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Sunday, February 28, 2010

nice guys finish last

Low - The Curtain Hits The Cast VS Led Zeppelin - I
This match-up was a little like comparing the boy you could take home to meet your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, verses the boy you wouldn't even introduce to your goldfish.

Led Zeppelin is the bad boy; long hair, loud rock, rebellious, and awesome.
The thing about bad boys is they usually got old fast.
That's where Led Zeppelin will fool you. They ain't gonna stand you up, constantly be an asshole, make you rethink your tastes - Led Zeppelin is in it for the long haul.
These guys reinvented blues and rock for hippy's sake! I hate the blues, but I love Led Zeppelin. Although they've been called heavy metal (by fearful parents) their music is not even close.
These bad boys are secretly sending flowers and ponies to sick children on weekends.
This album is good for the following; road trips, stoner trips, trips to your backyard with a beer, camping, partying, movie soundtracks, and sexy time. Believe me, I know from experience.
Good times for sure. Bad times maybe, but still good times.

Low is the nice boy; quiet, pretty, behaved, nice.
I love nice most of the time. But I don't pay much attention to nice.
It's there in the background. It soothes the beast. I like falling asleep to it.
Low was a band I had never checked out. Every time I heard their name I thought of crappy things like "The Lowest of the Low" (90s Canadian Indie band) and "Low" by Cracker. (I think) I'm an association type guy.
I wasn't blown away, but I really liked it. The thing about this music is that I feel I've already got enough of this genre, I don't need more. Maybe they were around early, but I'm just getting to first base, so...
That said, they do minimal incredibly well on this album. It's hard (not being sarcastic) to play that little and let the song exist without meddling with a beautiful phrase. Believe me, I know from experience.
This album is recommended for the following; nap time, tea time, book time, bath time, watching-the-time time, movie soundtracks, masturbating after a nice date that only ended up with a quick kiss, and playing yahtzee with the family and goldfish.

I'm no girl, and I'm not gay, but I'm going for the bad boy.
Sorry. (Not sorry)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tindersticks album question

I am a bit confused with the Tindersticks album I"m supposed to listen to. The one I'm finding on Lala.com says it had a 2004 release date, it's double album, one studio side and one recorded live. The first song on the first disc on lala is El diablo en el ojo. When looking at the lyrics for the album on a lyrics site, the it says the album was released in 1995 and the first song is listed as A Night in Lyrics. It appears to list all of the same songs, but the order on lala is different than the order on the lyrics site. It shows the album cover as being the same. Jeff (or others), any guidance on whether what they have on Lala is correct what I should be listening to?

Slowcore Smells, but Sexx Sells

Low – Trust vs. Beck – Midnight Vultures

I haven’t listened to Trust in a while, and I’m glad I listened to it twice. The first time through I thought, “Wow, that really must have been a phase, because listening to this now just makes me cranky” (or should I say Kranky?). The second time through, days later, I liked it better, and remembered why I liked it before. Trust certainly has its moments, and my favorites include “Time is the Diamond,” “In the Drugs,” “Last Snowstorm of the Year,” “Little Argument with Myself” and “La La La Song.” And lots of other tracks on the album keep grabbing me too.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the folks of Low are at their all time best here, and even if they were, I can't give them the prize this round. Trust is a bit more poppy than much of their earlier material, but songs that seem to announce themselves as possible college radio picks (like “Canada,” “In the Drugs” and “Last Snowstorm of the Year”) sometimes don’t jive with the more ponderous material (“Candy Girl,” “Tonight,” etc.). I’m sure someone else could defend why they DO fit together, so I’ll state the obvious: that’s my biased diagnosis. Speaking of the more ponderous material, the song “Candy Girl” both agitates and exhausts me, as do the shalalalala’s that wind down “John Prine.”

I can certainly respect Low’s more ponderous material generally, by the way, because their music takes time and devotion, and its rewards for close listening are hard earned. At the same time, it is the definition of mood music. You gotta wanna go there.

Then there’s Midnight Vultures. It’s not my favorite Beck album, but still, wow. To start, Beck has put out albums for a good fifteen years that seldom fail to surprise. This is one of the reasons I fell so hard for Sea Change: it was uncharacteristic heartbreak from a chameleon and comedian. Insert sad clown joke here. In addition to offering the unexpected, many of his albums bear much repetition and age well too.

On Midnight Vultures, Beck wins points in my book for channeling Prince (see especially “Peaches and Cream”) and heralding those dorks from Flight of the Conchords in “Debra.” I could go on for a while about different musicians he’s calling up and shooting down here, but I gotta do some other stuff with my life, or so they say.

Let’s talk lyrics now. There are, if I may be so juvenile (and this album sure inspires juvenilia), a million WTF lyrical moments on the album:

For example, look closer at “Peaches and Cream,” where you encounter beauties like “Peaches and Cream / You make a garbage man scream” and “Give those pious soldiers another lollipop / Cuz we’re on the good ship ménage a trois.” And then the song concludes by going into the refrain of the spiritual “Keep your lamplight trimmed and burning.” Like I said, WTF.

And then teenage geekdom reigns supreme in “Debra,” which is the story of an out-of-touch dude’s mall hook-up fantasy. Lines like “Baby, step inside my Hyundai / I said gonna take you out to Glendale… / For a real good meal” seriously make me wonder if Bret and Jemaine were listening back in the day.

Finally, just to make sure I don’t give all the other great songs on this album short shrift, how often do you want to attempt to dance (or car dance, or couch dance) through the first six or more tracks? Speaking of which, how is it possible that Thriller didn’t make anyone’s list? I’m ashamed of myself.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Role of the East German Judge will now be played by Jane


First, let me hearken back to Andrew's "basic rules." "I encourage you," he wrote, "to pick albums that are personal favorites as opposed to 'good albums.' In other words, you might listen to Taylor Swift every night before you go to bed but recognize that Tom Waits is hipper and generally more critically acclaimed. In this case, please let go of your inner hipster and pick Taylor Swift." This rule was easy for me to follow. My inner hipster, like my outer hipster, has precious little in the way of existence. It's true that I have a tee-shirt from Threadless that I think is pretty hilarious, but I never would have known about Threadless if Sarah Byker James hadn't bought me that tee-shirt. It's true that I heard about M.I.A. before Andrew did, but I heard about M.I.A. from Newsweek. So, in the Death Match itself, as in the making of my list, I've been choosing what I like the most, not judging the albums by an allegedly empirical standard that I don't really get, anyway.

I mean, I know that the true music aficionados out there have it in them to balance all kinds of complex and meaningful things about an album: what lies in its sphere of influence, whether it's original or derivative, and so on and so forth. But I am not a musicologist. I am a person who listens with idiosyncratic and possibly crackpot taste to what she fancies. And I do not fancy the Beach Boys.

Andrew has pointed out to me that their harmonies are amazing, and no doubt he's right. But I think their harmonies are amazing in a way that is a little bit barbershop quartet, or, to put it otherwise, in a way that Andy from the office could take easy advantage of. Andrew has also pointed out to me that an album like Stars on E.S.P., which appears on my list, has been hugely influenced by the Beach Boys. Again, I can't imagine that he's wrong about that, but I'll say to y'all what I said to him: I think whatever aspects of this album held them in its thrall, His Name is Alive really improved on it. Sure, there's a couple tunes on this album that I can get behind--namely, "Wouldn't it Be Nice" and "The Sloop John B." But "God Only Knows" has always struck me as syrupy, and a lot of the other songs on this record also strike me as hokey. I know the album came out in the mid-60's (thank you, Wikipedia), but, to me, a lot of the songs on this album have cliched 1950's romance at their core; it's a record I can imagine a girl listening to while lying stomach-down on her bedspread, mooning over Richie Cunningham and kicking her bobby-socked feet gently back and forth. I have no experience of falling in or out of love in the simple terms this album offers. I can't get into it. I'm sorry. I will say that I like that one song begins with an instrument that I can't identify, but happily imagine being a saxophone filtered through a kazoo. But that's the height of my enthusiasm for Pet Sounds.

