Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s His Hero is Gone's Monuments to Thieves. Buy the album and read Schnipper’s thoughts on it after the jump.
On Friday night, behind some people smoking weed out in the open, and beside a tall man dressed as a more kabuki Adam Ant, I listened to Fatboy Slim. Fischerspooner were DJing the Natural History Museum, hundreds of wild spirits dancing to ’90s electronic pop. It was so free. When was the last time you listened to “Praise You”? 1998, maybe? It’s an ennobling song, created buoyant and ageless. How have I spent my entire 20s ignoring it as audio collage gimmick? Or have I just ignored it entirely, cast aside in a separate bin beside the one for active contempt, into the bin of unnecessary, unneeded. With the aggressive happiness prescribed by Fisherspooner and dosed by Fatboy Slim, I’d like to rescue it from its 21st century irrelevant lack and reinstate it in a realm not of nostalgia but of prescient delight. Is it possible that I slept on Fatboy Slim?
But Fischerspooner, god bless them, were not the headliners to this sold out event—that privilege went to Animal Collective. I wondered who from Animal Collective might make the trek up to 79th and Central Park West. Only Geologist it turned out, hardly recognizable without his headlamp and onstage trance dance. But in civilian flannel and beard, he was more recognizable by lovable type: music geek. I fretted before his set, wondered about the inevitable post-Fischerspooner delighted crash. And inevitably, Geologist is not a DJ. It was like going to a small bar where your friend brings an iPod and gets nervous about playing to four of his friends. Italo disco, regular disco, rock, whatever. He played fine for the circumstance, that circumstance being I was excited to hear This Heat while sitting on a railing beneath a bulbous planetarium. If you know This Heat, imagine that, the hundreds of eager listeners scrunching their ears to hear a rhythm. What a strange band, similarly prescient to Fatboy Slim, if not at all similar. Such a wonderful crowd, regardless of dynamic, they found a way to dance. This Heat is not dance music, though, but it has a root in some kind of blotted beat. My friends in college loved this band, even started their own semi-tribute band Go To Sleep, the name cribbed from the first line of their album Deceit. I grew to love the album, as well, it’s disjointed percussion and sardonic British vocals, everything seeming critical in both meanings of the word, harsh lessons in creativity handed down from those clearly smarter. But can you dance to it? Well, doesn’t matter if you’re already sitting down.
Back home later that weekend, I explored both things I’d forgotten on YouTube. I was pleasantly reminded that Spike Jonze made the wonderful video for “Praise You,” a community dance troupe performing a choreographed routine publicly, filmed shoddily but with a warm love. This song, this video, so stupid. But so happily so, and that self-confidence goes a long way. I want to put daisies in barrels. This Heat just wanted to burn them. A different kind of self-assurance, an angry, intellectual intensity, beaten out on congas, drum pads and endless pieces of various metal, anything that would take spindly British abuse. I’d never seen live footage of the band, and was honestly surprised to find it existed. Watch them, extra contemporary, sounding experimental but warm, friendly and powerful. They were raw and fast and filmed in a dewy green. That video haze, something inimitable and irresistible, reminded me of a VHS I used to have of a concert I was unable to attend in Philadelphia, the band His Hero is Gone. I found the video on YouTube, let’s check it out.
Pretty gnarly, right? I used to watch this in my childhood bedroom, same TV I played a lot of Contra and Tecmo Super Bowl on. Somewhere during this show you can see the camera pan right onto Brutal Truth’s drummer (they also played), as he lights up a weed pipe. I showed that to my dad. I don’t remember if he thought it was funny.
I used to be a die hard reader of Maximumrocknroll, an inky newsprint fanzine about punk and hardcore. Mid-way through my dedicated readership, they introduced a column by Rob Coons, Screams From the Gutter. This was mostly about the power violence, thrash and generally aggressive music that was “popular” at that time, the mid to late ’90s. Some time in 1996, he wrote about His Hero is Gone’s “The Dead of Night in Eight Movements” 7-inch, and hailed it, essentially, as a game changer. Because I believed very strongly in the power of the press (or because I didn’t have anyone else to tell me shit) I ordered this immediately. But before it came, I had gotten in trouble with my parents, and they intercepted the record and hid it in their room. I wanted to know what it sounded like so bad, though, so I would sneak into their room and take the record out of the sleeve when they weren’t paying attention and listen and put it back. It was relentlessly serious, beginning with a small piano and then heavy chugging of all kinds. I could not imagine the Memphis world they came from. A year later they released their second short album, Monuments to Thieves, which I also ordered. I still listen to it regularly. Last year, I walked into the very expensive, very trendy clothing store Opening Ceremony and it was playing on the PA. Who is sleeping on His Hero is Gone? In the same era as heavy dubstep and black metal being mainstream popular, is there still the same level of unapproachable brutality in the music? Is it time for their Natural History DJ gig in the sun? Or at least some recognition as ahead of their time?
Listen to “Like Weeds” and “Monuments to Thieves” the first two track from Monuments. They are incredibly quick, very tight and still replete with melody, however dark. Well, I don’t really need to describe it, you can hear it. That’s what was so beautiful about hearing “Praise You,” about hearing This Heat. They existed! And now, equally present, His Hero is Gone. Were they to arrive today, in 2010, 14 years later, would they be embraced? To some degree it sounds explicitly like music of its time, inexorable from a pre-internet accessibility era. There is a total lack of humor in His Hero is Gone, no easy access. I can’t imagine His Hero is Gone having a publicist or Jon Caramanica reviewing them for the Times. Where would they play? Mercury Lounge? This band should only play in Buffalo, New York or San Francisco. One of them had white dreads. I always heard rumors of a serious drug habit, but by the time a rumor like that gets to teenage kids in Connecticut it can’t be that true. But I’m digressing: At what point does true greatness (yes I believe His Hero is Gone were truly great) get universally recognized? Is it when they become more pleasant? Or when we open up to less pleasantries? I thought, at least, that the latter had happened. But I haven’t seen the kind of celebration for some of the records and artists I thought might find it in retrospect.
“Praise You” is something I loved, then inactively decided was passé. This Heat I just forgot about for a while. So prescient that I just listen to stuff that sounds like it now (Hey, Real Estate and The xx are awesome!). His Hero is Gone is of our times (unless you are 14, in which case it’s weird that you are reading this column), a building block and a building in one. What’s stopping it from receiving its due? I have forgotten about so many bands from that era, sold records. I never listen to most of the ones I kept, either, but the complete and absolute tight and badassness of this band has not transcended time. Time usually makes things get better or get forgotten. His Hero is Gone’s harshness has only gotten sharper, more vicious. Maybe that’s the problem. In Vanity Fair’s December issue there is an article about the pitfalls of assigning so much important to cuteness in our society, the love of puppies and bunnies and babies spread around so wildly via the internet. His Hero is Gone is kind of the opposite. Did you ever see the movie George Washington? They are that but a band. Maybe you can only sound prissy if you make serious music. Either sound prissy or be from somewhere far away. Dirty southern white dudes with songs about social injustice probably are not going to go over too well. Maybe if one of the dudes from Animal Collective gets into them. Geologist, help me out.