Saturday, January 31, 2009

regarding Morrissey's latest.

...and I thought "Half a Person" left me sexually confused.

Oh right, the new song. It's called "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris." The single drops 2/9/2009, but it's been streaming on Da Mozzer's MySpace for most of this month.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bruce Springsteen - 'Working on a Dream'

Ladies and gentleman, the Second Coming of Bruce Springsteen is about to end. Beginning with 2002’s The Rising, the Boss has had an excellent comeback run of political albums during the George W. Bush administration. The Rising helped heal America’s wounds post-9/11, while Devils & Dust, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, and Magic took the country’s government to task for its war profiteering abroad and ignorance towards mounting domestic issues. But with Bush out and Barack Obama in, Springsteen struggles to find relevance, or at least a solid collection of pop songs, on Working on a Dream, his 16th studio album. It’s by no means a bad album, but it is middling and uneven, much like Tunnel of Love, the last decent record Springsteen released before his ’90s creative dry spell.

The record tiresomely opens with “Outlaw Pete,” an eight-minute Western epic that’s aesthetically on par with Bob Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” just with way more overblown orchestral flourishes. That’s not the first song comparison that will come to listeners’ minds, though. Magic producer Brendan O’Brien returns to again burry Bruce’s simple songs in Phil Spector-ish layers of strings and back-up vocals, so I’m not sure who to blame for the background melody on “Outlaw Pete.” All I do know is that it cops a feel off of the first half of the melody to Kiss’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” It’s a minor detail – five notes – but it’s the sort of sudden jolt that derails the whole tune. Like a friend who uncharacteristically drops a racial slur, those five notes become more and more bizarre and grating with every listen (and give a little more credence to the accusation that Springsteen ripped off Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” for “Radio Nowhere”). Now, the song is already in a bad way for its nearly comical Western theme. I can’t comprehend why “Outlaw Pete” would bite “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” when it’s A) fairly well known, B) not particularly well liked, and C) freaking disco-metal. The song’s running length adds a third reason to press “skip” right after “play.”

Track two, “My Lucky Day,” makes “Outlaw Pete” seem like a misstep. It’s half as long and twice as catchy. The lyrics have a gambling theme going, but they’re vague enough that the tune could be about anything, a good night at Atlantic City or a love song to Barry Obama. Really, it’s not important to feel the words on this one too much. The beat is quick, the guitars are rocking, and Clarence Clemons swoops in with his trademark sax to ensure that “My Lucky Day” stands out as one of the best tracks on the record. Then “Working on a Dream” starts.

“Working on a Dream” has got to be the most lazily assembled Springsteen song ever. The guy used to cram his songs with description and frenetic rhyme schemes; here, he settles for repeating the song’s title for like two-thirds of its running time. That dream must really take some workin’. “Working on a Dream” is the second clunker on the album. “Queen of the Supermarket” adds a third thanks to tepid production, a stupid story, and the lamest use of “fuck” since The Ghost of Tom Joad’s “My Best Was Never Good Enough.” Profanity can emphasize emotions, but with Bruce it just feels like a crutch.

“What Love Can Do” evens the keel out, at least musically. The lyrics repeat the sex/religion duality used on Magic’s “I’ll Work For Your Love,” to less effect. It’s a watered down repeat, but it beats “Queen of the Supermarket.” After that, the record enters a mid-album malaise. O’Brien’s production ensures that the songs at least sound like Magic’s slick rock, but again, the melodies and words just aren’t quite there. O’Brien pulls back slightly on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” a subtle country track that would’ve fit in fine on the similarly stripped Devils & Dust. Love song “Life Itself” begins the record’s ascent back up. Bruce’s vocal take is restrained compared to the bravado of “Outlaw Pete;” it’s a refreshing moment of tranquility. Working on a Dream often struggles to find the Big Rock Statements© that came so easily on The Rising. But when Springsteen settles into pretty-sounding, quiet songs like “Life Itself,” he can actually be quite moving.

The somber double dose of “The Last Carnival,” a sequel to “Wild Billy's Circus Story” from The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, and “The Wrestler,” an ode to Mickey Rourke’s stripper-loving, heart attack-having character Randy the Ram from The Wrestler, close out the record. These later tracks' humility and better lyrics redeem Working on a Dream slightly, recalling the similarly somber Tunnel of Love. In a lot of ways, Working on a Dream and Tunnel of Love feel connected. Both work best at their quietest. Both follow uneven yet hugely successful rock records (Magic/Born in the U.S.A.). Both caught the artist in the middle of switching gears (Hating Bush/Hating Ronald Reagan). And both marked an end to Springsteen’s creative cycles (2009/1987, although I do want to state for the record that 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad wasn’t too bad). Unlike Working on a Dream, though, Tunnel of Love had the good sense not to rip off Kiss.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Franz Nicolay - 'Major General'

Ignoring the lyrics, Major General makes clear that multi-instrumentalist and mustache enthusiast Franz Nicolay has an awesome life. The music falls between his two loves, The Hold Steady and World/Inferno Friendship Society (with the shadow of Meat Loaf always hovering nearby). The recording was done with a slew of friends, including Dresden Doll Brian Viglione, W/IFS leader Jack Terricloth, and the members of Demander, another of Nicolay’s many bands. Oh, and the cover alludes to the guy’s very cool ‘stache. All of Major General’s peppy bar band tunes are catchy and fun.

But not all of Major General’s songs are peppy, which is where Nicolay violates the sacred rule of bar bandiosity: Don’t play slow, sad songs. For almost every romper stomper, there’s a somber, awkwardly worded reflective ballad. Nicolay’s songs work best when they’re pushed to the max, when the words are pushed forward forcefully without too much melodrama. Quick cuts like “Jeff Penalty” and “The World is an Open Door” are over the top and exhilarating, but slow jams like “World/Inferno Vs. the End of the Evening” and “Note on a Subway Wall” are merely over the top. They kill the record’s flow.

Major General is uneven; there’s no denying it. Still, though, when the record is in full swing, it’s every bit as catchy as Stay Positive, Bat out of Hell, or Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s schmaltzy and alive. Album opener “Jeff Penalty” has got to be the best tribute to a Dead Kennedys member not named Jello Biafra, if not the only one of its kind. The whole song is pushed so far that it constantly feels like it’s about to collapse. Nicolay crams as much scene description in as he can while drummer Sivan Harlap pounds out off-kilter beats. By the time everyone hits the chorus, it’s like the second before a building demolition.

Other stand-outs include “Hey Dad!,” which leans closer to the W/IFS punk cabaret style, and “Confessions of an Ineffective Casanova,” which boasts one of the album’s best/worst lines in “What do I know about love except love songs?” The song goes on to list every woman Nicolay’s been with (highlights include “a politician’s daughter” and “a cartoonist with a thing for knives”). It’s cry-in-your-beer-beautiful and awfully self-aware, taking the time to deconstruct some of Nicolay’s less-than-stellar sexual experiences.

