Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City"

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, much of the global population has left rural spaces for urban ones. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, "a whole shitload of people live in the City now." Of course, there are major differences between the City and the Country. Where the Country is full of self-reliant, weather-beaten figures who live off the fat of the land and generate home-spun wisdom like Creationism, the City is filled with "Street Smart" people who can't live without cell phones, public transportation, or Whole Foods supermarkets. These are not stereotypes, but unfalsifiable facts. Where the Country might get you eaten by bears if you're not careful, the City will literally eat you alive. If the City was a person, it would be a cannibal. The growling stomach of this metaphorical cannibal actually produces a soundtrack of city sounds: car horns, corkscrew gusts of wind winding their way through high-rise buildings, subway trains, bass-heavy music, jackhammers, and the intrusive voices of self-delusionally important people talking on their iPhones. But for the real City person, the ultimate soundtrack of the urban existence is the slow-burn saxophone solo. You City folk know EXACTLY what I'm talking about: When you're walking down a poorly lit street in a sketchy neighborhood, brooding and lost in thought, those pesky, puppy-dog sounds of the the slow-burn sax solo follow your every footstep until you step into Starbucks. It took nearly 150 years for a musical genius to put this urban reality into a brilliant pop song. We can thank Eagles veteran Glenn Frey for realizing this in his 1985 classic "You Belong to the City."

Glenn Frey, one of the tortured angels behind the 1970s supergroup the Eagles, proves his solo bona fides once again with "You Belong to the City," as truthful a song as has ever been composed. Completing the career trifecta begun by "The Heat is On" and "Smuggler's Blues," this track is his tour de force and a definitive moment in the history of song. Sure, it's not the first song to prominently feature a sexed-out saxophone lead. We must not forget another one of the 1980s' most fabulous songs, "Careless Whisper," by Wham. The lead that begins that sultry track, played by Steve Gregory, literalizes George Michael's poetry when he sings, "Guilty feet ain't got no rhythm." Truer words have not been spoken.

However, in "You Belong to the City," underrated saxophonist Bill Bergman takes the slow-burn saxophone lead into a whole other dimension of sheer awesomeness. Thanks to Frey's great skills as an arranger, the listener is initiated into this musical cityscape by Bergman's sax. The tone is sensuous yet menacing, approximating the film noir reality of city life, except now it's rendered in glorious Technicolor and stars Don Johnson. Then, brilliantly, Glenn Frey turns on the sweet sounds of the drum machine, which is perfectly timed to the speed of feet walking on city concrete, creating the perfect urban rhythm. I can't even begin to tell you how genius this is. Frey's voice, soothing as lotion, spins a seedy narrative about a man probably not unlike himself, unable to express himself in words--or not without double negatives--a wandering soul, "movin' through the crowd," an apparition, anonymous in the hustle and bustle of the city night. He lives "in a river of darkness / beneath the neon lights," while being "on the run." The only way for him to express himself is for saxophonist Bill Bergman to literally follow him around aimlessly as he broods about the city being "in [his] moves" and "in [his] blood." I think we all know exactly how he feels. After listening to this great cut, we all belong to the city, even if we literally live in vast wilds of Australia or in Wasilla, Alaska. It is exactly Glenn Frey's knack for generic melodrama and 80s music-by-numbers studio wizardry that makes "You Belong to the City" such a universal listening experience.

Here is the monumental video for this song:

Friday, December 17, 2010

PoMo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year: 5-1

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

At long last, here they are PoMo Jukebox and Friends' top 5 albums of 2010. You listened to them. You loved them. You voted for them. Now read about them one last time, and give them one last listen before tucking them away on your shelves and turning your attention to 2011.

Ah, but I kid 2010. One more time, this has been an outstanding year for music, and I look forward to seeing many of the albums on this list show up on decade lists in 2020. I hope you've enjoyed our trip down music's short-term memory lane. Next week we'll resume our regularly scheduled sporadic updates.

5. Sleigh Bells - Treats
Label: N.E.E.T. / Mom & Pop

After generating a killer bee swarm of buzz in 2009, the duo Sleigh Bells delivered on it this year with their aptly-titled debut CD Treats. Singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist/keyboardist Derek Miller create the ultimate party-rager’s music, influenced as much by late 1980s techno and industrial as by early Andrew W.K. Miller’s aggro-beats are offset by Krauss’ comparatively ameliorating vocals. The juxtaposition of these two musical counterpoints has the effect of seeing Sigur Ros perform live in downtown Baghdad the night the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. For as anarchic as this all may sound, Sleigh Bells are great because given sheer amount of volume they produce, they are exceedingly accessible. This is music equally suited for peaking trippers as well as cheerleading competitions. Sleigh Bells is packed with entertaining numbers like the opener “Tell ‘Em,” the hit “Infinity Guitars,” and metal-stomp of “Crown on the Ground.” The group also displays a knack for effective sampling on “Rill Rill,” cribbing Funkadelic’s psych-gospel masterpiece “Can You Get to That,” creating the most chill moment on the album. Sure, one could criticize Treats for being slight, but so is some rock’s best music (“wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boo” to you). —Brian Flota

4. The National - High Violet
Label: 4AD

More than any National album before it, High Violet is immediately accessible and moving, and for a band that released a contemporary classic like Boxer, that’s saying something. Similarly, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” may be the tightest, strongest song The National has released to date, and it stands as one of the best singles of the year. Like the rest of the album, “Bloodbuzz” is catchy yet complicated, with all the instruments and voices coming together in a perfect and unified whole. “Bloodbuzz” also serves as a good representation of the album’s major themes: love, loss, the search for a solid plateau to place one’s feet on. Other highlights include “Terrible Love,” “Afraid of Everyone,” and “Runaway,” though High Violet has no truly weak tracks. From first note to last, it is a tightly crafted, beautiful album that deserves all the commercial success and critical recognition it received this year, and then some. --Joshua Cross

3. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Label: 4AD

Over the past few years, Bradford Cox has become one of the most important voices in indie rock, both with Deerhunter and his solo project, Atlas Sound. Halcyon Digest stands above all of Cox’s prior releases as the most coherent, beautiful, and devastating work. In short, this album is his masterpiece to date. What sets it above Deerhunter’s past works, and many of the year’s other best albums, is its cohesion, the way it functions as a proper album, not just a collection of great songs. While the first two singles, “Revival” and “Helicopter,” are both excellent songs on their own merits, isolating them from the rest of the album makes any of the songs seem somehow out of place, a quality usually found exclusively in proper concept albums. While Halcyon Digest is not necessarily a concept album in that it does not tell a story from beginning to end, the themes of isolation, aging, and coming to grips with one’s mortality form one harmonious whole that forces us to consider the album as an entity. And a powerful entity at that. The move to 4AD exclusively (the label had previously distributed Deerhunter overseas) brought a slightly higher budget to the album’s production. But somehow the band managed to retain their signature bedroom recording feel, psychedelic dreampop sound, and DIY aesthetic while benefitting from the production, rather than losing intimacy and immediacy. All told, Halcyon Digest is a hallucinatory dream that catches the listener the moment the needle drops and doesn’t let go until long after you hit the run-out groove. --Joshua Cross

2. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
Label: DFA / Virgin

I was not entirely sold on LCD Soundsystem until their latest effort, This is Happening. James Murphy’s overt debt to David Bowie and his very hit-or-miss attempts at humor in some of his songs always struck me as a weakness. For every stunning track like “All My Friends,” there has been a “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” to undermine it. On the new album, these moments are kept to a minimum (even the record’s most troublesome cut, “Drunk Girls,” possesses irresistible pop hooks). The album moves briskly; few hour-long albums seem this brief (this is a compliment). Beginning with the slow-building opener “Dance Yrself Clean,” James Murphy’s focus is sharp. The first three minutes of the track are barely audible. Then, the drums kick in, along with a sick blast of Atari 2600 keyboard goodness, and the song instantly becomes legendary. “All I Want” is his one direct stab at Bowie, drawing heavily from “Heroes,” with its intermingled, atmospheric guitar lines. The lyrical self-reflexivity of “You Wanted a Hit” is as playful as its propulsive beat. Unlike most of the great European/American dance music of the past twenty years or so, This is Happening is largely free of drug-fueled pretensions, aesthetically speaking. This is direct, minimal dance music, driven by a “motorik” drumbeat, bass, guitar, synthesizers, and vocals. There are no samples, overdriven drum machines, or disorienting keyboard textures. This approach makes it one of the strongest albums of the year. —Brian Flota

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Label: Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella

After the initial fervor surrounding the release of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy died down, I've been trying to figure out the perspectives of those who can't get into it. While this year's Kanye West earthquake (measuring a 10.0 on the Richter, erm, I mean Pitchfork Scale) may have been a surprise to many, especially coming as a follow up to the interesting but heavily flawed 808's and Heartbreaks, not to mention West's status as Most Hated Celebrity in America, the album makes perfect sense for our time and place. That time and place, of course, is somewhere adrift in a distorted, fragmented version of pop culture that permeates our every move and leaves us always a bit suffocated by its ubiquity. Enter Kanye. I get how people can be alienated by My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--the absence of commas from the title alone is enough to make me want to punch a nun--but, in a way, this album is about alienation. Not just West's alienation as he grapples with fame and identity, but the alienation we feel in our relationships with spectacle.

That's why West's excess works, here. It doesn't matter that he doesn't have the best flow, or that the songs are all six-plus minutes long, or that production is over-blown, or that the Chris Rock skit goes on a bit too long. Those are all details, ill-considered quibbles thrown against a juggernaut text that sets out to do nothing less than put Kanye West and the idea of pop spectacle in an outhouse together then blow them the fuck up. And that's just what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy does. West alternates between euphoria ("can we get much higher" from album opener "Dark Fantasy") and self-hatred ("I'm a motherfucking monster" from, of course, "Monster") in an exploration of the fame and the sense of entitlement with which it comes. One of the album's more controversial moments, the extended vocoder outro on "Runaway" also manages to work as the album's cathartic core--after putting himself on the line, turning himself inside out and more often than not finding a repulsive, angry, arrogant man, we are offered that man's soulful, but mangled pleas for inner peace.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy isn't a masterpiece because it is relateable, or because it is all about Kanye (it's not either of those things). The album is a masterpiece because it's about the way we relate to pop culture and celebrity, and the ways we forge our identities through interactions with that very culture. Now, thanks to West, we have been confronted with just how fucked (and fuckin' ridickahliss) that culture is. Still, that shouldn't keep us from coming back for more. --James Brubaker

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PoMo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year: 10-6

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

Over the course of this week, we are excited to be rolling out our Top 25 Albums of the Year list. We, literally, couldn't have made this list without you, our friends and readers. After our call for lists we received well over twenty lists with votes for over a hundred albums. What follows is the result of your tastes and ours. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

10. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Label: Merge

Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is a more delicate, intimate recording than their past albums. With strong, orchestral arrangements, songs like “Sprawl II” shine, though the first song sets the subtle mood of the album. Win Butler’s lyrics about childhood and youth are charming and well-written, even humorous at times, and make this a strange but well deserved place in their catalog. --Brandon Hobson

9. Beach House - Teen Dream
Label: Sub Pop

Teen Dream continues the distinct dream-pop sound Beach House had crafted on their first two records, but also represents something of a musical growth for the Baltimore duo. Victoria Legrand’s signature deep, smoky vocals are still present, as are her droning keyboards and Alex Scally’s spacey guitars, but Teen Dream expands that reliable aesthetic to a sound that is somehow simultaneously both darker and brighter. Songs like “Silver Soul” and “Norway” match the bleak backdrop of the album’s January release, while others like “Walk in the Park” have shades of pop heretofore unheard in previous releases. Of all the albums that came out at the beginning of the year, this is one of the most listenable eleven months later. --Joshua Cross

8. Vampire Weekend - Contra
Label: XL

You’ve probably heard Vampire Weekend’s song “Holiday” on all those Honda commercials, but that’s only just a taste of this fantastic album. Contra, their second album, is more adventurous and upbeat than their first album. The opener, “Horchata” is a surge of synth-pop and guitars and as catchy as anything I’ve heard in a long time. “White Sky,” another catchy tune, shows the band’s versatility—but the whole album, in fact, is a nice blend of West African guitars, reggae, and ska. Contra is my pick for album of the year. --Brandon Hobson

7. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today
Label: 4AD

Bad 1970s and 1980s pop music can be identified by its forceful use of then-new synthesizer technology, ultra-compressed beats, and cheesy saxophones. On Before Today, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti revisit these nauseating sounds not with nostalgia, but from the perspective of musical anthropologists seeking to excavate these broken shards of sound from an abandoned mound of refuse. As a result, the group produces washed out music that just doesn’t like it’s from another time, but from some forgotten place in our collective musical unconscious. The unmistakable highlight is “Round and Round,” their hypnotic ode to Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English.” —Brian Flota

6. Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me
Label: Drag City

While nobody was expecting Joanna Newsom to turn around and put out a 3xLP set this year, we shouldn't have been surprised. It's not like here last album, Y's was lacking in ambition with its five songs starting from seven minutes, and its grand, orchestral sweep. What should surprise us about Have One on Me is how easy Newsom's transition from those larger than life songs back to more straightforward singer-songwriter material would be. Of course, using straightforward as an adjective for anything Newsom related is a big misleading, and though Have One on Me finds Newsom's songs getting a bit hookier, and a bit more direct, the complexity of both the arrangements and the emotional content is impressive. And while "Good Intentions Paving Co." might be Newsom at her most timeless, "Does Not Suffice" might very well be this album's crowning achievement, and the best "last song" of the year, as Newsom packs up her things, looks back at a failed romance and turns out the light before showing us the door. --James Brubaker