I am not wholeheartedly enthusiastic about Mezzanine, either. With the exception of "Teardrop," I would turn to this album, as I would to Portishead, for ambiance rather than for any deliberate act of listening. But it doesn't make my flesh crawl, so:

Mezzanine wins. Pet Sounds loses.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

village green vs. main street

what a fitting battle. two giants of the british invasion at the height of their powers. the rolling stones, exile on main street, possibly their finest album, against the kinks underground masterpiece, the kinks are...the village green preservation society. i've loved both these bands for years now, so this was bound to be a tough choice. at least i'd get to enjoy two great albums. if only it was that simple.

first up...the rolling stones. what an epic mess this album is. i'm not making this up. the greatest band in the world go to france to record in an old nazi mansion. an exercise in excess, with a side of heroin. the stones decided to forget about their progress over the past 8 years and return to copying the music of poor americans. the original faux hicks, they are. at least back in '64 they were tight. i guess it's just easier to play sloppy when you're on a 3 day heroin bender, huh keith. i heard you were so effed up that you snorted your dad. also, what's up with the singing. mick jagger is all sass and no power. producer jimmy miller doesn't help by burying him in the mix. have any of these guys ever heard a black man sing? am i right?

on the song "village green" ray davies sings: "i miss the village green and all the simple people/i miss the village green the church the clock the steeple." who wrote that? glenn beck? after listening to this for the past couple days, i can't help but think the village green is a metaphor not just for a simpler time, but a place with no foreigners and homosexuals, a place (not unlike this blog :}) where women are defined by the man they married, not by their talents and contributions. (i'm talking about you daisy). a place full of intolerance and bigotry. is this what we want to preserve, kinks? the nostalgia seems cheap. on the title track, they run down a never ending list of things that they are and things they want god to save (virginity? strawberry jam?). i say, "rose colored glasses!!!!" there's no mention of any of the bad stuff. what about the 1918 flu pandemic, the boer war and shit like that? come on kinks, show some nuance.

aw hell...the winner: the rolling stones

Cash Vs. Buffalo

American IV: The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash

I really like Johnny Cash. And I really like all the albums in the American Recordings series he has put out with Rick Rubin. Solitary Man, the third installment, is probably my personal fave (due primarily to song choice: the title track, "The Mercy Seat", " I See A Darkness"), but American IV: The Man Comes Around is damn good, too. My favorite song on here may actually be the title track, a self-penned ditty packed full of apocalyptic and biblical imagery, sounding as much like a prophetic warning as a country tune, Johnny's aging baritone adding a unique gravitas to the whole affair (I think perhaps only Leonard Cohen can pull off this sort of song as well..."The Future" comes to mind. )

I also really enjoy his resurrection of the especially bad-ass "Sam Hall" with its gallows humor and half-sung, half-spat refrain: "Damn your eyes!" The decision to cover some alternative rock hits such as NIN's "Hurt" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" may seem gimmicky at first, but Johnny actually does a fine job with them, reinterpreting the songs in the context of his own life struggles and spirituality.

That being said, there are a few questionable choices here. In the best of all possible worlds, "Desperado" would have been left off the album entirely. (Nope, I can't stand the Eagles. Funny side-note: This song inevitably reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine's boyfriend hushes her and goes into a trance-like state whenever it comes on the radio...) I can appreciate the sentiment behind "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Danny Boy", but there's so much else I would rather hear Johnny sing. And then there is "Bridge Over Troubled Water"...What the hell IS Fiona Apple trying to do with her voice in the background there?!? Good Lord. These are minor grievances, however, in the big scheme of all things Johnny. As the Wu-Tang Clan once aptly put it: "Cash rules everything around me!"
Rating: 4.3


Mighty Joe Moon by Grant Lee Buffalo
This is yet another critically-acclaimed band that I knew existed but have never really listened to for one reason or another. So this was my virgin run through Mighty Joe Moon. And I liked it...especially "Mockingbirds" (which reminded me at times of both Marc Bolan/T. Rex and the Beatles) and the closer "Rock of Ages". GLB mix up the tempos and textures nicely across the album, rocking out with noise and grit at times and smoothing things out to downright perty at others. I also dig the blend of rock and country featured here in just the right proportion: a little bit country and a lotta bit rock and roll.
However, not having a "history" with the band, I did not get as excited about these guys as I may have when I was 19. (This seems to be a recurring motif in Death Match reviews, no?) Also: Lead singer Phillips has a great voice, but at times he flirts dangerously close to sounding like Eddie Vedder. I like it better when he doesn't.

All in all, a solid alternative 90s album. Too bad it had to face off against the force that is Johnny Cash.
Rating: 3.4

Winner: JC's The Man Comes Around

So Fine

Someone once said "All I know is that it aint like it used to be"

I'm sure many of you will agree to having those "If only" moments, wishing you had heard something twenty years ago. I tend to do that less these days, maybe because I'm more objective ("If only I met my wife before I wasted all that time on those other girls..." is easily countered now with, "I'm thankful my wife didn't meet me before, boy did I suck ass").

Or maybe because I know now, that I already had moments of discovery, 20 years ago, that were fun, interesting and shaping... Moments I may have lost if I walked past Great White, and stopped to appreciate just one thing andrew listened to at the time.
This is a great example because at this point in time, I pull a regular shift at my local Walmart music department, standing in the "G" section shouting: "Keep Moving!", but at the same time I greatly value the memory of trading 'Once Bitten...Twice Shy" to my younger cousin for 'Vital Idol'... he's still pissed! I wouldn't pass that up.

I know there is a lot of great music out there, floating around, waiting for me to hear it. And as I have less time to actively pursue my treks into the unknown, I know I still possess that sense of excitement in my core, knowing I'll still come across these gems as the days go on.

Belle and Sebastian's If you're feeling sinister and Laurie Anderson's Big Science both represent this type of discovery for me.
Sinister is only about 8 or 9 years old for me, and Big Science is just a newborn. I'm coming late to the game with both of these.

Both albums made an immediate impact when I heard them. Both I'll listen to again. Both I recommend everyone to listen to if you have not yet.

Big Science is wonderfully unique, a major plus in my book. There just isn't enough spoken word out there. It made me think of Glenn Gould's The Idea of North, nothing much is similar between the two beyond featuring speech as a central part of the music. I also thought of Jim Morrison... He wishes though... throwing big words together don't make it good. I tend to think the early 80's produced a lot of terrible sounding music. Over-produced synth, I guess an early indicator of the impact the digital world would have... most of this music showed the negative side, while Big Science shows the potential... A tool, rather than just dipping songs in synth. And of course, Spiritualized covered a tune from this album, so that has to be worth points in this group.

Sinister on the other hand, isn't treading new ground in the world of music per se, but what it does, it does really well. It immediately catches my interest, and there is a certain flow to the music. It sounds simple, but it isn't. There isn't much I feel like I need to say about it, it speaks for itself.

When I first saw this assignment, I thought Sinister would be guaranteed to go on... yet, I've listened to Big Science numerous now, trying to find something wrong with it. I listened to Sinister just as many times, and it proved each time that it deserved to go on. Earlier in the day, I wrote down why Sinister won, and it had something to do with me being into Easy Listening these days. But that's just crazy... true, but crazy. So now, here's why Big Science ultimately wins... I think it has the potential to open a few more doors for me... could you imagine listening to just the great whites of the world forever... now that's 'easy' listening.

