Thursday, December 20, 2007

My (Bryan's) Top 10 Albums of 2007

Josh has given you both of his cents, now I'm throwing my hat into the ring. Quite a good year for music in my opinion. Some disappointments, some surprises, and a whole lot of booty shaking. Enjoy...

Honorable Mention
I debated long and hard about putting all of these in my Top 10, and hopefully each song will give you a good reason why. One song won’t do any of them justice, but hey, it’s a free download.

Burial - Untrue

Dan Deacon - Spiderman of the Rings
The Crystal Cat

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Panda Bear - Person Pitch

Shocking Pinks - Shocking Pinks
How Am I Not Myself?

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
You Got Yr Cherry Bomb

10. Liars - Liars
Liars have a big bag of tricks. They follow their heavy krautrock opus with an album containing some actual radio-friendly songs. “Houseclouds” sounds like a long lost Beck tune, “Sailing To Byzantium” eerily sounds like Radiohead, and “Freak Out” is pure snarling Stooges. There’s still a heaping spoonful of their classic murk, but Liars is as varied an album as I’ve heard all year while being raw, upbeat, and straightforward. It’s fun listening to a band known for experimentation prove they can play by the rules. I consider this their Loaded.

Must Listen - “Sailing To Byzantium

9. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
As you can tell from the band name and album title, this Scottish quartet is a little bummed out. That doesn’t mean their music isn’t pretty. Layered My Bloody Valentine-inspired guitars and vivid lyrics make Fourteen Autumns’ angst touching rather than whiney. Lead singer James Graham occasionally screams lines with an accent so thick and charming it’s tough not to feel for him. In a year full of great danceable albums, it was refreshing to hear The Twilight Sad’s big rock sound and tormented lyrics.

Must Listen - “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy”

8. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
I feel like such a putz for getting into Jens so late, but I’m glad I finally did. All the comparisons to The Magnetic Fields and Jonathan Richman had me curious yet suspicious, but Night Falls presented me an artist who clearly had his own voice (and what a voice at that). At first listen, the sweeping strings and playful woodwinds might seem a bit schmaltzy, but he delivers each word with such sincerity I’m forced to believe this is how Jens truly feels. His lyrics paint such interesting metaphors and touching scenes that it makes me want to pour a glass of wine, get sentimental, and dig into his entire back catalog.

Must Listen - “The Opposite of Hallelujah”

7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Following up Funeral was no enviable task, but these Montrealians(?) gave it their all. There’s a sense of foreboding from the start as Win Butler sings of bombs and nightmares after a wave of thunder washes in. The album is packed with stories of fear, loss, and a grim future. “Intervention” is easily the best anti-Iraq War song I’ve heard and serves as the ultimate hipster protest anthem. Despite all the darkness, it’s far from depressing. It’s a call to action for anyone frustrated with our current political climate, economic climate, or climate climate. “My Body Is A Cage” closes the album not with fear, but with hope, as Butler pleads, “Set my spirit free.”

Must Listen - “Intervention”

6. Justice -
Throw this album on and you will D.A.N.C.E. for the next 48 minutes, not including the residual dancing that will follow. Their electro is so intricately crafted and instantly catchy, it’s going to be a daunting task for them to follow this up with something better. Some people claim they’ve lifted too much from Daft Punk, but Justice infuse harder house edges, some Motown sing-alongs, and considerably less cheesiness than their French idols. I’ve regretted every moment since I failed to score tickets to see them in concert. Not because I won’t have another opportunity, but because I desperately need to dance their music out of my head and onto the floor.

Must Listen - "Phantom

5. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
As a lover of AC, I can’t get enough of their fusion of tribal rhythms, innocent/creepy lyrics, and Brian Wilson-inspired melodies. Strawberry Jam is their most (relatively) accessible album to date. The tunes are more focused and simple, straying from their previous norm of using over 100 tracks per song. They’ve sacrificed sprawling tracks for uniform bounciness throughout. I’ve found it nearly impossible not to jump around like a twelve-year-old while listening to songs like “Peacebone” or “Winter Wonder Land.”

Must Listen - "For Reverend Green

4. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Once upon a time, men like David Bowie and Marc Bolan pranced around looking like women and posturing with excessive machismo. Of course their music had heart, truth, and wit as well. You can now lump Kevin Barnes into that mix. Of Montreal dole out sugar-coated synth while Barnes confidently sings about being unconfident. Hissing Fauna is a breakup album full of anxiety, but it doesn't revel in sadness despite Barnes baring his soul about relying on antidepressants, unabashed anger towards his ex, and the inability to flee his frustrations. The melodies are so bouncy and catchy, it almost makes getting your heart broken sound fun. Almost.

