Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010: Bracing For The Pantheon?

Not to get all Bill Simmons on you, by which I mean "immediately and rashly overreact to an isolated incident, impregnating it with more meaning than it ever ought to have ("HOOPS ARE DEAD IN CLEVELAND AFTER LEBRON'S LAST LOSS"), spitting out superlatives ("THE CELTICS ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT" and "RONDO IS THE BEST PG IN THE LEAGUE!!" within weeks of each other) like they ought to be etched in stone ASAP*. But, here I go: is 2010's year of music angling to be a pantheon year? I know it's early and many of these albums still have to measure up to the ol' test of time, but I don't think the question is wrong. It feels like a supernaturally good year and it has to be asked:

Will 2010 go down as one of the great years in the history of music?

The National//High Violet
I know it's early, but it's about time TBC got a chance to counter all the Animal Collective and Beach House premature hype over the past year with something we think is actually deserving. I can't remember the last time I heard an album all the way through and wanted to hear it over again. And again.

The Hold Steady//Heaven Is Whenever
Josh Ritter//So Runs The World Away
Two TBC perennial favorites with what I suppose you could call transitional albums. On our initial listens, we agreed that Heaven Is Whenever gave us a great new chapter in the Hold Steady canon. We disagreed on the highpoints of So The World Runs Away, so that jury is still out
Broken Social Scene//Forgiveness Rock Record
Mose Allison//The Way Of The World
The Black Keys//Brothers
Dr. Dog//Shame
Anais Mitchell//Hadestown
There were 2 weeks where this albums sang the words "ALBUM OF THE YEAR" to me every day. Somehow the musical-hater in me could swallow a folkie musical based in mythology with guest spots by Justin Vernon, Ani Difranco, Greg Brown, and the dude from the Low Anthem. I am a sucker for ambitious high concept that's well executed (Janelle Monae, we'll get to you). And adorable voices like Anais Mitchell's.

Retribution Gospel Choir//2
Damien Jurado//Saint Bartlett
Frightened Rabbit//The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Jason Collett//Rat a tat tat
Four albums from some TBC usual suspects. Will they fare as well as Stay Positive? Or will they go the (still respectable but kind of disappointing) route of Yonder Is The Clock, following up a great record with a good one? I have my guesses, one of which is pretty obvious by the fact that I haven't dared buy the Jason Collett record yet.
Jakob Dylan//Women & Country
Patty Griffin//Downtown Church
Neon Trees//Habits (come on. Animal is catchy as catch.)
Peter Gabriel//Scratch My Back
Broken Bells//And I just got too lazy to look up album names. Bad journalism? It's a BLOG!
Jonsi's solo album
Horse Feathers
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Bettye Lavette
Sarah Sample
Sayde Price
Mumford & Sons
Tallest Man On Earth
Beach House
Drive By Truckers
New Pornographers

And still (potentially) to come:
The Arcade Fire
Tift Merritt
Blitzen Trapper
Sun Kil Moon
Nada Surf
The Roots
The Weepies
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Wolf Parade
Crowded House
Los Lobos
Fleet Foxes
Beastie Boys
Robert Plant//Band of Joy (his follow-up to Raising Sand)
the actual release of Sparklehorse + Danger Mouse

And stuff I should check out:
Roky Erickson + Okkervil River
Avi Buffalo
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Maybe the most interesting to me. NPR will do that with their special, literate, elitist Kool-Aid
Janelle Monae
Flying Lotus
Titus Andronicus
LCD Soundsystem
Merle Haggard
Laura Marling
Morning Benders
Sleigh Bells
Angus & Julia Stone
White Hinterland
Crystal Castles
The Besnard Lakes

Now, on a mass scale, I don't know that anything ever (especially in the post-mp3 world) will ever compete culturally and on a massive scale like a year that includes the Beatles and Stones and Dylan and Cash and...yeah. But as far as great and meaningful music that matters? This year has to at least sit at the kids' table while we wait for the results of the test of time.