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pomo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year: 15 - 11

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

Over the course of this week, we are excited to be rolling out our 25 favorite Albums of the Year list. We, literally, couldn't have made this list without you, our friends and readers. After our call for lists we received well over twenty lists with votes for over a hundred albums. What follows is the result of your tastes and ours. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

15. M.I.A. - /\/\/\Y/\
Label: Interscope

/\/\/\Y/\ is arguably the most challenging piece of pop released in 2010. On it, M.I.A. reconfigures her multicultural brand of hip-hop into deconstructed dance music. The disorienting but pleasant sounds of “Galang” and “Paper Planes” have been replaced by the disfigured party beats of “Teqkilla,” the meth-rush of “Born Free,” and the stammering, headbanging glory of “Meds and Feds.” Lyrically, M.I.A. is all over the place, as concerned with the trappings of fame as she is with the elimination of privacy in the instant information age. /\/\/\Y/\ may be her best album to date, as well as her most unlistenable. —Brian Flota

14. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
Label: Bad Boy/Wonderland

Janelle Monae sort of surprised everyone this year by coming out of nowhere to release one of the best albums of the year. Using a thin, and unnecessary (but fun) sci-fi concept as a through-thread, Monae manages to annihilate just about every genre and aesthetic expectation known to man. Veering from straight R&B, to hip hop (w/ Big Boi), to indie pop (w/ Of Montreal), to psychadelic folk, The ArchAndroid is easily the most adventurous and exciting album of the year. --James Brubaker

13. Best Coast - Crazy For You
Label: Mexican Summer

If we define 2010’s musical landscape in terms of excess, then there’s something refreshing about Best Coast’s simplicity. Short, catchy songs, repetitive lyrics, simple chord structures, and standard songwriting about themes like love, longing, and loneliness. There’s something both immediately familiar and refreshingly novel about Crazy About You that makes it stand out in a list of the year’s best albums. Throw in talking cats and Bethany Cosentino’s larger than life, though incredibly down to earth, presence on Twitter (not to mention Snacks the cat’s tweets!), and Best Coast is one of more intriguing acts to emerge from 2010. --Joshua Cross

12. No Age - Everything in Between
Label: Sub Pop

The slashing punk rock guitar, booming drums, and MBV atmospherics of No Age’s debut album (Nouns) are tempered slightly on its follow-up by greater production values. The opening single, “Glitter,” is loaded with shimmery keyboards and feedback as well as an improved vocal sound. Just because they’ve grown up some and listened to a little more of The Cure than they used to, though, doesn’t mean they can’t still bring tha noize. Tracks like “Fever Dreaming,” “Depletion,” and “Shed and Transcend” rock as hard as anything they’ve recorded. While it’s no Nouns, it’s great to see them growing musically. --Brian Flota

11. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Label: Asthmatic Kitty

Jesus, Sufjan. You go away for a few years, talk about writing fiction, make some crazy-ass multi-media art and this is what you come back with? A sprawling, messy, cantankerous bit of cathartic pop that kicks us in the balls while running its fingers through our hair? This album is long--aided by its epic twenty-five minute closing track--and it can even be a bit alienating, but in the best possible way. By seamlessly blending icy electronics with warm orchestral and choral flourishes, Stevens has built an album about what it feels like to be blown apart, drifting away from whatever it is that we make our core, and hanging on for dear life. By album's end, two things are clear: Sufjan won't let go and he's not fucking around. --James Brubaker

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pomo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year: 20 - 16

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

Over the course of this week, we are excited to be rolling out our Top 25 Albums of the Year list. We, literally, couldn't have made this list without you, our friends and readers. After our call for lists we received well over twenty lists with votes for over a hundred albums. What follows is the result of your tastes and ours. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

20. Das Racist - Sit Down, Man
Label: Mad Decent / Greedhead / Mishka

Das Racist have had a busy year. Over the summer, everyone was singing their ridiculous "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," which they promptly followed with the full length mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, a collection of beats and rhymes that pleasantly surprised anyone who was familiar with their fast food homage, but ended up being dwarfed just a few months later by a second mixtape, the fun, impressive, and sharp Sit Down, Man. On this second mixtape, Das Racist expand on their promise by opening up their song structures while continuing to reference everything from soap operas to obscure Star Trek lore. If the fact that Heems and Kool AD are able to load an album with tight wordplay and solid beats isn't enough for you, Sit Down, Man also likes to get subversive with ideas of race and privilege. But that's not really the point, is it? --James Brubaker

19. How to Dress Well - Love Remains
Label: Lefse

If I had a nickel for every time I've described Love Remains as haunted, I'd have enough nickels to fill up the sock I should use to knock myself out for being so goddam redundant. That said, How to Dress Well is a marvel of lo-fi, decomposed production. Tom Krell starts with half-rotted song sketches that have a bit of an R&B flavor, then under-records them so they end up sounding like distant, totally fucked howls of distorted emotion. While "Decisions" is the easy highlight, Krell somehow manages to build an entire album of these disintegrated pop songs that works as a unified--and stunningly listenable--whole. You might even say the whole affair is beautifully haunted. --James Brubaker

18. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Label: Warp

When Cosmogramma first leaked, I wrote a review describing it as sci-fi noir. I stand by that descriptor, but what hadn't sunk in from those early listens was just how elegant and warm Flying Lotus's arrangements are. Mixed in with the cool synths and interstellar beats are breathless bursts of jazz and a dazzling orchestral sweep. While these elements seem disparate, FlyLo blends them together seamlessly to make an album that doesn't just sound like foreboding future cities, but that makes jazz music feel more relevant than it has in a long, long time. --James Brubaker

17. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
Label: Astralwerks

If you live on this side of the Atlantic, this is the best record you probably haven’t heard this year. Marling, however, is no secret in her native Britain, where I Speak Because I Can, her sophomore LP, debuted at number four on the charts. Though only 20 years old, Marling’s confident songwriting, urgent lyrics, and at times Nick Drake-esque guitar work create an ethos that well surpasses her years. This is among the most engaging folk music to come out in years, without equivocation. Do yourself a solid and listen. --Joshua Cross

16. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Label: Kanine

Surfer Blood has drawn comparisons to Weezer, Vampire Weekend, Japandroids, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and even early Cure. (OK, so that last one may just be me. But listen to “Harmonix” and tell me you don’t hear echoes of Three Imaginary Boys.) And all of those with good reason. There’s the fun hooks of the Blue Album, there’s the fuzz of Post-Nothing, there’s the frat-party fist-pump of Vampire Weekend. But while this is a fun, fuzzy, fist-pumper of a debut LP, there is an intricacy underlying many of these songs that suggest these Floridians have bigger things in store. --Joshua Cross

Monday, December 13, 2010

PoMo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year: 25-21

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

Over the course of this week, we are excited to be rolling out our 25 favorite Albums of the Year list. We, literally, couldn't have made this list without you, our friends and readers. After our call for lists we received well over twenty lists with votes for over a hundred albums. What follows is the result of your tastes and ours. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

25. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
Label: Dead Oceans

One of the great moments of the year for me was hearing The Tallest Man on Earth’s “The Wild Hunt.” Singer/songwriter Kristian Mattson, from Sweden, sounds American with his Dylanesque melodies and reminds me how much I love folk music. Highlights include “King of Spain” and “The Wild Hunt,” but “Love is All” may be the true ode to early Dylan. A purely simple, quiet album that gets better with each listen. --Brandon Hobson

24. The Black Keys - Brothers
Label: Nonesuch

Six albums in, the blues-rock revisionists The Black Keys still sound fresh. Brothers demonstrates what the band does best: mixing old sounds with the new. While they haven’t reinvented themselves here, the album feels more relaxed than anything they’ve done – yet they’ve maintained that sonic atmosphere that gives their sound its tightness. Brothers sneaks up on you and upon first listen, you get the feeling you’ve been here before. However, this is not a rehash – the songs on Brothers feel like they’ve always been here. --Andrew Terhune

23. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Label: Def Jam

When people thought of Outkast, they often pictured Andre3000, his antics and costumes. On Sir Lucious, Big Boi shows he is every bit as weird as Andre and every bit as talented, if not more so. While the album drags on a little long, and while some of the guest appearances are questionable (I mean, Vonnegutt? Why?), on many of the tracks, the rhymes are as fresh and the beats are as tight as anything Outkast produced. And a little Janelle Monae certainly never hurts anything. --Joshua Cross

22. Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
Label: Matador

I love every album Belle and Sebastian have put out, and “Write About Love,” their seventh studio album, is no exception. For me, their approach is always hypnotic, like vintage light sixties pop, but this time with lyrics less haunting than past albums. Still, “I Didn’t See it Coming,” is a fantastic opener, and “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” featuring Norah Jones, is a highlight to this really fine album that won’t disappoint B&S fans. --Brandon Hobson

21. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Label: XL

The American Civil War serves as a controlling metaphor on The Monitor, both in the form of era-specific speeches and in lyrics that reference battles on land and sea. But ultimately, this album is about being young in present-day New Jersey and feeling that all your options are closed, as evidenced by lyrics like “down in North Carolina, I could have been a productive member of society / But these New Jersey cigarettes and all they require have made a fucking junkie out of me.” While thematically dark, this is one of the loudest, most energetic albums of the year. --Joshua Cross

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: 33 1/3 #75 Spiderland

As I've been reading all of these 33 1/3 books, I've noticed certain approaches that work better or worse than others. One of the less successful approaches is the historical approach to an album. I'm not talking about the books that attempt to situate an album within a broader socio-political context--in fact, those books tend to be among the best. I'm talking about the books that just give us a straight-up history of a band and/or album. The problem with many of these books, it seems, is that most of these histories have already been told. This is why, I suspect, I've been getting particularly excited about several of the 33 1/3 books that deal with albums from the 90's. These albums haven't been discussed to death the way so many 60's and 70's classics have been. We are left with plenty of room to explore and learn new things that we haven't already pieced together from dozens of biographies, decade lists, and reviews of reissues. This is why, despite being an almost entirely historical account of Slint's formation, recording, and dissolution, Scott Tennent's 33 1/3 volume on Spiderland is an entirely engaging and entertaining read. Not only is Tennent writing a pretty great and interesting book about a seminal album, he's documenting the foundational history of that album in a way that I'm not sure has ever been done before.

To be sure, the first three-quarters of Tennent's Spiderland are easy to love, and easier to get lost in. Tennent gives us a fairly plain play-by-play of Pajo's, Walford's, McMahan's and Brashear's pre-Slint days, explains how they came together, then discusses the band's early history leading up to and including the recording of Spiderland. To say it like this almost makes the book sound a bit underwhelming. It's not. By staying out of the way of these stories, and simply reporting the twists and turns that brought the Slint boys together, Tennent allows their stories to come to life in ways that will be fun and exciting for anyone who has ever been an active participant (or spectator) in any kind-of-sort-of punk scene. The early history is full of drama and excitement. We get the excitement surrounding Squirrel Bait, but also the lesser-known, but equally important (to Slint) weirdness surrounding Maurice. Tennent's treatment of Slint's prehistory is so effective because it speaks to what it means to be youthful and optimistic. In describing Slint's history, Tennent is tapping in to something electric and fun--the feeling of being young and either in or surrounded by good bands. There isn't a feeling quite like it, and here Tennent does a nice job of bringing that excitement to the forefront in his book.

Tennent's prose shines the most when dealing with the history of Slint. The only place where this volume stumbles is in the thirty page section dedicated to analyzing Spiderland the album. Tennent makes attempts to give the song-by-song analysis a through-thread by arguing that, though Slint were primarily known for their dynamics, those dynamics are only interesting because of the music's overall complexity. Unfortunately, Tennent isn't quite able to pull this argument off, and we're left with an occasionally interesting, but largely descriptive chapter. Tennent brings us back to the riveting tale of Slint, however, by closing the book with a description of the band's oddly abrupt and frustrating dissolution. I won't spoil the plot for anyone who doesn't know how it ends.

All in all, this is one of the more exciting and fun volumes in the 33 1/3 series. Tennent does some very difficult things very well in this book--he manages to portray the 1980's Louisville punk scene in vivid detail, and put his characters--Slint--in the middle of it all. At the same time, we get brief glimpses of adjacent places (Cincinnati and Chicago are both mentioned at times, the later more frequently) and supporting players (Will Oldham, to name one). The result is a history of Slint, and ultimately Spiderland, that feels like a living, breathing thing. And of course, it doesn't hurt if you knew enough guys like this that you kind of, sort of feel like you could've been there, even if you weren't.


This week we'll be rolling out our Albums of the Year list for 2010, so stay tuned. After that, I'll be looking at Kate Schatz's volume of short stories based on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

James's Runner-Ups!

Next week we'll begin rolling out our Albums of the Year list (voted on by us, and you). For the time being, I thought I'd drop a preview post featuring a few of 2010's best albums that didn't make our list. Sure, each of these albums could whip The Suburbs to death with both arms tied behind their backs, but the public has spoken. And apparently, the public doesn't love the following albums as much as a I do...

