Friday, May 28, 2010

Sticky Fingers Vs. Time Out of Mind

I'll get this one started...I've already been thinking about it.

Sticky Fingers: 4.5

Time Out of Mind: 4.6

Dylan gets my vote.

Sticky Fingers is a darn good album (although I actually do prefer EOMS, despite all the recent Death Match poo-pooing of it. Whatever, people.) However, TOOM is my personal favorite Dylan album. I know it's not his most important or influential or wank, wank, wank, but it is world-weary and bluesy in the best possible ways. It came out at just the right time in my life. And, yes, I like the atmosphere that Lanois helped create here. I just love the song-writing... These are lyrics that resonate with me much more fully than a lot of Bob's older stuff. (The only quasi-clunker here is "Make You Feel My Love" IMHO). This album was on my Top 30 list for a reason, yo.

That was a close one...

Well, The Band just barely eeked out Nick Cave there. I think Jeff was the only own who missed the deadline.

Next match-up is Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind vs. Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers, or as I like to refer to it, the slightly inferior Stone album.

By the way, did any one else find it suspicious that when we were going to vote on Exile vs. Funeral, and it looked like everyone wanted Exile to go really far, all of a sudden Bruce volunteers for the job and then knocks it out? And does it seem doubly suspicious that his wife is the only one left with a Stones album in the competition, and he chose Funeral, which also happens to be one of his wife's picks? Nepotism, pure and simple, is what I say.

Anyway, I'll probably vote for the Stones, but I'm not 100% yet. You all have until Monday night to decide.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For those within driving distance of Chicago

In continuing my posts not completely related to the music death match, but still related to music...
chicago released it's full schedule of free shows at millenium park. See attached. shows are at 6:30pm on Mondays usually, in a great outdoor setting.
This year includes Hum, She & Him, Great Lake Swimmers, The Books, Caribou among others.


The New York Times magazine continues it's new love affair with indie artists, now averaging a profile a month

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Exile on Main Street Versus Funeral

Thing the A: Since it took something like two weeks to get a matchup that I had to decide on myself, I don't feel too bad about taking a few days to get this in.

Thing the B:

While much of the time went to going camping this past weekend, much of it also went to me trying to get what the big deal is with Exile on Main Street. I don't think I'd ever listened to the entire album before. I remember putting it on and skipping through some tracks and putting it away at some point (probably grabbed it from either Eric or Andy's collection). So now I've listened to it at least five or six times and heard a crapload of Mick Jagger on various NPR shows talking about the rerelease with extra stuff and how crazy it was that they were in France and it was a big party and they were hanging out in the basement and recording and stuff and I think I get a little more of what the big deal is. It has a distinct sound that I don't think really existed before this album. I keep coming back to the piano. I like the piano sound quite a bit. In fact, I think I'd trade some of the trying-to-be-iconic guitar riffs for more piano. This is not really a negative or positive, but I keep thinking of the theme to the Office UK.

I think my problems with this album mostly boil down to one: It's a double album. Looking through my notes, my negative feelings are either:
1. Bored pretty early on (Loving Cup, Stop Breaking Down, All Down the Line)
2. Sounds like an accident (Sweet Black Angel, I Just Want to See His Face [should have lasted about 30 secconds])
3. Blues sounds poserish (Casino Boogie, Turd on the Run, Ventilator Blues)

There are some great grooves on here, but they seldom go anywhere. I could probably google it, but I'd rather let Father Eric tell me which songs have been sampled where. I like the choir, but they usually sound like an attempt to add some interest to an otherwise uninteresting song. Shine a Light is the only song I'm really into and want to listen to over and over.

It sounds like this album was probably a blast to play and record and I'm sure the party was memorable, but it's just not coming through the speakers into my ears.

I listened to Funeral several more times for this matchup and I have to say, I'm not as into it right now as I was last time I judged it (against The Velvet Underground and Nico), but it's still a really tight album with no crap songs on it that I want to listen to often and Exile on Main Street is something I'd pick up on vinyl for $2 for variety and because it's got a cool cover, but not really play that much.

Arcade Fire Funeral wins.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the beginning of the end

Well, I keep waiting for Bruce's decision so we can wrap this up, but I say, let's just do this thing. Here's how this is going to roll.

As mentioned previously, the first of the final match-ups is between Nick Cave (Murder Ballads) and The Band (The Band). You can make a new post or leave your vote in the comments. I'm giving you three days. After that (Thursday, midnight), I'm tallying the votes of those who got them in, and we're going on to the next one.

I'm also instating the rule that if you've already listened to one or both of these, you don't have to listen again (or if you are overly familiar with either). This should make three days seem more tenable.

Go to it folks. Don't let me down like Lost did last night.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mule Variables

There are too many tracks to do a play by play, so here are some thoughts I jotted as I listened:

It’s like corrupt bluegrass.

The first two tracks were good, but nothing really grabbed me.

Hold On is great. Should be sappy but he pulls it off.

No other singer I know who injects so much showmanship into his voice and music.

Really digging Cold Water. It sounds like something kids would sing in Sunday School.

I have complained about spoken word in a couple of reviews, but man do I like What’s He Building. Super creepy.

Obviously, Tom Waits is a lyrical gangsta, which makes this hard to compare to Winter Hymn. There is less improvisation musically, but that’s not to say that the album isn’t very rich in its own way.

Some songs drag the album down (I’m looking at you Black Market Baby & Eyeball Kid) but overall it’s a masterful, intriguing album.

As much as I’d love to move the Do May’s on, I gotta bow to the man.

