Wednesday, March 31, 2004

#27) The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed (released in 1969, I believe I got it for Christmas of 2002, but I'm not sure. There was a brief period where I went from having four Stones albums to - arguably - too many)

In a few years this one might drop below Exile in my list o' favorites, as the individual tracks on that album stand out more with each listen and some of these suffer from overfamiliarity (though I don't see myself getting tired of the apocalyptic energy of "Gimme Shelter" ever). But for now, this album strikes me as their first and finest work as near-decadents. The initial R&B dream was finally shattered by the incapacitation and removal of Brian Jones, leaving these bohemians adrift in a world of vice, gluttony and lust without much sense of purpose - though on this album they hadn't quite accepted it yet (let alone escaped it via professionalism).

While "You Can't Always Get What You Want"'s too messianic and "Midnight Rambler"'s a trifle too satanic (I'll take "Night Prowler" over it any day), my favorite tracks on the album glide through the muck with surprisingly giving glee. "Live With Me" combines hedonistic detail with possibly their finest musical rave-up to near-overloading effect while "Let It Bleed" anthromophizes into a Jagger grin that's equally benign and salacious. Often dismissed, "Monkey Man" is the album's arguable peak for me. Jagger utilizes some of his finest metaphors (and I thought that BEFORE I realized he calls himself a "cold Italian pizza") to describe the joy of a boar-gored blues-player finding someone else with an unmade bed while the band switches between a vicious strut and a breathtaking piano-and-slide bridge that gives Jagger's tale the same romantic power of Secretary - if you're willing to admit that you're a fleabit peanut monkey in the first place. For once, I even like his fade-out scatting. This is the last time these guys would sound like they had youth on their side.
Wayyyy down at the bottom of this post, Simon Reynolds gives me credit for the crunk = guys shouting at strippers thing. Dave Stelfox even told me he quoted my comparison in an upcoming article he's written (though it might not make it in). I'm not at all the Reynolds-worshipper so many of my peers are (Radio-Activity sucks ass and I actually prefer the parts of The Sex Revolts that, if those SPIN Alternative Guide entries are any clue, Joy Press had more to do with), it's still super cool to get mentioned. I really should get soulseek so I can interact with these technoid folks more often. I never get to hear anything other than the overpraised crossover acts.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

#28) Prince - The Hits 2 (released in 1993, I used to have a used cassette of this in high school but bought a used CD copy in college)

I've got to write about Prince here later in the month, so let's just say that this album is way more crucial than The Hits 1, mainly because it grabs the most enjoyable tracks off of some less-than-crucial albums and has a consistently lusty vibe - and bawdy is what this guy does best. Despite the lack of chronological order found here and its relative brevity compared to his prolificness and stature, this album is startlingly consistent and satisfying. Definitely the first Prince purchase I'd recommend (if not my favorite overall).

Monday, March 29, 2004

#29) Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (released in 1965, one of ten CDs of my little sister's that I got her to burn for me a while back. Bob's part of a long line of reputable artists that she got into first and it seems the breadth of her tastes is increasing exponentially. That damn Smith education she's been getting - plus all this year abroad bullsheeit - that's makin' her furget her Penn State roots, gawDAMNIT! As long as she remembers the redneck sucka from Jacksonville, I'll forgive it.)

That voice scared me off for ages, and it wasn't until reading Accidental Revolution Of Rock'n'Roll that I began to appreciate this guy. The biggest stumbling block for a lot of people is the presumption that you're going to be hearing serious WISDOM from the word go, leaving you disappointed when "diplomat" is rhymed with "siamese cat" for no obvious reason. The pleasure principle is abundant in Dylan's best work, but the trick is giving him enough leeway to find it. When playing choice tracks for friends I ask them to expect nothing more than a guy trying to rhyme. Don't assume that every word is carefully lodged in place for some greater purpose - just let the images, bad jokes, musical hooks and insights hit you at face value. Think of him as a dude, an asshole who may or may not be charming (your call), rather than the "voice of a generation." His energy gets killed when you imply he's respectable.

Though I haven't heard a lot of his albums in their entirety (though I've been listening to Biograph a lot lately - it takes a while to put the tracks in chronological order but it's worth it), I'll be surprised if this one isn't always going to be among my favorites. Like any good folkie he's more about asking questions then providing answers, but there's a flippant energy (not unlike the Rolling Stones', har har) behind his queries here that I find unusally gripping and enjoyable. Fitting for a pseudo-populist loudmouth like myself, "Like A Rolling Stone" is among my five favorite songs of all time, it tears down your pretenses while providing enough musical uplift to imply there's a grandeur to whatever mixed-up confusion you're going through. There's none of Bruce Springsteen's self-mythologizing malarkey in the bombast here; not only does Dylan' acknowledge the possiblity that you might get defeated by all this bullshit, he implies you may well deserve to be. He's not providing security or rooting for you, he's just demanding self-awareness in a manner that implies he can take the heat as well as he dishes it out. Like Socrates (according to my childhood copy of The History Of The World, Part One), he makes it clear he's the smartest guy around by not getting hung up about declaring what he actually knows.

There's something absurd about opening the album with "Like A Rolling Stone," but he gets away with it by making the next track, "Tombstone Blues," danceable. Like those other Backstreet Boys, he doesn't care who you are or what you did as long as you love him (plus he's original, sexual and the only one). The basic messages here are that Bob Dylan is a badass (all tracks), you probably aren't ("Ballad Of A Thin Man"), the world is fucked up ("Highway 61 Revisited") and yes, ladies, he's available ("Queen Jane Approximately"). The band's is nice and loose, casually rocking in a fashion that's nigh impossible to imagine folks pulling off today (it's hard for musicians to sound cocky AND unaware that they're being watched). I haven't parsed each track for each line's meaning but since I'm planning to be on this planet for a good long while, I like knowing that some previously unnoticed sentiment or image is waiting for me the next 100 times I throw this on. Enough has connected that I know it will be worth finding out.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

#30) Desaparecidos - Read Music/Speak Spanish (released in 2002, bought it on CD at City Lights after taping the radio station's copy - I wanted that lyric sheet, damn it)

Weezer + Fugazi (with just a touch of the Cure). Now you know whether or not you give a shit.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

After seeing the video for "Float On" and hearing it on the local rock station, I don't think liking Modest Mouse is going to be a purely "indie" thing much longer. I hope the rest of the album lives up to the song's T-Heads/Pixes/Goober glory (I loved over a third of the last album - just couldn't take the dirgey middle part).
#31) Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (released in 1968, I bought it on used vinyl when visiting my mom in Boston for Thanksgiving '02)

The 12 best tracks off of the Temptations and Marvin Gaye compilations I own could have ranked higher, but those albums clock in at 21 and 47 tracks respectively, so you can find those albums in the 101-200 positions on this list. One of the reasons I haven't digged much deeper into Robinson's ouvre (aside from, you know, moolah) is that I find this album entirely satisfying. I don't hunger for more Smokey than it gives me but I'm glad I've got what I have (I loved it as a kid, but I really don't miss "Tears Of A Clown" now - that Pagliacci reference always feels so gratuitous and "Tracks Of My Tears" handles sentiment better).

