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 » 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.
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 » 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!
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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
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Peter Searcy
Couch Songs
Initial Records

Rating: 4.5/10 ?

October 1, 2004
I have yet to figure out why some great rockers up and lose it when they get older. Artists from any genre can spiral slowly downward into the dark pit of suckdom, and they can begin to do so at any age. It can affect one band member and somehow pass over his bandmates. The seeds of sorryness can sprout an unwieldy crop over the course of just one album or can take twenty years to germinate. It's unpredictable, but one thing is certain: songwriting slumps can happen to anyone, anytime, any place.

From the sound of Couch Songs, it appears that Peter Searcy is certainly in the midst of a crippling dry spell. The man who fronted one of the 80s' finest American indie rock bands, Squirrel Bait, has taken a turn from the worse that no one could have imagined when Skag Heaven was released over fifteen years ago.

Now, to be fair, I'll go ahead and acknowledge that ex-punk rockers have a particularly rough time when they wriggle their way out of their constricting old skin and attempt something a little more mature - anyone who was ever seventeen has cried sell-out when one of their favorite punks "went soft", and the temptation is to think that any criticisms against Searcy's latest endeavors are somehow fueled by that same knee-jerk agitation.

That's simply not the case, though. As Ian Mackaye and Bob Mould have shown us, you can quit being "punk rock" and still be Punk Rock, and I assume most of us have been listening to music for long enough to know that a softening in surface aesthetic doesn't necessarily reflect a waning of a person's inner fire. So it's not the fact that Couch Songs is an acoustic album that makes it so boring - it's the fact that over the last couple of decades, Searcy has undergone a transformation that has impacted his artistic sensibilities at their most fundamental level, to the point where this album is, in spirit, neither very Punk nor Rock.

The greatest problem that plagues Couch Songs is vagary. While it's true that all singer-songwriters are essentially folk musicians, and that their music therefore needs some sort of populist bent, the masters - Waits, Dylan, Cohen, Drake - are all bold enough to make their songs fiercely individual at the same time. A Tom Waits song is a Tom Waits song, not anyone else's, and we love him simply because he's gutsy enough to throw a part of his being into his art. While I don't mean to imply that Searcy isn't putting his heart into his work, the songs don't feel like they're truly his. These eleven tracks could belong to any number of nondescript modern rock artists, what with their lukewarm choruses and Searcy's uncharacteristically run-of-the-mill vocal delivery. There's truly very little separating songs like "Gravity" and "Spinning" from the work of bands like Hoobastank and Nickelback, even in the lyrical department.

In fact, lyrics plague Searcy as the most disappointing and vague. Instead of telling stories or sketching out his own emotional maelstroms, he gives us lines like "It's a hole inside you try to fill with alcohol, cocaine, and pills," and "I just lose myself in you/ It's the only thing I'm really qualified to do," and that's about as descriptive as he gets. His words lack flavor, feeling like they were lifted from the past year's worth of Billboard hits.

In "Lost" (the song with the cocaine and pills line) we see Searcy attempting to tell some sort of a story, but he flies in the face of everything your creative writing teacher ever taught you. Rather than using word pictures to show his character getting lost in a series of empty pursuits, he just tells us that she's lost, and his lack of vividness makes the lyrics both unconvincing and unmoving.

While Couch Songs isn't a total flop - "Loneliest Girl" actually works, centering around a spry, infectious piano march - it's so ridden with weak lyrics and plainness that it's hard to see why anyone would be inspired to constantly listen to it. As for me, I'll just stick to my Squirrel Bait albums.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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