I'll admit, I was stunned to see that I was the ONLY PERSON who voted for Robyn's Body Talk album. Maybe nobody else put it on their lists because they were bummed out that the tracklist for the full LP wasn't as tight as it could have been, or maybe everyone was pissed that "Cry When You Get Older," a standout from the Body Talk pt. 1 ep, was somehow left off. Or maybe not enough indie-snobs know how to love a good pop album when it comes along. Here's the thing--Robyn has one of the biggest personalities in pop music, and every one of her songs is bursting with that personality. The songs are catchy and well produced, the lyrics endearing and clever, and the whole album is built on sick arrangements perfect for dancing and singing along to. If you haven't checked out Robyn yet, please, please do. You owe it to yourself.

Here's the video for "Hang With Me":


Okay, so Erykah Badu's New Amerykah pt. II: Return of the Ankh isn't quite the heavy, impassioned soulful scream of part one, but it wasn't supposed to be. pt. II was like the chill counterpart, the collection of songs--still brimming with quiet Badu's heavy love and quiet anger--we're supposed to celebrate with after the close of the last world war. These are soul songs, love songs, space songs, spirit songs, friend songs, and Badu never misses a beat, coming off as bogglingly playful and serious as ever.

Here's a video for Badu's NSFW video for "Window Seat":

This album was a bit of grower--soft psychedelia with warm production and an almost early-Shins like penchant for melody. But as soon as the album gets fired up, Wild Nothing come into their own, mixing textured layers of synthesizers and atmosphere into every track. Odds are, a few months from now, this will be much higher on my year end list. That's the dangerous of making these lists early though.

Check out "Bored Games" from Gemini:


In a word, something about Four Tet's There is Love in You sounds haunted. It probably has something to do with that opening track, "Angel Echoes," with its splintered human voice yearning over miles of unobtrusive beats and confused bells. While the album's opener is the most overt example of these ideas, the mood and tone pervades the album, leaving us a little bit dizzy and surrounded by ghosts at every turn. There is Love in You is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest albums of 2010. Give it a try.

Enjoy "Love Cry" from this album:


I don't really know what this album is or where it comes from, only that it's a low key, soulful, slightly sexy bit of indie pop. The album offers plenty of 80's attitude and production flourishes, but without ever succumbing to the unquestioned and unearned nostalgia that so many of their peers traffic in. As far as I can tell, the only way Twin Shadow manages to avoid that trap is by keeping the songwriting easy and free--there is never a sense that the band is trying to hard to recall a past era, they're just playing their songs with a knowing nod backwards about twenty-five years.

Check out "Castles in the Snow":

With Black Noise Pantha Du Prince have made one hell of a lovely electro-trance-techno-pop-whatever-you-people-call-it record. Oddly enough, I somehow forgot to include this on my own top 40 list. That happens sometimes. Anyway, the beats bubble with life, the synths are bright and fizzy, and even Noah Lennox drops in for a visit, but not in any way that draws too much attention away from the album's rich textures and chill tones. Black Noise is both full of motion and ruminative, a blissful collection of thoughtful, rewarding arrangements.

Here is "Stick to My Side" (w/ Panda Bear singing):


See you on Monday with our (and your) Albums of the Year list.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Jingle Cats' "Silent Night"

There's no greater time of the year than Christmas, or, "the holiday season," as God-hating philistines refer to it. Christmas brings us many great things: ridiculously long lines in stores filled with cranky employees and impatient customers, pointless gifts from faceless relatives and co-workers, that neighbor with the gawdy Christmas decorations that brings traffic in your neighborhood to a stand-still, all those delayed flights and lost luggage, as well as the endless tears of spoiled children who got tons of gifts but didn't get that one ultra-expensive toy all their friends got. Clearly there is no better way to illustrate Jesus Christ's eternal and peaceful philosophy of free-market capitalism than through these joyous hallmarks of "the holiday season." But one thing that makes this part of the calendar year even more fantastic is Christmas music. Thankfully, it is played on a loop from Thanksgiving to New Years Day. These great tunes have been performed over and over over the years by every great artist, from a place deep within the heart known as "the holiday spirit." No artist has ever recorded a Christmas song because it would be an easy way to generate a quick buck at the end of every calendar year. No. These songs are recorded to pay tribute to the great Baby Jesus and his pagan, apocryphal saint brother, Sir Santa of Claus. There have been many great Christmas songs over the years, including "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano, "Little Drummer Boy" by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, and, of course, my favorite, "Funky, Funky Xmas" by the New Kids on the Block. There is, though, one breathtaking performance that transcends the holiday, and humanity, in fact.

In 1994, some groovy cats, LITERALLY, got together to record a version of the Christmas classic "Silent Night." The resulting sessions were pure magic. These cats, realizing this hot cut had potential, instantly dubbed themselves Jingle Cats and cut an entire album of classic Christmas carols known as Meowy Christmas. The rest is music-making history. There are several obvious reasons why people responded so posivitely to the Cats' version of "Silent Night." First off, cats are singing the song. We all know that everybody simply loves cats. They are like soft, fluffy pillows that purr and sleep, a lot. However, if you rest your head on the pillow incorrectly, it will scratch the shit out of you with its razor-sharp claws. Plus, cats cannot talk. So to hear them sing, and to sing so wonderfully, is not only surprising and damn near scandalous, but inspiring. Secondly, the gentle acoustic guitar and keyboard accompaniment perfectly complements their soothing little kitty-cat voices. This becomes entirely obvious during the second verse, on which the little tigers modulate their voices. The lyrics in this verse are completely inspirational, especially when the little furballs sing, "Meow meow meow, meow meow, meow, meow meow meow meow, meow meow." So what if their voices sound like they were generated by a state-of-the-art late-1980s synthesizer. These lines give full meaning to both the birth of the Baby Jesus as well as to the joyous "holiday season" he envisioned all those years ago when he was just gleam in his Daddy's eye. As the Jingle Cats so wonderfully remind us, "Meow meow, meow meow / meow meow meow, meow meow." Truer words have not been spoken.

