Best of 2013 albums: No. 1

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today’s the day: we unveil our top pick for 2013. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20#8-10, #5-7, and #2-4.

Todd

#1: Tegan & Sara, Heartthrob

tegan and saraThey did it! Heartthrob has done what the sisters Quin’s previous 2 excellent releases, The Con and Sainthood, could not do. Break the #2 curse. That’s right. Both of those records were tabbed as my #2 favorite for their respective years. What an accomplishment! Congrats, ladies.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention to my list this year, you may have noticed something of a trend. It’s chock full of sister acts. Along with Tegan and Sara are Lily and Madeleine, Bleached, Haim, and the sisters from Waxahatchee and Swearin’. The ladies from Deap Vally and Savages could probably be thrown into that bunch as well.

Was this a coincidence or a deliberate “anti-bro band” response?  Not familiar with term bro-band? Here is the definition from the urban dictionary.

Bro-Band: An expansion of jock-rock which is the male parallel to the boy band; any music that causes “Bros” to enter a state of wild abandon, swinging their arms violently, spilling beer and lip-syncing every lyric perfectly, essentially causing them to act like club-girls.
Examples of Bro-Bands include but are not limited to: Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews, Mumford and Sons, James Blunt, O.A.R., and others.

You definitely don’t see any bro-bands on my list. As a matter of fact, all those bands pretty much suck. As for the the previous question…

Coincidence or Anti-Bro crusade?

While I strongly dislike the Bro-Band genre, I respect everyone’s right to fill their ear holes with whatever music they want. Even shit laden bro songs. I will file this year’s sister act love under happy coincidence.

Now back to the Tegan and Sara album Heartthrob. This time around the ladies changed up their style quite a bit and released this synth-pop gem. It took me a few listens to warm up to their new direction. At first, it seemed like an attempt to cash in with a Katy Perry-ish type record. Then, I realized that hidden behind those up-beat hooks they have some seriously dark and painful lyrics. While listening to this record I can imagine each of the song being played in the old tried and true Tegan and Sara folk-rock format. And while I’m sure that album would have been good, it just wouldn’t have been as interesting as the way this version of Heartthrob turned out. In a way it is a perfect pop record but with some depth behind it.

Chris

#1: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

modern vampires of the city coverWhat an odd coincidence. Just like Todd with Tegan and Sara, I had given Vampire Weekend #2 honors with their previous two albums before awarding top honors to Modern Vampires of the City this time around. While previous years saw roadblocks in the form of Portishead (2008) and Crystal Castles (2010), no one could stop the VW from achieving top honors, even though 2013 has proven to be most excellent, far deeper than either ’08 or ’10.

From the minute I heard them play “Unbelievers” on Kimmel (around Halloween of 2012) I knew to set my expectations high. They were met. The songs are incredibly tight, varied in sound, inventive. I love the upbeat, drum-pounding, bass-popping, pitch-altering workout that is “Diane Young.” The dreamy synths and funky swing of “Everlasting Arms.” The fast strumming and soaring chorus of “Worship You.” The screams of “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah!” and the piano accents on “Hannah Hunt.” The excellent drumming showcase and the frenetic keyboards (and funny vocals, truth be told) of “Finger Back.” Frankly, I could list the drum work on nearly every track as a highlight. Chris Tomson is fast becoming one of my favorite drummers of all time. Watch your back, Jimmy Chamberlin!

The real standout here, on this album or any album in 2013, is “Step.” Brilliant lyrics, equal parts introspective and clever, augmented by piano, strings, a chorus of human voice synth, and a very simple rhythm section that doesn’t distract from Ezra’s lyrics/vocals. There’s something beautiful and haunting about this song; I think I first noticed the latter quality once my son started singing along to the song in the car. To hear a seven-year-old boy sing with all seriousness, “I feel it in my bones” and “I can’t do it alone,” hammers home and somewhat parallels the wide-eyed delivery of fears and longings sung by a relatively young Ezra Koenig. It’s one of those songs that makes me wonder how long it took to create the piece and how exactly did it all fall into place?

This is a front-to-back masterpiece from a band that has had its shit together from Day One. Ezra sings in “Step” that “wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth.” Seeing as the band has released just three albums, with an upward trajectory with each release, it’s fair to say they have wisdom AND youth.

P.S.: Go see these guys in concert.

Fun fact: My top three albums of 2013 featured black-and-white images. (FUN FACT!)

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Best albums of 2013: No. 2-4

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #2-4. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, and #5-7.

Todd

#4: Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

waxahatcheeWaxahatchee is the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and is for the most part very simple. One vocal, one guitar and occasionally some drums. The songs ebb and flow from soft acoustic to droning distortion filled guitars and her vocals float effortlessly overtop all of them.

I started listening to Cerulean Salt a few weeks after the new My Bloody Valentine record was released. Like anything else that was released post m b v,  I assumed I would be over it quickly and back listening to the masters of shoegaze. I was wrong. I was stuck on this album almost as long as I was on m b v.

Waxahatchee toured this year with Katie’s sister’s band, Swearin’, which you may remember had my #15 album of the year. Of course, they came nowhere close to were I live. I would urge the great folks at the Mission Creek Music Festival to book these two bands. Do whatever it takes to get them on a stage near me. Thanks in advance.

#3: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

vampire weekendVampire Weekend’s 3rd album Modern Vampires of the City picks up right were they left off with 2010’s Contra which you may recall holds the #36 spot on my Undisputed Best albums of all time list. Both albums are full of songs that are incredibly intelligent lyrically, frequently comical and always catchy as hell. And just like previous Vampire Weekend releases, this one took me a few listens to get into it. Other than the instantly likable “Step”, every song took me awhile to truly enjoy. That was especially true with the rocker “Diane Young.” The machine gun drums and use of auto-tune kind of threw me at first. By the 3rd or 4th listen I was pitching up my sing along vocals to match the records.