Despite its many knockouts, though, Major General is going to be a hard-sell for new fans, as it’s kind of redundant stylistically. It’s got the ’70s kitsch of operatic classic rock like The Hold Steady, and a bit of World/Inferno Friendship Society’s chutzpah, but ultimately it doesn’t top those bands’ records. I find it hard to believe Craig Finn wouldn’t have been cool with working “Jeff Penalty” into the next Hold Steady LP. While Major General is a pleasant extension, it’s by no means a successful breakaway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Night Stand in North Dakota - 'Dworkin's Bastards'

Good things: British accents, Billy Bragg, protest music, treatin’ ladies decent, British accents, J.D. Salinger, punk rock, social commentary, a sense of humor, and British accents.

Things you’ll find on Dworkin’s Bastards by One Night Stand in North Dakota: Everything above, except, sadly, for good ol’ jokes. The acoustic duo of Daniel Ellis and Nathan Griffin has two modes, super serious and super anthemic. When the latter’s engaged, as on “We Definitely Didn’t Start the Fire” or “Good News Everyone, I’m Still Technically Alive,” ONSIND delivers full-force folk-punk rants, campfire-ready and informative to boot. Ellis and Griffin do a lot more than just strum a couple of chords; guitar leads pop up throughout the record, adding little flourishes here and there. Hooks crop up as well, like the gang vocals implemented for the phrase “One more meter of concrete / One more local shop closed down / No matter how much they change it / This is still our town” on “A Generous Exposition.” The tune ponders cities’ gentrification and homogenization , and like a way more liberal Schoolhouse Rock song, it teaches through music.

When the super serious mode kicks in, though, the band comes off a little too self-righteous. “If You Feel Attacked by Feminism, It’s Probably a Counter-Attack” discusses the disconnect between the self-image Western culture perpetuates about women and the way women actually are, and it’s the sort of song I respect more than I like. It’s cool that someone wrote a song that actually talks stats (“The average British woman is a size 16, but the average British model is a 6… We’re drowning in the Beauty Myth”) But while it drops some much needed truth bombs, it also contains an unwieldy lyrical flow. The instrumentation doesn’t do anything remarkable until the ominous, tense outro. Still informative, just not as memorable.

Sometimes the song’s plots overwhelm and dampen the music. “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” is arguably one of the catchiest tracks on Dworkin’s Bastards, but man is it a stupid song. The main character, Gretchen, pulls a Squeaky Fromme by pointing a gun without any bullets in the chamber at a politician. Oddly, in gun-toting America Squeaky was arrested and sent to prison. In the U.K., however, Gretchen eats lead. Turns out she sacrificed herself to get a note read on the news about how society holds us all down. The note itself is kind of catchy; the steps this Catcher in the Rye enthusiast took to get it on the air are kind of juvenile. But while “Daughter” is the Sorrows of Young Werther of folk-punk songs – romantically suicidal to the point of idiocy – it’s goes out on a rousing note.

Dworkin’s Bastards is a mixed bag; plenty of people will think the record is obnoxiously intense about politics. Some might get turned off by the occasionally shrill vocals, or the lack of drums, or the number of song titles that reference Billy Joel (“We Definitely Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Scenes From a Shit Restaurant”). But set aside the fact that Dworkin’s Bastards isn’t a pop record and one just might notice how honest and furious the thing sounds. One Night Stand in North Dakota probably won’t get mainstream recognition, but that’s the culture the band is fighting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

regarding Barack Obama.

I've got CNN on mute and Rock Against Bush Volume 2 on the stereo. It's still somewhat hard to believe that this day ever came. We finally have our first half-white president; but more importantly, I finally have a president I believe in. He's the first presidential candidate I've voted for that actually won.

I've been watching the coverage on and off. I loved Barack Obama's speech. I even loved that he flubbed his inaugaration oath. I love that, for all of his campaign promises about hope and change, Obama is being a realist about the work ahead. He knows that he could easily become another Jimmy Carter - an idealist overcome by his nation's bad economy and restraint - but he's not going to go that route easily.

But while I'm relieved to see this transition of power go smoothly, there's a part of me that also feels disappointed. Obama's "team of rivals" approach to building his cabinet leaves me wary. Mostly, though, I think I'm just bitter that George W. Bush got away. I want him brought up on war crimes. I want him incarcerated. Until then, I'll always have satire and rock albums.

Records I'm spinning today to celebrate Barack Obama's new presidency:
-Against Me! - Searching For a Former Clarity [for Condoleeeeeeeeezzzaaaaa]
-Face to Face - Face to Face [for reminding me that "everyone can't be right / but everyone will decide" in 2004. I did not lie down. I did not walk away]
Green Day - American Idiot [C'monnnnn]
-Bruce Springsteen - The Rising [here's your hope]
-Various Artists - Music for America and present Future Soundtrack for America
Various Artists - Rock Against Bush Volumes 1 & 2

ALSO, if you want one of those Obama/Bowie shirts above, e-mail James Heimer at $15 per.

Finally, please enjoy this modest gift of a YouTube clip. Expect more music-y posts tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

regarding Neko Case's new single

Neko Case, she of fox confessin' and new pornographin' fame, released a new ditty entitled "People Got a Lot of Nerve" for free on these very Internets. It's the lead single from her upcoming new album, Middle Cyclone, due March 3. If you like things that are pretty, shimmerin', country-tastic, and totally cool, check it out.

BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE FOR YOUR FACE: Neko and her label, ANTI-, are using the song to promote the Best Friends Animal Society. Now through Feb. 3, ANTI- will donate $5 for every blog post and $1 for every iLike that adds this song. Be sure to e-mail to confirm your posts. So, here is a super easy way to save the cute woodland creature of our planet: ROCK!

People Got A Lotta Nerve - Neko Case

If yer still not sold, here's a blurb from ANTI-:

"Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009, Best Friends Animal Society is one of America’s foremost animal rescue organizations. Founded in 1984, Best Friends advances nationwide animal welfare initiatives by working with shelter and rescue groups around the country. On any given day Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest facility for abused, abandoned and special needs companion animals located in southwestern Utah, is home to approximately 2,000 dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, and other animals. The society also publishes Best Friends magazine, the nation’s largest general interest, pet-related magazine with approximately 300,000 subscribers. For more information, visit"


Philip Norman - 'John Lennon: The Life'

John Lennon was a dick.

That’s pretty much what I learned from Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life, so it’s not surprising that Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, didn’t endorse the book’s release, claiming that Norman was “mean to John” (p.820). While Ono, and many of Lennon’s comrades, claim that he was a humorous, loving, charming fellow, there’s also no denying that the man was a chauvinist, a sex fiend, a drug addict, a dubious friend, and an even worse father as far as son Julian and stepdaughter Kyoko are concerned (Fact: Lennon once almost killed them both in a car accident because he refused to do anything to fix his eyesight).

