Best albums of 2014: No. 2-4

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #2-4. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, and #5-7.


#4: PAWS, Youth Culture Forever

pawsBack in 2012, PAWS released their debut album Cokefloat!. I liked it enough to put it at #7 on my best of list that year. I’m still the only person I know that’s actually listened to it. There’s just something about this band from Glasgow that strikes a chord with me (pun intended.) Like many ’90s influenced bands, they’ve got the distortion filled guitars, the quiet-loud-quiet song structure and vocals that range from apathetic to jubilant. Unlike other ’90s influenced bands, PAWS takes a familiar sound and makes it into something original. Especially in their latest album Youth Culture Forever. (I’m also the only person I know that’s listened this one)

I’ve never heard a delivery like lead singer Philip Taylor’s. Take the song “Owls Talons Clenching My Heart,” (I can’t think of the word talon without hearing Napoleon Dynamite saying, “Do the chickens have large talons?”) at first he sounds like any other mumbling, bored, garage band poser but as the chorus kicks in he takes it up like 18 notches to borderline screeching “I don’t wanna fool around WITH YOUR HEART!!!!” Good god that’s great stuff.

Another thing I like about PAWS albums is the production value or lack there of. In the title track “YCF” the song opens with what sounds like the record button being pressed on a tape recorder. What follows is about as stripped down a song as you’re ever going to hear. A man, a guitar and a struggle to hold onto youth while time keeps on ticking. Welcome to the club Philip.

Side Note: Extra bad-ass points go to PAWS for their feud with perennial pain in the ass Morrissey. Any band that doesn’t bow down to that entitled old man is OK in my book. Read about that here.

#3: Spoon, They Want My Soul

spoonWhen Chris and I first started this blog, we got together and threw around some ideas for posts. Many were done many weren’t. Chris had an idea that we never got around to doing and I wish we had. Basically, it was for us each to make a list of bands where we only like one of their songs. It couldn’t be just some one hit wonder type situation. It needed to be an established artist with some credibility. If we’d made that list Spoon would have been at the top of mine.  I was not a fan other than their song “I Turn My Camera On.” It’s a fun little song that sounds like disco-era Rolling Stones but to tell the truth I even tired of that song.

I made the incredible mistake of putting “I Turn My Camera On” on the MP3 player that I used for exercise. Everyday for a summer I would ride my bike and hit the biggest hill on the trail as Spoon came over my headphones. The song was perfectly timed for the long chug up that damn hill. Every pedal rotation, every grunt, every muscle burn was in sync to “I Turn My Camera On.” By the end of summer there was no way I would ever hear that song again and not be reminded of that fucking miserable hill climb. I’m very careful with my exercise music now. Frequent updates are the key. Can’t have a song in the playlist for more than 2 weeks.

Anyways, what changed my mind about Spoon? Well, music supergroup Divine Fits of course. It’s Spoon frontman Britt Daniels side project and I really enjoyed the songs that featured his vocals. So when I saw the new Spoon album They Want My Soul was out, I had to check it out and see if maybe, just maybe I was wrong about Spoon. I was happy when I found most of the songs had a similar vibe as the Divine Fits songs I enjoyed.  The percussion is just great in songs like “Do You” and “Let Me Be Mine” and Daniels’ gravelly vocals don’t disappoint. Those are just the 2 standout tracks I chose to share. The entire album is an excellent all around listening experience…at least for me. Check it out for yourself.


#2: Real Estate, Atlas

Real estateAtlas is Real Estate’s 3rd album now. I didn’t discover them until 2011 after their 2nd record Days was released. Since then I’ve probably listened one of their albums at least twice a week. If we re-made our top 100 albums list, all three Real Estate Albums would most likely be on it somewhere. So basically what I’m saying is I frigging love Real Estate. I admit it, I’m a fanboy. Chris is lucky I didn’t geek out all over The Mill when we saw Real Estate lead guitarist, Matt Monanile’s side project, Ducktails, a couple of years back. I kept it together. I applauded when appropriate and I didn’t rush the stage begging for an autograph.

I’ve always been a sucker for jangly dream-pop and you get that in spades with Real Estate. Their music is suitable for any mood you’re in. If you’re happy it makes you happier. If you’re sad, it doesn’t amplify that feeling, the music just allows you to be sad. No judgement, no coercion. Sounds comforting, right?

While the mood of Atlas may be comforting, you need to listen a bit closer. Many of the songs are about anxiety, the exact opposite feeling of comfort. Take the open lyrics off “Crime” for example:

Toss and turn all night
don’t know how to make it right
crippling anxiety

Sounds like a man in need of some Paxil. The chorus follows with more anxious thoughts:

I don’t wanna die
lonely and uptight
stay with me
all will be revealed

That’s a pretty common feeling in this anxiety ridden society we have now. It’s odd to hear lyrics like that in a song that sounds so upbeat. The song “Primitive” also deals with worry as lead singer Martin Courtney laments about finding his place in the adult world.

Don’t know where I want to be
But I’m glad that you’re with me
And all I know is it’d be easy to leave

My response to that is the same as it was for PAWS struggle through adulthood, welcome to the club.

I wonder what’s next for Real Estate? Whatever it is, I hope they don’t stray too far from their signature sound. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I say.


#4: Dum Dum GirlsToo True

ddgirlsSomething I’ve paid attention to lately: third albums. The impetus for this: last year’s Sleigh Bells album, which might possibly be the most severe dropoff in my lifetime. (If I were to use the Pitchfork scale, I would say Treats is a 9.3 and Reign of Terror is an 8.8 and whatever that third album is called [Googled it mid-sentence: Bitter Rivals] a 1.4, perhaps.) Bloc Party didn’t plummet that far, but the release of Intimacy was a rough time for this Bloc Party fan. (And they didn’t recover with Four; at least Sleigh Bells has a chance for redemption come album No. 4.)

Dum Dum Girls, however, have rebalanced the scales of the third-album universe with Too True, the band’s latest point in their impressive upward trajectory. While I thought I Will Be was an OK album and was quite taken by Only in Dreams, I did not anticipate being so impressed, start to finish, with the third Dum Dum Girls album.

Great rock ‘n’ roll with the perfect amount of cool/attitude, but not so much that it feels like a crutch. (Although their look, with the sheer black clothing and shades and detachment, it’s hot, as I saw in person at Pitchfork.) “Cult of Love” comes romping out of the gates, insistent drum beat combined with breathy backdrop and sultry vocals. Cue up a kickstart strum session around the 1:08 mark and you have the makings of a great “Track 1.”

Songs like “Evil Blooms” and “Little Minx” add to the rollicking mood of the album, while the ringing guitars of “In the Wake of You” are the perfect complement to Dee Dee’s vocals. “Too True to Be Good” almost takes on a shoegaze vibe at times (without burying the vocals like many bands in that genre). The pace slows down for “Lost Boys and Girls Club” and “Are You Okay?” (my son’s favorite DDG song, if you care); the former using a piercing guitar line, the latter softening things up with some acoustic strumming mixed in.

Love the songs, love the full sound, love the vocals. After making this list, I did find myself pausing to ask, “Should Too True really be ranked ahead of that War on Drugs album?” My confident answer is yes.

#3: White LungDeep Fantasy

white-lungWhile the Dum Dum Girls deliver their message with a touch of detached cool, White Lung’s Mish Way insists that you pay attention to every single thing she’s trying to express. When she writes about things like rape culture or depression, singing “Shut my mouth real tight//There’s no room to fight” and “Don’t make a sound//You don’t make a sound//and die face down” on the song “Face Down” or “You don’t take me//You won’t make me” on “I Believe You” (a song about a friend confiding in another about a sexual assault), the message is as important as any riff or beat or whatever sonic element you want to throw out there.

But here’s the thing: for a band that puts a great deal of emphasis on its lyrical content, the music is absolutely on point. I have to (hate to?) admit that although I listened to (and enjoyed) my fair share of Bikini Kill during the tail end of the Riot Grrrl movement, I sort of viewed the music as nothing more than a prop to allow for the delivery of Kathleen Hanna’s empowerment message and/or nightmarish tales. I really think I could learn their whole catalog in a weekend and still have time to watch Queens Park Rangers earn some points at home or get their asses kicked on the road.

White Lung takes the influence of Bikini Kill and ups the ante for everyone else. The sound is fuller, the guitar work of Kenneth William is absolutely killer, the drumming of Anne-Marie Vassiliou is fast, fierce, and tight. Way’s voice is great, too: she sings with such veracity but it’s not just screaming. Her power as a vocalist is as impressive as her wit (I really enjoyed her interview with Pitchfork earlier this year).

There are great flourishes throughout the album: the notes that transition the listener from “Down It Goes” to “Snake Jaw”; the rumbling bass intro of “Face Down”; the thunderous drumming that follows the opening notes of closing tune “In Your Home.”

The album’s 10 songs run a total of 22 minutes and 1 second, which is shorter than a lot of EPs these days. But that shouldn’t be looked at as a negative. For one, the amount of energy and passion they put into that 22-minute blast is exhausting…and if you’re like me, after 22 minutes and 1 second, you simply start over and listen to the whole thing again…and again.

After hearing Deep Fantasy, I feel no guilt about saying this: Mish, I’m really glad you lost your barista job in 2012. The resulting devotion to your art yielded one of the most satisfying listens of the year.

#2: Death Gripsniggas on the moon

death-gripsQuite the confounding group, these Death Grips. They sign up to do Lolla and then bail on an after-hours pre-show the night before their actual set, causing mass chaos and removal from the main bill (which they never intended to play in the first place, apparently). The next year they join the Pitchfork bill and then break up two weeks before the festival, claiming that they are at their peak so it’s the perfect time to disband.

Funny thing, as pissed as I was about missing them at Pitchfork, I can’t really argue with their statement. This album, the first half of what will eventually be a double album called The Powers That B, ranks right up there with Exmilitary as my favorite work of theirs. Its eight tracks play more like a 33-minute single track to me, yet you can divide them up into individual tracks and they do just fine sans context.