Must Listen - “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal

3. Radiohead - In Rainbows
I’ve always been a sucker for all things hauntingly beautiful, so obviously I’m a big Radiohead fan. Four years after their last album, they gave the world just over a week to guess what their next move was. More isolated? More ominous? More electronic? Radiohead’s answer to all of these was a resounding NO. It’s there most melodic album since OK Computer and their most personal since The Bends. I can’t help but get goose bumps when Jonny Greenwood’s guitar takes center stage 40 seconds into “15 Step.” Everything I love about Radiohead (Thom’s moody lyrics and vocals, Phil’s creative percussion, Jonny’s delicate guitar, Ed’s angelic backing vocals, Colin’s efficient bass, and just the right amount of piano and strings) is summed up in the five-minute “Reckoner.”

Must Listen - “Reckoner

2. M.I.A. - Kala
When I was younger I couldn’t stand samples, but I grew to realize the resulting songs could live separately without detracting from the originals. What’s wrong with using a great riff to create an entirely different piece of art? Here, M.I.A. samples beats from New Order to cash registers while spitting lyrics from The Modern Lovers to Bollywood disco hits. All of it blends into vibrant scenes of a hungry and dangerous third-world where gunshots provide the rhythm. For me it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether M.I.A. is truly being political or just cultivating an image. With lyrics this creative and beats this good, she could sing about gum drops and puppy dogs and still make it interesting.

Must Listen - “Paper Planes

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
With so many anticipated albums coming out this year, I was probably most nervous about Sound of Silver. I played James Murphy's first album repeatedly for about a month after I bought it, but with the dance-rock revolution seemingly in comfortable territory, I didn't quite know where he could go from there. Who knew all it took was making the music a little more personal. The snark is still there in “North American Scum” and “Get Innocuous,” but my favorite one-two punch of the year comes in “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.” These songs perfectly capture the struggles of young adulthood: maturely coping with loss, discovering your priorities, and becoming someone you might not want to be. Listening to “New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” while riding the subway home from my temp job gave me a feeling Murphy's experienced some of the same lows I have. He makes fusing catchy dance beats with truthful, unpretentious lyrics seam effortless.

Must Listen - “All My Friends

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Top Ten Recods for 2007

Another year almost over, another top ten list to create. So, without any more ado, let's get right to it...

10. Andrew Bird-Armchair Apocrypha.
I've had this album for over a year, and it took practically the entire time for me to warm to it. I don't think it was until I heard his Daytrotter Sessions that I finally started to peel away at what Andrew Bird is doing on this record. Ultimately, there's a lot to like here once you accept that this record is simply far calmer and more meditative than his last one. I should have assumed as much, considering how long it took me to come around to Weather Systems, too.

9. Okkervil River-The Stage Names. I have a feeling that Will Sheff's voice is one of the love-it-or-hate-it types. Normally I go out of my way to avoid this kind of emotive singing, but his passionate, over-the-top singing voice just works for me. For some reason, I buy his emotion. Although he can intermittently be too much to handle, songs like "Unless It Kicks" have a great, Springsteen-esque bombast.

8. Ted Leo-Living With the Living. Might not have been this high or even made the list until I saw him at the McCarren Park Pool this summer. He's like the Sean Casey of the music world (for those of you that are baseball fans) in that he's just so likable and genuine that any of the stuff he does that might annoy me (e.g. the guitar solos that are, to be honest, only occasionally "anthemic") I just brush aside as an inoffensive quirk.

7. Arthur & Yu-In Camera. An unexpected surprise for me this year. If you're looking for a band that best captures the essence of the 3rd Velvet Underground record, this would be the one to check out. "1000 Words," in particular, is a haunting and beautiful song.

6. Wilco-Sky Blue Sky. The record merits inclusion if only for "You Are My Face," which has my single favorite guitar moment of the year at the 1:32 mark. Otherwise, the album has a great mellow, pleasant vibe that is the perfect recipe for 3 AM at a party, and who can have enough of those?

5. Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. My favorite Spoon record since Girls Can Tell and probably their best record, top to bottom. Although "Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" are the standout tracks on this record, this is the first time I've thought of one of their albums as something more than "singles and a bunch of filler." "Finer Feelings" is a particularly excellent song buried near the end of the record.

