Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sorta: Strange and Sad But True (by Defensive Listening)


There will always be certain things about Dallas that I just don't "get." For one, the city has an oft talked about inferiority complex stemming from unflattering comparisons to other, more revered municipalities, and as a result, Dallasites tend to overcompensate in strange, alarming and often humorous ways. Whether it be the big hair, fake tans, or muscled execs in an army of bright yellow Hummers going 80 down Preston, the city's culture goes beyond overcompensation and into the realm of the absurd. Dallas is known around the world for its embarrassingly cheesy attempts to place itself on a higher plane, yet the city never gives up it's pursuit of the gaudy and grandiose. Year after year, Dallas becomes more and more like a hick version of L.A., and that seems to be exactly what many of its residents want.

Unfortunately, this ill advised behavior bleeds into the city's music scene too. The tacky guitar solo is just as much a part of Dallas' history as any of the aforementioned status symbols, and its immortality in local music will never make make much sense to me. Equally puzzling is the overly ubiquitous placement of pedal steel in every single slow song that has ever been played by those Dallas bands that specialize in what Stonedranger recently described as "good old fashioned blah blah blah." Sorta's newest record, Strange And Sad But True, has Dallas sized portions of good old fashioned blah blah blah all over it.

I have to begin by saying that Sorta isn't grating in any way, so most of the time that I've spent listening to this record has at least been bearable, which is probably the best compliment I can give them. Local critics and fans often reference Sorta's musical adeptness as a reason to get behind them, and although I appreciate good musicianship as much as the next guy, musical muscle flexing means very little to me in and of itself. Not writing a lyric like "Damned if I do/Damned if I don't" is much more important than any sort of guitar heroics, and an extra cheesy guitar line, no matter how complex, is only going to make a line like that sound a lot worse than it already does. The relationship between dubious music choices and bad lyrics is highly problematic for Sorta, and it manifests itself throughout their latest full length.

For example, the band has taken it upon themselves to write a song about one of this decade's worst local tragedies: The murderof 21 year old Lorena Osorio Godoy, who was thrown eighty five feet off of George Bush Turnpike by her boyfriend in Richardson. In an exercise in subtlety, the track is titled "85 Feet," and there is something morbidly surreal about hearing this plain, radio friendly acoustic song that borders on the exploitative. Perhaps its because when I hear it, I can only picture drunk SMU sorority girls swaying back and forth to the sappy melody with Shiners in hand. If the band was trying to emphasize the glaring contrast of a deadly serious narrative performed over lightweight fluff, then mission accomplished. However, I wonder how I would feel if a song like that was written about someone I knew. It isn't the mere fact that they wrote it that's offensive, and I promise I can hadle a song dealing with heavy subject matter such as this. In fact, I felt deeply about this tragedy when it happened, and I think Lorena Godoy deserves an artistic tribute of some sort. I just think she deserves better than a song that "sorta" sounds like Fastball.

Throughout the album, the band attempts a wide variety of styles that can be placed all over the map, which is actually pretty daring considering that this is only their third full length. I do respect their reach for sonic diversity to a point, but no living band of white men should ever attempt reggae rhythms with the kind of straight faced seriousness that Sorta does on "Pink and Baby Blue," which seems to be stylistically trapped in the long gone days of 311. In fairness, I should say that I enjoyed the synthesizer sound they used on the track, which I'm assuming is the same one they used on opener "Buttercup". It sounds so ridiculous on "Buttercup" that I almost believed I was in for something different when I first put this album on, something a little less by the numbers and perhaps a bit more exciting. Its not that I'm a synth fetishist by any means, but I would have gladly taken a lot more of that synth for a lot less of the boring pedal steel that clogs every instrumental pore on Strange and Sad. I understand the desire to employ pedal steel because it always sounds timeless and classy, but band after band is driving this once sacred instrument into the ground as a tired roots rock cliche, and I don't know if it can
ever fully recover.

If Sorta could just pull back a little on the eagerness to bog their song writing down with constant solos, I think the band would be vastly improved. On the albums' most memorable melody, "Closer", the overpowering instrumentation is restrained and the song is given enough breathing room to get stuck in your head. I know they're huge Wilco fans, and Wilco certainly has employed a lot of guitar molestation in their live shows throughout the years. However, Wilco is also big enough to hire Nels Cline, a renowned improvisational player, and nothing Sorta does comes even close to his unique level of musicianship. The guitar playing on tracks like "Lazybones" actually reminds me of a house band I saw performing at a bikini contest that my friends dragged me to when I was 18, which is why I find it surprising that the local music press spends so much time wondering aloud why Sorta isn't bigger outside of Dallas. Bands that make it outside of Dallas don't sound like bands that play at bikini contests. Ever. And unfortunately, Sorta's overly ambitious guitar playing makes it clear why they have yet to make an impression outside the metroplex.

