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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

2001 Pazz & Jop: Not Just Your Old Man’s Takeover

Want to know something else that happened September 11? Sure you do. The Voice’s since-downsized Web radio station first “aired” a show we’d recorded five days earlier to coincide with the release of what I’d dubbed, without the slightest originality or hesitation, “Album of the Year”: Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft.” Less than two plays into my late-August advance, as the debut “single” “Po’ Boy” came up again at track 10, I’d become convinced Dylan would win the 28th or 29th annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll. Songful, funny, rocking, pro-life, it was to his runaway 1997 winner Time Out of Mind as, say, PJ Harvey’s Stories of the City was to Is This Desire? Moreover, there was no competition — no Stankonia, no Car Wheels, no Miseducation, not even a Play or 69 Love Songs. Before it had moved copy one, it was a bigger shoo-in than “Get Ur Freak On.”

So please, enough with the dumb idea that the world-gone-wrong events of “Love and Theft” ’s release date induced critics to overvalue a putatively prophetic album. “Love and Theft” was always going to win big, and it did — by most measures, bigger than any album in poll history. How did I know this? Because there is such a thing as aesthetic quality, and on “Love and Theft” it runneth over. Whatever guff musos put out about Dylan’s crack road band, this quality is overwhelmingly verbal. The old-school licks and phrasing would mean bubkes if they didn’t set off and flesh out his best lyrics since whenever. Like the Avalanches, Dylan loves sampling, which modernists called collage. He just takes different liberties with higher-grade readymades — folk, pop, and literary word-bits and music-bits reassembled into something unprecedented that would mean much less if it wasn’t also trad. It’s an old man’s record, absolutely. The old man is ready for death yet still feeling his oats. He fears apocalypse less now that his end is nearer. He thinks this is a hoot. The funnier it seems, the madder he gets about apocalypse. But the fear, somehow, is gone. And as you listen, so is yours.

If this achievement doesn’t move you, that’s your privilege. But I have no patience with claims that it just isn’t there, especially combined with mealymouthed remembrances of Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. Never one who ran on Dylan time, I’ve had a lot of fun making such comparisons lately, and gee, Blood on the Tracks did sound grand. Bringing It All Back Home, too. But song for song, joke for joke, vision for vision, risk for dare, their superiority to this year’s winner seemed marginal. Other favorites — Freewheelin’, New Morning, The Basement Tapes — merely held their own. And I was surprised to find that from the unyielding contempt of “Like a Rolling Stone” to the world-weary wind of “Desolation Row,” Highway 61 sounded a little too punk for its own good. I preferred the old man.

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Which old man, it is relevant to note, is only a year older than the one who’s writing his 28th or 29th Pazz & Jop disquisition. At two months shy of 60, I’m very nearly the oldest voter reporting. So maybe I’m just prejudiced, right? Statistically, there’s something to this. With the majority of the record 622 respondents declining to supply demographic info, I didn’t know most ages. But after a lot of e-mailing to my A–C folder and some careful guesswork with D–G, I estimated that where Dylan’s supporters constituted 38 percent of the electorate, among critics 40 and over (about a third of the voters) he pulled 55 or 60 percent. This is a sharp tilt. Note, however, that Dylan still got the preponderance of his points from the under-40s who dominate the poll base, and note too that the gender tilt was steeper. If I’m reading first names right, only 19 women voted for Dylan. The next three finishers — the Strokes, Björk, and the White Stripes — were far behind Dylan’s 234 mentions at 158, 120, and 106, but all three attracted as many or more women. In an all-female Pazz & Jop, Mr. It Ain’t Me Babe, now d/b/a Mr. I Never Slept With Her Even Once (what, you think he’s Mr. Singing Love’s Praises With Sugar-Coated Rhymes?), would have had some competition.

