Five months ago I listened to a podcast. Joe Rogan interviewed Kevin Smith. I was never a fan of Kevin Smith; he struck gold a few years before my testicles had dropped, so his work was already of the classic variety and not the innovative lot by the time I could appreciate it. I tried watching Clerks but it felt redundant. The archetypes he made famous had already been plagiarized to such a Maureen Dowdian level in my town that by the time I saw his film it was no longer original. For this reason I never became tied to the Kevin Smith experience. I avoided his career milestones and carried on completely oblivious to the man or his oeuvre. In fact, my indifference served to devalue his work. Instead of the run of the mill apathy, I subscribed to the notion that he was overrated. Hell, I wore my Kevin Smith aversion as a badge of honor, the same way I wear the fact that I have never watched Forest Gump, Titanic, or Wayne’s World. So I listened to the podcast not because of some sycophantic desire, but because I was stoned, bored, and sick of Drake.
This preamble, while longwinded, was necessary to give you proper context to the effect Kevin Smith’s interview had on me. I began listening with a perma-eye-roll. But there came a point in the interview when I forgot who was talking and just listened to the message. He was moving; he spoke of his father’s death (which is uncomfortably stirring), his dedication to his craft and he spoke of art. His stance on art has stayed with me and bubbled to the surface when I listened to the new Shins album this past weekend.
I am paraphrasing here, but Rogan asked Kevin Smith about art and how the world is teeming with shitty music, lazy filmmaking, Nicolas Sparks, and a general lack of high quality work. Rogan says, and I’m inflata-phrasing (like paraphrasing on ‘roids) here, that every shitty “artist” should be put in some chokehold move, immobilizing them while the real artists get to skull fuck their seizing bodies. I assumed that Smith would follow suit, especially since he is universally recognized as a guy who has stayed true to the craft and stood as a beacon of integrity and skill in a world comprised of Bret Ratner and Tyler Perry. But he argued for the crap; he said that the crap was good, because one man’s horrible artist could be the motivating factor for the next Picasso. He said that having more art in the world meant having more art.
The Shins new album is an invigorating form of the aforementioned art, in a totally Shins way. I was reading about it as I was listening to it and the Shins lead singer, Mister Shin (I assume) explained how big of an influence Neutral Milk Hotel was to the band and to the efforts it took to complete the album. If I hadn’t been in such a good mood from said Shins album I would have rolled my eyes at another great band referencing the yucky Swedish Dairy Motel. Band of the decade, Arcade Fire, also cite the Impartial Mammary B&B as a huge motivating factor for their brand of brilliance.
I’ve dismissed the Romney Laiche Resort as an overly depressed lo-fi band with a lead singer hell-bent on reminding us how limited his range is. I was even excited when Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation questioned the importance of Uncharged Moo-Juice Inn because “art is supposed to be fun!” I quickly turned over my Bright Eyes records and agreed with Andy. Art is supposed to be fun, but more importantly it is supposed to be not bad, at least that’s I how I felt.
Now, well now I don’t exactly know how to feel. A band that I hated provided the spark for two bands that I love. I grew substantially more lost as I listened to Port of Morrow, I am usually lost when listening to the Shins; their sound is hard to place, as if they purposely ignore modern musical tropes, or adherence to any recurring elements. I tend to vacillate between the two poles of musical criticisms, at one end I applaud an album like Watch the Throne for unapologetically thumping an album’s worth of a singular opulent note; I love Otis and Niggas in Paris, so why the hell wouldn’t I want ten other songs with minimal deviation from that luxurious mean?
But then there is the Shins pole that is just as admirable. Why play one song over and over; most writers just end up writing the same story over and over, and most bands do the same, so it is an effervescent melodic awakening when a band deliberately decides to change. So I applaud the Shins the same way I applauded the Killers for Sam’s Town. But as Port of Morrow rang in my apartment I became further disengaged with reality, a reality that allowed for a band I hate to motivate a band I like to make an album I love. Port of Morrow is an album that pleads adherence to The Rule Of Seven (7 listens before you judge an album) because it forces repeated listens. It is quite a bit to take in, so walking away, and returning for more is the only way to take in the quirky, emotional, unapologetic brand of music the Shins deliver.
As I walked away from my latest Shins incident I heard Kevin Smith’s voice and I felt guilty. I run in circles starring unabashed Drab Tap Hostel devotees. Since high school I have avoided the band, made fun of their fans, and called the band anything but Neutral Milk Hotel. I believe that hating something is tantamount to feeling indifferent, and borderline satisfied with that something’s death – and I hated Neutral Milk Hotel. I also adhere to the belief that the universe can slap you across the face sometimes with blatancy. And the convergence of Kevin Smith’s message, Arcade Fire’s existence, Neutral Milk Hotel’s effect, and my Port of Morrow consumption forced me to recalibrate my beliefs. I now wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Smith. I will always love Arcade Fire. I autodownload all Shins music. I am recommending Port of Morrow to all 9 of my readers.
And because of Smith, because music I love stemmed from a band I hated, and because I am usually stupid, well, I guess it means that I like Neutral Milk Hotel, I mean I kind of have to … don’t I?
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