One of my biggest regrets this year is not working out a way to catch Vampire Weekend in concert. They have been one of my favorite bands since their self titled debut album in 2008.  I had a few chances. Kansas City, Chicago, the Twin Cities and St. Louis all hosted them this year. All within reasonable driving distance. The St. Louis show was even at my favorite venue, The Pageant. Unfortunately, work schedules and other commitments got in the way. Luckily, I got to live vicariously through Chris and his son who caught them in Kansas City. I am definitely going to catch them next time around.

After 3 excellent albums under their belts, I’m curious to know if Vampire Weekend can keep it up over a long career. If I had to lay money down I would bet on yes.

#2: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesThe Glaswegian group with the weird spelling. Their name is pronounced “churches” (Cha-verches in my house) but spelled Chvrches to help with Google searches I would presume. Before the release of The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches put out several excellent singles. “The Mother We Share” for instance, caught my attention right off. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s voice can both cut you to the bone and make you fall in love at the same time.

All of the songs I heard prior to the albums release featured Lauren on vocals, so when I eventually listened to the whole album I was surprised to find songs featuring male member (well, male band member, not an actual phallus), Martin Doherty on lead vocals. His songs “Under the Tide” and  “You Caught the Light” are two of my favorites on the album.

This album had a real good chance at being my #1 album of the year but it lost points in my book for its length. There are 16 songs on it and I generally punch-out by song 12. Get rid of a few clunkers and remix/alternate versions of songs and they are looking at an album of the year win.

Chris

#4: My Bloody Valentine, m b v

m b v coverIt’s not unusual for a parent to have a panic attack at Chuck E. Cheese. The place is a fucking nuthouse. You cringe as you watch the juvenile behavior play out, with yelling and pushing and cursing and general disregard for decency everywhere around you. And that’s just the adults.

Although I try to avoid the Cheese house whenever possible, I felt obligated to honor my son’s birthday wishes to take two of his friends there for pizza and video games before a sleepover. I endured as much of the atmosphere and the pizza as I could before I finally fled for the sanctuary of my phone.

And there I found the announcement years (decades!) overdue: Hello, this is Kevin Shields, and even though I’ve hinted at a new album since 1997 with a straight face only to disappear again, I really put out a new record and you have to download it from our website, which currently uses something resembling a Commodore 64 as its server. Good luck with that!

It was time to go. Five hours of computer frustration later, I finally had permission to pay the Sam Goody-priced ($16!) new album and download the nine songs to my PC. Certainly worth the money, and so good that I pretty much forgive the 22-year gap in output.

The first three songs sound like a natural continuation of LovelessThe middle third reminds me of stuff the band released on the various EPs from 1988 to 1991. And the final third showed where the band could go if it damn well wanted: jungle beats, devilish swirls of guitar, soaring synths. A longer examination of an instant classic can be found in a post from February.

Just don’t take 22 more years to make and release the next album…

#3: Savages, Silence Yourself

silence yourselfIt took about one minute for Silence Yourself to get its hooks into me. The first song begins with a sampling of dialogue from a John Cassavetes movie (paired with eerie squalls of guitar) before a rumbling bass line throws things into high gear. A stuttering guitar joins the proceedings, and at the 1:02 mark, the bass and guitar interlock perfectly and for about 39 minutes you race through a world of shadows and fear and anger and passion, all punctuated by sharp drum shots, gut-punching bass notes, fierce guitar, and the push-you-to-the-edge voice of Jehnny Beth.

While the music is tight and forceful, the lyrics give Savages that extra edge. A reader asked me in July why I thought Savages was getting so much good press, and more specifically, what about their lyrics set them apart. My response:

The lyrics are just an emotional purge, an astute observation without a turning point, but that’s OK—I think many people can identify. I know I admire emotional content regardless of whether a solution comes with it.

And it’s all done through the carefully crafted black-and-white lens that Savages uses as its identity. It’s a very consistent identity, from the shadowy album cover to the rather monochromatic tone of the music. The low rumble of the rhythm section provides the “black” image; the piercing guitar squalls and sneered vocals serve as the “white” part.

Perhaps it could be summed up as this: Savages are documentarians of the bleak, and they don’t pretend to have any answers.

In a year when I’ve seen some great live shows, one of my greatest regrets is not driving up to Madison to see these guys this fall. After this sort of debut, I’m guessing I’ll have plenty of chances to see them again.

#2: The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars

civil wars coverThe day before the Civil Wars’ eponymous album came out, I remarked to friend and fellow CW fan Sondra that “I look forward to being emotionally destroyed tomorrow.” We had heard a couple of tracks in advance, giving us a taste of what we had in store. And the next day came, and the album came, and I was emotionally destroyed as predicted, and it was most excellent.

The music could have been buried by the soap opera of Joy Williams and John Paul White. And in much of the press around the album’s release, it kinda did. That’s truly sad. “The One That Got Away” has one of their best choruses to date, Joy’s voice taking the lead, her voice descending slowly before jumping to new heights, with John Paul punctuating certain words before harmonizing the second verse. “Same Old Same Old” has ever so slight instrumentation backing some of the most tender vocals (and lyrics) in their discography.