Further dampening the read is Norman’s style – lavishly, obnoxiously approving of the slightest details of Lennon’s life yet brief and even dismissive of certain artistic triumphs. “Imagine” gets blown off as “hackneyed and can hardly be called alluring,” with its lyrics labeled as “nowhere near the standard he reached in, say, ‘Norwegian Wood’” (p. 673). Meanwhile, like half of a chapter (“Shortsighted John Wimple Lennon”) gets dedicated to Lennon’s voracious childhood appetite for masturbation. In fact, Lennon and his best friend at the time, Pete Shotton, “wanked together as an act of… rebellion and defiance and mutual showing off” (p. 73). Norman’s admiration for Lennon’s sexual capacity is deeply weird.

Indeed, as an historical analyst, Norman often veers of course. He gets some obvious points right (Dude demoed “Norwegian Wood,” a song about his infidelities, for his first wife, Cynthia, which is fucked up), but his take on “Working Class Hero” comes off sounding like a freshmen English major’s earliest attempts at a college writing seminar. Sometimes, the book feels very much like it does not need to be 800+ pages.

But as an historian, Norman is awfully thorough. Yoko might hate the book for hurting John’s legacy, but she could never claim that The Life is libelous. This book is an exhaustive study of the ex-Beatle’s many faults and blessings. If readers can bypass the over-the-top prose and focus on the research, they will find a Lennon bio that cuts through Beatles mythology in search of truth. On that level, The Life is revelatory.

Given that he’s one of the most renowned and prolific songwriters of the 20th century, it’s funny how John barely figures into The Life’s first 50 pages or so. The book actually begins with the working class hero’s grandfather, also named John, an Irish musician who took part in the “first transatlantic popular music industry” (p. 4) during the late 1800s. Then the book moves to John’s parents, Alf Lennon and Julia Stanley. From there, Norman exhaustively covers John’s difficult childhood, The Quarrymen, the Hamburg years, conquering America, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Instant Karma,” heroin, Sean Lennon, the Black Panthers, marijuana, Rock and Roll, New York City, and John’s eventual assassin, Mark David Chapman.

Again, John Lennon – The Life is a difficult, uneven (and poorly copy edited) read. The musical criticism isn’t too abundant or informative, especially during the post-Beatles years. At the same time, though, it’s not like readers need Norman to validate the significance of “She Loves You.” The flavor’s not quite right, but the facts are indisputable. The Life is a staggering collection of anecdotes, interviews, and inferences, detailing John Lennon’s life as completely as any of us can post-1980.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

regarding my trip to Canada.

[So, uh, I went to Canada last week to visit my special lady friend's family. Just got back yesterday. Here's a journal I kept in my Terrel Davis spiral notebook. Expect me to step up mah reviews in due time.]

Night before:

"Johnny plays sitar and he's an existentialist." This collection of early David Bowie singles is obnoxious. Time to watch more episodes of How I Met Your Mother and hope for sleep...

Thundercats is way better than most '80s cartoons from my youth, yet still very terrible. Joe Jackson's Beat Crazy is kinda good, except when it drops the n-word... A LOT.

The car is overloaded... danger at every turn. Two feet of snow in Ontario.

Readin' Philip Norman's John Lennon - The Life. It tries to too hard to validate every shit Lennon took while glossing over some of his greatest artistic achievements. Excellent historical record, though [Expect a review around these parts... eventually].

Here is a complete list of the records I listened to on this trip:

-Tori Amos - from the choir girl hotel
-The Arcade Fire - Funeral [IN CANADA THIS IS CONSIDERED CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE. Also, my word, I forgot how perfect this record sounds!]
-The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night
-The Beatles - Help
-The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
The Beatles - Revolver
-The Beatles - Rubber Soul
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
-The Beatles - Something New
Big D and The Kids Table - "Halfway Home" [In honor of Cicero, New York, the alleged midpoint between Bowmanville, Ontario and Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.]
The Bird & The Bee - The Bird & The Bee
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
-David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
-John Lennon - Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon
John Lennon - "Real Love"
-Mirah - You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This ["I'll have eyes / That have seen the wilds of Pennsylvania / in the winter time" and such.]
-Portugal. The Man - Censored Colors
-The Raveonettes - Beauty Dies
-The Raveonettes - "Merry Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
-The Raveonettes - Sometimes They Drop By
Silversun Pickups - Carnavas
The Smashing Pumpkins - Pisces Iscariot
-Various Artists - Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur
-The Wrens - Secaucus

-Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros - Let's Rock Again! [Incredible documentary of The Mescaleros on the road circa Global a-Go-Go. It's suffocatingly sentimental like The Future is Unwritten, showing Strummer in some desperate bids to promote the record. He crashes boardwalks and radio stations to sell his Atlantic City show as if he wasn't ever in The Clash. Astoundingly, a lot of people act the same way. Great concert footage too. My iPod's battery died 1:30 away from the ending]
-Network [Or, at the first 10 minutes...]

The drive:
Mr. Muir's pants fell down when he got out to get gas in Cicero. That was weird.

The Muirs go to the same Cracker Barrel every time they go to Canada because it's the midway point between Bowmanville and Blue Bell. The food's actually kind of good. Deliciously buttery, which will prolly kill me. [Note: We ate there again on the way home, at which point I purchased a best of from The Coasters, entirely because they had a song called "The Shadow Knows."]

Played a lot of music trivia with Michelle on her iPod.

Phrases that should be song titles:
1. "You Dare to Mock Mum-ra?!"
2. "Put This Blade in Your Razor!"
3. "He's a Dweeb! He's a Nerd! He's a Socialist!"
4. "Owa-owa-owa-Oshawa"
5. "The Shadow Knows" [OH WAIT IT IS A SONG YES!]

Saw Shawn [NOTE: this is my special lady friend's older brother] & co. Ashley is still eerily excited to see us. Michael is still an eccentric hellion that doesn't know my name. Tonight, I am "This Boy." Melodie is in a pretty good mood; we collectively discuss movis and how screwed up America's health care system and economy have become.

Then we went to the hotel. After trying two ATMs, I am finally able to withdraw $40 Canadian. Our first night in Canada and we didn't got a Tim Horton's.

Canada has mall goths.

Michelle's Aunt Darlene and Uncle Ken drove up from Niagara for the night. They're wacky; it's great. Ken and Mr. Muir take turns antagonizing our waitress at Outback Steakhouse. Also great.

Michelle's got a fever, so I spend the night with her at the hotel while the rest of her family goes to see Shawn and the kids. We watch a documentary about the Nazi's attempts to conquer a subterranean race of super-beings during World War II.