In an under-40 poll, on the other hand, Dylan would still have won handily. If this doesn’t seem self-evident, that’s because you forgot that his competitors would lose out too. You think arthritis sufferers while away their buyouts listening solely to retrofitted bluegrass and Leonard Cohen. In fact, the Strokes, Björk, and the White Stripes got about a sixth of their mentions from 40-and-over lifers. If the callow had been as kind to older artists, Cohen, the youngest of whose 20 doddering supporters was 34, would have outrogered the turgid Tool. (41-50, as anyone who checks our highly searchable online list can determine: song-challenged Mary J. Blige, $180-list-and-too-dead-to-enjoy-it Charley Patton, 65-year-old Buddy Guy, Spoon’s career album if you call that a career, garage-punk Brits Clinic, Rick Yorn’s brother, emo-punk Brits Idlewild, Madonna’s brother-in-law, the Ben Folds One, and 67-year-old Cohen.) In fact, the rest of the top 40 is anything but old-guard. In our 2000 top 20 alone loomed 40-and-over perennials U2, Yo La Tengo, Steve Earle, Madonna, and Steely Dan, plus late bloomer Aimee Mann, with more below. After Dylan, the only senior citizens in the 2001 top 20 are ninth-place Lucinda Williams and, out of nowhere or everywhere, 40-year-old world-ska ambassador Manu Chao. Below find comeback-of-the-year New Order, Guided by Voices’ retarded Robert Pollard, and two more new old guys: country-rock vets Alejandro Escovedo and Rodney Crowell edging belatedly onto our list. On the cusp, weirdly, is the Pazz & Jop album debut of all-ages crusaders Fugazi, led by pushing-40 Ian MacKaye. (Note: Full classification of the Langley Schools Music Project had not been completed at press time.)

Instead we get a new generation of standard bearers. Beyond the Strokes and the White Stripes, there’s a good complement of striplings: well-groomed ingenue Alicia Keys, sampledelic cheeze whizzes the Avalanches, serious-as-art-rock Cannibal Ox, cunningly childish Moldy Peaches. But no fewer than nine finishers fall into a remarkably narrow grouping of 30-ish professionals (the youngest 29, the oldest 33) hitting our chart for the second or third time: Jay-Z, Basement Jaxx, Gillian Welch, the New Pornographers’ Neko Case, the Pernice Brothers, Missy Elliott, Daft Punk, Macy Gray, and the Old 97’s. Fold in slightly younger repeaters Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright, Gorillaz featuring 33-year-old Damon Albarn, and former bubbling-unders Weezer, the Coup, and Low scoring Pazz & Jop debuts with their third, fourth, and fifth albums (but exclude System of a Down and the dull Tool, both too old, not to mention arty in the wrong way), and you have a cohort coming into its own. I don’t love all these artists and neither do you. But I like most of them. And I do respect them all. They’re never crass or stupid, at least not at the same time. They’re trying for something.

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Gillian Welch and Daft Punk are about as different as semipopular musicians can be. One is a DIY trailblazer, the other shoots crap in the major-label casino; one fetishizes the authentic, the other the artificial. But though the authentic one may be a little less honest, she’s no less forthright about her immersion in craft. She has an idea of what the world is like and what kind of music ought to sound good there, and she commands skills to match, which she’s sharpening. Welch says that while she and David Rawlings remain an acoustic duo, her self-released Time (The Revelator), which came in 14th (previous finishes: 23 and 33), comprises “really tiny rock songs” rather than her patented Appalachian simulations. And damned if she isn’t telling some kind of truth — it’s considerably less studied, austere, and sanctimonious-by-omission. Daft Punk are two ironic-mais-oui French DJs who pushed Homework onto the bottom of our 1997 top 40 behind an ingratiatingly clever synth-funk dance novelty (and 25th-place P&J single) self-referentially entitled “Da Funk.” Going all-out for airplay, which in dance music is as big a statement as Elvis citations are in folk music, they led the 25th-place Discovery with an irritatingly catchy synth-voice pop novelty (and 13th-place P&J single) imperatively entitled “One More Time.” Their faux pop became actual pop.

Me, I blame Welch for the O! Brother Old-Timey Strip Mine and refer privately to Daft Punk’s hit as “Please, Not Again.” Both artists pursue an aesthetic so ideologically that it narrows their music. But both deserve props just for having a vision, and though others in their cohort may be less self-conscious about it, so do they. Moreover, all have shown an ability to improve on whatever it is they do — which, because critics don’t just pump fave styles but signs of progress, attracts voters who happen to like that thing. An audacious pop album is some kind of wonder whether it sells at Jay-Z or Basement Jaxx or Old 97’s or New Pornographers or Pernices levels, while a competent one is a bit of a bore. Compare the shortfalls of marginal cohort candidates (many miss the 29-33 demo) Folds at 46th, Mercury Rev at 59th, Le Tigre at 77th, Maxwell at 87th, Garbage at 95th, Travis at 98th, Built to Spill at 118th, and (run out of town, the hussy) Shelby Lynne down at 142nd, all of whom — except for Le Tigre, who tried to piggyback more politics onto their vogue and got spanked for it — spun their wheels trying to assure their market share or drove off the road trying to expand it. And note that all of these, Le Tigre once again excepted, got twisted up playing by major-label rules.

