Saturday, January 31, 2009
...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
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
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
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 Moveon.org 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. $15 per.
Finally, please enjoy this modest gift of a YouTube clip. Expect more music-y posts tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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 email@example.com to confirm your posts. So, here is a super easy way to save the cute woodland creature of our planet: ROCK!
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 www.bestfriends.org."
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
Indeed, as an historical analyst,
But as an historian,
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,
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
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
[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.]
"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...]
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!"
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!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
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
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.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
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 Punknews.org, 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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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
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
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 Punknews.org 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.