Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Songs of 2009 50-25

50. Glasvegas – It’s My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry

I only recently discovered that I’m a sucker for heartbroken Scottish guys singing about heartbreak. It’s a formula that works for me and it works particularly well in this track where slowed down Phil Specter tambourine driven verses are complemented by a soaring chorus of full on power pop riffs. There’s not a ton here to separate Glasvegas from their fellow Scots in Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks but that doesn’t make this song any less great.

49. Handsome Furs – All We Want Baby is Everything

Ever slow on the uptake, I feel like I connected with the synth pop revival about a year too late. I am making up for lost time however and this track is one of those responsible for igniting my interest. If someone had told me that this was a new Depeche Mode song aimed at reviving their pop sensibilities I would have probably believed them and been very pleased that Depeche Mode had stopped sucking. Instead I get the knowledge that the Handsome Furs are really fucking good.

48. Fall Out Boy – America’s Suitehearts

I don’t care what you or anyone else says, NO ONE writes consistently better, simple, punk songs than Pete Wentz and it isn’t even close. Contrast this surprisingly underappreciated album to Green Day’s newest masturbatory arena rock opus and its excellence becomes even more apparent. I’m not calling this a guilty pleasure or making apologies for it, I’m on record as REALLY liking Fall Out Boy particularly this clever, possibly derisive, and surprisingly deep “tribute” to America’s tabloid fodder

47. Phenomenal Handclap Band – 15 to 20

Even though this song shamelessly rips off Blondie and even though the rest of the album doesn’t even TOUCH these pop heights, Phenomenal Handclap band’s 2009 output is worthy of mad credit. The funky, disco channeling count off is refreshing in its retro reverence.

46. Washed Out – Feel it All Around

The world needs more smooth yacht inspired indie rock for when two hipsters are bumping horned rimmed glasses and trading hits off of hand rolled and obnoxious American Spirits. This is it. Dreamy and awash with distorted synth, Feel it All Around feels like the preface to what will be an awesomely innovative career.

45. Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah and Method Man – New Wu

“Tell a friend it’s that symbol again, that W, Coming through, bust a shot on your block” Welcome back guys. Thanks to Raekwon’s AWESOME Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. 2 we can all pretend like the uneven at best and awful at worst Wu-Tang comeback album last year never happened and that this track is the official welcome back moment for some of the greatest talents in all of hip hop.

44.The Crocodiles – I Wanna Kill

Just enough lo-fi fuzz to keep your interest but not so much that the irresistible pop melodies don’t sparkle through the distortion drenched haze. Like if The Strokes decided to make their comeback album as a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. That being said, the chorus does consist entirely of the lines, “I want to kill tonight” so you know that wherever it is these guys are coming from is well beyond left field.

43. Girls – Lust for Life

So how can a band still shock it’s listeners in modern in digitally desensitized modern America? Make three videos for your first single that progress from NSFW to “Holy shit that’s a dong isn’t it?” to Gay Porn. Add to that the fact that there is absolutely nothing about the song.; a spare, single guitar lick and hand claps combine with charmingly nasal vocals to create a classic (but not boring) indie rock experience.

42. Amadou and Miriam ft. K’Naan – Africa

It was really difficult to pick one song off of this great album to highlight. This wins it due to the fresh voice that by joining Mali’s favorite singing blind couple, Somalian rapper K’Naan brings to the table in what he calls, “the original east coast, west coast collaboration” a balance between world music and pop music that feels easier and truer than the other high points of the album

41. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Ships With Holes Will Sink

Like Franz Ferdinand if they stripped off their euro-trash pretense and just dropped a straightforward rock album. Clearly these guys borrow from a lot of other UK acts like the Frames but their rock edge separates them from their brethren to a certain extent and gives this track in particular some real emotional heft.

40. Patterson Hood – Screwtopia

This year, I get to complain about how criminally underrated Patterson Hood is INSTEAD of how criminally underrated his band the Drive-by Truckers are. When Hood does social commentary he doesn’t play the douchey liberal role, nor does he play the, “I’m just like all you normal folks except for my multimillion selling, Iraq War exploiting, country music album” role. He’s just a normal dude (truly a dude in every sense of the word… hell he even looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski) calling it as he sees it. It’s refreshing and fantastic and dammit more people should be paying attention.

39. Port O’Brien – Sour Milk/Saltwater

This Alaska/California folk rock act released the album from which Sour Milk/Saltwater comes into an extremely crowded and increasingly homogenous genre and managed to pull of a unique and personal sound that rollicks more than the status quo. You can almost feel the “I lived in fucking Alaska” coming through here.

38. The xx – Vcr

If I made a Best Albums of the year list, The xx’s xx would be damn near the top of the list. In their case though, the unified greatness of the full length is based more on the overall arc of the album rather than on a collection of singular standout tracks. This song comes the closest though as the guy/girl vocal trade off aesthetic functions like a droney Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton on “We’ve got Tonight.”

37. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Some Trees

I’ve maybe mentioned before how much I wish I had had a chance to experience the birth of indie rock first hand in its infancy rather than my current mode of going back and collecting the individual pieces like some sort of musical archaeologist. When I listen to Guided by Voices and Pavement I’m left to essentially say, “Fuck, I didn’t realize that all the bands I love were at least in part ripping these guys off.” Thankfully, I was informed enough that when I heard this fantastic 2 and ½ minute explosion from Cymbals Eat Guitars I knew exactly who they had ripped off and didn’t care in the slightest.

36. White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

Polished and fun, there is nothing at all cerebral about this song and that might be what makes it so good. Much has already been made about the connections to Britt Daniel and Spoon both in terms of their production relationship and in the fact that these guys sound A LOT like Spoon. No matter, there is enough room in that stripped down Austin sound for the both of ‘em.

35. Art Brut – Demons Out!

Speaking of not cerebral… is it possible that Art Brut are the most lovable act in music right now? You know all those insecurities you have? Art Brut’s Eddie Argos has those too and he’s going to sing about them… in detail. In this song though he chooses his OTHER favorite subject (and my favorite subject) and that is the fact that he knows that his pop cultural tastes are MUCH superior to everyone else’s. This might be the band that I would like to hang out with more than any other.

34. Japandroids – Rockers East Vancouver

Fuzzed out punk rock that that hangs on to its sense of melody just tenuously enough to keep you engaged. Similar to one of my favorite 2008 debut acts Titus Andronicus in their raw power only a little bit cleaner and a little less pretentious.

33. Wavves – No Hope Kids

This album takes WORK, like a lot. It was only upon maybe the 10th or 11th listen that I wasn’t driven bat shit crazy by the lo-fi production and reverb vocals that inform the entire album. It’s the harmony of this song though that unlocked the album and finally allowed it to make sense. Just pay attention and the complexity and poppiness shine through like a beacon rewarding your patience.

32. The Drive by Truckers – Uncle Frank

Originally released on their album Pizza Deliverance, this re-recorded and cleaner track made the B-Side (!) compilation The Fine Print. One of two great songs about dams (really) on the album, this one rises slightly ahead of Jason Isbell’s TVA on the strength of Mike Coley’s class warrior lyrics about doctors and lawyers teaching their kids to water-ski. And while we’re at it, let me just state AGAIN for the record that the amount of great output that these guys generate is absolutely unreal… they’re the best rock band in America.

31. Bowerbirds – Northern Lights

It’s so easy to write great songs about the south and how if you haven’t lived here it’s impossible to understand the subtle things that make it charming and great (note: not referring to racism and republican politics, really just referring to southern girls). This song approaches from the opposite angle as the vocals attest that, “I don’t expect a southern girl to know the northern lights.” This song sounds like a sober Ryan Adams before he became self- important.