As time goes on I'll probably buy more of his albums, but I'm tempted to let him stop while he's ahead. Just as my sisters' Supremes comp annoyed me with its endless variations on a single theme, I could see Smokey's eternal niceness wearing on me too. One of my favorite tracks on this is "I'm The One You Need," since for once he actually gets proactive about the girl, demanding appreciation rather than subtly alluding to pain or seconding that emotion. His assured, emotive vocals and tight songcraft on those bother-with-me-if-you-will tracks are far too warm to come off as painfully genteel - nothing wrong with being kind, per se (lots right with it, actually) - especially when combined with pro-dance declarations like "Going To A Go-Go" and "Do The Jerk" (which eternally amuses a filthy-minded fellow like myself) and blessedly selfish tracks like "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage" and "Choosey Beggar." For some reason doesn't have an entry for Vol. 1, but I'd probably snap it up if I found it somewhere for the same price. For an added gas, try adding basso profundo exclamations of "oh, yeah" at the end of lines to turn these tracks into Temptations songs. Cracks me up.

Friday, March 26, 2004

#32) Elvis Costello & The Attractions - This Year's Model (released in 1978, I bought the Rykodisc reissue on cassette back in middle school from Streetside Records in Bloomington, IN)

Aside from this album, My Aim Is True (for the songs not sound), Blood & Chocolate (for the sound not songs) and Armed Forces (for both being tolerable), you could easily fit the Elvis Costello I dig into a single disc compilation. I'll swear on a stack of Trust copies that this is his only true classic - lyrics stabbing us all in the eyes while the band works us up into a frenzy, asking for more abuse. Girls get it worse than the guys, but that's only natural since all Elvis really wants from the dudes is recognition and to not be told what to do. He gets away with not wanting to go to Chelsea, not wanting to belong to anybody and only giving you lip service because he is one perceptive little BADASS. His band is usually louder than his guitar, and, unlike Clover on the debut, they deserve to be - that rhythm section pulls you in as forcefully as Costello tells you to push off. His desire for recognition would soon lose its lustful edge, as he tried winning us over in various classy, deadly boring ways. Though after an album like this, I can't really hate the guy. He's earned the right to do whatever he wants as long as I don't have to pay attention (and thanks to the friendly fascism of pop radio - only that damn Paul McCartney collabo ever forces itself on me).

Thursday, March 25, 2004

#33) Good Charlotte - The Young And The Hopeless (released in 2002, I bought this after seeing the video for "Lifestyles Of The Rich And The Famous," which immediately struck me as mainstream Desaparecidos. I figured that if I reviewed it the purchase would pay for itself, since it probably sucked.)

Besides all the stuff I mentioned here, I adore this album because I refuse to engage in self-loathing. I get maudlin about relationships, estranged family and trying to live my life the way I think it should be lived. I like big rock hooks and lots of them. I like harmonies, pride, enthusiasm, spirited drum fills, honesty, empathy, shameless musical and lyrical thievery, dramatic string sections and Eric Valentine's flamboyant, playful production style (he's also worked with Smashmouth and QOTSA). Evidently, these guys love all this stuff too. The title track, which originally struck me as being redundant, wound up being my favorite single of 2003 (wrote a wee review of it on an ILX thread I should revive). Benji's verse on the track makes up my favorite 20 seconds on the album. I tried to pretend it was kneejerk and overly defensive but fuck it - these critics and these trust fund kids try to tell me what punk is, but when I see them on the street they've got nothing to say.

I'm not shocked in the slightest that this album has sold millions and stayed in the Billboard top 100 for well over a year. Hell, if the band wasn't hungry to make another album, I'd suggest they could push out even more singles from this - "Riot Girl" & "Say Anthing" are DYING for radio play. "The Day That I Die" and "My Bloody Valentine" would be too if they weren't respectively about killing yourself and your rival. That I've never heard another critic talk about how great this album is (even just on a power-pop craft level) is one of the main reasons I'm writing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

#34) Ice-T - The Iceberg/Freedom Of Speech...Just Watch What You Say (released in 1989, my sister bought me this album for xmas of 2002. She took a chance and bought me something I didn't ask for, which few people do. I lucked out big time.)

I'm considering deleting the first few months of the archive - the reviews are too long, they're all given number ratings (something I'm abandoning) and I'm not happy with a lot of the sentences (though I'm not happy with some of the sentences I wrote last week, yarggh). Anyhow, here's a review I wrote for this album back in the halcyon days of early 2003. If you demand that they stay, let me know. Otherwise, they go phbbt when I finish this album list deal.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Counting down my 100 favorite albums of all time...

#35) AC/DC - Powerage (released in 1978, I bought this CD on clearance when they closed the Mike's Music store downtown - picked up Warrant's debut on the same day for less than a buck!)

Where the 1976 albums are full of introductory come on's and Let There Be Rock offers mid-relationship commentaries like "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be," Powerage comes from the perspective of the recently - and rarely - dumped. "Rock'n'Roll Damnation" and "Riff Raff" are two of their finest anthems of pride - Angus Young keeps knocking you down and picking you back up while Bon Scott defines sarcastic self-confidence ( and the band marches in step behind them, but aside from those two numbers and a love letter to Vegas, Scott spends the album biting bullets, getting kicked in the teeth and tying exes to the railroad tracks - though never without wisdom, humor and a plethora of non-verbal shrieks, moans, groans and sighs. Criminally ignored thanks to a lack of radio-approved anthems, Powerage is AC/DC's most consistent and inspired work, devoid of sluggishness and pro forma rave-ups. The band co-existed with the first rise of "fuck the bullshit" boypunk and not only topped it cynicism-wise, but made outcast status sound like a good time (the Sex Pistols sound like slugs in comparison). It's hard to say whether they would have become stadium cheerleaders if Scott hadn't died in '79 (they already had brought in Mutt Lange for Highway To Hell, their overrated breakthrough), but if you're like me, it's hard to listen to Brian Johnson's shrill croak without imagining what Scott might have done with those riffs. The dude is missed.

Note: The whole "AC/DC beats punk at its own game" concept was in Chuck Eddy's Stairway To Hell. I'm sure he doesn't mind the sentiment being seconded (and judging by the comments on my Eamon post, I'll hear about it if he does!)
Ugh. I totally prefered my original title for this Eamon article I wrote for the Voice. Does their headline actually read better than The Ho Less Travelled?

Monday, March 22, 2004

#36) The Beatles - Rubber Soul (released in 1965, I bought it sometime in college. I think.)