The cohort is bedrock, a respectable foundation of artists with a future — some pop and some semipop, some quarterpop and some less. In 2002, it’ll get bigger. But its members aren’t about to change history. So towering over the entire 2001 list is the only genius in sight. With PJ Harvey and OutKast sitting out, Neil Young laying low, U2 at the Super Bowl, and R.E.M. 51st, well — achievementwise, statuswise, who’s even close? Lucinda Williams, maybe. Beatmaster to the stars Timbaland if he keeps it up for 10 years — although, lyrically, James Brown is James Weldon Johnson by comparison, Jay-Z Shakespeare. Speaking of whom, nominating Jigga is carrying this black-male-pride bit perilously close to Clarence Thomas territory, and da judge just signed an injunction to keep him out. Other observers tender faith in some promising pup or other, but though Ryan Adams, Alicia Keys, and/or Rufus Wainwright might have the stuff to take it to the next level, the conceptual effort alone would put them in mortal danger, a risk Adams kisses on the tuchis every time he opens his yap. As for the world’s greatest rock band, fifth-place Radiohead, they made the world’s greatest rock album in 1997 and it didn’t even beat Time Out of Mind. You want a credible challenge to Dylan’s hegemony-that-isn’t, your only resort is the most distant runners-up in poll history — two young bands and one 36-year-old perennial.

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Like everybody but our results page, I think the White Stripes made a better record than the Strokes. But not so’s they earned a free ride, and not so’s the Strokes deserve the drubbing they get for…what? For being white male guitar-bearing counterparts of Alicia Keys and her not-quite-superb major-label album with a sound people were waiting for and looks to match. Like Keys, the Strokes give teenpop glamour a tough undercoat — the hip hop sass salting Keys’s sweet intonation, the punk static pebbling the Strokes’ repetitious rush — and get playa-hated for choosing triumphant accommodation over doomed combat. The various ripoff charges are beyond silly; obviously the Strokes are working a tradition, and just as obviously they sound like no one but themselves. In this they resemble the former blues duo that came in fourth. Both bands end up far from their “roots,” and both are sonically thin by design — much thinner than Dylan’s guys recycling singer-with-backup riffs that coalesce as you listen up. As in much lo-fi, this thinness is a raised finger – guitars matter so much, it says, that we’re reducing them to an ugly essence. But it also begs out of any competition with the big guys. And it provides both with a ready path to progress. Soon the Strokes will shit-can their megaphone and try to think of something to say; soon the White Stripes will send their bills to V2 while continuing to unfold new wrinkles in human relations in 100 words or less.

Some believe Is This It and White Blood Cells represent an alt-rock rebirth, which would be nice. Unless you count materialistic old Spiritualized, the guitar-based hopefuls our college-radio types are always singling out number only three this year, and all are so specialized they make my teeth hurt: slowcore cohort candidates Low, Elephant 6 surrogates the Shins, and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who remind me less of the Jesus and Mary Chain than of the Screaming Blue Messiahs, another dark, catchy garage band whose enduring historical value is as a Pazz & Jop trivia question. B.R.M.C. are traditionalists like our runners-up, with commitment where they have spark. Low and the Shins are eccentrics. You can say that’s good — they defy sociology, ignore category, assert identity, blah blah blah. But that leaves me free to opine that, like Steely Dan’s showbiz kids, they don’t give a fuck about anybody else — and that, partly for that reason and partly because they play too slow, I don’t give a fuck about them either. Culturally as well as musically, they don’t make enough noise. The Strokes and the Stripes, antithetical though their outreach strategies are, both mean to resonate.

Still, Nirvana is so 1991, and guitar bands have long been and will long remain one option among many. Take as a sign our surprise No. 3, who slowly and eccentrically brought off as unmoored an album, groovewise, as has ever hit our chart. Every year I scoff at the shortfall of “techno”/”electronica”/”post-rock,” but in 2001 the Swan Girl of the Oscars helped turn it into a mainstream critical taste — as an option, not the future. Vespertine is oceanic, impressionistic, classically influenced — the kind of album I can’t stand. But its clicks and tinkles and desultory eroticism won me over, perhaps because Björk, like Tyorke, is better off outside the box of rock songform. Desultory to less pleasurable purpose were Björk’s countrymen Sigur Rós, recurring like that dream where you forgot your homework. The rest of our electronica finishers, however, took rock songform as a puzzle to be solved, with the top-20 Gorillaz, Basement Jaxx, and Avalanches the payoff. Pomo’s answer to the Archies were our first virtual finishers, and (just like Blur) took hooks too much for granted. Basement Jaxx’s insanely catchy Rooty knew better. But Australia’s Avalanches scored the breakthrough — the long-promised new-songs-from-old-songs trick, in which untrackable samples are stitched together until they mesh into compelling music that never existed before. Unfortunately, the music in question is string-section disco.

