MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: February 2015

 

2015 CT

Side A: Chris’ Picks

Side B: Todd’s Picks

 

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Festivus: Sam’s Airing of Grievances

Editor’s note: Remember that guy who wrote about Kiss? Sam’s back with some Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musings. I think this guy is passing the audition. Mainly because he mentioned the Cure again, which keeps him in my good graces. Plus, he writes one fucking thing and sets a one-day high in Music or Space Shuttle? traffic! This tells me that Sam has awesome friends who click stuff he shares on Facebook, AND that Todd and I need better, more-likely-to-click-our-links Facebook friends. (By the way, you can find all MoSS? posts at our Facebook page. Click the “Like” button on the right side of the page.) –Chris


rock and roll hall of fame exterior

I’m obsessed with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Actually, I’m obsessed with all Hall of Fames in general, I guess. I pissed and moaned for days a few months ago when my main Houston Astro, Craig Biggio, missed induction. You see, it takes 75 percent of the votes to earn induction. He got 74.8 percent. They don’t round up. So after the number of ballots cast was made public, it was determined that he missed the cut by two votes.

Two!

One Hall voter came out and said he left his ballot completely empty except for a vote for ’80s pitching ace Jack Morris, justifying his refusal to vote for anybody who played during the “steroid era.” Jack Morris, who pitched in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. In the American League. Which means he pitched, at some point in time, to Jose Canseco, the only guy proud to admit before Congress that he willingly took steroids. Take a bow, genius.

Even more insane, every fall, I spend a crazy amount of time obsessing over a thing called the Survivor Hall of Fame. Yes, a Hall of Fame for the CBS reality game show. For weeks, I solicit (they would probably say troll) the hell out of former players on Twitter. I argue about it on message boards. I’ve even had my own personal rules for induction criteria published. However, there’s no physical building or artifacts. No pilgrimage to see your favorite players enshrined. Really, the Survivor Hall of Fame is essentially just a blog, with a few photos and some online interviews. You know what? I don’t care. I love Survivor so I want it done right. I care. WAAAAYYYYY too much. Sorry, Gordon.

But there’s nothing that saps my time and energy like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed by how much it matters to me. But it does. And it’s never mattered more to me than this year, because the first truly revolutionary band (Nirvana) of the generation that defines my age group (Generation X) came up for induction and got in on the first ballot. Even more significantly, after years of crying to my poor, poor friends and colleagues about the injustice of the snub, the band that helped shape my pop cultural existence (Kiss) finally got in after having to wait for 14 years. The ceremony was a couple of weeks ago now, and it’s still all I think about. I really need a life.

I engaged in plenty of back and forth on social media this season, and was fortunate to gain lots of insight from a few people much more informed than I am (check out Brian Ives, Tom Lane, and the endless resource that is Future Rock Legends, for starters). Plus, after the illuminating blog by Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, I feel like I understand better how much politics can ruin something that represents an entity that’s supposed to be about rebellion like rock and roll.

So, in the wake of all that, the following diatribe may read like a butthurt plea supporting some of my favorite bands that don’t have a chance in hell of ever being inducted (hell, even a few I don’t really care about at all but still appreciate their significance). But the time has come for the airing of grievances … and I got a lot of problems with all of you.

ONE:

MC5 shirtless

MC5, also known as T-Shirt Zero

For me, maybe the hardest thing to reconcile with that institution are the bands that get inducted because of how “important” or “influential” they are. It can become very hypocritical (and I admit, I love most of bands that qualify in this rant) to declare something “adored but never accepted by the masses.” The Sex Pistols had one album. One. Their entire existence is one album and a tour. They imploded within two years. So where is the MC5? They had THREE albums, they had the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and many knowledgeable people would say they’re amongst the godfathers of both punk AND metal.

Also, bands like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges are in, some might say because their frontmen (Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, respectively) became rock legends later down the road. But both of those bands, when they were actually happening, never sold any records and never had any hits. But everyone who did like them started their own bands (I know, this is not an original thought, but it’s true).

runaways group photoOK, so by that rationale, who fits the bill? The Runaways. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, bought their records (except for Japanese teenagers), but …  a frontwoman who went on to greater fame solo (Joan Jett)? Check. (Not to mention Lita Ford, often considered the first lady of heavy metal). How many all-girl rock bands formed in their wake? How many of the ‘90s riot grrrl bands cite them as primary influences? Plus, “Cherry Bomb” is more recognizable than any song the Stooges ever put out (I love the Stooges, by the way). And OK, “Cherry Bomb” is one song. But my two-word rebuttal: Percy Sledge.

There’s been a lot of talk about Joan Jett going in solo (or with the Blackhearts) and the other night – fronting a reunited version of Nirvana at both the ceremony and the soon-to-be-legendary secret show they played afterward at an underground Brooklyn metal club – did a TON to help her cause. But like Linda Ronstadt, Jett’s biggest songs are cover tunes. I’d still rather see her go in with the Runaways. It will never happen, though. They’ll forever be seen as a gimmick and I don’t think they can ever get out from under that. But they belong in the argument.

And while we’re talking about influences … with all the Seattle bands coming up for induction, Motorhead should be considered. Black Flag should be considered. The Melvins should absolutely be considered. Watch some documentaries and listen to the words coming from the musicians themselves: Who introduced Dave Grohl to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic? The Melvins. Who invented that mud tone that became grunge? The Melvins. If some of these other bands get considered for trivial reasons, so should they. They’ve been around for over 30 years now. But will they get in? Absolutely not. I think the closest they’ll come is frontman Buzz Osbourne getting namedropped by Novoselic and drummer Dale Crover getting praised by Grohl during Nirvana’s induction (it must be noted that Crover played on enough songs that ended up on both Bleach and Incesticide to be considered one of the band’s pre-Grohl drummers, but he, like Chad Channing, gets left out in the cold. More on this later …)

go-go's on rolling stone coverTWO:

Women are shamefully underrepresented in the Hall. I was worried about a lot of the divas getting the shaft…that is, up until the induction of Donna Summer. Her induction opened the doors for Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey in a huge way (all three are ridiculously talented singers with mountains of No. 1 singles, but who write little and play nothing). But if those two DON’T get in, you can absolutely forget about the likes of, say, Britney Spears (hey, stop laughing…I’m just trying to think of big stars down the road). Will Mary J. Blige or Missy Elliott be there? Is Carly Simon worthy? Because she’s not in.

The Go-Go’s or the Bangles should get a fair look, but they won’t…either not enough big hits or they weren’t together long enough.

BenatarBut the Go-Go’s do have historical significance on their side—the first all-female band that wrote and performed their own material to have a No. 1 album. They deserve a shot, because without one, will other critically adored all-girl bands such as Sleater-Kinney have a chance?

And you know who should be in the talk, especially now that Ronstadt got in? Pat Benatar. People forget just how huge she was in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The hits, the massive exposure at the dawn of MTV, the multi-platinum records and Grammys…they speak for themselves.