I think Sorta has put together a competent and ambitious collection of songs on Strange and Sad But True that will go over really well with that weird lower Greenville demographic where big hair, hipsters, and fake tans meet up and hang out. They've had well attended release shows for this record at The Granada and Art Prostitute, and I commend them for such savvy taste in venues. I understand why those places are so respected in this culture starved city, and I'm glad that they are willing to take chances on local acts. But unfortunately, Sorta seems like a hipsterfied musical equivalent of a yellow hummer, and much like the rest of Dallas', um, culture, they're always going to be one of those things I just don't get.

46 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that the jewish flag?

2:14 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

Its the Israeli flag.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any particular reason other than being very offensive to some people?

2:33 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

It was the first thing that came up when I did a google image search for "one star."

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw sorta at good records once

i didn't know they were playing an in-store that day
i was at the back of a long line trying to buy a cd
i gave up and walked out because i didn't want to hear their donkey crap
then someone tried to rob me as i walked back to my car

i blame sorta

2:46 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

Have you heard the pedal steel on the last Red Sparowes record? Now THAT was awesome.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

since when is the granada (or really very many other places) considered a savvy choice of venue?

2:57 PM  
Blogger Robo-Pirate said...

Do drunk SMU sorority girls listen to bands? This makes me think that Sorta will be sharing a bill with Sister Hazel soon.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a genius review. well written and researched. i play bass in sorta and this was a breath of fresh air after all the fluff pieces i've read about the record recently. although i don't agree with alot of it, it's the best review i've read so far. thanks for taking the time (you obviously spent alot of it with this album) to comment on it.

danny balis

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lame article. the quality of this rag get worse by the hour.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

F-

4:03 PM  
Blogger pimplomat said...

This review was well written, as are most of the record reviews on this site; however, I have a question.

Why assign an album to someone who doesn't "get it"? That's not a personal attack on Defensive Listening or stonedranger, by the way.

This type of assignment is prevalent in the book industry, and I've noticed it gaining populary in music reviews as well.

"While this disconnect may seem entertaining and even postmodern (mixing high and low brows) to assigning editors, the result is rarely enlightening and is of limited entertainment value. Readers usually end up feeling badly for the author, and even badly for the struggling reviewer," Heidi Julavits said. I couldn't agree more.

Even though Defensive Listening is a good writer, his/her interests fall more in the noise/jazz/avant-garde arena and would probably serve the readers of this blog to review artists that fall into those categories.

I would love to read a review in contrast or agreement with this one written by Tanto, who seems to be more into the alt-country scene and familiar with its ins and outs.

4:03 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

thanks for the feedback on DL's review, Pimplomat. I don't know whether I agree with that quote completely, but i can see how sometimes it can be annoying to people to read something written by someone who doesn't "get it." However, I can also see how those kinds of reviews can be valuable too, perhaps allowing the reviewer to react to the piece of work in a way that is much different and perhaps a bit more raw than someone who has an extended knowledge of the artist, medium, movement, or genre at hand.

Either way you slice it, we really didn't put that much thought into who would be assigned the review. And Taunto only writes for us every so often anyway.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dammit Jim, Im a blogger not a real writer!

4:38 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

Damn it Jim, I'm an anon commenter, not even a blogger!

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love getting under your skin and getting silly responses back from you. Thanks m'kay?

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fucking lawyers

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:33 Are you serious? How could that be offensive?

5:15 PM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

quote: "Why assign an album to someone who doesn't "get it"? That's not a personal attack on Defensive Listening or stonedranger, by the way."

I think I do "get" what Sorta's trying to accomplish.
I'm just not the biggest fan of how they accomplish it.

quote: "This type of assignment is prevalent in the book industry, and I've noticed it gaining populary in music reviews as well.

"While this disconnect may seem entertaining and even postmodern (mixing high and low brows) to assigning editors, the result is rarely enlightening and is of limited entertainment value. Readers usually end up feeling badly for the author, and even badly for the struggling reviewer," Heidi Julavits said. I couldn't agree more."

There's a new word for this: Nobrow.

quote: "Even though Defensive Listening is a good writer, his/her interests fall more in the noise/jazz/avant-garde arena and would probably serve the readers of this blog to review artists that fall into those categories."

Thank you for the compliment though I think an assumption is being made here. I do like noise and avant-garde music but not at the cost of listening to other more standard and straight ahead fare. As for jazz, I probably own many more song oriented records than jazz albums. I'm sure the guys from Sorta and I might even own a lot of the same records and could even have a pleasant conversation about it.

quote: "I would love to read a review in contrast or agreement with this one written by Tanto, who seems to be more into the alt-country scene and familiar with its ins and outs."