Pazz & Jop dance albums are something of a contradiction in terms. The album aesthetics we calibrate, high on lyrics and hard on filler, are a rock thing — dance is the realm of the single and the mix. In 2000, we expanded our singles tally partly in hopes that a few club records would slip in. But it hasn’t worked. Although the old irritation of fave album cuts (which as a DJ I got to declare singles myself in 2001) is down to Stephen Malkmus’s “Jenny and the Ess-Dog,” the now pervasive pop-versus-rock polarity — featuring dance-pop, teen-pop, rap-pop, r&b-pop, the inevitable rock-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop — isn’t much better. I’m always pleased to see African Americans up top — Keys’s fourth-place “Fallin’ ” and Jay-Z’s third-place “Izzo” swamped by the most dominant single of our computerized era, “Get Ur Freak On.” Missy Elliott’s Timbaland tabla was a world-beat coup rivaling Manu Chao’s in a year that cried out for more of them (Cachaito and Rachid Taha, 55th and 71st, were top 10 for me, and Manteca’s Franco comp would have headed my list if it had seemed fair to put 30 years of genius up against one). But on Elliott’s good but flawed album — as on Destiny’s Child’s, Mary J. Blige’s, Blu Cantrell’s, and Craig David’s — I found songs trickier and deeper than the smash. Bidding to “penetrate pop culture,” in Jay-Z’s words, these r&b artists actually do what antipop ascetics rail against so automatically. They strive for acceptability by sacrificing idiosyncrasy and reiterating clichés, and so evade an essential part of the pop challenge. This tactic can get you great ear candy. But in today’s corporate environment it’s become compulsory.

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A vivid example is the penetrating perpetrator of the hip hop album of the year. The main reason we never get enough hip hop voters is that they don’t need us — why should the alpha dogs worry about propelling late-released Ghostface Killah (91st) and De La Soul (54th) past Low and the Shins? I don’t think The Blueprint got shortchanged as a result, though. As ear candy and public fact it has serious charms, and who can resist a line like “Sensitive thugs, y’all need hugs”? But its cavalcade of hooks is smarmy and proud — a Puffy album with flow and gangsta cred (attention NYPD: “Still fuckin’ with crime ’cause crime pays” may hold up in court!). Compare the edgy samples and ’tude of 1999’s Vol. 3 and it’s like pitting Nelson Riddle’s Sinatra against the Don Costa version. As the most accessible hip hop album since Mama Said Knock You Out, The Blueprint sure beats The Chronic, but it bodes ill for the genre’s mainstream — countless wannabes will try to duplicate Jigga’s formula, and none will succeed. The underground, leached by the usual puritanism and fertile anyway, has more jam, with the complication that it now nurtures as many up-and-coming white artists as black. Another hope is that some bud among the profusion of r&b also-rans, many of them debuts — down to 100, Bilal, India.Arie, Don Costa’s girl Nikka, Res, Angie Stone, and Maxwell — will develop material nobody can deny. Final respects to 73rd-place Aaliyah, who died proving it was possible.

I’m grateful I can care, and grateful too that Aaliyah, whose garish funeral was one of many media phenomena that seemed to grow more grotesque after the WTC carnage, can now accrue dignity on the strength of a good album. This was a shitty year before it got so much shittier, and one way it was shitty was that it was subpar musically. I don’t have much doomsayer in me, and my basic belief is that in my lifetime a musical economy has been created that nothing can destroy. Good music has become such a spiritual necessity that no amount of corporate brutality can prevent people from producing, distributing, and consuming it. Nevertheless, I note that the Dean’s List, my annual catalog of recommended albums, shrank markedly in 2001, falling below 80 for the first time since 1997. Maybe it’s because for two weeks there I didn’t listen much — one more productivity hit. Or maybe the doomsayers are right, and fewer talents and lucky stiffs can afford the indie/DIY career option, which accounted for 15 or so of the voters’ top 40 albums and two thirds of the Dean’s List. That a cohort has learned to work around the moneychangers doesn’t mean we should thank capital for providing the opportunity.