Not every moment is quiet and fragile. “I Had Me a Girl” is a rollicking tune that is tailor-made for singing along, especially the “ooooooooh-ooooooooh-oooooooooh” chorus. Not only is a it a great song, it provides one of those moments that the fans can grab hold of and say “See, you two can have fun making music together! Now get back together and play some live shows! And make some more albums! Please?!” And “Eavesdrop” might start off quietly, but it picks up steam by the first chorus and simply explodes by the second one. It’s nice to hear John Paul singing on this one too, as Joy does a lot of the vocal work on the album as a whole.

My favorite song? The one sung in French, “Sacred Heart.” I can’t decide if it is my top song of 2013 or not; “Step” by Vampire Weekend is the only competitor. The song is absolutely gorgeous on its face. On top of that, I found the lyrics online and plugged them into Google Translate, and for one reason or another, they melted my heart. Yes, it’s hard to sing along since I don’t speak the language, but that never stopped me with Sigur Ros, so, you know, why not?

(Lone criticism: their version of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” doesn’t work.)

From the MoSS? Pit: Vampire Weekend

So my son is in second grade. In many ways, he’s ahead of the curve: he’s a great reader, he makes friends easily, he has a scary good memory for detail, and he’s handsome like his dad.

boy with vampire weekend posterTo prove he’s human, he waited until just the other day to figure out how to ride a bicycle on his own. It was a lot like his learning to walk a few years ago: didn’t seem interested or able, and then suddenly there he goes.

Had he waited just a little bit longer to get the hang of the non-motorized, two-wheeled mode of transportation, he could have achieved immortal hipsterdom by going to his first concert before learning to ride a bike.

As odd as it seems, he’s been waiting nearly half his life to see these guys. Back in 2010, I was going to a conference in Toronto. I brought one of the work iPads home to take with me for the trip. I decided to get the hang of it by watching YouTube videos. My son, ever fascinated with electronics (like his devastating good looks, he gets that from his dad), wanted to see what I was doing. So I showed him some dumb viral videos. “Epic Sax Guy.” “Russian Newt Gingrich sings ‘Let It Be.'” “Kung Fu Hillbilly (Judy Chop!)” And, of course, “TROLOLOLOLO.”

Realizing the harm I was doing, I decided to show him some music videos. Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” came to mind.

“Whoa…cool! What else do they sing?”

So I ran through much of the videography: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (they become werewolves or somethin’!), “Cousins” (they’re all going crazy!), “Giving Up the Gun” (which might have sparked his interest in tennis), and “Holiday” (they wanted a piece of those surfers!).

A fan was created. We watched the videos time and again over the ensuing months. Last year when the band played Pitchfork, the boy and I watched the live stream on the web. When they released the lyric video for “Step” earlier this year, we watched it over and over and over again (that might explain how he can recite much of the first verse, despite challenging lyrics such as “Angkor Wat” and “Dar Es Salaam” and “Communist reader”).

So when I saw VW was coming to Kansas City, I made the executive decision: the boy is ready for his first show.

We had to wait a few months for the show, primarily because it got delayed from May to October (possibly a Saturday Night Live conflict or something). But spending an autumn day in the BBQ capital was a nice reward for the delay.

We ate Jack Stack brisket and ribs and chicken. We hit up the toy store Zoom on the Plaza. We chilled out by a large fountain that was spraying pink water in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We ate the most decadent slice of Cheesecake Factory yumminess, the “Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake.”

I started to worry the concert was going to play second fiddle to Kansas City.

Anyway, we headed north to Midland, found our seats, listened to some hipster douchebag (my son’s words, not mine…kidding) say utterly insipid things while also commenting on my son’s attendance at the concert (“What is this, fuckin’ Kidz Bop?”), listened to opening band the Olms (who provided the boy with his introduction to live music volume), and then settled in for the headliner.

The band recreates their sound well. They came out of the gate with “Cousins,” “White Sky,” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” before running out the big songs from the latest album. People were having fun. The boy sang along to a good number of the songs, bouncing around on his seat and my lap, depending on the song (even with theater seating, he sometimes needed the booster seat of Dad’s lap to see it all). Atop this post was a video of “Unbelievers”; below you’ll see/hear a good portion of “Diane Young”:

So before I started typing this, I had a short bedtime conversation with The Next Generation to get his take on it all. (This is verbatim.)

First things first: did you enjoy your first concert?

Yes! I really liked “Giving Up the Gun.”

What others did you like the best?

I liked “Step,” “Unbelievers,” and “Diane Young” for new ones. Oh yeah! “Kwassa Kwassa.”

Do you know any words to that song?

Is your bed made? Is you sweater on? Do you want to? Like you know I do?

Did you like singing along with the songs?

Yes! It was awesome.

What surprised you most about the concert?

On “Giving Up the Gun,” all the red, flashing lights and stuff.

What about the volume?

It was really loud.

Too loud?

Mmmm, no. (Atta boy.)

What did you think of the opening act, the Olms?

They were OK.

What did you think of the nerds sitting behind us?

Blaaaaaaaaaaah. They just kept talking.

Do you want to go to another concert soon? Who do you want to see?

Yes! The Cure or Crystal Castles or Sleigh Bells.

Blech.

Why “blech” for Sleigh Bells?

Because the new album is @#^@%^@%##

What does that mean?

Never mind. What bands would you like to see that you can’t see these days?

The Beatles!

You said you liked the Midland Theatre. What did you like about it?

The chandelier. And there were pictures on the ceiling.

Do you have a favorite member of Vampire Weekend?

The singer (Ezra Koenig).

I think this interview is over.

Waaah. (rolls around on the bed) “Is your bed made…”

So yeah, this was a lot of fun for both of us. Hopefully it will be some time before the boy thinks Music or Space Shuttle? and the guys who maintain it are totally lame.