Last year had a solid top 15 albums, but both Spike and I found a lackluster overall year to be saved by a few stellar albums. This year doesn't look like it'll have that problem.

I've often asked friends if they could only pick one YEAR of music, what year would it be?

In this new series, Annual Reports, we'll list albums from particular years and maybe even try to rate the years against each other. Some of it will hopefully help us see how 2010 fits in context and some of it will help those of us who maybe weren't there (or alive) to see/hear music in a new contextual lens, and the rest will just be an excuse to talk about music.

As the year goes on, we'll return to this post, revisit the names, see how they're shaking out. Next stop, though, is the nearly universally heralded 1967.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Concept Career

Separation Sunday is constantly in a battle with Boys and Girls in America for the right to be my favorite Hold Steady album (a very coveted distinction). What sets Separation Sunday apart is its dedication to telling a single story across the entire album. The concept album theme faded with Boys and Girls in America, though the characters in the album were mostly consistent. Then the cast of characters started to disappear. What I didn't realize, is that the stories continued...they are just more veiled than before.

My research into Craig Finn's lyric sheets hasn't been very in-depth just yet, but I have managed to put one story together. We all know the story of the girl who bet on horses and then used the money to buy drugs. The horse was named Chips Ahoy. Well, that girl hasn't been lost and forgotten. Someone is trying to hook-up with here again and have a Weekender with her. Allow me to expound. The song, The Weekenders, starts out, There was that whole weird thing with the horses. At first this could be a reference to anything really because weird things happen when you mix drugs, alcohol and animals. But later on in the verse he sheds a little more light on the situation, You've still got a bit of clairvoyance. If twice is a coincidence, then four times has to be undeniable. The two other instances come later in the song. First, You could say our paths had crossed before, and then later, I remember the O.T.B. O.T.B., for all those unseasoned horse racing gamblers out there, is Off Track Betting. That line pretty much seals the deal. Horses, Clairvoyance, Betting, Crossing Paths Before. It all adds up.

The greatest revelation, however, isn't that he has made contact with the Clairvoyant Horse Gambler once again, but its that there is a strong possibility that the Hold Steady didn't just make one concept album, but they are possibly working on a concept career. I feel like an archeologist who just uncovered some weird bones in the middle of Wyoming. And it turns out those bones might be related to some incident involving a Cheyenne Sunrise.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Its More Engaging When You Don't Know"

The National's Matt Berninger tried to describe the lyrics to "Bloodbuzz Ohio" in a veiled string of words and then ended it with, "Its more engaging when you don't know." That really sums up my draw to The National and more specifically, his lyrics. The same can be said about most of my favorite things, I like not knowing exactly what the intent is. I like having the space to fill in the blanks.

Nothing kills a movie for me like seeing 5 different trailers, each one getting increasingly more revelatory about the plot and showing "all the good parts". You could get me to see just about anything, or at least be excited about seeing it, by not showing me much more than the name of the film and some shots of each actor in the movie. Beyond that, you're giving me too much information and my interest wanes. Again, its more interesting to watch it unfold.

The same goes for sports. If I have a game on the DVR and I mistakenly catch the score before I've seen the whole game, I won't even bother. Its not that I don't want to watch the game, but it takes away my main motivation for watching; answering the question of who is going to win. The NBA Playoffs this year have been surprisingly entertaining. Sure there have been plenty of no-shows and series sweeps, but that is going to happen and even some of those series were entertaining (Phoenix/San Antonio).

I've enjoyed the suspense of the games, but I haven't enjoyed the hyperbole surrounding the cast of characters involved. THis goes back to the need to not know. Every announcer, writer, analyst and goofy-dressed reporter has used up their lifetime allotment of exaggeration in this playoffs alone. Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the game. Rondo made the greatest play in Celtics' history. No he isn't and no he didn't. But does he have at least 3 exciting plays a game? Yes. Can't we just leave his place in history undefined until he strings together a couple seasons, yes I said SEASONS, full of the play we've seen from him recently? LeBron James is the greatest athlete in the history of the game. Wherever LeBron goes will turn that franchise around. You have to say something nice about Early Exit LeBron but both those comments are way off base. Great Athlete? Yes. Franchise Player? Yes. Beyond that? Lets leave it open for debate. Don't just sling hyperbole for the sake of needing to say something. The list goes on and on. Pau Gasol, best bigman in the game. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, best young tandem to team up with. Knicks, best opportunity to become a legend.