THREE:

The bias against hard rock and metal drives me insane. Off the top of my head, the only bands identified as heavy rock or metal that are currently in are Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and now Kiss. OK, maybe Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, too (sorry, I don’t count Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix or the Who).

Maybe I’m just annoyed that rap seems to get preferential treatment.­ To me growing up, rap and metal were truly kindred spirits—the extreme branches on the rock and roll tree, so much so that they merited their own specialty shows on MTV, metal being the extreme offshoot of rock, rap the extreme offshoot of R&B/soul. So why is one more important than the other? Look, I love Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy as much as the next guy. Love them. They absolutely deserve to be in. But why is it that the rap groups always get in on the first ballot, but a groundbreaking band like Sabbath—who invented an entire genre of music—had to wait 10 years? It’s disrespectful.

Paul Stanley really hit the nail on the head in his induction speech: fandom means nothing to these people. All that matters, it appears, is critical acclaim, something metal rarely gets.

The British godfathers of metal (Sabbath—in, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and the Big 4 of American thrash (Metallica—in , Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax) deserve consideration. And I’ll say it again: Deep Purple on the outside looking in is a joke.

FOUR:

Speaking of Deep Purple, let’s pretend they get in next year. Who’s getting inducted? Will it only be the Mark II version of the band, the version behind “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” “Speed King,” Space Truckin’,” and “Woman From Tokyo”? (Seriously, how are the fuck are they NOT in already?) Because I think they’re up to at least Mark VIII or IX by now, right? That’s a lot of guys over 40+ years.

That seems to be the big controversy (and rightfully so). Who decides who’s getting in? Why did Parliament-Funkadelic get all 957 of its members inducted, but Kiss had to settle for the four original members, even though they had at least four other guys with decade-plus stints consisting of multiple gold albums and world tours? Both bands were garish theatrical groups on the Casablanca label in the ‘70s. Is it because Parliament got sampled on lots of g-funk rap albums in the ’90s? Who knows?

But there needs to be some consistency. Sammy Hagar gets inducted for his stint fronting Van Halen, but Ronnie James Dio can’t get the same for his time reinventing Black Sabbath? (I think this stinks of Sharon Osbourne, but that’s just a hunch.) Rob Trujillo (one album in a five-year stint at the time) gets to go in with Metallica, and 32-year-old Josh Klinghoffer, who had been in the band for about two-plus years and had played on exactly one album, gets to go in with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But a guy like Gilby Clarke, who made significant contributions to Guns N’ Roses, gets left out? (After reading the Frantz blog, it’s much more clear: where the Talking Heads had Seymour Stein, Metallica and the Chili Peppers had Cliff Burnstein (he manages both AND sits on the nominating committee).

Chad Channing played drums on Nirvana’s debut album, as well as several other b-sides and live cuts. He did the early gigs and tours. He participated in the early sessions for Nevermind and wrote several drum parts that Dave Grohl willingly admitted that he just copied in the final product (kudos to Grohl for saying this during his actual Hall induction speech, by the way). Oh, and he actually IS on Nevermind, albeit in a minor role (and especially now that the early demo sessions recorded by Butch Vig have been released on the album’s anniversary deluxe edition). He didn’t get in. Yet every drummer who ever played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers got in (obviously, I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers broke the Hall of Fame). I can’t wait to see how they handle the Pearl Jam drummer situation. Jesus…

FIVE:

Finally a few passing thoughts: Woefully missing are the alt-rock and new wave bands of the early ’80s. To name but a few … The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Cars, Duran Duran, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Husker Du. As for rap, I don’t really care…and I’ll tell you why: Eventually that’s the stuff that gonna take over this thing. Eminem. Kanye. Jay-Z. It’s coming. They’re the biggest rock stars of the post-Napster era when the record companies started losing a little bit of their influence (I mean, we’ve got a LONG time before the White Stripes and bands like Arcade Fire become eligible). With that in mind, just give me NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, and Biggie. Those were the rappers and crews that shaped my era. After they get in, I don’t care.

As far as my best guess for the bands of my generation…I personally don’t think a band like, say, Motley Crue has a prayer. Even with solid membership, lots of legitimate hits, a strong touring history, and the greatest story ever told, I think they’re immune even if believers in poptimism gain more influence in the nominating committee.

motley crue all glammed out

A lot of girls from Chris’ hometown looked a lot like Vince Neil does in this photo.

But you know what…says who? Motley Crue doesn’t have a shot because Rolling Stone doesn’t like them? A band shouldn’t base their legacy solely on a handful of critics with too much influence and power telling them how awesome they were. Isn’t that kind of what killed Kurt Cobain? Pretty sure he hated what that did to his band. I’m not advocating their enshrinement, but one thing everybody should respect about a band like Motley Crue—even if you think their music is either awesome or shit—is that they have no fucks to give when it comes to what anyone says about them on a critical level. It hasn’t stopped them from their decades of sold-out shows and platinum records.

(I’m well aware that someone somewhere will say the same thing about Nickelback in 20 years, but that becomes a question of eras…you know what: I’ll deal with that when it happens …)

But a band from that era that should get considered is Def Leppard, the rare band from the ‘80s glam metal period that garnered critical acclaim on top of massive commercial success.

Nick Drake holding guitar

Nick Drake, true artist. Way more acclaim after death.

As for the ’90s, come on. Pearl Jam is a mortal lock (I can’t believe they haven’t had their eligibility period waved). Radiohead is a lock. Beck is a lock. Green Day is a lock (eligible next year, actually, and I’ll be stunned if they have to wait). I have a hunch Rage Against the Machine is a lock. Eventually, Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins are all major contenders and all will be there over time. And I think Oasis has the most obvious shot of representing Britpop. And I keep reading about people saying bands like Blur and Pavement, for example, are shoo-ins, but I don’t know, I gotta see it first before I believe it.

And finally, my own personal snubs…well, now that Kiss is FINALLY in, I’m going with Deep Purple (too many anthems to ignore), Chicago (Jann Wenner reportedly is to them what Dave Marsh was to Kiss), Nick Drake (maybe the most perfect discography of all time) and the MC5 (seriously, the Stooges are in and they are NOT? Come on. “Kick Out The Jams” is bigger and certainly more iconic than ANYTHING the Stooges did. They are the first band associated with the sound that is considered punk rock) …

Sheesh, I feel like a battered wife after that. Why do you hate me, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when I want to love you so much?

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #20-16

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. PortisheadThird

19. Depeche ModeViolator

18. Nick DrakePink Moon

17. Smashing PumpkinsGish

16. Sigur Ros( )

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#17: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

cover for gishWe said we’d keep our “closer looks” to two artists per entry until the top 10; as a result, I’m basically ignoring the album (Violator) that defined a big part of my junior year of high school, right around the time that I ended a relationship that by all accounts was perfect and entered into another that was short-sighted yet valuable all the same. And if you ever wanted an album to soundtrack the mixed emotions of a confused teenager, you can’t go wrong with the extremes found on Violator.

Yet I’m opting to talk at length about one of two albums that defined my senior year of high school, when I wised up and stopped taking science courses (I took physics, but that’s math) and dropped Advanced Composition to take Parenting and started dating girls two grades below me. And yes, listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish hundreds of times.