Finally went to a Tim Horton's. Shit was illin'. Michelle and I babysat the youngins while the big kids went out to dinner with one of Mr. Muir's old friends. Looking at baby Mathew, I though, "Yeah, I could have kids." Then Mattie Boom-battie flipped shit, Michael threw a fit over going to bed, and the Chinese food we ordered sucked. Canadians are way too in to fried food (hypocrisy from an American, prehaps?). I totally see the appeal in raw veganism right now. The night was exhausting but rewarding. The kids are alright, and Ashley lets me play as much Mario Kart Wii as I wanted. Then we went home, pigged out on hippie food from Trader Joe's (dried snap pea taste like baked chicken skin and French rub. Discuss), and watching Saturday Night Live and Tank Girl.

Played more Wii with the kids, plus indoor basketball. Back home, Michelle's car imploded.

Got-damn, Canadian water tastes weird.

Michelle gets a bit funny in the head when she listens to Kimya Dawson. The photo to the right isn't quite it.

Mr. and Mrs. Muir put on some Celine Dion bullshit on the drive home, but Michelle and I perk up for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Michelle can pretty much quote the whole play.

Border patrol almost didn't let Michelle back into the U.S. because of her numerous aliases. It was funny.

I bought my parents a bottle of Canadian chardenet with Canadian currency. I am an international businessman. I resisted picking up chocolate in a stupid attempt to be healthy. I caved and purchased an Aero bar, though. It's a chocolate bar filled filled with air bubbles. Take that as you will. Michelle wants everyone to know that she is eating a Luna bar.

Now she's done.

Eric, Erin, and Sam Fran all texted me "Ace of spades!" at the same time Friday night. Man do I wish I could've come out for the Collegian alumni drankin' social. That being said, I'm so glad I took a break from my stupid job to act like a jackass with Michelle's neice and nephew. Very rewarding.

Then I came home and found a bunch of records on my bed!

...I miss The Ergs!...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gatorface - 'Sick and Stupid'

Things Gatorface Taught Me

1. Like my gran-pappy used to say (or was it Mike Park?), mail order is still fun.

Thanks to a sampler that No Idea Records included with a previous purchase, I got turned on to Gatorface. Along with Virgins, Gatorface is a spin-off from the former Floridian hardcore group New Mexican Disaster Squad by ex-members Alex Goldfarb and Richard Minino. Intrigued by what No Idea sent me, I opted to order the group’s debut EP, Sick and Stupid. Vinyl-only, my baby came on translucent gold wax, one-sided, with a nifty etching of a needle injecting a tentacle during a thunderstorm. It’s very Lovecraftian.

2. If all else fails, you can always play pop punk.

The differences between New Mexican Disaster Squad and Gatorface are ultimately minimal. While NMDS might recall Strike Anywhere or Government Issue’s blistering yet snotty hardcore/punk, Gatorface skews ever so slightly towards punk of the pop variety. This is the sort of lifestyle change that will be a big deal to maybe 0.000001 percent of the world’s population at most. The rest of us can revel in how infectious Sick and Stupid sounds. It recalls Descendents, or maybe even Propagandhi circa How to Clean Everything.

3. Sick and Stupid is jawesome.

Offering six cuts (one of ‘em a DI cover!) in less than 13 minutes, Sick and Stupid blends early ’80s hardcore and early ’90s pop punk, with high quality results. The knock-out of the collection is “Kid in a Candy Store.” Fast drums and a quick guitar strum kick it off, but it’s when the whoas kick off in the pre-chorus that things start to tingle the spider sense. The song builds into this thrilling explosion of pop punk euphoria (in cut time!). Goldfarb sounds remarkably assured throughout, but he really cuts his teeth on the lines “It’s only time, before we end up like the others / The difference now is that the stakes have grown much higher.” Everything gets pounded out for a few bars before the rhythm section drops out. Even with just guitar and a few more whoas, the vocals still come off as anthemic.

“Kid in a Candy Store” follows the pop punk rule of vague lyrics, but listeners won’t be able to build their own meanings quite as easily with songs like “Flak Jacket.” Goldfarb takes to task Americans who, despite all evidence to the contrary, still support military involvement in the Middle East. At 83 seconds in length, the song cuts straight to the point – “Flak jacket / Would you wear it?”

Regardless of how much one likes to read into lyrics, though, there’s no denying Sick and Stupid’s delicious slabs o’ punk. It’s a catchy, rocking romp throughout, and since it’s one-sided, there’s no need to flip the record. Digital fans get some love courtesy of a download code. New Mexican Disaster Squad isn’t really dead; just call ‘em Gatorface now.

R.I.P. Ron Asheton

Stooges guitarist (and occasional bassist) Ron Asheton, age 60, was found dead in his home, according to the Detroit Free Press. I'll skip the eulogy and just tell you to go buy Fun House instead.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

regarding music in 2008.

2008 has been a hurricane of emotions, man. The Ergs!, Shorebirds, and uh, Hootie & The Blowfish broke up. Nakatomi Plaza is in the process of disbanding. Foo Fighters went on hiatus. Nine Inch Nails followed up last year’s Year Zero, my favorite NIN album yet, with two really uneven records. Deftones suffered a huge tragedy when bassist Chi Cheng was in a car accident. As of this writing, he’s still in a coma. And mainstream music continues to get shittier. Throw in some personal problems that I won’t bother you with, and it’s been a rough year.

But Blake Schwarzenbach is making music again with Thorns of Life. Some of my favorite bands released top notch records this year. Thursday, New Found Glory, and H2O all bounced back from the major label death machine. And, this site you’re reading, asked me to become a staff member back in April. I’ve been reading the Org since high school, and it’s been a mighty source of information. To finally give back to one of my favorite music sites is a dream realized, even if like half of my reviews are about shitty screamo bands.

As for my country, 2008 was a mixed bag still. I did not work a single day of retail this year (yes!!). My preferred presidential candidate (after Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel anyway) won the general election, which is good. But the American economy is in the pooper. We still haven’t gotten off of fossil fuels, even though they’re killing our planet. We still haven’t legalized gay marriage, even though it would help the economy and, honestly, it really isn’t that big of a hurtle. We still haven’t pulled out of the Middle East, even though our armed forces are useless without a clear political strategy. And while we’re at it, why the hell was Twilight so popular?

But hey, The Dark Knight was pretty sweet, right?

New Year's Resolutions

1. Quit drinking for a year… starting after my birthday.
2. Start a band.
3. Listen to The Hold Steady more.

Before I start celebrating the year, let's take the time to complain about some of the bad albums released in 2008, shall we? To be honest, only the top four of the albums hurt my heart and soul; the rest were just annoying to have to deal with.

Top 10 Most Disappointing Albums of 2008

10. Secondhand Serenade - A Twist in My Story

I try to avoid listing negative reviews for records I never had any hopes for, but Secondhand Serenade's sophomore album was just such a pain in the ass to put on. And I tried so hard to find something nice to say, to add balance to this review. But there was nothing, save for more anal leakage.

9. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

I spent too much time railing against Vampire Weekend this year to NOT include them here. Now here's the thing; Vampire Weekend is not a bad band. In fact, their self-titled debut is prolly the strongest album on this list. But it's just so predictable and vanilla and watered down, yet so massively acclaimed, that it became a record I began to hate more and more. Friends would back me into a corner over this record at parties, forcing me to come up with more and more vitriol to spew at an album that, at best, was just OK. 2009 is here now, though, and already the overhype behind Vampire Weekend is dying down. Now I can spin my Paul Simon and Talking Heads records in peace...

8. Joe Jackson - Rain

Ordell Robbie: "What the fuck happened to you, man? Shit, your ass used to be beautiful!"

7. Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch

Tom Petty decided to reunite his pre-Heartbreakers band this year and record a bunch of lackluster slumpers. And to think, these guys never took off in the '70s...

6. Alkaline Trio - Agony and Irony

The latest from Alkaline Trio actually sounds decent live, but there are so many layers of studio processing piled on to these recordings that they hardly feel like Alk3 tunes anymore. Go back to Asian Man and redo this, please.

5. The B-52's - Funplex

One of the best, quirkiest pop groups of yesteryear just stopped being fun one day.

4. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV

Trent Reznor spent 2008 shaking up the music industry with bold new business strategies for getting across the dullest music of his career.

3. Ben Folds - Way to Normal

Tuneless, directionless, and, ultimately, pointless, Way to Normal is an embarrassing misstep in Ben Folds' legacy. Dude was bleeding great pop songs just a few years ago on EPs and collaborations, and now I wish he had just saved 'em for this turdburger.

2. Shorebirds - It's Going to Get Ugly

I've been a pen pal and open lover with Shorebirds ever since they dropped their self-titled 7" last year. Every new 45 has been a sweet little surprise since then. Sadly, Shorebirds broke up not long after recording their full-length debut, and I really wish they'd called it quits before even that. Sure, It's Going to Get Ugly serves up the rapid fire punk rock I loved the band for, but so much of the albums seems rushed out, from the album cover to the recording quality. And the songs are just so... juvenile. A good chunk of the album concerns itself with Olympia scene politics and fighting squares and blah blah blah. I used to love Shorebirds for their insular business style. I liked the mail-order. I liked writing and receiving letters. I liked the lo-fi approach. But on It's Going to Get Ugly, that aesthetic collapses in on itself. What once was intimate and localized just seems small-minded and petty now.

1. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

It's odd that a record that seeks to honor the old rock 'n' roll style would end up igniting a debate usually reserved for hip-hop, namely, how much can you sample from other songs before you become a plagiarist? I was a huge fan of The '59 Sound when it first came out. The music is a riveting Born to Run blast of desperation and hope and sexual tension, complete with retro treble. It's all very dramatic. But as I learned more about the album in the weeks after its release, the more I realized how many lines frontman Brian Fallon cribbed from other artists. The Counting Crows rip on "High Lonesome" is pretty blatant, and I had a hard enough time ignoring it before I learned that one of my favorite lines from the album - "You got Monroe hips / And a young boy's pride," from "Film Noir" - was cribbed from a Tom Waits song. Now it's hard to love The '59 Sound, because I can't trust The Gaslight Anthem. You wanna write a song about Tom Petty ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues")? That's fine. But don't steal his music and then not give him proper credit. Yeah, The '59 Sound is a pretty rocking record, but that's because it steals from all the greats.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I promise the rest of this post will be blindingly positive. BEHOLD!

Top 10 Honorable Mentions

1. Bloc Party - Intimacy
2. The Ergs! - Hind Sight is 20/20 My Friend
3. Hot Water Music - Til the Wheels Fall Off
4. Have Heart - Songs to Scream at the Sun
6. Lemuria - The First Collection
6. The Loved Ones - Build & Burn
7. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
8. Rancid - B Sides and C Sides
10. Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue

Looking at the honorable mentions, it sure seems like 2008 was a good year for nostalgia, thanks to great rarities compilations from Rancid, Hot Water Music, The Ergs!, and Lemuria (which is to say nothing of all the time I spent listening to David Bowie and John Lennon this year...). Throw in the re-release of Pacific Ocean Blue by deceased Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson while you're at it. Dennis could be just as stunning as his brother Brian, though he tended to focus his hooks in the instruments instead of the vocals. Just a great, breezy '70s rock record. The second disc, featuring the previously unreleased follow-up Bambu, is also top-notch. As far as underrated Beach Boys albums go, I definitely prefer this one to Smile. A lot of the new releases on here managed to not embarrass the band's previous work, like on Bloc Party's Intimacy. It doesn't tarnish my memories of Silent Alarm, but it does get the bad taste of A Weekend in the City out of my mouth via bombastic beats and the occasionally searing guitar line. Same goes for Consolers of the Lonely and Build & Burn... they're not bad, but not quite great. Have Heart's Songs to Scream at the Sun, however, is just a pretty great hardcore record. Call it my top 26th pick.

Now, on to the main course...

Top 25 Albums of 2008?!

#25.School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms
October 28 on Ghostly International

Ex-Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis met up with Alejandra and Claudia Deheza from On!Air!Library! and the trio decided, “Hey, we’re gonna make a great record that’s kinda psychedelic, but kinda shoegaze-y, but also kinda techno-y, and it’s gonna be great!” And I was all like, “I support your life decision.” Alpinisms is chock full of the Deheza sisters’ gorgeous harmonies that kids crave. It also offers some fantastic dance beats.

#24.Portishead - Third
April 28 on Island

Portishead returned in a big way after 11 years of silence with Third. Admittedly, I’ve never been too keen on trip-hop. The style just seems too novelty-laden to me, much to my girlfriend’s chagrin. But Third completely changed my mind about Portishead, as it dropped the hip-hop influence altogether to forge something different. There’s still sadness to spare, but the band’s decision to avoid sampling and manually create all of the record’s sounds lends an otherworldly quality to vocalist Beth Gibbons’ dark lyrics. It’s all spare chords and reverb and atmosphere.

#23.Portugal. The Man - Censored Colors
September 16 on Equal Vision

My God what a perfect winter record. Censored Colors is such a radical departure from Portugal. The Man’s last album, Church Mouth. Where that album was a red hot prog-rock record bordering on funky, Censored Colors is an insular, mostly acoustic, low key collection. The band is less driven by instrumental fireworks this time out, pushing the vocal arrangements to a new high instead. It’s such a weirdly moving piece, existing somewhere between Rubber Soul and Wish You Were Here.

#22.Ladytron - Velocifero
June 2 on Nettwerk

Ladytron took a step back from the vamped-up goth pop of their last album, Witching Hour, to turn in the slightly more haunting, slightly less dynamic electropop record Velocifero. The whole thing kind of sounds like a throwback to 604, which is fine by me. Lead single “Ghosts” has a pseudo-glam rock stomp a la Goldfrapp, albeit channeled through Ladytron’s cooler demeanor. It’s a pretty chill record coming off of Witching Hour, but it’s definitely something worth spinning during one’s downtime.