Here's the CUTE video. On a scale of one to ten, it's a BONKERSxINFINITY:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review: 33 1/3 #73 Highway to Hell

Let me begin by disclosing two pieces of information: first, I don't really like AC/DC and second, I won a signed copy of this book from a contest on the 33 1/3 blog. Ideally, these two bits of information will cancel each other out so that this review comes off as fair and even-handed. That being said, I don't mind reading about bands I don't like, and in order to win this book I spent a good forty-five minutes writing and revising a paragraph on why I kind of hate AC/DC, so it's not like I got the book for nothing. So maybe I didn't need to disclose anything at all. I have to admit, though, that I feel a bit funny about sitting down to review this book with the author's signature looking back at me from the cover page. He even wrote my name in the inscription!: "Hey, James--" it says. And now, here I am sitting down to write about his book that has a little more aura than all of the other 33 1/3 books I've previously reviewed. A such, I wish I could say that Joe Bonomo's Highway to Hell is a smashing success. The book certainly has its fair share of successes, but it also falls into some common 33 1/3 series traps, and misses a couple of brilliant opportunities in the process. But let's start by talking about what Bonomo does right.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bonomo's Highway to Hell is the author's consistently tight and easy prose. Outside of the occasional clunker like, "...Angus reaches deep into his love of blue-styled playing and offers affecting, evocative playing," Bonomo manages to capture the raw excitement of AC/DC and what it meant to be a fan of the band. Bonomo is also particularly successful at providing a reasonably thorough survey of AC/DC's early days, up to Bon Scott's death, and manages to provide a brief overview of what came next (and really, isn't that all we really need?). I'll admit, my lack of familiarity with AC/DC made the book's historical elements particularly interesting and rewarding. Bonomo's passion for the band and the excitement with which he tells their story convinced me to go back and check out some of those early albums, and I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh and exciting some of the songs sound. Along with providing a brief history of AC/DC, Bonomo also discusses the problem of classifying the band (including some early classifications as punk!), the occasional guilt resulting from listening to some of Scott's more misogynistic or violent lyrics, the disconnect between rock critics and AC/DC fans, the raw enthusiasm of AC/DC fans, the album's cover art, youthful bad behavior and AC/DC, growing old as an AC/DC fan, a selection of photos of AC/DC, production history of the album, sales figures, etc... etc...

And there in lies the biggest flaw in Bonomo's Highway to Hell--while each section of his book is interesting, as a whole it is unfocused. Early in the book, Bonomo takes to a track-by-track discussion of Highway to Hell using each track as a point of entry into discussions surrounding the band--"Shot Down in Flames" leads to a discussion of the band's self-satirizing and machismo, "If You Want Blood (You Got It)" to a discussion of social issues in Scott's lyrics, and "Night Prowler" to a discussion of the serial killer of the same name, and the uncomfortable violence that sometimes crept into the band's songs. The book's movement from one song to the next, and the brief exploration of each tangent, makes the book feel more like a series of blog entries as opposed to a clearly focused book. This isn't uncommon in the 33 1/3 series and it can end up being frustrating at times.

Bonomo's Highway to Hell is a little extra frustrating as, in the book's last quarter, the author hits on particularly fertile grounds for exploration--the passion of AC/DC fans, and how the fans grew up with the band's songs. In these sections, Bonomo discusses Heavy Metal Parking Lot, contacts old school friends for their reflections on Highway to Hell, and talks about contemporary AC/DC fans. Bonomo's exploration of AC/DC fandom through the decades is where his book finds its strongest voice, and its heart. Even the volume's jacket copy highlights this angle in its first sentence: "Joe Bonomo strikes a three-chord essay on the power of adolescence, the durability of rock & Roll fandom, and the transformative properties of memory." Once the book turns to these topics, it is essential 33 1/3. Until then, despite Bonomo's solid prose, the book struggles to find its focus, trying to move in too many directions at once and too often settling to be a report about AC/DC's past instead of getting at something new.

Next up, Scott Tennent's take on Spiderland. I've been dying to read this one. Look for my review in a few weeks (the end of the semester is crazy, and we'll be posting our AOTY lists soon).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: The Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha"

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the concept of "the wish" dates all the way back to the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. Wishes can manifest themselves in many ways. In some religious cultures, they are very similar to prayers. For politicians, they are very similar to hopes and aspirations. If you happen to be goth-rock icons The Cure, Wish is damn-near your "jumping the shark" moment. The point I'm trying to make is that wishes, over most of these last twenty years, have been characterized as coming from a place of universal goodness. Look at these sample wishes that my fictional daughter wrote down six years ago: "I wish there was no more cancer." "I wish there were no more wars." "I wish my head was a big round orange ball." Precious! All of these are a testament to the courage of the human spirit, as well as a not-so-subtle piece of advertising for makers of big round orange balls. However, with The Pussycat Dolls' transcendent 2005 hit, "Don't Cha," the concept of the wish comes from an unwholesome place of jealousy and amorous competition. Wishes would never be the same again. Ever.

The lyrical premise of the song seems relatively simple on the surface: anywhere between one and all six of The Pussycat Dolls desire a male subject ("you") that now has a girlfriend. Apparently, each member of The Pussycat Dolls thinks pretty highly of themselves, as they boast of being "hot," "a freak," "raw," and, last but not least, "fun." What's interesting is that the desired male object in the lyric appears quite happy with his present girlfriend, leaving The Pussycat Dolls to wish he felt otherwise. The lines also imply that the desired male object also prefers women who are cold, cooked, dull, and vanilla -- like a refrigerated wafer. The dynamic present in the lyric recalls René Girard's concept of "the triangulation of desire" as first posited in his 1966 study Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. However, this simple geometry transforms into aeronautical calculus if we consider all six of The Pussycat Dolls, which would make this more akin to something like an OCTAGON OF DESIRE, the ultimate cage-match of jealous lust wherein one or multiple subjects of its powerful geometrical grip may have to tap out under a wide array of sloppy near-kisses, malicious hair-pulling, and sweaty submission holds. To top it all off, the track is magnificently produced by Cee-Lo and features a blistering, but thematically unrelated rap by Busta Rhymes. To accomplish the staggering degree of wish fulfillment in this song, anywhere between one and all six of The Pussycat Dolls would need to magically make their male object of desire actually wish his girlfriend WAS them instead of her, then ditch her for between one and all six of them. This would make him look quite base and shady, and render The Pussycat Dolls as bigamous home-wreckers. Because of "Don't Cha," peoples wishes have become increasingly vicious, bringing to the surface humanity's long-repressed darker impulses. In fact, my fictional daughter's Christmas wishlist includes "an iPad," "a 'water-shaped' water bed" (how messed up is that? especially since water can only take the shape of its container), and, most puzzlingly of all, "death to auto-tune." Where did this desire for violence and destruction come from? The Pussycat Dolls. "Don't Cha" represents our long-awaited fall from grace, from a simpler time, when all we had to do was ask a blue, Orientalized Robin Williams to grant us our benign wishes. Now my fictional daughter's big round orange ball head has turned itself upside down.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: 33 1/3 #52 Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