Mule Variations stands.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

sorry for the delay

So... I'll keep this short. "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" is one of the longest noisome songs that I've ever heard. That said, Blood on the Tracks does not sound like the soundtrack at a cult.

Blood on the Tracks takes down Polyphonic Spree (which, I should clarify, I don't *really* dislike; it just makes me a little cagey and Age of Aquarius-ey).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I can't give any more assignments

Hey Andy and Eric and anyone else who's interested, here's the deal. We're kind of bottlenecked right now since we're down to so few choices. Once Jeff, Bruce, and Jane get the final picks in (which they assure me will be pronto) we will be down to 8 and then everyone votes.

We do have half of the final 8, so, if you want to start thinking about who you're going to vote for, think about these two match-ups, which are fer sures:

The Band vs. Murder Ballads

Time Out of Mind vs. Sticky Fingers

You may present your vote with feedback and apologetics anytime. I would recommend doing a full post as opposed to leaving comments, but don't feel like you have to write a book on each vote (unless you want to).


First half...

Just to show you I'm not slacking on this one. I've gotten through Winter Hymn. Here are my thoughts:

Track 1
I love it when an album (or song) begins and you spend a couple of seconds wondering, ‘has it started?’ ‘am I hearing something?’
1:46 song begins proper
Hi-hat a little too staccato
Awesome sounds at 4:30
5:15 wicked – that part should have gone on for at least 3 minutes longer
Reminds me of explosions in the sky
Track 2
I love it when a song (or an album) begins and you spend a couple of seconds wondering, ‘has it started?’ ‘am I hearing something?’
Oh wait, that was the whole thing
Track 3
Was really enjoying the song, less sure about the change at 3:43
Track 4
Kind of meh until about four minutes in
That stretch at 5:03 could have lasted longer
Good, but not as good as a sprawling 10 minute opus should be
Track 5
Dig the horns
Just really nice
Track 6
Bonus points for the title
Reminds me of GUH, not a bad thing
Like the funky at 4:00
Nice, understated use of the horns
Had they dissolved fully into noise, then drug it out for a looooong time, to the point where my wife asks ‘why are you listening to this?’ you would have earned an automatic pass. Too bad.
Track 7
Snapping, clapping, strings
I thought my internet connection was cutting out at the end of the song. Turns out it was just the music. Then I felt old.
Track 8
Same joke as earlier
Track 9
The organ sound takes to the next level what was already a good tune
Love all the layers by the 4:00 mark
Just keeps getting better

All said, an A- effort. A couple of the ideas I felt like could have been explored a little more, and a couple of tracks were interesting, but not really full songs, which is a problem on an album that is only 9 songs long to begin with.

I kept finding myself writing ‘I dug this’ or ‘I’m really diggin’ the …’ What is wrong with me?

By the way, zwartitude, if you haven’t sold these on amazon yet, add $6 to the tab, and I’ll take both

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not a review

I need a matchup. Now that all of the three unassigned ones have been decided:

The Polyphonic Spree - Together We're Heavy vs. Blood on the Tracks

Funeral vs. Exile on Main Street

Tom Waits vs. Do Make Say Think

I think I should do Funeral vs. Exile on Main Street because, even though I already judged Funeral, I didn't pick either of these and both of the other two matchups include my picks (Blood on the Tracks and Do Make Say Think).

Andrew? May I?

All apologies...

I need to listen to more Dylan. That guy is alright.

Whichever Dylan album it was I just listened to moves on.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Band - The Band vs. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday

The Band - The Band

+++ kermitty vocals
+ hootenanny
+ tap the foot when it swings, slap the knee when it's straight
+ despite 60s-70s roots, politics not overtly annoying
- probably because they're canadians
++ omg i just noticed that opening riff from Up On Cripple Creak sounds like a wireless green song -- did everyone already know that but me? what, boca raton?
++ sing for the workin man (there ain't but one workin man)
++ vocal harmony
- jemima surrender. what? so forgettable i can't remember if it was offensive.
- questionable, obscure, perhaps shroom-influenced metonymy/metaphor on "jawbone"
+ sweet time signature, riffs, key changes, and high vocal harmony on "jawbone"
-- lack of subtlety on King Harvest

The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday

+ much more manly than you'd expect from one of andrew's picks
++ humor (/satire/irony/homage)
++ i'm more likely to want to listen to it than The Band cuz it's new
+ stevie nix, very suprising
- Not Actually Singing
+ Not Actually Singing
+ rox
+ big guitar
--- the "Garden State" complaint: topics seem targeted to ppl younger than me
+ lyrical flourishes are pleasing anyway

The Band: +13 -5 = 8
The Hold Steady: +10 -4 = 6

+ either way i vote, one of andrew's top picks gets advanced, and andrew is my friend, so i am happy for him
- either way i vote, one of andrew's top picks gets advanced, but andrew is my enemy ever since he pulled down my pants on stage
+ band names start with "the"

Let's check back with The Hold Steady in a few years and see how they're doing. Until then, The Band wins based on kermitty vocals.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What is up

Okay, here's a breakdown of where we are.

In Division 1 we have the following albums left:

Separation Sunday
The Band
Murder Ballads

Murder Ballads will take on whatever Karl chooses.

Division 2:

Time Out of Mind
Sticky Fingers

Once Jeff listens to the right album, we're down to Sticky Fingers vs. that album.

Division 3:

Exile on Main Street
Winter Hymn

We need someone to choose between Funeral and Exile. The winner of that match will take on the Do Makes. Any volunteers for this--someone who hasn't decided upon these albums yet? And someone who can do this fairly quickly. If not, I might start the voting (so we'd vote collectively on 9 instead of 80). Lemme know.