Yet another album here that represents the chewy middle ground between two periods of a band's career. They'd yet to lose the girlcentric enthusiasm of Please Please Me (which might have made this list if I owned a copy - I really should get on that), but age and experience has clearly taken their toll on the guys. Ringo's dumbfounded by cruelty, George is already letting everybody know that he's above all the crap you obsess about, and even Paul the luhvbug decides that he can't see you because you won't see him (though he gives it up for the French ladies and gets downright boogaloo about some ambitious fox). Top notch stuff, but - as per usual - it's John who's delivering the transcendence that George keeps referring to (total tangent, but I think it really says something that Harrison named his posthumous album Brainwashed. Dude's a smug asshole, sorry).

Tracks like "Norwegian Wood," "In My Life" and "The Word" are universal anthems though loaded with idiosyncrasy, thanks in a large part to Lennon's expressive voice, which is capable of providing almost as much meaning as his word choice (if you don't believe me, check out any and every Lennon cover ever). Even relatively minor numbers like "Run For Your Life" are better crafted than most people's career highlights. While his work has always been marked with clarity and perspective (when not, you know, "For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"), I think his tracks on Rubber Soul are among his most consistenty effective and personally affecting. While he provides the observations of a man distanced by hurt yet hopeful for rejuvenation, it's the immaculate arrangements and solid playing that help "Nowhere Man" and "In My Life" avoid the maudlin sentimentality of, say, James Taylor (George Martin and Starr get eternal props for the faux-harpischord and drums on "In My Life," no matter what crap they continue to dish out). Devoid of their later albums' mush and more consistent than what preceded it, Rubber Soul is the first Beatles album I throw on when trying to convert the haters (especially fitting since most of these underrating chaps are overly cynical but well intentioned jerks - like the Beatles in '65!). The American edition has a more cohesive sound - it makes the album sound like a conscious "roots" move - but loses "Nowhere Man" and is out of print, so don't even think about it unless your parents already own it.
Jess Harvell (who, as a rule, never agrees with me) makes some interesting points about crunk in his blog, Technicolor. I'm not sure I agree with him that crunk is restrictive while grime is expansive, though I think if that's the case its because crunk, as far as I can tell, is product-oriented - if it doesn't deliver then it isn't crunk, it's just a mess. Crunk is a compliment, an achievement. Grime, from what I can gather, is no harder to be than "indie." However, I've been ignoring or recontextualizing the lyrical content of what I've heard for long enough that I appreciate him tackling it head on. I reserve the right to be offended by specific lyrics, but most of the objectification I've heard doesn't bother me because I'd be perfectly fine with women speaking the same way about men. Salt'n'Pepa screaming at Chippendales or Alison Wolfe demanding you suck her clit if you're gonna lie and say dumb shit doesn't bother me at all. I tend to be more annoyed by women (or men, see Sleater-Kinney's self-titled debut) being portrayed as an inherently evil force moreso than when either is portrayed as a sex object. I realize that this is a very superficial reading that ignores subtext, cultural influence, etc. etc. But I'm not saying whether this stuff should be played for five year old boys, I'm saying whether or not I enjoy listening to it.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

#37) Gang Of Four - Entertainment! (released in 1979, I taped my friend Tyler's copy in high school and finally bought it on CD at an HMV in London with a gift certificate I'd won - along with my pub quiz team - at an ILX Christmas party. Now I can play "Damaged Goods" when I DJ.)

This is one of the first album's that made me realize that each instrument was actually integral to song, no unnecessary overdubs or coloring. Andy Gill's scraping guitar sound and Jon King's bitter, frustrated chants about the valuelessness of romantic interactions wouldn't probably be as enjoyable if not offset by the rhythm section's merciless throb. The irony of the music's pulse and danceability adds a perverse thrill to King's harsh cries of futility (which, as Robert Christgau rightfully noted, are "a truth, but not the whole truth"). I wish more emo groups would catch how the band uses a genuinely lustful energy to push a song like "Damaged Goods" so that it adds up to more than just disaffected bellyaching. Entertainment! is probably my favorite Death Disco album of all time (someday I'd love to be in a band that can do a "Love Will Tear Us Apart/ Love Like Anthrax" medley).

Saturday, March 20, 2004

#38) Weezer - Weezer (released in 1994, me and my sister got to co-own a CD of this courtesy of my mom's CD club when it came out. When Claire graduated from high school I said she could keep the CDs we co-owned - Elastica, Eurythmics' Greatest Hits, Breeders' Last Splash and this one. She left them all in town since she's out of the country for a year, and I'm probably going to buy the new 2CD 10th anniversary version before she gets back)

Since I've got a headache and I'm guessing your take on this album is pretty much set in stone, I'm just going to note that the swells of feedback, the solos that DEMAND you mime along, the goofball background giddiness (we miss you, Matt Sharp) and Rivers's emotive voice (after all those 2001-2002 demos online I feel I can honestly say I've listened to him sing from the phone book...and LIKED it!) all add up to one thing for me: HIGH SCHOOL. Except for "Buddy Holly," of course, which was enjoyed on a strictly musical level until I learned how to talk to girls (which didn't happen till college).

If you need more to read, check out this thread I started on ILX...So what did you think of Weezer in 1994. It probably won't pick up until Sunday, but I'm going to do my best to make as many regular posters as possible contribute to it. Post there yourself! Weezer is for the children!

Friday, March 19, 2004

#39) Urge Overkill - Saturation (released in 1993, I bought a used cassette from Arboria in high school, eventually getting it on used CD from City Lights so that I could play tracks on my radio show)

Where so many '90s "classics" only make sense when provided with context, Saturation actually sounds better without any knowledge about the band. Hearing "Sister Havana" or "Positive Bleeding" on the radio now, the word "irony" doesn't even come into play, these songs actually work as timeless hook-filled pop-rawkers. If the motives behind weepers like "Bottle Of Fur" and "The Dropout" were cynical, then these guys had a tremendous knack for making the emotions they were playing at resonate. But judging by their friendship with Liz Phair and their inability to maintain a corporate shelf-life, I'm guessing these guys were just giddy to try out of all the moves that other bands had wowed them with.

If punk is just metal without the guitar solos, then Urge Overkill saw alternative rock as hair-metal sans noodlage (which, if the rumors are true, they weren't really capable of anyhow). Titles like "Woman 2 Woman," "Crackbabies," "Heaven 90210" and "Erica Kane" should make it clear these guys weren't planning on making Pearl Jam's Eleven, though they don't clue you into how layered these songs are. Nothing sounds too complex but the licks and sounds add up to something unusually rich and powerful (plus if you're a sucker for bells in a rock song then you need to hear the climax of "Bottle Of Fur"). After a fluke hit with a Neil Diamond cover from '92 and a downtrodden but rewarding follow-up, Exit The Dragon, the band broke up amidst ego conflicts and heroin problems for drummer Blackie Onassis (whose cautionary OD tale "The Mistake" was a startling highlight of their final album). The band has recently reunited and I'm curious how much of their old magic they'll be able to regain. I'm glad they're trying.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

My top 10 singles of 2004 (so far)