The only finisher to confront this fact rather than allude to it was an overachiever on the scale of Vespertine. Ignoring its withdrawn WTC-bombing cover with the ingrained impiety that makes rock critics the permanent no-accounts of cultural journalism, the voters awarded eighth place to the Coup’s Party Music, which in its endless verbal dexterity and revitalization of an old-fashioned groove resembled “Love and Theft” more than anything Ryan Adams or Gillian Welch will ever record. There’s a lot of bluff on this record, and some bullshit too, though less than in most Dylan. But people know it — at S.O.B.’s in November, Boots Riley’s unsubstantiated claims that we were murdering babies in Afghanistan were far less warmly received than the off-kilter funk of his assaults on the rich and the racist. Riley is one of the few artists in rock’s whole history to make effective music out of the inhumanity of capital. It’s poetic that he got respect for it in the year that reminded or convinced many of us that other brands of inhumanity are probably even worse. One nuclear bomb they’re gonna blow it all away, as the New York Dolls once told us on Mercury’s dime. But every time we struggle for better music, and all of us do, we’re reminded that we have no business letting capital be.

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Top 10 Albums of 2001

1. Bob Dylan: “Love and Theft” (Columbia)

2. The Strokes: Is This It (RCA)

3. Björk: Vespertine (Elektra)

4. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

5. Radiohead: Amnesiac (Capitol)

6. Ryan Adams: Gold (Lost Highway)

7. Jay-Z: The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella)

8. The Coup: Party Music (75 Ark)

9. Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway)

10. Rufus Wainwright: Poses (DreamWorks)

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Top 10 Singles of 2001

1. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: “Get Ur Freak On” (The Gold Mind, Inc./Elektra)

2. Gorillaz: “Clint Eastwood” (Virgin)

3. Jay-Z: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (Roc-A-Fella)

4. Alicia Keys: “Fallin’ ” (J)

5. (Tie) Coldplay: “Yellow” (Nettwerk America)
Pink: “Get the Party Started” (Arista)

7. Eve featuring Gwen Stefani: “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” (Interscope)

8. Mary J. Blige: “Family Affair” (MCA)

9. Weezer: “Hash Pipe” (Geffen)

10. (Tie) Ryan Adams: “New York, New York” (Lost Highway)
Daft Punk: “One More Time” (Virgin)

—From the February 19, 2002, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

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How Albert Hammond Jr. Became Someone Else and Found Himself

During his twenty years on the music scene, Albert Hammond Jr. has been known by a number of identities: as the son of celebrated songwriter Albert Hammond; as the shaggy-haired, tight-trousered guitarist from the Strokes; and as the solo singer-songwriter-performer “Albert Hammond Jr.” But he craved being something different. “It always seemed really interesting to be someone else,” he says.

At the age of 38, the constantly touring musician found himself slowing down. Not literally: When he isn’t making music, Hammond is often on his motorcycle, speeding through the Catskill Mountains or heading down to ride at the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville. But these days, the onetime icon of downtown New York hedonism lives upstate with his wife, Justyna, fifteen minutes from the site of the original Woodstock Festival. And musically, he’s found himself on the path to self-discovery. “I think being a ‘junior’ and then being in a band,” he says, then pauses — “there’s a lot of baggage that comes with all those things.” 

On March 28, as Hammond took the stage of the New York warehouse venue Brooklyn Steel, it was apparent that he had shed that baggage. Fresh off the release of his critically acclaimed fourth solo album, Francis Trouble, Hammond took the stage a natural-born rock star, shedding his golden bomber jacket to reveal a T.Rex T-shirt, and filling the night with Angus Young-style jumps and nonstop dancing. By the end of the nineteen-song set, it was clear how meaningful the performance had been for him, with Hammond telling the crowd, “I’d like to never leave a stage like this.” Truthfully, it took him a long time to get there.

ALBERT_HAMMOND_JR.
ALBERT_HAMMOND_JR.

In the years following the success of the Strokes’ debut album, Is This It, in 2001, Hammond pursued rock ’n’ roll excess with a vengeance, developing addictions to cocaine, ketamine, and heroin along the way. At the same time, the guitarist somehow managed to release a string of solo albums that mostly just made fans long for more proper Strokes albums. It wasn’t until he found sobriety in his thirties that he began to rediscover himself, both as an artist and as a man, and what he learned made for a hell of an origin story. In 1979, Hammond’s mother had suffered a miscarriage while carrying him and his brother. That much he knew: Where Elvis had his phantom twin, Jesse, Albert had Francis. Then, two years ago while talking to his aunt, Hammond learned an additional detail: that one part of his brother, a fingernail, had survived childbirth. It was this discovery that made him consider the connection of two bodies in the womb, and the energy that might have passed between them. After hearing this story, Hammond realized his music was subconsciously taking on a new sound; it was as if Francis had been speaking through him.