At this point, there needs to be some sort of gap, because while the records that came before I really enjoyed to varying degrees, these final four were, pretty clearly, my favorite records of the year:

4. Animal Collective-Strawberry Jam. Although I know that I use the expression "one-two punch" more that anyone really should, "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks" really do constitute my favorite back to back moments on any record this year. It wasn't until I had the record for a month that I could even get past those songs on focus on the additional standout tracks like "Derek" (I insist the brass sound near the end of this song is meant to sound like a college marching band) and "Cuckoo Cuckoo." Although I've given up on convincing people of how good this band is, it should be noted that this record is their 3rd in a row that could truly fall into the category of "accessible pop music." That being said, if you don't think "For Reverend Green" is a phenomenal song basically from the moment you hear it, you're probably just never going to like them.

3. Radiohead-In Rainbows. The real unexpected surprise this year, for me and everyone else. After never being able to connect with "Hail to the Thief" I figured that Radiohead's taste and mine were forevermore heading in different directions. 2 months later I'm still shocked at both how good this record is and how foolish I was to write this band off. In Rainbows, definitely my favorite record of theirs since OK Computer, is full of incredible highs and lows, from the high-energy opening tracks "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" to the more relaxed "House of Cards." In addition, musically and lyrically, "Reckoner" has to be one of Radiohead's top 5 songs of all time.

2. Jens Lekman-Night Falls Over Kortedala. With the bonus points I give Jens after seeing his solo show in Brooklyn this fall, this record could almost be "1B." Without even touching on the true standout tracks ("A Postcard to Nina," The Opposite of Hallelujah," "Your Arms Around Me"), what makes this record great is the way that this album seems to represent a synthesis of everything he does well. The typically great songwriting is less silly and more heartfult than his other records, while the music has a sustained 60's Doo-Wop/Motown vibe (with special props to The Tough Alliance for their help) that ties everything together extremely well. Finally, there's something trustworthy about his personality that helps to make every line he sings resonate more than it does with most other singers. When he sings lines like "I will never kiss anyone/That doesn't burn me like the sun," I believe him completely.

1. LCD-Sound of Silver. I can count on one hand the number of albums where I love EVERY SINGLE SONG, and this is one of them. I was trying to explain to someone a couple days ago just what makes this record so good, and it was hard for me to avoid explaining it in some sort of meta-musical sense. Basically, I feel that James Murphy has found a way to channel some of the greatest artists from the seventies and early 80s, in particular Brian Eno's early solo music and CAN, better than anyone else, no small feat considering how many artists mine this territory. And, what makes this especially incredible is his ability to sound completely fresh and distinct (and a lot of fun to listen to) while doing so. That being said, what really matters is that this record makes practically everyone that hears it happy! If you don't like the upbeat, especially easy-to-love songs "Time to Get Away" and "North American Scum," my tastes and yours are probably just never going to overlap. Anyway, what finally put this record over the top for me was all the unexpected heart found on this album. "Someone Great" is a poignant break-up song that works seamlessly with the music, while "All My Friends" perfectly captures the fear and sacrifices of getting older. This was my album of the year in January, and, incredibly, I still haven't heard anything in the last twelve months that can top it.

A few Honorable Mentions:

Vampire Weekend-Blue Cd-R.
I really love practically every track on this record, but I need more time to decide if it's just a passing fancy.
Caribou-Andorra. "Melody Day" is my choice for the best opening track of the year.
Elliott Smith-New Moon. I suppose, technically, this is more of a reissue. Still, this was probably the strongest Elliott Smith release since X/O
Panda Bear-Person Pitch. I'm finally, way after everyone else, coming around to this record. The music was too dense for me the first couple times around, but I finally warmed up to the album through the charms of the song "Bros"
New Pornographers-Challengers. "Myriad Harbor" is a fantastic song, and helps to make up for what was kind of a disappointing release following their spectacular last album, Twin Cinema.
Feist-The Reminder. As my friend Brandon says, there's something very "NPR" (calm, respectable, daring you to dislike it) about her sound that turns people off when they first hear it. Still, there's a ton of heart in this record, and "1234" is a wonderful song, despite how sick you may be of it after the Apple commercial.
Black Kids-Wizard of Ah's. Promising EP, well-grounded in that '77-82 sound that, let's face it, most of us can't get enough of.

That's my list. Let me know if have any questions/comments, or if you want me to email you a song from any of these records...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paul Simon's Graceland

After listening to the pleasant, African-inspired pop of the band Vampire Weekend the last couple days, I was compelled to relisten to Paul Simon's Graceland, the record that everyone seems to mention when talking about this band. Considering how much everyone loves Paul Simon's definitive solo record, its really kind of a surprise that more people within the Indie music sphere don't attempt to emulate this sound. Perhaps it's because everyone's afraid that they'll miss the mark and end up in an overcommercial, Dave Matthews-ish territory? What does Graceland do that the others can't? How is it able to sound like a product of the 80's yet still seem fresh and not rooted in that decade? What other record from the last twenty-five years can be enjoyed so much by such a large cross-section of people?