The aggression is there. The repetition that makes their tracks so intense is there. Bjork’s sampled and manipulated vocals are here, used to great effect on some songs (“Black Quarterback” comes to mind…her wail of “Oh yeah!” punctuates every line that MC Ride spits out). Elements of chaos are there…perhaps not as erratic as on previous releases, but the fact that the songs aren’t SOOOOO bizarre yet maintain their power is a testament to Death Grips working within some form of convention.

There’s something about each track that I love: the sheer volume of “Up My Sleeves”; the nearly poppy vibe of “Billy Not Really,” not to mention the sudden shift the song takes about two-thirds of the way through; the aforementioned Bjork vocals on “Black Quarterback”; the slow-fast-slow-fast structure of “Say Hey Kid” (and the way it transitions into the next track); the madcap feel of “Have a Sad Cum” (and that title!); the line in “Fuck Me Out” that goes “I believe you/Every time/No one believes me/But that’s alright/I’ll prove them right”; the sweet drum work on “Voila”; and the disintegration of the final track, “Big Dipper” (along with the line “I’m a bullshitter/I’m a shitty stripper … I’m a bit bewildered/I’m a fucking downer.”

The combination of fierce emcee, talented/angry drummer, and imaginative producer has produced some great songs, and for me, this is the first collection that (a.) nails it front to back and (b.) that I heard during the actual year it was released (I didn’t hear Exmilitary until a year or so after it dropped…another example of missing out a la Andy Stott). You might hate what you consider their rebellious “shtick (this is a band that in 2012 leaked their latest album, against record label wishes, complete with album cover art that featured the album’s title written in Sharpie on the drummer’s cock…that’s quite a sentence, isn’t it?!) or you might recoil against the use of the N-word in this particular title (fair enough), but I implore people to look past the noise and hear the music.

Best albums of 2014: No. 5-7

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #5-7. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20 and #8-10.


#7: Sharon Van Etten, Are We There

sharon-van-ettenChris had this album at #8, me at #7, it must be great right? Like Chris, I enjoyed parts of Sharon’s last album. I also really loved her AV Club cover of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Shearwater. I believe they dubbed the collaboration, Shearon Van Ettonwater. Very clever. Anyways, liked her, didn’t love her. Until now.

Are We There is a raw, emotional album that you don’t just throw on for fun. You have to be in a good state of mind or you can get dragged into the muck with her. Not to say there aren’t lighter moments. Like Chris mentioned in his post, the line “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom.” What a revelation that was! I was under the impression that hot women didn’t go #2. I’ve been with my wife 17 years now and until I heard that lyric I was 93% sure she didn’t go poo. Thanks for ruining the mystery there Sharon.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the live show in Iowa City with Chris. That makes two shows she’s done in Iowa City I’ve missed. The first concert was a few years back and I decided to go to a Dirty Beaches concert that night instead. Big, big mistake.  I still have tinnitus from that awful event. Sharon, please come back a third time…I promise to show up this time.

#6: Gardens & Villa, Dunes

g&VGardens & Villa’s first album could have made my best of 2011 list if I’d have stumbled upon it a bit sooner. It wasn’t until late winter 2012 that I got into that record. The 5-some from California’s debut album was at its best during the fast paced synth pop songs like “Orange Blossom” and “Star Fire Power.” The MoSS? boys actually saw G&V in Iowa City a few years back. The venue was a tiny room under a Subway sandwich shop. Odd venue but it was a great show. They filled the tiny space with surprisingly good acoustics with their odd style of synthesizers and flutes. That’s right, the lead singer works the flute into almost every song. Going so far as to wear what we dubbed a “quiver” of many flutes slung over his shoulder. Part of me wishes they’d come back to town again so I could hear how their sound fills a larger more professional venue. The other part of me would be fine with just that one concert experience. The show was so intimate (there were like 12 people there besides our group) and special it would be hard to beat.

So, as I was saying, the debut album was a bit sluggish during the more slowed down songs. Where the last album failed Dunes succeeds. The up-tempo songs out number the slower songs and when they do sprinkle a slow song in here and there they don’t drag the album down. Songs like “Purple Mesas” and “Minnesota” aren’t going to draw a crowd to the dance floor but they are still filled with the same life that the rest of the Dunes has which makes for an excellent full album listening experience.


#5: Beck, Morning Phase

beckI’ve always had a love it or hate it attitude towards Beck’s albums. Seems like every other album he makes will fall into the “Hate It” category. His last album Modern Guilt? Hated it. It didn’t seem original in any way. Basically, it sounded like a dude trying to sound like Beck. So it would stand to reason that I love his new album Morning Phase right? Correct, I love it.

A lot has been written about how Morning Phase is like his 2002 album Sea Change. While they do have a similar feel, listening to Morning Phase doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out. He was clearly going through some shit back then.  He is still dealing with some melancholy themes. Throughout the new album he brings up the topic of loneliness. The opening lyric of  standout track “Blue Moon” is :
I’m so tired of being alone
These penitent walls are all I’ve known

He later pleads…

Oh, don’t leave me on my own
Left me standing all alone

My favorite song on Morning Phase, “Wave”, also deals with the subject of loneliness. Give it a listen in the playlist above. The string arrangement and the lyrics are a bit of-putting as he calls out “Isolation” over and over.

Not all of the songs are downers. Many like “Morning” and “Heart is a Drum” seem to deal with the idea of starting over and are down right upbeat. I do miss the goofy 20-something Beck and there isn’t anything goofy about Morning Phase. Beck is older and making the music of a grown-ass man. I can appreciate that.


#7: Andy StottFaith in Strangers


I’ve been late to the party many times, despite my best efforts to stay current. Andy Stott is one such example. I didn’t listen to his 2012 album, Luxury Problems, until May 2013, long after we’d put out our year-end lists. Given what I consider a weak year, Stott would have easily landed in my top 10, possibly even my top 5. Needless to say, I knew to keep my eyes and ears open for his next move.

It came toward the end of 2014, and this time I was ready. And my attention has been rewarded with exquisite compositions that bring to mind some of the mid-’90s Bristol scene (Portishead, Massive Attack, and, perhaps most apt, Pre-Millennium Tension era Tricky). This was also one of the most difficult albums to pull two songs from as prime examples of the album’s greatness: the songs’ quality doesn’t ebb and flow, and they all play nice in one solid listen.

I eventually went with “Violence,” a song that feels rather sparse but gets great effect from the whispered vocal provided by Alison Skidmore, Stott’s former piano teacher (who also featured prominently on Luxury Problems). The song quietly builds for a couple of minutes before the beat comes along, creating another ominous layer. I love the slow build and the abrasive noises that punctuate the song.

I also picked “No Surrender,” just to show that Stott can arrange a song without the central hook of a vocal. And I love the introduction of the percussion at the 2:00 mark…song absolutely shifts gears at that moment and becomes something else.

Stott is now right there with The Field in terms of “I can’t wait to see what he does next” in this genre. If you don’t know Andy Stott or his work, I would implore you to (ahem) put your faith in this stranger.

#6: Alvvays, Alvvays

alvvays-albumIt’s fair to say that seeing these guys perform just days before we planned to publish these lists didn’t hurt Alvvays’ position in my rankings. I loved the tunes on their debut full-length offering, bringing to mind an artist that typically ranks high on my annual lists, Best Coast. To see the songs performed with such enthusiasm and skill cemented the album’s spot in my top 10, ahead of some stuff I really, really enjoyed this year (at one point, Sharon Van Etten or Royksopp/Robyn seemed destined to live up here).

Is it surf pop? Is it indie rock? Is it jangle pop? Is it happy? Is it sad? Is it ambitious? Is it laid back? Is it catchy? Is it upbeat? Is it thoughtful? Is it varied? Is it fun?


That’s the nice thing about this album. It is diverse and rich in emtions. You could play these songs when you’re sitting around having a drink and shooting the breeze. You could play these songs when you’re enjoying a sunny summer day. You could play these songs when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. You could play these songs during a leisurely drive. You can sing along with a smile; you could sing along while feeling melancholy.

A promising debut full-length from a cool quintet. The quality found here ensures more than a passing fad.

#5: The War on DrugsLost in the Dream


(Worth noting: When I made my list this year, it took me about eight seconds to pick my top 5. To my ears, they stood well above everything else I listened to this year. Since this album is rolling out a day or two before the others in my top 5, I wanted to stress that distinction.)

I’ve been to a lot of shows over the years, and I usually know what I’m going to get out of the deal. My friend Brittany Jade gives me shit every time I come back from a concert with a glowing report: “Your reviews mean nothing! Everything you see is amazing.”

Well, perhaps I’m just that smart…I know who will play a good show. But I’m not infallible. The War on Drugs is one of those rare shows that kinda, well, sucked. Mission Creek a couple of years ago (Todd actually mentioned the show above; it was a shared bill with Dirty Beaches). The War on Drugs headlined, and to call the show “chaotic” is an understatement. Adam Granduciel was pretty much wasted and spent most of his time yelling “Woooo!” (which the crowd started to mimic, and not exactly lovingly). Even Ric Flair would have suggested laying off the “Woooos!”

So when everyone started talking about the new War on Drugs album, how great it was, blah blah blah, my first thought was “Woooo!” Or “Really?”

But I had to investigate the hype. And from moment one, the album is gorgeous. “Under the Pressure” is a lengthy opener that doesn’t feel long, if that makes sense. “Red Eyes” has some “Woooos” in it, but they actually punctuate emotional moments rather than come off like fumbling drunken yowls. Every song on the album feels intricately crafted and is a great soundtrack for chilling the day away. My personal favorite: “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” as it meshes a propulsive beat with dreamy guitar notes and a relaxed vocal delivery that fits nicely between those two aforementioned elements. Guitar work toward the end of the song is really nice without being overly showy. Even though the song is a shade over seven minutes, I often find myself listening to it again immediately after finishing a first listen.

