This post isn't so much about this album as it as about a particular review of it; Set You Free is this week's Permanent Record at the Onion A.V. Club, so it is about that site that I wish mainly to discuss. However, Set You Free is a wonderful, amazing album which I can't exactly just ignore.
Fortunately, 'j bubblegum' over at Burning Down Dreams has already done a beautiful post about Chisel here. sbj of that site is where the description (ode to the 'steady soundtrack of discordant suburban whiteboy blues') of this blog comes from, but bubblegum is obviously a kindred literary spirit because he comes out with some pretty fantastic turns of phrase too:
"We make the art art. We try hard to identify the particles that relate. We look at the little picture until the pixels spin. We fool ourselves. We ruin it for our lovers. We ruin it for ourselves. We play track six and track seven again and again."
Or this succinct guide to the Chisel catalogue:
"Nothing New inflames, 8 a.m. All Day entices, Set You Free inspires"
Which is actually quite true, at least how I understand it, because Set You Free has always been by favourite of the two Chisel full-lengths, always the more meaningful and affecting album. It's been several years since I first heard it, exploring the Lookout! and Gern Blandsten catalogues on eMusic; and while it took me a while to get into an album of that length (17 three-minute pop songs) I could always count on the opener, 'On Warmer Music', to reaffirm my respect for this obscure rocker, Ted Leo.
From the amateur to the professional, the review by the A.V. Club's Scott Gordon hones in on the opening song as the key to the album:
"The 17-song Free sounds more focused and patient, oddly enough, than its 14-song predecessor, 1996's 8 A.M. All Day. In contrast to 8 A.M.'s hook-at-will impulses, Free takes a little more time to build the tension on its opener, "On Warmer Music." Leo, often the man with punk's prettiest falsetto, starts out singing in a low register over mute but hotly distorted chords. Then the band kicks into the album's only super-earnest chorus: "Get ready for the invasion, self-satisfied smug-rock nation / cheers for the young idea, so glad you're all here." Wisely, Free never tries to return to that climax."
'Permanent Records: Albums from The A.V. Club's Hall of Fame is a popular feature item on the A.V. Club, picking a usually lesser-known, but intrinsically significant album from anywhere in the last thirty or so years (somewhat like Stylus Magazine's 'On Second Thought' series). Both of those series perform a function similar to music blogs like this one (and others); looking back at records not because they are new, or hip, or even canonical, but on the basis of some vaguely defined desire to reassess. Or as Stylus describe it:
For better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
To be honest, Hardcore for Nerds is fundamentally an uncritical work; I post, almost exclusively, albums I already love and rarely bother with any kind of objective dissection. It's because it is the only way for me to be sincere, to leave off on the judgement and focus on aesthetics and emotion. It is also in a sense leaving the criticism to the critics, with all the defiance of amateurism.
The most critical of the critics in music on the internet these days are of course the demons of Pitchfork, whom I have to admit drawing on for some of the hipper stuff I listen to (Dan Deacon, Battles), but I think I also speak for most people when I refer to them with disdain and distaste. The A.V. Club is less self-consciously and more self-deprecatingly 'hip'; they combine a genuine eclecticism with a consistent satirical touch; while also having a strange symbiotic relationship between their writers and commenters, the latter group of which tend to throw around the term 'hipster douchebag' a lot in a semi-ironic way. In its coverage of popular and alternative culture, the A.V. Club manages to be cynical without being snide, and provocative without seeming overly pretentious.
A lot of the sensibility of the A.V. Club, both in its writers and its less sarcastic commenters, reflects the generosity and taste of the blogging community. People who are willing to appreciate art (in the broad sense) without feeling the need to overload it with humour or posturing, but who are flexible enough to approach it outside of the rigidly objective, canonical 'critical' standpoint.
Hence, here are a few links to some of the more interesting music articles from the A.V. Club recently:
Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands - J Church's entry into the Permanent Records: Hall of Fame.
Lance Hahn - 1967-2007 Article commemorating the J Church singer's very recent death.
So this is permanence... General discussion by Jason Heller on the concept of the Permanent Records Hall of Fame, and why he thinks he should definitely do Operation Ivy's Energy at some stage. I wholeheartedly agree.
Never Can Say Goodbye: Me and My CDs (1988-2007) Blog article on the ubiquitous music format; a chronological account of the steps between the cassette and the iPod.
Def Leppard taking a bubblebath with Daft Punk in Brian Eno's jizz Article on the role of fatuous band comparisons in record reviews.
A.V. Club Interview with Ted Leo Interview with the man himself from earlier on this year. Mostly about his solo stuff, although he does start talking politics and 'neoconservatives', and has to explain himself further on down in the comments. Unusual to say the least.