You might be upset: I focus on the positive


Yeah, this is a tough one—not like Beatles / Pixies tough, but tough nonetheless. I actually haven’t entirely made up my mind yet, but I’m hoping that by the end of this review, I’ll have figured it out.

First of all, Summerteeth. This is an album made by a great band at the height of their powers. I’m sorry folks, I love Being There and I love Summerteeth, but I just haven’t liked anything since. I’m willing to admit I’m wrong about this, but I’m also willing to bet that most Wilco fans agree that they haven’t achieved these kinds of dizzying heights since either.

Here’s what I think makes this album so impressive:

First of all, I like their small tributes to times past. When Bruce reviewed the Avett Brothers, he counted the obvious influence of other artists (including Wilco) on them as a negative, but I love it when bands wear their influences on their sleeves and are still able to sound like themselves.

I think the Avett Brothers accomplish this.

I do not think Oasis do.

On this album, Wilco do it very nicely. There are a lot of obvious 60’s sounds, stylings, and tricks, but by combining these things with their own quirks, they manage to transcend both—this is more than just a nod to the 60’s, but this is also more than just a Wilco album.

Another thing I love about this record is all the little unexpected parts to the songs. Oh, huh, there’s a bit of feedback I wasn’t ready for. Hey, where did this bridge with the horns come from? Whoa, bells... And each time, instead of sounding forced or added on, they sound just right. In fact, each of these parts make the songs sound like they couldn’t do without them.

Lyrically, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t add up, but that doesn’t bother me too much. With the exception of the Hold Steady, all I need are a few good lines here and there, and Summerteeth’s got em: something in my veins / bloodier than blood; the ashtray says / you’ve been up all night; no love’s random as God’s love / I can’t stand it / I can’t stand it. That last one might be a little theologically suspect, but it’s still a great line, especially the way he repeats the “I can’t stand it” part. On the other hand, there’s that weird she begs me not to hit her line, which I’ll let Sarah somehow justify (will that make her sexialist?). The ways Tweedy delivers many of these lines add to my fondness for this album too. He manages to sound so convicted on the first track and so disaffected on the second, yet both styles are perfect for the songs.

Ultimately, this is a great album by a band that was trying to make a great album. I give them credit for thinking big and for pulling it off.

Lie Down In the Light, on the other hand, is a great album by a guy who probably didn’t think too much about it. It’s been interesting to follow Oldham’s career. I agree with Kevin that there’s something impressive about making music that is both good and commercially viable, but there’s also something impressive about just hammering out your own thing, building up a small but devoted following. Oldham’s carved out his own little niche in the world of music, and this has allowed him to simply go about his business—putting out amazingly consistent records at a pretty astounding rate. I knew I wanted at least one Bonnie/Palace album on my list, but how does a faux-hickster choose? For me, that decision seemed as difficult as picking a Dylan album. I think the obvious choice is probably I See a Darkness, but that album doesn’t excite me as much as it used to. Some of his records that sounded so great to me at first have faded after a while, whereas the ones that took longer to grow on me still sound fresh (a phenomenon I think all of you are familiar with). Each of his past few releases fits this description, including Lie Down in the Light. Along with my own pick, Ease Down the Road, this album also has a lighter feel that I think is both harder to pull off and ultimately more satisfying than his darker stuff.

So what makes this album great? Like a great writer once said, “greatness is typically less quantifiable than mediocreness.” This is especially true when the album you’re talking about isn’t pulling out all the stops like Summerteeth.

Other examples:

Ladies and Gentleman: easy to write about.

Harvest: harder to write about

Illinoise: easier

Seven Swans: harder

etc. etc.

Here are a few things, though. First of all, his voice. I love this guy’s voice. I can’t exactly explain it, but he’s got great little idiosyncrasies, and he just sounds like he just really enjoys singing. Also, the writing on this album is fantastic. I know that’s a vague thing to say, so I’ll try and be more precise. It again has to do with the unexpected, how in “For Every Field There’s a Mole” this weird jazzy clarinet comes in only to be quickly supplanted by this catchy bridge?/chours? that ends the song and that I personally have a hard time getting out of my head. Similarly, the end of “Missing One” ends with two bars of a brilliant phrase that could be its own tune altogether. And in the Shannon Stephens’ song (yes, that Shannon Stephens) that closes the album, it’s just so wonderful how first the organ kicks in right after he sings Lord wherever you go / you’ll always have me around and then later those gorgeous voices chime in right after he sings Lord, I’m too weak to travel / I’ll be glad you’re strong / and I’ll lean on your arm.

I’m not sure how Bonnie and Wilco compare in orthodoxy, but he sings about faith with the kind of candor I admire. And the same is true for sex. The man’s got some dirty lyrics (see under: chorus of “O Boy”), but somehow his openness makes them feel, well, less seedy. In fact, I like the way that he can move from faith, to sex, to family, to relationships without breaking a sweat. I also like the fact that he when he sings about relationships, he sings as much about friendship (a topic so rarely covered in music) as he does about romance.

Alright, it seems like this is a tie, and I need a tie-breaker. So here goes, I’m going to choose based less on the merits of these individual albums, and more on them as representatives of two different careers. I’m also going to hold the following against one of them: when heading up north to camp, I had to listen to one of these about 17 times straight (hint: Jana was driving).

Winner = Lie Down In the Light

um...

You all caught that I announced Tlenee's pregnancy in Music Death Match 2010 right?  I know some of you received emails, but I was really expecting a bigger to-do in the comments section.  I don't ask for much...just accolades and way to go's.

Let it Bleed vs. Legend

When I got this matchup, I was excited because I really like both of these albums. I hadn't listened to either in a while, so I think I was hearing these in a fairly objective mode (for me). I have more history with Legend, as I followed the trend and "discovered" it in college. I never listened to the Rolling Stones much until five or six years ago and Let it Bleed was one of the albums I kept hearing that I had to check out.

I put different albums by both of these artists on my list—Exodus by Bob Marley and Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones—right next to each other at 22 and 23 respectively.


Listening to Legend for the first time in a while, I started swaying and nodding my head and thinking and saying embarrassing things I won't go into here. Just think Ras Trent (don't know Ras Trent? Look here or on Hulu - you won't be disappointed). This album really does a good job of collecting the best of Marley's later work. I wish it had some of the earlier stuff, too, because I celebrate his entire catalog. I don't really know much about the context of his more political songs like Get Up, Stand Up, but they give me a general fight the power (the sentiment, not the song) sort of feeling which is problematic because of its potential to excuse me from action with the thought that I've done my job just by getting vaguely riled up, but feels really good. And then there are the songs that just make you feel like we're all in this together and why not just love everybody, dude? This is good stuff. I know it's pretty cheesy in parts and probably makes a lot of people want to puke, but I don't really have access to my cynical side while listening to this album.


Let it Bleed is a kick ass rock 'n' roll album. Gimme Shelter kills me every time and I especially appreciate the roadhouse feel of songs like Let it Bleed and Country Honk and You Can't always Get What You Want is a real classic. They are really tight on this album and I think that's part of what I'm not crazy about. Goats Head Soup is more world-weary and loose and I prefer that. Even though I ranked Goats Head Soup below my Bob Marley pick, I might choose it over Legend, but in this matchup, I and I (really just I) prefer Legend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

hardest decision of my life

here's it is. hardest ever!
Radiohead - Kid A vs Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?

take a moment and think about making that choice before you read on.

what's that?
yes, i would rather choose between $1,000,000 and $1,000,000 worth of happiness.

for this round i'm going to my own sort of point system.
before i make my comparisons, i'd like to share a few historical facts regarding these albums, the relationship to me.
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?: Don't own this album. I owned Mavin Gaye's Greatest Hits, so I know the singles from this album. I love Marvin Gaye, but not in my top 30 album picks.
Radiohead - Kid A: I own this album and have likely listened to it a zillion times. It was on my top 30. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands, and this is my favorite album of theirs.

