By Jackson Anderson
One of my goals in starting this blog or website or writing endeavour, or whatever one wants to call this collection of writing tied together by domain name and punk rock subject matter, was to never let it become review. I don’t consider myself a music critic. I don’t consider myself a film critic. I don’t consider myself a literary critic. I still feel very strongly about all those things. People have called me a punk rock aficionado, a film buff, a bookworm, and I believe those are all apt titles. There is no clause in any of those roles that states I must review the mediums that interest me. I have opinions of course, and I’ll happily tell you my favourite band, my favorite album, my favorite movie, or my favorite book without even being asked to. The problem that I face with criticism is when it becomes negative. I may have very briefly fired some snarky words the direction of some of my favorite bands because I knew they could take it and because my reverence for these bands was so apparent that I was confident enough that a bit of tongue-in-cheek language would not be mistook for negative criticism or “bashing.”
Maybe it is because I come from the online world, but I have seen a disturbingly populous cohort of people that take a perverse, almost sexual pleasure in telling their fellows, particularly artists, how much their work sucks. These individuals love nothing more than the complete and utter failure of a videogame to live up to the hype, and every failed promise of the developers brings them a greater sense of schadenfreude than the opposing party failing to deliver on campaign promises in elections. A similar cohort exists not only in the videogame community, but among the communities surrounding books, film, and, of course, music. This obsession with the failure of others, the delight in which people take in seeing the crushing of dreams, has never been particularly attractive to me. I don’t do review primarily because I only talk about music that I like; I have no interest in making comments about what I don’t. Maybe this creates the illusion that I adore anything associated with the punk rock community. Let me clear that up; I certainly do not. For every standout punk band that is criminally underrated and unknown, toiling through obscurity despite the fact that they should be the best in the business, they are surrounded by hundreds of other bands in the same position that actually just suck. Was that a very nice thing to say? No, it wasn’t; that’s why I refrain from using that kind of language.
Another reason why I never wanted to do any reviews was because I was unsure how to rate or score albums. They would all be releases that I liked, since I was going to stay away from negativity, and thus a scoring system would likely get very repetitive. I am also hugely anti-scores in any form of criticism simply for the sheer arbitrarity of assigning percentage based scores to equate goodness. From what I have found, 5/5 is very different than 10/10. 75% is also very different than 7.5/10. Then aggregates have to average all of that, and some sad bastardization of all the scores comes out on the end that represents nothing of the original sums. I tried to not go on that tangent, but I went on it anyway. Bottom line: I don’t like scoring things.
Lastly, review was just never really my schtick. I wanted to talk about what the songs meant to me. I wanted to relate songs to incidents that had happened in my own life. When I wanted to explain what made songwriters great, I wanted to do it in greater detail than to simply say their latest album was good. When I saw a motif in an album that was particularly effective, I would rather single it out and really explore all it had to offer rather than say “I like how The Wonder Years talk about Ghosts” as a one-off sentence in my review on their album. Because, at the end of the day, to appropriate a quote from Ratatouille, I don’t like music, I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t listen. When I do love it, I don’t feel like I need to tell someone; that should just be apparent by the fact that I’m going into such detail of talking about it and pointing it out.
But, the thing is, I’m busy. I can’t do a post a day anymore. What I can do is recommend new albums that I like and give a brief summary of why they’re good. I don’t know if this will be a regular thing, but we’ll see where it goes.
Signals Midwest are the third band to makeup a trio that exists only in my head that I call “Chris McCaughan’s Midwestern Nightmare.” We’ll probably meet the other two bands later, but, as of right now, they’re not important. Signals Midwest impressed the only guy I’ve ever heard mention them, Jackson Anderson, with their 2012 release, Latitudes and Longitudes mainly due to the impressive technical guitar work that appeared on that album’s opener. The musicianship and talent in the band has always been very apparent. Lyrically, the band also proved that they were in good company with the usual suspects of Orgcore, having the same poetic and thesaurus-complemented ways with words as some of their contemporaries like Elway or The Lawrence Arms. What I didn’t really like about Latitudes and Longitudes was Signals Midwest’s attitude. They had it, and they flaunted it. They were smarter than the average punk. They could play their instruments better than the average punk. Cool, cool. Neither of those things are bad at all, but some of that translated into arrogance. I say this having never met or listened to an interview with any of the band members. They could be really chill, relaxed guys, or they could actually be egomaniacs.
Luckily for Signals Midwest, their talent and the fact that their first two albums were generally well-received were enough to stave off that one guy from Utah that slinked to the back of the show when people started talking about them. I was actually really excited for At This Age even before I heard a single song off of it. Every album that has been released this year by any band that I have heard of (and most bands that I haven’t heard of) has just turned out to be amazing. The first thing I said when I listened to At This Age was something along the lines of “What the hell happened to Max Sternwell’s voice?” Well, I probably said “that guy” because I had to look up his name just barely, but you get the idea. Max had a very unique singing style on Latitudes and Longitudes that was smooth, but booming and forceful. It was one of the things that I had liked about the band, but, upon reflection, was also one of the things that made me think he was pretentious. By the time we arrive at At This Age, Max has mellowed it out a bit, and I think it serves the album quite well.
At This Age is the Greatest Story Ever Told for this band. Oops, I might have showed my hand a bit too much there. Yeah, I really dig this one. Signals Midwest have perfectly divorced themselves of any air of pretentiousness or arrogance, and have produced the perfect orgcore album. Is it generic? You bet your ass it is, but I am certainly not going to complain. It’s four real dudes singing about real things that happen in real life. So it’s generic by factor of its uniqueness. The chords are a bit samey; we don’t have as much of the crazy technical “look how good I am” that was on display on their earlier albums, but, again, I think it fits the album better. It’s another album about good times, bad times, pretty people, broken hearts, love, death, and everything in between. I’ve heard a thousand records like it, but none of them are quite like this. The same can be said for all of those other records, too. That’s really what orgcore is all about. Keep on keepin’ on, Signals Midwest. You hit it out of the park with this one.