1) Ying Yang Twins - "Salt Shaker"
2) Britney Spears - "Toxic"
3) Missy Elliott - "I'm Really Hot"
4) John Mayer - "Clarity"
5) Usher - "Burn"
6) J-Kwon - "Tipsy"
7) Liz Phair - "Extraordinary"
8) Mario Winans feat. P. Diddy - "I Don't Wanna Know"
9) Modest Mouse - "Float On"
10) Ruben Studdard - "Sorry 2004"

Do I have ANY indie cred left? Even Modest Mouse's track is on their second major label album and sounds like the Talking Heads! I can't believe that at a time when Clear Channel owns everything, indie can't compete with the 20+ songs I hear on the radio.
#40) LeTigre - LeTigre (released in 1999, I bought it on CD at City Lights after listening to the radio station's copy a bunch)

Kathleen Hanna may just be another critic who can't stand to be criticized, but few display as much imagination and spirit. That energy isn't just in what she says but how she says it, whooping, sighing, shrieking, taking on numerous poses and personas. While Bikini Kill's Joan Jett-produced "Rebel Girl" single wass a definite classic, the self-titled debut from LeTigre, the band she started after Bikini Kill's break-up (and making a solo album as Julie Ruin), remains the one time where the music has been as novel and assured as she is.

If Bikini Kill was punk than LeTigre is new wave, with the fuzzed out guitar riffs strapped on top of drum loops, keyboard blips and the rare but effective vocal sample. "Deceptacon" and "The The Empty" rip the hearts out of those who would bore her with vicious glee, while "Les And Ray," the name-dropping "Hot Topic" and "Eau D'Bedroom Dancing" give shout-outs to their inspirations, the latter capturing the warm glow music can provide a solitary listener - somehow LeTigre made an anthem about the experience without losing the experience's fragility. The follow-up Feminist Sweepstakes felt like a party with weaker beats that they didn't want me dancing at anyway, but I'm hoping their upcoming major-label debut(!) will be as inclusive, witty and thrilling as this one was.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

#41) Big Star - Third/Sister Lovers (released in 1978, I bought the 1985 reissue on used CD from Arboria my junior year of high school. I'm thinking about trying to find it on vinyl since "Jesus Christ" is playing funny now and I don't want more bonus tracks. The few on my edition, save "Dream Lover," are gratuitous enough.)

Ironic as it may be, this album knocked me out immediately while I still can't figure out what the big deal about 1974's Radio City is. Where the latter always struck me as slack rather than quirky (save "September Gurls," duh), Third doesn't even pretend to "rock out" much, the music expressing tire and resign rather than just sounding flabby. The overdubs sound so haphazard on some tracks that I hesitate to even use the word arrangement when discussing them. Drums stumble, guitars and keyboard interject at off moments and if not for Alex Chilton's vulnerable yet commanding vocals, this album would be revealed for the mess it probably is (I love the uptempo numbers on the album even though they're far too sloppy for dance floor consumption).

The cover of "Femme Fatale" here is the finest version of the song that I've heard, and "Kanga Roo" is one of my favorite songs ever. The music aches with drunken splendor while Chilton's slurred lyrics and moans sound like someone trying to make sense of an awesome feeling while slipping into incoherent reverie. At three minutes, this glimpse of sense-shattering beauty is far too brief and I often find it impossible not to skip back to the beginning when it ends (you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that Jeff Buckley's 12-minute live version sucks complete ass).

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

If Fever To Tell is a new girlfriend and Liz Phair is a cool ex, than Stay Away From Me, Nellie McKay's debut and the first great album I've heard this year, is someone so refreshing and breathtakingly unique that you run away from them to reaffirm that your current relationship is worth sticking with (I threw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on immediately after, and I still feel closer to them). Like most 2CD releases, it feels a bit bloated on first listen (the big band flourishes aren't usually my thing either), but the inventive humor and blunt intelligence found here is exceptional. Plus she sings "Miccio, you give every day meaning" on a track where she says that men are worthless. Big time crushage.
#42) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Fever To Tell (released in 2003, snapped up from City Lights after checking it out on the listening station. I was unmoved by their debut EP when my friend Carey played it for me but Fever grabbed me instantly)

TJ, one of my best friends and the closest I have to an ideal non-female reader, told me that the comment I wrote about Fever To Tell for the 2003 Pazz'n'Jop poll is the best thing I've ever had published, and I'm inclined to agree. For that reason, I'm not going to say any more about the album except that I still play it more than anything else. I've also spent several half hours in the last month or so watching "Maps" video (found on the CD single) repeatedly and get giddy if I imagine the band reading what i wrote about the album. I'm enthralled.

Monday, March 15, 2004

ok I so I had to hightail it to a computer lab because I would NOT be able to go to sleep without announcing that Usher's new track "Let It Burn," which I've just heard for the first time while walking home from work, will probably make my top ten singles of 2004. Maybe the second hearing will reveal some disappointing element, but the interweaving vocals, the lyrical content and the moment where Usher lets you hear him cry - hoo hoo hoo, hoo hoo hoo - left me awestruck.
#43) Morrissey - Your Arsenal (released in 1992, I bought it sometime in high school at a Sam Goody's in Brooklyn when visiting my grandparents. I got it on clearance cassette for a DOLLAR. Hot diggity damn!)

The consistency of this albums still astounds me. The hard stuff's never overbearing, the light never slight, the ballads filled with novel sounds, the pop hits his most dynamic but not overdecorated. Morrissey sounds as confident and excited as his band, whose glam rockabilly keeps him from ever getting insufferable. "Glamorous Glue," "We'll Let You Know," and "The National Front Disco" add up to a somewhat frightening dalliace with fascist imagery that definitely seems satirical but adds a beneficial layer of unease to the usual flipness and aching. Judging by the change that occurred when the late Mick Ronson was replaced by Steve Lillywhite in the producer's chair after his death, I'm guessing that the glam vet was responsible for keeping the enthusiasm level high (though Southpaw Grammar was a thrilling if belated encore to this album. Can I note how proud I am that this was the Mozz's biggest US hit, debuting at no. 21 on the charts?

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Judging by my reaction to "Through The Wire" and "Slow Jamz," and numerous Jay-Z tracks, I am not a Kanye West fan. Yeah, I'm the one.

Meanwhile, my grudging appreciation for Matchbox 20 appears to be growing with the endless radio inundation. More on that later.

Somebody googled my site by typing in "drive-by truckers" assholes. My favorite hit ever.

