This track, one of my favorites from A Tiger Dancing, is a perfect illustration of a musical quality I’ve tried off and on to nail down and describe; the “meta-song.” First, let’s walk through some of the lyrics and I’ll make some highlights. Then I’ll explain how “It Takes” is a perfect example of a meta-song within a song.

14 creates of records with my name on ’em…
Pick one without looking at it / Put the needle down
Spin it back to the beginning / Now I’m ready
–(hook v1)–

“It Takes” tells a story about Felix’s discovery of hip-hop, with a warped sense of time. His experience is the past, like a memory, but it’s also a fresh experience in itself. The introduction is a beginning to the song; it also tells the beginning of Felix’s love for music. And when he says “Spin it back to the beginning / now I’m ready”, a whole new, full sound jumps in with the “It Takes” vocal hook, a second “beginning” to the song. It’s a beginning (song), and Felix names it as such (meta-song).

–(Verse 1)–
As I listened the words weren’t there anymore
It was just those drums and a little keyboard
I’m staring at the needle and the record’s on the floor and
All that I could do was mouth some more / It said…
–(hook v2)–

Felix’s line “…drums and a little keyboard” names the instruments playing when he drops it; another clue that he’s speaking the song into being as well as telling the story contained in the song. “It said…” leads straight into a second vocal hook, the hook becoming a quotation from Felix’s memory as well as the hook to the song the listener hears. Again, when Felix tells us that about the memory of a song that speaks to him, “It Takes” speaks to us in a parallel voice; memory and moment occuring together.

–(Verse 2)–
Now there was a / I don’t remember but there was a part of this song that did break down
I don’t mean the beat break / No / I mean the beat almost cried,
I thought it had died, I thought it had drowned…

These words fall over a drum breakdown. Are you seeing the pattern, the technique that Felix is using? His words ARE what happens in the song – not just occuring together (like a typical song), but related on another level as well.

–(Verse 2 cont’d)–
I look at the sleeve and the tears well up in my eyes because my name is printed right there
The record’s still spinning / The voices came back
I stare at the cover / Like a mirror / I’m staring back
I was relaxed but this is so intense so I flip over the sleeve and I read the comments
It said ‘I dedicate this record to my brother Andy with the hopes that one day you can better understand me
Til that day here is this one song / I hope you learn from it / others will take it wrong’
And the breakdown was over and I held the sleeve tight / afraid that somebody might’ve seen me cry
I never wrote this song no how’s or why’s / But I guess I can’t say that it told a single lie
And the last little lyric in the last little part was a fire in my heart / That last little part
I live life like a diesel; all pressure, no sparks / So I throw myself out there as a shot in the dark
–(last hook)–

Indeed, A Tiger Dancing lists “Andy” under Felix’s thank-yous. The last two lines above are Felix’s last lines in “It Takes,” as well as in the song he’s remembering; we might even read the phrase “A fire in my heart” as a direct quotation; the punctuation isn’t defined (on purpose? I tend to do that in lyrics…). “It Takes” is a song, and also consciously a meta-song. It is self-referential in a way that is essential to its being itself.

“It Takes” offers a clear picture of song and meta-song at work explicitly; I think it is more often done implicitly (see Radiohead from OK Computer on, Wilco from Summerteeth on, echoes’ nickel EP). Sparked by a piece in the New York Times magazine, an upcoming post will tackle the “meta-song” idea more generally and completely. It will be accessible for anyone willing to follow me down the rabbit-hole, and since this is how I hear and respond to music, it most certainly feels like a valid, if somewhat academic, expression for the [blog].


2:08 PM. Printing resumes and signing cover letters, hearing JV All*stars “True Story” from Distance.

As the waves roll in
I can’t help but think about the weekends
At the windmills
And walking down
The streets of my hometown
It doesn’t feel right
Seeing this without you
As far as I can go and back again,
To my closest friends.

Reflecting on this Minneapolis adventure, and possibilites for next year and beyond, Distance has a certain, deep resonance. However, my “back again” is always in tension; each “back” is not an end, but a beginning to another “as far as I can go…”



I walked into the all-ages show last night to the sounds of Winter Blanket, who were moved from tepid singer-songwriter-rock territory to passable Low/mellow-Wilco/Neil Young country by a rock-solid drummer and subtle, decorative keyboardist. Another redeeming quality of this band is their dual frontpersons, one of which (the guy) is nerdy and cool in that Knate-from-Straight-Outta-Junior-High way.