First of all, let me state that I have certain sentimental reasons for loving this record. When I was 4 or 5 my uncle Ed bought this cd and played it for my brother, my cousin, and I. We fell in love with it and preceded to play over and over and over for years to come every time that my brother and I came to visit. Particular favorites were the songs "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (mp3) and "I Know What I Know." Basically anytime Ladysmith Black Mambazo started doing anything in the background we went nuts and jumped all around the basement, attempting to song along to a style of music we had almost certainly never heard before. There's no doubt, for that matter, that Graceland was the first record I feel in love with.

And why shouldn't I have? The music still sounds great! Besides the obvious African roots of the the record, there is a straight-up tribute to Zydeco on the record as well (on the humorous "That Was Your Mother"), an appearance by Los Lobos on the final track ("The Myth of Fingerprints"), and even a little country on the painfully beautiful title track. This mix of sounds, maybe more than anything else, allows the album to achieve "classic" status. As it doesn't sound tethered to any particular era or genre, everyone is allowed to discover the album without any prejudice about what it should or shouldn't sound like.

That being said, there's no question that Paul Simon's vocals are the thread that holds this album together. I don't know how he does it, but there are few voices in pop music that sound more trustworthy. There's an underdog quality in the way he sings that makes you want to root for him and allows you to forget that he's a giant star making his 20th or so record. As I heard this record before I even knew who Simon and Garfunkel was, I've actually always preferred Paul Simon's solo music and singing voice to his more well-known sixties work (though "The Boxer," of course, is just about the greatest song ever written).

The lyrics are great, too, and have a pleasant mix of light and dark. The line about how the couple in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" ending up "Sleeping in a doorway/By the bodegas and the lights on upper Broadway" was one of those lines that helped to frame New York in my young mind as an exotic, wonderful place where people party all night and sleep wherever they end up. Hmm...maybe that was true in the 70's and 80's? The song "Graceland" seems to be about the different ways that people try to overcome their grief, his particular method being a trip to Graceland. And I've always loved the way every verse of "You Can Call Me Al" starts off like the beginning of a joke ("A man walks down the street...")

Finally, who can dislike an album that brought us one the the funniest and strangest videos from the 80's?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back from Michigan

Ah, so nice to be back in New York after a few (mostly) enjoyable days in Lansing for an old friend's wedding. Although there's much to say about my stay and little time to do so right now, I thought that the least I could do is pass on a link for my old pal Bill's new blog, called Popanalia. For those two or three people that are excited by my posts on Michigan sports, this site promises to have a lot of stuff along the same lines, along with your basic music, culture, etc. discussions.

Anyway, more to come on Michigan in the future, along with my heavily-hyped, much-anticipated essay on the importance of the "rally song."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Our New Detroit Tigers

Is is too early to get excited about the upcoming baseball season?

Last night, The Detroit Tigers agreed to give up two top-10 prospects (including Cameron Maybin, a personal favorite of mine) to get back the following two players from the Florida Marlins:

All-star 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera:And former Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up Dontrelle Willis:

I'm so excited about this I couldn't get to sleep last night. I know a lot of my friends aren't the biggest sports fans, but for those of us who are, you live for these kind of trades to go through. It not only makes them much, much better going into the next season, it gives the fans months to speculate about how everything is going to shake out in terms of lineups, rivalries, etc. Damn, why did the Tigers have to get so good as soon as I left Michigan!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Not Your Father's Humor

Like a lot of you out there, my funny bone has been a little sad due to the ongoing writer’s strike. Topical TV shows are running theme weeks and compilation episodes, movie theaters are packed with award-seeking serious flicks, and the internet can be a tough sea to navigate. I’ve been forced to troll through YouTube trying to find this SNL sketch or that Daily Show report. The one humor site (other than The Onion) that keeps killing me is Super Deluxe.

I was directed to this haven for humor last spring and have rarely been disappointed by its short yet memorable videos. People like Bob Odenkirk, Norm Macdonald, and the Comedians of Comedy have recurring shows and post clips whenever they feel like it. Clips usually last only a few minutes, but they pack loads of intelligent humor in a variety of ways, unlike the now clichéd randomness of every single Adult Swim show.

Even with a number of semi-stars contributing to the site, it’s the people you’ve never heard of who drive Super Deluxe’s success. Most notably a comic book artist named Brad Neely, whose series The Professor Brothers and I Am Baby Cakes are the site's two most popular mainstays. Both use crudely drawn yet effectively nuanced stills instead of motion animation to tell their stories, and there are plenty of subtle sight gags you’ll have to re-watch to catch.

