[Help Help Hooray] The Age-Old Question of When to Throw Horns

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Hype Hype Hooray is normally a go-to resource for philosophical analyses of popular music, but today it is Help Help Hooray, a go-to resource for music-related personal advice. Have a music-related problem you need help with? Email knoxroadblog@gmail.com!

I was at a Toro Y Moi show with my roommate, let’s call him “Dirk,” and right in the middle of “New Beat” where he breaks back into that synth lead like crazy, Dirk starts throwing horns in the air. I get that it’s a high energy moment, but I just feel like the horns don’t belong at a Toro Y Moi show, ya know? Should I sit him down and talk to him about it, or should I just forget about it? Help!

Help Out Right Now Soon!

This is a very tricky issue, HORNS. Throwing horns, or extending one’s index and pinky fingers while tucking the rest together, then thrusting that hand in the air, has roots that reach back into ancient superstition. “The Sign of the Horns,” aka “Devil Horns,” aka “mano cornuto,” was thought to ward off evil or else summon Satan or else imply cuckoldry. Like every other combination of raised and lowered fingers, it has several different meanings across cultures and over time.

In rock culture, the meaning of the horns is more vague. The sign’s first appearance is debatable. Gene Simmons, Ronnie James Dio, Ozzie Osbourne and even John Lennon have received credit for bringing the horns to rock ‘n’ roll. The horns gained popularity in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s at heavy metal and otherwise “hard” rock shows, but have since infiltrated shows of all genres, from Big & Rich to Britney Spears.

To throw horns or not to throw horns, that is certainly a big question at a show. On one hand live music is all about uninhibited freedom to enjoy the music, to let it flow through you and to truly experience it. On the other hand, it can be embarrassing for everyone when you’re the only person throwing double horns to Laura Veirs. It’s always best to test the temperature of the audience. If you start to feel that macho, fist-pumping energy that summons the horns, by all means throw them up. Just know that throwing unwarranted horns is a major concert faux pas. I won’t necessarily judge you but there are plenty of people, like you yourself, HORNS, who will.

Judging by your reaction, and the energy of the music, it sounds like your roommate did in fact throw inappropriate horns, HORNS. But let’s not judge too harshly, lest we wind up getting lost in the energy of a show and throwing unwarranted horns ourselves. It happens to the best of us.

____________________

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[Hype Hype Hooray] The True Meaning Behind Chastity Belt’s “Nip Slip”

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

“I’m sooo drunk,” croons Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro. “I just want some chips and dip. Chips and dip. Nip Slip. Nip slip.”

Nip slip. Nip slip. That two word phrase has been a source of ire for censors, a point of humiliation (or pride) for female celebrities, and a preferred search term for mad masturbatorial youths everywhere. Earlier this year the phrase reached new heights when Seattle band Chastity Belt recorded “Nip Slip,” a two-minute ode to the public reveal of a nipple.

But while the song on its surface appears to be nothing but a lark by a group of mischievous young musicians, “Nip Slip” is in reality a brilliant bit of sociopolitical commentary. What message does the seemingly innocuous song have to say? And what implications does this have for the fragile fabric of Western society?

It all starts in Walla Walla, Washington. The four women that make up Chastity Belt met at Whitman College in Walla Walla. None of the four friends knew their instruments when they started the band, and few expected much great to come of their union. Because music was their way of life, the girls kept the band breathing and growing, eventually travelling beyond the city limits of Walla Walla, all the way to Seattle.

There Chastity Belt recorded their debut full-length record, “No Regerts,” released this past August on Help Yourself records. In that recording session, produced by José Díaz Rohena, the group dug deep within their souls and recorded a timeless tune about taking out a teat.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Pandora v. Music or How Artists Can Beat The Industry

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Portland music writer Robert Ham wasn’t happy Wednesday morning. “If I don’t start seeing more musicians freaking the fuck out about this Pandora news, I’m going to be incredibly disappointed,” he Tweeted. “I can’t figure out why they feel that paying musicians/artists LESS money makes the most sense. Fucking bullshit.”