MoSS? Presents: The Best 13 Albums of 2013…So Far

2013

At the beginning of June, many music sites started posting their “Best Albums of the Year So Far” lists. They considered June 1st the perfect time do so. It being the halfway point of the year and all. Well, we here at Music or Space Shuttle? actually own and know how to operate a calendar. Bear with me here, I’m going to do some math. You see, there are actually twelve months in a year. The halfway point would be after six months. That would make the the end of June or early July the perfect time for a “Best Albums of the Year So Far” list. Enough snark. Let’s get to the list!

deap-vally-get-deap-epDeap Vally, Get Deap! EPGet Deap! is probably my biggest guilty pleasure record this year. The rock duo’s EP is four songs of dirtyDeap+Vally+DeapVally guitars,  screaming vocals and questionable feminine hygiene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m crushing hard on the both of them. They’re like a cross between PJ Harvey, The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin. Hoping they come to the area for a live show soon. I may just run away with them. –T

Key Track(s) – “Lies”, “Gonna Make My Own Money”


dtDucktails, The Flower Lane – This one surprised me. I was never a big fan of Ducktails in the past. The last LP was fine but never really kept my interest. Pitchfork streamed this record for free last prior to the release and I couldn’t stop playing it. The mastermind behind Ducktails is the guitarist for Real Estate so there are some similarities between the two but this record stands up well on its own. Chris’ former pretend girlfriend Madeline Follin from Cults even makes a cameo on my favorite song from the record “Sedan Magic.” They were in Iowa City in April and put on a great show. Chris wrote about it here. -T

Key Track(s) – “Sedan Magic”


m b v album cover

My Bloody Valentine, m b v – What was almost as unbelievable as the release of a new My Bloody Valentine album is the fact that somehow it was not an absolute letdown. In fact, it was brilliant. The first three songs sound like a natural continuation of LovelessThe middle third reminds me of stuff the band released on the various EPs from 1988 to 1991. And the final third showed where the band could go if it damn well wanted: jungle beats, devilish swirls of guitar, soaring synths. A longer examination of an instant classic can be found in a post from February. –C

Key track(s) – “in another way,” “wonder 2”


2012PalmaViolets180Press171212

Palma Violets, 180 – When I hear hype surrounding bands like Arctic Monkeys or the Vaccines or the like, I give their records a spin and often come away disappointed. This isn’t at all what I thought I would hear! Yet when I listened to a band that lacked the “next big thing” tag, one called Palma Violets, lo and behold, there it was! 180 is the album I’d always thought I’d hear from the buzz bands. “No-frills” rock, but punctuated with a charismatic singer and nice use of keyboard among the garage rock sounds. I’m starting to rethink my declaration of seeing Wild Belle instead of these guys at Lolla. –C

Key track: “Best of Friends”


rhye

Rhye, Woman – Reminiscent of The Weeknd in a couple of ways: one, is the singer a guy or a girl (answer: guy); two, regardless, this is really freakin’ great. Slinky, sexy, smooth as silk. “The Fall” is a vocal treasure, while “Last Dance” parts the smoky haze of the record for a few minutes to allow for moments of upbeat groove. While the vocals are natural to pair with slow and low tempo, it’s the juxtaposition of the emotion against the more up-tempo instrumentation that keep this collection from coming off as one-note. The comparisons to Sade and the xx are fair both in terms of similar sound and similar quality. –C

Key track: “The Fall”


Savages-Silence-Yourself

Savages, Silence Yourself – The savage (ahem) rumble of the drums and bass is what does it for me when it comes to Savages’ music. Of course, that alone isn’t going to get the job done, and thankfully the vocals and guitar work provide sharp contrast. That’s not to say the drumming is some sort of sloppy, tribal, Meg White-kind of stuff (which I like as well, in that context); Fay Milton snaps off precise snare hits and provides a tight, fast backbone. Anyway, this is what you get when you get four people dedicated to art but aren’t afraid to also make tight, listenable songs in the process. –C

Key track(s): “Shut Up”


srSigur Ros, Kveikur – I love that one of the coolest, heaviest records of the year was created by three dudes from Iceland, including the pixie-like Jonsi. It’s not like the band had to reinvent itself to sound this way; songs from the early albums have been intense, bordering on metallic at times. Even on the relatively chill album ( ), they showed they could deconstruct into harsh madness (“Untitled 8,” anyone?). As one reviewer put it, perhaps Georg (bass) and Orri (drums) were sick of never getting any credit, and just went buck wild on all our asses. It worked. –C

Key track: “Brennisteinn”


umojacketv1Small Black, Limits of Desire – I had big hopes for this album after loving their first full length album New Chain and subsequent Moon Killer MixTape. After the first listen, I was less than impressed. Maybe it was their bizarre album cover. Maybe it was because the chillwave vibes of the first album were mostly gone and what was left was mainly a synth pop record. It took a few additional listens for me to remember, “I f’ing love synth pop records!” -T

Key Track(s) – “No Stranger”


tsTegan and Sara, Heartthrob – This one is a shoo-in for a #2 spot on my overall Best of 2013 list since their previous two records had that title in 2007 and 2009. This time the ladies changed up their style a bit and released this synth-pop gem. It took me a few listens to warm up to the new direction. At first, it seemed like an attempt to cash in with a Katy Perry-ish type record. Hidden behind those up-beat hooks they have some seriously dark and painful lyrics. In a way it is a perfect pop record but with some depth behind it. -T

Key Track(s) – “How Come You Don’t Want Me”, “Closer”