30.Yonlu – I Know What it’s Like

For those of you who don’t know his story, it’s worth a read ( just look at the bio on the right side, bottom of the page)…. Okay so now that you’re weeping, listen to the song. I find that - similar to the music of Elliott Smith - Yonlu’s music is almost too heartbreaking and personal to enjoy sometimes. The one difference though is that while you really have to dig to find Smith’s silver lining, Yonlu’s is always evident and I’m not sure if that makes this light, samba inflected standout easier to handle or harder.

29. The Love Language – Manteo

Not gonna lie, I kind of geek out every time a song references a city that I’ve visited and feel some personal connection to. When Old Crow Medicine Show says Roanoke and Johnson City I forget that I’ve heard Wagon Wheel roughly 8 million times. In this song North Carolina’s, The Love Language provide a bit of a kiss off to the primary vacation spot of my youth with lyrics perfectly suited to their richly orchestrated freak-folk inspired pop.

28. Lucero – Goodbye Again

It’s not always good to give established indie rock acts a big major label budget. Often times this leads them to fuck up what works. Not the case for Lucero here as adding a horn section seems like it let them make the album that they were progressing to for years. No album sounded more like the home city of its band than this one. It is straight up Memphis and that’s great.

27. David Sitek – With a Girl Like You

One of the triumvirate of geniuses in TV on the Radio, David Sitek seems to have his hands all over universally great output. From the track “TV in the Radio” off of Wale’s newest (barely missed this list) to this Staxx R&B meets Joy Division love song, I am finding myself consistently falling for every single thing he does.

26. Metic – Gimme Sympathy

With a chorus that a music geek can easily fall in love with, vocalist Emily Haines asks, “Who’d you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” The synth driven, straight forward rock is a real marriage of standard music influences coming together in a modern and fresh way.

25. The Big Pink – Dominos

Of any song on the list this year, this one most deserves to be played the loudest. Totally stylistically innovative in a way that rejects hipster orthodoxy and focuses upon creating a sound that fills a void in the world of decent music. At times throughout the song (and album) you can hear Trent Reznor inspired industrial, 80s synthesizer, and most often soaring Brit Rock choruses that are evocative of Oasis or Blur.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 25 Greatest Moments in The Wire

Presented from the Best to the 25th Best... Your commentary is appreciated.

Warning: If you haven't seen this series in its entirety DO NOT READ THIS it contains nothing but spoilers. Seriously, even if you think you'll never watch it... don't read it because YOU NEED to watch it.

Best Scenes from The Wire

1) Avon and Stringer on the balcony
In a scene that is more powerful for what isn’t said than what is, the full dynamic of the relationship between Stringer and Avon comes to light. Stringer’s ambition collides with Avon’s loyalty to the game and it is clear to everyone, including the two friends, exactly how this is going to play out.

2) D’Angelo talks about the Great Gatsby + his initial decision to testify against Barksdale
These two scenes, despite stretching across two different episodes and two different seasons are essentially part of the same extended narrative. This is the redemption of D’Angelo, where he confirms for us what we’ve kind of known all along: the fact that he isn’t cut out for the family business and that the pressure to be something he’s not is killing him. If only he knew.

3) We used to have ourselves a community speech from Bunk to Omar.
Everyone’s favorite character meets his match in this scene. What throughout the series is seen as Omar’s perfectly consistent moral code is shown to be inherently flawed by an irate Bunk. Omar and his vigilante justice is as amoral as the corrosive violence of the series’ kingpins and the fumbling bureaucracy of the public institutions that enable them. This is a rare instance where Omar is rightfully humbled.

4) Bodie and McNulty’s conversation in the park, “I feel old”
In a series that is filled with tragically flawed villains and anti-heroes, no character aside from Bubbles attains the type of redemption that Bodie does. As he discusses his feelings toward the game with McNulty for the first time the viewer starts to see that the brash 16 year old from Season 1 is not a kid anymore… just as you realize it, so does Bodie and he utters what might be the most heartbreaking line of the whole series, “I feel old.”

5) The “Fuck” scene
Occurring early in Season 1, Bunk and McNulty dissect an entire murder scene using only derivations of the word Fuck. This doesn’t advance the plot much but it is the first point that the viewer realizes that the show’s creator David Simon has set the hook… from this point on you just get reeled further in.

6) Death of Stringer Bell
Is it okay to call this the most shocking death in television history? Of all the larger than life characters in this series none of them came close to the power of Stringer Bell. Perhaps what is most shocking is that the fierce Stringer doesn’t die the death of a soldier, he dies groveling… attempting to bribe his assassins before reluctantly accepting his fate.

7) Faculty meeting/Police meeting
Any public employee can watch this scene that cuts back and forth from a Teacher Work Week faculty meeting where an outside consultant inculcates the apathetic teachers with bullshit strategies that won’t work and a police department meeting where a Homeland Security specialist does the same can sympathize. The bureaucracy is made to protect the ass’ of superiors… to juke the stats… and we are left to deal with it.

8) D’Angelo talks chess
Would D’Angelo have been able to define the literary term allegory? Maybe not, but who cares. In a perfect preview of the basic theme of the series, D’Angelo gives it to his employees straight… in politics, drugs, unions, etc. the odds are and will always be stacked against the pawns.

9) Wallace gets his siblings ready for school
The care with which Wallace, already a drop out at 16, prepares his younger siblings for school is heart wrenching. Packing juice boxes, checking on homework… seeing this, a suburban white viewer gets new insight into the economic underpinnings of not only the American drug trade but poverty in general by seeing it in as real a depiction as TV can provide.

10) Snoop buying nail gun
Stephen King called Snoop the most terrifying character in the history of television. This is her big moment. The moment where you realize that she is a next level bad ass. What, after all, is she going to do with that nail gun? This scene also provides perhaps the best depiction in the series of the urban Baltimore world overlapping with isolated American suburbbery.

11) Dinner at Ruth’s Chris
Speaking of the urban world meeting isolated suburbbery dynamic… In this scene Bunny Colvin takes the winning group from a class project to a fancy steakhouse for dinner. Like Bigger Thomas’ character in Native Son it becomes clear very early in the scene that the children feel uncomfortable… cornered by the world into which they’ve been dropped. The formerly brash shittalkers suddenly become embarrassed and awkward teenagers when asked to dwell in a world with which they’re painfully unfamiliar.

12) Marlo murders Prop Joe
Who can’t Marlo get to? It is clear by this point in the series that the old guard gangsters from Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are being replaced by the indiscriminately brutal rule of Marlo Stanfield. But Prop Joe? Surely with his guile and elder statesmen status he will avoid a violent end. No dice. This scene is a stark reminder that truly, “the game done changed.”

13) Omar testifies against Bird and RAVAGES Maury Levy in the process
Is there anything as satisfying as seeing someone called to task for their hypocrisy? After watching this scene where Marlo humiliates super attorney Maury Levy, my answer would be no.

14) Bubbles’ AA speech
What does it say about this show that the only character for whom you root with no qualifications is a con man and heroin addict? In his final address to his AA group, Bubbles says everything that you’ve wanted him to say since the series began, and in a show that counts the possibility of redemption as a main theme, we are treated to what is perhaps the only fully redemptive moment from the character that we root for the most.

15) Bunk burning clothing
So oddly brilliant that it must be true. Bunk’s mumbling about the fibers on his clothes tipping off his wife to his numerous affairs is high comedy and McNulty’s “rescue” of him is classic buddy comedy material.