Easy, Bob.

That “bullshit” Pandora news to which he was referring was a federal court decision handed down Wednesday that prohibits musicians and their publishers from making licensing deals with music streaming services, like Pandora, if they’re already members of a licensing fee collecting society, like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Recently a few major labels had decided to try to negotiate separate licensing deals for some of their music on Pandora, all of which had an established licensing deal through ASCAP. The court saw those separate deals as problematic.

This effectively allows Pandora to bypass, by law, record label negotiations that could, theoretically, grant artists more money in licensing fees.

While there are plenty of valid arguments to be made here, like the fact that Pandora executives and shareholders probably don’t NEED any more money, while many musicians barely make enough money to LIVE as it is, the real debate is about what musicians should actually DO about it.

As is the case in so many times of crisis, we turn to Thom Yorke.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Wednesday in the Aisles of Everyday Music

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Wednesday morning on a whim. Let’s buy a record today. Don’t have a whole lot of scratch, but I don’t think it matters. After some careful budgeting I end up with $35 for the day – $5 for a train pass, $10 for a record and $20 for a case of beer. Grand. Records and beer. Grand. Simply grand.

I arrive downtown early, just before the shops all open so I sit down for coffee and think about what to buy. Thinking about some new indie record. A new classic as it were. With a $10 to $15 budget it’ll have to be a small label for sure. Lot of rot how much they charge you for records these days. Paying extra for the hype. A whole load of rot is what it is. That or a nice Brazilian record – used preferably – like a Gal Costa or Gilberto Gil. That would be nice. Expand the ol’ collection in that fashion. Something interesting. Conversation piece. Like “Yeah have you heard ‘Baby’? No? Well you MUST.” I chuckle at myself into the cup. No, it’s hard to think too much about it, you know. Best to walk in with no expectations and surprise yourself. Remember that, kid, make it your mantra. Surprise yourself. Surprise yourself. Life’s better with surprises.

It’s just nine so Everyday Music should be open now. Looks like one of those mainstream stores from the outside – Sam Goody wannabe – strange anachronism – but it’s really very nice inside. Great selection. CDs on one side and vinyl on the other. Segregate the cultures. Dads browsing Kansas discs and through the wall young single guys looking for Cramps LPs. Like a curtain on an airplane. Hard to say who’s first class. Whoever has more money, I guess.

Inside some kind of baroque music is happening in the stereo. It’s all instrumental mandolin. I dig into the Rock section at L. Lovin’ Spoonful’s “What’s Up Tigerlilly.” Decent find. From that Woody Allen film. I remember watching it with my dad and the band comes on in a party scene and he gets all excited and laughs “The Lovin’ Spoonful, all right!” Wasn’t sure if that was an endorsement. Hard to tell with him. Filed them away under L in my mind and found them again here. I slid the record back. Le Roux is here but they’re not La Roux. Some band from the ’70s. Long hair and mustaches. “Keep the Fire Burnin.’” I’m not so ironic.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] When I Finally Sat Down and Listened to American Idiot

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Last May I finally sat down and listened to Thriller. It was an eye-opening experience that gave me a newfound respect for Michael Jackson and ’80s pop as a whole. In the comments, Cars Simplified asked whether somebody would ever do a similar treatment of Green Day’s American Idiot, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s a fantastic idea.

I have a complicated relationship with American Idiot. I hate it more than most records of the ’00s, but I never actually sat down and listened to the thing. As a longtime Green Day fan, I worshipped everything from “At the Library” to “Ha Ha You’re Dead.” The first singles from American Idiot were like a dagger through my heart.

Since their inception, Green Day had always been more pop rock than punk rock, but their manic energy, subversive attitude and excellent songwriting had raised them above the sad fates of their pop-punk peers. Their potential, it seems, grew to such extraordinary heights that the band was lured to retool their sound motivated not by artistry, but by money. American Idiot was the sound of the band’s dignity collapsing, some grinning charlatan rising in its place, selling Green Day thongs and Billie Joe bobble heads.