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“I started with demos, and in the process of doing it all, I learned about the collision I had with my twin,” he says. “I’d already been working on the idea of an alter ego, so it just all started to make sense.” For Hammond, it felt like he’d found the missing piece of a puzzle, and in doing so, he found a new identity. “It gave an arc to my career, really. I had to kill myself off to start anew.” Now, with Francis Trouble, Hammond has been reborn as his own rock star alter ego, albeit one that’s more Ziggy Stardust than Chris Gaines. “It was a way to take the baggage of my name off the record,” he says. The name “Francis Trouble” pays homage to his brother, and the character embodies Hammond’s newfound sound. “I was always thinking of names for myself, and I’ve always wanted an escape,” he says. “When I thought of the name ‘Francis’ — I’ve always liked it — it just became part of the alter ego.” 

Thankfully for fans, Hammond’s music seems to have been energized by his personal rebirth. “Muted Beatings,” the album’s lead single, has the anxious, nervous energy of the Stroke’s best work. “It’s about how you don’t need to have the shit beaten out of you by fists,” he says, explaining the track. “How, actually, silence can be even worse.” Elsewhere on the album, he finds himself in more uplifting territory; despite the ghost of his brother haunting the proceedings, Francis Trouble is more focused on life than death. Hammond details trust and romance on “Far Away Truths” (“Don’t tell me that I’ve seen enough/’Cause if I saw nothing why would I look twice”), and pays “a triumphant homage,” he says, to the limitless promise of one’s teenage self on “Set to Attack.” 

Given where Hammond found himself a decade ago, it’s amazing he was able to get his career back on track at all. According to the guitarist, as he slipped further into drug-fueled oblivion in the wake of the Strokes’ success, he may have inadvertently “killed” the other bandmates’ dreams. As readers of Lizzy Goodman’s indie rock oral history, Meet Me in the Bathroom, learned, during the recording of the band’s 2006 album, First Impressions of Earth, Hammond began to notice things had stopped being “fun”: Friends, girlfriends, strangers would all start coming in, being like, ‘You should be a bigger band,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, we should be a bigger band…,’ ” he told Goodman. “For as strong as we were and as close as we were, we weren’t close or strong enough to fight that.” It wasn’t until 2010, when Hammond began his recovery, that his priorities shifted, with music returning to the center of his world.

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While his early solo career was perhaps seen as a distraction from the Strokes, Francis Trouble has ensured that Hammond’s talent can stand on its own. “On this one I finally got to make the record I wanted to make,” he says. Francis Trouble is a fresh start for Hammond — he considers it his “Volume I,” and he’s contemplating a Volume II.

“I won’t know what that is until the end of this cycle, because it starts to grow in you as you take it on the road,” he explains. For now, he’s looking forward to getting lost as someone else for a while. “I get to travel in Francis’s shoes for a bit.” 

 

The Village Voice is celebrating the season’s arts and culture highlights throughout the week of April 16, 2018. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Spring Arts 2018 page.

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DIFFERENT STROKES

As the lead singer of The Strokes, Julian Casablancas already fronted one of the best-known, 2000s-era rock bands from New York City. But he didn’t stop there. Accumulating a rag-tag group of friends from both the Big Apple and LA, Casablancas is now leading a new punk-focused collective called Julian Casablancas+ the Voidz, playing tonight. Given Julian’s track record as a careful curator and inventive musician, it’s no surprise that the Voidz somehow fuse punk, avant-garde experimentation with a groove-oriented pop backbone that makes the otherwise difficult songs accessible. Flecked with weird breakdowns and gritty, funhouse solos, the music rocks back and forth between gleeful, funky synths and warped, intense rock. And for fans of The Strokes, Julian’s signature vocals are able to carry through all the various twists and turns. The group put out their debut album Tyranny in September through Casablancas’ own label, Cult Records.

