Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh No

Remember when Ryan Adams used to write great music? Those were the days...

Weezer Team Up With Ryan Adams

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Likert Scale

The Austin City Limits with the Swell Season was on again this last weekend. During their set, they invited out celebrated Austinite Daniel Johnston to sing "Life In Vain" with them. I was taken back to when I saw Daniel Johnston perform for the first time, but this time I understood something new about him. One of the great things about his live performances is that there is an overwhelming sense of positive energy in the room. What this energy stems from is the collective support for him, the desire of everyone in the room for him to succeed. That is something we rarely experience. Even in the best concerts there seems to be a group of people who are upset, wishing they were else where, fault-finding, or looking to score. All of these produce some sort of negative vibe. The absence of that vibe is what made the Daniel Johnston show so unique and you could even feel that vibe on TV.

I wanted to try and work this into some post-NBA Finals angle where I talked about how unlikeable Kobe, Pau, Fisher and the rest of the Lakers are...but you already know that. Then I thought about mentioning the Jazz and how there are at least 3 stiff white guys that they like in the draft this year. Too easy. Maybe something about liking the Heat's chances to get Dwyane Wade a real teammate? I don't want to jinx it. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of things worth liking out there, but the Swell Season performance with Daniel Johnston has to be right at the top of that list.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Annual Report: 1989

And now for a year that I actually remember pretty well. One look at this list shows that things were shifting, broadening. There's mainstream rap, alt-rock, classic rock, top 40, industrial, the seeds of grunge, folk, metal, jamband. Even if some of the drum sounds are unforgivable, it was a good time to make music.

Full Moon Fever//Tom Petty
One thing we have to make clear here is Tom Petty's place at the table. For whatever reason, I don't feel like he gets his due for being a songwriter (and a hitmaker) on the level of the legends. And, friends, he is. This album is not my favorite TP album (might be 3rd?) and still is pure proof: listenable top-to-bottom with songs that jumped out at teeniebopper radio listeners ("Free Fallin'") and resonated with Johnny Cash ("I Won't Back Down"). The mix of hits and singalong anthems with songs that bring the sadness like "Face In The Crowd" and "Yer So Bad."Petty and Jeff Lynne were on fire between this record and...
Mystery Girl//Roy Orbison
Like A Prayer//Madonna
Rhythm Nation//Janet Jackson
Seeds Of Love//Tears For Fears

Disintegration//The Cure
Paul’s Boutique//Beastie Boys
Don't Tell A Soul//Replacements
Pretty Hate Machine//Nine Inch Nails
The birth of alt-rock? No, I know you want me to say it was Big Star or the 13th Floor Elevators or Velvet Underground. But this is when it broke through and even MTV had to pay attention. These (with the arguable exception of Bleach and Don't Tell A Soul) are seminal, career records for each band. The Beasties got serious(er). The Pixies put their flag in the ground. The Cure made the record that, 20 years later, they'd be asked to devote entire concerts to. And Trent Reznor brought industrial music to the masses.
New York//Lou Reed
Freedom//Neil Young
Two all-time legends dig in. I still remember listening to Lou Reed's "Dirty Boulevard" and knowing that it was something special and rawer than the rest of the produced stuff I was listening to in junior high. And as a Neil Young loyalist, I'm here to remind you that he destroyed in the 90s, starting with this album's bookending "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World." Oh how I love that man.
Spike//Elvis Costello
Flowers In The Dirt//Paul McCartney
My introduction to Elvis Costello, unlike many early adopters, was through his late-80s/early-90s work. And, to this day, it's my favorite era. My friend Matt and I wore out a taped-off-the-radio tape of "Veronica" while at basketball camp one summer. When I found out McCartney had co-written it, it seemed only natural, being a young Beatlephile as I was. Then, Matt's sister was dating a Macca fan, who turned us on to Flowers In The Dirt. A little uneven maybe, but it gave us "Figure of Eight" and most importantly the Costello co-written "My Brave Face." Such a great song.
Oranges & Lemons//XTC
Heart Shaped World//Chris Isaak
Margin Walker + 13 Songs//Fugazi
13 Songs. Where to start? Somehow it crept past my Classic/Modern Rock filter and landed a giant punk (postpunk? anti-BS?) haymaker in my ears. This album pushed me around, challenged me, and demanded I rethink what great music was. The fact that this could co-exist in the same year as Full Moon Fever and Like A Prayer makes me very happy.
Crossroads//Tracy Chapman
Indigo Girls//self-titled (both of these are still listenable. I will hold them up to any contemporary folk record)
Steady On//Shawn Colvin
Nick of Time//Bonnie Raitt
Flying Cowboys//Rickie Lee Jones (89 predated Lilith Fair by quite a bit, but was responsible for planting its seeds)

Oh Mercy//Bob Dylan
Dylan & The Dead
"Most Of The Time" and "What Was It You Wanted" are classics. Read the chapters about the making of Oh Mercy in Chronicles and you'll at least reconsider its place in history. As for Dylan & The Dead? Well, it's Dylan and the Grateful Dead, so if you were expecting smooth edges, you were disappointed.