Division 4
Ladies and Gents...
Blood on the Tracks
Together We're Heavy

Jane will be done her pick soon, leaving that and Ladies and Gents.

So, yeah, we are almost there. I personally can't believe that Polyphonic and Do Makes made it this far. Good for them!

In the meantime, I'd like to say that you all picked awesome soundtracks, except no one mentioned The Last Waltz, probably because you would consider that cheating. Certainly, it's my favorite live album of all time. What's yours?

Exile on the Mezzanine

I'm going to go with the album that inspired Jimmy Fallon to dedicate a whole week of shows to it's re-release. Like I said before, the Stones have my favorite 4 album stretch of any band (Beggars, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile), and if you listen to Bruce, Goats Head would make it a nice 5 album stretch. I would probably pick any of those albums in almost any matchup. I'm looking forward to the 10 new bonus tracks on the Exile re-release, but I'm a little concerned that most of them have supposedly new vocals/lyrics.
Mezzanine is Massive attack's move away from trip hop, and I like their first two albums better.
Exile, I'm rooting for you to win it all at this point.

I think I've please Andrew on two accounts, moving his pick on, and eliminating Massive Attack for him. You can thank me later

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Getting It Done

Short and sweet this time: Ladies and Gentlemen... beats out Elephant by at least a few yards. If you want to read some overdone writing on both albums, Pitchfork is always good for that. Here's one of the things I agree with them on: the ratings. Ladies and Gentlemen... earns closer to a 10 in my book, and Elephant earns closer to a 7.

Secretly Rolling Stones through the County during the Winter

Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons vs. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn, Country Hymn, Secret Hymn

Since I am late, and Andrew is probably crying by now, I'll keep this short.

In this case, the old stuff needs to be replaced... sure it may be good, like my Commodore 64 is a classic, but why would I surf the interwebs on my C64, when I can do it on my 386SX... ...and my 386 sucked. Big Time.

The same thing goes for the stones... yeah, great, blah blah, but I'd rather listen to something else.

In this case, that something else is Do Make Say Think. I'm not so sure that this is a top 10 album, but that's good, because the likelihood of hearing it over and over and over again is slim. yay for that.

So there you have it, DMST moves on.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Hey, while we're all waiting for, well, y'all...

Here's a couple things:

Steve is out--apparently he's got a bunch of seminary/church stuff to do in the next few weeks, so I guess that's legit. This is beginning to feel a little like Survivor. Just so you know, if I'm the only one standing, I am going to make up some new rules that will allow the Clash back in.

Anyhoo, since Steve is out, Brian, you have his pick: Stones - Exile vs. Massive Attack - Mezzanine. Yes, I realize this is the third trip-hop album you've been assigned, but don't blame me--I'm not the one who chose them. In any case, I'm hoping you can quickly put Massive Attack out of their misery, so we can get on with things...

Jane, you have Polyphonic Spree vs. Blood on the Tracks.

Eric, you gotta wait for now cause you've already had a hand in everything that's left.

Also, when I said to get your picks in...are you all taking extra long just to spite me?

In the meantime, what's your favorite soundtrack?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Murder Ballads

I love Nick Cave, but this is not the album I would have picked for the Death Match. I would have chosen Tender Prey or Henry's Dream, and your guess is as good as mine why I didn't nominate either of these albums. As for Murder Ballads, it does contain all the best elements of Mr. Cave's craft- literate lyrics, manic energy and a consistently compelling pathos, a little gallows humor, and the backing of the Bad Seeds. However, I must admit that the subject matter here is a little too relentlessly gruesome and grim, even by Nick Cave standards.

On the other hand, I should point out that the onslaught of blood and guts and homicide on this album do not bother me as much as a lot of "gangsta rap"...Perhaps it is because Mr. Cave's stories often sound legendary or mythical ("Stagger Lee", "Henry Lee", "Where the Wild Roses Grow", "Crow Jane"), cartoonish and ridiculously obscene ("The Curse of Millhaven", "O'Malley's Bar"), or like the plot of a good thriller/ murder mystery movie ("Song of Joy", "The Kindness of Strangers"). Unlike "gangsta" music, they do not sound like stories of his own experience or portraits of the violent environment from which he has emerged. The violence often depicted in rap sounds more "real" and therefore much more disturbing to me. Does that make sense?

My favorite song on the album is definitely "Stagger Lee"...I saw Nick and the boys perform this live in downtown Detroit several years ago...It was showmanship at its finest: Nick sauntering fiendishly about the stage, the Seeds locking into that ominous groove, Blixa Bargeld shrieking in that blood-curdling way only German artists can do appropriately, and an additional verse added in which the devil himself pops up to challenge Stagger only to be shot dead by the annoyed Mr. Lee. Now that, my friends, is rock and roll.

Overall Album Rating: 4.2

Ease Down the Road

I like Will Oldham, enough to own this album even, although I probably would not have nominated it for the Death Match. If I had to choose a favorite of his, I would probably pick BPB Sings Greatest Palace Music because it's good to hear those old lo-fi Palace songs shined up a bit Nashville-style and because I found it on CD for $1.99 at a Media Play going out of business in Connecticut (I love a good music bargain).

