly listened to as a kid, performs to inspire both, and if you don’t like it, you can shove it.

“I don’t really care. I could give a shit,” she tells the A.V. Club, “I think if I were someone who takes themselves completely seriously as an artist I would, but I don’t take myself that seriously, I don’t think Gossip takes itself that seriously.” Look, the woman’s made a life-long crusade of bringing “heavy” back (she reportedly weighs in at 210), tells grand tales of smoking weed from a Coke can with friends down home who shoot squirrels out back for frying when they get the munchies, and frequently removes her clothes live to expose a hulking pair of pale legs that quiver with cellulite as she romps through the rest of the set in a bra and panties. It may also be important to note at this point that she neither wears deodorant nor shaves her armpits, because “punks usually smell.” “Serious” may not exactly be the woman’s M.O., but try telling that to a single person who’s sat through five minutes of The Gossip’s uproarious live act–these kids mean it.

Gossip guitarist Nathan Hodeshell (A.K.A. Brace Paine) rips such a nasty flame through Live in Liverpool that the album sounds like a devastated Jack White blasting an amp apart by himself in the middle of an abandoned and burning garage. Ditto, flailing and twisting in place as a quilt of sweat cements her self-made clothes to her body, belts out a tune like it’s the last piece of music the world will hear before an imminent nuclear holocaust. And drummer Hannah Blilie fuses every groove with a snarling backbone of disco that directs LCD Soundsystem to the back of the “cool” line at once. Yes, this is most certainly the band that Rick Rubin went to see one night to declare that it was “the best show I’ve seen in five years.”

It’s also a band you’ll be hearing about a hell of a lot more–this article, after all, results from the fascinated but profound trauma I experienced as Ditto and her rockin’ posse took the stage for an MTV performance the other night. If I recall correctly, my various responses ranged from a bewildered “WTF” to desperate and groveling 7-year-old-girl cries for my mother; but this, I learned after a bit of research, is a perfectly normal and scientifically documented symptom of initial exposure to The Gossip. It takes a minute to reconstitute your mind in such a way that the spectacle they put on becomes comprehensible–and when that happens, there’s no turning back. In short, I’m hooked.

Beth

Ditto’s crusade to put the human back in pop music is as admirable as it is sincere. Rarely will you meet someone as comfortable in her own skin as Beth Ditto–the woman did pose nude for for On Our Backs, for Christ’s sake, a lesbian erotica magazine run exclusively by women. At 210 lbs., that’s pretty much my definition of “comfortable.” It’s a courage she brings to every second of her stage performance, a kind of “fuck you this is what real people look like” schtick that wins her an understandably vast amount of respect. “I don’t want to look like Britney Spears, I just don’t want to. She’s Hideous,” Ditto explains, “I just like food too much, and I don’t want to change. I spent so much of my childhood trying to change, and I just got sick of it.”

And before we all weep into our double-pump Venti no-sugar soy vanilla lattes about the discriminatory semantics of the word “fat,” we may want to listen for a minute to Ditto herself: “I like the word ‘fat’,” she tells Pop Matters, “people bitch about fat people who are quote unquote overweight, which is a term that I hate, because it sets a standard for people to be.” In an industry dominated by plastic pop wannabes on steady diets of locust, bean sprouts and tape worm, Ditto’s daring assertion that real people make music too is a warmly welcome concept.

Amid all of Ditto’s well-publicized eccentricities, though–publicity whose flames she seems to fan at every opportunity–it’s easy to lose sight of how powerful and genuine a band this is. Joining a not-too-crowded list of great three-piece rock groups (Nirvana, The Police, Cream), The Gossip are a trio that pack more attitude than a rock stage has seen since Dylan turned to his band and ordered them to “play fucking loud” after some forgotten imbecile in the crowd called him “Judaaasss!” for going electric in ’65. While earlier projects such as their Arkansas Heat EP or 2003’s relentless Movement convey that ferocity as effectively as a studio allows (was it Cyndi Lauper who said that recording in a studio is kind of like faking an orgasm?), nothing captures it more clearly than 2008’s Live in Liverpool.

Ditto herself is the first to admit that their studio output sounds a little canned at times, particularly on the comparatively tame Standing in the Way of Control, an album whose title track, a cry of rage against anti-gay discrimination, nonetheless became their best-known tune to date. “If I weren’t in this band, I would never listen to it,” Ditto concedes in laughter, “but I would go see it. It’s a band you would go see that you don’t necessarily listen to.” As usual, Ditto may be overstating the truth, but as the scorching torrent of meaty riffs and grooves she dresses in her full-bodied wail throughout Live in Liverpool proves, that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

Dylan: The “Collector’s” Edition That Isn’t

3rd April

Dylan

Culturespill memo to Sony: An album is not a “collector’s edition” just because the record company says it is. Too often major labels create pseudo events like this tenth–yes, tenth–Dylan greatest hits package to rake in the dough. Sony markets this 3-disc set as a “collector’s edition” as if it contained something even “Dylanologists” would prize, when in fact there turns out to be “no there there.” Enough! It’s time to call these bastards out when they lie to our face after they’ve got our 20-dollar bill in their hands.