+ =
I hate Nickelback more with every passing day.
#44) Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand (released in 1994, I bought this on CD from Arboria in 1995 - Alien Lanes was already out - after hemming and hawwing for ages, despite adoring the "I Am A Scientist" video I saw on a Bob Mould/Lou Barlow hosted episode of 120 Minutes. On a side note, Superchunk and Guided By Voices played at the Crowbar the year before, back when it was called the Tattoo. I wanted to go but didn't have any friends yet in town who were interested. Many friends who I'd eventually make were there)

A sentimental favorite, probably, but I can't agree with Robert Christgau's claim that Bee Thousand is "pop for perverts--pomo smarty-pants too prudish and/or alienated to take their pleasure without a touch of pain to remind them that they're still alive." From the day I bought it, only one song, "A Big Fan Of The Pig Pen," ever struck me as genuinely hurtful (I actually enjoy it now). The stray melodic bits, toss-off thrashers and bonafide pop songs found here mesh masterfully, a feat the group never achieved before or since. Aside from the occasional smash single, Pollard hasn't gotten over losing his original band and in-house competitor Tobin Sprout, whose sweet melodies kept Pollard from indulging his more oppressive art-rock ambitions until 1997 and ever since. While I'll admit that much of the album gets over on amateurish enthusiasm (which isn't to say there isn't a relatively strong amount of craft for its genre), the list of "actual songs" that ground the album is pretty long - "Smothered In Hugs," "Echos Myron," "The Queen Of Cans And Jars" and "I Am A Scientist" all qualify as out-of-context classics. Pink Flag meets Sgt. Peppers on a 4-track in what could be anybody's garage, Bee Thousand is the kind of inexplicable, l smash that, sadly, tends to inspire more by what it gets away with then by what it achieved (I've got hours of 4-track recordings to prove it). That Bee Thousand is still enjoyable a decade later makes the aftermath forgivable.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I liked Lost In Translation, though like the characters, I'm usually too obsessed by my own problems to appreciate where I am (the box says the movie is a "valentine to Japan," but I didn't see it that way at all). I can see why some wouldn't relate to that (plus if you didn't feel the internal tension in the characters, then yeah, nothing happens). I think a big part of my enjoyment was the uniqueness of Sofia Coppola's directorial perspective. It's just as objectifying as most male directors, but from a different sensibility (if her style is less unique than I think, please give me examples of similar works - I want to see them!). The Cameron Diaz/Spike Jonze elements were nakedly catty and I enjoyed them as such. I didn't get the sense of smug superiority from Coppola that I got from Terry Zwigoff in Ghost World. Johansson's character - an obvious Coppola stand-in - was pompous, but the direction itself wasn't. The only scene that made me cry bullshit was Murray's drunken one-night-stand. I didn't believe it for a second. I'm still not sure if Johansson is acting or not (is she guarded or blank?), but it worked here for the most part.

Anybody know if there's a full take of Bill Murray singing "More Than This" out there? I want to hear him do the whole thing.
#45) Roxy Music - Greatest Hits (released in 1977, I bought it on used cassette at Arboria sometime in college.)

The only full-length (I own all five covered by this compilation) I decided to chuck after buying this was For Your Pleasure, since Greatest Hits contains both "Do The Strand" and the hysterically zippy "Editions Of You" - probably my favorite Roxy Music song ever. Greatest Hits grabs only the best song off of Roxy Music (whose first side is the band's finest 20 minutes) and Siren (the band's finest and most straightforward 3/4 hour), which is actually a good thing since those are most necessary full-lengths to own. Country Life and Stranded are represented by three tracks each. In both cases they grabbed the two most stunning showpieces on the album and a track that should tell the listener whether or not they need bother getting the album from whence it originally came. So while "Out Of The Blue" and "A Song For Europe" wouldn't make my ideal best-of-Roxy, they serve a worthwhile purpose here. The non-album single "Pyjamarama" is sweet cake icing as well.

For those who don't know, Roxy Music sounds like the Count from Sesame Street pretending he's Pepe Le Pew in a riveting rock opera. Albums tracks reveal the guys to be more prog than glam, but a lack of musical dexterity and a fondness for amateurish Velvetized oomph makes their poppiest moments (most collected here) breathtaking in their enthusiastic, inventive and campy grandeur. Bryan Ferry trembling about "l'amour, tou jours, l'amour" over synth-farts and glammy guitar solos may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for my money, rock trash never got more ecstatically bombastic than on songs like "Editions Of You," the epic "Mother Of Pearl" and "The Thrill Of It All," which sums up their musical goals. Sadly, Greatest Hits is out of print and has been replaced by less convincing if more thorough best-ofs; but that's your problem, not mine.

Friday, March 12, 2004

#46) LL Cool J - All World (released in 1996, I got it at Wal-Mart the summer before college. I think my dad paid for it)

First off, the man's best-of should have been a double CD - I miss "Pink Cookies," "Six Minutes Of Pleasure" and especially "I'm The Type Of Guy." Secondly, his stunning blackjack victory in the "Going Back To Cali" video might be the coolest thing I've ever seen on MTV. Finally, I'm not even going to try and describe how awesome LL is. I'll let him do it for me.

"I Can't Live Without My Radio" - My name is Cool J, I'm from the rock/ Circulating through your radio non-stop/ I'm lookin' at the wires behind the cassette/ And now I'm on the right, standing on the eject

"Rock The Bells" - Cause it ain't the glory days with Bruce Springsteen/ I'm not a virgin so I know I'll make Madonna scream/ You hated Michael and Prince all the way, ever sense/ If their beats were made of meat, then they would have to be mince

"I'm Bad" - The original Todd teachin' how to be hard/ Take the skin off a snake and split a pea from a pod/ You're a novice, I'm noble and I decipher my tongue/ Not Atilla the Hun but no I'm Thrilla, his son

"I Need Love" - just read the whole damn worst rap song ever

"Going Back To Cali" - Now I thought that was fast, but this girl was faster/ She's lookin for a real good time/ I said, "Close your eyes, I got a surprise,"/ and I ran away with the bottle of wine

"Jack The Ripper" - Hard like penitentiary steel/ Breaking necks while I flex my sex appeal

"Jingling Baby" - You know you can't create and get mean like this/ when I'm on the court, G, it's strictly SWISSSSHHHH!/ When it's all over, said and done, my friend/ they say, "That bad motherfucker just scored again"

"Big Ole Butt" - I said to the girl, "them young boys ain't nothin'/ You want to get freaky, let me kiss your belly button"

"The Boomin' System" - Big beats bumpin with the bass in back/ All the sophisticated suckers catch a heart attack/ Cos they don't understand why I act this way/ Pumpin up the funky beat until the break of day/ It's because I want attention when i'm ridin by/ And the girls be on my jock cos my system's fly

"Around The Way Girl" - Not cheap but petty/ You're ready for loving/ You're real independent so your parents be bugging/ But if you ever need a place to stay/ (oooh you love me) Come around my way

"Mama Said Knock You Out - Don't call it a comeback/ I been here for years/ Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear/ Makin the tears rain down like a monsoon/ Listen to the bass go BOOM

"Back Seat" - don't laugh, I'm serious with this /the back seat of my jeep is priceless/ you're climaxin', you're climaxin', it's full action/ you love a good waxin', it's so relaxin'

"I Need A Beat" - Computer wise, and the engineer's eyes/ have to be very acute, education level high/ The product is mine, beat on the rhyme/ The control was part of the studio design

"Doin It" - I wanna knock your block off/ get my rocks off/ Blow your socks off/ make sure your G spots soft