March 11 on Velour Records

Dreaming of Revenge continues the soft, ethereal turn Kaki King took on 2006’s …Until We Felt Red, although the occasional classic rock guitar tone creeps up here and there. Also like on …Until We Felt Red, King sings on a few cuts on this mellow effort, and her gentle voice matches the compositions well. Her writing has gotten a lot tighter, allowing for some solid potential pop singles. “Life Being What It Is,” and “Pull Me Out Alive” in particular, have catchy choruses and infectious atmosphere. They’re not quite shoegaze or new wave, but they’ll certainly appeal to fans of both genres.

#20.Cetus - These Things Take Time
April 29 on Five Point Records

After one nasty episode, I’ve sworn off reviewing my friends’ bands. It’s harder to be critical, and any critiques I do make generally get blown out of proportion. There's also that whole "conflict of interest" thing. I’m going to have to fudge that rule this year, though, because my pals in the metal/hardcore act Cetus dropped a full-length that grinds my bones, melts my face, and openly mocks my mother. Drummer Matt Buckley serves up double bass-laden machine gun beats at ludicrous speeds while dual guitarists Evan Williams and Matt Hollenberg lay down a thick buffet o’ riffs. Frontman and lyricist Erich Kriebel espouses on topics ranging from societal oppression to pooping, all with a scream that’s heavy yet intelligible. It’s clear Kriebel puts effort into his lyrics, and the fact that he takes the time to enunciate is greatly appreciated. So, here’s the full disclosure: My friends are really talented.

March 3, 2008 on ANTI-

While his guitar strum is a little mellower these days, Billy Bragg remains a brilliant, pointed lyricist, when he wants to be. “O Freedom” is easily one of his best political anthems in years, expertly summing up post-9/11 hysteria in just over four minutes. Oddly enough, though, it’s the “love” half of Mr. Love and Justice that sticks out more, hook-wise. Opening number “I Keep Faith” is a gentle, midtempo tune about fidelity, a topic that creeps up again on tracks like “I Almost Killed You” and “M for Me.” Mr. Love and Justice is a catchy lil think-piece for the politically adept.

#18.Bridge & Tunnel - East/West
September 1 on No Idea Records

While I never got to see Latterman live, I’ve caught drummer Pat Schramm’s new band Bridge & Tunnel a few times, and I like to think the passion is comparable. Guitarist Rachel Rubino and bassist Tia Meilinger always look so ecstatic to be making music, while frontman Jeff Cunningham fulfills the role of the fearless leader. As for Schramm, he bangs the drums hard, which is always a plus. Together, B&T takes on some weighty topics – consumerism and imperialism – while building a sense of community with listeners.

#17.Anti-Flag - The Bright Lights of America
April 1 on RCA

Anti-Flag might be from the majorly uncool side of the commonwealth, but at least they turn out top-notch punk jams. The Bright Lights of America expands on the band’s sound by adding just about every instrument ever. “Good and Ready” is flush with bells, strings, and a freaking children’s choir. It’s like a Menzingers/Beach Boys mash-up. “Tar and Sagebrush” goes for a more stripped down approach, and a bluegrass vibe to boot. Frankly, either way works for me.

#16. Patti Smith and Kevin Shields - The Coral Sea
July 11 on PASK

Bless these two music legends for hooking up. This live double set collects two presentations of Patti Smith’s epic poem and commemoration of her late friend, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and his quest to see the Southern Cross constellation before he dies. Smith’s poetry lives and dies with her every breath. One moment, her reading is direct and mechanical, but outbursts of burning emotional anguish erupt throughout. It’s painful yet moving. My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields improvises guitar parts for both shows, adding texture. Shields brings that swirling, otherworldly guitar tone MBV fans love, reacting to and enhancing Smith’s speech patterns. The Coral Sea is arguably the most difficult record on this list, but its analysis of the human spirit is breathtaking and mind-bending.

#15.Nada Surf - Lucky
February 5 on Barsuk

Nada Surf 2.0 has been steadily turning out airy indie rock for years now, but Lucky is such a thrillingly reliable record that any accusations of uninspired songwriting seem beside the point. From “See These Bones” to “The Film Did Not Go ’Round,” Lucky is catchy and pleasant. It doesn’t improve on the formula from the band’s well-regarded Let Go album, but it does propagate its virtues: Solid pop musicianship and heartfelt lyrics go a long way.

May 13 on Thirty Ghosts

Between 4:13 Dream, Secret Machines, and The Mammoth, 2008 was a nifty year for spacey rock arrangements. The Mammoth was a pleasant surprise hit for me, boasting propulsive yet ethereal tracks one after another. Striking a sonic pose somewhere between Pink Floyd and Mogwai, the record manages to sound epic without being self-indulgent. The songs feel tight yet wholly natural; open yet not spread out the point of redundancy.

#13.M83 - Saturdays = Youth
April 14 on Mute

Things Saturdays = Youth remind me of:

Mew’s dreamy yet propulsive brand o’ rock. Pretty in Pink. Grave rubbings. Rain. Angst. Cocteau Twins swirling and churning and bubbling. Living in my car. Sleeping. Listening to “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths on repeat when I was 17. And uh… keyboards, I suppose. “Kim & Jessie” is the hit, but “Graveyard Girl” is the secret success.

October 28 on Geffen

Even a merely solid Cure album is better than most. Like Nada Surf’s Lucky, 4:13 Dream is a dependable record. It doesn’t surprise me much, but it guarantees a strong balance between infectious pop songs like “The Only One” and “The Hungry Ghost” and more drawn-out rockers like “The Scream” and “It’s Over.” After the forced-sounding The Cure in 2004, it appears that Robert Smith and his bandmates have settled into a nice songwriting groove. While it’s not as giddy as Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me or as dissonant as Pornograhy, 4:13 Dream is an airy, pleasant collection that succeeds at reminding us why sad people like The Cure so dang much.

#11.Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
May 13 on Atlantic

After Plans’ soft indie pop leanings, Death Cab for Cutie opted to flex a few muscles for major label release #2, Narrow Stairs. The record doesn’t fully hit its catchy, rocking stride until track three, “No Sunlight,” but the warm-up to that point is mighty fine too. The second track and lead single, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” feels out a groove – four minutes of it – before it gets to the actual song. Plans was a focused collection of love songs, and that’s cool, but Narrow Stairs explores so much more room without sacrificing memorable hooks. I wish all indie rock bands could have half the successful streak of albums ol’ Death Cab has going.