Thee-Oh-Sees-Floating-Coffin

Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin – Let’s say Tame Impala had a love-child band with one of those garage rock groups you might find on an old Lenny Kaye Nuggets compilation. Sounds as dreamy as chocolate and peanut butter coming together, no? Thee Oh Sees pretty much sounds like the spawn of the aforementioned scenario, doing its thing at an incredibly prolific rate, to boot. Floating Coffin seems like their fourth album in three years–probably because it is!–and each output continues to satisfy. Not only is there energy galore in the tunes, you won’t find a much better use of the vocal weapons “Whoooo!” and “Owwwwww!” anywhere. –C

Key track: “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”


torres

Torres, Torres – I know I’m supposed to use these single paragraphs to sing the praises of our favorite albums thus far in 2013, but with Torres, I’m having trouble pinpointing. Perhaps it’s the way her voice melts throughout the opening song, “Mother Earth, Father God.” Or the lyric “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee, I was thinking about telling you what you’ve done to me” on “Honey.” Or how there is a sinister element to her songs. Or how the chorus just falls out of her mouth so wonderfully on “Jealousy and I.” Or that someone named Mackenzie Scott decided, “You know what? I’m going to go by the moniker ‘Torres’!” (shrug) Oh, look what I just did. I guess it’s all pretty great. –C

Key track: “Jealousy and I”


vw

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City – This might be the year that Vampire Weekend finally drops its bridesmaid status on my end-of-year lists and moves up one slot to the top. (Finished second to Portishead in 2008; Crystal Castles in 2010.) The tracks that came out early (“Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” and “Step”) are fantastic (“Step” in particular), and songs on the second half of the album (“Worship You,” “Finger Back,” “Hudson,” and even the quirky “Ya Hey”) get better with each listen. The esoteric lyrics are still here, but the most moving words come on “Step,” where Ezra declares “I feel it in my bones” and “I can’t do it alone.” –C

Key track(s): Pretty much all of them


waxahatchee-cerulean-saltWaxahatchee, Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee is the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and is for the most part very simple. One vocal, one guitar and occasionally some drums. The songs ebb and flow from soft acoustic to droning distortion filled guitars and her vocals float effortlessly overtop all of them. I started listening to Cerulean Salt a few weeks after the new My Bloody Valentine record was released. Like anything else that was released post   m b v,  I assumed I would be over it quickly and back listening to the masters of shoegaze. I was wrong. I was stuck on this album almost as long as I was on m b v. It was tough picking a “key track” for this one because this is one of those rare records that I find all the songs to be equally as good. Take a listen to “Peace and Quiet” below and judge for yourself. -T

Key Track(s) – “Peace and Quiet”

Road Trip Revelations

My job sometimes requires me to spend a lot of my day in the car. I don’t mind too much. It gives me time to think, reflect on my life and most importantly listen to great music. On these trips I sit back, relax and turn up the tunes. After many hours alone in the car though, I tend to have quite a few random and moronic thoughts. These are just a few of the revelations I came away with on the road.

SpongeBob SquarePants has invaded my soul

SpongeBobThe Aussie electro-pop duo, Empire of the Sun, have a new album out and I’ve really been enjoying the first single “Alive.”  It’s a catchy little song that keeps the toes tapping during a long drive. Although, there was always something about the song that bothered me a bit. Today I figured it out… SpongeBob SquarePants. Skip to the 39 second mark of  “Alive” and tell me you don’t hear a resemblance to the SpongeBob theme song. More specifically, the part where kids chant the name SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!!!! Ever since I realized the similarities, I’ve not been able to listen to the song without replacing the actual lyrics with SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!!!! It’s both maddening and comical all at the same time. Take a listen for yourself and see if you hear it too. Maybe just I’m crazy. Well, crazier than normal.

Many of today’s male musicians annoy me (Or: Many of today’s male musicians make me jealous and I’d like to punch them in the face only after watching them play a three hour live show consisting of all my favorite songs, shaking their hand backstage and maybe hanging out for a bit talking about cool stuff)

slashWhatever happened to vapid, ugly dudes making music? Remember Slash? Dude was put on this earth to do one thing, play the guitar like a god. He wasn’t pretty. He didn’t really have much to say other than “where’s my Jack Daniels and cocaine?” He didn’t appear to be a particularly hygienic fellow. But Slash could play that fucking guitar. That’s where the sex appeal was. In the talent. I was never really that jealous of Slash. Sure I wanted to play guitar like him. And I don’t begrudge him the throngs of women that flocked backstage to do unimaginable things to his nether regions. That’s the rock and roll life style baby. I’d be kind of pissed at him if he or any other dude in that position didn’t partake in all those feminine delights.  But times have changed. There’s a new generation of guys that seem to have it all.

EzraTake Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend for example. He’s a talented musician of course. Sings well. Plays multiple instruments proficiently…bla bla bla. There’s a ton of those guys out there. What bothers me about Ezra is the way he does it. He somehow writes rock songs that are incredibly intelligent lyrically, frequently comical and always catchy as hell. A smart rock star…OK that’s fine I guess. But then add to that the guy’s annoying good looks and style.  He looks like a damn fashion model when he’s on stage. I’ve never seen him wear anything without wanting something similar for my wardrobe. And don’t get me started on that mop of hair on his head. Makes a bald guy like me very angry. He should be punched. You can’t have it all Ezra!

Another guy that annoys me is Justin Timberlake. That wasn’t always the case. When I first became aware of him, he was just some goofy looking kid making awful boy-band music. And his style? Forget about it. Remember these pictures?

Wow. That's just bad.

Wow. That’s just bad.

jessica-biel

Wow. That’s not bad.