So, point system goes thusly:
0: worst
1:bad
2:poor
3:good
4:great
5:genius

Lyrics
Radiohead: 2 (I think Thom York writes decent, lazy lyrics. He can write a good phrase that usually represents the theme of the music, and vice versa, but he repeats a few phrases and relies and the strength of them to carry the song)
Marvin Gaye: 4 (He sings from heart, the soul; he sings about what mattered and still matters tomorrow, he loses genius status only cause his plea for us to "think of the children" got in the way, and his "don't talk bad about my father" line stunk it up a bit)

Album Cover (got to put this in only cause it's going to be a close one)
Radiohead: 4
Marvin Gaye:2 (his first credit as sole-producer, and crediting the funk brothers makes up for it)

Singing
Radiohead: 4 (Thom York may not have the greatest lyrics, but he's another instrument that no one gets to play but him)
Marvin Gaye: 5 (Nuff said)

Musicianship
Radiohead: 4 (Jonny Greenwood factor is huge, Thom York's previously mentioned instrument is huge, and even the programmed and live drummer need a special mention here)
Marving Gaye: 5 (Funk Brothers at their prime = HUGE)

Songwriting
Radiohead: 4 (Unbelievably creative, strong arrangements, memorable without being overly catchy, fave: the national anthem)
Marvin Gaye: 4 (Powerful, pioneering in the way of a concept album, although I didn't give it a 5 it really is genius, fave: mercy mercy me)

Album Flow
Radiohead: 4 (The only hiccup is track 5 which feels to me too much like the soundtrack to a show a the planetarium, and the bonus track followed by the 2 minutes of silence is the biggest waste of space since someone thought bonus tracks would be cool)
Marvin Gaye: 4 (I really don't like save the children and god is love, they have great messages but they become too much about the message and not the music to me)

Impact
Radiohead: 3 (Great album for the fact that it showed a great band could last while progressing, but it didn't really say anything other than that)
Marvin Gaye: 5 (Marvin Gaye reacted to the vietnam war with an album that wasn't nearly as full of rage as the common protester of the era, he reacted a lot cooler than that; he spoke of loving each other; he said that we were the ones to mess things up, but we're the ones who can fix it, and he said all these things through one bad-ass funky mofo and the most sincere voice we may ever hear, album on charts for more than a year)

String Arrangements
Radiohead: 4 (Strings on track 4 are possibly the most amazing thing on this record; they float with thom's voice, and drop out just as our feet are taking that first step off a ledge)
Marvin Gaye: 4 (Phil Spector likey)

Variety
Radiohead: 4 (It's all over and it's still got flow)
Marvin Gaye: 1 (This album is pretty sexy, this album is pretty political, if you're not it the mood for either of those things, it may be a tough listen)

Well, those are the important categories to me.
Score: Canada 7 / Russia: 3!!!!!
(Just got back from the hockey game)

Radiohead - Kid A: 33
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?: 34
Wow! Much closer than the hockey game!

What do I want to seem less like

A racist or a faux-hick hipster?

So, I've been catching some flack for not liking two beloved artists.  Let me give you some context:  I'm super cranky about music right now.  Nothing is really gripping me.  Used to be that I'd find a few records a year that just made me look at the world a little differently.  Some of you remember when I thought Pedro the Lion was the Cat's Pajamas. Others remember when I would have sold all my earthly possessions to follow the Constantines around the world. 

But it just 'aint happening lately.

Is it because I've lost that lovin' feeling?  Or am I so much of a connoisseur and there just nothing great out there?  I also have to admit that much of my listening lately involves wordless music since I'm usually writing papers or sermons...and I need a lot of energy to keep me going...so I listen to a lot of dance music.

Who knows what it is.  All I know is that it aint like it used to be.

Like when I was fresh off the bus from Chicago and in the middle of the Calvin lawn I stumbled upon a Little Big Man concert and thought to myself, "What is this folky off tune singing that makes me feel tingly?"  Back then I'd be about as star struck as the next guy.  One time I saw the lead singer of Little Big Man walking across campus and I went up to him and told him how much I liked his set before the Lost Dogs and he was sheepish and stand-offish and awkward and I thought, "Wow, this guy is so cool he can barely manage a thank you to a little (or not so little) peasant like me.  Man, those were the days.  Those were the days when music really dug out my heart and beat it against a wall until I could do nothing but enter life, full on, with nothing to lose but inhibition and maybe a good night's sleep.

Here I sit, pregnant wife feet from me, wondering what kind of music will shake the ground my kid walks on. I'm intrigued by music created by people rebelling against the music that was created to rebel against the music that was created to rebel against...

I suppose both these artists fit that category somehow.  Didn't Neko Case exist in the punk world in some capacity at some point? Creating a country-ish record is a  big middle finger to a certain segment of the punk population.  And wasn't James Brown too rough around the edges for many people in his hey-day?  Perhaps.

I'd like to say something about some of the assumptions I've seen here.
1. It's not racist to choose an album made by a white person over an album made by a black person.  It is racist, however, to pretend you don't feel guilty over it.  Wait. No, that's not right.

Anyway

2. Enjoying what some have called faux-hick music does not necessarily make one a hipster.  Come on.  We're all a bit too old to give a shit about that kind of stuff.  I think we all know who is cool deep down here and their names are mvb and slippers.  They aint perpetrating no fake nothin' brothers and sisters.  These days, you just like what you like and you don't like what you don't like.  If called upon to articulate why, I'll admit, I do expect something of substance. At least from a crowd of intellectuals like this one.  But it is really hard to be objective.  I mean, I just can't see how Dwight thinks Luna is without heart.  I barely buy that Jeff likes Revolver over Surfer Rosa.  And then there's the issue of The Hold Steady.  I worry about Zwartitude.  I actually lose sleep over it. But seriously, if they chose to like something crappy or dislike something snappy, it's not my place to judge.  I mean I'll do it and have fun doing it...but I won't be in the right.  I don't think.

So here I am with a choice to make.  I've given both albums a fair shake and I'll say that I'm surprised by a couple things.

James Brown can sing the hell out of a ballad.  "Please Please Please" and "Try Me" are two of the greatest soul ballads I've heard. And I've heard over 39 soul ballads.

Neko Case's "Middle Cyclone" is a brilliantly arranged album.  Here are a few of my notes:

What is that synthesizer in Polar Nettles?  It's freakin amazing. The drums are amazing all over this record.

Vengeance: the guitar  is awestastic.  The subtle and haunting piano and the quiet, frail backing vocals remind me of stina a bit.

Never turn your back.  Cello is spit on your neck, kick you in the crotch fantastic.  The drums sound nice and deep.  Nice almost gospel choir vox at the end that don't get over done.

Prison girls: the repetition of the Ghost Town guitar lick with the pizzicato strings kills me.  "I love your long shadows and your gun powder eyes."



To wrap up this way to long diatribe, I'll say this:  In the last two days, I've listened to the Neko Case album 3 times simply because I wanted to listen to the songs and not because I was doing this Death Match.

