Geoff Barrow isn’t workin’ for the Weeknd

geoff barrow at mixing desk

Portishead’s Geoff Barrow at the mixing desk. Photo by John Minton.

It’s weird when friends fight.

Yesterday, the Weeknd launched a new video for the song “Belong to the World.” Mere moments after the song hit the interwebs, Portishead mastermind Geoff Barrow logged in to his Twitter account and said, “This is bollox” or something like that. He’s referring to the fact that the Weeknd song samples the kick-ass drum part from Portishead’s “Machine Gun,” and apparently was used:

a.) without permission

b.) more specifically, despite Barrow turning down a request to use said sample

For context, here’s “Machine Gun”:

And the Weeknd video can be found at http://buzzworthy.mtv.com/2013/07/15/the-weeknd-belong-to-the-world-video/.

I like the Weeknd; maybe more specifically, I love House of Balloons. The other two mixtapes were OK (Thursday) and good (Echoes of Silence). I love Portishead. I have two of their albums inside my top 20 of all time.

I generally have no qualms with sampling as a form of expression. Seems like most of what I like about House of Balloons has its roots in sampled material. “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” is pretty much Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Happy House” with some falsetto (the first half of the song, anyway); two other songs benefit from the foundation of samples from Beach House (“The Party and the After Party”; “Loft Music”). I also really like the songs “What You Need,” “The Morning,” and “Coming Down,” which might very well use sampled material as well, just not instantly recognizable to my ears like the Siouxsie and Beach House material.

Music I like and admire certainly used uncleared samples. Of course, a lot of that music was created before De La Soul got smacked down by a lawsuit from the Turtles (for sampling a Turtles song featuring music the Turtles didn’t write…). And for whatever reason I have no qualms with what Girl Talk does, probably because it’s more often than not really well done.

And Portishead samples. I know. And as Barrow has pointed out on Twitter, the lion’s share of songwriting credit went to the original artists, or the samples were crafted in collaboration (“Glory Box” and “Western Eyes,” respectively).

In this instance, the reason I tend to side with Barrow, aside from the fact that he as the originator has the right to say no, boils down to this:

Did Tesfaye really need to use the “Machine Gun” drums to prop up this tune? Couldn’t he have programmed a militant beat of his own? To go around Geoff Barrow’s denial and use the sample anyway kinda tells me he couldn’t…which seems pathetic.

The Weeknd has some classy backers on Twitter, people who are getting the retweet treatment from Mr. Barrow. Example A:

Laughable, regarding the sentiment that this new song is “way better than ‘Machine Gun.'” Weaksauce, in terms of nigga and fagg.

And this guy, who seems to be pretty tight with Abel:

First of all, *SHOULD HAVE.

Second of all, *YOU’RE STUPID. (Yes, you are.)

Third, I’m sorry, this song isn’t that great. Too glossy, too “lite.” The synths sound more Carly Rae Jepsen than mysterious R&B. The Weeknd excels when the mood is gritty, dark, sensual. This sounds pretty thin, aside from, well, the Portishead drums.

I guess that’s why he used them after all.

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #15-11

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’ #15-11

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

15. TrickyMaxinquaye

14. InterpolTurn on the Bright Lights

13. The CurePornography

12. PortisheadDummy

11. The BeatlesThe Beatles

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#15: Tricky, Maxinquaye

Trip-hop can be divided into two columns: the amazing (Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky) and the generic coffeehouse variety (everyone else who followed). But even if these Bristolites caused inferior imitation, they did provide an imprint that still sounds cool today. And where Massive Attack thrived on chill groove and Tracey Thorn, and Portishead incorporated more turntable scratching, brass, and Beth Gibbons, the young man known as Tricky was all over the place…in a good way. Dark, textured, truly interdisciplinary music with beats big enough to satisfy the “hop” crowd and eccentricities that worked for the “trip” audience.