16) Bubbles is consoled by Waylon after overdose of friend.
After Bubbles suicide attempt in the police interrogation room, we see one of our favorite characters whose life has seemingly been comprised of one low point after another reach his nadir. Seeing Bubs silently break down into the arms of Steve Earle’s superbly acted Waylon through the glass of the mental hospital over the death of Sherod shakes you to your very core.

17) Policeman’s Wake for McNulty
I like to call this scene The Apotheosis of McNulty. As The Pogues’ “Body of an American” starts to play anyone familiar with the series starts to wonder just who died. You learn though that it’s more a matter of “what died” than “ who died” as McNulty’s career with the BPD is given a ceremonious farewell.

18) Chris and Snoop chasing Michael… with paintball guns.
By this point, it’s been well established that Chris and Snoop are this series’ angels of death. When you see them you best believe that someone is going to get got. That’s what makes this scene so disorienting and terrifying… you are left to think that Michael is ready to meet his doom. But… a paintball gun? really? Really.

19) 40 Degree Days
The man can construct a metaphor. The sarcasm and thinly concealed rage with which Stringer attacks his lieutenants for subpar performance is perfectly constructed. I find myself using the 40 Degree day analogy on a regular basis and it maintains its heft.

20) Omar buys Honey Nut Cheerios
One of the most fascinating and literary scenes of the entire series. As the episode opens, Omar, motivated by an almost childlike desire for his favorite cereal is forced to leave his apartment without his gun. At this point, the viewer has become quite attached to Omar and you are CERTAIN that he’s a goner as he enters the convenience store unarmed and unprepared. Ultimately, the whole ordeal ends unceremoniously with the only hiccup being the fact that Omar has to buy normal Cheerios this scene however takes on a new meaning in its eerie foreshadowing of Omar’s eventual demise.

21) Carver freaks out behind steering wheel
Really, any of dozens of scenes dealing with the school kids (8th graders which makes the whole story especially meaningful to me) could make the cut here. The scene however where Carver is forced to leave Randy at the group home is one of the few, but always powerful, moments where one of the main characters’ frustration with the dysfunctional system spills over. The silence of the scene created by the closed car door lends an otherworldly quality to the whole scene.

22) Bodie and friends see Carver and Herc at movies
Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the entire series and another one of those, “street world meets the world of the police and both worlds recognize how much they have in common” moments. Bodie’s line, “And you must be the lovely Mrs. Herc,” always slays me.

23) McNulty tears Breonna Barksdale a new one in the interrogation room
From the moment her son dies suspiciously in prison, you get the feeling that Breonna knows that there’s more to his death than meets the eye. Conveniently ignoring the circumstances and blindly trusting Stringer and Avon have allowed her to block this out… that is until McNulty shines the light of guilt directly on Breonna. McNulty’s obvious attachment and sympathy for D’Angelo makes this scene almost retributive in nature and seeing the consistently despicable Breonna realize the much of the blood in D’Angelo’s death is on her hands provides a strange sense of closure to the entire situation.

24) Khima Gregs’ Goodnight Moon
Simple, powerful, encapsulative of the entire series. Gregs’ own rendition of Goodnight Moon to the child that would have been her son is informed by the entire aesthetic of the show and serves as one of the most memorable final scenes of an episode in the series

25) Prezybylewski’s first day of school
This is informed more by personal experience than anything else but I think by in large, that’s what makes the Wire so appealing. No matter how bland and suburban you THINK your job is, The Wire explores that world as well, tackling the tedium of public bureaucracy better and more fiercely than any other artistic product… well… ever. As Prezbylewski struggles to reign in a room full of way-too-savy 8th graders, the teacher in me can’t help but cringe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Top 15 Albums of the 2000s

Welcome back to the blog ... anyone that we hadn't complete run off due to my absence since June 2nd, enjoy.

1) Outkast – Stankonia
Not sure if Andre 3000 and Big Boi knew that they had made the soundtrack for the decade when they finished this masterpiece but with a standout like Bombs over Baghdad (a full THREE YEARS before there were actual bombs… over Baghdad) this album continues to sound innovative and simply UNDENIABLE nearly a decade after its release

My personal connection: Driving to school senior year of high school, I switched back and forth between this album, Arman Van Helden’s Killing Puritans, and The Run Lola Run Soundtrack…. no I did not do ecstasty.

Where I Purchased this: Martinsville, VA Circuit City

2) Radiohead – Kid A
Chuck Klosterman’s write up of how this album predicted the September 11 attacks in his book Killing Yourself to Live is millions of times more brilliant than anything I could write… Just like Stankonia, this album could come out tomorrow and the world would be clamoring about the new musical ground that Thom Yorke and the Greenwood Brothers had broken. Idioteque and National Anthem make any mix CD sound edgy and cool.

My personal connection: On the walk back from an awkward William and Mary freshman mixer during orientation I ran into a guy who called himself DJ Project, walking back to the dorms in the rain, this douchebag talked about how much he loved this album and then sang Pyramid Song off of Amnesiac for the duration of the walk back. Go Tribe?

Where I Purchased this: Roanoke, VA Books, Strings, and Things

3) The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
Pithy Natalie Portman in Garden State commentary aside, the Shins do a really great job of being a really accessible band. 30 years ago they wouldn’t be in that douchy realm of indie rock, they’d simply be pop stars. Songs like Saint Simon and Kissing the Lipless should be loaded onto college freshmen computers in the factory.

My personal connection: My commute to Grafton Middle School for student teaching took exactly as long as this album, I would roll into the parking lot as Kissing the Lipless was restarting.

Where I Purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

4) Justin Timberlake – Justified
This album could have been 14 tracks worth of Rock Your Body and it would have made the top ten. Add one of pop music’s all time greatest Fuck You tracks in the form of Cry Me a River and it becomes increasingly clear as to why ‘N Sync was SO MUCH MORE AWESOME than the Backstreet Boys.

My personal connection: In my imminently important position as Delta Chi Formal playlist creator (read sarcasm), I don’t think I made a list that DIDN’T have Rock Your Body on it and every single time it played I recall some serious near baby making going down…. not with me of course, because I was there alone…. but with everyone else

Where I Purchased this: My final 10 CDs for Free order from BMG

5) Arcade Fire – Funeral
This was that album that spawned a million lame attempts by hipster guys to hit on hipster girls with the line, “Have you heard the new Arcade Fire?.” No? Just me? Whatever. This album is as epic as rock can get. Neighborhood’s 1-4 are the perfect indie arena rock suit and if you can listen to Wake Up and not pump your fist then you don’t have a soul. 10 years from now, these guys will be selling out stadiums.

My personal connection: There was no music listener in Williamsburg whose approbation I sought more fiercely than that of the guy with the beard at Plan 9… if you went there EVER, you know who I’m talking about… I bought this the day it came out and he gave me a strong shout out. Also, I’m a huge douche.

Where I Purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

6) The Strokes – Is This It
It sucks how much cooler the Strokes are than the rest of us. That was the aesthetic that these hip, children of privilege projected on their debut LP. As obnoxious as this is, it TOTALLY works simply because it’s impossible to call music as simple and catchy as this pretentious The opening chords of Last Nite (even though they BLATANTLY rip off Tom Petty’s American Girl) are ideal for that moment where it’s clear that you’re settling in for a long night of drinking, debauchery, and excess.

My personal connection: If you are drinking with me at Capital Ale House in Richmond and you DON’T hear this song, then it’s probably not me.