Thanks to Spin, which wrote a feature about a handful of bands to watch, I made a mental note to check out this oddly named band. It wasn’t hard to remember the name, probably because it’s a terrible name for a band. Most people laughed at the name when I told them they had to check out Smashing Pumpkins. Often times they would snicker or roll their eyes or whatever and never listen to the blank tape I carried with me at all times. Then again, a lot of people I knew back then had no interest in anything other than Zeppelin or Garth or Poison (but rarely all three).

Despite this reaction, perhaps the name is genius. I certainly remembered it in the period between reading that Spin article and buying the CD. And if you’re as good as the Pumpkins were on their debut disc, you can make a ballsy move like naming your band Smashing Pumpkins. Because once you hear them, you’re not going to give a fuck what the band name is, aside from the fact that you need the name so you can tell your friends they have to listen to this band now.

The clean snaps from Jimmy Chamberlin’s snare drum immediately call the listener to attention. The rumble of the bass comes next, and then the Billy Corgan Experience comes at you with guitars a-blazin’. You do a double-take when the thin Corgan voice fills the air, but you’re still rolling with the groove, so you shrug a little bit. Soon enough, Corgan is assailing your ears with layers of solo guitar work before the bass’s rumble is isolated again and the song hits its final chorus and it comes to a halt and you’re all like “dude! What the fuck!” And then “Siva” starts and you’re air-guitaring the shit out of your bedroom/basement/car’s driver seat/back room at Pizza Hut/wherever.

These aren’t the 1980s guitar licks, processed and played only in the higher ranges. This shit was grungy (aha!), tuned down and dirty as fuck. “Siva” plays up the LOUDquietLOUD aspect of late ’80s/early ’90s alt-rock at least twice, the second time again isolating the bass guitar, which isn’t playing anything complicated (although D’Arcy might disagree) but propels the song forward while the guitars chill the fuck out for a few seconds and Billy whisper-sings about wanting to know what you’re after because he just wants to get there faster and then the SONG JUST FUCKING EXPLODES and you’re punching the air along with every hit of Chamberlin’s drums and you are like “holy shit this is so so so so goddamn good and I hope this puts a fucking ice pick in the eye socket of ‘heavy metal’ and all that hair metal shit because holy fuck this is awesome.”

And then “Rhinoceros” takes everything down a notch, to let you know that Billy doesn’t need layers of guitar running through Big Muff pedals to do his thing.

And then “Bury Me” brings the guitar heroics back. And then “Crush” slows it all down again. Songs like “Crush” and the next song, “Suffer,” are the songs that best exemplify what Spin said about these guys (I’m paraphrasing): an album you put on as you relax and get all reflective while watching the specks floating in the beam of sunlight coming through your bedroom window. There’s something romantic to that description, and I always enjoyed approaching parts of this album through that lens.

The album throttles forward again with “Snail” and “Tristessa,” then concludes with the two most eccentric tracks on the album: the ominous, slow build of “Window Paine” (punctuated with trademark blasts of controlled feedback at song’s end) and “Daydream,” an acoustic tune that features D’Arcy on vocals and a perfect sense of weariness. (And when you think the album is over, a strange reprise of sorts kicks in, with Billy back on vocals and a simple electric guitar line that adds just a touch of sinister to the album’s conclusion).

Many people thought the Pumpkins were from Seattle, because that’s where all the good music like this was coming from, courtesy of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. No, they were from Chicago; yes, they were as good as (if not better than) the folks from the Pacific Northwest.

#16: Sigur Ros, ( )

cover for ( )The challenge: express my love for an album that had no title, no song titles (at least upon initial release), lyrics that weren’t English or any other established language…essentially guide vocals that served more instrumental value than vocal message.

The thing is, as pretentious as the whole thing sounds, the eight songs that make up this untitled album are absolutely gorgeous. I might as well be writing in the nonsense language sung by Jonsi to adequately get across my points…but if nothing else, the bottom line is that these songs create an environment that, to my ears and to my “the afterlife is bullshit” mind, is as close to heaven as I think any of us is going to get.

Much like with Explosions in the Sky, this music sounds like the perfect ingredients for a motion picture score. And the music is varying enough (even if the “lyrics” aren’t) that it works for a number of moods and settings. And the fact that the lyrics aren’t real words is not a hindrance: much like the music behind them, the words can mean whatever you want them to mean. And be honest…a lot of you don’t get the words right when you sing along to songs in English.

(To my ears, the primary “lyric” to the first song is “You sat along the fire/you saw the light/you saw/you suffered alone/you sat alone/your soul”; again, there is no definitive lyric, but that’s what I hear, and it plays into my interpretation of the artistic vision of the music.)

Soaring, atmospheric, conjuring up scenes of natural beauty, fast, loud, slow, quiet, pianos, guitars, percussion, strings, organ, Jonsi…all of these elements add up to bliss. I should take a cue from the album’s lack of words and stop now, and let the music speak for itself. Please listen to the last two songs in my sampler found just above my #20-16 list, and interpret the space between the album title’s parentheses as you will. As someone who will finally see the band in concert in April 2013, I’m sure my interpretations will change again after the live experience. That’s one, if not the primary, beautiful aspect of ( ): there’s always room for your ever-changing view of this wonderful art.

Todd’s #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. Beatles, Revolver

19. The Strokes, Room On Fire

18.The Cure, Disintegration

17. Radiohead, Kid A

16. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#18: The Cure, Disintegration

I’ll keep this brief because I’m pretty certain my main MoSS? man Chris is going to be waxing poetic about this record at some point down the road. No surprise to all you Chris fans out there I’m sure.

I’d like to say that I was in on this album from the beginning but that wasn’t the case. When Disintegration came out, I was still exploring classic rock and Livin’, Lovin’ my way through the Led Zeppelin catalog. I’d probably heard a few songs from The Cure by then but they were definitely not on my radar at that point. I do remember seeing the video for “Lovesong” and thinking, “What’s that dude whining about?”

So what made me change my mind? Well, a girl of course. Around that time, my dopey friends and I went over to a classmate’s house to hang out with her and her friend from another school. Yes, a new girl from an exotic unknown land. Well, two towns away to be exact. She was cool, cute, and brunette. I was smitten. I have a weakness for brunettes, this is well documented. The TV was tuned to 120 Minutes, an MTV show that played alternative music videos. At some point the video for the song “Fascination Street” was on and new girl said she loved The Cure. What do you think I told her in response? You guessed it…“I love them too. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time.”

She must have sensed I was full of shit. Maybe it was my hair. I was still rocking the mullet. You know. Business in the front…party in the back. See photo on the left. It was an obvious sign of a hard or classic rock lover. Not too long after that I started to wear my hair in the exact opposite way, with my hair long in front and short in back which was more in line with the alternative music that I was getting into. See photo on the right of the band The Ocean Blue. They made the list back at #69 with their self titled debut album. I dressed and wore my hair just like the those guys.