That being said, I have a bit of an uneasy relationship with Mr. Oldham. While I really do enjoy most of his music, especially under the BPB moniker, I always feel like I never quite "get" him. (He reminds me of a weird aging hippie cousin, who can be fun at a family reunion and has some great stories to tell, but who also likes to toy with people and has trouble holding down a steady relationship perhaps in part because he has tried sex things I don't want to hear about. )

My favorite song on this album is "A King at Night" and my least favorite is "The Lion Lair". Nothing here offers the chills nor the thrills of Nick Cave. It is far more soft-spoken and pleasant sounding, if not a little bizarre at times. I think it is a perfect album to listen to while falling asleep for an afternoon nap. And that is not necessarily a bad thing to be.

Overall Album Rating: 3.9

Another close one, but Murder Ballads moves on.

Friday, May 7, 2010

classic album vs. classic album

Ahhh, two classic albums match off. I thought this would be tough, but after one listen, I realized this was an easier call to make than I thought it would be. Here's a breakdown of how I heard the songs in my own little head:

Neil Young - Harvest

"Out on the Weekend" & "Harvest": Sounds like background music--in the best possible way. I think both Kevin and Sarah made allusions to doing chores while listening to music, and this is the kind of song I love having on while I putter around the house, making coffee or doing the dishes. It's the kind of song that makes you thankful to have a normal life, doing normal kinds of things. To be honest, this isn't an album I sit down to listen to, but these first two tunes are just great easy listening, which, again, I mean in the best possible way.

"Heart of Gold", "Old Man", "Needle and the Damage Done": Classic tunes. Great tunes. 'nuff said. "Needle" makes me never want to do drugs.

"Are You Ready for the County?": Good tune. Reminds me of The Band. I think this song would be greatly improved if Levon Helm were singing it.

"Alabama" and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)": Both more rocking tunes. After "Weekend" and "Harvest", probably my next personal favorite tunes on the album. I love when Neil rocks out a bit but still retains the kind of emotional tension these songs carry.

"Man Needs A Maid" & "There's A World": My two least favorite tunes on the album. First of all, these almost orchestral pieces just don't fit on the album. They sound completely out of place. Also, I'm sorry, but they sound like they belong in a musical, and I hate musicals. I don't mean to ruin this for anyone, but can't you just hear the lead-up dialogue?

Neil: You know Joey, life sure is harder out here in California than it was back home in my town in North Ontario. It's just that my life is changing in so many ways.
Joey: Don't say that Neil, you're doing alright. You just gotta look at the bright side, maybe find the right girl. Then all of your dreams will come true.
Neil: I dunno, I once fell in love with an actress. I felt like I could understand her, you know? But I don't know if I'll ever find true love.
Joey: You know what you need, Neil? You just need a maid, someone who can care for you, and then just go away.
Neil: You know, you're right Joey. That is what I need...

Cue orchestra and fade the lights. Solo spotlight comes up on Neil as he sings A Man Needs a Maid.

Overall, great album, but the two bloated pieces just about ruin it for me (by the way, I feel like Spiritualized have fallen into the same trap as of late). I'm glad Eric introduced me to Everybody Knows... I think I like that better. I've also always loved Neil's middle (?) period. Albums like Ragged Glory and Harvest's Sequel, Harvest Moon. I think Harvest Moon was maybe the first Neil Young album I ever really got into. Maybe that makes me a dork. Oh well.

Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

You know, it makes total sense to me that this is Sarah's pick while I went with Exile. Sarah would probably say that Fingers is a tighter album, but I just don't think it ever reaches the dizzying heights of Exile. Anyhoo, Fingers is the kind of album where when I finally heard it, it reminded me of all the people who ripped it off (Primal Scream, Ride) or covered it (Sundays).

"Brown Sugar": So yeah, this is again shows what a dork I am, but when I first heard this, I thought that it sounded like a pale version of Ride's song "Black Nite Crash". To my credit, it didn't take long for me to recognize "Brown Sugar" for its own awesomeness. Although I'm gonna say this--I still stand by "Black Nite Crash". It may totally rip off "Brown Sugar", but c'mon, listen to it and try to tell me it doesn't completely rock.

"Sway": I don't have much to say here except that I really like this one. It's just got this nice loose feel to it.

"Wild Horses": Just take what I said above about Brown Sugar and replace Ride with The Sundays.

"Can't You Here Me Knocking": Starts off good, ends up great. I am a totally sucker for all the shit they pull out at the end of this song. Sudden break-down with congos and funky guitar lick? I'm on board. Hot sax solos? Count me in. Punchy organ? Oh yeah. I also love Keith's (I'm assuming it's Keith) guitar here. It's bluesy but melodic, and I love the repeated phrases, especially right at the end where the band picks up on what he's doing and the sax and drums accent what he's playing. That was probably really rehearsed, but it sounds spontaneous and just awesome. You don't like this Bruce? For shame.

"You Gotta Move": Don't care for it. I'm not really into The Stones singing the blues, but I don't think I'm much of a blues fan anyway. You like this Bruce?

"Bitch": Has all the right elements, but I still find it kind of boring.

"I Got the Blues": You would think from the title, I wouldn't like it, but I'm not sure the these guys can tell the difference between the Blues and Soul. This sounds like it could have been on an Otis album. I could say that it would sound better with Otis singing, but actually, Mick does just fine.

"Sister Morphine": This song is kind of creepy. It makes me never want to do drugs.

"Dead Flowers": Don't like it when they do the Blues. Do like it when they do soul. Love it when they do country. One of my favorites on the album. I love Mick's voice on this one. What a great feel this songs has.

"Moonlight Mile": Doesn't this sound like a closing tune? The opening reminds me of that Richard Buckner song used in the Jeep commercial a few years ago. I'm probably wrong about that. In any case, this is a really sweet sounding song. The strings at the end are used in just the right proportion, unlike some songs I know.