Say anything like this, and I'm immediately disengaged. I'd rather wonder how good someone can become and how good they are than see them ranked "all-time". I'd rather hear the questions than the answers, and don't think I'm alone.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Write or Be Written

Long has the adage floated around that those who win the war write the history books. I wonder if that saying exists in Great Britain. Or in Japan. Or anywhere that has very publicly lost a war. My guess is there isn't a phrase for that in German and that it only works in American English where we have a sparkling record in battle...or at least completely unwilling to admit defeat. Therein lies the point. No matter what happens, we write the history. We decide what we will remember.

The NBA is no different than American History. Players decide how their legacy will be written. At no other time during the NBA season are there more words being poured into the history books. Just ask First Round Tracy how important the playoffs are to NBA History. This year has been no exception to the rule. There are players who are actively writing and re-writing their legacy on the court. On the other side of the coin, there are players who are passively letting their history be edited like a bunch of college freshman who just realized anyone can edit a wikipedia page. Its not win or go home, its write or be written.

The Writers
This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a small selection of players who have done more for reshaping our memory of them than anyone else.

Steve Nash
We already knew he was tough and that he made his teammates better. But we weren't sure he could carry his team. We didn't know if he was wired with a "get on my back and I'll make sure we walk away with a win" chip. Turns out he is. I thought he was crazy wen he re-signed with Phoenix for four more years. I thought Amare would be an idiot to hitch his wagon to a 36 year old white guy who will have to guard the quickest players in the league. I was certain there were a number of better opportunities for Nash where he could push hard for two years for a title and have a better supporting cast. Turns out I was wrong. No matter how the Lakers series turns out, I will never again say that Nash didn't deserve those two MVPs.

Grant Hill
Take note all you twilight-of-your-career-stars who still think they need 20 shots a game and enough touches to get into a rhythm even though they no longer have the physical ability to require even a single team, let alone a double team. Grant Hill has effectively gone from aged, former star to defensive stopper and effective role player on a winning team. Just ask Jerryd Bayless how efective he has been.

Deron Williams
He has played in the the second round or later in nearly everyone of his NBA seasons, yet judging by the kind things being said about him, you would think this was his first trip to the playoffs. The only thing he has done differently this year is break Chris Paul's knee. Its working.

The Being Written
This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a small selection of players who have done very little to help themselves.

Remember Oliver Miller? I do, but only because Shaq is a glaring, constant reminder. He obviously didn't take any notes from Grant Hill during his 18 months in Phoenix.

LeBron James
He is doing exactly what everybody knows he is capable of, except he has to do it every moment of every game. How does this not help our view of him and shouldn't it be more about his teammates? Yes they are to blame for their disappearing act but consider this: if a home-schooled child never learns to read, is it his fault or his parents? LeBron is the parent in this case and his teammates are the illiterate children. Any sign of trouble and LeBron immediately takes over. He can't sit back idly while his teammates struggle through words like "rebound", "defense" or "make an open shot". Of course we enjoy watching him dominate and I can only image Mo Williams does too. He has just become to accustomed to it happening. Same for Side-Show Bob, Grand Theft West, Sheldon Williams's brother-in-law and ABC's in-studio analyst for the 2010-2011 season Mike Brown.

Andrei Kirilenko
A couple years ago, AK "threatened" to walk away from the NBA. Then someone must have told him how many Rubles equals one million Dollars. He had a mini-renaissance for about 3/4 of the season before returning to Siberia.

Joe Johnson
He must really be looking forward to that max contract with the Nets. He will then really see what its like when fans don't show up. He wil have to drop the "e" from Joe in order to fit in, but thats a small price to pay for the max contract badge of honor.