But is it really fair to judge an entire band’s career by an album I never heard? To either change my stubborn mind or strengthen my opinions, I sat down on a cloudy weekday morning with two cups of coffee and American Idiot. The following are my notes on the six-time platinum, Grammy-award winning album of my nightmares.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Musicians After Music – Vol. 1: Jon Ragel

HypeHypeHoorayNEWThis is the first installment in a series that looks at the lives of musicians as they walk down new paths in life. Whether for family, health or other creative endeavors, the choice to take time off from music is never easy. 

Jon Ragel sits in his southeast Portland kitchen, gazing out the window. We’re eating tacos and drinking beer, talking about his recent transformation from musician into writer. “It just seems like a natural thing to do,” he says at last. “You gotta do it.”

Ragel has spent nearly his entire life playing music. He’s played in several bands, but split off on his own in 2005 to become Boy Eats Drum Machine, a solo project that earned him a strong following across the west. Acclaim followed – most of his records have been well received by critics, and a pair of songs have found their way into the mainstream subconscious by way of GoPro and Major League Soccer.

But this past winter, sometime around his 39th birthday, Ragel suddenly decided to change his direction. “I still don’t know why,” he tells me. But that’s not entirely true. He knows all too well what drew him away from music: the allure of the novel. One day a story fell into his head, he says, expanding and swelling, quickly outgrowing the space in his mind. He had to write it down.

His story is set in a future dystopia, one where society has made the prison population into a viable commodity by turning their blood into something farmable. The narration follows a man who gets himself imprisoned to steal the technology that makes it all possible. It’s sharp, sociopolitical science fiction – a far cry from Ragel’s songwriting.

Still, the story shows Ragel’s hallmark creative flair. The prison where much of it takes place is a surreal facility laid out in the shape of a human body. To get there, shackled prisoners trek across the vast, empty landscape of eastern Oregon. And while this world is clear in Ragel’s mind, the process of getting it out has been tricky.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] The Addict is Back

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Note: About a year ago I wrote a column highlighting my addiction to procuring and listening to new music. After my external hard drive crashed, I reevaluated my life and took a much-needed sabbatical. But after recently giving in to Spotify, I have felt the monster of addiction return, like a cold, dark moon creeping over the horizon. The following was written in the midst of a recent all-day Spotify binge.

I feel it all I feel it all I feel it all sings Feist so sweetly into the chasm inside my head, so deep and empty and space so much empty space such a vast endless void for it all for me to take it all in. I search and navigate and discover and gasp and save it as a playlist always save it as a playlist making playlists from my playlists playing lists of all my playlists, and then there’s friends’ lists and critics’ lists and musicians’ lists too many lists and I can’t help myself can’t help myself but to feel it all and feel it all and hear it all and feel it all.

Chromatics take me into the black. Crystal Castles give me the plague. Flaming Lips show me the terror. Jagwar Ma has me howlin’. The Nighttime Adventure Society brings the doctor. Kendrick Lamar kills my vibe. Alt-J dissolves me. Wampire pulls up in the hearse. Modest Mouse buries me with it. King Tuff is dancing on my grave. Michael Kiwanuka takes me home again where my eyes flutter open to the dawn of a new day another chance to immerse my tender mind in the cluttered infinity of the world of music day after day all over again.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Let’s Talk About Julian Lynch For a Second, Huh?

HypeHypeHoorayNEWHype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

I sat on a plane in the sky, somewhere between Portland and San Francisco. My in-flight ginger ale bubbled nervously on the tray table in front of me. I was en route to Los Angeles by way of San Diego to visit friends. The trip was meant to be fun, a vacation to a part of the world with which I wasn’t familiar, but a small voice inside me begged for something greater, something more significant.

I pulled out my iPod and scrolled through to a record I hoped would calm my nerves: Julian Lynch’s latest album “Lines.” I sipped the soda and leaned back against the hard fabric seat. The music engulfed me at once:

Jangling guitars, thudding drums, discontent synth, and droning woodwinds, all coming together dramatically and at once, playing a chaotic melody of foreboding and fear. I swallowed hard. My ears popped. I stared ahead into a field of blue fabric as the music grew more intense. I was embarking on a journey of great importance, I realized, one with high stakes and dire consequences. The song thudded in step with my heart.