The thing that struck me about this album upon first listen was how well he incorporated other people’s material into his own warped vision. Consider a three-song stretch in the album’s first half, where Tricky covers a Public Enemy song (“Black Steel,” with female vocalist Martina Topley-Bird handling the Chuck D rhymes), samples his friends from Portishead on an eerie song aptly titled “Hell Is Round the Corner*, and then works the drums and guitar bits from the Smashing Pumpkins’ song “Suffer” into his song, respectfully titled, um, “Pumpkin.” So he covers a song by my favorite rap act, samples a current band that I love, and then samples my favorite group from the Alternative Nation gang…and does all that in a way that allows him room to do his own thing with the material or accent his songs with the samples, rather than a rote cover or using the samples as the primary element of the songs a la Puff Daddy.

(* – “Hell Is Round the Corner,” found in my sampler above, was used by the show Rescue Me during a scene depicting the aftermath of a tragic death in Tommy Gavin’s family. You’d have thought the song was written specifically for that scene. Incredible.)

And on the album’s opener, “Overcome,” Tricky took some lyrics he had given to Massive Attack (which they used for the song “Karmacoma,” a somewhat upbeat tune*, and showed the old boys how it was supposed to sound. Martina’s voice and her looped gasps pierce through the atmospheric keyboards and persistent thump of the drums, creating an ominous yet sexy song. When she sings, “You sure you wanna be with me? I’ve nothing to give…but I’ll lie and say this loving’s best,” accented by those aforementioned gasps, I find myself saying, “Um, yes. Yes I do.”

(* – I would be willing to be that “Overcome” has equal/greater BPM than “Karmacoma,” but I would never describe “Overcome” as upbeat. It’s all about the mood, the tone.)

The album has extended grooves (“Aftermath”), slightly abbreviated grooves (“Abbaon Fat Tracks”), aggressive jams (“Brand New You’re Retro”), and one truly bizarre track toward the end (“Strugglin'”) that truly makes you question the guy’s sanity. A decade and a half after trip-hop arrived, I still find myself enjoying this album…maybe not as much as I did when I was 21, but enough to deem it #15.

#11: The Beatles, The Beatles

My dad had four proper Beatles albums in his LP collection: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. So I had the luxury of listening to the Beatles at a pretty early age. But he didn’t have anything after that; he explained to me that he got a lot of his records from the radio station at St. Ambrose, and he transferred to Illinois for his DVM studies in 1968, before the “White Album” came out. (Indeed, his copy of Sgt. Pepper’s has the call letters “KSAR” written in one of the upper corners of the cover.)

So I did what any self-respecting fan would do: I found one of the cool girls in my class and asked her if she had the “White Album” and if so could I please borrow it and record it to one of my various TDK blank tapes? (File sharing at its best.)

And so began my love affair with the wonderfully varied (scattershot, some might say) double album, one that was among my first 10 CD purchases when I made the move to the newer medium. I listened to it over and over, night and day, forward and backward…which, of course, led to me believing there were myriad hidden messages suggesting riots and new world orders and who knows what else (not really).

(I don’t subscribe to the Charlie Manson school of thought; I don’t buy all the subliminal messaging, or at least not his translation of them. However, there is that part at the end of the song “I’m So Tired” that sounds like gibberish. When that is played backward, it does sound just a little bit like “Paul is dead, man, miss him, we miss him, miss him!” in that typical backmasking kind of way. I assume it is either coincidence or the Beatles having a bit of fun with the urban legend. They were known to use reversed sound in their music, as early as 1966 with vocals on the song “Rain.”)