If you want to read a review in contrast to this one, find any local publication from the Fort Worth Star Telegram to The Dallas Observer.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isnt this part of the observer? i always thought it was for many many reasons...

5:57 PM  
Anonymous jasper said...

i've felt the same way about sorta. but i totally get why lots of people like this music. i just don't get why people with otherwise defensible taste in music would like it. it's boring, pandering rock music. but they're probably nice people.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wsjr is totally part of the observer fanclub

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I check this blog everyday...sometimes I read it...sometimes I just scan it. I have never read a review...I just skip straight to the comments.

But...I read this review because...well...I just don't get Sorta either. It seems like Dallas press loves these guys...which is fine...but...I listen and I just don't get it.

This review was brilliant to me. The comparison of Dallas "culture" and the seemingly overwhelming devotion (by local press) to Sorta, is so true. Hey...I think the first paragraph of this article sums up why this music scene struggles so much.

Anonymous with an "i"

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whether you get it or not, like it or not, i can't comprehend how you could diss their musicianship or song-writing capabilities.
in addition, being offended by the writing and reflection of a tragedy is silly, some of the most amazing songs in the world are written about tragedies - all types of beats and genres. i think the writing of the review was excellent, but many points were of shallow thought.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is denying the talent required to play instruments...but...I think the choices they make...musically...is what's in question. "blah blah blah" refers to the lack of challenge Sorta's music lends to the listener. That "challenge" is important to the writers of this blog (I'm assuming). Not every band has to have challenging music to be "good"...but...in the context of this blog...(I'm assuming)...challenges, or daring steps...need to be taken in order to acheive relevance. Sorta doesn't really challenge...anything....at all. Which...isn't wrong in a bigger sense...it's just...well....not enough.

Regarding writing about tragedies...well...I think it's just awkward...not wrong...just...awkward. Isn't that the case when local bands exhibit earnestness (earnesty?) (word?) But hey...that's just my opinion.

Anonbymous with an "i"

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any particular reason other than being very offensive to some people?

theyre called dumbfucks and thier disease has no religious preference

Is that the jewish flag?

now thats offensive

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As for jazz, I probably own many more song oriented records than jazz albums."

Because jazz albums aren't song oriented.

4:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IU hate people that give symbols and words power.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

I wouldn't call the jazz albums I actually own "song oriented" in the traditional sense, no. Obviously there are song structures there but is that the point? A record like Spirits Rejoice has very little to do with songs. I knew someone would say something about that. As if you didn't know what I was getting at. So thanks for enlightening me about Jass having songs. That's not why I've ever listened to it, let me put it that way.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:15 ... do you know anything at all about the world or the middle east? Other than what's on Fox news?

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review Dl - This was spot on/

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:44... So, what... We should ban all religious symbols and state flags because some idiot might take offense? God, I wish you would kill yourself, kill your parents, kill any children you might have had, fuck yourself, fuck your moms corpse and fucking split your gut open with a dull knife so i could splash around in your ignorant dumbass guts while chewing on your girlfriends twat.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FUCKING COLLEGE IDIOTS! TRANSFER TO SAN MARCOS ALREADY! THEY NEED YOU TO SAVE THEM AND HELP THEM UNDERSTAND!

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want the last 15 minutes of my life back!

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

songs require singing, that's why the root word of song it sing!

most jazz records are not "song" oriented, infact, most music isn't song oriented. if you think it is, that's because you have a very narrow scope of what "music" is.

jazz vocalists sing songs, jazz musicians make jazz music.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorta=hacks
big dumb danny is about right...
stick to the GOOD stuff. and i don't mean bad records.
those sorority sisters need a good lamping!!!!
ACHTUNG JUDEN!!!!!!!!!!!!

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:07. Uniformed AND pretentious. Well done - that's hard to do.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

uniformed?

"A song is a relatively short musical composition for the human voice (commonly accompanied by other musical instruments), which features words (lyrics). It is typically for a solo singer, though may also be a duet, trio, or for more voices (works with more than one voice to a part, however, are considered choral)."

eat shit.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DL needs to get back in the kitchen and make me a plate of nachos.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1.59. I see you've mastered the cut and paste function AND found Wikipedia.

That's so cute. Good for you, Little Champion!

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hardline?

Deep Dish Danny?

Bare Minimum Danny?

Barley House?

Dallas?

??

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:34

I see you've mastered sarcasm and overall stupidity/brutishness.

Thanks for being a complete wast of space and time.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously none of you kids understand Jazz in the least bit. Duke Ellington and his lack of songs must be spinning in his grave. Shut Up. Stop Talking.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just pointing out that it's very offensive to some, which most people may not realize ... didnt say it should be banned

6:41 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

are you saying that the flag itself is offensive or that my display of it is offensive?

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've got a flask in my car if anyone would like to join me for an after hours drink.

9:30 AM  

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