So, I'd say I like about 80% of this album, and I'd say Bruce and I match up about 70% on this one.

Here's what it comes down to: I really hate musicals. I really, really hate them. Harvest probably would have won if it weren't for the harps and shit.

Stones continue their domination.

If you're into the whole brevity thing...

I listened to both these albums.

Blood on the Tracks wins.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

blood on my cat

this is vomit about music...

you know what i like about dylan...i'm still entertained by his mystique...he could say "my favorite color is green and like to eat chinese food" and people would be like, "what does he mean?"...a few years ago there were some pictures of dylan in a convenience store reading "baseball weekly" and i actually thought, "wow, dylan knows what baseball is"...that's how much i drank the kool aid...i mean why the hell wouldn't an american man know what baseball is...also, the music...i'm still impressed by the variety of not just his musical styles, but his lyrical styles...the fact that he wrote "masters of war" and "like a rolling stone" and "visions of johanna" and "lay lady lay" and "the man in me" (see intro to big lebowski) and "isis" and "pressing on" and "blind willie mctell"...i could go on an on...but i won't...i think it's easy for someone of dylan's means to say: "ok, i'll hire a bunch of people and we'll play country songs or gospel songs"...but he didn't just do that...he completely change the style of lyrics that he wrote...this is impressive to me...the gospel stuff in particular...

blood on the tracks...

i've always been sort of passively impressed by this album...some of it i really love (especially idiot wind, tangled up in blue, and shelter from the storm) and some of it i just love (you're a big girl now, if you see her say hello, and lily, rosemary, and the jack of hearts)...these are all supposedly inspired by the breakup of his marriage...i think he gets his shit across pretty good with respect to his feelings...this album feels real...the biographical details of the split not withstanding...jakob dylan said once that this album is his parents talking...too bad for the kids...if you're interested, my favorite dylan breakup song is "dirge" from planet waves, the studio album prior to blood on the tracks...

you are free...

one of the things that sucks about the death match is that i've found myself being way overly critical of music that i otherwise like just are free is like that...i bought this when it came out and listened to it a bunch and then put it back in it's respective slot...a while back i remember talking w/sarah about this album and she told me she really liked it...i listened to it again and thought it was better...there's a pretty consistent emotional tone which is important to me when judging a complete criticisms lie more in the double track just obscures the lyrics, i love lyrics (unlike some people, snark)...some of the songs are too long and make me want to kick puppies...some of the songs aren't as good as the greatest songs of all time...for example, "names" is great but it can't hold a candle to "goodbye yellow brick road"...

winner: blood on the tracks

(i am, in fact, enjoying the death match by the way...i love reading everybody's reviews and comments)

new assignments

Well done everyone. We really are close to finishing now. Unfortunately, as we narrow down the list and don't have as many albums to choose from, a slow person--like say Kevin (I'll pick on him since he's no longer here)--really, really slows us all down. So I'm hoping we can pick it up a bit toward the end. Mark, Brian, and Andy need to be espcially fast since they're finishing the last few from Round 3.

End of Round 3

Steve: Massive Attack - Mezzanine vs. Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street

Mark: Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons vs. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn, Country Hymn, Secret Hymn

Andy: Cat Power - You Are Free vs. Dylan - Blood on the Tracks

The rest of us should try and get these done quickly as well...

Round 4

Karl: The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday vs. The Band - The Band

Eric: Nick Cave - Murder Ballads vs. Bonnie - Ease Down the Road

Jeff: Bob Marley - Legend vs. Dylan - Time Out of Mind

Sarah: Spiritualized - Ladies and Gents vs. White Stripes - Elephant

Me: Neil Young - Harvest vs. Stones - Sticky Fingers

Sarah and will have to wait to see who Andy, Mark, and Steve pick, so that I can assign you to a match each of you is allowed to have (one of the ones below).

The Polyphonic Spree - Together We're Heavy vs. Whoever Andy picks

Funeral vs. Whoever Steve picks

Tom Waits vs. Whoever Mark picks

After this round, we'll be down to the elite eight, and I would like to suggest that at that point everyone gets a vote on each match-up. That will make the final a little less random, and it will make it easier because this round was already a bitch to assign since there were so few combinations that worked. The way it would work is that if you want to write a long defense of an album you think should move on, go for it. If not, all you have to do is say who you think should win. I'll probably put a time limit on it too. Lemme know what y'all think...

Sticky Revolver

Sorry to be so slow on this one. I've been writing the papers that get me out of grad school.

Also, this matchup makes me nervous because it is a specific instance of a conversation that has probably happened a zillion times between all kinds of people: Beatles or Stones?

These are two really great bands and both albums are undeniably great, whether you like them or not.

I chose Goats Head Soup as my Stones album and after listening to Sticky Fingers once for this matchup I had to go back to see if I really like Goats Head Soup better, or if I was just being snobby. I do like Goats Head Soup better. It's a more coherent album, the sound is more interesting to me, and it has a weariness I love. Plus, the cover is (only slightly) more fun to stare at. That said, Sticky Fingers has some of the best individual Stones songs ever. Some of the best songs of anybody ever. Dead Flowers is probably my favorite, but that plus Moonlight Mile plus Wild Horses on one album=wow. I find Brown Sugar and Bitch a bit offensive, but life's a bit offensive, so... In the continuing Bruce-was-a-dork-musically-early-on series, I first heard You Gotta Move performed by CCM supergroup The Lost Dogs, then found out it was written by a "real" blues musician (s - Wikipedia says Fred McDowell and Reverend Gary Davis), then found out it was made famous by the Stones.