It may be true that reality is increasingly manufactured in slogans and catchphrases such as “Operation Enduring Freedom” (protest that one, smartass!) but the fact remains that “Collectors” are people who prowled the streets for those vinyl copies of Neil Young’s The Beach or Reactor (I’m raising my hand) before he finally re-released them on CD. Easily two of his most fascinating projects, Young dangled both albums before his fans at the end of a string that he withdrew the second they reached for it, offering instead ephemeral promises to release them “someday.” Given that the release of his alleged “Archives” boxed set was again delayed this year for the 1,857,906th time–with the stunning news that it will be comprised of DVDs and not CDs–it’s clear that when Young resorts to words like “someday,” you can expect it to hit the shelves of a store near you around the time we’ve terraformed Saturn’s thirteenth moon.

And that’s exactly the point: A “Collector’s Edition” is valuable to “collectors” because it allows them access to prized moments in an artist’s career that they could not have procured on their own—only Neil had the authority to make those great LPs widely available in CD-quality sound. That’s why fans frothed at the mouth when Tom Waits released that embarrassment of riches, Orphans, 3 discs-worth of ass-whoopin’ outtakes that rival any fine moment you care to recall. And it’s why they sniff around in underground record shops for volumes of the storied “Genuine Bootleg Series”.

Dylan Kicking Shit in the Street

Far from a “collector’s” edition, Sony’s haughtily-titled Dylan (questions, anyone?) is a shamelessly cheap marketing stunt that contributes absolutely nothing to Dylan’s legacy, as a bonafide “collector’s edition” ought to by definition, and the only way to NOT see that is to consciously delude ourselves. While so many other compilations serve as platforms to release new material that sometimes rivals the “hits” (Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Something in the Air,” or Springsteen’s “Murder Inc.”) Dylan offers not a single track that you can’t get on any of the man’s 32 studio albums. And as with Sony’s 9 previous attempts at compressing a career of five decades into a track list that seems chosen by the all-reliable “catch a tiger by the toe method,” this one is more remarkable for its omissions than for its contents: For the love of Christ, a Dylan “greatest hits” without “Visions of Johanna,” “Idiot Wind,” “Desolation Blues”!? It’s catastrophes like these that reveal the genius of bands like Devo or Jefferson Airplane, with their “Greatest Misses” or “The Worst of Jefferson Airplane” retrospectives, as in, “will someone please remind us again how it is that we consented to this vulgarity?”

Once again, Sony peddles recycled glories while those that languish under a film of dust in vaults remain unheard. Dylan is notorious for withholding his greatest songs or superior renditions of released material off of nearly every album–often using the excuse of feeling “too close” to them or sighing that “the world doesn’t need anymore Bob Dylan songs” in moments of dire self-pity, infuriating the very producers who helped reinvent him (as in Daniel Lanois, who pled desperately for Dylan to allow the sublime “Series of Dreams” to take its rightful place on an album it would have made a masterpiece, 1989’s Oh Mercy.) While Sony deigned to release “Blind Willie McTell” and “Series of Dreams” along with earlier outtakes from the Freewheelin’ and Times Are-A-Changin’ days like “Seven Curses,” they continue to withhold a firing line of ferocious (and widely bootlegged) blues numbers from the Freewheelin’ sessions, including electrifying tunes like “Watcha Gonna Do,” “Witchita,” “Solid Road,” “Emmet Till” and a vastly superior alternate version of “Hollis Brown.” The most powerful version of Dylan’s brilliant “Carribean Wind” of 1980 remains withheld, as does the lauded electric version of “Blind Willie McTell.” A truckload of outtakes and alternate versions — from Blood on the Tracks, Shot of Love, Oh Mercy, you name it, ranging in quality from interesting to explosive, continues to gather dust in some New York City safe. Instead we get these “collector’s editions” that “collect” only what we’ve heard a thousand times before.

Dylan doing “Visions of Johanna,” among other things

Columbia’s mishandling of the Bootleg concept began at the onset, when the original 1991 Bootleg Series was planned as a four-disc set and then narrowed down to the three CDs we got, eliminating a wealth of essential material. And Dylan himself has admitted that bootlegged packages of the so-called Royal Albert Hall shows–which feature 8 CDs, posters, postcards and informative notes (I should know: I threw down 200 bones on a copy years ago at a rare disc shop in NYC)–represent Dylan with more competence than his own label, while the renown “Genuine Basement Tapes” series remains by far the most commendable effort at bringing Dylan’s unveiled genius to light.