Where I Purchsed this: Charlotte, NC Borders

7) Kanye West – Late Registration
My heart says this spot belongs to the College Dropout in all of its sprawling, messy, and inconsistent glory but my head says to go with the much tighter Late Registration. I hope that Kanye’s current experimental phase hasn’t caused anyone to forget just how awesome it felt the first time you heard Gold Digger. I believe my precise reaction was OHHHH SHHHIIIIITTTT… not SHEEEEEEEEEEEET in the Senator Clay Davis tradition but SHHHHIIITTTTTTT in the way that people freak out when they see a colossal pancake block in a football game. And that isn’t even one of the three best songs on the album. For that you’ll have to listen to Drive Slow, Touch the Sky, or the Diamonds from Sierra Leone (remix) where Jay Z does in fact kill Kanye on his own song

My personal connection: Nothing beats driving an hour to buy this the day it came out (I was living in Hillsville, VA at the time and the closest record store was in the bustling metropolis of Wytheville), coming home with the giant Kanye Bear cardboard cutout in my car that I asked for at Sam Goody. And calling Goodwin, Jon, Grant, and Vida after listening to it to talk about how great it was

Where I Purchased this: Wytheville, VA Sam Goody

8) Drive by Truckers – Decoration Day
If this was a list of my favorite albums of this decade this album would be number 1…. no doubt. As it is, I’m able to put aside my personal tastes for the top 7. No matter who you are, Marry Me should be on your radar as one of the best songs of the decade but if you’re from the south.. like the real south… then Decoration Day is YOUR soundtrack

My personal connection: Listening to this for an entire weekend in the rural climes of Lee County, VA while visiting family who could have been the inspiration for any song on the album. Jon was there for this and will absolutely confirm how perfect this album was for this trip. Gives me chills just thinking about it

Where I purchased this: BMG Music Service

9) Spoon – Kill the Moonlight
The fact that top 40 music has become so homogenous and fallen so far that albums as poppy and accessible as this one are labeled “indie” rock is a true tragedy. “The Way We Get By” should have been a MASSIVE hit while “Jonathan Fisk” should be this generation’s anthem for disaffected and pissy youth.

Personal connection: My brother Reid introduced these guys to me and we listened to it in his/my (the jury is still out on this) Dodge Dynasty while Nick Farmer (one of his friends, a true man of genius) rocked out to Jonathon Fisk

Where I purchased this: Christiansburg, VA Target

10) N.E.R.D – In Search Of
This album might be the most forgotten of this list. Anything you need to know about Pharrell or the Neptunes is on his album. He saves all the best beats for himself, he loves soul, and he loves writing songs about sex. If Lapdance ISN’T the hottest song of the decade I’d LOVE to hear what is.

Personal connection: Anyone remember Streetwise? It was this street team agency that used to send out sampler CDs to anyone that signed up online so that they could distribute promo materials. The CD sampler for Lapdance hit Pulaski County High School early senior year and BLEW UP, everyone had it and everyone had the brain sticker that came with it…. it’s possible that 5414 Cougar Trail Rd. was the epicenter of the NERD fanbase.

Where I purchased this: FYE, Christiansburg, VA

11) Queens of the Stoneage – Songs for the Deaf
Josh Homme is THE underrated musical genius of this decade. Combining the Johnny Cashness of his deep snarl with thundering power chords created a great album in the form of Rated R but putting Dave Grohl behind the drum kit for the whole thing makes for a timeless album

Personal Connection: Of the many concerts I attended at the Norva while at W&M, this was the best. Hurtling down I-64E at the speed of comfort in Movie Dan’s Cougar and having my face absolutely melted off by Homme and the underrated Nick Oliveri was fantastic

Where I purchased this: Williamsburg, VA Plan 9 Records

12) Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
These guys put the criminal in criminally underrated. Unlike Jay Z, when these guys rap about pushing weight, you actually BUY it. This album achieves where other rap albums of this decade fail… it keeps the guest appearances to a minimum and it has ONE producer giving it a unified sound that is strong without exception. And those steel drums in “Wamp Wamp”…. hot fire.

Personal connection: I think I sent the link to the pre-release mp3 “Wamp Wamp” to everyone I knew. I listened to it so loud once that the old ladies living next door to me asked me to turn it down.

Where I purchased this: iTunes

13) Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
If you listen to Wilco or are even aware of them, then you are aware of the mythology surrounding this album, Tweedy’s prescription drug addiction, getting dropped from their label, the near disintegration of the band. One thing I can’t figure out though is why people think the songs here are so strange. Tweedy maintains that familiar tremor and the songs feel like logical and brilliant extensions of those on Summerteeth. Jesus, etc. in particular never ceases to blow my mind in its beautiful simplicity.

Personal connection: I have never, ever liked Norah Jones except for one single 5 minute period. At the Get out the Vote Tour 2008 concert she closed her set by covering Jesus, etc. and earning the tiniest bit of my respect

Where I purchased this: Charlotte, NC Borders

14) Animal Collective – Merriwether Post Pavilion
2008 was such a fantastic year for music with releases from bands like Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, and Bon Iver that I was ready to be disappointed by 2009. Animal Collective made a very early retort to that. On January 8, this album was released to much fanfare, all of which was well deserved. Every track on the album sounds like a revelation and I’m pretty certain that 10 years from now I’ll be talking about how much I love “My Girls”

Personal connection: Several way too close possibly alcohol influenced sing-a-longs with Grant on an unsuccessful walk home from Avalon

Where I purchased this: eMusic

15) Jay Z – The Black Album
The Blueprint gets way more critical love but for the life of me, I don’t understand why. On this album, Jigga finally seems totally focused on the task at hand. The idea was that it was a retirement, the summation of his career all on wax. He carried this through beyond anyone’s expectations… When he says in Public Service Announcement “Please allow me to reintroduce myself” he absolutely follows through on this lofty promise. If for no other reason this album is deserving of Hall of Fame status because it reunited Rick Rubin with hip hop on album standout 99 Problems, proving to the music world what anyone with ears already knew, no matter how many Neil Diamond and System of a Down albums Rubin helms, his bread and butter is hip hop.

Personal connection: I bought this album and College Dropout on the exact same day during my senior year of college and oh what a fine day. Here is the sequence of events as I remember it…. Get home from student teaching, drive back to Newport News in a minivan to Best Buy, purchase two of the best albums of the decade, burn a party CD for a Mansion party WITH School Spirit and Change Clothes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let it Be vs. Pet Sounds

In the lead up to this hotly contested match up I found myself listening over and over to two slightly less than completely relevant songs. The first is the Justin Townes Earle's (Steve Earle's son) rendition of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait"*; a song that doesn't even appear on Let it Be. The second is a radically rearranged Oldham Brothers version of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't it Be Nice" that replaces the perfect harmonies of the original with the Oldham's distinctly imperfect rasp.

As I was listening, I found myself pondering the art of the cover song**. Now, I must admit that I REALLY love covers and at times have been guilty of enjoying even the most atrocious of their ilk. This list includes but is by no means limited to most New Found Glory covers***, Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities which is composed entirely of Modest Mouse covers.

At their best, cover songs give you a glimpse into the true inner workings of the ORIGINAL version of a song by allowing you to gaze upon it from a different angle. A good cover is sort of like Monet's series of sunrise impressions in that they give you a completely different and enlightening snapshot of the way in which someone else hears a song in the moment. The Hold Steady's "Atlantic City" which has become as close to a staple on my iPod recently as anything else is a classic example of this. Craig Finn and the rest of the band reimagine Springsteen's bleak Nebraska masterpiece in a way that allows the listener to experience elements of the original that they would never have experienced otherwise. This not only makes the cover great but it injects the original with new life.