I have been saying for the past 15 years, "I should really get into the Beatles sometime," and listened to a few albums here and there, but never really managed to get into them. The first time I was aware of the Beatles was in eight grade when we sang Penny Lane in choir. It was kind of confusing to me. In my ears and in my eyes? Metaphor was just too much. But that song stuck in my head and now I really like it. And the other side of that single, Strawberry Fields Forever, might be my favorite Beatles song.

Revolver is interesting to me because it sounds like it's kind of the bridge album between:
1. the formal, stuffy, tight, string-quartet stuff before it, as heard in songs like Eleanor Rigby and the earliest "hey girl, you're groovy and I want to get with you" type stuff like Got to Get You into My Life and:
2. Maharishi hippie psych out acid trip stuff like Yellow Submarine and Love You Too andTomorrow Never Knows. Wow, Tomorrow Never Knows is a really wonderful song. I just turned it up. There's really a lot here. It's well-anchored by that tight, soft bass that repeats like a funk song. Love You Too is pretty great, too. Yeah, so I prefer later, more messed up, tape loop, psychedelic Beatles to the earlier stuff. Yes, their harmonies in the earlier stuff are amazing and they know how to write a good pop song, but it's too proper or something. It is interesting hearing the mix of all these things in one album, though.

The problem with both of these bands is that it's hard to listen to the music without thinking of the huge commodity they both have become. The Beatles have a bit more mystique for not existing any more instead of playing the Super Bowl half time show, but the fact that it's impossible to listen to Beatles music without either buying or stealing it speaks to their continuing market power. And I have these little snippets of interviews with them in my head where they give these snobby vague answers to the press. On the other hand, it's probably really annoying to be more popular than Jesus. And this should be about the music.

I started writing this convinced that I was going for the Stones, despite the fact that there are too many of their albums left here in the Death Match. Then I listened Tomorrow Never Knows four times in a row. Here's what I'm going to do: List the songs and give them each a yes or no, as in my first reaction (after already listening to everything several times and being fairly critical) is like or don't like:

Taxman - no
Eleanor Rigby - yes
I'm Only Sleeping - no
Love You to - yes
Here, There and Everywhere - no
Yellow Submarine - yes
She Said She Said - yes
Good Day Sunshine - no
For No One - yes
I Want To Tell You - no
Doctor Robert - no
Got to Get You Into My Life - yes
And Your Bird Can Sing - no
Tomorrow Never Knows - yes

Sticky Fingers:
Brown Sugar - no
Sway - yes
Wild Horses - yes
Can't You Hear Me Knockin' - no
You Gotta Move - yes
Bitch - no
I Got the Blues - yes
Sister Morphine - no
Dead Flowers - yes
Moonlight Mile - yes

Percentage of songs on album with a yes:

Revolver - 14 songs, 7 no, 7 yes = 50%
Sticky Fingers - 10 songs, 4 no, 6 yes = 60%

And the winner is: Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

I realize there's not really anything objective going on here, but I think I was pretty honest in recording my initial thoughts. Now that I've decided, I think I really can stand behind Sticky Fingers, even if there are too many Stones albums left.

One last consolation prize for Revolver: Some of this sounds way ahead of its time. Not what I imagine 1966 to be like.

Also forgot to mention: Sticky Fingers was released on my birthday (three years before I was born)

Monday, May 3, 2010

ElephOK Computer

Before we begin the review, let me just say that the lack of comments on my Cat Power review leads me to believe that you all agree with my spot on analysis, and that as much as you wanted to write about how right I was, your awakening left you too ashamed to say anything, so instead you just hung your collective heads, sighed, walked slowly over to your CD shelves pulled out all of your Cat Power albums and threw them in the garbage.
On to new business.

These two albums, which at first glance appear quite different, have a lot in common. They are both brilliant albums. They both have strong front men. They both have annoying spoken word sections. A lot of time and energy was put into the image surrounding these albums, even though you are supposed to believe that no time or effort was put into it, they just happened that way. Both bands got credit for re-energizing the music scene upon the release of the album.

Let’s dig deeper:

OK Computer

I have some baggage with this album, I’ll admit it. I loved The Bends, and was one of the few people I knew who was championing Radiohead when it came out. Then OK Computer came out, and everyone loved Radiohead and acted like they had loved them forever. And then a ‘friend’ who had promised me a ticket to the Radiohead show gave it to someone else because I was going more to see Spiritualized open than I was for Radiohead (which was partly true, but still a sucky thing to do). Plus I really can’t stand Thom Yorke. I have trouble with the tension of a band who rails against the system, but enjoys all the benefits it has to offer. And, let us be honest, they participate in it fully. Thom Yorke has a carefully sculpted image so that at all times he looks like he:
a) just woke up
b) just showed up to a party
c) wasn’t aware of the party
d) doesn’t understand why everyone is fussing over him
e) couldn’t care less anyway

It was like when the guy from Coldplay said he doesn’t consider himself a rockstar because he doesn’t wear the right pants. Then puts on huge stadium shows with outfits which were obviously picked out by a costume designer.

Here is a quote from Thom Yorke about his thoughts surrounding OK Computer: "It was like there's a secret camera in a room and it's watching the character who walks in - a different character for each song. The camera's not quite me. It's neutral, emotionless. But not emotionless at all. In fact, the very opposite." Makes me want to punch him in the face.