Melodious Owl are 3 area high schoolers who have managed to create/accidentally stumble on local buzz-band build. Their sound loves The Faint, but only after eating a couple bags of Skittles and deciding that 12th-grade hormones are the next hot thing for the indie crowd. They sounded better live than on their Transition EP, due to the Triple Rock sound system’s ability to produce mid- and low-range tones (the homemade disc is ALL high-end). Quite the up-and-coming showmen, these fine young fellows.

Mark Mallman made two entrances; the first was pretty standard, but he then instructed his band to play his other entrance music, left, and returned in a mask he must have borrowed from an Uruk-hai. That’s pure Mallman for you, rock-posing crazy man with the best stories in Minneapolis. Mr. Serious is one of my favorite records, some days I like the rock’n’roll songs best, other days the ballads. He’s got one foot in another world, like “Big Fish” or my friend Doug – he’s huge, bigger than the Beatles in that place, and he plays like it, standing on his piano, making up lyrics, and rocking hard enough that you can glimpse it through his eyes – Mark Mallman is a walking window, his songs a bridge between the universe you and I live in and one where music is king.


Bright Eyes is one of the few artists around that can make me uncomfortable. I encountered Conor Oberst’s music for the first time around the release of Lifted (or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground) through a live performance; the first show of the Lifted… tour, a warm-up gig with the full 15(?)-piece band at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln. It was a good show, Conor threw a tantrum at the end, and I ended up buying the record.

Now that I’ve written that story, I remember we saw Desaparacidos open at Cursive’s The Ugly Organ CD release show.

I’ve got something to say about I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning eventually, but these stories are important; so much of Bright Eyes’ music rests on Conor’s person(a) that one’s response to it becomes an inextricable part of one’s response to the music.

Lifted… really challenged me; what could be made of it? All the overwrought emoting; is it intentional and contrived, or spontaneous? Who is this existentially angst-y fellow, and how did he become who he is? What’s his agenda? I listened to the record maybe once in every three months; I couldn’t take any more than that. The question of Conor’s sincerity seems to be the crux of understanding Lifted…, and I don’t know how to answer for it.

Enter I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning; a much easier record on the ears, and on the heart – and ultimately, more meaningful for it. Ideology fades to the background of these songs. Much more graceful than Lifted…, the new album has the ring of observed truth seen through Conor’s eyes rather than the cacophany of cynical position statements and heartbrokenness. I listen to it often on my days off.

I particularly love the tone of “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” which reminds me of Mike Mogis’ production on The Golden Age’s EP. On the other end of the spectrum is “Train Under Water,” which is sunk by a chord progression that GarageBand might have written and Mogis’ uninspired, pat lap steel playing. It’s a shame; the lyrics are as good as anything else on the record, which is a high compliment.

Album closer “Road to Joy” is a disaster on paper. Copping the most familiar melodic fragment of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the song seems like the kind of grand overstatement in thought, intent, and execution, that creates Bright Eyes’ nebulous sense of insincerity. Yet, it works (somehow – sheer will, or audacity perhaps). That’s my relationship with Bright Eyes in a microcosm; suspicion and hesitance that leads, surprisingly, to meaning and fruitful insight.

Bike's "Great Distances," h&s' "Bon Jovi," and Site Design

First, the music – Today’s Mr. Furious update includes a brand-new bonus track for Bike’s How Is That Possible, “Great Distances.” Thanks Nate for a great addition to an album we love; Bike continues to be available in full for downloading, so rock that.

Furious Instance #2 is a re-mixed, re-mastered “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second There” from howie&scott. Did you think that howie and Scott were off-beat, creative, rocking guys with a penchant for self-questioning? You were right!

In addition to the new jams, MFR has made an update to the structure of the website! mrfuriousrecords.com is more browser-friendly than ever with our new look. Not a drastic change, but a significant improvement. Check out the Furious Instance’s permanent spot on the left side of the page, new navigation on the right, and a bigger and better-exploding main frame in the center of the page. Netscape friends & other non-IE users will like the new layout we think.

Mr. Furious Records: Giving Great Music into spring, and beyond (next up: Sally Ride!). -Mr. Furious


The French Kicks opened for Idlewild’s The Remote Part tour, which I collided with in Omaha, leaving with their record One Time Bells.