Tue., Nov. 25, 8 p.m., 2014

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DIFFERENT STROKES

The Strokes are back in a big way. Before they play Governors Ball, a performance being presented as their long-awaited hometown reunion following years of internal conflicts — we’re thinking about those solo efforts from frontman Julian Casablancas and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., as well as a slew of records that didn’t live up to their early reputation as saviors of post-punk LES glam rock — you can catch the New York fivesome at an intimate engagement in Port Chester tonight. Considering that the presale tickets were gone in less than a minute, it’s clear fans of the band haven’t been deterred by anyone who dares to say the Strokes are over. Don’t miss the chance to hear classics like “New York City Cops” and “Last Nite” performed in one of the nation’s most iconic venues.

Sat., May 31, 8 p.m., 2014

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Howler

The little Minneapolis band that could, Howler was picked up by U.K. indie stronghold Rough Trade after their debut EP found its way into the hands of label founder Geoff Travis, who famously had a hand in breaking the Smiths and the Strokes. Howler’s jangly garage-pop fit right in his wheelhouse, and three years after that chance encounter the foursome is all grown up and gearing up to release their sophomore LP of sophisticated skuzz, World of Joy, later this March.

Fri., Feb. 28, 7 p.m., 2014

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The Dismembermant Plan

The Dismemberment Plan were the standard bearers of indie rock during the period between the implosion of Pavement in 1999 and the emergence of the Strokes and the White Stripes in 2001. As rock seemed to be on its last legs, the D.C.-based band stumbled upon a sound that funneled their post-hardcore roots into a late-Pavement-like languor with chord progressions that sounded like Sting at his solo best. In other words, they made music ideal for Gen Xers making the bumpy transition from a restless youth to some sort of maturity, a common egoic crisis well represented in album titles like Emergency & I and Change. Having soundtracked this moment, the band dissolved, and its members got jobs, had kids, and learned to live normal lives. Thankfully, the impulse to create never fully fades, and after a few recent tours and performances, the band decided to go all-in, cooking up Uncanney Valley, which is in stores now.

Fri., Oct. 18, 8 p.m., 2013

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Marc Spitz’s Poseur Remembers a LES That No Longer Exists

At 43, rock writer Marc Spitz acknowledges he’s a little young to be publishing a memoir.

He chuckles, conceding that “Yeah, your sixties does seem to be the accepted time to put out a memoir, unless you have some kind of self-helpy angle. Which I definitely don’t.”

Far from self-help, Poseur unapologetically details Spitz’ sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll pursuits in 1990s New York as a struggling writer and addict, and later as a staff writer for Spin, a biographer and a playwright. Even today, in certain circles, Spitz is known as much for being a jerk as he is for his incisive musings on rock and pop culture.

“At a certain point, I was burning bridges just because I could,” he says.  

But as the Lower East Side stomping grounds of his glory days are rapidly succumbing to gentrification, Spitz says his age has been “adjusted for inflation”—hence the memoir.

“The change is happening so quickly that, culturally speaking, it’s like I’m 60. The Lower East Side stopped looking recognizable to me . . . I go down to Ludlow Street and I feel like Old Man River,” he says. “And that should happen. That’s New York. But when your own Manhattan starts to vanish, you feel compelled to tell the story of what used to be there.”

Who says Bob Dylan’s New York is more important or valid than Chan Marshall’s New York, or even Julian Casablancas’s New York?”

Poseur touches on each of those New Yorks, part Gen-X love letter, part snapshot of the final glory days and collapse of the record industry and old media.

In a tone that falls somewhere between Philip Roth and Lena Dunham, Spitz recounts his privileged but culturally stifled upbringing in Far Rockaway, followed by strung-out novel writing at Bennington College in Vermont; all the while, he’s driven by desperation to get to New York City and live in “bohemian squalor,” which he has decided is a must if he’s ever going to make it as a writer.

Spitz eventually realizes that making it as a writer will take more than a prolonged stint at the Chelsea Hotel, which in 1992 doesn’t exactly have the “coming home” feel Patti Smith wrote about in the ’60s. He spends a good chunk of his twenties downtown, writing novels and screenplays (largely in vain) whilst nursing a heroin habit and tapping into the DJ scene to pay rent (“A DJ was just like a must-have prop in every bar. Anyone could do it.”) .

Where American Apparels and sleek eateries line the LES today, Spitz revelled in what he describes as “a Grand Central Station of beautifully naive proto-hipster activity”: The grungy Don Hill’s, where he accidentally burned Chloe Sevigny with a cigarette, danced with her to Devo, and then got her number; the flamboyant art rock showcases of Squeezebox (“a link to the Warhol promised land”); and the mainstay of Max Fish, the dedicated after-work meet-up spot for Spitz’s motley crew of actors, writers, and addicts.