Dear Neko,
This might sound a little racist, but you win this round. Jerkass.
Love your friend,
Steve E. Dee

Trying not to be as verbose as Jeff

Passion Pit's Chunk of Change vs Mineral's Power of Failing
I like and own both of these albums (loving neither of them). This was a good chance to re-listen to them with fresh ears.
Passion Pit I initially picked up after reading reviews of the album. My first impressions were that it was a little over-hyped. I felt it sounded pretty similar to MGMT, Matt and Kim, YACHT, and other similar sounding bands. I love MGMT, and felt that they did this sound better. I also picked up JJ's "JJ no 2" at that same time. Even though JJ is a little derivative of Joy Division, that album quickly became my new favorite for 2009 and I didn't listen to Passion Pit that much. (I highly recommend checking out JJ to all those who like 80's British music...I should have put it on my faves list).
Back to Passion Pit. Re-listening to this album, I'm realizing I need to listen to this more frequently. They have a complex, poppy sound that I find myself liking more and more. This album to me is more a "headphones album"...I feel headphones pick up more of the multi-tracked sounds and melodies. This album has some killer tracks (but I like the more commercial Manners album). This is a great album (but MGMT is still more to my liking).
I'm a science nerd and I love labels. I understand why people don't like labels, but I love organizing things (physically and in my mind). Labels help me to assess and evaluate things. I would label Mineral as emo. Now I can't verify that I told Andrew "I hate Mineral"...but it sounds like something a younger me may have said. My first intro to Mineral was actually Endserenading, which I remember as an album that I didn't particularly like. The Power of Failing is a much better album. I listened to a ton of emo (and trance) my first year of med school. I'd rank my most listened to emo albums as Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate, Frame and Canvas by Braid, The Get Up Kids first two albums, Mineral's Power of Failing, then Promise Ring's 30 degrees album (and some others that I'm forgetting). I'd also listen to a lot of Cap'n Jazz whenever I hung out with my friend who used to open for them. For better or worse, that's my background bias for reviewing Power of Failing.
Relistening to Power of Failing, I'm still impressed with their loud/soft dynamics. I enjoy the singer's voice, but I find myself having trouble paying attention to the lyrics. Musically, I feel like this is better than other emo bands I like, but it's just not poppy enough for me.
Winner: Passion Pit
Loser: emo

PvR

Pixies: Surfer Rosa vs Beatles: Revovler
aka There is no way to judge this matchup, and someone is going to be pissed no matter what I decide.

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Nirvana never would have existed without blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah listened to them at a particular time in my blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah production values blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Tony's Theme blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah



blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah most influential blah in the history of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah never appreciated them until blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah production values blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah marked a transition from blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

blah Revolver wins blah blah blah

Scores so far

So here are the scores after the first division and a half. If you are on the lower side, don't worry, it's early in the tournament, and it just might mean that you haven't had some of your lower seeds compete yet. Right now having a lower seeded album upset a higher seeded one means big points for you. Having a high seeded album win doesn't do all that much for you. Eric is winning right now, but this can all change very quickly.

Eric: 89
Andrew: 82
Andy: 73
MVB: 63
Kevin: 53
Jeff: 44
Brian: 33
Karl: 30
Sarah: 28
Jane: 24
Bruce: 23
Steve:19
Dwight: 9

For those of you interested, here is how the scoring works: Each of your albums that wins in each round is worth a different amount of points: 2 for the first round, then 3 for the second, continuting 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and 55 respectively. These numbers are "fibonacci" numbers, which makes this tournament slightly more like The Da Vinci Code, and therefore even more cultish. They also work well for making sure that later rounds aren't worth astronomically more than the first rounds (I'm pretty sure math-boy will back me up on this).

In addition to the points for the round, you receive points based on the seed of your album. In order to do this, I am simply multiplying the seed # by the round #. So in round 1, you get 32 points if you're 32 seed takes down a number 1 seed. In the second round, you will receive 64 points if your 32 seed wins again.

As I mentioned before, the winner will receive some sort of gift card. Now, let's get those next picks in!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Flaming Lips vs. Broken Social Scene

I never listened to the Flaming Lips before. Never hearda this album. Listening to it right now. LOVE IT.

Love the synth bass on Spoonful. Love the drum riffs on Spiderbite. (Drum "riffs" or whatever "musician" types "call" them.) Love the space given to each instrument/part.

Reading the wikipedia article makes me think I will ultimately be annoyed by Wayne Coyne. But for now, this is everything that I like about Modest Mouse even though I don't like all Modest Mouse. Also getting hints of Granddaddy and a bouquet of David Bowie, but I haven't really listened to much spacey/psychy/slightly-drug-related pop, and so I'm probably missing the direct comparisons.

On the other hand, I own the Broken Social Scene album. I was pretty enthusiastic about this album when I first heard it, and I still like it. It's creative. The music tends a little too quickly to noise, which means I can't play it without Hannah yelling at me. Most of the lyrics are irredeemably abstracted. (Counter-example: Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.) The swears, vaguely political language, and sexual imagery I find alienating because I don't understand the meaning of, say, wanting to fuck the cause. I don't understand the writing but it makes me think the writer is a bit self-tragic.

So do I vote for love at first sight or for something that's already past the honeymoon phase? Tough.

Do I pick the pop "alt" option? Or the indie-insider option?

Maybe a little bit of head (FL) vs heart (BSS) here?

I think it's a little suspect how popular BSS is with this group -- this group with its many and close ties to Canadian music. How can you not root for BSS? But it's kind of the Canadian indie rock equivalent of the 1992 US Olympic Basketball team.

I also think it's a little suspect how popular Flaming Lips are outside this group. Are they just ear candy? Serious art or sophomoric spectacle? (I know, I know, this from the guy who put Laurie Anderson on the list. Hypocrites suck.)

I'm focusing on the negative again, which is bad, since both of these albums are great and I like both of them. I must be subconsciously trying to piss people off. Especially since I think I'm going to go with Flaming Lips. Sorry. I only do as I am programmed to do.

First Round of First Division So Far

End of Division 2, and onto Division 3

Okay everyone, nice work again. I'm proud of you all except for Sarah and Karl although at least Sarah got her pick in and I can simply blame her poor decision on a rush-job. I assume Karl will use his extra time to do the right thing. Speaking of time, the first ten people who get their picks in will get to pick the last ten for Division 3 (I'll let you know your next choice in the comment section of your pick). And quit whining about not having enough time. Tough it out. Put your head down and power through.

Anyway, again, we've got some great match-ups. A lot of people's top picks could go down. I'm personally curious to see what Jeff, Dwight, Eric, Kevin and I are going to choose. If I remember right, Brian hated Mineral back in the day, but maybe his tastes will have changed. Also if I remember right, Steve was bored by Neko Case about a day ago. I'm pretty sure I know what he's going to pick (but you still gotta listen Steve!).

Alright, have fun. I will try and post or send out what the bracket looks like so far, and at some point I will try to calculate who is winning. I should have had everyone throw in a couple bucks with the winner taking the pot, but I think instead I'll purchase a small gift-card for whoever's picks do the best.

End of Division 2

Andrew

(11) Wilco – Summerteeth vs. (22) Bonnie Prince Billy – Lie Down in the Light

Sarah

(12) Beck – Midnight Vultures vs. (21) Low - Trust

Mark

(13) Belle and Sebatian – If You’re Feeling Sinister vs. (20) Laurie Anderson – Big Science

Eric

(14) Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around vs. (19) Grant Lee Buffalo – Mighty Joe Moon

Jeff

(15) Beatles – Revolver vs. (18) Pixies – Surfer Rosa

Bruce

(16) Bob Marley – Legend vs. (17) Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

Beginning of Division 3

Dwight

(1) Radiohead – Kid A vs. (32) Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin On

Brian

(2) Passion Pit – Chunk of Change vs. Mineral – (31) The Power of Failing

Kevin

(3) Cat Power – Moon Pix vs. (30) Tindersticks - Tindersticks (II - the one with the guy in the suit)

Andy

(4) The Kinks are Preservation Green Society vs. (29) Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street

Jane

(5) Beach Boys – Pet Sounds vs. (28) Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Steve

(6) Neko Case – Middle Cyclone vs. (27) James Brown – 20 All time greatest hits


Tenth vs 10

I was pleased when I saw I had the chance to listen to two albums that I have not heard in a long long time. Both are by bands that I don't really care for, but I would consider both great albums.