A few years ago I wrote record reviews for a small music website that doesn't exist anymore. For whatever reason, the editors had this bizarre policy against the use of first person in our reviews. For most of the time I wrote for this site, none of them really enforced the rule, though I tried to keep my authorial intrusions subtle. For the last year, or so, of the site's existence, the editors started cracking down on writing ourselves into our reviews. I never really got a good explanation as to why. Even in freshman composition courses many instructors are moving away from the hard and fast rule that the first person has no place in academic writing. Let's be honest--the entire question is a bit of a sham anyway, isn't it? When we write essays or reviews or conference papers, we're expressing our own ideas, and the impulse to avoid first person grows out of a misguided notion to make our ideas seem more objective than they actually are. If we're to think about our writing as entering into a larger conversation, doesn't it only make sense that our written words connect back to our selves? Shouldn't we be highlighting our subjectivity so as to more clearly delineate the space in which this conversation is taking place? Our faux-objective ideas don't just drift from our bodies to play with other disembodied ideas in some academic arena, no. These conversations are happening between people and the more we begin to accept this, the better off we'll all be. Carl Wilson makes a similar point in his impressive entry in the 33 1/3 series, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. For anyone who might be reading this review who isn't at least familiar with this book (I'm guessing no one), here is the premise: Carl Wilson, like many rock critic types, hates Celine Dion, but rather than writing a book about how awful her music is, he uses his own taste as a gateway into an exploration of how tastes are made, how tastes are relational, and why so many people sincerely love Celine Dion. It's a bold premise, to be sure, and Wilson pays it off at every turn, but there are two moments in particular--not surprisingly as the book enters its home stretch after Wilson has laid a solid foundational understanding of Dion, her work, and her reception--that stand out as being particularly important.

The first (well, actually its the second in the book, but it's the one I'm going to talk about first) is something that Wilson argues--both implicitly and explicitly--throughout the book, but which really comes to full fruition in his penultimate chapter, a traditional record review of a hypothetical re-issue of Let's Talk About Love. Throughout the review, Wilson at times plays the part of the traditional music critic, talking about producers and particular moves that Dion and her team made throughout the album. But then something funny happens--as the review progresses, Wilson integrates more of himself into his critique. This leads to his telling of the one time "My Heart Will Go On," made him cry--when it was used in the episode of The Gilmore Girls when Michelle's dog dies and Zack plays the song at said dog's funeral. At first, this is an incredibly bizarre move for something that is meant to be a "traditional" record review. Here we are, reading about George Martin's production on "The Reason," and the bland ubiquity of "My Heart Will Go On," and suddenly, we encounter a page long synopsis of an episode from a defunct TV show and how Dion's song, in that context, made the author cry. Once the initial shock of such an out-of-place bit of authorial intrusion subsides, I became convinced that this is one of the most brilliant moves I have ever encountered in a record review. Through his "intrusion," Wilson captures exactly what "My Heart Will Go On," is to many, many people, while making clear his own resistance to the song. It is through the inclusion of his personal experience that we, the readers, are allowed to understand that, yes, this song is over-the-top schmaltz, but there's something to it, and one day it might just sneak the fuck up on you and stuff its fist in your gut over and over again until your a sniveling mess on the floor. Over the last decade, I've read countless message board complaints about music reviews that get too personal. to hell with those complaints. Music reviews can only be personal. We need a point of reference to understand how a writer is critiquing and rating an album. This is why we follow particular writers instead of websites, why we trust certain friends' opinions over others, and why an idea like record label allegiance exists. Without the writer's ethos, all we are left with is false objectivity, writers' attempts to universalize that which can not be universalized.

The other point that Wilson spends a great deal of time on that I'd like to briefly mention (I was going to say more, but I've gone on too long, already) is his semi-defense of sentimentality. In fiction workshops, we toss this word around like a racial slur. If something is sentimental, it's bad, it's trite, it's Hallmark, it's Hollywood. Just last week I was commenting on a particular type of sentimentality in an excellent draft of a story written by a close friend, and I got these looks as if I was high to even suggest the piece was sentimental. Admittedly, my use of the word came about because of what I was reading in Wilson's book. After developing a sound working definition of sentimentality, then debriefing us on key figures and texts in the debate about sentimentality, Wilson decides that maybe, just maybe, sentimentality has gotten a bit of a bad rap:

Perhaps the dream content of the sentimental is today in need of liberation, the way that in the early twentieth century, Freud and the surrealists realized western society needed to bare and scratch the sexual, violent underbelly of concsiousness. With inhibitions against them removed, the tender sentiments might unveil their unsuspected splendors. (133)

And reading this, I sense the immediate tug of truth. I think of strange moments from my life, from my interactions with culture, where texts that are lame, cheesy, manipulative--they, well my body up with something like tears. The sensation is deep and rich and sometimes scary. It goes like this: I'm watching this beginning of this fucking Harry Potter movie (spoiler alert?) and the girl wizard erases herself from her parents' lives--waves her wand and is gone from their memories and photographs. I like the Harry Potter movies, but I've never been all that invested in them, but for whatever reason, this sentimental moment guts me. I shudder and laugh because I'm afraid I might cry. This is why I know Wilson is on to something here.

Really, I've gone on far longer than necessary about this book. It's already the most talked about book in the 33 1/3 series, and the most loved. I can't really add to that except to say--everyone who loves this book has good reason to love it. I read a blurb on some website or another saying something along the lines of, "I wish this book could be assigned to every incoming college freshman." As soon as I am able, I will assign this book.

Up next will be reviewing Joe Bonomo's recent volume on AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Year End List Happenings

Dear Friends of PoMo Jukebox,

It's almost the time of year when the internet is full of blogs and websites listing their favorite albums of the year. Usually, these lists either come from individuals, or the combined lists of several individuals. We here at the 'box like lists that are the result of a lot of smaller lists averaged together as they convey a broader sense of consensus. This presents us with a problem--there are only 3 of us who contribute here with any regularity.

As such, we're opening our year end list process to all of you. If you'd like to contribute to our year end list with a list of your own, helping to make our own list bigger and more interesting, here is what you need to know:

Due Date: 12/1/10
Submission method: You can submit your list as an email, or as an attachment by emailing us at wedestroymyths _at_ gm__l.c_m (you know how to fix that up). Please make sure to include the artist and title of each album.

Lists: Your list should include at least 5 albums, but no more than 25. Any more than that will not be counted. Please rank albums in order of preference (1 being your favorite, the lowest number being your least favorite). For unranked lists, we'll tally the number of total points for the number of albums listed, and distribute those points equally to each album on said list.

Methodology: On each list, the scoring will look like this:

#1 album - 35 points
#2 - 30
#3 - 26
#4 - 23
#5 - 21
#6 - 20
#7 - 19
#8-25 etc... etc...

Ties will be broken by numbers of votes an album receives.

Once the list is tallied, we may ask individuals for blurbs of albums we aren't as familiar with.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"

Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" is such a dynamic and challenging song that it's literally impossible to write about (at least in the United States). In fact, parts of this text have been redacted by the government, who invoked the infamous Too Soon Clause, an obscure part of the USA-PATRIOT Act of 2001, to legally censor the apparently offending passages. So I hope this will not be too difficult to read.