“It was our Mud Club or CBGB. When I think of New York in the ’90s, I think of that strip of Houston Street. The music, the art on the walls effortlessly came to articulate what was going on in your head,” he says. “You could walk right down to Clinton and get heroin and come back, pick up where you left off. . . . None of it seemed contrived. No one was on any devices. The only device was a fucking pinball machine,” he says. “Now it’s all served on the plate for you to consume. The light is different; it looks like an Automat now.”

As the ’90s wore on, Spitz upgraded from starving artist to a quasi-dream job with Spin, blogging for the magazine’s newly-minted, oft-mocked online desk.

“They were the cool kids, we were like unwanted stepchildren,” he says.  

Shy and disgruntled, Spitz began to wonder: What would Lester Bangs do?

He sought the answer with panache in a feather boa and indoor sunglasses, and a drug-emboldened moxie that would eventually lead to a column, cover stories, and nights doing lines with the Strokes’ Casablancas.

“I wanted to be as colorful as the people that I was interviewing, and the only way I knew how to do that was act like what I thought my rock-writer heroes from the ’70s acted like,” he says. “I conveniently forgot the fact that Lester Bangs died at the age of 33.”

When Spitz hit 33 five years later, it was 2002 and the Strokes had arrived—”the demarcation line,” Spitz calls it—and he was tasked with writing their first American cover story.

“With them, the old limits weren’t in place, like you could still be a tough, funny, witty downtown band and still sell a million records,” he says, explaining that they redefined what it meant to be downtown band. “You had to be junkies; it was very in vogue to be dirty and scruffy and have a gimmick, because the music generally wasn’t good enough on its own. The Strokes are just very watchable.”

With the Strokes and their garage-revival brethren, all eyes were on downtown New York, and a cultural sea change swept through it. The LES DJ circuit became increasingly frequented by celebrities and rock stars—”people who didn’t need the money to eat,” Spitz says, recalling a “turning point” when Madonna and Hilary Duff DJ’d LES dance party MisShapes. “You had to wait outside for like three hours to hear a fucking Kaiser Chiefs song.”

Spitz is careful to reign in his inner curmudgeon. By the time he turned 40, he had seven years on his hero, but not much of a plan for his surly persona.

“I realized the party was over. Was it a good party? I guess I kind of wanted to move from it, too,” he says. Spitz acknowledges that the generational changing of the guard is part of the city’s heartbeat.

So while his LES friends have moved to Brooklyn and kids, he’s perfectly content to stay in Manhattan with his two dogs.

“New York is the star here,” he says. “I just get to be the voice and the character who travels through it.”

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Robbers on High Street

Brooklyn quintet Robbers on High Street come from a time when “indie rock” wasn’t so ubiquitous as to be almost devoid of meaning, and today they continue to make music that holds true to that original sound. That is, they combine clever lyrics and catchy choruses à la The Strokes with the rousing rhythms and brash guitar of Spoon and add a late-’60s mellow tinge to create songs perfect for steering wheel–drumming and repeat listening.

Sat., March 3, 8 p.m., 2012

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The Airborne Toxic Event

At their best, the Airborne Toxic Event features Stephen Merritt’s baritone voice and wit, Arcade Fire’s orchestral arrangements and pacing, the Strokes’ catchy choruses, and the reference to a pomo novel to round them out as yet another indie rock outfit almost fit for the radio. Even if some continually accuse them of imitating their contemporaries, they’re good at what they do, and if you’re sick of listening to The Suburbs on repeat or could use a straightforward rock show bound to get your foot tapping and your heart swelling, head to Terminal 5.

Fri., Nov. 18, 8 p.m., 2011

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THE STROKES ARE IT

True story: In the past two years, I have spotted Julian Casablancas, lead singer of the Strokes, three times. And each time, it was below 14th Street, on the very same Lower East Side and East Village pavement his group adores, and each time the dude has looked completely lost—staring heavy-lidded at street signs, dragging wheelie suitcases, frowning ponderously at the concept of neatly gridded labyrinths. Lost. Or maybe he always looks that way. Whatever the case, no band in our corner appears so effortless yet cares as deeply as the Strokes, and their popularity is well reclaimed with fourth album Angles, released last month. Celebrate with them in style—they’re a long way from Ludlow Street tonight. With Devendra Banhart and the Grogs.

Fri., April 1, 8 p.m., 2011