Then he started making his own music and shock of all shocks…it wasn’t that bad. Suddenly, he’s in movies (Social Network was the shit), hosted Saturday Night Live five times and married Jessica Biel. Jessica Freaking Biel dammit! Come on! And I actually look forward to his appearances on SNL. Some of the best shows in the last 10 years were shows he’s hosted. Now he’s back  making music and his latest album, The 20/20 Experience, is really good. What a slap in the face. He should be punched. You cant have it all Justin!

It’s alright guys. I love to hate you. Just watch your backs after any upcoming concerts close to my hometown.

Autograph knows the appropriate time to rock

Then, as usual, towards the end of my day I was in dire need of some serious adrenaline filled hair metal. I switched the old satellite radio over to Hair Nation.  Earlier in the day, I was thinking to myself that I was working pretty hard lately and maybe needed some “Me” time. Apparently, the band Autograph agreed with me. They told me so in the first verse of their song “Turn Up the Radio.”

I’m working hard, you’re working too
We do it every day
For every minute I have to work
I need a minute of play

Then I wondered, “Yes, but when is it appropriate to abandon responsibilities and rock out?” They answered that question with the next verse.

Day in, day out, all week long
Things go better with rock
The only time I turn it down
Is when I’m sleepin it off

Gotcha. Anytime’s good. Then I questioned, “But how can I accomplish this state of rock and roll bliss?” All was answered in the song’s chorus.

Turn up the radio
I need the music, gimmie some more
Turn up the radio
I wanna feel it, got to gimmie some more

Of course, I turned my radio up for a moment of pure metal enjoyment. Check out the YouTube clip below and do the same.

All in all it was a pretty good trip.  Plenty of tunes.  Plenty of annoying dude musicians. If you see me cruising down the interstate sometime, go ahead and wave. If I’m not busy turning up my radio, I might wave back .

If you enjoyed these moronic thoughts, there’s plenty more where those came from. Check out some of my previous “Road Trip” posts.

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: May 2013

110

Side A : Todd’s Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks

Lolla 2013: Can Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear switch stages? Please?!

lollapalooza logoWhen I made that impulse buy, the Sunday ticket for Lollapalooza 2013, I was swayed by a couple of factors. One, my friend Travis Who Isn’t the Beast was going; the morning the one-day tickets went on sale, we were both waking in Chicago the day after the Sigur Ros show. He egged me on, and I was still riding the live-music high provided by the Icelandic trio. So without checking with the missus, I bought a ticket via smartphone. I’m a pushover. (As a result, I’m also probably taking the family to Chicago for the weekend, as it happens.)

Second, the killer roster, headlined by the Cure, my all-time favorites. I haven’t seen them in 13 years…it’s time. Vampire Weekend, Beach House, and Tegan & Sara also jumped off the poster. Looking at the artists and paying no mind to the logistics of stage placement and prominence, I envisioned a dream day as follows:

  • Palma Violets
  • Wild Belle
  • MS MR
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Wild Nothing
  • DIIV
  • Tegan & Sara
  • Beach House
  • Vampire Weekend
  • The Cure

Now that the schedule is out and logistics come into play, here’s what I’m looking at:

  • Guards
  • Wild Belle
  • Wild Nothing
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Tegan & Sara
  • Alt-J
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Beach House
  • The Cure

VW is the huge omission, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it unless I want to sacrifice Cure position. VW will play before Phoenix on the other side of the park; Grizzly Bear precedes the Cure. That’s a bit of a nut-punch (I don’t get the Grizzly Bear love), but I am seeing VW in October, so I can live with this.

(However, I am considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to see if I can bribe Grizzly Bear to switch stages with Vampire Weekend. I might even match every dollar pledged to the cause. Check MoSS? regularly for updates.)

DIIV also falls off the list, which is a bummer, but they are playing much later in the day than I would have anticipated, so I don’t want to move too much at this point. I might be able to sneak off to Palma Violets between Guards (whom I’ve seen up close and personal, opening for Cults back in 2011) and Wild Belle.

All in all, I’m happy. I must admit, my Vampire Weekend tickets for the Kansas City show make this a much easier pill to swallow. But I’ve been getting a kick out of all the people whining on social media about the various conflicts. Like how in the world could you put Nine Inch Nails against the Killers? Or why are Mumford and Sons going up against The Postal Service?

It should come as no surprise that the day’s two headliners would be pitted on opposite ends of the park. And really, is there much debate as to which band you should see, assuming you can maneuver around the park as you wish?

If you need help making a choice, you’re in luck: I’m here to help. I’ll address some of the conflicts I’ve seen discussed on Facebook…

FRIDAY

First off, why is Jessie Ware playing so early? 1:00 is the best she could pull?

Band of Horses vs. Crystal Castles (4:15): A bunch of wusses who make decent tunes against the manic energy of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass. Even though I fear their sound doesn’t translate well live, I’m still going with Crystal Castles.