In listening to the two covers that I mentioned to kick off this lengthy digression from the original topic of this post, I feel like I learned more about the original artists. I learned that the reach of the Replacements is perhaps the most underratedly tremendous of any seminal American rock band. You can hear those guys in everything from Soundgarden to the Gin Blossoms and they are worthy of mad respect for that because they continue to influence bands that aren't even aware they're being influenced by Westerberg, Stinson, and Co. I also learned that at his best, Brian Wilson wrote songs that were just better than everything else and for all his insanity and multi-tracked orchestration, he also appreciated the beauty of simplicity... his pen brought a newfound sweetness and originality to topics as banal as teen romance and the beach. Having said that, the nod in this matchup goes to Pet Sounds... it might not have influenced rock music in the way that the Replacements did on Let it Be but everything it DOES do is just too powerful to ignore.

*I found this and TONS others at the Live Music Archive which has literally thousands of free and legal sets from acts ranging from Animal Collective to Yonder Mt. String Band... obviously it's a bit jam bandy but there's still a lot to like here
**This entire post will be a digression... be warned.
*** Particularly their admittedly terrible version of Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" from the Goonies Soundtrack

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea vs. Daydream Nation

Seeing as how I've already described what it is I love about the albums that have made it into round 2, the posts here are going to generally be a bit shorter and are going to have as their focus the relative merits of each album. It's of course very difficult to criticize any of the contenders here because they not only made my first list but have already been deemed BETTER than other really amazing pieces of musical art so there won't be much of that going on either. All that having been said (typed?) the victor in this particular contest is actually quite clear. Regardless, I'm going to try to riff for awhile so bear with me.

For those of you that read this and don't know me well, let me go ahead and put this out there... I'm a man of inaction. Crippling inaction. I'm a wuss, a woman, a fuck up. All of the above. These things have either made me the neurotic, hand wringing, wallflower that those who know me can count on to do nothing OR are because of the fact that I'm a neurotic, hand wringing, wallflower. However you want to look at it, that's , in the immortal words of DMX, "Who I be."

Now for just a moment, allow me to defend this reprehensible and foolish behavior. Sure you're costing yourself big time in the whole "potential for future happiness" department BUT you're also preserving some pretty great moments in time. By NOT acting, the person or goal that is the object of your affection essentially firms up its status as the perfect dream. Forevermore that person upon which you did not hit* will be that perfect specimen that you drunkenly spotted while perched on a bar stool or that awesome girl that you talked to at that one party who really liked the new TV on the Radio album... she won't become that person who rejected you, or that girl who actually turned away from you and stopped listening to your game midsentence. That crazy dream job STAYS a dream job because you never get a chance to realize that it's a bigger pain in the ass than you ever knew. The dream STAYS, in essence, pure and perfect because it is so fleeting that you don't have time to fuck it up. Keep in mind of course that in practice this stuff is OBVIOUSLY ridiculous and I wouldn't actually suggest this type of behavior to anyone... ever.

Now here's the connection...

Conceptually, this is WHY In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is better than Daydream Nation. Sonic Youth have been so prolific compared with the hermit-like Jeff Mangum and his two album tenured vehicle Neutral Milk Hotel. When I listen to Daydream Nation, as amazing as it is, I still hear the missteps of their later efforts. I hear the fact that a lot of the things they do sound the same. Standing on its own, in a vacuum, Daydream Nation might feel even more brilliant than it already does but the fact of the matter is it doesn't stand on its own. Aside from the slightly uneven debut Avery Island, all we have from Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea so in essence it DOES stand on its own... we can assume that the progression from debut to sophomore effort is such that it would continue in perpetuity. This is a virtue that only those that go out on top possess and it's one that's hard to deny. The only thing that mitigates the greatness is that it is so fleeting and who knows? Maybe the world REALLY IS missing out on some life altering music because of Mangum's self imposed hiatus? But can't it be enough as it is? Isn't that brief perfection better than even long term greatness? I think so.

Neutral Milk Hotel will face off against the winner of Let it Be and Pet Sounds in the Final Four

*My 11th grade English teacher would be so proud of my refusal to bend the rules of grammar.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Second Round Hype

In the spirit of overhyped contests like the Kentucky Derby* and the Superbowl** I'm going to make my adoring readers wait a little while for Round 2 of the Greatest Bracket the World has Ever Known or The Top 30 or So Favorite Album Bracket whatever you're calling it these days by giving you a preliminary, "Albums I've Really Enjoyed in 2009 so Far" List (in no particular order).

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
an eminently enjoyable example of how you can make fuzzed out, shoegazey guitars poppy. They sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain on Prozac.

Middle Cyclone by Neko Case
You hear that pinging sound? It's this album chipping away at my musical misogyny. Also I would marry Neko Case... seriously, like right now. The snarky and at times bleak lyrics contrast wonderfully with the radio friendly instrumentation and harmonies generated by Case and her helpers.

Dark Was the Knight by Various Artists
I need more compilations like this in my life. This collection is absolutely littered with awesome B Sides and some never before released material from some of the best acts in music. Not even one weak link on a massive collection. Standouts include the Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio) dirge With a Girl Like You that melds Motown horns with the drone of Joy Division and wait is that the melody to Up on the Roof by the Drifters that I'm hearing?

The Foundation by Zac Brown Band
Country as it was intended. While I don't listen to a lot of new country because I don't really like much of it, it's not all that tough to make a country album that I'm willing to listen to. Write accessible songs about normal stuff like drinking, smoking weed, and girls and lay off the OTHER stale country platitudes like bull roping and suppressing your deep seated homosexuality*** And for real, if you don't like "Chicken Fried," someone should check you for a pulse

Hazards of Love by the Decemberists
By no means perfect, but it's hard to not to respect how Colin Melloy and the nerdiest band in music go for prog-rock glory in their 17 track rock opera. At best, ("The Rake's Song," "A Bower Scene") it stacks up well with anything off of their previous efforts. At worst, the tracks are endearing in their presentation of the completely over the top narrative.

Why There are Mountains by Cymbals Eat Guitars
Remember when all the Power Rangers would come together and form the one big robot? That's kind of what happens hear, only imagine if every Saddle Creek band formed one big robot torso on top of Pavement and Spoon. Derivative? Yes. Do I care? No.

Grand by Matt and Kim
Just so good. I'm still at a level where I can't talk about how much I enjoy this duo rationally. Imagine the White Stripes if they didn't take themselves seriously and traded Jack White's guitar shredding for A-Ha's synthesizer. Props to GMart for introducing me to them

Welcome to Mali by Amadou and Mariam
Blind couple from Mali make the only world music I've cared about since the Buena Vista Social Club. They're not just playing old school tribal shit though. They're crossing genres with producers like Damon Albarn to make something totally new and incredible. Check out the track "Sabali" then sample it on your DJ Green Lantern mixtape because it's absolutely begging for it.

* 1 minute of pseudo-excitement preceded by 5 hours of stories that basically amount to, "Aren't horsies cute?" and "Horsies cure cancer."

**to the point where I saw a lot of Superbowl coverage this season that was based around the the theme of, "There's too much Superbowl coverage"

*** oh wait, that's just Kenny Chesney

Monday, May 4, 2009

Game 8 - Let it Be (The Replacements) vs. In Utero

In his book Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman writes about the fact that all males at some point or another in their adolescence will go through a Led Zeppelin phase where no matter what they were into before or what they will be into later in life for a few months or so, NOTHING will be cooler to them than Zeppelin. I think it's safe to say that almost all of the male readers of this blog had a Zeppelin phase. For me, it centered around the aforementioned uncle from the Blonde on Blonde vs. Pet Sounds post loaning me a cassette copy of II at around the same time that I included Zoso in a Columbia House 8 CDs for a penny order. After listening to the guitar solo of "Whole Lotta Love" approximately 490098097 times, wearing out the bass line for Misty Mountain Hop, and renting a beat up copy of The Song Remains the Same from Franks' Video,* I dove HEADFIRST into my phase. Why all this Zeppelin talk in a post that is not actually supposed to be about Zeppelin? Because the era of all teenage males going through a Zeppelin phase is over. What's replaced it? Be prepared to feel old... wait for it... The Nirvana phase.