The point is not that Dylan is some sort of “sell-out” or that Sony should be crucified for cashing in. What can possibly be more boring than the groaning chorus of “punks” and purists everywhere who weigh each band up to the light of their elitist notions of authenticity? Dylan and his label are entitled to make all the money they want—and I wish them all the best in their efforts to do so—but to horde such shining treasure is to rob the American story of many unmined diamonds—an act of cultural burglary if ever there was one.

MGMT: Surf Jungle Country is Born!

30th March

mgmt.jpg

“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars”

– MGMT

If it already feels like you’ve taken one too many sips of hallucinogenic mushroom tea while stepping inside another episode of VH1’s “Where Are They Now,” especially the part where the featured “artists” do lots of drugs, get fat and completely forgotten by the world, and then try to not be forgotten anymore by making really terrible music in their middle age for a “comeback” tour attended by thirteen-and-a-half people worldwide, that’s as it should be: You’re reading an article about MGMT, a duo of self-described “mystic paganists” devoted to “opening the third eye of the world” with their debut LP Oracular Spectacular. The album’s first track, “Time to Pretend,” which is featured in the new movie 21 about some MIT kids who took Vegas to the cleaners by learning to count cards, takes aim at every one of those VH1 cliches with the sharp arrow of the band’s notorious sarcasm:

I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life.
Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.
I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do.
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute.

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend . . .

There’s really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.
The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce
We’ll find some more models, everything must run it’s course.

We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend
To pretend
We’re fated to pretend
To pretend
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

“We were really sarcastic when we met them,” Van Wyngarden tells Rolling Stone of his first meeting with Columbia Records execs, who soon signed MGMT to a four-album deal worth six figures, “They asked us for a list of dream producers, so we made one: Prince, Barack Obama, Nigel Godrich and ‘Not Sheryl Crow.’ ” Culturespill’s vote, for what it’s worth, is for “Not Sheryl Crow”–not EVER, in fact.


MGMT: “Electric Feel,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Oracular, a collection of psychadelic synth-pop jams in which Andrew Van Wyngarden sounds like he’s singing from under water and inside the sun simultaneously, at turns Mick Jagger and Andy Gibb, is an easy choice as Culturespill’s inaugural “Best Band You’ve Never Heard of” installment. But you’ll be hearing plenty about them soon. The album debuted on UK charts at the 12 spot, and the band’s core members, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, have graced just about every major magazine’s “artists to watch” reports in the past year, including feature coverage in Spin, BBC and Rolling Stone.

Of course, getting feature coverage in Rolling Stone can be a bit like getting a sharp stick to the eye–the magazine wreaks of perfume ads and spends more time endorsing politicians and pop wannabes these days than it does talking about something called “music”–you know, the stuff it was founded for. But while obsolete rags like Rolling Stone strive desperately for a contrived coolness–kind of like that scrawny white boy in high school who came to class with a lunch packed by mom and boasted of many untrue sexcapades in his best Ebonics to fit in–the boys of MGMT do their damnedest to fit nowhere at all.

They got their start doing “these obnoxious, noisy live electronic shows . . . where we would write these weird techno loops and arrangements that we could play with live.” Remarking on “these weird California Credence-style songs” they wrote to perform live a while back, Andrew and Ben explain that “A lot of people hated it. That used to be the goal of our shows. We were still trying to be obnoxious and somehow people got into it.”


MGMT: “Time to Pretend,” Oracular Spectacular (2008)

Drenched in addictive hooks that marry Prince and The Flaming Lips in a union of space-funk and soul that somehow captures exactly the sound the band describes on their MySpace page–“surf jungle country”–Oracular delivers a sound that’s as fresh in 2008 as Beck’s was in 1994, leaping onto the scene with the same “we don’t care” abandon that “Loser” brought to the biz back then. And people are “getting into it”–lots of them. It’s no accident that the album vaguely echoes The Flaming Lips. Oracular IS produced, after all, by David Fridmann, the captain at the console for many a Flaming Lips album. Roll Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots with some speed-laced nicotine and you’ve got the addictive mindfuck that is Oracular Spectacular.

Apart from their music, though, what’s refreshing about Ben and Andrew is their indifference to the punk-rock disdain for corporate influence that has itself become one of the cliches they expose, claiming instead to have “talked a lot about selling out as soon as possible” before anyone but their buddies knew who they were. Touché! Nonetheless, here’s to hoping that next year’s Grammy Awards completely ignore this masterpiece deserving of universal adoration, a neglect that has become a seal of approval for bands too good to be caught on TV with Brittney and Beyonce–and let’s hope it stays that way, for the sake of both the band and their growing number of fans.

And keep your eyes peeled for a curious little LP rumored to be out “in early 2009,” featuring an indie supergroup of sorts that emerged from MGMT’s recent tour with indie pop prodigies, Of Montreal. Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s frontman, has teamed up with Andrew VanWyngarden to form a side project called Blikk Fang. Judging from the certainty with which Spin projects an LP release due next year, the two of them seem pretty serious about it.