Dr. Feelgood//Motley Crue
Shine//Mother Love Bone
Sonic Temple//The Cult
Louder Than Love//Soundgarden
Hard rock/heavy metal was in a time of transition, still on top of the heap, but about to be undercut by a little album by a band called Nirvana. These five records represent a stratification of hard rock in 1989. The Crue was pure L.A. hedonistic party metal. Aerosmith was the east coast version that had more songs your girlfriend liked. Mother Love Bone (not well known, I know) were a bridge between the grunge to come and metal as it was. If you listen to Andrew Wood on some songs, you might think it was Steven Tyler, except Wood's sexual metaphors were less lazy and pedestrian. Then there was The Cult, who never really fit into any of the cliques-- too new wave for hard rock in the mid-80s, too hard rock for alt-rock in the 90's. But the songs were good. And then Soundgarden, a metal band that went back to Sabbath School, loved odd time signatures, and twisted it all in their own way.
Mother’s Milk//Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Real Thing//Faith No More (and then two bands trying to fuse rock/funk/rap-- Fishbone's important Truth & Soul was a year earlier)

In Step- Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
Yellow Moon- Neville Bros
The Stone Roses// self-titled

Automatic//The Jesus And Mary Chain
Key Lime Pie//Camper Van Beethoven
Suck On This//Primus
Cosmic Thing//The B-52s
Blind Man's Zoo//10,000 Maniacs
Devil's Night Out//Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The next tier (not in quality, but commercial success) of alt-rock. A nice variety, you gotta admit. A fan favorite by JAMC (controversial at the time for its synthesized drums and bass), namedropped by the Death Cabs and Jimmy Eats of the next wave; a proper farewell for CVB that gave us the immortal "Pictures of Matchstick Men", a live debut from Primus who would weird their way into the top of alt-rock through the 90s and spawned a horde of Claypool clones (but nobody had the storytelling chops, much less the bass ones); a solid showing from 10,000 Maniacs with the hit "Trouble Me"; and a hardcore ska showing from Boston's own MMB. Like I said in the intro, don't knock 89's variety.
Big Daddy- John Mellencamp
Avalon Sunset- Van Morrison
Journeyman- Eric Clapton
Workmanlike efforts by Hall of Famers. Journeyman is too slick but had hits and the gem "Running On Faith." Big Daddy is decent but forgettable in light of what else JCM had done. And Avalon Sunset was touted as a VM's return to the muse, but resulted in us having to hear Rod Stewart slaughter "Have I Told You Lately." Ugh.

Brain Drain//Ramones (Dee Dee's last. Gave us "I Believe In Miracles", "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" and "Pet Semetary.")
Let Love Rule//Lenny Kravitz

Annual Report: 1967

When asked about the best year in music, 1967 is among the most popular responses. And it's no wonder with powerhouse, pantheon, test-of-time releases like:

(Now, I wasn't there. So I'm warily trusting a mix of Wikipedia, iTunes, and random other googling.)

The Beatles//Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
For a long time, this record was considered the gamebreaker, the most important album, the best album, the measuring stick. Then, fickle tides turned and journalists learned they'd sell more magazines and get more click-thrus if they went with something more controversial (less obvious) or unexpected. I'm not saying it's my favorite album (a distinction Charlie T outlined expertly in the previous post), but it's gotta be up there with the best. Especially in the historical (an artist no less than Jimi Hendrix was covering Sgt Pepper mere days after its release), break down the walls (a concept record that stretched the studio-as-instrument concept) context. And especially because it has the song "A Day In The Life" on it. And then consider that "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever"– both released as singles– could technically be on this record? Goodness gracious. Oh, and they also released Magical Mystery Tour this year.
Jimi Hendrix//Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love
Speaking of Jimi Hendrix and two-albums-in-one-year, this pair is ridiculous. And, no offense to Magical Mystery Tour, but it's no Axis: Bold As Love. Try "Little Wing" and "Castles Made of Sand" and "Spanish Castle Magic" and "Stone Free." That's insane. I don't think today's generation understands what we lost when we lost Hendrix. He showed more greatness in a few short years than the careers of most bands today combined. Pardon me while I go yell at the kids on the lawn.