To give you a taste, I’ve posted an episode of the 30-year-old man-child Baby Cakes for your delight.

We all know the Internet is the way of the present, but with top comedians devoting time to places like Funny or Die and Channel 101, it might just be the most reliable source to get your funny fix.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Last Note on The Bob Dylan Playlist

So, as I'm still a little obsessed with Bob Dylan after seeing Todd Hayne's "I'm Not There," I've been playing and thinking about Bob Dylan a ton. This got my thinking about "The Bob Dylan playlist" and it occured to me that I'd really be remiss if I left the song Positively 4th Street entirely off the list.

Positively 4th Street is one of those great angry Dylan songs, kind of like Idiot Wind, where he just throws the words right out there and dispenses with anything in the way of subtlety or metaphor. Here are the opening lines:
You got a lotta nerve 
To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that's winning
Pretty strong words, and most likely addressed to the people in the folk scene in Greenwich Village area (centered around West 4th St.) who turned their back on him and called him "Judas" after he made the switch to an electric, less political sound. Who knows though-maybe it's just about a girl?

Anyway, the song also has one of my favorite (and one of the meanest) closing lines ever. Really great stuff to listen to if you're feeling jilted or let down:
I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
Then you'd know what a
drag it is to see you
All the while, the song is dominated by the distinctive electric guitar/organ sound and the snarling Dylan voice that constitutes his best, most distinctive sound.

Not everyone is all that familiar with this tune, though, as it was a single-only release and can only be found on greatest hits collections or on the insanely great box set Biograph (which is where I originally heard it). Unfortunately, my discs of Biograph have long since been ruined by overplay and carelessness with my cds when I was younger, which is why I'm unfortunately not able to post this song for you. However, I can't recommend highly enough that you do what I did and spend the 99 cents to get this song off itunes. Trust me, you won't be disappointed if you do (Ok, fine, maybe you will. But for 99 cents at least you aren't out to much).

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Flight of the Conchords

If you haven't had the opportunity to check out the excellent HBO comedy "Flight Of the Conchords" yet, you're in luck: the first season is now available on dvd! This show, my unexpected comedy surprise of 2007, carries on the great HBO tradition of offbeat, unconventional, and intelligent comedies (Mr. Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lucky Louie) that wouldn't work anywhere else on TV.
Flight of the Conchords, in short, follows Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, "New Zealand's 4th most popular folk-parody duo" as they struggle to get gigs, make rent, and meet women in New York. Mixed throughout the episodes are songs that (by aping a variety of genres and music-video clichés) provide an absurd and unfailingly hilarious commentary to what is happening in the episode.

This clip is from "Girlfriends," my favorite episode of the first season. The video raises several questions, the most important being: is that the real Gérard Depardieu?

I can't recommend this show highly enough. Check it out if you get a chance, or, considering how cheap it is on Amazon, just go ahead and buy the dvd. Musical comedy hasn't been this good since...hmm...Troy McClure's "Dr. Zaius" song on The Simpsons?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Bob Dylan playlist

At the request of my friend Brandon, I've decided to post the track listing for the "Bob Dylan Playlist," something I've been working on for the last couple of months when the urge to avoid actually doing anything productive at all really hits me the strongest. A couple things to note:
  • There's nothing post-1976 on here. I know a lot of people think that his last three albums are among his best. I don't. I think they're ok, but there aren't any tracks on those records that merited inclusion on my personal playlist.
  • There's nothing from Desire or Street Legal on here, which is probably not right. I thought about putting some things from both of those on here, but "Hurricane" is too long for a playlist and there isn't a track on Street Legal that jumped out at me enough to include.
  • All told, there are 16 different albums represented on here. Yet another reminder of how incredible Dylan's output was when he was at his very best.
  • I'm going to include a couple select notes here, but not for every song. There's not much I can tell you about, say, "Like a Rolling Stone" that hasn't been said before.
Without any further ado, here's my playlist. I'm not including mp3's on here, so send me a comment or an email if you want me to send you of these songs to check out.