Anyways, exotic-two-towns-away girl didn’t fall for my lie and I, of course, got nowhere with her. It wasn’t a total strikeout though because the experience got me interested in The Cure. Today I wouldn’t be lying if I told her that The Cure is one of my favorite bands of all time. Plus, I can always console myself in the fact that I met and married a way cooler, way hotter brunette that loves The Cure too.

I wonder what happened to two-towns-away girl? I like to think that she married some dude that got her into country music and right now she is listening to Rascal Flatts or something equally as horrid. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything.

#17: Radiohead, Kid A

This is my highest rated Radiohead album. You won’t be seeing the over hyped OK Computer on any of my lists (unless we make a list of the 100 Most Overrated Albums Ever…mental note) No, Kid A is the Radiohead album for me. I feel the same way about this record as Chris does about Sigur Ros ( ) which he so eloquently wrote about above. The music, while eerily off-putting at times, is beautiful. Though, unlike Jonsi from Sigur Ros, Thom Yorke is singing in English and you can understand most of his lyrics.

In my crazy head, the album Kid A will always be connected to the movie Almost Famous. They really have nothing to do with each other, but I can’t think of one without eventually thinking of the other. They came out around the same time. Almost Famous in September 2000 and Kid A a few weeks later. A week or so after that, Saturday Night Live had Radiohead as the musical guest and the host was, new Hollywood “It Girl” and star of Almost Famous, Kate Hudson.  She really blew up after that movie came out. They threw her in a ton of crap movies and you couldn’t go to a newsstand without seeing her on several magazine covers. Like this Rolling Stone cover from late October 2000.

Not too shabby in the looks department but not really my type. I always liked the actress that played the sister in Almost Famous better, Zooey Deschanel. She’s been involved in much better projects than Kate since then and is in the indie band, She and Him, which gets her astronomically more cool points. I guess Kate did marry the dude from the Black Crowes but that doesn’t really help her cause in my book. And again, I have a weakness for brunettes.

Anyways, I bought that Rolling Stone magazine at the O’hare International Airport before a business flight to Tampa Bay. The two main articles in it are about… you guessed it… Radiohead’s Kid A and the movie Almost Famous.

The last 45 minutes of the flight were pretty bumpy as we came through some bad weather. At times it felt like we were riding a roller coaster as we suddenly gained and lost altitude. I’m not scared of flying but like most people, I find rocketing through the air in a tin can a bit less fun when the tin can is being thrown around by turbulence. I put on my headphones and queued up the first song on Kid A to try and relax. “Everything in It’s Right Place” came over my headphones and did nothing to soothe my nerves. It has a pretty ominous sound to it and made me feel even more like we might not make it safely to the ground. We hit a very bumpy stretch a bit later and when I looked out the window I could see lightning and huge storm clouds ahead.

There is a great part in the movie Almost Famous were the central characters are in a small airplane that has engine troubles and they believe they are going to die as they plummet to the earth. Everyone on board takes the opportunity to make major announcements about there sexuality and/or air out long held grievances. The plane eventually rights itself and they realize that they aren’t going to die. Awkward!

I definitely wasn’t going to be sharing any major revelations with the chatty 300 lb. dude wedged into the seat next to me. So, I just closed my eyes and tried to appear as though I was calmly sleeping through the worst plane flight of my life. At that point, the song “How to Disappear Completely” came over the headphones.  This time the music and lyrics actually made me feel better.

Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here
I’m not here
I’m not here

I just kept on listening and by the time the album was over so was the storm. I opened my eyes and there was nothing but clear skies ahead. The rest of the flight went smoothly and we touched down in sunny Florida with our lives and our dignity intact. Although, the dude next to me did reveal that he had been a bed wetter until the age of 15.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

 

#80-71

 

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #40-31

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. The Beatles, Help!

39. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup

38. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career

37. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter

36. The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

35. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

34. Sonic Youth, Goo

33. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

32. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm

31. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#40: The Beatles, Help!

cover image for help!This album is the perfect mix of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” kind of Beatles and the more introspective type of song the band would write more often in the second act of its career. Makes sense, seeing as it is the fifth of the band’s 12 albums (going by the British catalog). But that’s only part of the reason I like this album so much.

I love the movie Help! Just love it. It was the second movie for the Fab Four, and it served the same purpose as their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night: an excuse to have the Beatles play their music on the big screen. Since the first movie’s plot was “let’s show the Beatles being the Beatles, playing music everywhere they go in their everyday lives,” Help! needed some sort of exotic plot. Here’s what they came up with:

A girl is to be sacrificed by some offbeat cult. However, she mailed the “sacrificial ring” to Ringo, who put it on his pinky finger only to have it stuck on there. Soon, the cult leader is pursuing Mr. Starr, as is a British mad scientist who thinks he could “rule the world” with such a ring. Oh yeah, the sacrificial girl’s sister shows up to help the Fab Four escape the evil clutches of Ringo’s enemies (and she’s kinda hot, so naturally she likes Paul despite being fawned over by George). Hilarity ensues, and (SPOILER!!!!) Ringo lives to drum another day.

The movie’s tone is a bit like Monty Python, albeit not nearly as clever. But it did beat the Pythons to the punch with the nonsensical “intermission” bit spliced into the movie:

And Help! had the great tunes you all know (the title track; “Ticket to Ride”) and the equally great ones you won’t find on greatest hits compilations (“The Night Before”; “Another Girl”; George’s “I Need You”; “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”; and one of the best songs in the Beatles’ entire catalog, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”). The tunes used in the movie are amazingly catchy, and the second half of the album is just as solid, featuring seven more songs not used in the movie. Hardly throwaways, either: the most-covered song of all time, “Yesterday”; Paul’s wonderful vocal on the quick romp “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; the interesting guitar sound complementing John’s raw voice on “It’s Only Love.”

Many a person likes to look at Rubber Soul as the album where the Beatles got “serious”; I think Help! is a better collection of songs, an album that shows the band capable of greater musical flourishes (the guitar interplay between John and George is wonderful throughout) and finding a better balance of Beatlemania-pop and serious content. It’s no wonder they cobbled a movie together to showcase this stuff.

#36: The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

cover image for the southern harmony and musical companionI remember the first time I heard the second album from the Black Crowes. I had just moved to the second floor of Rider Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. My folks and my younger brother helped get my dorm room in order, which wasn’t a tall task, as all I brought were clothes, books, my CD player, and my CD collection. What else did I need? I was going to go to a party at the infamous “White House” later that evening with one of my good friends and a girl who graduated from Waukon a year ahead of me. (When you bought a cup at the White House, they wrote a number on your hand; mine was somewhere among the first 20. Toward the end of my night, I saw some numbers in the 800s.) I was just a couple of days away from starting my training as a computer scientist (a trade I would abandon after three semesters of outdated computer code–it was 1992 and I was learning FORTRAN, for fuck’s sake–and way too much calculus).