The Stones have never grabbed me in a way that I always knew they should. With a body of work that is so influential and creative, you'd think I'd have room for them in my heart. But alas, for some strange reason, no. The only album I have is Hot Rocks, and that does the job for me.

Pearl Jam, on the other hand, does not invoke any feelings of failure on my part to appreciate their work. I think they've done some great stuff as well, but after all these years, I only have a lowly dubbed tape of 10 sitting in a moving box that will probably never be unpacked.

But that's just the bands. The albums are what we're judging, and on all accounts, they both might deserve to move on. I listened to both albums back to back (Sticky Fingers first, then 10), and enjoyed pretty much everything from both albums.

Here's what I noticed: The production difference between the two is amazing. Sticky Fingers sounded like I played it on a realistic tape recorder from the 70's. Nothing wrong with that though. Jagger doesn't do the blues all that well.. go figure (a statement I refused to back up with any evidence at all). When the first track of 10 started, I was let-down, I wanted more Stones.

But again, 10 was great too. Really enjoyed hearing the tracks again, I could immediately picture Eddie Vedder shaking and barely moving his mouth, and all that good stuff. But at the end, there was no sense of loss.

My intent was to listen to both albums more than once, but I didn't get to it due to the heartache of last night.

So, since this was so close, I had to list the pros and cons of each, to determine which album was going to move on.

Pros:
Sticky Fingers... Wild Horses: GnR used to play this live.
Pearl Jam... Friends of Neil Young
Pearl Jam... Fought Ticketmaster
Stones... Played a show in Oshawa at the same venue I used to play hockey in... that makes them peers (right!?, I think maybe.)

Cons:
Pearl Jam... The alternateen nation along with Nirvana
Stones... Windows 95
Pearl Jam... First result on a search for "Pearl Jam tickets" is for ticketmaster
Stones... GnR did Sympathy for the devil... poorly.

As, you can see, this isn't an easy choice when being so objective.
We'll have to go to the ultimate level... have you been covered by Dread Zeppelin... ah the true decider!

Dread's second album (5,000,000* *tortelvis fans can't be wrong) cover was modeled on "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!".

The Winner: Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers.*




*come on, it's a 40 year old classic, 10 might be good, but it isn't that good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

1 of 2 ain't bad AZ

In my first choice I had two albums from my top 30 list. In this round, I had two albums I've never owned. Both things are tough. It's hard to compare two albums when you are listening to them completely for the first time. I know that my favorite albums are my favorite albums because of all the times I've listened to them and what they evoke for me. So I find it hard to judge between two albums that I've listened to once. This was a tough choice for me. I have never been a huge REM fan, but I'm not sure why. I don't think I've ever really given them a chance. I listened to Automatic for the People and enjoyed it, especially "Sweetness follows," "Man on theMoon," and "Nightswimming." In listening, I felt that REM had probably influenced many of the bands I enjoy that have come after them. One other thing I like about REM is a quality that I think the top all times albums should have, which is commercial appeal. It's one thing to make a complex and artistic album, and another to have it appeal to a relatively wide audience. I actually think that is a trait I appreciate in music and why I think artists like Bob Dylan, The Clash, Radiohead, and Rolling Stones belong high on the lists. So I enjoyed this album, although there were tracks that I wasn't inspired by. I don't take any sort of notes as I listen, and now a few days later, some of these tracks don't stand out to me at all.

I have to admit that I gave Separation Sunday a closer listen, including reading the lyrics as I listened. Initially, this didn't make that much of a difference. After about 5 tracks of Separation Sunday, I thought this was going to be a tough call for me, with neither album necessarily turning out to be a huge hit for me. But by the end, it was clear that Separation Sunday was the winner. I did like the whole concept album story thing. I do like the classic rock riffs combined with punk. I didn't know what to make of Craig Finn's basically speaking the vocals at first, and I still don't think I love it, but by the end, I also couldn't imagine how else he would sing this album. It seems to fit. Also, it applies to my life a bit right now as I am a teacher at a urban Catholic high school and I think I could recommend this album to a number of the punk lovers in my classes. I was on a three day retreat with the Juniors of my school this week, and the line in Multitude of Casualties, "youth services always find a way to get their bloody cross into your druggy little messed up teenage life" is apropos for what I observed on that retreat. I agree, this album is adolescent, which is why I'll recommend it to my high school students, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it past that phase of life. Although I think Automatic for the People is an album I'd be more likely to just throw on the Ipod while I'm chilling at home after work, I'd more likely listen to Separation Sunday while driving around in my car. And I'd probably much rather see The Hold Steady live than REM. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd like the Hold Steady more as a live band than on their albums.

Anyway, I kind of wanted to blow Andrew's #2 out of the water after his deadline setting made me spend more time this weekend listening to those albums and writing this post than working on my lesson plans and grad school work, but I couldn't do it. Sepearation Sunday moves on.

And Now Andrew Will Reveal My Every Secret


Joni Mitchell – Blue vs. The Clash – London Calling

This has been a rotten one to call, though I suspect that’s a good thing. Likely there are more rotten decisions to come.

I’ll start out by saying that I’ve listened to Blue hundreds of times, and that up until now, I mostly knew The Clash’s most popular singles. And Blue should have been in my top thirty, but when I was selecting albums, I looked at the track list and thought there were a few that would annoy me now.

After listening to Blue again, it was a pleasant surprise to be mistaken about that. A few things about Mitchell are at their best on this album:

  • She can write lyrical circles around most of the boys, and seldom, if ever, allows you to correctly anticipate the tail end of a rhyme or line. Go Dylan-lady, go.
  • Her vocal stylings provide form for the songs as much if not more than the piano, guitar, dulcimer, drums. She uses her voice to syncopate and improvise, and again, it’s hard to anticipate exactly how and when she’ll switch things up.
  • She blends genres and styles, and while she’s most often labeled a folkie, it’s easy to hear the influence of jazz and more. And this is early Mitchell, before she gets super jazzy adventurous (and often more annoying for it).
  • She complicates easy notions of gender (both through vocal range and ownership of her subject matter), and it’s easy to see her legacy in artists like Prince, Bjork, and Antony.

A few specific things about Blue:

  • The album is thematically cohesive, yet consistently reevaluating its themes. One form of cohesion I love: the word “blue” or “blues” appears in over half of the songs directly, and in those it doesn’t, it’s strongly implied (like “River,” where the word needn’t be stated).
  • Blue is a work of unflinching realism, and yet it is reassuring. Many songs on this album upend their original declarations (“Last Time I Saw Richard,” for example). She writes without self-pity or sarcasm about love affairs, fame and wealth, and she does it in a way that makes a person inexperienced in all of the above actually empathize.
  • For a thematically cohesive album, the songs are singular in their sound.

After revisiting Blue, I listened to London Calling three or four full times, and I enjoyed it all through each time. I know I will listen to this album again and again now that I own it. And Andrew’s right: “there’s not one dud song on it.” He’s also right that they manage to genre-blend and hop like nobody’s business, and that they’re just as emotional and political as Mitchell.