"Loungin'" - I keep it steamy, I make it burn when it's my turn/ Teachin shorty all the tools that you never learned/ Don't get it twisted, gettin money ain't wrong/ But she wanna make love all night long, I'm gone

"Hey Lover" - your man got his hustle on, got your type scared/ break ya off a little chump change to do your hair/ that seems to be enough to satisfy your needs/ but there's a deeper level if you just follow my lead

nuff said.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

I did a small scientific experiment with my record collection in order to avoid listening to some heartbreaking but seemingly necessary Bob Dylan. Without question, I am a Freelance Mentalist.
#47) Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (released in 1994, I was turned off by their Smashing Pumpkins-baiting in Rolling Stone and unimpressed by "Cut Your Hair" on MTV - the sound was down low, but I was finally sold on these guys when I saw the "Gold Soundz" video on 120 Minutes that summer. Five guys in Santa suits eating milk and cookies by the side of a highway after playing with bows and arrows...too much for a lonely nerd to resist. I bought the album at Arboria once I moved to State College and spent the rest of the summer listening to this album and little else. The first thing I'd ask people my freshman year of high school was whether or not they'd heard of Pavement. No one said yes.)

Like early REM, the eccentricities and incoherencies here imply somehow beauty for beauty’s sake rather than laziness. And like Reckoning, the music on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain feels more open and accessible than their previous work, despite maintaining its amateurish energy. Just as it did at 15, the effect of this music feels inexplicable and awesome, even if it no longer signifies a revolution of any sort, since more people were inspired by what Pavement got away with rather than what they actually created. Though the video for “Gold Soundz” remains one of my favorites, the music here no longer signifies oddball camaraderie, thanks to various dillusionizing experiences with the hipster set over the last decade (shit, has it been that long?).

Actually, the giddy background vocals on “Cut Your Hair” still carries some of that band o’ doofuses energy, and the song itself was deservedly their biggest hit; Malkmus projects cryptic sarcasm (though his cynic re: “special new bands” is gratefully clear) with a playfulness matched in the up-tempo sloppy-pop music. “Gold Soundz” has the romantic beauty of a Cure ballad with none of the mope, “Range Life” tops “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” easy, and “5-4=Unity” is a surprisingly enduring jazz goof. “Fillmore Jive” remains their finest there-will-be-no-encores barnburner, projecting weary fear atop arena rock dynamics.

When I’m not reveling in the music or considering my own uncertainties about ambition, “Fillmore Jive” makes me think about the Lollapalooza ’95 tour, easily the band’s mainstream peak. Robert Christgau’s SPIN review of a date on the tour implied the band had successfully transferred their sound to the arena context, but while the group did continue to become something closer to professional, their post-Wowee Zowee albums (and Malkmus’s solo works) shied away from encroaching stardom and focuses on craft-honing and pastoralism (unlike REM’s gradual rise to number one, Pavement peaked at no. 70 with the post-Lollapalooza Brighten The Corners and then stalled in the good-for-indie nether regions of the Billboard chart). Compare “Fillmore Jive”’s victorious solos to the admittedly fascinating cowardice of the Brighten The Corners closer “Fin.” Terror Twilight’s “Spit On A Stranger” or “Major Leagues” would have been fifth album breakthrough singles a la “The One I Love” had they been ballads on a rock album rather than the accessible jingles on a drowsy noodlefest. Though the reception for Pig Lib (which I have not heard) implies that Malkmus should be able to continue his cult career indefinitely (he’s still a bookworm cutie, as several of my lady friends will tell you), Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain remains his loudest and most exciting work.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

#48) Brian Eno - Here Come The Warm Jets (released in 1973, I got this CD for Christmas sometime in high school)

Fuck Ziggy, this is the real alien rock’n’roll. Taking traditional song forms and imbuing them with abstract, beguiling “treatments” that still sound inexplicable after thirty years, Eno genuinely sounds like an otherworldly creature using our language for some illicit and indecipherable purpose. I still have a hard time believing that the androgynous deviant whose lewd sneer stands proudly over the musical Gomorrah of “Baby’s On Fire” and “Blank Frank” is the same guy whose spent the last twenty years making hours of new age furniture music and clocking studio hours with Bono & the boys (and since I can’t even get through side two of Low, I really haven’t bothered to scour through 98% of Eno’s instrumental work. I’d happily listen to a CD-R comp of it, though).

Where David Bowie’s concurrent work is a blatant quest for lionization and Bryan Ferry just wanted some sanctified pussy, Eno’s goals seem almost scientific in nature, as if he’s testing our reactions to stimuli. The words don’t add up to much, but lines like “if you were my flotsam/ I’d be half the man I used to/ they said you were hot stuff/ and that’s what baby’s been reduced to” toy with the listener in pleasurable ways. His sadistic thrill in the endless horror of “Driving Backwards” is just as infectious as the nonsensical enthusiasm of “Needle In The Camel’s Eye.” It’s difficult to describe the specific sounds heard on Here Come The Warm Jets, and I’m not sure the effort would be particularly worthwhile anyhow – I’d rather entice you with the outcome than explain how it’s achieved. Anyone intrigued by that alien otherness implied in the film Velvet Goldmine, which uses tracks from this in two key scenes, will find more of it here than anywhere else.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The three things I didn't like about School Of Rock:

1) If you're going to have a bunch of nerdy schoolchildren play AC/DC's "Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock'n'Roll)," there's no reason to excise the bagpipe solo. Wouldn't keeping it make the scene funnier?

2) Rebecca Brown, who played the cool-as-hell looking bass player, did NOT get a solo.

3) I wanted them to exploit Joan Cusack's unprecedented cinematic hotness more.

Otherwise, it was easily the sweetest film I've seen in ages.
#49) Mission Of Burma - Vs. (released in 1982, I bought it on CD from Arboria sometime near the end of high school. At first I was pissed that I had to buy the albums seperately since the compilation was out of print, but in the long run it didn't matter since I needed to own every note they recorded anyhow).

It’s rare enough that an album opens with a relentless tsunami like “Secrets,” voices and instruments spilling forth with increasingly berserk intensity (yet remaining somewhat danceable), rarer still that an album can consistently maintain that edge. It takes a mixture of technical skill, tangible emotion and energy that few groups can accomplish. Proof that Mission Of Burma pulled it off can be found in the fact that people are actually excited about their upcoming reunion album after being out of commission for twenty (TWENTY!) years. Novelty alone might have kept the buzz going for their initial concerts, but you don’t get people excited about an LP without still having the goods (Geeta says the new disc is great!).

Until this year, Vs. was Mission Of Burma’s only full-length (though the tremendous EP Signals, Calls And Marches – #254 on this list! – and plenty of worthwhile live and demo material have been released). The sound is more expansive than on the 1981 EP, with the power trio emitting dynamic rock that’s in equal parts complex and (especially in the case of bassist Clint Conley’s compositions) anthemic. By comparison, Husker Du sounds like a happy go-lucky pop combo. Most bands that draw this much blood from their instruments tend to descend into generic, incoherent thrashola; white noise that’s easy to tune out. Mission Of Burma proves how much bristling energy and sonic novelty can be fit into an actual song (emo guys who would like to stop sounding so goddamn emo should check out the ballad “Dead Pool” for an example of cathartic beauty through sound devoid of shrill whine). “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” wouldn’t feel like such a violent, gleeful barrage if it wasn’t verse chorus verse.