But I digress…

So I developed a grudge against OK Computer. I know this sounds very high school, but I was recently out of high school, and let’s not forget I am emotionally developmentally delayed by at least 4 years. Nevertheless, I’m going to try to put that behind me and listen fresh.
And listen I did. And it is a really great album. It is incredibly well textured. Airbag sounds a little more like the bends than I had remembered, but then Paranoid Android switches things up. I’d say nicely, but I’ve never been a huge fan of this song. We get some good stuff until Karma Police, which is the best song on the album for my money. Then track 7 sucks and makes me hate the album, but then Electioneering makes me forget how annoying track 7 was. And it’s tight the rest of the way through. No Surprises in particular. It’s a great album, no doubt about it.


Speaking of douchebags, Jack White is at least as insufferable as Thom Yorke. From on article on ‘It Might Get Loud’: What happens when you put three of the most revered guitarists of the past 40 years in a room together? "Probably a fistfight," cracks Jack White.

Gee Jack, what a clever, off-the-cuff remark that certainly you hadn’t been planning on dropping the next time a reporter asked that type of question to promote your image as some sort of bad boy of rock. And then there is the whole creepiness of introducing your ex-wife as your sister, and finding it amusing to keep people guessing whether you used to sleep together, or whether you used to sleep together. So he sucks.

In the last several years my interest in new music has waxed and waned. It usually needs something to jumpstart it during the lulls, a great new band, a great live show, something. It was during a period of waning that I discovered Elephant. I hadn’t heard any White Stripes before, but I had put it on my Amazon wishlist because it seemed to be making the rounds. And I loved it. There are only two tracks on this album that I am not that fond of (Ball & Biscuit, and Hypnotize). The guitar sounds are great, the drumming is raw, everything clicks. ‘The Air Near My Fingers’ is my favourite on the album, but there are several others close behind.

So why do I care so much about the people making the music? Shouldn’t it just be about the music itself? No, and shut up. Because these aren’t just albums. At their best they are art, but at their worst they are product. Again, it strikes me as ironic that Radiohead put out such a carefully produced item that complains about our lack of connection due to our over-reliance on carefully packaged items. The biggest difference between these albums is that one leaves the mistakes and dissonance in intentionally, and one puts the mistakes and dissonance in intentionally.

In one of my earlier reviews I think I said something about liking boring rock music. It stands to reason that I would like awesome rock music even more.

Elephant wins.

Hipster garbage vs. Hippie baggage*

"This emboldens me to speak out with a true heart" - Andy Wilson

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah"** - Jeff Zwart

Having said that, I should admit that I've never been into Beck in the way that everyone around me has. I always just figured this was a weakness on my part, and sure enough when I put on Odelay and heard that opening guitar riff, my first thought was "Hell yeah, this is it." Besides the fact that I have no idea what a devil's haircut means and why it's on his mind, this is one bitchin (that's right--bitchin) tune. Then "Hot Wax" came on, and I was a little underwhelmed. Hearing it this time, it seemed less like a clever collage of styles, and more like he threw everything he had at it in hopes of making something memorable stick. This feeling more or less stayed with me until "Jackass," even for some of my favorites like "New Pollution". As the album went on, I really started to violently hate just about everything I heard (with the exception of "Jack-ass"). Why? I don't know exactly. Partly, it's his rapping and his lyrics. Sorry, but I think he's a shitty rapper. And although I have repeatedly stated that lyrics don't mean that much to me, Beck has put this statement to the test. When the lyrics are this bad, it has a tendency to ruin everything. In some ways the music and lyrics fit, he's just juxtaposing words and genres but not for any particular reason except that the kids'll think it's cool. Seriously, what the hell is this guy singing about? Nothing, absolutely nothing--although each line could probably be translated as "Look at me. Look at how fucking cool I am. Look at how hip you'll never be." And then I realized, Beck is to blame for all hipsters. He is the original hipster! Just take another look at this guy:

This guy could easily be featured here. And what's up with this album cover? As Steve would say, this makes me want to kick puppies--specifically, the puppy-like thing on the actual cover. The only thing worse than the cover of Odelay is the cover of the deluxe version of Odelay (look it up), which incidentally, I picked up from the library and was going to rip-off, but just forget it now. Anyhoo, I feel like Eric and have been on pretty much the same page so far, but I guess I should have expected things to get ugly towards the end. So, let me say this to Eric: this is the guy you would nominate for best artist of the 90s instead of Lambchop? What?

Okay, now that that ugliness is behind us, let me just say that I now feel justified in never being crazy about Beck. I also feel justified in the fact that when a bunch of us went down to Florida, we all sneaked into the show (Rob and I scaled a wall and jumped over the upper-bar's fence to get in; everyone else got in by literally removing the club's back door with Brandog's tools). Incidentally, when we made it in, Beck's DJ was the most impressive part of the show.

Okay, on to Polyphonic. It turns out that I actually really do dig these guys. They put on a hell of a show, and Tim what's-his-name sure can write a hook. Steve already mentioned the way his voice and the choir's mix together well, and I'd concur. Jeff once described these guys as a mix between Spiritualized and the Muppets, and this I too would agree with. The fact of the matter is that when I listen to this album I feel good and generally positive. So call me a hippie or whatever, but I like it. And speaking of hippies, one more thing in the Spree's favor. Right now, I am actually playing in a band with a bunch of hippies (nine to be exact), and while it's generally fun, the fact of the matter is I'm sick of people constantly missing practices and shows, and then complaining that we don't sound tight enough. I say, screw you hippies, and I also say anyone who can get 23 people to record and put on great shows can't be too into peace and love all the time. And they aren't because not only do the Spree beat Beck--all 23 of them give him the cock-punching of a lifetime. How groovey is that.