My original acquisition of the “White Album” coincided with the peak of my Beatles obsession. I would grab my Walkman and my “White Album” tape and go for walks around town almost every night that I wasn’t making pies at Pizza Hut, just so I could spend 90 minutes alone with my thoughts and the Beatles piping into my ears. (Exercise by accident!) My friend David and I had scored a book via interlibrary loan that detailed the Beatles’ studio recordings, and it painted quite a dreary picture of the band during the “White Album” era. It seemed like there were quite a few songs where the instrumentation was documented as such:

“Mother Nature’s Son” (Lennon/McCartney)

  • Paul McCartney: vocals, acoustic guitar, timpani, bass drum
  • John Lennon: not present
  • George Harrison: not present
  • Ringo Starr: not present
  • George Martin: brass arrangement

But so what, even if the album was ironically named after a unified group? The tunes, all 30 of them, are at the very least intriguing and often outstanding, and to my ears the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It never bothered me that it jumped around a bit; you can grab one of the numerous bloated 80-minute rap albums that came out after the CD era exploded. (THAT is monotony.) I loved the quirky stuff like “Wild Honey Pie” and “Martha My Dear” (an ode to Paul’s dog) and “Piggies” and “Rocky Raccoon”*. We got four George songs instead of one or two, including one of the best songs in the entire Beatles catalog (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”).

(* – Shortly after I borrowed the tapes from the cool girl in my class, a couple of her good friends, older dudes I got along with just fine but didn’t typically hang out with, came up to me during Advanced Keyboarding class and asked me how I liked the “White Album.” I told them I really dug it, while also wondering if an invite to get high in the parking lot was soon to follow. The follow-up statement from one of the dudes: “Isn’t ‘Rocky Raccoon’ a great song?” What else could I say but a statement of agreement? I never thought I’d be bonding with anyone because of the song “Rocky Raccoon”; proof that anything is possible.)

Anyway, where was I… We got the nice Paul moments like “Blackbird,” “I Will,” and the aforementioned “Mother Nature’s Son.” We got the John rock ‘n’ roll tunes like “Yer Blues” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey.” Paul rocks out with “Helter Skelter”; John gets wistful on “Julia” and “Cry Baby Cry.” You get “Dear Prudence,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (Corky!), a slowed-down version of “Revolution,” “Birthday,” and arguably my favorite song on the album, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” And the album closes with “Good Night,” a song I used to sing to my son at bedtime when he was just a little tyke.

Even “Revolution 9” is worth exploring from time to time, just to pick out the various sounds woven into the fabric.

This is one of two consecutive double albums in my countdown. What will be at #10? Come back Monday…

Todd’s #15-11

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

15. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De lo Habitual

14. The Beatles, Abbey Road

13. Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

12. Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

11. Prince, Sign O’ the Times

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#13: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

cover for gishWhere to start here? Like Chris who ranked it at #17, Gish was a hugely defining album for me. It sort of blew me away the instant I heard it and destroyed every preconceived opinion I had about music and what was good.

I first heard Smashing Pumpkins on the radio show Off the Beaten Track. If you read my post about Pixies Trompe le Monde then you will remember that this was a show that played exclusively alternative and indie music. It was on late night on Sundays and I would stay up and listen until I fell asleep. Often I would record these shows and replay what I missed later. On one of these tapes I discovered Gish. Well part of Gish. During the show they played 2 songs from the album. “I Am One” and “Siva.” I fast forwarded the tape immediately to try and find out the name of the artist. The DJs briefly talked about the songs and maybe goofed on the name Smashing Pumpkins a bit but the big revelation was that they were going to play Gish after the show. After every show they played a new album in its entirety.

So I fast forwarded some more to the end of the show hoping I had enough tape to catch the whole album. I was elated as “I Am One” came over the speakers. I’d heard that one earlier but that was fine, there was new songs coming. Thinking I was going to be hearing the whole album I cranked up the volume sat back and enjoyed. I loved how lead singer Billy Corgan’s voice was franticly snarling and screaming out the lyrics. His guitar work was filthy and grimy (notice I didn’t write grungy) and I couldn’t get enough. Next up was “Siva”; great tune but I had heard that one already too. I was getting impatient for something new. Finally, the third song “Rhinoceros” came on and I was enjoying its blissed out psychedelic dreaminess when the tape cut off. Blurgh!!!  I had to hear more!