As someone who isn’t a big fan of Springsteen (to whom this album is often compared) or the band’s previous output (I never bothered to go beyond Spotify with Slave Ambient) I must admit this is a wonderful achievement in songwriting. Perhaps Iowa City will get a do-over on the live-show front…

Best albums of 2014: No. 8-10

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #8-10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20.


#10: Broncho, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman

BronchoThis was kind of a late addition to my list. Sirius XMU played the song “Class Historian” basically every 5 minutes this fall and I was pretty annoyed by it at first. Then I caught myself dancing around my kitchen to it one morning while making breakfast. Damn you Broncho! Those infectious doot-doot-doot-doot’s hooked me in. At work that day, I brought the album up on Spotify and listened to it several times. Since then its been a mainstay on my work playlist.

So why’s it so good? Just Hip Enough is your basic garage rock filled with instantly memorable hooks that never seem to grow tiresome. Broncho reminds me of several bands at the same time. The vocals make me think of “Surrender” era Cheap Trick and the overall feel of the album is a lot like Catherine’s, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories, an album on my Top 100 of all time. (That’s an obscure one, I bet the Catherine band members don’t even have that album in their top 100)

Check Just Hip Enough out for yourself and I guaranty you’ll find something to love about it. It’s a quick listen clocking in at 32 minutes. If anything, it will help keep you from falling asleep at your desk.

#9: Ariana Grande, My Everything

arianaYup…not kidding. This album is very good. Really…I can’t believe it either.

A few months ago, I would have called you crazy if you told me an Ariana Grande record would show up on my best of the year list. I was one of the Ariana haters too. I hated her stupid T.V. show Sam & Cat  that my tween daughter insisted on watching non-stop, I hated her incredibly annoying speaking voice on said show and mostly I hated that Pitchfork gave her a 7.7 out of 10 on her album review. 7.7! That’s pretty high regard for a website notorious for its music-snobbery. They gave the Pixies a fucking 1.0 for their new EP-1. What’s the world come to when the Pixies, Rock n’ Roll Gods mind you,  get a 1.0 and this annoying little whore gets a 7.7?!!…take a breath. I was convinced the reviewer was either trying to get into trouble or get “into” Ariana Grande.

Then, at the request of my daughter, I downloaded My Everything. I was all set to hate it. The thing was I didn’t hate it…like…at all. Halfway through every song I would think to myself, “Damn it, this is good.” I needed reassurance from an adult I trusted that this was actually happening. I played My Everything for my wife. She had the same reaction as me. Her exact words were, “I want to hate it but I just can’t.” Well said darlin’.

At first listen you may think every song sounds like another artist. You say, “Oh this is the Mariah song, this is the Janet Jackson song, this is the one that sounds like Michael.” Then you’ll realize like I did, that her songs are instantly likable BECAUSE they remind you of other artists. She also pairs herself with other talented artists in many of the songs which help give her some credibility. (She gets a writer’s credit on almost all of the songs but I’m convinced she can’t possibly read or write. She seems real-real dumb. I picture her putting on lipstick, twisting the tube until it’s fully extended, then eating the remainder of the stick).

In summation…I’m serious, it’s very good.

#8: Phox, Phox


Another in a long line of bands with names featuring alternate,more Google friendly, spellings of common words. Chvrches, Alvvays, now Phox. While Phox plays the same weird name game, that is pretty much where the similarities stop amongst those bands. There’s no Chvrches-esque electronic sounding songs in Phox’s self-titled album. Of the 6 Phox band members, not one of them is twisting knobs on a turntable. There is also nothing lo-fi about Phox’s music. The musicianship and plush vocals make this a much more quiet and intimate listening experience.

I can’t rave enough about the lead, Monica Martin’s, voice. Whispering, shimmery, crooning, breathy and deceivingly powerful. She truly uses her voice like an instrument with long breathy runs throughout songs like “Leisure” and “Laura”. None of it seems forced and all of it fits perfectly.

I recently found out that Phox was going to be in town this January and I can’t wait to see if the live show is as satisfying a listen as this album. Maybe we’ll see you there?


#10: Royksopp and RobynDo It Again

royksopp-robynI love that one of my favorite releases of 2014, Do It Again by Royksopp and Robyn, features one of my favorite toys from 1982 or 1983 on lead vocals. That would be the song “Sayit,” calling upon a Speak & Spell to deliver the mantra of “I…Want…You,” with Robyn answering back with a come-hither “I want you too.” They even include the ruptured voice that the S&S would make when the batteries run low. Pure genius.

Of course, there’s more to this five-song gem than just some ’80s electronics. The opening track, “Monument,” is a great build-up intro, loads of tension. It gives way to the aforementioned “Sayit” and then the title track, which is a real conundrum of a tune. On one hand, it is pop perfection, so much so that it makes me wonder why the song isn’t absolutely huge. On the other hand, if that’s the case, one might think that I would instantly hate it.

The first part has to do with the marketing machine (or lack thereof) behind these Swedes. Their ambition isn’t to play some fucking Friday morning concert for GMA. They are more than content to play on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night TV stage. The second part has to do with the misconception that just because I write a pseudo-diary about music, I would hate everything popular and/or poppy. Not true. Most things, but not all. Great pop music works for me, as long as I call the shots on how often I get/have to hear it.

All in all, this is a solid EP, a welcome return of Robyn to my rotation. Hope these guys work together more often down the road.

#9: First Aid KitStay Gold

first-aid-kitAt this very moment, “Emmylou” remains my favorite First Aid Kit song. (It’s so great.) But despite the presence of that tune on The Lion’s Roar, I much prefer FAK’s most recent album, Stay Gold, and it’s not even close, really.

The album is a satisfying listen from start to finish. It kicks off with “My Silver Lining,” a song that is the closest thing to a contender to “Emmylou”‘s perch atop the First Aid Kit catalog. “Master Pretender” is an upbeat song 2, followed by the title track, which is another showcase of the sisters’ powerful pipes. It always gets me when they both launch into the chorus with gusto: “What if our hard work ends in despair? What if the road won’t take me there? Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold.” I love it.

The two voices intertwine so wonderfully throughout the album; I really don’t see a dull moment among the 10-track playlist. And the hippie vibe I’ve always felt from these two comes through in musical flourishes on “The Bell” and “Cedar Lane.” It’s wrong to characterize this album, or First Aid Kit as a whole, as chill, even if the music wants to take you there. (The closing song, “A Long Time Ago,” might be an exception.) Their voices are too powerful to allow for that simple of a classification. Beautiful works, though, as does intriguing.

#8: Sharon Van EttenAre We There

sharon-van-ettenCan’t address this album without looking back at a couple of fun moments involving Sharon Van Etten: her excellent set at Pitchfork, and her show at Gabe’s in Iowa City, where Sam incurred the wrath of SVE when all he was trying to do was get more people to the show. (They kissed and made up after the show. Or hugged. Or high-fived. I dunno.)

But I wouldn’t care about either of those live encounters unless the music she was performing was top-notch. Are We There is just that. Much like First Aid Kit above, I really like a couple of songs from Van Etten’s previous album but feel like the latest offering is head and shoulders above. It’s a heavy listen, as you might expect from an album featuring “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “Break Me.” The album starts well, with SVE pleading that she “needs you to be afraid of nothing”—fair warning for the emotional depths about to be explored. “Taking Chances” stretches out the word “emotions” into a full line of a verse while keyboards soar in a place where guitar solos might have once lived. “Our Love” is a lighter moment on the surface, but then you hear the lyrics (“At the bottom of a well//I’m reliving my own hell//Someone throws the ladder down//Still don’t know what I have found//In our love”).

I haven’t even touched on the best song (“Your Love Is Killing Me”) or the song with the funny/bizarre lyric (“Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which features the line “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom”). Rest assured, though, that this album is an amazing emotional ride.

Best albums of 2014: No. 11-20 (with playlist!)

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we start with our individual picks for #11-20, with playlists sampling each group of 10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19th.

Todd’s #11-20

20. Alt-J, This Is All Yours

19. Craft Spells, Nausea

18. Bully, Bully EP

17. Future Islands, Singles

16. Pixies, Indie Cindy

15. Dum Dum Girls, Too True

14. St. Vincent, St. Vincent

13. I Break Horses, Chiaroscuro

12. Warpaint, Warpaint

11. Hozier, Hozier

Chris’ #11-20

20. Jessie Ware, Tough Love

19. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness

18. The Raveonettes, Pe’ahi

17. Beck, Morning Phase

16. Phantogram, Voices

15. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun

14. Warpaint, Warpaint

13. Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

12. Tune Yards, Nikki Nack

11. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

From the MoSS? Pit: Alvvays


alvvays performing in Iowa City

Alvvays doing their thing at Blue Moose.

Even before the lopsided outcome at Carver-Hawkeye played out, I firmly believed the hottest ticket in Iowa City on Friday night was the Alvvays concert at the Blue Moose Tap House. Frankly, you could have gone to the game, left just after halftime when the result was no longer in doubt, and caught the great show put on by Alvvays and opener Sun Club. The performance would have lifted the spirits of even the most downhearted Hawkeye fan. Hell, Sam managed to still have a good time once the music started.

Even though this young Canadian band has just one album to its credit, I’ve been rewarded by shows from bands of similar stature. Cults comes to mind: just one album out when I saw them in 2011, but it was a wonderful rendition of said songs. Same thing happened here at Blue Moose, and I didn’t have to drive to St. Louis to see them as I did with Cults.

Some answers to questions posed by the uninitiated:

  • It’s pronounced “always,” even though I prefer to pronounce it “all-vays.”
  • If you’re looking for a “Recommended If You Like” reference, the best/easiest answer is Best Coast.
  • Yes, they are adorable.