The Ultimate Dylan Playlist:

1. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (Biograph) This beautiful, upbeat, and simple demo version of the song from his first record is my favorite example of the "lighter side of Dylan's music."
2. Queen Jane Approximately (Highway 61 Revisited) "When your mother sends back all your invitations," is one of the greatest opening lines to a song. I love the way it hints so well at something awful or maybe even tragic that the details aren't even necessary.
3. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bringing It All Back Home). The version on my ipod is taken from the remastered version of these records. And man oh man, the difference is striking. Picking a couple of these remastered editions up is well worth the investment.
4. Abandoned Love (Biograph)
5. Girl From The North Country (With Johnny Cash) (Nashville Skyline) A like this Dylan/Johnny Cash version just the slightest bit more than the original, if only for the way they and go back and forth on the "true love of mine" line at the end.
6. Visions Of Johanna Bob Dylan (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert) This is probably still my all-time favorite Dylan song. On this live version, every word seems so heartfelt that it's never mattered that I don't really know what the hell's going on in this song.
7. To Ramona (The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 Live 1964 Disc 1) Worth it for the moment near the end of this version where his voice cracks on the "deep in my heart I know there's no help I can bring" line.
8. It Ain't Me, Babe (Another Side of Bob Dylan)
9. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You (Nashville Skyline) This might be the happiest Dylan song I know, and is a perfect album closer for Nashville Skyline.
10. Just Like A Woman (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert) Good lord, everything from the "Albert Hall" concert is so good that all of the versions of the songs he plays from it, including this one, seem to become for me the definitive versions.
11. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) (Blonde On Blonde)
12. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are A-Changin) One of the greatest Dylan story-songs, this is also a nice remnant from the time when he was still political.
13. I Shall Be Released (Bootleg Series Vol 1-3)
14. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (The Basement Tapes) Another classic song made more famous by another band (in this case, The Byrds)
15. If Not For You (New Morning)
16. Million Dollar Bash (The Basement Tapes)
17. Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine (Blonde On Blonde) This song features the quintessential "Dylan voice." Whenever you hear someone do a joke-y Dylan imitation, odds are they're doing this voice.
18. Bob Dylan - Desolation Row (Highway 61 Revisited)
19. Fourth Time Around (Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert)
20. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (John Wesley Harding) This is the only track from John Wesley Harding on here, and even this is included kind of begrudgingly, because I think that album doesn't really fit well with the rest of his stuff and should really be listened to as a whole.
21. The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) (Self Portrait)
22. Oxford Town (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
23. Who Killed Davey Moore (The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 Live 1964)
24. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) This has to be the greatest break-up song ever. Fuck-off songs are rarely, if ever, so controlled.
25. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Essential Bob Dylan Disc 2)
26. Like a Rolling Stone (Highway 61 Revisited) When I first moved to New York, and I was as broke and alone as I'll ever be, I remember playing this song again and again like it was a rallying cry.
27. She Belongs to Me (Bringing It All Back Home)
28. You're a Big Girl Now (Biograph) My very first "favorite Bob Dylan song," this is another demo version from "Biograph" and features some great heartfelt vocals.
29. Absolutely Sweet Marie (Blonde On Blonde)
30. Buckets Of Rain (Blood On The Tracks) I still love his version, but check out the amazing Neko Case cover if you can find it.
31. The Times They Are A-Changin' ( The Times They Are A-Changin)
32. Tangled Up In Blue (Blood On The Tracks) One of the all-time great album openers. It also features some of his most arresting lyrics.
33. Lay Lady Lay (Nashville Skyline)
34. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) (Another Side of Bob Dylan) Another great break-up song. This one is when you can't even pretend to be in the recovery phase of the break-up.
35. The Man In Me (New Morning)
36. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
37. All I Really Want To Do (Another Side of Bob Dylan) Much like the playlist opener, this song is another example of Dylan's light touch, a characteristic that people often seem to neglect when talking about him.

So, that's my playlist. Even given how subjective this kind of thing is, I'm curious if anyone feels like a made an egregious omission. Also, is everyone as excited as I am about "I'm Not There," the new Bob Dylan biopic? My excitement about that movie, more than anything else, has really fueled this Dylan phase I'm going through right now.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Alice's Restaurant

First of all, let me just say that I love Thanksgiving. Almost everyone has a four and a half day weekend, the stress of travel and gift buying that comes during Christmas isn't here yet, and it's one of the few days all year that I can catch the Lions game in New York! Although those are the big ones, one of the more subtle reasons that I always get excited about the holiday is knowing that I will soon dig out and listen to Arlo Guthrie's classic Thanksgiving song, Alice's Restaurant Massacre.

To call this 18 minute, 37 second piece a song, however, probably diminishes it's stature too greatly. Alice's Restaurant is a song about thanksgiving, food, Vietnam, garbage, the draft, and the power of sing-alongs. Seriously. The song is built around a very simple chorus and a playful, pleasant guitar line. What seems just kind of bizarre and silly becomes something of an anti-Vietnam War anthem as the builds and gains momentum. You've probably heard this chorus before, even if you weren't aware of who sang it or what is was about:

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
In the shortest possible form, the story goes like this:
  • Arlo and his friend visit their pal Alice at her restaurant on thanksgiving night and decide to haul away her trash for her.
  • After finding out the garbage dump is closed, they throw the garbage off the side of a cliff.
  • They got caught and arrested.
  • More stuff happens, hilarity ensues
  • Later on the song mutates into a story about the Vietnam war (not sure how, exactly, but it does) and he explains his decision to protest and how he'll do so (the chorus is involved)
  • The crowd (oh yeah, it's also recorded live) sings the chorus along with Arlo and everyone is joined together in some sort of anti-War protest movement
Don't ask me how, but the song works, dammit.