New Order vs. Queens of the Stone Age (6:15): “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Age of Consent” and on and on and on vs. the guy whose best work (to my ear) is the stuff he did with John Paul Jones. New Order

Nine Inch Nails vs. the Killers (vs. Lana Del Rey?) (headliners): The worst tracks on The Downward Spiral would easily make the cut against the Killers. And LOLa Del Rey…come on. Nine Inch Nails

SATURDAY (a.k.a. “Bro Day”)

Heartless Bastards (6:00)/Death Grips (7:15) vs. The National (6:00) vs. Kendrick Lamar (6:45) vs. the Lumineers (7:15): Duh. The National

Mumford and Sons vs. the Postal Service vs. Azealia Banks vs. Steve Aoki (headliners): Duh. Get some sleep at the hotel

SUNDAY

Palma Violets (1:00) vs. the Orwells (1:00) vs. Wild Belle (1:30): I like what I’ve heard of Palma Violets, but not quite as much as Wild Belle. Orwells are third, but not meant as an insult. Wild Belle

Lianne La Havas (3:00) vs. MS MR (3:30) vs. Baroness (3:30): Baroness might provide some much-needed testosterone, and MS MR is cool as shit. I’m going with La Havas just to stay in one area, but if everything were equal…MS MR

Grizzly Bear (6:00) vs. Vampire Weekend (6:30): Overrated vs. Hypeworthy. Modern Vampires of the City came out today; I’ve listened to it at least six times all the way through since waking this morning. The tracks that came out early (“Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” and “Step”) are fantastic (“Step” in particular), and songs on the second half of the album (“Worship You,” “Finger Back,” “Hudson,” and even the quirky “Ya Hey”) get better with each listen. Seriously need to consider that Kickstarter/stage swap idea. Vampire Weekend

The Cure vs. Phoenix (headliners): Of course I’m going to say the Cure. How Phoenix headlines over Vampire Weekend baffles me, so I’m not even going to consider recommending the former against Robert Smith & Co. The Cure is sounding fantastic live with former Bowie guitar man Reeves Gabrels in the fold, and Simon Gallup is still the coolest guy in music.

If you’re going to Lolla, or even if you’re not, I’d like to hear the tough choices you’d make.

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: March 2013

112

Side A : Todd’s Picks

1. Palma Violets, “Best of Friends”

2. Waxahatchee, “Peace and Quite”

3. Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”

4. Foxygen, “Shuggie”

5. Small Black, “Free at Dawn”

Side B : Chris’ Picks

1. Alpine, “Gasoline”

2. Cotillon, “Talk to Her”

3. Fantasmas, “No Soul”

4. Kate Boy, “In Your Eyes”

5. Vampire Weekend, “Step”

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #30-21

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’ #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Interpol, Antics

29. School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms

28. Vampire Weekend, Contra

27. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

26. The White Stripes, Elephant

25. The Cure, The Head on the Door

24. Nirvana, In Utero

23. The Radio Dept., Pet Grief

22. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (a.k.a. II)

21. Pink Floyd, The Wall

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#27: Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain

cover for Purple RainCan you recite the opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Of course you can. My co-worker Tom (the one who writes) prides himself on it. Every now and then we’ll talk about music and somehow, either through my prompt or his way of steering the conversation, he’ll rattle them off (often double-timing it just to show how awesome he is):

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today to get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life; that means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else:
The afterworld
A world of neverending happiness
You can always see the sun
Day
Or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one
Dr. Everything’ll Be All Right
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life, things are much harder than the afterworld
This life…you’re on your own

(I realized after I typed that up that I didn’t use the letter “U” every time the word “you” is used. Or the numeral 2 instead of the word “to.” An oversight for which I have no apology.)

If John Lennon had been alive in 1984 and heard this opening track, he would have turned to Yoko and said, “Did you hear the way that guy in purple started off his new album? Much cooler than ‘I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats,’ innit?”

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the three 45RPM records I have from Purple Rain; I didn’t even own the album in its entirety for probably two years after its release. I had a third of it already, along with the sweet b-sides like “Erotic City” (they say “fuck” on that one, Tipper!). I also had “When Doves Cry,” the song that occasionally prompts a re-enactment of the video in my office to the chagrin of my officemate. (I’ve got that crawling-across-the-floor move down.) And he might refute it now, but I clearly remember my dad coming downstairs while I was listening to my records and asking, “What Prince songs do you have?” I showed him Doves and Crazy, he frowned, then said, “So you don’t have the ‘Purple Rain’ song?” After my next trip to Pamida, I did. “Purple Rain”: kid tested, dad approved.

I really had no interest in getting the album as a whole until I heard about “Darling Nikki” and all its lyrical glory. Not from my friends or the older kids in the neighborhood or at school; no, I read a big article in the Des Moines Register about the PMRC and Tipper Gore and the attempts to keep the smut out of the hands of kids. All because Tipper heard the “masturbating with a magazine” line in “Nikki” and lost her shit. Before long, Washington wives were making a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” (which included “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper*) and dudes like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying before Congress. But it was John Denver who put it best in his testimony: “That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you.” Yep, as soon as I read about all of this nonsense, I couldn’t wait to get the whole album.

And it was a good thing, as I discovered a treasure trove of later singles that I hadn’t bought on 45 like “Take Me With U” and great album cuts like “Baby I’m A Star.” And much to Tipper’s disappointment, I never became a depraved sex fiend after hearing “Darling Nikki” and I didn’t join the occult after listening to Slayer and I didn’t kill myself after listening to Suicide and I didn’t kill any cops after listening to Body Count or Ice-T or N.W.A.

But I loved this Prince album. Still do.

(* – “She Bop” was flagged for masturbation references. Masturbation was the furthest thing from my mind whenever I heard/saw Cyndi Lauper.)

#22: Crystal Castles, II

album cover for Crystal Castles IITwo years ago, I came down with some strain of flu (avian, swine, whatever) and found myself lying listless for about a week straight. I was too tired to read, too woozy to get out and about…I couldn’t even play video games, which was a red flag that something was definitely wrong.

So how did I spend all that recovery time? Listening to an album with songs called “Fainting Spells,” “Suffocation,” “Violent Dreams,” and “Pap Smear.” And finding my favorite album of 2010 in the process.