Anyway, life at that moment was good. But I was a little nervous all the same. Kinda like when I started kindergarten, but without the risk of peeing my pants this time (after a few hours at “the White House,” though, all bets are off on urinary control). During those first few days of kindergarten, I would find my buddy Alex, who was in first grade, on the playground at recess. He would invite me to come hang with the other first graders, playing tag or kickball or participating in whatever tomfoolery first graders did at a Catholic grade school. That helped me get used to school, and soon enough, I was the coolest kid at St. Pat’s. (That last part is false.)

Lucky for me, my buddy Alex now lived on the same floor of Rider Hall as me, in the other wing. So I went to find him.

Alex was a sophomore, so he had this dorm room thing down. His room looked like pimped-out compared to mine. (Read: he had a lofted bed, a TV, a stocked fridge, and a sweet stereo.) He asked me how I was going to spend my first night at UNI; I told him I was heading to the White House. “Gonna get some puss?” I was asked. Not “pussy,” but “puss.” (While I probably responded with “Yeah!” or “I hope so,” the answer turned out to be “no.”) As we talked, he flipped on the stereo, and the opening riffs of “Sting Me” filled the room.

Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about dorm rooms or “puss” or an offer to hook me up with a $5 case of Meister Brau (which, before the afternoon was over, I accepted…unwisely). What I was thinking: Damn! The Crowes have a new album! Who can give me a ride to Sam Goody?!?

So Alex and I shared a cold drink or two while listening to the Crowes and talking about college. It was just what I needed, both from a calming standpoint about my new life as Joe College, and hearing good tunes. “Sting Me” moved to “Remedy” and “Thorn in My Pride,” two songs tailor made for rock radio, and then two soulful jams, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” and “Sometimes Salvation,” which in my opinion is the best one-two punch in Black Crowes recorded history. There’s not a bum track on this album, an opinion I formed with Alex and later confirmed over numerous listens. The Crowes’ first album was pretty great, but the follow-up sounded like a band more comfortable with themselves, stretching their legs and groovin’ the fuck out. And it’s an album that stirs up the positive memories I have of my friend Alex, who sadly passed away not too long ago. Alex and I lost touch once I transferred to ISU, but I’ll always remember the times he helped out his younger friend, and his good taste in music in 1992.

And his dropping of the “y” from “pussy.” (smile)

Todd’s #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs

39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

38. M83, Saturdays=Youth

37. Peter Gabriel, So

36. Vampire Weekend, Contra

35. Prince, Dirty Mind

34. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

32. Beck, Mellow Gold

31. Portishead, Dummy

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

Three seventeen year old suburban white boys are rolling down the street in a ‘79 Monte Carlo. Out of the obnoxiously loud sub-woofers come the soothing sounds of N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton. One of the guys is looking extra menacing with his NY Yankees hat on backwards. Of course, back then I weighed about 135 lbs. so you could see why I looked so menacing. I also wore that stupid Yankees cap for about 2 years straight.

Your time is coming soon.

Why? I had such thick luxuriant hair. Why cover it up? I took it for granted. To all you haired men out there, never take it for granted. Never. You assholes…I know you’re taking it for granted. I can tell. Right now you’re laughing at me. You’re saying, “That guy’s nuts. My hair is never falling out.” Well take it from me. It sneaks up on you. One day you’re reading a book and you notice two small strands of your hair slowly drift onto the paper. You scoff at it; “Plenty more where that came from,” you’ll say. Then one day you’ll see the top of your head on a video camera as you walk into the local Target store. You will be blinded by the reflection from your un-camouflaged scalp. Again you will be in denial. “Those surveillance cameras must have some weird filtering effect or something” you’ll say. Then the day will come when you look in the mirror and realize your head looks vaguely like a half plucked chicken. What little hair that is left is wispy and pathetic. You will have two choices; Comb-over or shave it. I chose to shave it like a man. I hope you choose to comb-over when your day comes.

So as I was saying, we were rolling down the street and listening to tough guy gangsta rap. I was new to the art form at that point and wanted to have a copy of my own to bone up on all the gangsta rap terms: gaffle, endo, and suckamuthafucka. Also, how else was I going to learn all the different ways to degrade women?

So we head over to the Best Buy. Gangstas shop at Best Buy right? Yeah, we were living the thug life. We head over to the rap section looking for Straight Outta Compton. That’s when I saw that N.W.A had a new album out. Niggaz4life. I grabbed it and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money. The Velcro ripping noise of my wallet was extra gangsta I’m sure. I had a $15 in there. What a pimp! The tape was only $9.99 so I was all set to purchase. That’s when I noticed dozens of papers pinned up all over the rap section of the store stating that you had to be 18 years old to buy the cassette in my hands. Not any other tape. They made a point to call out Niggaz4life specifically. They would be verifying I.D.s at the checkouts. Suckamuthafucka!

I was not living the thug life or looking particularly gangsta as I wandered the music section looking for an adult that would take my money and buy the tape for me. I found a college dude willing to do it, if he could keep what was left of my money after the transaction. Eazy-E would have said that I got gaffled there. So gangsta.

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

Ten was released in late 1991 and by summer the next year everyone I knew had a copy. To borrow a line from Wayne’s World, “If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” Wayne was of course referring to the album Frampton Comes Alive which somehow avoided both Chris’ and my lists. Ten was very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adored it. They think it’s some righteous music. Include me somewhere in that bunch. I’ll let you decide which category I was in. I think I enjoyed it mostly because it felt very intense bordering on angry much of the time.

After seeing the video for “Even Flow” I was totally hooked. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was like a man possessed. He appeared to be an incredibly charismatic front man with his angry head banging and microphone swinging. At one point in the video, he climbs around in the rafters of a venue during a live show. He swings on pipes, scales walls, and finally dives off of a ledge into frenzied crowd below. After that, I swore that I would see them live.

I was all pumped up for the next Pearl Jam release Vs. I even waited in line with fifty other music nerds at Co-Op Tapes and Records for the special midnight release. It was good but I wasn’t obsessively listening to it like I did with Ten. I was still on the lookout for a live show though. That would have to kick ass right? Then I saw this performance on MTV.

That was the beginning of Eddie Vedder’s potted plant phase. He hardly moves. The intensity seems to be there but it looks like he’s in a straitjacket for much of the performance.

By the time Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy was released I had almost no interest in them. Pearl Jam toured in support of that record and were coming only 2 hours away to Chicago. They were in a battle with Ticketmaster at the time and were using some other ticketing agent. You had to call a special number and could only buy four tickets at a time. You also had to call from an Illinois phone number. Most of my friends were in Iowa. I had a girlfriend who lived in Illinois and hatched a plan to call from her place. We got through three times before the concert sold out and came away with 10 or 12 tickets to the show. We marked up the price and sold them to friends and acquaintances for a nice chunk of money. I even sold my own ticket, using the money to buy more CDs, lots of beer, and a mountain bike. I think I made the right choice. I still have the bike and you should see my calf muscles. They’re enormous. My friends that went to the concert only came away with a hangover and mild tinnitus.


Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #70-61

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ 70-61

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

70. Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left

69. Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun

68. Best Coast, Crazy for You

67. Green Day, Dookie

66. M83, Saturdays=Youth

65. Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, Ultra

64. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

63. U2, The Joshua Tree

62. The Black Keys, thickfreakness

61. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#67: Green Day, Dookie

album cover for "dookie"A song with a killer bass line and lyrics about polishing the skin flute…that’s what piqued my interest in Green Day. Then I bought Dookie, and found myself absolutely enamored with all the simple things that make rock n roll great: an amazingly tight rhythm section, a catchy sequence of power chords, faux-British-accented vocals, lyrics about having a blast and burning out and “paradise” and wasting other people’s time and being paranoid and/or stoned and hearing someone cry aloud out all the way across town and being told to fuck off and die.

I think Dookie came along at a perfect time. Grunge was running its course, especially with the death of Kurt Cobain, but I was still interested in non-flashy guitar-driven rock. Green Day provided that. The band had matured into better songwriters and stepped up their production values after two solid albums (the debut compilation of LP and EPs, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, is a definite indicator of the potential, even with a lesser drummer). The glossiness of Dookie never bothered me, just like I had no reason to despise the sound of Nirvana’s Nevermind compared with the sludgy sound of the $606 production of Bleach. I was also in a new town when I started listening to Dookie in earnest. I was making new friends in Ames and enjoying life and more often than not we had songs such as “Having a Blast” on the sound system while, erm, having a blast.

I thought Green Day had additional bright moments over the years, but nothing that burned as bright as this piece of shit from 1994. From the first two touches of the high hat that kick off “Burnout” to the last quiet bits of the jokey “hidden track” that followed “F.O.D.,” this was youthful joy. I never reach for the skip button when listening to this album, and the songs have aged well over the subsequent two decades.

And if you don’t like it, you can F.O.D.

#63: U2, The Joshua Tree

joshua tree album coverMany people like to romanticize that Nirvana (more specifically, Nevermind) killed hair metal. For me, it was The Joshua Tree.

When U2’s fifth album came out in 1987, I was listening to a lot of “awesome” music; that spring, I probably played my Poison tape more than anything. Then the song “With or Without You” hit the radio and music video rotation, and I was intrigued. Then I heard the whole album, and found myself really drawn to the two songs that ended up being the next two singles, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” And the bombast of “Bullet the Blue Sky.” And Bono’s yowls on “Trip Through Your Wires.” And “The Edge guitar sound” on “In God’s Country.”

And the quiet hush of “Running to Stand Still,” which I included in my #61-70 sampler above. I found so much to enjoy about the lyrics:

Sweet the sin
Bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out

You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice

You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here

Suddenly, singing along to “‘Cause baby we’ll be at the drive-in, in the old man’s Ford, behind the bushes, ’til I’m screamin’ for more” seemed juvenile, even to a hormonal 13-year-old dude. Admittedly, it’s not like I immediately threw away my Look What the Cat Dragged In cassette after hearing The Joshua Tree. But I never bought Open Up and Say…Ahhh!; I did get Rattle and Hum when it came out and plucked War from the back catalog and started giving bands like R.E.M. a try when joining the BMG tape club.

Before The Joshua Tree, my lone exposure to U2 was watching Bono leaping down into the crowd (sort of) during the 1985 Live Aid broadcast (I was really annoyed, because I was waiting and hoping to see–surprise!–Duran Duran). I had no idea that in two years, this band of Irishmen would seriously alter the way I listened to and appreciated music. And I believe The Joshua Tree is one of those albums that is able to speak to myriad audiences. Consider life in my dorm during freshman year at the University of Northern Iowa. I lived two doors down from a couple of football players; their room was a popular hangout for a fair number of the Panthers. Whenever they got together to play Madden on the Sega Genesis, they always listened to The Joshua Tree, even though it was a good five years old by then. Not macho metal, not ridiculous rap…”Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” I always liked that…even if I could never beat those fuckers in Madden. Oh well: Tecmo Super Bowl was always my game, anyway. And I owned them in NHL ’93 the following spring…

/video game braggadocio

Todd’s 70-61

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

70. The Sundays, Static and Silence

69. The Ocean Blue, The Ocean Blue

68. The Breeders, Last Splash

67. Crash Test Dummies, God Shuffled His Feet

66. Oasis, What’s the Story(Morning Glory)?

65. Madonna, True Blue

64. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Stoned and Dethroned

63. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

62. Feist, The Reminder

61. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#70. The Sundays, Static and Silence

This was the third of three stellar albums from The Sundays. After its release, lead singer Harriet Wheeler and guitarist David Gavurin quit the business to settle down and raise their kids. I have patiently waited 15 years for a fourth Sundays album. Waiting…Waiting… I’m starting to get impatient. So, in an effort to get them out of retirement, I am going to make a personal plea to The Sundays. Please, come back! Pretty please! Seriously! C’mon!

I get that you wanted to live a simpler life, have kids, and get away from the hassles of the record industry. But we live in different times now. You don’t need large record labels to record and distribute music anymore. We have a thing called “The Interwebs” now. Get a computer (heck I’ll buy you one) and record in your basement like 23 million other artists are doing now. Throw the new material up on a website (I’ll do that for you too. It would be a Music or Space Shuttle? exclusive release. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.)

If it’s the money that’s holding you back, I have a plan for that as well. No one makes money doing it the old way. Unless your last name is Bieber, Swift or Gaga, you aren’t selling albums like the old days. Listen up Sundays. Here’s the new plan. And all you new bands can get in on this as well. Release your album slowly, one song a month. Stream it online and let me decide it I like it or not. If I like it, I buy it. If not, someone else does. Or doesn’t. Who cares? You have another song coming out next month. Maybe we like that song instead. I’d be way more likely to pay for a band’s music one dollar at a time than I would be to buy a whole album for $10 without hearing it. I’m sure a lot of other people would as well.

Sounds great right Harriett? Right Dave? I’m ready when you are. Just think about it.

Please come back! Pretty please?

#61. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I was going to music school in Minneapolis around the time The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was released. I listened to it a lot in between classes and would get different reactions.

There were a lot of guitar students in one of my music theory classes and they would give me shit for listening to it. I didn’t take it personally. Most of them were assholes and looked like rejects from a Black Sabbath cover band. One guy dressed almost exactly like Rob Zombie sans makeup. He kept trying to tell me Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe was the greatest album of all time and Lauryn Hill was crap. Unfortunately, Hellbilly is still on my “Albums To Listen To” list so I’ll have to take his word for it. (Side Note: Zombie guy could shred on guitar. I watched him play an inspired solo during his rendition of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.”)

My production classes were a mixed bag, half the students were into electronic and trip hop music and the other half were into rap. One trip hop guy thought he was way too cool for me because I wasn’t listening to the newest Portishead record every day like he was. I never thought that record was very good. Portishead’s first album, Dummy. Now that was good. The rap guys were way into Silkk The Shocker around that time. I had to listen to Charge It 2 Da Game several times. To this day, I still think it is one of the worst things ever recorded. If I made a list of worst albums of all time (coming Fall 2013) this would be at the top, if not #1.