They started the show attempting to start a beef between Iowa City (or maybe the state of Iowa in general) and Charlotte, N.C., over the “first in flight” dispute. (I don’t care what your license plates say, North Carolina; I am firmly in the camp that the “hop” in Burlington, Iowa, gives our state bragging rights.) It was like the polar opposite of the singer saying hello to the wrong city; these clever Canadians had done their research.

Anyway, their sunny sounds translated very well in the Moose (easily my favorite venue in terms of sonics). The crowd, which was disappointingly small, made up for things by bringing a lot of energy. (Alvvays singer Molly Rankin acknowledged that our enthusiasm exceeded that of crowds twice our size.)

One of Mark's calmer moments.

One of Mark’s calmer moments.

Well-regarded songs like “Adult Diversion” (my favorite song) and “Marry Me, Archie” got the crowd going. I believe the latter song was the one that prompted my friend Mark, clad in his finest Canadian tuxedo to honor the band’s homeland, to repeatedly pump his fist in revelry. Good music will do that to a guy; doesn’t hurt when the song is led by a blonde rockin’ a guitar.

“Atop a Cake” had the crowd singing along to the chorus and “Next of Kin” featured a nice swoon throughout the song. Songs like “Dives” and “Red Planet” took me back to another pleasant Blue Moose moment, recalling the sounds of Camera Obscura around the time of the My Maudlin Career album.

The openers, Sun Club, impressed the crowd with endless bounce. What I listened to online before the show seemed really calm compared with the songs played at the Moose. Their drummer in particular was a beast. Good way to set the mood for the show. Keep doing what you’re doing, boys.

So with a great show under their belt and an album that ranks highly in my year-end rankings (more on that later this week), Alvvays has my attention. Can’t wait for what’s next. Come back soon.

The great Led Zeppelin fantasy draft

Young Zeppelin

On Nov. 18, the Music or Space Shuttle? boys joined honorary MoSS? brother Travis for an evening of Led Zeppelin love at Donnelly’s Pub (the Music or Space Shuttle? Iowa City office). What we did was similar to this past summer’s Smashing Pumpkins “draft”: compile the best playlist of Zep tunes. Rather than having a traditional draft, we decided this time we’d put the songs on the auction block. Everyone would have a shot at songs, assuming they could budget accordingly. So armed with 100 credits and some drinks, sliders, and wings, we took turns tossing out tunes and creating 10-song playlists.

Here’s how it played out. Consider each guy’s recap and click the links at the bottom to have your say (or feel free to comment here on the blog).

Todd’s Draft Notes (a.k.a. In My Time of Drafting)

What was my drafting strategy for this time around? I’d like to say I walked into the drafting room like at the Smashing Plant 4 Pumpkins draft, unprepared but confident and loose. No, I studied for this one. The two days prior to drafting, I listened to Led Zep non-stop, choosing favorite songs and thinking about possible themes for a good set list. Should I go with the hits? Should I go with the bluesy stuff? Should I focus on one album? Maybe I’ll just take songs that reference The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Basically, I was rocking the fuck out of my cubicle at work. I’m usually quiet as a church mouse and keep to myself at the office so coworkers were taken aback by the braggadocio I exuded while strutted around my workspace like Robert Plant. There’s just something about Led Zeppelin that brings out that inner rock n’ roll god attitude.

So yeah, I had a few strategies. The only thing I didn’t have a plan for was the drafting method. We decided on an auction style draft this time. That meant that everyone had a chance to take any song as long as they bid the highest. With that knowledge I knew I didn’t want to get into some crazy bidding war on one song and screw myself out of good songs later in the draft by blowing a huge portion of my $100 limit.

With my first chance to bid, I started off with one of the songs at the top of my favorites list, “Ramble On.” I thought this may be a bid heavy song but luckily I got it for $15. Not too bad. It was early and we were all getting a feel for the auction process. Plus, I figured I could make up the deficit with some deep cuts later.

Sam was up next. He chose “The Rain Song,” the song I had highlighted as the one with the highest potential for crazy bidding. Every Zeppelin fan loves that song and I knew that my Main-MoSS?-Man Chris REALLY loves that song. Sam started the bidding low and we quickly went around the table driving the price further and further up. Once the bidding was in the teens Travis and I bailed out. Sam and Chris continued bidding until Sam finally won with a $40 bid. It’s a great tune but I’m sure Sam will admit that his now very limited budget severely hampered his future drafting. I think Chris teared up a bit when he finally gave up and lost. Maybe it was just from of the hot sauce on the chicken wings he was eating during the draft. Who’s to say?

For my second bid opportunity I chose “The Wanton Song.” I’ve always loved that song, mainly because of the percussion. It’s your typical John Bonham power drumming but I love all the little fills that he throws in during the choruses. No one else in the draft must have cared for Wanton as much as me because I won the bid with a thrifty $5. I now had two songs at an average of $10 a piece. Right on pace.Bonham

My third song purchased was “That’s the Way.” I friggin’ love that tune. I had it pegged as my “Must Have Song.” If I was going to really overpay for a song, this was it. To my shock I won the bidding without a struggle. I bought it for the low-low price of $10. Still right on pace.

I went with that strategy for the rest of the draft, taking songs at or below the $10 mark. The only song that I went over $10 with was “Bring It On Home,” the last song on Led Zeppelin II. I really wanted it for my set list closer. $15 was a small price to pay in my opinion. Especially since after that I picked up some absolute bargains:

“Your Time Is Gonna Come” for $10
“Friends” for $6
“Over the Hills and Far Away” for $11
“Immigrant Song” for $3
“Kashmir” $11
“Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” for $1

All of those kick-ass songs and I ended with a $13 surplus. The U.S. government could take a lesson from my frugal spending habits. Although, there was a small to medium sized controversy surrounding my last pick.

I had one song left to select and still had $14 remaining. I looked at my draft board (my iPhone) and saw 3-4 songs I would have been more than happy to have as my 10th selection. The song that caught my attention most was “In My Time of Dying,” a bluesy slide guitar filled song from Physical Graffiti. I started the bidding at $1. From Sam’s reaction at my choice, I got the impression this song was on his draft board as well. With his limited funds I thought he was struggling with whether or not to bid. Being a fairly good sport, I decided that if he bid I would just let him have the song. Then I realized he was really just bidding to get me out of the draft. My thrifty drafting of killer tunes was getting on his nerves. So he threw out a bid of $13 on the hopes I would counter with $14. He would concede and I would be out of the draft. Well that wasn’t going to happen. Like I said earlier, if he bid I was going to let him have it, only this bid was well over the song’s value and would further dip into his already minimal budget. Sportsmanship went out the window as I said, ”You can have it.” Sam was not thrilled. I’m wondering how his version of this event will go. (He swears a lot yet defends the hell out of it. –ed.) Anyways, after the dust cleared and my next turn came up I bid on and won the song “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” for $1. I’ve always loved the guitars on that one and it fit well in an already Led Zeppelin III-heavy set list.

Plant 1Was it a perfect draft? No. Did I walk away happy? Definitely. I only lost out on one song that I really coveted, “How Many More Times.” Chris and I had a small bidding war on that one. I gave up after $16. Seems silly now after leaving the draft with money on the table. Live and learn, I guess. I did really enjoy the auction style draft and hope we incorporate it in future fantasy playlist events. So after all that, here is my set list. I didn’t really have to spend much time tinkering with the song order. Like I wrote above, the list is a bit Led Zeppelin III heavy, so of course I open with the first two songs from that album. The rest sort of fell into place after that. Give it a spin. Careful not to get too crazy if you’re listening at work. Most workplaces will only tolerate a small amount of rock n’ roll machismo. Too much and someone will surely alert Human Resources.


Team Travis (a.k.a. My Girlfriend Made Me Buy That One Song)

I am a music fan, and I am also a fan of making lists about music. So, when Chris approached me to join the MoSS? Led Zeppelin song auction…fuck yeah, I’m in.

I went into Donnelly’s Pub that night with a pretty good idea of the playlist I wanted, but I figured that with songs this good and three other guys with music tastes very similar to mine, I would face a battle for most of these.

The highlights from my perspective:

  1. Zeppelin acoustic“Going to California.” My favorite Led Zeppelin song, it’s just beautiful. Great Jimmy Page acoustic guitar. Outstanding lyrics. Just perfect. I was gonna go “all in.” As luck would have it, I won the roshambo match to see who started first, and I was not fucking around! The bids go around the table and…what? I just got “Going to California” for 10 credits? What just happened? I didn’t see that smooth victory coming. Little did the other guys know that they could have bankrupted me and left me with a playlist full of “South Bound Saurezes” and “Candy Store Rocks.”
  1. “When the Levee Breaks.” My second-favorite Zeppelin song. The thunderous drums, the slide guitar, and that harmonica that sounds like a freight train stuffed full of demons rolling through. That song has always had a Midwest, blue collar feel to me. I love it, and had to have it. I had a little more opposition with the bids, but I won it for 20 credits. Sweet, I’m off to a kick-ass start!
  1. It got bluesy up in here. I managed to score “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Tea For One,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” I’ve heard a lot of people say Led Zeppelin stole from the old blues artists; I say I don’t give a fuck—they did it better every time. If you’ve ever been 10 beers deep, put on a dim red light, and listened to “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” you know where I’m coming from.
  1. “No Quarter.” That riff. That tone. ’Nuff said.
  1. I was very happy I was able to score both “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Thank You.” Two great songs that are perfect for rounding out a Zeppelin mix between the rocking and the beautiful.
  1. “Heartbreaker.” I needed a rocker, and I got one. That opening riff just screams Led Zeppelin. A perfect rocking addition to my playlist.
  1. “All My Love.” OK, could I have gone for “Black Dog” at this point? Maybe “In The Evening”? Both good tunes that hadn’t been picked yet. Maybe “Gallows Pole”? Nope! I was instructed by my girlfriend before I left that I must have “All My Love.” We like that song. It has a special place. (She also demanded I get “Immigrant Song” because she is part-Viking, but I passed on that one.)