Though it’s clearly guitarist/tinnitus poster boy Roger Miller and the rhythm section that creates most of the fury, credit tape manipulator Martin Swope for many of the inexplicable sounds that seem to crop up in these tracks. Live, Swope would actually make of loops of noise DURING A SONG and play them immediately – check out The Horrible Truth About Burma for some fantastic examples of his ingenuity. Since the 1988 Mission Of Burma CD (which collected Signals, Vs. and some extra tracks) is out of print, Vs., currently available with album-quality bonus tracks like “Forget” and “Progress,” is definitely the first thing to pick up.

Monday, March 08, 2004

#50) Wilco - Summerteeth (released in 1999, I bought a copy on CD that year after listening to my college radio station's copy a ton)

1999. That’s the last year (as of today) where I’m embarrassed by some of art that I revered at the time. I thought Midnite Vultures and The Soft Bulletin were legendary breakthroughs in pop music, rather than chickenshit Bowie and Supertramp 2K. I thought movies like Fight Club and American Beauty were startling revelations of our cultural ennui, rather than drudging, simplistic and underthought absurdities. Then I got a girlfriend and everything changed.

I’m still sentimental enough to love Magnolia and High Fidelity though, and I still find stunning beauty in deconstructive masterpieces like 69 Love Songs and Summerteeth. Since their debut, which descended into ponderous No Depressioneering after three great country rockers, Wilco have been the best thing the Midwest has had to offer our culture (with the possible exception of Nelly). Though Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot suffer from overambitious indulgence (does every song on YHF have to end with stumbling noise?), Jeff Tweedy and his musical cohorts have crafted eccentric arrangements in a manner that utilizes decades of American sound without ever sounding like a mere pastiche, thanks to the strong, memorable songwriting. Summerteeth is the least self-conscious of their three great albums, and easily my favorite.

Tweedy’s had a knack for tender, thoughtful, image-filled songs that are both quick-witted and vulnerable since his time in Uncle Tupelo (Jay Farrar’s material feels painfully cornpone in comparison), but pep isn’t something that comes naturally to self-aware record nerds like him. That’s part of what makes the swelling energy behind “A Shot In The Arm” or the shining pop-country-rock of “I’m Always In Love” and “ELT” so astounding. Even a ballad like “How To Fight Loneliness” doesn’t petrify like so many alt-country peddlers. To be honest, this is the album where Wilco loses their claim on the alt-country tag, keeping the mature beauty associated with the genre while casting aside anything that feels purist or wooden. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s victory in the 2002 Pazz’n’Jop poll has inspired a vicious backlash that will probably get stronger if their upcoming ’04 album is even more ponderous (hell, I even booed Tweedy’s smug self-satisfaction when they played in town and if you're POV is All Stones No Beatles then don't even bother with these guys), but most of the accusations thrown their way fail to resonate while Summerteeth is spinning on my CD player.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

#51) The Velvet Underground - 1969 Live With Lou Reed (released in 1974, I bought it on tape - which means I've never heard "Sweet Bonnie Brown" - near the end of middle school)

It's pleasures are arguably the mundane found on any classic Velvets album, but as far as bar bands go, the Velvets easily rank among the most beautiful. Nothing gets too violent on this album (not even "Heroin"), but the frenzied careening is replaced by a groove that's confident despite having no oppressive tendencies whatsoever. The psychotic sadists of the Cale Years have become amiable folks, and since The Velvet Underground is too mellow and Loaded is too radio-primed, 1969 Live is the most well-rounded and arguably best document of the second half of their career. "What Goes On" is transformed into an endless ecstatic shimmy, "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" are classic ballads so durable that these gestative versions are nearly as transfixing as the ones found on Loaded, "Ocean" displays a natural dreaminess lacking on any studio take I've heard and this is the only place you can find the sweetly droopy "Over You" and its less endless rainbows. Anybody who still thinks Doug Yule is worthless after hearing "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" must hate fun. Some people might bitch about the normalcy of all this, but there are enough hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a year, that I can enjoy the sick feedback fucks of '67 AND the best grad-school party band ever.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

#52) Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (released in 1977, I bought it on used vinyl at Arboria sometime in 2002 for two bucks)

Unlike most of what's on this list, Rumours makes the most sense when it's bright outside. It's an irony befitting an album of oddly arranged, subconciously frazzled art-pop that still sells kajillions today. At night the sound feels curio-like and fragmented, but when the suns out everything feels spacious and free. For the longest time I considered Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks the reason these guys were the only El Lay studio cats I could stomach. "Second Hand News" and "Go Your Own Way" make their sonic novelties infectious with jangle and "b'gow gow gow"'s, expressing bitter heartbreak through terse, honest lyrics and searing solos that impress without an ounce of unnecessary showboating. "Dreams" and "Gold Dust Woman" are powerful works from a woman bewitching enough for someone like Buckingham to get hung up over (I still can't figure out how full of shit she actually is, and he probably can't/couldn't either).

While their songs still move me, it's Christine McVie, who I once found laughably mundane, who is my favorite Macperson today. I might be able to identify with Buckingham's hostile hurt (when recording a cover of "Go Your Own Way" on my four-track I got in such a weird headspace that I recorded the only successful hammer-on guitar solo of my life. Normally I can't get my fingers to move fast enough), but of the three it's McVie who sounds like she's most interested in getting past her troubles. "Don't Stop" has enough pained determination in it that I'm still surprised boomers from Bill Clinton on down like to dance to it, and "You Make Loving Fun" might be my favorite Fleetwood Mac song ever (competing with McVie's later classics "Everywhere" and "Hold Me"). I love the gentle joy in her voice as Nicks and Buckingham sigh in harmony behind her on the chorus. Her gratitude and serenity sounds so earned and likable, especially compared to Buckingham's obsessiveness and Nicks' pretentious poetry. After hearing her focus on tomorrow, it's comforting to hear her enjoy an actual moment.