The next weekend I went to the record store at the mall to grab my very own copy. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell it. I think the dopey record store guy thought I was kidding when I told him the band’s name was Smashing Pumpkins. I should have known better than to go to the mall anyways. Back in the day if you wanted hard to get or more underground artists you had to go to Co-Op Tapes and Records. The mall had the chicks but Co-Op had the selection. So I buzzed over to the nearest location and asked the hipster dude at the counter if they had Smashing Pumpkins. He seemed truly impressed. Must not have been everyday that preppy 16 year olds came in asking for that record. He grabbed me a copy and I immediately threw it in the car tape deck. The rest of the day I drove around playing Gish over and over.

Since then, I’ve met several guys with similar stories to me. They loved Smashing Pumpkins and were the first people in there town/school/state to listen to them. They talk as though they were the area ambassadors for the band and introduced them to the world. I can say I did not do this. I didn’t hoist the Smashing Pumpkins banner and wave it for everyone to see. I did tell a couple of my friends about them but mostly I kept quiet. The band was just for me. It stayed that way until their next record came out and they truly unleashed the awesomeness…

#11: Prince, Sign O’ the Times

I’ve been trying to write a blurb about the album Sign O’ the Times for a while now. Things have been slow because I’ve been busy messing with technology issues. This is ridiculous, how am I supposed to get inspiration when I can’t get to the online streaming database and listen to the record at 320 bit digital perfection? First, the internets weren’t working. Then, once I got the modem online the Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect to my laptop. So I tried my phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Two songs in, I realized that I was using way too much data. My cell provider will send me an enormous bill if I go over my allotted gigabytes. What was I to do?

Then I started thinking about my first copy of Sign O’ the Times. It was a dubbed cassette tape from my brother. We didn’t have a dual tape deck so I just pushed my tape deck next to his and hit play on his and record on mine. I stuck this crude contraption in the closet so it wouldn’t pick up sound from the TV in the other room. A valiant effort but during the song “Adore” you could still hear Hawkeye arguing with Hot Lips Houlihan from the M.A.S.H. rerun my Dad was watching. At one crucial point in “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” you could hear my mother telling me or my brother to take out the trash. Not a perfect system but it worked. What more did I need? I wanted to hear the songs and didn’t care if it was a perfect digital copy or not.

I remember having a lot of music recorded that way. If you looked in my cassette tape storage unit back then (shoe box), you would have found dozens of tapes with songs recorded off of the radio. I used to spend hours listening to the local pop stations waiting for specific songs. Who cared if the DJ was talking up the first 30 seconds of the song as long as you got enough of the song to jump around your room singing Su-Su-Sudio? It really was the earliest form of music pirating. Much more difficult, but way more satisfying. You really had to work to get that free version of “One Night in Bangkok.”

Technology makes things so easy now. If I want to listen to any song in my over 100 gig music library,* I just tap the screen on my phone or iPad and wireless speakers start playing. If I want to listen in the car, I plug my iPod or phone into the stereo and hit play. What I wouldn’t have given for that back when I rode around with $1000 worth of CDs in my car. Back then, if you told me we were going to have a device like the iPod, I would have expected there to be flying cars and robot prostitutes too. It would have seemed impossible.

*(Believe me I’m not bragging, I know people that have Napstered and BitTorrented there way to ten times that amount. All my music was paid for (wink) and obtained legally (wink). I’m no pirate. Arrrrr!)

And just like I couldn’t imagine file sharing and streaming music services back then, I can’t imagine what is coming next. Things change so fast. 12 years ago I didn’t own a cell phone or personal PC. Since then, I have had 10 cell phones, 2 smart phones, 4 PCs, and 2 tablets. What? I have to stay plugged in. I need to be notified in the middle of the night when I can save $20 dollars on Zappos.com and how else can I find out which boner pills are guaranteed to satisfy.

So, in closing, Sign O’ the Times is real real good.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

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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

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.”