For decades, the Secret League of Wealthy Ass Female Feminists had conspired to make a massively popular song about having their CENSORED CENSORED. They had met severe resistance, however, from the pious yet hypocritically lecherous Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman, who thought discussing CENSORED CENSORED was in poor taste. Ironically, this was the same Team who allowed The Beatles' "Please Please Me" to be a huge hit in 1963. In that song, John Lennon sings, during the bridge, "I do all the pleasin' with you / It's so hard to reason with you / Oh yeah, why do you make me blue?" Clearly, Lennon is singing about how he CENSORED CENSORED on his female love-interest who refuses to CENSORED, leaving him with an annoyingly painful case of CENSORED CENSORED. Within days of its release, teenage girls around the world were screaming and CENSORED CENSORED for their favorite Beatle no matter where they were. The Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman was please please pleased (forgive the pun), and they decided to print more money and get the older gentlemen on the team to public slander the lovable Moptops to fulfill the dynamics of Marx and Hegel's dialectic.

Fast forward to 2002. The United States was still emotionally reeling from the terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 that took over 3,000 lives. A little over six months after the tragedy, the Secret League decided to stick it to the man while he was down, with his massively CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED metaphorically CENSORED in New York City. Their secret plan: release Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" to a wounded public that needed to forget about the tragic events of that day and hear a brilliant, witty song about a woman demanding that her CENSORED and CENSORED get CENSORED.

The plan worked effectively. Khia's song, which begins rather minimally with simple percussion and speakerbox-rattlin' bass, quickly transforms itself into serious, polyrhythmic, sexual anthem Marvin Gaye would have been jealous of. Khia's insistence that her man "put your neck into it" and "to suck it off til I shake" is completely direct. At first, it appears that she is demanding that this objectified male (much to the chagrin of the Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman, who had historically only been concerned about their own pleasure) lick her neck, her back, her "pussy" (i.e. feline, or kitty cat), and her "crack" (i.e. her stash of cocaine-infused with baking soda-rocks). But that makes no sense. Cats clean themselves by licking. Cats already hate being washed by humans, tongue or no. And why would you lick a crack rock when you're supposed to smoke it (or so I've read) to get the desired two-minute high? As the song slowly builds, it becomes apparent what she is really telling this soon-to-be-duped Lothario is to CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED and CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED until she's "makin' faces 'n stuff." This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase CENSORED CENSORED. When she tells her male love interest to "get on your knees," she proceeds to liberate all CENSORED from the tyranny of the Super Sausage Team which had insured that rap music over the previous fifteen years would be male-dominated. While two big CENSORED in the CENSORED were nothing but CENSORED in the heart of CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED, Americans of all shapes and genders of consenting age could now get licked wherever they wanted and get on their knees and lick whatever they wanted, except for that kitty cat. There's nothing more embarrassing and potentially incriminating than a face full of claw-marks!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Our 100th post!

We're going to be gearing up for our year end album list. Keep your eyes peeled and ear to the ground as we'll be calling on our readers for help.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"We're Not Above Reviewing Leaks": Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

On 2007's Graduation, Kanye West seemed to have learned something important about making great albums: focus is key. Unfortunately, that album suffered from a soft second-half and, despite the album's focus and unified sound never managed to reach the heights of West's first two albums. And let's talk about those albums for a moment--The College Dropout and Late Registration are both fine albums, classics even, but they suffer from too many skits and lame jokes that don't quite add up to anything. Kanye's first two albums, it seems, are prime examples of made-for-iPod albums and the song-is-God mentality of many contemporary music fans. Fortunate for us and Kanye, most of the songs are good enough that we keep going back and sitting through the fluff to get to the meaty stuff. Then of course, in 2008, Kanye released 808's and Heartbreaks and album full of drum machines and autotune. An album about loss and heartache and misogyny. Okay, sure, misogyny isn't anything new to hip hop, but the confessional nature of 808's and Heartbreak made the violence and hatred a little more real than was comfortable. Unfortunate, as sonically, this was easily Kanye's most unified, engaging moment.

So why the history lesson? Well, it's because the dirty version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made it's way on to the internet last night, and I'm going to make a pretty bold claim about how it stacks up to the Kanon. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, pound for pound, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye West's best album. But how can that be, you say? It doesn't have the firepower of those first two albums' highlights. While "Power," "Runaway," and "Devil in a New Dress," are all stand-outs, they don't quite match the immediacy of old jams like "Spaceship," "Through a Wire," "Jesus Walks," "Golddigger," "Touch the Sky,"...etc... etc...you get the point. So how can anyone possible say that MBDTF is Kanye's best album? Because it is a tight, focused album in which every song pops on its own, but
which flows as a unified whole. The dirty guitars and distorted vocals of the Nuggets-esque "Gorgeous" are exquisitely crashed by the percussive chants of "Power," which ends on a King Crimson sample that gives way to the quiet elegance of "All of the Lights (Interlude)" which explodes into it's own magnified echo that is "All of the Lights," the actual song. The album's pacing and transitions are impeccable. Despite the long run times of most of the tracks ("Runaway" is 9 minutes long), each song's moving parts keep us moving and pushes the minutes by faster than they have any right to move.

As for thematic content--this is a lot of album to digest, and I'm not sure I'm ready to do this heavy lifting yet. But I'll offer this: as we might have guessed, MBDTF is an album about celebrity, about indulgence, but mostly about self-interrogation. We still get those misogynistic moments ("I slapped my girl/she call the feds")but rather than coming from a place of anger, they're now rooted in odd moments of self-loathing. "Runaway" is probably the best example of this, in which West famously notes that he "sent this bitch a picture of [his] dick." And while this line is dark, and weird, and dripping with sexual harassment, because the rest of the song is fairly self-critical ("Baby I got a plan/Runaway as fast as you can") the end result is almost cathartic. We get a sense that West is trying to exorcise his demons and while he isn't always successful, by drawing this battle out in big, vibrant strokes for everyone to see he has made one of the most impressive hip hop albums of the last ten years.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will never be confused with a quiet or small album. To borrow a phrase from the album, this thing is a "motherfuckin' monster." It's big and brash and exhilarating--everything hip hop can and should be. Hell--it's everything pop music can be. And maybe that's why MBDTF is such a success, it feels like another shift for pop music, a move beyond the current mainstream toward a bigger, fuller idea of what the mainstream is. As such, MBDTF is a flat-out masterpiece and will be hard to top one most year-end lists, and will most likely be in the top 5 conversations 9 years from now when we're all older and border and making out best of the 10's lists. Welcome back, Kanye.