In a school full of musicians and music lovers, why was the future #61 album of all time getting no love? Why did we all hate each other’s music? Why couldn’t we all just get along? Maybe I was an asshole to the guitar guys and not the other way around. Is there some long haired cover band guitarist in the Twin City area blogging about some dick from Iowa that used to say Hellbilly Deluxe was shitty? That’s too much to take in right now. Maybe I need a therapist.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #80-71

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ 80-71

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

80. De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead

79. The Strokes, Is This It

78. Metallica, Ride the Lightning

77. The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan

76. Washed Out, Within and Without

75. The xx, Coexist

74. Pixies, Doolittle

73. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (2008)

72. The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing

71. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#80: De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead

De La Soul Is Dead coverI bought my first CD player in 1991. Every time I see a Wal-Mart commercial boasting about its no-interest layaway program, it takes me back 20-some years to the day I went to the LaCrosse, Wis., Best Buy and put down something like $25 on a Sony “boom box” style CD player, one month before I returned with the remainder of the balance due. It was an excruciating 30 days or so of waiting, partly because I’m not a very patient person, but also because I bought a CD the same day I made the initial CD player payment.

That’s right: I stared at my first CD, De La Soul Is Dead, for a month before I actually could play it at home.

De La Soul earned the right to be my first CD purchase for a number of reasons. I decided I would buy something I didn’t already have on cassette, so anything by the Cure was ruled out. The peace-lovin’ hip-hop trio won me over as a fan with its debut, Three Feet High and Rising. The second album came out around the time I decided to buy a CD player, so it was on sale at Best Buy (probably for $7.99 or something reasonable like that). And a lot of the incredible stuff that came out in 1991 either hadn’t been released yet or it wasn’t on my radar yet. So dead daisies won the day.

I was able to pass the time without an actual CD-playing machine by reading the CD booklet, which included a comic book narrative of the numerous skits found on the CD. Not only did I learn the terms “dicksnot” and “buttcrust,” but I also learned the diss “you Arsenio Hall gum having punk” (not sure if I could spot someone with Arsenio gums, but I can see how it would be insulting to be told you have them). I also hit up one of my friends who had a CD player, and had my first listen through his speakers. (“Dicksnot” and “buttcrust” sound almost as funny as they read.)

Once I got my CD player, I spun Is Dead all the time (what else was I going to listen to?), and found a lot of good tunes between the funny skits. The groove was still there, but the album didn’t rely on any sort of “daisy chain”/”peace signs” gimmick to hook the listener. Songs like “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” and “Pass the Plugs” brought a more serious tone, but the band’s sharp humor still reigned on stuff like “Bitties in the BK Lounge” and “Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” and good vibes were aplenty on “Keepin’ the Faith” and “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays.'” And Slick Rick was sampled throughout the album explaining why he “can’t be your lover” (it has to do with, um, wrinkles).

I soon started acquiring discs like a madman but De La Soul Is Dead will always hold special memories; you never forget your first. (My first cassette: the Footloose soundtrack!)

#75: The xx, Coexist

Coexist coverThis album only came out a few weeks ago, so it might be a bit rash of me to name it the 75th best album of all time.

Then again, I might very well be selling it short.

I am obsessed with the xx’s music, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a blind (or perhaps I should say “deaf”) worshiper of the band. In fact, it makes me a harsher critic. I did not immediately declare this album a masterpiece; it took me several listens before I started appreciating the entire disc as what is currently my favorite album of 2012.

While the xx’s first album definitely set the tone for the band’s sound, it certainly had tracks that stood apart as songs you could frame as “singles” (“Crystalised,” “VCR,” “Islands,” “Basic Space”) and “deep cuts” (“Infinity,” “Night Time,” “Stars”). The band’s second effort is nearly 40 minutes of singular mood-building. Some people might find this to be monotonous, but to my ears, the shifts are subtle but detectable. Start with Romy’s voice in the spotlight on “Angels,” bring in the back-and-forth vocals on “Chained” (which features a burst of textbook “xx” guitar that is so basic yet beautiful you’re left wondering why your adrenaline is flowing but happy it is), hit some steel drum accents on “Reunion,” enjoy the dance-y but not over the top vibe of “Sunset,” enjoy the in-sync vocals on “Tides,” the heart-aching moans of “Unfold,” a return to the upbeat on “Swept Away,” and the afterglow duet on “Our Song.” See, I’m already thinking this album should be higher on my list.

It is a quieter album than xx. That doesn’t equate with a negative. Some of that might have to do with this album being recorded by a trio rather than the quartet that produced xx. But whether it was done out of necessity or simply out of preference, it works very well within the xx soundscape. (Of course, the booted fourth member, Baria Qureshi, “thanks god she had no involvement” with Coexist. Perhaps the feeling is mutual?)

I look at this album and its relationship to its precedent much like I look at Sigur Ros’ ( ) album and its predecessor, Agaetis Byrjun. Most people who like Sigur Ros/that sort of music consider Agaetis a masterpiece, and while they might think ( ) is a solid album, they might criticize the album for not being as extravagant/for being more “minimal” than Agaetis. If you force them to look at ( ) independently of Agaetis, you’ll find a lauded album. I think Coexist, which received good reviews, will be viewed as an incredible album once people stop comparing it with xx.

P.S.: Go see the xx live. Now.

P.P.S.: I actually like ( ) better than Agaetis Byrjun.

Todd’s 80-71

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

80. Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

79. Tegan and Sara, Sainthood

78. New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too

77. Porno for Pyros, Porno for Pyros

76. The Swell Season, Strict Joy

75. Counting Crows, August and Everything After

74. Nick Drake, Pink Moon

73. Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope

72. Love and Rockets, Earth, Sun, Moon

71. Def Leppard, Hysteria

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#78 New Radicals, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too

Last night, I sat down to write a blurb about this album and just completely drew a blank.  I had a few things I wanted to mention about the record but had no real personal stories connected to it that would be of any interest to you wonderful readers. Needing a little inspiration, I queued up the album on the Sonos system (still the best present ever, thanks Cory and Jeni), mixed a cocktail, sat back and enjoyed. After a few Barcardi and diets, I was overcome with great ideas. No wonder musicians abuse illegal substances, they truly do help your creativity. Bacardi should be renamed “Inspiration Juice.”

Here is a sample of last night’s work:

…Whoaoooo! This record is freaking great !! Wahtwas I thinkin? This should have been waaaayyy higher in my list!!! Why did they only make one redcord?? That’s just dumba. Why would you stop making music justs whan you have a hit? That’s so stoopid. A musical tragedy. Every song on here should have neeb a top 10 song!!!! The album starts with a chick saying ”Make my nipples hard, Let’s Go!” That alone deserves several grammy awards!!!!!…

Ok, so drunk blogging probably wasn’t the best idea. There are a few points in that mess though:

-They did quit making music right at the peak of their popularity. Most people are probably only familiar with the song “You get What You Give”. It was a modest hit in the late ‘90s. They had an even more modest hit after that, “Someday We’ll Know”, and then disappeared. Too bad? Yes. Tragic? No.

-Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too is a great all around album. I didn’t get the album until the mid-2000s when I ran across it at the local CD Xchange. The price? One dollar. What a bargain! I was happily surprised at how good the other songs were. Freaking great? I think so. Should it have been way higher on my list? No. The list is infallible.

-The album does start with a woman saying ”Make my nipples hard, Let’s Go!” Cool? It think so. Is that sole lyric Grammy worthy? Absolutely. Supposedly,  The Beatles were going to start Sergeant Pepper’s that way but John thought it would have been too weird to go from “Make my nipples hard” to “With A Little Help From My Friends.” So, they came up with the lead track “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” instead. That’s the story I heard anyways. May or may not have happened that way.

#73 Janet Jackson, The Velvet Rope

Before this record, I’d always been kind of a peripheral fan of Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.) My older brother was a pretty big fan so I heard most of her material growing up. The album Control was kind of cool because she broke out with that record. I was listening to hard rock and metal music when Rhythm Nation came out so that one I sort of missed. The janet. record was nice but came across to me as sort of sweet and sugary much of the time. There were a few hints of things to come with sexier songs like “Any Time, Any Place” and “That’s the Way Love Goes.”

The Velvet Rope was the first album she made that really struck me as something more than pop music. It is much darker and moodier than any of her other releases. She collaborated with Q-tip from A Tribe Called Quest on my favorite song from the album “Got ’til It’s Gone.” She also covered the classic Rod Stewart jam, “Tonight’s the Night.” Odd choice but I think it works.

To be honest, the main reason I love this record is that it came out around the time I started dating my wife. I can’t listen to it without thinking of her. The Velvet Rope is the perfect record to play in the background when you are just “getting to know someone.”  Translation, it is a great record to play when you and your special someone spend large portions of the day attached at the bed.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

Crystal Castles’ upcoming album: Eponymous? (Probably.) Awesome? (Probably.)

The other day, the heir to the throne (who turns 6 very soon, gotsta get some Phineas & Ferb swag for the DS, yo!) asked me about my favorite songs of all time. Yep, Junior threw down the impossible question for music nerds. I can handle favorite groups/artists (Cure, Beatles, Nirvana, Portishead, and Duran Duran, for starters). I might be able to rattle off my favorite albums, at least #1-4 with confidence (Disintegration, Loveless, Revolver, and The Velvet Underground & Nico).

But songs? To quote Clay Davis from The Wire, “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.”

Can’t do it, G. “A Day in the Life” is probably #1, if you stick a gun in my face. “Plainsong” by the Cure is my favorite song of theirs, so I’m sure that’s up there. “The Rain Song” by Zeppelin is one of those songs I love. “Time Has Told Me” and “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. “Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy. “Natural’s Not in It” by Gang of Four. And about 3,534 more contenders I might list. And then you want me to prioritize them?

So I went with the redirection strategy. “I dunno. What are your favorite songs?”

Ethan Kath and Alice Glass of Crystal Castles stand in an alleyWithout blinking an eye, Will came up with his top three.

“‘Beep Beep’ is #1.” (Read: “Celestica” by Crystal Castles. He’s referencing the occasional electronic “beep-beep” noise throughout the song.)

“‘Bathtism’ is #2.” (Read: “Baptism” by Crystal Castles. And no, it’s not a speech impediment. He thought it was some sort of washing affliction, I guess.)

“And then #3 would be that Radio Dept. song.” (Read: some song by The Radio Dept. [shrug])

I admire my son’s definitive opinion, and it’s obvious my influence has rubbed off on the boy. Crystal Castles’ 2010 eponymous collection was my favorite album that year; and my son’s “favorite song of all time” is arguably my favorite song from that year. (I would argue that “Bathtism/Baptism” is the third best song on that album, behind the Robert Smith-vocalized “Not in Love.”)

So you can imagine our collective excitement when I read today that the Canadian duo will land in Croatia to record album #3 in short order, with an eye for a summer release. In the wake of such euphoria, I was left to ask myself some questions…

Chris: What should they name this album?

Chris: Duh. The only acceptable title other than Crystal Castles is Self-titled.

Chris: Why do I think Alice Glass is hot?

Chris: The same reason people think Alison Mosshart or Karen O is hot: the music blinds their vision while amplifying their sense of hearing. And all you hear is passionate vocals, either delivered in reserved/heartbreaking tones (“Celestica,” “Suffocation,” “Tell Me What to Swallow”) or piercing screams (“Baptism,” “Alice Practice,” “xxzxcuzx me”) or, um, I dunno (“Crimewave,” “Untrust Us”) and you just find yourself having these primal reactions to the words, to the voice. And Alice is petite, brunette, dresses in black…that kind of works for me.

(As shallow as this sounds, I feel obligated to point out that Romy from the xx still doesn’t do it for me, even with that voice.)

Chris: Why does Music or Space Shuttle? scribe Todd not like Crystal Castles?

Chris: I don’t know! I always assumed this would be right up his alley, what with his love for Neon Indian and M83. No, they’re not the same, but similar enough in certain elements (the first album plays more like Neon Indian; some of the grandeur of the second album seems a bit M83ish). You can ask Todd yourself by sending him an email at toddisdumb@chrisrules.com (please use the Subject Line “Chris is so cool; what’s your deal?” to ensure a prompt response).

Chris: Why do I like them so much?

Chris: Listen to the lush opening chords of “Celestica.” Listen to the aggression in “Baptism.” Listen to the swell of the music as Robert Smith approaches the chorus of “Not in Love.” Listen to the abrupt synth mashup following each verse of “Pap Smear.” Listen to the sampling of Sigur Ros on “Year of Silence.” Listen to the disturbing, quiet cry for help in “Tell Me What to Swallow.” Listen to the confident groove throughout “Vanished” and “Crimewave.” Listen to the quirky Donkey Kong sample in “Air War.” Listen to the soaring synth against the restrained vocals in “Suffocation.” All of these moments are like fucking dopamine for my ears. That last sentence is the most efficient way for me to state my feelings toward this music.

Chris: Any chance this album won’t disappoint, given my love for the first two albums?

Chris: Sure, there are some reasons to be worried. After two albums, I thought Bloc Party was one of the greatest bands of the 21st century (although unlike Crystal Castles, I thought BP’s second album was a lateral move rather than a step forward). Then they put out Intimacy. [shudder] And you’ll never hear me defend the Crystal Castles live sound, at least based on the recordings I’ve heard (never seen ’em live).

But this is a band that recognized that the 8-bit sound that infiltrated much of its debut couldn’t dominate album #2, so they evolved. Ethan Kath seems to have the perfect muse in Alice Glass. The lone bum song on the second album (a cover song, so it was the lone song Kath didn’t write) was later elevated to untouchable status by collaborating with Robert Smith on a new version, which shows they are shrewd and credible. And they’re traveling to Croatia to record this new album, so I’m guessing they’ll be focused. (Not sure what I mean by that…)

And don’t forget: this band wrote and recorded the world’s greatest song ever (according to my son). They’ve probably got another good song or two…or 12…or 16…

I can’t wait to find out. Until then, we’ll always have “Beep Beep.”