March 10 on Domino Records

Up until now, I’ve been a Kills fan because I loved Allison Mosshart’s former band, the pop punk outfit Discount. With this year’s Midnight Boom, however, the band finally dropped its PJ Harvey blues rock imitations for something quite different. The Kills dramatically altered their garage band sound, programming beats based off of schoolyard chants and telephone dial tones. Hand claps and dial tones abound, resulting in a record that sits at a variety of lunch tables: It’s bluesy yet electronic, dark yet poppy. The whole dang album is stuffed with hooks – cuts like “M.E.X.I.C.O.C.U.”, “What New York Used to Be,” and “U.R.A. Fever” are relentless dance rock gems.

#9.The Secret Machines - Secret Machines
October 14 on TSM Recordings

Normally, when bands splinter into factions, the results are questionable (Mars Volta + Sparta <>Secret Machines, I’m not going to press the issue too hard. This, the band’s third full-length, further mines the expansive stoned out prog-rock they’re known for. But there’s so much more added to color that style – hints of glam rock and new wave abound – resulting in an ambitious, moody record stuffed with ambient melodies and John Bonham beats.

#8.Static Radio NJ - An Evening of Bad Decisions...
September 9 on Black Numbers

Ya know what, it’s been like a year since the last Lifetime record. I could really use a shot of New Jersey melodic hardcore/pop punk. Oh hey, members of the up and coming New Jersey melodic hardcore/pop punk group Static Radio NJ. Whatcha doin’?

“Oh, you know, just bein’ awesome. Getting’ ready to tour Europe. Writin’ catchy songs that are shorter, louder, and faster.”

Oh, you mean like Kid Dynamite?

“Yeah, you could say that. Hey, you wanna get some taquitos from Trader Joe’s and watch Big Trouble in Little China?”

Boy would I!

#7.Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
April 22 on Sub Pop

For a joke band, Flight of the Conchords sure do write awfully great songs. Their self-titled U.S. debut boasts a variety of styles, from French discothèque pop on “Foux Du Fafa” to socially conscious Marvin Gaye-style R&B on “Think About It.” The music is smooth and catchy, expertly crafted so as to elevate it above novelty. The band has complained in the past that fans have started singing along instead of laughing at these joke-songs live, but the duo has only itself to blame for cranking out such infectious numbers. I mean, have you heard “Bowie?” It covers spacey hippie Bowie, glam rock Bowie and Let’s Dance Bowie perfectly. It has lines like “How far out are you, man?” “I’m pretty far out.” “That’s pretty far out, man!” So good.

February 19 on Jade Tree

Where CVA was a quick and hook-filled hardcore jam – thanks to co-vocalist and Loved Ones frontman Dave Hause – and Paradise snapped ligaments like Slim Jims, New Lexicon aims for a more atmospheric vibe. That doesn’t mean the disc grinds less – it’s still a stool-kicker. However, the band tempers down the blistering bits with instrumental compositions by co-producer Oktopus from alt-rap group Dälek. For the most part, it works. Unlike, say, The Mars Volta circa Frances the Mute, Oktopus’ ambient pieces never overwhelm the rock. Rather, they enhance it by adding a basis for comparison. Punk and hip-hop were born in the same urban settings; it’s nice to hear a band try to glean something new from the two.

#5.The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
July 15 on Vagrant

Looking back on 2008, I find that my favorite albums were a lil stylistically conservative. A lot of these albums were either holding patterns or slight tweakings. And yet, I don’t feel one bit let down by 2008, because these bands all developed sounds that work, clam flammit. So while the differences between The Hold Steady’s earliest and latest records may due more to recording budgets than songwriting sessions, there’s little to hate about the result. Stay Positive will likely garner whatever Bruce Springsteen comparisons that The Gaslight Anthem didn’t already call dibs on this year, but listening to Stay Positive, I hear so much more history than that. Sure, frontman Craig Finn covers old E Street topics like women, small town desperation, and the occasional road trip, but his lyrical rhymes bear a playfulness more akin to Joe Strummer’s work. Delivered with Elvis Costello’s voice and Thin Lizzy’s guitars, The Hold Steady drills for everything great about ’70s rock and cuts through all the bullshit excess. Cuts like “Constructive Summer” and “Stay Positive” give me reasons to wake up for work, if only because they guarantee a good morning commute.

March 4 on SideOneDummy

Flogging Molly’s sound is easy to generalize – Irish-y, like The Pogues – but the intricacies that separate each of the band’s albums are numerous. Their latest effort, Float, is neck-and-neck with Swagger for being the best Flogging Molly album. Swagger sounds raw and unbridled, thanks to Steve Albini’s production and Dennis Casey’s searing guitar. Plus, it’s Flogging Molly’s studio debut, so it has the advantage of being first. But Float might be the album that better represents Flogging Molly’s musical background as a whole. While its guitar and drum sounds aren’t as thunderous, Float offers 11 infectious Celtic folk ditties. The concept of the band has always been based on that style, and it’s shown in its purest form here. The punk influences are gone on this outing, leaving one of the flat-out best Celtic albums of the last eleventy billion years.

March 24 on Geffen

“This is a list of what I should’ve been but I’m not” goes the first line of the chorus to “Cowboys,” one of 14 songs on Counting Crows’ Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. It’s been nearly six years since the group’s last album, the somewhat directionless Hard Candy, and this line and its accompanying music are important because they assert the following: Frontman Adam Duritz is still really good at writing really depressing songs, Counting Crows are a great American rock band even though everyone thinks they’re sad bastards, and Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings is much better than a lot of people will probably give it credit for. Hearkening back to the band’s best effort, Recovering the Satellites, Counting Crows once again dig deep and find a concept album about drinking, alienation, and sloppy make-outs (and “streetwalkin’,” if you’ve heard the goofy “Los Angeles”).

#2.Less Than Jake - GNV FLA
June 24 on Sleep It Off

“Surviving is my best revenge.”

2008 was unquestionably the shittiest summer I have ever faced. I kicked off the season by graduating from college and promptly losing all societal value. You know who wants to hire a guy with a BA in English? Call centers and the U.S. Army. About a month after my graduation, my cousin was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his leg. The cancer soon spread to his ribs and lungs. While my cousin was lucky to be diagnosed early, he still had a long road ahead of him, and we were all feeling pretty grim.

Two weeks later, GNV FLA came out. Like an old friend come to cheer me, the record offered me 14 ska-punk songs like the kind I used to find on Hello Rockview and Borders and Boundaries. Is GNV FLA a pandering retread after the utter failure that was In With the Out Crowd, Less Than Jake’s last album? I don’t care. This record enveloped me in its anthems while I dealt with losers, kings, and fucking medical diagnoses I didn’t understand. Taken solely as a lyrical reading, a song like “Abandon Ship” shouldn’t make me feel better – it’s about failing hard. But throw in a fast punk rock beat, horns, and a bitching guitar solo, and top it all off by singing those bitter words as loudly as possible, and it becomes an exorcism. My college pals and I are still struggling to find our footing, but at least my cuz is on the mend. As for Less Than Jake, well… thanks, guys. Months later, I still put this record on some nights and just drive around, singing.