* most people who know me realize that when I talk like this I only mean about 25% of what I say. Like Karl, I blame my dad for this. His sense of hyperbolic disgust at something he doesn't immediately like, I feel, has passed on to both me and Jeff. And like him, we think it's funnier than it actually is.

** I realize this review isn't very coherent and just kind of rambles***--kind of like a Beck record!

***Since I'm rambling anyways, I can't believe Odelay took down The Elected. Here's what I propose, Odelay is is the kind of album that sounds fresh once you first hear it, but eventually sounds like the tired garbage it is**** while The Elected's Sun Sun Sun sounds too familiar/derivative when you first hear it, but eventually the sheer brilliance of the song-writing and arranging convinces you of its superiority. Also--since I'm really rambling now--speaking of brilliant arranging, everyone should get Samamidon's new album.

**** Unless apparently, you are Brian or Eric.*

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Waits a minute there, U2

Sometimes Tom Waits is not my thing. For instance, I like bacon as much as the next person, but the song "Filipino Box Spring Hog" is a touch too carnivorous a song for me; what's more, it devolves into near-chanting at times, and I have precious little patience for chanting. I'm also rather wary of songs like "What's He Building in There," which might be performance art, but don't strike me as songs. "What's He Building in There," in fact, strikes me as the phenomenon that would result were Joe McCarthy to commission Dr. Seuss to write a poem and Christopher Walken to read it. Then there's a number of songs on Mule Variations that I could take or leave: they enact the vintage Tom Waits oddity but to relatively little purpose, I think (see "Eyeball Kid" and "Big in Japan"). Other songs I trust more to have some purpose, though I couldn't tell what it is. Still: can the line "stir my brandy with a nail" be for naught? could "Cold Water" make me think so readily of Bruce for nothing? Then there's another category of songs; I love them. Some I love only a little, like "Take it with Me" and "Pony," because they have only a small share of husky sweetness, of the element that's rough and wistful at the same time. Others I love immensely. "Georgia Lee," for example, strikes me, with its "Why wasn't God watching?" as a the put-upon utterance of a faith unable to put have done with theodicy and unable to have done with God. In another key, "Come on up to the House" keeps company with spirituals, and "Hold On" is the best sort of ballad: one without poetic distance so that the refrain to this song (the rejoinder to "hold on") exceeds the portrait of the characters who appear in its verses.

In comparison, U2 comes across as more solid and more staid. I don't find any song on Joshua Tree particularly irksome, and to sidle my sympathies back into keeping with "Running to Stand Still" or "Mothers of the Disappeared" is easy enough. So many of these songs, though, relistened-to, seem formulaic. I'm pretty sure that this judgment is unfair; I'm pretty sure that U2 patented the formula and that Joshua Tree sounds rather cookie-cutter in retrospect because so many other bands tried to reproduce it. But you can't blame the over-reliance on weather metaphors on anyone but U2 (so much rain).

So, yes: Mule Variations has tracks that I would probably skip and Joshua Tree doesn't. Nonetheless, Mule Variations surprises me in ways that, even when I don't particularly like them, I suspect of being worthwhile, and I can't say that about this U2 album. And when Tom Waits does snare me, when he blesses my "crooked little heart," it astounds me. Beyond the telling of it.

So: Mule Variations, mosey on.

Pervs of a Feather

If You Like Killers, You’ll Love Murderers

If only I had bumped The Boatman’s Call further up on my list. Or if only Andy had chosen that Nick Cave album instead. Then I’d be spouting about what I like best about Cave (stinging religious and romantic incredulism, disarming disappointment, wryness to the max) instead of trying to form words about Murder Ballads, which leaves me conflicted. I mean, it’s a fascinating project, but not one I want to revisit start to finish any old day. I might even call it a carefully constructed novelty.

It may be the subject matter: I’d rather hang with the frustrated living than the wrongful dead and criminally insane.

Tracks or tales that grab me include “Stagger Lee,” “Henry Lee,” “The Kindness of Strangers,” and “The Curse of Millhaven.” Tracks I tire of include at least “Lovely Creature” and “O’Malley’s Bar.” I get what they’re up to, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy their company. Also, the final track, the Dylan cover “Death is Not the End,” seems a questionable statement in this context, if not an ironic one. Maybe this is what Cave was going for, but after the album rattles listeners through and through, it would be some small consolation to trust the sincerity of this song’s inclusion. Oh, and does anyone else find the sub-verbals (screaming, crying) and sound effects (bullets) on this album overly theatrical? Really, Mr. Cave, the stories and their delivery are plenty scary already. Finally, I wonder if Murder Ballads is of a time, like a murder trend, and if this Po Mo reanimation of the infamous bloody dead shocked and rocked most in the couple of years after its release.

In contrast, The Killers’ Hot Fuss just digs its hooks in and stays pretty darn catchy throughout. There’s no song that fully irritates me, and there’s no song that fully engages me. I enjoyed listening to this album, or I enjoyed it as long as I didn’t take it too seriously on too many levels. Once I started taking these albums more seriously, though, I realized that Hot Fuss is not the album that preoccupies me or makes me want to pick it apart.

So: Even if I’m seldom inclined to take in Murder Ballads cover to cover, it turns out I was wrong about at least one of my complaints in the first paragraph. I like forming words about this album. Just not enough to stay indoors toying with the macabre on an 80+ degree day.