All in all, I think I made a fucking solid list…as did the other three guys. That’s the great thing about Led Zeppelin: you can make a kickass 40 song playlist. In retrospect I should have bid harder for “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” As much as my playlist rocks, it’s missing those two songs. “Kashmir” also would have been a very welcome addition.

My biggest takeaway from the auction: I’ll admit, I never really gave “The Rain Song” a chance before. Chris and Sam went head to head for that song, and it wound up being the most expensive song of the night, ending at 40 credits. I thought, “Am I missing something here?” I went home and listened to it with a different set of ears, and I understand now. The slow build. The almost weather-sounding guitar licks. Then the glorious climax that is almost like the sun coming out after a storm. There’s just something about that moment when a song you’ve heard a million times finally makes sense. As Todd stated after many of the songs got put on the auction table: “Oooh, that’s a good one.”

Also, it was fun watching Sam give himself an ulcer.


Team Sam: “Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Please Remove Your Gallows Pole From My Ass)”

I was 14 when Led Zeppelin entered my life. Seems young, but I already felt old. I was (happily) buried up to my eyeballs in pretty much nothing but thrash metal at that point, with a few lingering vestiges of the hair bands clinging for dear life. And for some reason, I fought it when my pal Scott Boone tried forcing this dinosaur band down my throat. In hindsight … um, why exactly? This band is the friggin’ foundation of every band I loved. He lent me his cassette of Led Zeppelin I, and it sat on my speaker for months. Months. I finally listened. Yeah OK, it was pretty good.

Then I heard IV. And II. Holy. Shit. Then he gave me Houses of the Holy, and it was the only album I listened to for months.

Oh yeah … Boone ended up becoming a priest. He spent time in the Vatican. He’s hung out with the Pope. Yeah, there’s some knowledge and influence there. Probably shoulda listened sooner. I’m sorry, padre. Please forgive me of my sins. Send up a good word for me.

I set out to make him proud in this draft. Piece of cake.

I boned up and created cheat sheats when we did the Pumpkins draft. But this one? No prep work. Why would I need to study? This is Led Zeppelin we’re talking about. The catalog is incredible, but it’s not vast. I knew my must-have list. This would be easy.


The Pumpkins snake draft had been easy, but I hadn’t even considered for a second what adding a fourth person to the mix would mean. And the bidding format? The fact that everyone had a shot at every song? Fuck. I didn’t know it, but I was in for a long night.

Pick #1: The Rain Song

This was Chris and me the first time we listened to “The Rain Song” together in 1998.

This was a no-brainer. The only song going into the draft I knew I had to have. And I knew it would be a fight. I knew Chris loved it as much as I did. It was going to be a bloodbath.

The mistake was not waiting. I should have let a few rounds pass until I got a feel for the bidding. But instead, I figured “let’s get this out of the way right now.” Patience is a virtue … I wish I had remembered that.

I put it up fourth overall, the first time the pick was mine was to make. Todd and Travis didn’t even bother and got out almost immediately as bidding jumped by increments of five. Neither guy was backing down.

Eventually, I said $38. Chris countered with $39. Was I really ready to spend $40 on one song? I was ready to begrudgingly bug out.

But it was “The Rain Song.” Much as I tried, I physically could not stop. I said $40. I swear to God, if Chris had said $41, I was out. But he was the one who couldn’t pull the trigger. I had won.

In the greater scheme of things, turns out I probably didn’t. With all the ammo he saved, Chris went on to draft a playlist for the ages. Meanwhile, I was Mike Ditka trading my whole draft class to pick Ricky Williams. Almost half my credits were gone. On one song.

Let’s make one thing clear right now: that’s not a knock on “The Rain Song.” Sweet fucking Christ, no. It’s eight minutes of musical perfection. It’s easily my favorite Led Zeppelin song of all time. And it’s probably in my top five songs ever created by man.

It’s just a very hard song to build a draft around. I would just have to find a way. With food stamps, apparently.

Pick #2: Tangerine

After the shock had worn off, I had to soldier on. I watched helplessly as song after song I coveted slipped out of my grasp. But I couldn’t let “Tangerine” go without a fight. My favorite song off of III (almost neck and neck with “That’s The Way,” which I later found out was Todd’s must-have. I didn’t have the ammunition to fight for it so he got it for fucking peanuts).

The good news? I got “Tangerine.” The bad news? It cost $12. I now only had $48 to spend on my last eight songs – a scant $6 per song. I wasn’t optimistic.

But I’d worry about it later. “Tangerine” was worth the risk, since it’s the soundtrack to the perfect epilogue of one of my top five favorite movies of all time, Almost Famous:

Pick #4: In My Time of Dying

By the time I acquired a deep-cut favorite (“Out on the Tiles”) with my third pick, everyone else was eight or nine deep. It was ridiculous. Todd had filled his first nine slots and still had $14 left. He put “In My Time of Dying,” the 11-minute epic from Physical Graffiti, on the board. After a very solid draft, it would’ve been the perfect closing pick for him. And for me to navigate the rest of the draft on the cheap, I need him out. I didn’t have my heart set on the tune, so I wanted to make sure he took it. We both win, right?

The problem is that I was on tilt from losing so many of my coveted songs, causing my admittedly dumb ass to actually announce this plan OUT LOUD at the table. And instead of jumping in with a low bid, I immediately bid $13, meaning Todd could go to $14 and finish up strong.

Instead, he says “take it.”

Motherfucker. I’m convinced he did it just to see me melt down. If that’s the case, he succeeded.

Even worse, he takes “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” – one of the more annoying songs in the Led Zeppelin catalog (seriously, it’s on par with “Hot Dog”) – for a dollar, finishing with a surplus of 13 imaginary dollars, which he can use to finance his trip to the land of fucking make-believe, climbing rainbows and hunting leprechauns while mounted on his flying unicorn. Meanwhile, I had spent $70 on four songs.

The next day when I was assembling my final playlist, I realized I was an idiot for being mad about this. Why? Because of his majesty, Sir John Fucking Bonham.

There’s a reason why every kid who picks up a set of drumsticks wants to be this guy. This is the king’s showcase tune. And for anyone still doubting this, skip ahead to the 3:45 mark. The timing of a metronome, yet he still hits really fucking hard. The footwork … no double bass drum. All with one foot. Unbelievable. I can’t believe I was pissed. I got lucky.

So Todd, enjoy the hillbilly romp with your last pick. If you’d stuck to your guns, your playlist might’ve rivaled Chris.

I thought I was the one who fucked up. Turns out it was you. Idiot.

(Did you write this part after the Odell Beckham catch or something? –ed.)

(Yes. Yes, I did. Too obvious? — Sam)

* * * * *

I ended up sailing through the rest of the draft somewhat painlessly. I jumped in on a few songs just to drive the price up on Travis and Chris and give myself some breathing room. I scooped up a few of my favorite deeper cuts like “The Battle of Evermore” and “Down by the Seaside” for pennies, and scored “The Song Remains the Same” to be my closer (even though it’s actually an album opener).

Also, here’s some random notes on a few of my picks:

Pick #9: The Ocean

“I think her name is Lucy but they all call her Loose …”

I was into the Beastie Boys before I knew Zeppelin. It’s only fair to acknowledge that here:

Speaking of which …

Pick #7: Good Times Bad Times

Like I said, I was buried in thrash metal before I discovered the Zep. This is a perfect example of me needing to pay better attention back then, because there was a (short) time when I didn’t know this was a cover:

Pick #3: Out on the Tiles

Zeppelin has always been accused of, ahem, “liberally borrowing” from the great old blues legends. But what about the bands that liberally borrow from them? There’s a pretty cool new band out there called Rival Sons, and when I caught the video for their song “Pressure and Time” on the new 120 Minutes a while back, its main riff sounded vaguely familiar

Pick #10: Custard Pie

With everyone’s boards full, the guy that at one time only had $48 to pick eight songs now had $17 left to pick two songs unopposed. Christ. I went with the aforementioned “The Ocean” first.

There were some very well-known tunes left in the pool for the final pick in the draft. “Black Dog.” “Rock and Roll.” “Communication Breakdown.” “Fool in the Rain.” “Achilles Last Stand.”

But as a guy burned out on the band’s populist tunes ruined by classic rock radio, I wasn’t interested. In fact, I would’ve given up a spot and paid my cohorts to NOT infect our draft with “D’yer Mak’er.” Thankfully, that was unnecessary.

(And my sincerest apologies, Booner, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on “The Crunge.” The image of you dancing in those bell-bottomed maroon sweatpants of yours wasn’t enticing enough. I guess we’ll never find that confounded bridge, padre.)

Instead, I picked this one, the opener from Physical Graffiti, mainly because the version that Page played with the Black Crowes kicks all kinds of ass:

* * * * *

I won’t lie: When we were done, I was disappointed with my list and thought it was pretty clear that Chris had dominated the draft. Because I went for “The Rain Song” way too early, before I had figured out a gameplan, Travis (“Thank You”), Todd (“Your Time is Gonna Come” and “That’s the Way”), and Chris (“Ten Years Gone”) all got songs I coveted without much of a fight, and I never stood a chance when heavy hitters like “When the Levee Breaks,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Stairway To Heaven” were up for grabs.

But thankfully, as I listened to my final assembled playlist aboard an elliptical machine at my gym, I had an epiphany.

In what fucking universe was my list bad?

It has my favorite Zeppelin song of all time. It has another top five song. It has a signature Bonham song. It has a whole gaggle of songs that I’ve absolutely loved for decades.

Most importantly, it has a bunch of killer tunes that haven’t been buried by overexposure on classic rock radio. I grew up in Marshalltown listening to FM 95 KGGO – (Skynyrd! Boston! Eagles! Only Back in Black and that’s it by AC/DC! Clapton’s absolute worst!) – and you heard the same Zeppelin songs. All. The. Time. So as good as Chris’ list is, I’ve heard “Whole Lotta Love” and “Misty Mountain Hop” and even “Stairway to Heaven” enough.