As someone who spends a good portion of the work week attempting to convince 8th graders that they need to give a damn about history, I think I have a unique perspective on the modern adolescent. Currently, I get WAY more kids rocking out to Nirvana in a lame attempt to get girls by forming an equally lame band than those channeling Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham. Over time, I've looked back and found that my Zeppelin phase probably gave them much more credit than they actually deserved. Not that they weren't great, but lyrically, most of their work was on the border between barely tolerable and terrible and for all their musical power and talent, most** of their work was basically an exercise in "how loud can we play these recycled blues riffs?" So if Nirvana has become this band 15 years after the death of Cobain, what if anything, does this say about what Nirvana meant to us? I certainly remember a time in my life where I just wasn't interested in hanging out with ANYONE that found Cobain to be anything less than a genius. But does their status as the NEW adolescent dude band suggest, much as it does with Zeppelin, that they're not quite as perfect as we originally thought? I've got bad news for ya... I think so.

In preparation for this post, I found myself having to listen to In Utero a couple times through just to remind myself of the tracklist. This was red flag number one. It's not that the album is bad or that Nirvana wasn't great. On In Utero particularly, you can really hear a more mature band than on Nevermind that was obviously headed in a pretty interesting direction. There's a lot more there than the loud, quiet, loud formula that came to embody the "grunge" sound. This is particularly noticeable on tracks like "Dumb," "All Apologies," and "Pennyroyal Tea" that are strong departures from the formula that worked on Nevermind. Perhaps best of all, the influence of Steve Albini's production gives a raw, garage quality*** to the whole enterprise that is drowned out in the Butch Vig multi-tracking of Nevermind. The only problem though is that for the most part, the songs just don't have that sense of pop timelessness that other albums I've discussed here do. It's almost like Nirvana has become the equivalent of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You can drink from it while you're there and bask in its glory but you just can't take it beyond the seal which in this case is high school. But even though they might not be all that useful to more mature music listeners anymore, it doesn't mean that they'll stop being fun and you can certainly take solace in the fact that they will help guide a whole new generation of pimply, girl-less, losers through some fairly difficult years of development.

Needless to say, The Replacements' Let it Be does not fall victim to the same fate. Whether they realize it or not, every rock band since The Replacements that doesn't suck**** owes these guys big time. Throughout the extent of their work, they bridge the gap between punk's raw aggression, pop's polish, and indie rock's willingness to stray from the conventional. Just going from the jangle pop of "I Will Dare" to "Favorite Thing" and its hints of Joy Division style post-punk to the weirdly sweet piano ballad "Androgynous" in Let it Be is far more impressive in terms of depth and profundity than the entire discography of Nirvana, much less one album. Add to this additional standout tracks like "Unsatisfied" and you get what basically amounts to a tour of the direction in which rock music was headed for the foreseeable future.

Let it Be will face off against Pet Sounds in the second round. Our next matchup will see In the Aeroplane over the Sea take on Daydream Nation in the first action of round two.

* If any P-Town Concrete people are reading this, PLEASE give it up for Franks'
** Everything except III and Physical Graffiti
Something that Cobain wanted for his band all along. Seriously, just listen to Grohl's drums in "Frances Farmer Will Have her Revenge on Seattle"
**** and some that do

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Game 7 - Blonde on Blonde vs. Pet Sounds

Ed Note:
It's truly a shame that one of these colossally great albums has to knock the other one out here in the first round as I think holding one of them up against something more modern like Pavement would be a truly fun exercise in musical analysis. But alas, the bracketologists* supervising this process chose not to fulfill the promise of these potential cross-genre dream matchups. At the same time however, my strong sentimental connections to both of these albums means that it's probably a very good thing to get at least one of them out early so as to avoid any more obnoxious waxing of pseudo-philosophical "what this album means to me" bullshit. That having been said, I DO have very strong sentimental connections to these albums that you'll have to read about now so how bout everyone just deal with it for a moment!? OKAY? OKAY? okay.

I remember specifically the moment that I first began to appreciate the unconventional indie-pop sound that currently dominates my musical listening preferences. Sitting at my grandma's in Martinsville, VA on a Sunday afternoon**, my uncle started to sing what was clearly the most ridiculous set of lyrics I had heard in my entire life: "Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit, he spoke to me, I took his flute, no I wasn't very cute to him, was I?" Despite or maybe because of the bizarre sense of humor the 7th grade version of me*** found in such a ridiculous set of lyrics, I instantly fell in love with this song in a pop context before I'd even heard Dylan's even funnier and more ironic take. My ability to appreciate this is even more remarkable when you consider that Marilyn Manson's cover of Sweet Dreams and Silverchair's Frogstomp were in HEAVY rotation in my sweet Sanyo boom box with a Nine Inch Nails and Perot 1992 sticker on it.**** When I finally DID get a chance to listen to Dylan's version, I was even more hooked on not only the song but on everything the album brought to the table. From the rollicking fare-thee-well country stomp of "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" to the mournful "ohhhh mamas" of "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" Blonde on Blonde takes its listeners on a Willy Wonka-esque boat ride through the canal of Dylan's warped sense of humor, insecurities, and past slights (either real or perceived). I've heard suggestions that Highway 61 or Blood on the Tracks represent the truly definitive Dylan album but for shear variety and power, Blonde on Blonde DEFINES Dylan as an artist.

While Blonde on Blonde came to signify this musical turning point for me, Pet Sounds was much less life altering as a whole. Instead its personal significance for me lies simply in its shear auditory beauty. To compare it lyrically to Dylan is to compare Mercer Mayer to Dickens. For poetic significance, just about the best Pet Sounds can muster are the acid fueled musings of an increasingly insane Brian Wilson. So clearly Dylan wins right? Not so fast. Pet Sounds unequivocally contains the BEST vocal harmonies ever captured in studio. To hear the Wilson, Jardin, Love harmonies in "Sloop John B" as the guys riff on the simple words, "home, let me go home" is to hear the pinnacle of pop vocals. "God Only Knows" is so simple and sweet and perfect a love song that to NOT have it prominently played at a wedding is simply tragic. "Wouldn't it Be Nice" is among that very rare breed of teen love songs that actually gets it right... and by it I mean everything.

To be honest, at the beginning of this (as is evidenced by the seeding) I assumed that Blonde on Blonde simply meant too much to me to lose this one. But after dedicating hours to each album over the past couple days I found myself moved all over again by just how great Pet Sounds sounds. The simple beauty of Pet Sounds is just barely more evocative than the lyrical significance of Blonde on Blonde. Discovering this was quite refreshing to me in that it was a pure reminder of the power of simple beauty.

The final match up of round one will pit The Replacements' Let it Be vs. Nirvana's In Utero.

**face packed to the gills with chicken tenders no doubt
*** just a HORRIBLE human being this 7th grade me.
**** like I said... a HORRIBLE human being.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Game 6 - Exile on Main St. vs. Revolver

I really really hate having the Beatles vs. Stones argument. First of all, as a whole there really is no argument to be had. In terms of aggregate greatness, one need only point to Voodoo Lounge and its putridly bizarre single "Love is Strong" to end the discussion.* The Beatles win simply because they never whiffed... even at their worst (Yellow Submarine) they were better than everyone else.