Last night at the Triple Rock, openers The Natural History gave a spastic opening set, like Buddy Holly might’ve given if he grew up in New York with the Walkmen. Good, solid, rockin’, original fun.

Second act Calla is a band you should avoid. If Nirvana could be wiped of their energy, destructiveness, tension, and creativity, you’d be left with Calla. I thoroughly enjoyed a big root beer during their set, and completed my French Kicks discography with a purchase of the Young Lawyer EP, the band’s original work for Star Time.

The headliners were quirky, poppy, and pleasantly dance-inducing (among a notoriously WASP Triple Rock-attending population. Minneapolis is diverse, but you wouldn’t know it by going to rock shows). Off-kilter rhythms, oddly soulful harmonies, and a minimalist instrumentation isn’t a usual palatte for pop pleasure, but the French Kicks pull it off with New York style. The Trial of the Century is one of those discs that Pitchfork missed in their review; it’s a great record (mid-7’s I’d say), and a mainstay of mine since last fall.


With Gilby’s “Lunch By Yourself” released last month, Mr. Furious Records launched the FURIOUS INSTANCE. This new feature on the site will bring even more killer music to your fingertips. Furious Instance is an emerging compilation; musical snapshots from all over the auditory spectrum. Artists from beyond the MFR release-roster will be contributing tracks as well as some of the usual suspects (howie&scott, echoes, Cory Alan). In the future Furious Instance will include more new musicians as we encounter them, live cuts, and any number of other gems we can dig up. The goal of Furious Instance is to be mutant mixtape, constantly evolving with interesting sounds and no limits on who can be involved or what we may sound like.

The second Furious Instance will be a re-mixed, re-mastered “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second There?” from the back catalog of howie&scott. Beyond that… Scott’s gathering some material, Cory’s got a friend in The Return we’re talking with, and there are a couple echoes songs that sound pretty good acoustic…


The feature article this past week (“Minnesota Becomes Eclectic“) on Pitchfork was on our new radio station in the Twin Cities, 89.3 “The Current.” Run by Minnesota Public Radio, The Current is so good that it’s broken my NPR-news habit. Read the article here, but I’ve been wanting to share a personal antecdote for awhile too.

I spent a couple days listening when The Current came on-air, getting a feel for it, and enjoying music from Wilco, Elliot Smith, Olympic Hopefuls, Radiohead, Spaghetti Western, Joseph Arthur… Late one night on the drive home I thought to myself, “Some Afghan Whigs would be great about now…”

The next afternoon, Mary Lucia played “Gentlemen.” I think I’m in love.


A good debate has been running in the comments to Cory’s post, but I’ve started a new post to encourage more readers to join the coversation. Are there really “good” and “bad” songs, or is everything personal preference? Is there a difference between “good” music, and “liking” music? Read what Mr. Furious, Cory Alan, Franz Clobberfist, and JT have written, and join in.

IF WE ASSERT THAT BEETHOVEN AND CREED are of different aesthetic value, then we must seek grounds on which to base our judgement. Most people think and act as if this assertion were; Cory writes, “I know you would probably agree with me that a band like The Beatles is objectively better than a band like Creed, regardless of how many people like either band however much.” It is in that light that I read Cory’s original post, and his comments on: originality, honesty, catchiness, and a certain self-serving quality. Conducting our examination with a clear example (like Beethoven / Creed, though the Beatles / Creed is certainly clear enough for most purposes) helps create understanding so we can talk over the finer points (Bright Eyes / Radiohead) with clarity.

This position states that an objective reality exists (i.e. is a form of “realism”), and it is within this objective realm that an aesthetic object (like a song) has its ultimate aesthetic value. It is more or less “good” in reality. Cory is a realist: “But truth and objectivity are completely independent from our PERCEPTIONS of truth and objectivity… a song’s quality is independent from whether one likes it or not.” But along comes Franz (or Kant) to rightly remind us that under no conditions can a person know or experience this objective reality – knowledge and experience is ALWAYS colored by subjectivity.