Friday, March 05, 2004

#53) Wire - Pink Flag (released in 1977, I bought a copy on CD at Arboria in high school. I accidently left without paying - this can happen when you've been chatting with the clerk for a while - but I was nice enough to come back)

Combining the buzzsaw energy of the Ramones with the structural imagination of Brian Eno, Pink Flag is a startlingly deft punk album, more like a strategic missile attack then a riot. Though they make you aware of their deconstructive interests by the second track, the half-minute long “Field Day For The Sundays,” the musical violence and taut rhythms keep the album from feeling remotely poncey. While every song consists of the standard rock instrumentation, the 21 songs that fill the original 3/4 hour album gradually lose their blurring effect and reveal their distinctive traits. The sarcastic groove of “Lockdown,” the anthemic “Ex-Lion Tamer,” the gorgeous, dismissive “Mannequin,” “12XU”’s breathless pulse, the profane “Mr. Suit.” The cornucopia of musical pleasure seems slightly at odd with the political content of the lyrics – their mastery of what writer Eric Weisbard called “the dynamic capacities of [punk’s] outwardly ugly, secretly beautiful sound” is so great that it’s hard to notice anything else (though the band’s own lyrical evolution implies they weren’t in this to make messages anyhow). Art-punk starts here.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Hey, googlers! When a soaking wet stripper splashes water on her male customers, this is called SKEETING. To skeet is to splash water off your body. Spread the word!
#54) The White Stripes - DeStijl (released in 2000, I made a 90-minute tape of this and Elephant off of my ex-girlfriend's CDs. She got into them well before I did - I think I was hype-phobic)

I'm afraid there won't be too much to this review because I'm unable to find my copy anywhere. I've listened to the album enough that it really shouldn't make a difference. I've certainly memorized my favorite moments on the album: Jack's decision to break a couple rules so that she'll notice him on "Sister, Do You Know My Name," the Led Zep balladry of "I'm Bound To Pack It Up," the whole damn sexy gestalt of "Hello Operator." I've certainly thought about why this album is more enjoyable than White Blood Cells (which goes "stomp-stomp-stomp" too often) and Elephant (which goes "shooby-dooby-doo" a tad too much). It's just that not being able to find my copy of DeStijl is bumming me out, and I don't want to think about this album too long, lest I REALLY get upset I can't play it. Plus I don't know diddly-squat about the blues.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

#55) Prince Paul - A Prince Among Thieves (released in 1999, I bought it on CD that year. The rave reviews and my appreciation of Handsome Boy Modeling School, who I don't like as much now, got me to ignore my rockist wariness about buying rap albums, which I considered quite filler-happy)

Everybody hates rap skits, but that’s mainly because listeners (and the rappers making them) haven’t realized the cinematic potential within. Psychoanalysis (What Is It?), the solo debut from De La Soul producer, was filled with innovative skits, and his follow up, A Prince Among Thieves, was a rap musical, complete with a coherent storyline (a tragedy about two aspiring rappers) and an all-star cast. Paul smartly used unknowns Sha & Breeze for the lead roles - they’re strong enough to compete with the presence of folks like Kool Keith (as an unsurprisingly surreal weapons expert) and Big Daddy Kane (as the unsurprisingly pimptacular Count Mackula), but don’t bring the baggage of fame. The consistency of this album is startling when you consider its breadth. The music is hook-heavy, the jokes are rich (check out the slow jam and the Chris Rock cameo) and “More Than U Know” may well be the best De La Soul song of all time, with the trio delivering incisive crack metaphors over a beat that Puff Daddy would have rode to the top 10. Prince Paul wanted to turn this album into a movie, but I think the stage is where this album belongs. It’s so good, I want to see people interact with the show.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

New single that has no right to be as good as it is: John Mayer, "Clarity." Just when I was starting to really hate this guy he whips out a graceful groove (no staid jam-band fonk'n'honk), a memorable guitar riff, cutely youthful yet unembarassing lyrics and - here's the stunner - THE BEST TRUMPET CHARTS I'VE HEARD IN AGES. This isn't just a "Crazy In Love" loop or a "When You're Gone" swell, these horns dance (though judging by my reference points he hasn't had much competition). If John's falsetto cries at the end are less than perfection, it reaffirms that his musical ambition still reaches beyond his gifts (which, judging by the evolution heard here, isn't really a bad thing). I know Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson worked on a few tracks on Heavier Things and this song is so confident I have to assume this is one of them. Mayer allegedly wanted to make the whole album with Thompson, and if this is one of their collaborations, I'm impressed by his good taste. If this ISN'T one of them, he evidently doesn't even need the tutelage. Who'd a thunk it.
#56) R.E.M. - Reckoning (released in 1984, I got this on CD in middle school from my Mom's CD club. Me and my sister would put initials in the catalog next to the albums we liked and she usually got us about one a month each)

Their first decade of work is so consistently excellent that picking a favorite usually says more about you than the album quality. I think it's fitting that a lifelong fan like myself should enjoy Reckoning most: it's the only album that mixes the jangly, dreamy sonics of their initial work (which I consider their finest period) with the straightforward "rock" of their late-'80s albums (whose singles were my introduction to the band). While this album, which used to be in my top five of all time, dropped in value once I begun to revere coherency in song, I still marvel at Peter Buck's Rickenbacker riffage and a growing appreciation for groove has made the Mike Mills-Bill Berry rhythm section all the more impressive (check out how they make "So. Central Rain" bounce more than country ballads from collegiates usually do).

The song structures are open compared to the insular folk-disco of Murmur - "Don't Go Back To Rockville" is their first genre exercise, "Camera" a blatant power ballad while "Pretty Persuasion" and "Second Guessing" pummel more nakedly than, say, "9-9," but the sound is still ephemeral and mysterious compared to the arena rock yet to come. Michael Stipe means less and less to me as time goes on, but when Mills and Berry harmonize on the choruses of "Harborcoat" and "Letter Never Sent," the voices achieve beauty for beauty's sake, arguably not saying much but creating plenty (chants like "heaven is yours," "she will return," "here we are," and "goddamn your confusion" aren't without their signifying power). Reckoning was recorded in a spirited week, and the audible, effortless brilliance of these ten songs will always impress me.

Monday, March 01, 2004

#57) Fugazi - 13 Songs (released in 1989, I bought this on CD sometime in college)

Like REM, I dig these guys mainly for how I react to their basic sound rather than any coherent profundity in the lyrics. Drummer Brendan Canty's distinctive clomp (his rolls give me the same rush I get from helplessly watching someone knock over a drink and I dig that liberty bell KONK he flings into random songs), Joe Lally's melodic basslines and Ian MacKaye's scabrous, thick, guitar-playing create a peculiar frozen funk that I shouldn't enjoy as much as I do (like REM, I don't really care for many of the bands blatantly following in Fugazi's footsteps). It grooves despite its rigidity, making anger boogie without making it boogie so much that the anger isn't palpable. Once singer Guy Picciotto picked up a second guitar in 1990 the band started toying more with dynamics (to fine effect), but their initial two EP's (collected on the 13 Songs CD) remain their most dynamic document.

The flow here is murky enough that critics who want to fight it can, but I really just can't be bothered. Even when mushmouth gets in the way of the actual statements, Picciotto and MacKaye's voices signify righteous indignation, confidently blustering over the sludgy bop, especially on their first-ever classic "Waiting Room," which is allegedly played during Redskins football games these days, and "Suggestion," a surprisingly sensual number seeing as how its about rape and female objectification. Once you realize that everybody but Canty is wearing goofy hats in the liner notes and that there are TWO pictures of Picciotto doing a headstand inside, I don't know how you can find these guys humorless.