The argument gets a little more complicated however when you look at specific individual efforts from the Stones. Exile on Main Street is one of those efforts. Eighteen tracks of pure unadulterated killer with absolutely no filler. While hanging out in the French Riviera, snorting Tony Montana-esque piles of coke and banging European supermodels the Stones essentially invented alt-country while simultaneously setting the bar for rock music so high that no one even sniffed it** until the Ramones came around years later. The Keith Richards riffs on tracks like "Tumbling Dice" and "All Down the Line"*** exceed all but George Harrison's absolute best work with the Beatles (see below description of Harrison's best riffs), not to mention the fact that Richards plays with much larger cajones than Harrison. You can hear rock's future in his work... in each Richards lick you hear from artists running the gamut from Slash to Jack White.

The only problem with crowning the Stones' asses here is that Revolver is SUCH a monolithic force in the pop music canon. Ignoring the music entirely, the album is an incredible TECHNOLOGICAL achievement due to the production work alone. I think the music can best be explained by the fact that I had considered writing the following sentence but quickly thought better of it: "People just didn't do songs like Eleanor Rigby in 1966." I decided against this however when I realized that I could put literally any of the album's 14 songs into that sentence and it would still be unassailable. Revolver is just so much MORE than anything else of its time. You could argue that between Taxman, Tomorrow Never Knows, and And Your Bird Can Sing the boys from Liverpool invent punk, indie rock****, and power pop.

So how does one decide? Conveniently enough, I'm teaching the Renaissance right now in my history classes and as I plotted out this post I was reminded of a particular chunk of the curriculum. One thing that they learn is the idea of a "Renaissance Man" as someone who has talents in many areas. This image of course comes to embody the Renaissance spirit and sets the stage for centuries of creative genius. That having been said, Exile on Main Street is perhaps the best album ever at the one thing that the Stones were trying to do but Revolver is everything all the time. The sound and lyrics are profound in a way that no matter who your favorite band is you can hear them somewhere on this album... the sound is almost democratic. Not being one to buck democratic principles, I'll give the nod in this contest to Revolver by the thinnest of margins.

Revolver will take on Rubber Soul in Round 2. Next up, Blonde on Blonde vs. Pet Sounds

*Oddly, I remember MTV having a MASSIVE, overhyped rollout for the equally strange video for this song which, for those of you who have blocked it from your memory, constituted the band as giants walking around New York performing the song^.
^Strange 90s phenomenon: The absurdly expensive music video featuring outlandish special effects that cost millions of dollars back in the day but now would only cost like 8 bucks and a four pack of Red Bull in the hands of an adolescent computer geek. Other videos of this nature: 1. Black or White, Michael Jackson 2. Notorious B.I.G - Hypnotize 3. Hammer - 2 Legit 2 Quit 4. Missy Eliot - The Rain. Really anything with either Sean Combs or Hype Williams name attached to it works here.

** Not a reference to the aforementioned piles of Coke

*** My personal favorite... somehow he makes his guitar sound like a purring lioness.... this just blows off the top of my head

**** Tomorrow Never Knows sounds more like an Animal Collective songs than lots of Animal Collective songs

Friday, April 10, 2009

Game 5 - Rubber Soul vs. Part One Lola v. Powerman and the Moneyground

Despite the fact that I am far from a "critic" of music I'm going to throw out a quick opinion on music criticism... it is incredibly difficult to assail the Beatles for anything. They're so adored by so many people* that the only critical debates that really work with the boys from Liverpool are those covering intraband questions. What's their greatest album**? What's their greatest song***? Who was the superior talent John or Paul****? All of these have been debated ad nauseum and anyone that's any kind of music fan has some kind of opinion. Debates you don't hear very often though are those comparing the work of the Beatles to other bands... be they contemporaries or current acts. Sure every once in awhile you get the random skinny jean wearing hipster who'll pull that, "The Stones were so much better" bullshit ( or even better the skinny jean wearing hipster who'll argue for the Beach Boys) but aside from these brief flare ups of dissent it seems as though the Beatles status as THE band is as safe as Jordan's status as THE greatest basketball player of all time or Gretzky's status as THE greatest hockey player of all time. So at least for me, looking at them in a critical light is very difficult. Is my regard for the Beatles such that to scour the nooks and crannies of Rubber Soul in a truly impartial light impossible? Has the nearly universal acceptance of the Beatles colored my impressions of them to the point that I'm blind to any possible imperfection that they might demonstrate? Well, maybe; but that doesn't mean that Rubber Soul isn't a perfect album.

One thing that is reassuring about by abilities to access the Beatles is that no matter how many other bands I devour I have never encountered a band that brought together all the pieces that one needs to make great music in the way that the Beatles did. At their best^ the properly canonized lyrical work of Lennon/McCartney and the underrated lyrical work of Harrison morphed into an entirely different state of music being under the production of George Martin. I think sometimes it's easy for modern Beatles listeners to forget that they were doing these incredible SOUNDING tracks on equipment that we would probably laugh at today. To get "Norwegian Wood" to sound as amazing as it does nowadays would be worthy of praise but to have done so on a 4 track analog recorder is mind boggling. So in this British invasion contest they are the clear winners and it really isn't that close.

That is not to say however that the Kinks are in any way not deserving of plaudits. Part One Lola v. Powerman and the Moneyground created an entirely different musical aesthetic for its time and still sounds fresh today. In fact, even including them as a "British Invasion" band is quite unfair because they did not have that canned, "let's sound as cockney as is humanly possible" vibe about them. On this 1970 classic, their mix of rootsy Byrds-esque rock (Check out "Got to Be Free") with the rock the back of the arena stylings of The Who (with drummer Mick Avory channeling Keith Moon on "Rats") comes across more like Dylan on meth than more stock British Invasion fare like the Zombies. Even the ballads like "Strangers" have an underlying aggression that is unmistakable and really cool. The only beef I have with the album is with its biggest hit "Lola," which while great has a tempering effect on the power that the rest of the album packs with its humor. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a song about an encounter with a transvestite, but maybe put it out as a 7" and let the cohesion that exists between the 12 other tracks speak for itself.

So as I mentioned already this match up isn't that close. Rubber Soul is simply too important in the history of music and just TOO perfect to have any real trouble dispatching what is STILL without a doubt a groundbreaking and significant effort by The Kinks.

Rubber Soul will face the winner of Exile on Main Street and Revolver in Round 2

* I'm not taking issue with this at all
** Rubber Soul
*** In My Life or maybe A Day in the Life
**** John
^ Which was ALMOST always#
# Let it Be and Yellow Submarine, I'm looking at you

Friday, April 3, 2009

Game 4 - The Clash vs. New Day Rising

So clearly I'm an unabashed Clash homer but I really couldn't help it. This was the album that introduced me to the slightly more than meets the eye punk sound of the Clash and without my love for it I would never have made the leap to the mind altering greatness that is London Calling. Much like Nirvana's Nevermind I will always hold a special place in my musical heart for the self-titled debut from England's second greatest rock band because it was my introduction to an entire world of possibility... sort of like getting that first glimpse of the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition before your parents magically make it disappear. Even though you aren't sure exactly what's behind it, you've seen enough to know that you are definitely going to like whatever's there. Here's the thing about that though... eventually the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition loses its luster. Sure you flip through it when it comes in the mail but the only strong feelings it provokes are those of nostalgia for the days when it WAS a big deal. Essentially, it's a throwback... a relic... like seeing a really great cover band that is fun because hey, they're playing Hey Jealousy but it's still far from life altering. That's the feeling I get now when listening to albums like Nevermind. They've become more about what they WERE than what they ARE and while The Clash isn't quite in that place for me, this exercise in bracketology has made me at least wonder if it's closer than I had originally thought.