So should we give up trying to say anything meaningful about objective reality? Franz and the relativists say “Yes” – whether that reality exists or not is an open question for relativists (i.e. Beethoven = Creed people) but regardless, relativists think that no meaningful statements can be made about it. Realists (i.e. Beethoven > Creed) answer “No” – and cross the gap between subjective experience and objective reality by a variety of means including logic, conventions of language, and judging statements by standards like coherence or utilitarian value. The details cross the line of feasibility for this forum. Yet there is much at stake in this debate, more for how to live one’s life than for evaluating music. If a person accepts that some meaningful statements about an objective reality can be made, the immediate question here is finding some that deal with musical value.

Franz has anticipated this point: “Aren’t judgement calls subjective?” Yes, and no. I’ve admitted that there is a subjective aspect to any form of judgement – but that does not mean that the subjective part is the ONLY part of an evaluation. For example; Beethoven, Creed, and originality. The 9th Symphony contains more uniqueness than “With Arms Wide Open” – more intricacy in its’ harmonization, more complexity in its’ melodies, more variation in tone, rhythm, and expression. This is not my experience of the music; look at both pieces on paper, and you can see and read the difference. In terms of originality, Beethoven is good music, and Creed is not as good as Beethoven.

Notice that the act or state of “liking” this music hasn’t come into play yet. It’s an interesting question about the relationship between music’s quality and a person’s experience of it, and more so whether there is any kind of obligation to like good music and not like bad music. I won’t try to answer that today. It is this situation Cory referred to; an argument between people who have confused a discussion of good/bad music (as it exists objectively) and what sort of music they like (subjective experience). JT understands; “N’Sync has some songs that are some of my worst guilty pleasures. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, much less great.”

Very, very few people truly act like relativists (though many talk like them, saying things like “that’s just your personal like / dislike!”). From a relativist perspective, I can’t imagine why you would want to say, or hear, any statements about music at all. Even reading a review in which the author writes about their personal experiences, there is definitely a normative quality to the review. The author is suggesting a certain way of hearing the music, a “correct” way that gently excludes or de-values other ways of hearing it. In doing so, the writer asserts some normative value judgement, which necessarily appeals to an objective existence of some form. I’m convinced of the realist position. The real inquiry here is into the terms by which correct aesthetic evaluations are made; a subject which cannot be exhausted or concluded, but will generate fruitful discussion for as long as art exists.


Some Kind of Monster, the making-of documentary about Metallica and their newest record St. Anger was supposed to be a good film whether you care about Metallica or not. Noel and I watched it a couple weeks ago, and I sat on the floor for over two hours, engrossed. Seeing the story of frustration, depression, and addiction behind St. Anger gives the album the personal relevance it needs. I’m not a big fan of the band, but the film inspired me to borrow the record from Noel. I wouldn’t have connected with the music on my own or through my individual experience, but knowing the band’s crucible over the past few years through the documentary and the fire they put their art through has forged that connection.

St. Anger‘s energy is fueled by positive, self-searching fury. The album’s sound juxtaposes the chaos of metal with a cut & pasted, ProTools-processed production style. In more ways than one, it has the characteristics of edge, striving, and tension between musical repetition/change that howie&scott’s signs aimed for. Big thrashy riffs are beaten out and given structural room to breathe; a theme is often introduced, varied, and played again, sounding achingly slow against Lars’ quadruple-time drumming. Musically, Metallica is smart and solid but not unorthodox, an extraordinary garage-metal band but not revolutionary. For the first time, the band co-authored all of the lyrics. Dominant is James Hetfield’s wrestling with his psychological shadow self – this is the correct way to hear the exhortation to “Kill” at St. Anger‘s close. It’s Hetfield’s shadow speaking; it’s poetry, “reality” in aesthetic terms only. Note the change from Ride the Lightning and other metal of that era, which took its own mythological exhortations as real.

In the tension between creativity and expectation (whether the band’s own, or fans’, or those of metal in general) a few moments falter lyrically. “Invisible Kid” would sound ten times better if the fourth line of each stanze DIDN’T rhyme with lines 2 & 3, and the chorus of “Purify” might be heard in any given Midwestern dive in a song by any given metal band; we rightfully expect more from Metallica. Yet only “Shoot Me Again” is wounded mortally by its’ cliches; it stumbles down the road without any of the redeeming qualities of the rest of the album.

With St. Anger, Metallica has created a desperate, honest statement of survival. It’s mature in all the good ways: well-played, dealing with real struggle, tempered by experience. Go ahead and be surprised that I’ve made myself its advocate; I am too.