My memories of the first time hearing it are still a little fuzzy, as I was in the middle of my "get stoned before work with my coworker Phil" phase in college (which, thankfully, I bowed out of fairly quickly. Getting stoned with Phil, that is, not college.). Still, I thought the melody was so upbeat and pleasant that I went out and bought it the next day. I think I played it once and that was it for the year (it's not really the kind of song you want to play twice in a row). But the next year I went back and listened to it and found that I liked it just the much as the first time. The year after was the same, and so it continues into the present.

Anyway, as I'm hosting thanksgiving at my place this year for the first time ever, I'm hoping to convince my friends to listen to it. Although I'm pretty sure it will be a tough sell (is a 20 minute song ever an easy sell, no matter how good you swear it is?) , perhaps, once the Tryptophan in the turkey takes hold, I'll slip it on before my guests know what hit them.

(P.S. Although I didn't post this gigantic song on here, if you want to listen to it let me know and I'll find a way to get it to you. Legally, of course.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Taste of Genius

By now, everybody knows (and probably loves) both Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. I know I do. As much as I admired their work on The Daily Show, I was initially sceptical of both of their television ventures that followed. I thought there was no way the American Office could live up to the British version, but after some time and viewing a handful of episodes, I've become a bonafide fan. And of course Mr. Carell is untouchable as the arrogant yet lovable Michael Scott. With the Colbert Report, I wasn't sure Stephen would be charismatic enough to drive the show for 30 minutes, let alone four days a week. He commands every second of the show without the help of correspondents and shows you his supreme imrpov chops during the interviews.

That said, I thought I'd share some of my favorite moments where they worked together on screen. It feels kind of weird to watch them work off each other now that they're both popular individually, but it's so incredibly fun.

Here's one of my favorite Even Stevphen's from the Daily Show:

And a classic sketch from the devastatingly shortlived Dana Carvey Show:

Finally an Ambiguously Gay Duo you're sure to enjoy:

Friday, November 9, 2007

Another Way to Like Yo La Tengo

My experience with the band Yo La Tengo has always been kind of curious. I came around to them way late, not really enjoying them until I was practically out of college. To this day if people asked me about them I would describe myself as, at best, a casual fan. And yet, if you look at the top 25 most played songs on my ipod, 3 of the songs are by Yo La Tengo!

I guess, whether you love them or not, there's a certain kind of mellow vibe they create which, if you're a big music fan, can't really be denied. They're also funny as hell, big sports fans, and have some of the greatest album titles ever, including last year's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, however, remains my favorite record of theirs, with the song Autumn Sweater (mp3) typifying, both as a title and a song, the kind of moments in which their sound just cannot be topped. Walking around in autumn, late at night, there isn't a band in a world that provides a better soundtrack.

Probably my three favorite Yo La Tengo songs (the ones that are on the top 25) are Stockholm Syndrome, Black Flowers, and You Can Have it All. Bizarrely, not one of these songs is sung by Ira Kaplan, the lead singer. Although I love their music itself, I've always much preferred the voice of bass player James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley. Nothing against Ira, of course, but his voice is usually just a little too deep and set too far back against the music for me to really enjoy.

McNew, in particular, has a soft, sad voice that belies his appearance and always strikes just the right tone for me. It's impossible to listen to Black Flowers (mp3) and not become entranced by his melancholy vocals and story of the "pretty boys with skinny ties" and their "black flowers and valentines" that distract his love and keeps her away from him. Stockholm Syndrome, another McNew song, remains my favorite Yo La Tengo tune. It serves as a reminder that some of the greatest pop lyrics are the simplest, carried to greatness on the strength of their vocal performances.