Husker Du's New Day Rising completely defies explanation. I will readily admit that upon first listen, I was bothered by the lo-fi fuzz of the guitar and Bob Mould's oddly grating voice. Over time though, I began to notice the nuance of the way the lo-fi fuzziness of the guitars allowed the melody to come through in a way that punk/hardcore/whatever you want to call it hadn't quite achieved before. Mould's voice began to sound less grating and more an upgrade on Minor Threat/Fugazi singer Ian McKaye's tortured howl. The choruses of songs like, "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill" became more anthemic and before I knew it, I couldn't stop listening. Husker Du was combining everything that I secretly enjoyed about pop punk with all the things I openly enjoyed about hardcore. The music here isn't static though. Like a punk rock singularity, within a track like, "I Apologize" you can hear punk past, present, and future. You can hear the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, Green Day, and some 14 year old kids fucking around with a Squire Stratocaster in a basement.

So while it feels like I'm turning my back on something that was KEY to my development as a music fan* I have to give the nod in this matchup to Husker Du. The Clash is a snapshot of where I was as an impressionable music listener and was the doorway to something much bigger. But New Day Rising is amorphous... each time I hear is like the first time I'm hearing it and it's tough to improve on that.

New Day Rising will face London Calling in Round 2.

*I even remember buying this album in the $9.99 bin at Plan 9 in Carytown on one of Movie's "I knoooooow Cary St." road trips, while Goodwin sniped something to the effect of, "Oh you're buying another CD...okay"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Game 3 - London Calling vs. The Chronic

Those of you who have heard me talk about London Calling in the past know that the odds are stacked against The Chronic here as giving Dr. Dre this matchup in Round 1 is like Radford pulling the Tarheels in Greensboro in this year's tournament. Joe, Mick and Co. really trot out a murderer's row of standouts on London Calling... all of which would make brilliant BEST songs on any decent album. So let's go ahead and give love to the the favorites in both the Mens' NCAA Tourney by comparing them to the favorite in America's second favorite tournament*, the Top 30 or So bracket

"London Calling" --> Tyler Hansbrough - The gritty, gutty, face of the team here. Because it seems like he has been at UNC for a Ron Pawlus-esque 15 years or so it's recently become easy for me to forget about what this guy does for his team just like I find myself oddly forgetting how much I love this song in spite of its title track status.

"Rudie Can't Fail" --> Ty Lawson - Just as Lawson is incredibly fun to watch and the cog in the machine that seems to make everything work at its best for the Heels, Rudie Can't Fail is the song you would tell someone who hasn't heard this album to listen to first. It's fun, relentlessly catchy, and brings together the punk energy of their earlier efforts with the ska and reggae influences that are all over London Calling

"Spanish Bombs" --> Ed Davis - Every time I see this guy in the game, I'm blown away at just how different he is than other college basketball players I've seen. The Richmond product might already be the best inside defender in the ACC after only one year and while the Heels aren't necessarily going to ride this guy to a title, when he's in the game you can count on him doing something that no one else on the court can do. Spanish Bombs pulls off this trick with great aplomb by being that one track on the album that fits into the arc of the album only in the fact that it doesn't fit at all and with its bilingual vocals and its pummeling staccato arrangement it is a truly unique bit of musicianship.

"Train in Vain" --> Tyler Zeller - This song is perhaps the single most recognizable by the masses on the album but I don't know that anyone instantly thinks of this song when they think of London Calling which always leads to a "wait a second... THAT song is on the album too? SWEET!" This is exactly the feeling I get when I realize that as good as Carolina has been this year they've done it all without a great deal of contribution from Zeller, one of the top recruits in the nation.

"Hateful" --> Bobby Frasor - Being lined up near Rudie Can't Fail on the track list of the 17 song epic is almost unfair; add to this the fact that the two are similar stylistically and it's easy to hate on Hateful. Just as comparing all-world athlete and playmaker Ty Lawson to second unit floor general Frasor really diminishes the fact that Frasor (as was evidenced in the first two rounds of the tourney) is more than capable of doing some fine work on the court.

So how is The Chronic supposed to step to this? Simply put... it's not. The Chronic has its own murderer's row** of tracks including perhaps three of the 10 greatest raps of the 90s in the form of Nuthin but a G Thang, Let Me Ride, and Fuck Wit Dre Day but that line up as well as spotty depth (seriously there are a few tracks that are completely skippable) and too many skits*** make this contest a rout... Just as Radford put together a great season in the Big South, Dre put together a great gangsta rap album and that's certainly achievement but gangsta rap doesn't even touch the pinnacle of 70s punk success just like the Big South ain't the ACC.

*NOT the All Valley Karate Tournament

** seriously I think they actually ARE murderers

***is there ANYTHING more repugnant than the rap album skit?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Game 2: Day Dream Nation vs. Chutes Too Narrow

Our next match-up in the indie rock region I see as being quite similar to one of those #8 vs. #9 games on which it is impossible to make an even remotely educated guess as to the possible winner because the two make for such an odd pairing. I had a very difficult time comparing these two albums because they are such polar opposites. The Shins are one of those dribble drive motion teams a la Memphis who just slash and kick in perpetual movement and can be a hell of a good time to watch. Sonic Youth however are one of those grind it out Bo Ryan Wisconsin Badger teams that you do all those little, subtle, things that aren't so readily apparent on TV.

For starters, despite being their fifth studio album, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation established the fuzzy, part grunge, part punk, part stoner rock aesthetic that persists on even their most experimental material to this very day. Daydream Nation definitely takes more effort than Chutes Too Narrow. The bits of straight forward neo-punk snarl always seem to devolve quickly into the beautiful muck and mire of guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo's noisescapes. This album is like running a tough technical trail... occasionally you'll burst into a clearing and you feel that sense of ease and calm that always lures you into a false sense of ease right before the trail devolves into a crush of woods, rocks, and vines. The key to enjoying this album, and the point where it really shines, is being able to appreciate the complexity and order of those tangled masses of guitar sludge and noise. Once you do this, then those moments of pop bliss driven by Moore's sarcastic, fuck-if-i-care vocals and wife Kim Gordon's sultry yet slightly uncertain voice work are all the more beautiful and welcome.

Chutes Too Narrow on the other hand benefits from the fact that it takes almost no effort, particularly for those mopey masses of nerdy, hipster wannabes, who are desperately searching for a manic pixie dream girl* of their own. Due in part to their prominent placement on the Garden State soundtrack, this album was one of the most successful indie rock albums since another timeless Sub Pop Records release, Nirvana's Bleach. Listening to it, it's hard to argue with the relatively widespread embrace of this album. The melodies are evocative of Rubber Soul and while the album does not compare ALL THAT strongly in terms of overall greatness with the British Invasion Region #1 seed it's also not as far away as you'd think. Standout tracks like "Saint Simon" and "Kissing the Lipless" are Thomas Beckett songs** are just so easy to love and are the kind of songs that you hum all day without once thinking, "damn I wish I'd get this song out of my head." Just listen to the guitar solo from about the 2:10 point to the 2:27 point in "Saint Simon" and try not to fall in love with this album.

In the end though, it's that exact EASE of Chutes Too Narrow that makes it really hard to give it the nod over Daydream Nation in this matchup. Sonic Youth make you work just enough so that when you're done with their work you feel like you've really done something and while this isn't necessarily a sign of great music, in this case it serves to break a tie between two great albums.

Daydream Nation will square off against In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in Round Two

* This article is a MUST read for anyone who considers themselves even mildly pop culturally aware
** Songs for All Seasons.. HOO AH for that history reference