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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Portastatic
Bright Ideas
Merge Records

Rating: 8/10 ?


August 29, 2005
After September 11th, we faced, as a nation, a litany of stinging psychological quandaries: How do we move on? What strange, ineffable things do we feel? What comes next? When Mac McCaughan sought to make a follow-up to his subtly touching tribute to that event - and the confusion and pain that resounded from the country's center - Summer of the Shark, he had to face the same daunting questions three years later. The result, Bright Ideas, is fittingly hurt, restless and mending, louder than his previous efforts and straining to be heard.

The sound is far more electric and brazen than Summer of the Shark, as well it should be. The raucous guitars of Bright Ideas can chip away at innocence or break through complacency; the biting, bitter phrases recall the urgency "Slack Motherfucker" and the pain of Foolish, but for differently universal reasons. At times, simple pop is used to escape ("White Wave", "Center of the World), country roots are showcased as a relatable common denominator ("I Wanna Know Girls", "Little Fern") and tense, rickety shuffles are prolonged, just to keep moving on ("Truckstop Cassettes").

More than the sound, the words of Bright Ideas are especially important; they are not particularly eloquent, but they are representative something larger: each clumsy, unsure expression desperately needs to be said. In this way, Mac speaks for all of us in our awkward struggles to heal in these uncertain times; he is our Everyman and he wears his bruises bravely. While never explicit or demanding, his softly expressed beliefs resound with the force of truth.

At times, like us, he is not content with simply moving on. He warns with both empathy and caution on the title track, "Sometimes you want to put the past in the past/but every generation gets bit in the ass." The melody moves as a heavy-footed, exotic sway, brimming with disillusionment, failure and longing, and as he adds, "When you're expecting the worst/you know you never get shocked," we know his depression all too well.

So too, when he makes statements toward our current mindset, does he capture the dissatisfaction reflected in the latest polls. When he paints the future as "easy, ugly and crass," we know that, in hindsight, he feels justice has not been served; more often than not we agree. As he states boldly, "It's our cross, get behind me, trust our power now," we can't help but pour in our own feelings toward the misguided anti-diplomacy and political quagmire that has arisen after such a tragic event. As a voice of discontent, Mac McCaughan is focused and genuine, and while his words may not be 'patriotic' in a war-supporting sense, his frustrations come from a sincere desire to return to greatness and optimism.

He is exhausted at times ("Let the sun set on this… let me get some sleep in this bed I made"), or stirred by his own sense of mortality ("You may be cheating time, but it's getting closer still"), but in all, even when hardened and amplified by perspective, he is impassioned. Whether inspired by the love of his wife and daughter ("I wanna know girls/they give me hope"), nurturing the inherent greatness lying latent in all of us ("I think it's time you took to the sky") or being spurned by hardship to drive ever further ("I want to crush this feeling/I want to climb out of this box/today I'm gonna push back"), he embodies the courageous progress we all so desperately need.

Mac McCaughan has done the unthinkable on Bright Ideas: after making a grandly human statement on 9/11, he has done the same for its aftereffects. As he closes in a sweet, comforting sentiment to his daughter, the wondrous "Full of Stars," his eyes still twinkle for us and for the future. He tucks us all in dearly, expressing love, reassurance and hope, always hope.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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