If I wanted to initiate a novice to the band, I’d pick his list, sure. But if I wanted to show a budding fan what lies beneath, I think I’d pick mine over Travis and Todd’s lists. I might just feel differently tomorrow, but that’s how I feel as I write this. That’s because all four lists effing rule. ALL of them. But if you’re ready to take a deeper dive, grab a vest and start here.


Team Chris (a.k.a. Sara M Knows a Winner When She Sees One)

I spent most of the week before our Led Zep extravaganza in Atlanta with two of my favorite co-workers (and two of my favorite people, period), where we ate, drank, ate, watched Interstellar, ate, drank, ate grits, drank, watched The Breakfast Club, ate, and drank things named “Buttery Nipple,” “Naked Girl Scout,” and “The Wet Spot.” And we went to sessions and workshops on higher education communication when we had time.

One particular night before we went out, Sara M fired up a YouTube video of Led Zep performing in 1969, tearing through a handful of tunes from the debut album. We had recently talked about Led Zeppelin I‘s place in the band’s album hierarchy; I argued it was fourth-best at best, while she said it belonged among the very best. And seeing these young kids (Plant and Bonham were 20 at most at the time) go to work, I suddenly realized she might be correct. (She usually is.)

Anyway, I went into our Led Zep playlist auction fresh off this awakening. And it kinda shows in my playlist, or perhaps the amount of money I spent on the three songs I bought from the debut album.

Going in, I had five songs I really wanted: “The Rain Song” (this has been covered above, I believe), “Ten Years Gone,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “How Many More Times.”

success-lolFour out of five = success. Consider: Meat Loaf says a 66.6666666666666667% rate of success ain’t bad, so I am confident that 80% isn’t too shabby.

“Whole Lotta Love” was my introduction to Led Zeppelin, courtesy of my dad’s vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin II. It was like something out of Almost Famous: young teen, over-the-ear headphones, dark bedroom, and genuine intrigue. It was amazing to hear the song swirl around the headphones. Song will always hold a lofty spot for me.

I enjoyed the fight for a couple of these songs (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “How Many More Times”). They both went a bit above the average price ($18 and $16) but money well spent. I also respected Sam’s determination to get our shared favorite song.

The cool thing, aside from getting the best playlist of the bunch (speaking objectively, of course), is that our personal “quirky” songs were exposed through low-bid wins. Mine: “Four Sticks” for $1 and “Bron-Yr-Aur” for $3. I once suggested our football team take the field to “Four Sticks” (request denied); I think it would have been pretty fucking intimidating. And “Bron-Yr-Aur” is a couple of minutes of beauty. Todd got his with “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” and Travis landed “Tea for One” for $1. Sam got a couple as well, although he had to go up to $4 to keep “Down By the Seaside” off my list.

The biggest surprise was my acquisition of three songs from Led Zeppelin IV, especially “Stairway to Heaven.” But as songs went off the board, I realized that those overplayed tunes on IV are overplayed for a reason: they’re pretty fuckin’ good (like a $5 milkshake, one might say). And I must admit, listening to “Stairway” always takes me back to my football days, sitting in front of my locker, cranking the last two minutes of that tune through my Walkman earphones and feeling like I could run through a wall. Not because the lyrical content would inspire one to do that; not because the song goes at 200 bpm. I think it was the crescendo effect of an epic song. And for $12, why not add it to the list.

I couldn’t wait to get back to work the next day and blare my playlist for my officemate…the aforementioned Sara M. She approved, with a sly wink toward “all the Led Zeppelin I on here.”

Yeah, yeah…


Auction recap

(listed in order of acquisition; winning bid in parentheses)


  • Going to California (10)
  • When the Levee Breaks (20)
  • Tea for One (1)
  • Thank You (17)
  • No Quarter (11)
  • Since I’ve Been Loving You (16)
  • Heartbreaker (8)
  • I Can’t Quit You Baby (3)
  • What Is and What Should Never Be (7)
  • All My Love (1)


  • Whole Lotta Love (20)
  • Dazed and Confused (10)
  • How Many More Times (16)
  • Four Sticks (1)
  • Ten Years Gone (16)
  • Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (18)
  • Stairway to Heaven (12)
  • Dancing Days (1)
  • Bron-Yr-Aur (3)
  • Misty Mountain Hop (3)


  • Ramble On (15)
  • The Wanton Song (5)
  • That’s the Way (10)
  • Your Time Is Gonna Come (10)
  • Bring It On Home (15)
  • Friends (6)
  • Over the Hills and Far Away (11)
  • Immigrant Song (3)
  • Kashmir (11)
  • Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp (1)


  • The Rain Song (40)
  • Tangerine (12)
  • Out on the Tiles (5)
  • In My Time of Dying (13)
  • The Battle of Evermore (1)
  • The Song Remains the Same (5)
  • Good Times Bad Times (3)
  • Down By the Seaside (4)
  • The Ocean (1)
  • Custard Pie (1)

What song would you have broken the bank to get? What song(s) should have made our lists? And is there a clear winner among the four playlists? Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.

Great moments in music history: The Flash Gordon soundtrack

QueenI caught a matinee of Interstellar yesterday, yet another excellent effort from Christopher Nolan. But the movie itself isn’t what struck a nerve. No, it was a musical cue that lasted for all of about two seconds during one of the film’s climactic scenes and wound up being a false alarm.

I won’t spoil the film for anyone, but as Mr. McConaughey’s [redacted] [redacted] into [redacted], I swear the film’s score, for about a millisecond, sounded just like the well-synthesized section of “In the Space Capsule,” the love theme from that other cinematic sci-fi masterpiece, Flash Gordon.

I wouldn’t have thought too much about it, but I’ve had Queen on the brain ALL weekend. After I got off work late Friday night, I came home to find Queen Live Montreal playing on Palladia at 3 in the morning. It was majestic, and it just reminded me of how I wish I could’ve been a teenager in the late ’70s so I could have seen this band in all its cinematic glory. Alas, it was not to be. Rest in peace, Freddie Mercury.

Soundtrack coverBut for a band with enough stadium-rocking anthems … that will, that will … rock you, it was their soundtrack to a cheesy sci-fi movie that came out when I was in first grade that was mind-altering.

I was 7 years old when that movie came out, and I’m fairly certain my mom’s best friend Kathy took my brother and me to see it on opening night. And considering a 7-year-old hasn’t quite developed a Gene Siskel-esque eye for fine cinema, I pretty much thought it was the greatest fucking movie I had ever seen that didn’t have the words “Star” or “Wars” or “Pete’s” or “Dragon” in the title. It wasn’t until I was much older – ninth grade or so – that I rode my bike out to the mall and rented it on VHS and realized it was a piece of shit.

But what an entertaining piece of shit!

1980 Flash Gordon Football Trading CardI mean, when I was 7, I was just captivated by the landscapes that pretty much looked like a bowl of water with a bunch of swirled food coloring. And spaceships!. And lizard men with their eyeballs in their mouths! And dudes with blue blood! And green blood! And Hawkmen!

(Something that I didn’t realize was hilarious until much, much later: the character Flash Gordon was the star quarterback of the New York Jets. I like to imagine him as the heir apparent to Joe Namath, but then he suddenly vanished from the face of the earth, which means they STILL drafted Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino in the ’83 draft. Even in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, the Jets still suck.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized what was actually appealing were the chicks. The planet Mongo had a thing for draping all its royalty in pink spandex (or less). Better to be comfortable and sexy than regal.

Princess Aura

This is what I was too young to appreciate at age 7


Clearly, in the year 4000, we will have shag carpet from ceiling to floor.

Clearly, the year 4000 will have shag carpet on the walls.

(And while we’re at it, I wish I could still be around for the 40th century, since – as Barbarella taught us – we can get ourselves off with the Orgasmatron in a world that looks like Austin Powers’ Electric Psychedelic Pussycat Swingers Club. So 2,000 years from now, the universe will look like swinging London in 1968? Awesome!)

But, rightfully so, the legacy of Flash Gordon is its kick-ass soundtrack. I got it for Christmas that year as a gift from Kathy’s brother Jeff (who was also a de facto big brother to my brother and me, complete with the cool car and the playful bullying … 12 years older than us, he used to hold us down and dangle spit about two inches from our screaming faces as we thrashed around like marlins on a giant fish hook. I can only hope to have a son of my own someday to bust this move out on).

That record was a proud edition to my ever-growing music collection, which consisted of my mom and Kathy’s discarded 8-track mixtapes, as well as my own Fisher-Price record player, with Kiss’ Rock and Roll Over and a pile of 45s that included “Disco Duck,” “Convoy,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Brick House,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and a double-A-side of “Hot Blooded/Double Vision.”

I can’t think of a better album for the attention span of a 7-year-old. A bunch of minute-long bursts of rock guitar and synthesizers, interspersed throughout with the laser blast sound effects and cheesy dialogue (delivered by the dudes better known as Father Merrin from The Exorcist, the Fiddler on the Roof, James Bond IV, and a magnificent Shakespearian stage legend whose booming voice is unfortunately best remembered for this ):

It really was the next best thing to having the movie in the days before VCRs were plentiful. And bookending the album were two actual SONGS – the bumping “Flash’s Theme,” featuring Roger Taylor’s pulsating drums, and “The Hero,” which is pure Brian May guitar bliss followed by the soundtrack’s overture.

What would’ve happened if I’d gotten, say, the Star Wars soundtrack instead? Orchestra? At age 7? No, instead I got to soak up the bombastic riffs. I was on my way.

Eventually, I got into Queen for real. Queen’s Greatest Hits (arguably THE greatest greatest-hits album of all time … fuck the Eagles) was the go-to cassette in my Walkman when I did my paper route for a year. Yes, I was in up to my eyeballs with Queen before Wayne, Garth, and the Mirth Mobile drove “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the top of the charts during my senior year of high school, 17 years after its initial release.