Still, I think the album lacks the combination of artistic chops and confessional immediacy that draw me to Blue. That’s no insult to London Calling: it’s just a matter of taste. I’ll also admit that it’s a rare double album that impresses me as much as a conventional album with a tightly constructed conceit. It’s part of the reason why Wilco’s Being There didn’t make my top 30, even though it contains many of my favorite Wilco songs. It just seems trickier to sustain a mood or mode of thought over an additional five to ten tracks.

So I’m stuck. It’s clear that both albums MATTER to 20th century popular music. Do I choose the album the critics favor? They’re both darlings, but The Clash is hands down higher-rated by the big name rock snobs. Or do I choose the album that engages me through and through? Then Joni Mitchell takes it.

Here is where I breathe and remind myself that Sufjan Stevens took down Nick Drake. Why shouldn’t Joni Mitchell at least stand alongside, or slightly edge out, The Clash? Let the chips fall…in the next round.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Andrew is a demanding mistress of a moderator

Elevium vs. Massive Attack

It is unfortunate that these two picks were delivered to me at the same time. I am probably the person most disposed to ambient music in the tournament.


I really enjoyed Elevium, and would have loved to have been able to pick it over something like Cat Power (yeah, you heard me). It is pretty hard to write about ambient music. Copia is one of the better ambient albums I have heard. Much like Moon Safari, it often feels organic even when electronic. If anyone is looking for an album to read along to, fall asleep to (that is not meant as an insult), or put on at the tail end of a late-night-drinking session, I strongly recommend this album. Or, if you have never listened to ambient, this is a great gateway.



I think the only full album of Massive Attack that I had listened to before was Mezzanine. I was actually expecting more from this album. Don't get me wrong, it's a great album, and I know it's credited as being the first Trip-Hop album, but I didn't love it as much as I loved Mezzanine the first time I heard it. The first track was my favorite, and embodies everything I love about this type of music: it has a sinister, mysterious feel, like it is letting you in on a secret. It also struck me how derivative Moby seems now.



I hope for my next pick I don't get any albums with such weight behind them. I really would have loved to put Elevium through, but Massive Attack is the winner by split decision.

It's Not Spite

Really, it's not. Neither is that Bob Dylan wisely wrote a song called "Queen Jane Approximately," quite probably foreseeing this Death Match.

I really did try to give Laser Guided Melodies every advantage, in part since I thought it would prove what a fair-minded person I am if I were to advance Jeff's #1 choice after he pitched mine. Not only do I want to look fair-minded, though--I'd also like to be that way, which is why I listened to the Spiritualized album for all its best points, just as I read the papers of students who pester me repeatedly about when I'm turning back papers with the greatest possible charity as a guard against any subconscious desire to punish them for their nagging. And with Laser Guided Melodies, unlike at least a few of the papers I try to receive in great charity, finding the good bits was not hard work. I have been fond of this album for a long time, in fact. It comes stocked with plenty of beauties to latch on to. My favorite track, this listen as others, was "200 Bars," but the whole record has a lovely, limpid energy. It repeats musical phrases but does so with different intensities, and listens, all told, like an unaccountably beautiful dream--unaccountably even in the sense that you can't remember it in any narrative detail after it's over.

I, however, am a sucker for narrative detail, and that's probably why I'm choosing Highway 61 Revisited over Laser Guided Melodies. Even after you take off points for the paisley oil spill that Dylan's wearing in the guise of a shirt or jacket on its cover, this album is tops. It's populated with all sorts of odd characters, not all of whom even warrant a song of their own, and the lyrics distract you from whatever else you happen to be doing at the time with their wry jokes and backhand tenderness and accomplished rhymes ("plastic" and "drastic," especially, struck me this time around). By the same token, though I'm less handy at describing this, the music itself has more texture. Listening to its snags--its honky-tonk bits and the instrument that sounds like (and may be) a party favor at the beginning of the song"Highway 61" and the wheezy laugh that sneaks into the vocals at one point and the ways the harmonica earns that old moniker "mouth organ" when you hear it in this context--all that is, for me, more satisfying than listening to the silken atmosphere that Spiritualized offers.
So, the short version: Highway 61 wins.

penthouse VS behind the sun

These two albums fall into the same little bin for me; albums that represent a time and place that I rarely feel the need to go back to. They also don't belong in this competition. Ouch!

Luna - Penthouse: I was never a big fan of Luna. Saw them live once and had a decent time. Never rushed out to buy any of their albums. Heard them only when others played their music. I find them really boring, and I'm guessing that that is their appeal. Penthouse is their strongest album, but, I had to fight myself not to skip through almost every track. I know I'm gonna make some people upset here, but I think it's solid shit.

Chicane - Behind the sun: I was a big Chicane fan for about 2 months. This was an album I'd pop in on road trips, on the way to a club (playing "Don't Give Up" on route to picking up chicks and sucking back beers was life at its best!), and I even listened to this album at home whilst making dinner. It's got beauty, energy, fun, seriousness, arpeggios, and Bryan Adams! I remember thinking my respect level for Mr. Adams went up from 2 to at least 4 (out of 1400). Of course, all this was packaged in a very synthesized little package known as electro 2000! I listened to it, had some happy memories, and heard the year 2000 screw my earhole. This album is way too dated for me. I don't believe the greatest album of all time should sound like a couple of months from one particular year. But...

Winner: Chicane - Behind the sun (or that album with Don't Give Up on it)
Loser: Luna - Penthouse (or Poophouse)

Here's the dealio

I'm sending out new picks Monday morning, but only those who have their last ones in get new ones. Sorry, but that's how I roll.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I and Love and You vs. Harvest

It's nice to have an oranges and oranges matchup rather than an apples and oranges matchup. For the purposes of putting things in a convenient box, I'm going to lump both of these albums into my invented category, "faux-hick." I would define faux-hick as rural-aware music made by people who are from or sound like they're from the city. This isn't meant as a demeaning label, but it makes me feel like I'm in some special place of judgement as one who comes from a small town (granted, one who comes from a small town where he grew up listening to crappy music that was pretty faux, but decidedly un-hick).

Now that I've established my special position, Neil Young's Harvest vs. The Avett Brothers' I and Love and You:

I had heard of the Avett Brothers, but never listened to them before. I was kind of excited to hear something new in the faux hick world, being a big Wilco, etc. fan and I definitely enjoyed the beginning of the listen. As it went on, though, I got kind of bored mixed with kind of annoyed at how the music seemed to be jumping from reference to reference and I found myself writing notes that start with, "a little too much like..." Buddy Holly in Slight Figure of Speech, John Prine in Incomplete and Insecure, Townes Van Zandt in Ten Thousand Words, and a little scream in Heart Like a Kick Drum that sounded like the singer had practiced for hours to sound like Jeff Tweedy. Probably the part that annoyed me the most was the jumpy half of The Perfect Space. The song is emotive in a swingy sort of way until it devolves into Sweet Home Alabama played on a Casio keyboard. Throughout the album there are segments of one or two acoustic guitars noodling around that I enjoyed at first, but started to sound like those annoying guys at the guitar shop who sit and play uninspired Eric Clapton Unplugged licks for hours.

That said, I have this problem where I stand by music that I somehow feel I've discovered, even if it sucks and tend to first reject music that someone else tells me to listen to. For instance, I stuck with Son Volt far past their prime and was really into some of John Prine's crappier music for quite a while. So I started to listen to this album again, but remained kind of bored. Then I looked them up on Wikipedia and saw that Rick Rubin produced the album, and that made me feel a little embarassed because I'm supposed to like everything he touches since he did such a great job with late Johnny Cash.