As I accepted this fate, this feeling of purpose, the music faded away. It gave rise to a soothing melody set to a confident rhythm–a simple, tribal sort of song cloaked in thin, whispered vocals, like a sheer cut of silk. It offered comfort in nature, in human nature, it seemed to say, in the raw, uncomfortable emotions I felt that, it didn’t acknowledge, it had made me feel in the first place.

And just as I had accepted that truth of the moment, the song broke down chaotically and faded away, evolving into something else entirely–another song with another emotional objective. While it should have been maddening, the music calmed me down, it showed me that the feelings I had were real, and that in spite of my anxiety there was peace to be found. It was heartening. It was beautiful. It was profound.

Such is the world of Julian Lynch.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] Rivers Cuomo’s Detestable Fall

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

Today I decided to check out Rivers Cuomo’s latest contribution to music, “Homely Girl.” The song is 100 percent, fine-cut Japanese pop. It’s sung almost entirely in its appropriate language. It’s straight out of the closing credits of any anime ever. It’s also unbearable.

I sat down and decided to take a closer look at the song. looked at it from the outside: a well-made ode to popular Japanese music written by a talented and well-respected songwriter. But then I stepped a little closer and saw it for what it was: an awkward, conceited waste of time written by a narcissistic lunatic.

We all remember Rivers Cuomo, right? He was the awkward guy with glasses who fronted Weezer, the alt-rock band from the ’90s who did “Buddy Holly” and “Hashpipe,” among other things. Before he was a confident shooting star however, Rivers was once known as something of a king to awkward, outsider teens, who angrily embraced his words as if they were their own.

In those days Rivers thrived. Remember The Blue Album? It swayed cautiously, yet aggressively into our hearts, burning with a quiet intensity that inflated our troubled souls. We nodded our heads with every word. MY name was Jonas and THAT WAS how I felt.

Then there was Pinkerton. We grew with Rivers from his first album to his second, encountering the same painful experiences in our lives, learning the same lessons he did. This was an opus to being emotionally estranged–a sort of opera for those who isolated themselves within themselves. It was Rivers bearing his raw, beating heart to the masses. It was beautiful, but it ruined him.

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[Hype Hype Hooray] My Music Makes Me Live

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

I drive 68 miles an hour down I-205 outside Portland. It’s 11 p.m. and my mind is racing. Dim orange highway lights creep through a haze of dense fog. Hoards of insanities enter and exit my brain at breakneck pace. They are a mass of random associations, phrases that carry no meaning. Words like “leave it to be.” Leave it to be. Leave it to be. Leave it to be. I utter them on loop, my mind a broken record, skipping on the next crazy thought as I hurdle through the open night.

This moment of mania didn’t rise on its own from my strange subconscious. No. It could never. It had help. It was music that brought it to fruition. Music that buzzes madly from my cheap stereo, fills my car, and rolls through my body.

“How could I feel so-so when I’m feeling like a little honey can roll?” it wails. “Tart but not total and I’m feeling like a little honey can roll?”

I drown in the words. The music fills my lungs. My pupils dilate wildly in the night.

***

Occasionally I meet people who think very little of music. “I don’t really listen to it” they tell me. “It just doesn’t do it for me.” I accept their views, and I make no effort to change them. But that idea, that music is meaningless, has no purpose in their lives, fills me with great sadness.

Music can be so transformative for me. It’s odd. The right combination of frequencies, when coupled with the perfect rhythms, can swirl and mix with the chemicals in my brain to induce some brilliant shade of human emotion–from the deep blues of depression, through tranquil green serenity, to the the wild manic neons that drive me to insanity.

I look back at the music-less souls, my mind drifting in a sea of melody, theirs sitting idly, comfortably on the shore, and I can’t help but be confounded. Why do these songs, these notes, these sounds, have such profoundly different effects on us? Why does it twist my mind, but not theirs?

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