The band that had the coolest 8-bit sound around, quite evident on the eponymous debut that came out two years previous, suddenly decided to take the tunes in a shoegaze direction (with an electronic twinge, of course). And it was beautiful. Songs like “Celestica” and “Suffocation” (despite the gloomy title) soared thanks to Alice Glass’ actual singing (!!!) and the keyboard chords created by Ethan Kath. No longer were these two relying solely on piercing, mutated screams and Donkey Kong samples to create art. (Although that was cool too.)

Whether it was the thumping beat and impassioned howls of “Baptism” or the shrewd use of a Sigur Ros sample in “Year of Silence” or the whirling whiplash of “Pap Smear” (I know, these aren’t the most appetizing titles, but the songs themselves aren’t 1/1000th as nauseating as songs bearing benign titles like “Moves Like Jagger” or whatever geeks like One Direction call their songs) or the brilliant use of Robert Smith vocals on “Not in Love.” For people yearning for the chaos of the first album, there are cuts like “Doe Deer” and “Fainting Spells.” “Intimate” provides the dance-floor crowd something to devour, and, um, weirdos everywhere could rally around the generally spaced-out “I Am Made of Chalk.”

There’s something sinister about each of these songs; sometimes it’s evident, sometimes not. Even the gorgeous “Celestica” has a dark side: the song was inspired by an incident at a Celestica plant (it’s a plastics company in Canada, apparently) where an employee fell into a boiling vat and died.

On that note, I hope you all catch swine flu and spend a week listening to this masterpiece.

Todd’s #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking

29. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

28. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

27. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

25. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

23. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

22. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

21. Depeche Mode, Violator

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

This was the first Prince album that I ever got. Not to say it was the first I’d ever listened to. I had dubbed copies of other Prince albums from my older brother who was a big fan. Parade was the first one that I actually went to the store and picked out. My parents let my brother and me each pick out something from the music section at the local Target store. This was a rare occasion so I took a rather long time deliberating over many options. I believe at one point I had three tapes picked out and had the plastic security doohickeys around my wrist.

Remember those things? So many times I remember perusing the music bins of Musicland or Disc Jockey spinning one of those around my wrist as I looked. I sort of miss going to record stores. It made the album selection process more important. If you were going to leave the house, find a record store and then plop down the majority of your hard earned cash on an album, you wanted it to be good. Not just one or two songs good and the rest crap. Believe me, I bought a ton of those over the years.

I’m pretty sure my brother picked his tape right off. He chose INXS, Listen Like Thieves. (In itself a great album that I briefly considered putting on this list. Unfortunately, it did not meet all the strict requirements to make the final cut) Based upon his aggravated looks and comments, I’m sure my brother was getting pretty annoyed with me because I couldn’t make up my mind. Around my wrist I had:

Peter Gabriel, So. (Great album that made this list at #37)

Pet Shop Boys, Please (Good album but never considered for this list)

Prince and the Revolution, Parade (So incredibly good that it should be on everyone’s list)

Apparently, I was shopping exclusively in the P’s section of the store. After flip flopping on my decision for twenty minutes or so, my brother made the decision easy. He looked at my selections and said “It’s not that hard. That’s dumb (Peter Gabriel), that’s stupid (Pet Shop Boys), and that’s Prince. Put that other shit back and let’s go.” So that’s what I did. I just needed a little push in any direction. If he would have said Peter Gabriel was the better choice I probably would have taken that one home.

Prince turned out to be the right choice as I learned later. I ended up getting both of those other tapes at subsequent visits to the store. Parade got way more plays on my boombox. Is there a lesson here? Yes. Two lessons.

Lesson 1: Listen to your older siblings. They may seem like they’re being jerks sometimes but they are actually secretly looking out for you.

Lesson 2: “That’s dumb, that’s stupid, that’s Prince.” Words to live by.

#24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

Back when I was in high school, I would spend my Sunday nights not going to bed early and preparing for a new week at school, but instead staying up late listening to a radio station broadcasting from the middle of a corn field near Muscatine, Iowa. Specifically, a show called “Off the Beaten Track.” They played all kinds of early alternative and college rock. I heard many of my all time favorite bands for the first time listening to that show. The DJs were Mary of the Heartland and some dude named Roberto. (Roberto will come into play in some of the upcoming album blurbs.) I used to put a fresh cassette tape in my radio/tape player/CD player and listen as long as I could until I fell asleep. The next day I would rewind the tape and listen to what I missed.

After the show, they would premiere a newly released record in its entirety. I could catch most of that on the same tape if I stayed up late enough to flip it over. It was a great way to get a new album for free if you had the time and a crap ton of blank tapes. On one of those nights, they played The Pixies, Trompe le Monde. It was the first Pixies album that I’d ever heard. From the start of the title track I was confused and blown away at the same time. Was it punk? Was it surfer rock? The next song “Planet of Sound” played more like a metal song with Black Francis’ screaming vocals. The next song, “Alec Eiffel”, went back to surfer-punk, well kind of, because they sneak in a keyboard part at the end. Then, they really confused me by throwing in a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain song “Head On.”  They were all over the map and I loved it. And I didn’t even have to buy it!

I still have a weird reaction when I listen to the last song “The Navajo Know.”  My tape cut off right in the middle.

Upon construction
there is the Mohawk
his way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
skywalk
some people say that
[click]…

Years later, I bought Trompe le Monde on CD. For quite awhile, I would still expect the song to end at that point. It took me a long time not to anticipate the abrupt ending. At least I finally got to hear the last of the lyrics and learn “what some people say.”

some people say that…

the Navajo know
a way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
oh no.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

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Some content on this page was disabled on May 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

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