Queen had more soundtrack success after that, with its contributions to Highlander and that triumphant moment when Nerd Persecution ended and Lewis the Nerd stole the hot cheerleader away from the dastardly Alpha Betas, all to the strains of “We Are The Champions,” in Revenge of the Nerds.

But nothing was quite like THAT soundtrack. I finally bought it on CD when I was in college, and I once briefly considered putting it on as sex music (have you heard “In the Death Cell,” “Execution of Flash,” and “The Kiss” back to back to back? They’re really quite dreamy), but I figured Prince Vultan bellowing “GORDON’S ALIVE?!?!” might spoil the moment. I instead chose to romance the lucky lady with a combination of Dark Side of the Moon and Santana’s Abraxas. Ah, the art of seduction (there really is nothing like “Oye Como Va” to set the lovemaking mood. Oh, alternative women at the UI in the ’90s, I love and miss you all).

And when it still pops up in pop culture, it makes me giddy. I’ll never forget sitting in the theater and clapping like one of those toy monkeys that crashes cymbals when it showed up in the wildly-underrated, pitch-black comedy Observe and Report (it was basically Taxi Driver but as vehicle for dark humor), as Seth Rogen’s schlub, comedically-psychotic mall cop beats the shit out of a bunch of real cops with his flashlight, all to the majestic flourishes of Flash’s “Battle Theme” and “The Hero”:

And, of course … Ted:

Next year will be the 35th anniversary of the release of the Flash Gordon soundtrack. Since Queen is still putting out new records under the Queen moniker (just this week, they released Queen Forever, featuring long-lost discarded tracks featuring both the late Freddie Mercury and their long-retired bassist John Deacon), my hope is that they’ll revisit Flash Gordon, stripping out all the dialogue and unnecessary sound effects and giving us just the music in its purest form. I’d scoop that shit up on the first day.

I mean, Interstellar was awesome and all, but it didn’t have Queen. Oh well, nobody’s perfect, not even Christopher Nolan.

Let us know what you think. Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: October 2014

oct 14

Side A: Chris’ Picks

Side B: Todd’s Picks

From the MoSS? Pit: #PJMoline

Pearl Jam Eddie Up Close

First, a foreword from Todd:

I can’t believe my live music luck lately (Exhibit A: Look at that photo). The concert gods have smiled upon me many times over the last year or so. From successful pre-sale ticket purchases to front row / VIP seats, I’ve had an incredible run. Actually all of us MoSS? dorks have of late. I’m still jealous of Chris’ front row spot at the Cure concert last month and Sam’s run-in with Sharon Van Etten last week. This Pearl Jam concert beats them all for dumb luck, though.

If you read my portion of the MoSS? 100 Undisputed Best Albums of All Time list, then you will remember I had Pearl Jam’s Ten ranked as my #33 album. Not too shabby. But you may also remember that I tired of them by their Vitalogy album. I actually bought tickets to see them around that time during their anti-Ticketmaster tour. I sold them at a tidy profit and bought a super sweet mountain bike. Still have the bike along with monstrous calf muscles.

Anyways, back to the subject at hand. Some months back I’d heard Pearl Jam were coming to the Quad Cities. I looked into tickets and saw they were already sold out. Flash forward to a week before the show. I was chitchatting with a co-worker and he offhandedly mentioned that he had a line on some tickets. Someone he knew worked at the concert venue and they told him that once the stage layout was finalized, they may be adding a few more seats. I told him to give me a call if he heard anything and walked away from the conversation thinking there wasn’t a chance in hell anything would come from it. I had all but forgotten the whole thing when he called me as I was sitting in a meeting. I rather awkwardly excused myself from the room and answered. This is how the conversation went:

MoSS? Todd: Hey!

Co-Worker: Hey man! You have seventh row seats reserved if you call my guy at the venue.

MoSS? Todd: Sweet! How much?

Co-Worker: I don’t know. Face value? Who cares? Call him. Like soon.

MoSS? Todd: OK. Cool. Seventh row, huh? Sweet. That’ll be pretty close. You think I could get four tickets? All together?

Co-Worker: All great questions … for the dude onsite. Call him. Now. He told me we had like five minutes … like three minutes ago.

MoSS? Todd: Ooh. Shit! Thanks. Click

So long story short, I got four tickets in the seventh row. I took Mrs. MoSS? Todd and our usual concert support crew friends. The seats were great and Eddie actually came out into the crowd  just a few rows away from us.

The only bummer from the evening was the massive headache I got from the weed smokers around me. I sound like an old man but honestly, it was crazy. As soon as the lights went down it was as if someone started a tire fire a few rows in front of me. Aside from the stench of the sticky icky, we had a blast. Great music with great friends. Now back to you, Sam. – Todd


PJ Panorama

Full house Friday night in Moline.


Sorry for the delay, folks. But I needed a few days to let this one marinate …

OK, I’m ready now.

As you may have heard, either here or on Twitter – which I repeatedly (or annoyingly) shared, ad nauseum, all over the various internets – after a 23-year wait that bordered on a Moby Dick-sized white-whale chase, I finally saw Pearl Jam in concert, on Friday night at the iWireless Center (formerly The Mark of the Quad Cities) in Moline, Ill.

(The epicness of this night isn’t even taking into account the always-entertaining prospect of another concert road trip and hotel stay with those wacky Dubs, punctuated with Skeet falling asleep flat on his back and eventually choking on his own saliva, which strangely seemed to trigger T-Dub’s spectacular, surreal bout of night terrors – which are not unlike this, except hornier and somehow arrogant, something to which the slumbering and annoyed Mrs. T-Dub will surely attest:)

As for the show, was it everything I had hoped for? After much thought and reflection, I’d have to say yes, most definitely. This is a battle-tested group of road warriors. They are unbelievably tight, full of energy, with an improvisational spirit. Plus, they seemed genuinely stoked to be in our hidden-away neck of the woods, which always feels good as a fan. And they hammered away until they’d given us a 36-song set clocking in at roughly three hours.

Now …

That’s how I feel about it now, after a few days of letting it sink in.

But I have to admit: I didn’t feel that way Friday night. At least not at first.

I mean, this is Pearl Jam. This is a band I had been waiting to see since 1991, so naturally, I had a list of songs in my head I was dying to hear. In fact, I chronicled it for posterity in my previous piece. Here’s the “Cliff’s Notes” version of that list:

  • Please play “Oceans.” Please play “Garden.” Please play “Release.”
  • Please consider “Breath” and “Crown of Thorns.”
  • Either “I Got ID” or “Long Road” would be a treat.
  • And finally, Yield … I’d piss myself with glee if you played “Faithfull.”

Remember, this is a band that never plays the same set twice. Every song in their catalog is fair game at any given show. That’s the main reason you can actually follow them on tour. This isn’t Kiss, who always play a 20-song combination, pulled from the same 40 songs spanning a 40-year career, every single night (don’t be mad, Kiss, I still love you guys). No, with Pearl Jam, you get something different at every concert. So, if they play a song one night, especially one of the more obscure ones, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t get it two nights in a row.

So I, of course, started stalking Twitter and in the days leading up to my show, hoping that they wouldn’t play the songs from my wish list.


On Tuesday in Memphis, they played “Garden.” More scarily, they played “Breath.” Two days later, in Detroit, they friggin’ opened the show with “Release,” followed by “Oceans.” Uh oh.

So, going into the show, I already knew that I probably wouldn’t get at least half of the songs I was absolutely pining to hear.

Still I remained optimistic. It’s Pearl Jam, after all. There’s still a ton of songs I’d be happy with, you know?

Things looked good in the 216

Things looked good in the 216

After worrying for months about our spot on the side of the stage, I took as a good omen that our seats turned out to be pretty damn sweet. And when they took the stage and opened the show with “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” all systems were go.

Shortly after, I remember they tore into “Hail, Hail” and immediately followed it with “Who You Are.” I did take notice of them playing these two songs back to back.

But after a while, even though I was loving what I was hearing, my attention started drifting. I started consciously thinking about my own personal wish list of songs, and about how I was afraid I wouldn’t get them. I mean, it was my first show. It’s hard NOT to be a little selfish, right?

The band soldiered on. They even played “Garden,” which was huge since they had just played it in Memphis. The set list was long and expansive, covering their whole career. They even gave us one of my favorite cover tunes when they blistered through Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up.” After playing their customary closer “Yellow Ledbetter,” this night that I had waited a generation for had come to a close.

Exiting the arena, I realized I only got one song from my wish list. For a few moments, I started wondering – out loud, even – if what I had feared was actually true: Were we just flyover country? Were we just the warm-up show for the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, and Denver? All because they didn’t play the songs that I wanted to hear?

But before I could actually truly debate this with my friends as we walked for a post-gig beverage, I finally turned my phone back on (yes, I turned it off after I was rightfully scolded from the stage earlier in the week at a club show at Gabe’s in Iowa City by Sharon Van Etten). And I had this tweet waiting for me:

Wait, what?

I hadn’t even noticed. I was so preoccupied with hearing the songs on my list that I hadn’t even noticed. Like I said, I DID notice when they played “Hail, Hail” and “Who You Are” back to back. But, in hindsight, it went completely over my head when Eddie said “alright, end of Side 1” after finishing “Off He Goes.” How did I NOT put that together?

People, some of which I had reached with my blog about losing my PJ virginity, were responding. Almost immediately. With jealousy. Only then did I realize how special it was.

There’s a scene in the great Cameron Crowe documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, where you see a brief montage of fans saying just how many times they’ve seen the band live, with one guy saying something absurd like 250-plus times, over various countries and continents.

So yeah, I didn’t get the songs I wanted. This is true. But there’s some dude out there that’s seen Pearl Jam 250-plus times that has NEVER gotten this show, because in their entire history, this was the first time they’ve ever done the “entire album front to back” thing before …

(Yeah, in 1992, they probably played all of Ten … big fucking deal. They were a brand new band with exactly ONE album – I would hope they played all of it! Plus, at a show in Italy in 2006, they played the entire self-titled album (aka The Avocado) but according to Rolling Stone’s account, it was out of sequence.)