February 19 on 4AD

On Heretic Pride, John Darnielle finally united the fury of his early work with the full studio/band experience of his more recent 4AD, and the result is pretty gosh dang awesome. Not only does the music feel as propulsive as those hissingly lo-fi days, but Darnielle has switched back to impersonal story telling after a two-album stint detailing life with, and the death of, his abusive stepfather on The Sunset Tree and Get Lonely. There’s so much to discuss about Heretic Pride, like the subtle wisps of Jamaican music in tunes like “New Zion” and “Sept 15, 1983,” or The Mountain Goats’ stance on sea monsters in “Tianchi Lake.” There’s the orchestral indie rock of “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” and “In the Craters on the Moon.” The best song, though, is the title track. “Heretic Pride” is of the “you better play this live for the rest of your career” caliber. A story about a heretic about to be executed for, ya know, heresy, the narrator finds joy in his situation, which leads to the best lines of the entire album – “I feel so proud to be alive / I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives.”

Darnielle is great at writing affirmations, and this song is one of them. “Heretic Pride” is just that – pride and ecstasy over never breaking under societal norms, always standing for what one believes in, even finding meaning in death. And that’s what being into punk rock has always meant to me.

This list has constantly been in flux. In fact, it’s only presented in this order because it’s due, not because it’s ready. But one thing will not change: Heretic Pride is my favorite album of 2008. Nothing tops the emotional resonance I feel from this record. Nor does anything else sound as catchy to me. Heretic Pride dropped in February, and I still spin it like it just came out. Nothing catches hold of my imagination so firmly.

Moving on...

Top 10 EPs of 2008

1. The Gaslight Anthem – Señor and The Queen
2. The Mountain Goats and Kaki King – The Black Pear Tree EP
3. The Measure [SA] – Songs About People... and Fruit N' Shit
4. The Mountain Goats – Satanic Messiah EP
5. The Percentages – No Pants O’Clock
6. Stay Sharp – Four Songs
7. Nate Adams – Useless Music for Useful People
8. New Found Glory – The Tip of the Iceberg EP
9. Fake Problems - Viking Wizard Eyes, Wizard Full of Lies
10. Debtor - Deliverance

While I have reservations about The Gaslight Anthem's sophomore full-length, I've found nothing to make me feel guilty about loving Señor and The Queen... yet. It's a concept EP about wooing, four songs, romantic and yearning. It rocks. In addition to Heretic Pride, The Mountain Goats dropped two great EPs this year. The Black Pear Tree EP, with Kaki King, is a subtle stunner about failed romance and video games. Love the dichotomy. Satantic Messiah EP is a throwback to John Darnielle's solo days, plus it big-ups Satan (Just like on "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton!"). A slew of local acts - Debtor, Stay Sharp, The Percentages (and their guitarist Nate Adams) - released great EPs as well. Rounding out the list is a trio of punk EPs - Fake Problems got more country rock, New Found Glory got more hardcore, and The Measure [SA] straight up got better. Songs About People... and Fruit 'N Shit is arguably the group's best release yet. I love their approach to releasing music; Historical Fiction aside, the group drops a 7" or 10" as soon as they've got enough high quality tunes. No point in trying to stuff a full-length with filler. In a world of Internet immediacy, The Measure [SA] gives listeners great pop punk songs as they're ready... and on vinyl, no less!

Top 10 Live Acts of 2008

1. The Cure
2. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
3. X
4. Smoke or Fire [2x]
5. Tom Gabel [2x w/ Against Me!, 1x solo]
6. The Mountain Goats [2x]
7. Kimya Dawson
8. The Secret Machines [2x]
9. The Eels
10. Ted Leo [2x]

The Cure were unquestionably the best band I saw this year, performing a perfect set list for almost three hours. Even Bloodflowers got some love live, much to my surprise, and the night also included a version of "Just Like Heaven" that sounded so beautiful that it made my girlfriend cry. I will always hold that moment with me. The Mountain Goats should be #2 for their brilliant set at the TLA with Kaki King back in November. Unfortunately, I also caught the band's set at the First Unitarian Church in March, which is when frontman John Darnielle had a mental breakdown, ended the show after a half-hour, and then canceled his tour. So yeah, gotta dock some points there.

Not that my show attendance was hurt too badly by John's health issues. I caught a stellar set from Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band over the summer at Hershey Park. The team busted out a lot of rarities and fan favorites. Bruce always interacts with his fans much more than any other stadium-touring act ever, which is incredible. I finally saw X this year, front and center at the TLA. Those Californian rockabilly punks can still crank out fury and desperation like any of us youngins. I hope they keep touring forever, 'cause I fully intend to see them again and again. Smoke or Fire has a well-earned spot on this list, if only because both of their sets were fraught with peril. I saw them get dicked over for time in February, and singer Joe McMahon deal with a sore throat (and a very drunk Gwomper) in October. Both sets were still pretty great, made all the better by the band's refusal to give up. This Sinking Ship came out in 2006; I'd say it's about time dudes dropped another record.

Tom Gabel gets a solo listing here because, while Against Me! are still pretty great live, it was his solo/acoustic set at the Barbary that was transcendent, rife with stories and surprises. And I bumrushed the stage and sang with him, which was awfully cool. Kimya Dawson, Ted Leo, and E. from The Eels are good storytellers too, not to mention top notch songwriters and performers. The Secret Machines, meanwhile, just sound really, really good when they crank out their special brand o' atmospheric rock and/or roll. New guitarist Phil Karnats is a godsend, as his mustache and string skills fit in perfectly with the band's live sound.

Top 5 Albums of 2007 That I Didn't Hear Until 2008

1. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works

2. The Menzingers - A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology
3. Siouxie Sioux - MantaRay
4. St. Vincent - Marry Me
5. We are the Union - Who We Are

This year's list is only a top 5 because, honestly, I spent more time in 2008 checking out older records (David Bowie, John Lennon, Ride) than hitting up 2007 for advice. In fact, Ire Works, MantaRay, and Marry Me were all on my radar in 2007; I just didn't get around to spinning 'em until after New Year's Eve. Ire Works is easily my favorite Dillinger Escape Plan record to date... it feels less concerned with jerking off to weird time signatures, at times whipping out glam rock-like verses. A few songs even remind me of Rocket From the Crypt. St. Vincent and Siouxie Sioux both surprised me with remarkably solid records. Marry Me is a charming indie pop affair, while MantaRay tweaks the Banshees formula a wee bit, to great success. The Menzingers were a legitimate surprise, though. I caught these folk-punk troubadors opening for Smoke or Fire and Fake Problems on Valentine's Day, and man am I glad I showed up early to review the show. I really, really want Menzingers to blow up, and if they can scrounge up a second top-notch LP, there's no doubt in my mind success will follow. As for We are the Union, well, Who We Are just so happens to be one of the better albums has sent me to review since I joined their staff in April. I opened that review with "Set Your Goals with horns." I still think that about sums 'em up.