But no matter how good the Avett Brothers are, Neil Young's Harvest has a few things in its favor that I can't really escape: I first came into contact with Harvest at the prime age of young-man-music-stamping-on-brain: 19ish. Then I listened to this album and After the Gold Rush on two sides of a cassette tape for an entire Christmas break while driving around backroads in Missouri trying to be more rural and authentic.

The steel guitar on On the Weekend just kills me. Young's lyrics are truly mysterious at times and at others, frank recollections of the transition from adolescence to early adulthood. They seem to come from a place of just coming into contact with adulthood and feeling like you see it for what it really is. Kind of invigorating.

I will say that I've never been a big fan of Are You Ready for the Country, which seems kind of thrown together and naive, but Old Man is a really amazing song and There's a World adds a wonderful variety to the album with its orchestral craziness.

I realize I'm not saying nearly as much about how great Harvest is compared to how much I'm saying about how I'm not crazy about I and Love and You, but greatness is typically less quantifiable than mediocreness, right?

Winner: Harvest

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I don't have an illusion to use



I've never been a heavy metal fan. Guns n' Roses passed me by the first time around. Apart from the hits, I've never listened to them until now. I've spent the past two days listening to Use Your Illusion II. My favorites are Don't Cry (great vocals on the verse) and So Fine (good song despite what sounds like a man pleasuring himself at the beginning). Some of the other songs are decent (14 Years, Yesterdays, Breakdown). I read some Amazon.com reviews that had great things to say about "Estranged", comparing it to the Magna Carta and the invention of the alphabet. Yeah, not so much. A few of the songs were terrible: Civil War, Get in the Ring, Shotgun Blues, Locomotive, and My World. My World is one of the worst songs I've ever heard (socio-psychotic- is that even a real word?). One note on the guitar playing - Slash and Izzy Stradlin obviously have a real groove going on, but I can't help but wish that guitar player's with that much technical skill and time should be able to come up with something more inspired and variable. Too many of the rhythms sound the same and the solos blend into one another. If the Godfather of heavy metal guitar is not Link Wray and not Dave Davies, then it must be Jimmy Page. Listening to Slash and Izzy on this album, makes me wish I was listening to Jimmy Page. There are just not enough memorable riffs. Just my opinion.

As many of you know, Bob Dylan is easily my favorite artist of all time, even though I don't listen to him nearly as often as I used to (Christmas in the Heart definitely grew on me, BTW). There's just so much there to listen to (and for) and so much variety. With "Time Out of Mind" I just love the blunt lyrical style and how Bob uses his "broken" voice to convey the brokenness around him. This really resonated with me - the feeling of being out of place with the world. I started listening to Dylan in 1989 and back then the focus was always on what he did in the 60's. I obviously love a lot of that stuff, but with "Time Out of Mind," there was finally new music to sink my teeth into. I remember where I was standing in my bedroom when I first listened to this album (I was standing by the left side of my dresser).

The winner: Time Out of Mind

Air vs. Dread


Moon Safari by Air:

This is an album and a band I know and like, although I must admit it had been some time since I had listened to Moon Safari in its entirety. However, after just finishing it again a few minutes ago, I was not disappointed. I think this probably remains Air's most cohesive, consistent album to date. They are able to sustain a delicate balance throughout: The music is heavily electronic yet also feels organic; it is futuristic but with a retro vibe; lounge-y but never lapsing into mere "background music". A few of the songs go on a bit longer than I would prefer, I don't know what the hell "Sexy Boy" is about, and occasionally I long for a more invigorating beat, but I also know that's not what Air or this album is all about. That's just me being too American and not French enough.


I used the same silly rating system I used for my first round picks, so...Rating: 4.0


Un-led-Ed by Dread Zeppelin:

Let me begin by saying we certainly aren't dealing with any overly "earnest folksters" here. Prior to the Death Match, I was aware of Dread Zeppelin's existence, and I knew that they did reggae covers of Led Zeppelin tunes. Given that knowledge, I had pretty much steered completely clear of them. (I am not much of a Led Head - Led Hed?- and I have picky music snob preferences in reggae...I like a lot of the early soul-influenced "rocksteady" stuff and the atmospheric, reverb-drenched dub of King Tubby and Lee Perry, but some of the most popular music from the genre - including much of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, etc.- doesn't get me very excited.)


What I did not previously know about Dread Zeppelin was that they are fronted by an Elvis impersonator. And he does an amazing job: He sounds exactly like an Elvis impersonator. This pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me. While I am not opposed to novelty albums in principle (I loved Weird Al as a kid, and I still enjoy Senor Coconut's cover album of Kraftwerk songs done to a Latin beat), I found Un-led-Ed almost intolerable. It was a real act of devotion to the Death Match that I sat and listened to the whole thing. My wife kept laughing at me as I did, because I was apparently scowling and making pained expressions while listening on my headphones at the computer.


The best explanation I can surmise is that I was not smoking the right sh*t to properly appreciate this album. However, if I were to get appropriately baked, I don't think I would waste my time with this...I'd put some old Neil Young or Madlib or Massive Attack on the hi-fi, and I'd make sure my joint was fully led-ed.


Dismal but generous Rating: 0.7


WINNER: Moon Safari by Air

Never Happy




Portishead: Dummy


In the summer between transferring from York to Calvin, this music snob told me that Portishead were making the most exciting kind of music being made at that time. I was a little confused and turned off because to me it was obvious that that honor belonged to Spiritualized, but I was also intimitated enough to go out and find a used copy of Dummy. And I had to admit it was pretty good even though I never really got into the whole trip-hop thing. To be honest, Massive Attack probably won't survive a round where I'm choosing it. But Dummy has stood the test of time pretty well. Listening to it last night, I was really impressed with its vocals and production. The "spy" sound sometimes feels a little too affected, but the hints of soul are sweet. In fact, there were a few times it reminded me of His Name is Alive's Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth (an album I like more than I probalby should). Also, quite a few of the songs are just really good. Still, there are also a few so-so songs; this isn't a big deal, but the thing is that the so-so songs sound incrediby similar to the good ones. The whole record has a kind of cool feel to it, and after a while, I just felt like I was listening to the same thing over and over. Often, I like cohesiveness. A lot of my favorite records maintain a similar style throughout, but this album might just be too cohesive.


Karen Dalton: In My Own Time


I didn't know this album or this artist at all. I wasn't sure I liked her voice at first, but it didn't take long to grow on me. I read that she's often been compared to Billie Holliday, but I think she sounds a little more like Macy Gray (someone I like more than I probably should). The opening track "Something On Your Mind" has a really nice vibe to it. In fact, whereas Dummy feels cool, this album has a pretty warm feel. It also has a kind of timeless quality to it. I assumed it was fairly new. It sounds like it might have been popular around the time Lucinda Williams released Car Wheels..., but it turns out it came out in 1971. It also turns out that this is a record of mostly covers. I didn't recognize a lot of the songs, but I did recognize "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You). The thing about a cover is that if it isn's as good as the original, it needs to be different enough that it's still worth doing. In both these cases, I felt like the cover was just a pale version of the originals; I will say, it's hard to cover Motown. These two songs also feel out of place on the album--two pop/soul songs stuck in the middle of a folk album.


I guess I'm hard to please. If you're too consistent, I'm going to complain. And if you try something different, I'm going to complain. Either way you're screwed. But if you're Portishead, you're less screwed because I'm picking you for the next round. If nothing else, Wendell seemed to like dancing to your beats


I hope Kevin isn't the kind of vindictive person who wouldn't pick my album just because I didn't pick his. In other words, I hope Kevin isn't too much like me.