Aretha Franklin//I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
Love//Forever Changes
Cream//Disraeli Gears
Big Brother & The Holding Company//s/t...janis...
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Miles Davis//Neferiti
Bob Dylan//John Wesley Harding
It gets lost in the shuffle of Insanely Great Dylan albums, but this is solid. And culturally relevant. Try these reviews on for size:
"For an album of this kind to be released amidst Sgt. Pepper, Their Satanic Majesties Request, After Bathing at Baxter's, somebody must have had a lot of confidence in what he was doing ... Dylan seems to feel no need to respond to the predominate [sic] trends in pop music at all. And he is the only major pop artist about whom this can be said." -Jon Landau//Crawdaddy

And it gave us "All Along The Watchtower" which was covered memorably (to the point of changing Dylan's view on the original) by- wait for it- Jimi Hendrix.
13th Floor Elevators//Easter Everywhere
"Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, a band out of Texas. They were basically the first psychedelic-rock band. 1965. And if you listen to old 13th Floor Elevators stuff—Roky Erickson especially, his voice—and then go back and listen to early Led Zeppelin, you know that Robert Plant absolutely copped everything from Roky Erickson. And it's amazing. And Roky Erickson is sitting in Austin, Texas; he's just there. And Robert Plant had a huge hit. It always goes back to those guys, you know? I love those fucking guys." -Johnny Depp//2005//Esquire Magazine
With Roky Erickson's deserved resurgence over the last couple years and triumphant album with Okervill River this year, we see once again that Johnny Depp was ahead of the curve. Robert Plant, you're on the clock.
debuts by The Doors and Grateful Dead
solid showings from Pink Floyd, The Who, The Small Faces, the Stones (a kind of pathetic reaction to Sgt. Pepper, but with some ok songs), Buffalo Springfield...

and that's ignoring albums by seminal artists I'm less familiar with like Wes Montgomery, BB King, Roy Orbison, Howlin' Wolf, and Coltrane.

The sheer volume of great music coming out of 1967 may not compare to that of other years, but the longstanding greatness does. We will find years with more great music, but will we find years with greater music?

The Best Versus The Favorite

Walk around Los Angeles over the weekend and you would find an inordinate amount of Kobe Bryant jerseys. Its obvious many of the people are wearing them in support of the Lakers playing in the Finals but what isn't so obvious is why they chose to wear Bryant's jersey over many other more likable Laker's jerseys. Magic, Worthy, Divac, West, Baylor, Van Exel, AC Green, Karl Malone, Mark Madsen, Irwin M Fletcher or even Kurt Rambis. I'd even settle for someone slicking their hair back with Riley Grease of donning some of Jack's amber tinted sunglasses. So why does the majority chose a Kobe jersey over anyone else? Its because he is the best. The debate about whether or not he is the best player in the league is still open, but he is clearly the best player on the Lakers even though he is the least likable. Pau-bacca gives him a run for his money at times, but those are few and far between.

Come with me for a moment as we shift away from the hardwood and put on the headphones. The reason I'd like to explore the topic of best vs favorite isn't another ridiculous Kobe Bryant debate. It has to do with music. Specifically Josh Ritter.

The best song on the newest Josh Ritter album, So Runs The World Away, is undoubtedly The Curse. The lyrics show an acute attention to detail and are constantly folding back on themselves making the song deep and rich. The waltz piano places the story in a time where people who fell in love had a penchant for dancing. The story is unique, unforgettable and timeless. Everything about the song elevates it above the other songs on the album. Yet its not my favorite song, and maybe not even top 3 on that album. (Lantern, Change of Time and Folk Bloodbath are its fiercest competition) So why don't I like the best song on the album? Its nothing personal nor is it a personality trait where I have the undying need to always dislike the best. The Curse just doesn't connect with me like the other aforementioned songs. I can clearly see why it is the best song, but that isn't enough for me. Just like knowing who the best player is doesn't make me join his leagues of fans.

I'm not comparing The Curse to Kobe Bryant. I would never do that to anyone or anything since Kobe has no equal when it comes to loathsomeness. But its an easy, relatable example and I had to tie this back into the NBA Finals somehow. We are a music/sports blog after all and have failed to mention even once that the Lakers and Celtics are playing for all the marbles.

The thing about wearing the best player's jersey or even rooting for the best player, is that often it is the easiest. Its the easiest jersey to find, you know more about that player than any other, you are force fed their highlight reels. This is not always the case with the best songs, unless you stick to top 40 radio. This is also not the case with The Curse. Nobody is making it any easier or harder to like it. It comes down to my own personal choice and preference. It comes down to me choosing my favorites instead of making the best a part of them, and not confusing them.

Clearly this is an issue throughout sports and music. Just look at all the people on the Rajon Rondo bandwagon now. Not that he hasn't had some great moments in the playoffs but are we really forgetting about Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Derek Fisher that quickly? (one of those is a joke...I'll let you decide) There is no way any of those guys no show in game 1 the way Rondo did. I do think Rondo was one of the funnest games in the NBA and i prefer watching him over a lot of those other guards, but in no way do I think he is the absolute best.

I'm going to start using the word favorite a little bit more and the word best a lot less, and I hope you do too.