But on Friday night in Moline, they played the album that diehards cherish from start to finish AND in sequence. Would I personally have rather had Ten, Vitalogy or Yield front to back instead of No Code? Yes, I would have. But this is their beloved album, for some reason. And we got it.

Plus, oh yeah … let’s not discount the fact that Eddie Vedder wrote a FUCKING ORIGINAL SONG – a song he titled “Moline” and described as a companion piece to his classic Vitalogy track “Better Man” – for our show that just might, maybe, end up on an album someday.

Perspective, people. It’s really hard to complain when you put it in perspective.

Now, did I feel a little less special when, three days later, they repeated the stunt in Milwaukee, except the cheeseheads got Yield start to finish? Yes. Yes I did. But fuck it, it was still worth the wait. And I can’t wait to do it again.

And next time, I’ll be happy with what I get.

Let us know what you think. Sound off in the comments, or have your say on our Facebook page. Or yell at us on Twitter.

Pearl Jam Setlist I Wireless Center, Moline, IL, USA 2014, Lightning Bolt Tour

From the MoSS? Pit: Sharon Van Etten

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band gave the crowd at Gabe’s a great show Oct. 13.

There was this one time at Gabe’s when things got kinda awkward. I want to tell you about it.

I was seeing Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. It was a great show: Ted and the band were rockin’ out, the crowd was sizable and into what was happening, and everyone was feeling good. And at some point between songs, Ted decided to tell some story about the long-running TV show Law & Order. And he even specified that he wanted to talk about the really early episodes.

To my mind, that was a good thing, because I really liked the episodes with Michael Moriarty. For one, his Ben Stone character wasn’t nearly as melodramatic as Jack McCoy. Two, the show didn’t feel it necessary that the DA’s office rack up a win-loss record that would rival Perry Mason; in fact, it seemed like Stone and Robinette were unable to get convictions on about a third of their cases, which led to some serious philosophical conversation on the courthouse steps between the defeated prosecution team and then Stone would flag a cab while Robinette stood there looking mad/sad and you could only imagine what sort of witticism DA Adam Schiff would have spouted had he been standing there.

adam schiffAdam Schiff (at right) was the best, by the way.

Anyway, for those of you not steeped in Law & Order trivia, Michael Moriarty pretty much talked his way out of his L&O role because he was angry that Janet Reno was critical of violence on TV and Moriarty felt that she was overstepping her boundaries and feared government censorship (or something like that). Producers cited his “erratic behavior” for his eventual dismissal, not Reno, but I think they were/are part of an elaborate cover-up!

So I decided this was the perfect time for me to yell the following: “FUCK JANET RENO!”

I didn’t stop to think about how that would sound as a lone voice coming from a crowd in a venue that isn’t exactly world-renowned for its acoustics. Not the criticisms of a former attorney general, but how what I said would get lost in translation, so to speak, as the sound waves went forward toward the stage.

So Ted Leo stops mid-sentence and says, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh did someone just say FUCK TED LEO?”

Suddenly everyone’s head swung around to look at me. It felt a lot like this:

kids pointing and laughing

I screamed out “NOOOOOO! JANET RENO!” but it was too late. Killed the entire vibe. Ted finally says, “Ah never mind, I don’t want to tell the story now.” And everyone glared at me again and I pretty much died right then. Only thing I remember after that is having tinnitus for about a week because Gabe’s.

sharon van etten with guitarAnyway, I bring this up because as good as the Sharon Van Etten concert was at Gabe’s on Monday night, one of the main takeaways was how awkward it got for a moment or two.

And once again, we have a Music or Space Shuttle member to thank! Not me this time, though!

Before I give you the lowdown on how Sam got in trouble during the concert, I’ll quickly give you some thoughts about the evening in general.

We had a pretty sizable gang out for the show (seven of us, all told) and most of us were able to make our way to the very front of the crowd. I was right along the stage, in fact. The view was great, of course, and the sound was actually quite nice from that angle. Sharon and the band seemed to be in a good mood, talking about how Doug the guitarist was celebrating a birthday and how they enjoyed their pre-show meal at the Motley Cow. It wasn’t the longest show in the world but they played most of what I wanted to hear.

“Taking Chances” and “Break Me” are two of my favorite songs and they both sounded great. “Serpents” was pretty cool although I think there were some technical difficulties or something with Sharon’s gear as she shook her head a time or two and kinda toe-tapped her pedals in a slight show of frustration. It still had a great aggressive feel to it and really it’s the vocal in that song (the way she holds the words “my mind” in the chorus) that does it for me. “Afraid of Nothing” was a great start to the night; “Your Love Is Killing Me” ended the main set very well. We got a two-song encore that included a song that didn’t make the last record but not for lack of quality, based on the rendition we heard.

Sharon seems genuinely appreciative of the fans; we noticed this at her Pitchfork set in July as well. It’s a weird juxtaposition sometimes, hearing her happy moments of gratitude before heading back into songs that pull at heartstrings, but it’s a cool trait that we like about her.

The set by opener Tiny Ruins (what we caught of it, anyway) was good. A bit more subdued than what Sharon and her band do, but they seem rooted in the same philosophical vein. I liked what I heard and need to seek out some more.

Non-concert thing: I’m still not a big fan of Toppling Goliath putting everything they have into bottling, consequently taking Golden Nugget off the taps of Iowa City drinking establishments. Lagunitas is picking up the slack, though.

OK, so let’s talk about Sam.

I have been making a conscious effort to stay off my phone during shows anymore. Not completely, but I try to get any photos or videos out of the way in the first three songs (this is a common grace period that credentialed media have for shooting photos, the first three songs). I can get a few shots, perhaps get one song worth of video, and then put the phone away. Worked out for me at the Cure at Riot Fest, as they played “Fascination Street” second overall, the song I wanted to capture. So that’s what I did: took maybe 10 photos of Sharon during the first song, sent one of them to Todd with a report about the crowd, and that was that.

So during the third song (I believe), I was kinda bobbing my head to the music, eyes half closed, when I swore I heard Sharon sing, right in the middle of the verse, “Get off your phone!” I shook my head, wondering if I imagined that, then went back to being the solemn hipster in the front row.

So at song’s end, Sharon went on a bit of a rant about people engaging during shows. About being on cell phones during shows. About how people can take photos and videos if they want, she doesn’t care, but it really sounds like she does care, and again, if you want to be on your phone, go ahead and do that, just don’t stand up front and do it, let other people up there, OK rant over let’s play music again.

I do believe that a guy two spots to my left recorded the whole thing on his phone, so he could correct any creative license I’ve taken with my paraphrasing.

Needless to say, at this point I would not be fulfilling the request I received during the second song, via text from Jess (Todd’s better half), hoping for video of “Your Love Is Killing Me.” And that reluctance was hammered home later in the set, when Sharon AGAIN ranted about cell phone use. Jesus, I thought, who the fuck set her off?

So after the show ended, I turned around to chat with the others: Michelle, Travis and Annie, Sam and Devon. They were all in the vicinity of the front row (Michelle was next to me; everyone else was one or two “rows” back).

“So you know that cell phone rant?” Sam says. “That was me.”


Apparently Sam was texting a friend, letting him/her (I never asked for clarification) know that Sharon’s set had just started and there was still time to get there to catch the lion’s share of the show. I’m guessing the glow from his phone illuminated Sam’s sexy mug in such a way that Sharon couldn’t help but notice. And when a guy like Sam isn’t paying attention to you, you let him know that he’s fucking up!

sharon van etten and sam

They were apologizing to each other at blurring speeds, apparently.

The story has a happy ending: Sharon hung out after the show, and Sam went over to apologize. He said she was apologetic herself by the time the conversation neared its end.

This isn’t the first time Sam has annoyed a musician in my presence at Gabe’s. Some 12 years ago (give or take) he and I were hanging out at Gabe’s to see the Donnas. I believe there were four bands on the bill, so there was plenty of time to kill.

This was in the golden age of coin-operated bar-top games like Trivia Whiz. Apparently Sam and I weren’t the only people who liked playing that game, as two of the Donnas (Donna R the smokin’ hot guitarist and Donna F the bass player) were back there playing. So we hovered, partly because two Donnas were playing but partly because we are trivia nerds.

So we’re watching over their shoulders and eventually Sam starts chiming in with answers. Of course he’s right every time, but it’s like when you’re playing solitaire and someone comes over and says “Duh! The 8 can go on that 9!” or something like that. You want to turn around and punch the guy in the seeds.

And Donna F the scary bassist gave a look that sort of conveyed that message. This photo of Donna F found on the Interwebs is pretty representative:

donna f

So perhaps out of guilt or perhaps as a way to flirt with Donna R, Sam ended up getting like $40 worth of quarters and gave them to the two Donnas playing Trivia Whiz, saying “If I’m going to blurt out answers I should at least pay for your games.” And much like his conciliatory conversation with Sharon, things worked out. They let us join in and it was good fun. The other two Donnas dropped by at some point, which was also pretty cool (I thought Donna A the singer was kinda cute or whatever). A little while later, they put on a really fun rock show.

I should clarify a couple of things: one, Sam didn’t really get $40 worth of quarters to play Trivia Whiz with the Donnas. He can tell you the exact amount in his inevitable defense statement in the comments of this post.

Second, I didn’t witness the Sharon conversation where they made up or whatever. I had already had my own conversation with Sharon during the show. Toward the end of the concert, she mentioned how she had a really shitty morning at the airport, where she and a grumpy airport worker had gotten into a bit of a spat. Sharon said she felt horrible about it but the airport worker kinda had it coming or something like that.

So it got kinda quiet and I seized my moment to interject, “What, was she on her phone or something?”

To which Sharon, to her credit, said without missing a beat, “No…but I did text a bunch of people about it.”

Good show.