Your heart is broken, and the doors are open
As you're hoping to be

There's brighter places to see

Hands need warning, early in the morning

Hardly as I've known a surprise

Georgia's voice has a great way of getting a hold of me as well. There's something about the quiet and assured style in which she sings that has a wonderfully casual air. The song My Little Corner of the World is one great example of this, though my favorite of hers remains You Can Have it All, and the way her voice rises out from the fantastic "ba-bum-ba-bum-bah-bah-bah"s. Once again, the lyrics are practically nothing, just a few simple lines where the meaning is supplied by the upbeat and gentle music and by her soft, confident voice. This is the entirety of the song:

If you want, want my love
Take it baby

If you want, want my heart

Take it baby

You can have it all

If you want, want my time

Take it baby

And if you want my last dime

Take it baby
You can have it all

Take it baby, you can have it all

So, if you haven't given Yo La Tengo much a chance yet, it might be time to try again. Just remember that sometimes, even if you only like 3 songs out of 100, those three songs can make all of the digging around worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Paste Magazine's New Subscription Policy

It appears the Radiohead distribution policy is gaining traction outside of the music realm as well! Head on over to Paste magazine and set your price for a year's subscription (thanks to Megan for the heads-up). I've always found Paste to be a solid, well-written magazine, covering all the bases of pop culture, and it was one I certainly read every month during the old bookstore days. Anyway, kind of a cool idea, and it actually got me to subscribe for a year (a paid more than one dollar, but less that the $19.95 full price), which I certainly would not have done otherwise. As a fan of this distribution style (and as someone that hopes it catches on more and more), I figured I'd pass along the info. Bold move, Paste!

The Do's and Dont's of (Book) Clubbing

Just in case you can never satisfy your Josh-mania, head on over to the "Books & Booze" website to get my take on the "Do's and Don'ts of a successful book club." Most of my advice comes from my experience in the C.R.A.F.T. club in college, a successful book club that crashed and burned on the shores of a multi-week attempt to get through James Joyce's Ulysses.

Still, book clubs, when done correctly, are great fun. I might, however, suggest you stay away from 900 page modernist novels!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's On!

Yesterday morning, the writing stopped. About 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America are demanding money for their work when it goes to DVD and the internet. It’s this “new media” stuff that CEOs claim to be a confusing area when it comes to profit distribution. And until the writers come to an agreement with TV networks and film studios, the funny is gone. Tina Fey is leading chants in front of Rockefeller Center in NY while James L. Brooks walks up and down the sidewalk in front of Fox Studios in LA. Sure, some of these people make decent scratch, but there are thousands of writers who are cast aside while media conglomerates fatten their wallets. Personally, I would be more than a little upset if someone raked in crazy money off my work without giving me even a little share. Media companies have had all the power until now.

The last writers’ strike was in 1988 and lasted five months. Five months! Over that period it cost the entertainment industry half a billion dollars. Half a billion dollars! It’s a blow to those who claim anyone can write and to those whose jobs depend on writers’ ideas and creativity. As much as I hate reruns, this needs to be done. I saw an interview with a picketing John Oliver who said he was writing on Friday for Monday’s Daily Show, in hopes this could be settled over the weekend. We won’t be seeing any new episodes of the Daily Show, SNL, Conan O Brien, and other brilliant shows any time soon. This strike could last days, weeks, even months. And the longer it goes on, the worse television and film will get.

Many speculate that networks will resort to airing more reality shows. More?! These glamorized game shows offer little if any insight into life, lack creativity, and are an insult to all the talented writers out there. They cost no money to make because there’s no thought going into them. There’s a reason quality shows on HBO win awards year after year. Seriously, how many more hosts like Joey Fatone can America take?

When the writers’ requests are finally met, they’ll he happier and more productive, that’s the point of striking. The media companies have taken them for granted far too long. Even Barack Obama agrees. So as we sadly watch reruns of our favorite shows, know all this is being done for a reason. In the end, our laughter will benefit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The NBA Season Begins

NBA Basketball, the most exciting, most intense, most athletic, and most wonderfully flawed sport in all the land is back! Hooray!

There's something about all the troubles and scandals that actually brings me closer to the game; I'm like a child who's a little too protective of their troubled parent. I don't really care about the Tim Donaghy ref scandal (though I really hope it was isolated), and I don't really care about all the will-Kobe-get-traded? drama, either. What I do care about is this:
  • Gilbert Arenas acting insane (and draining some cold-blooded shots against the coaches and teams on his ever-expanding "enemies list"). I don't know that I've ever screamed more while watching a game than I did during their overtime slugfest against the Suns right around Christmastime last year. As Kobe Bryant famously said of Gilbert: "he has no conscience." Plus, he's probably the most entertaining player in the NBA since Charles Barkley retired. Also, make sure to check out his blog if you get a chance.

  • The Phoenix Suns. Listen, even if you can't get around the fact that they don't play D, there's no denying the aesthetic pleasures of watching them play basketball. They are the quickest team, have one of the most crazy-athletic athletes in any sport in Amare Stoudemire, and feature the incredible point guard play of Steve Nash. While we can talk about whether they are built for the playoffs in the spring, they make the 82 game regular season infinitely more interesting.
  • The rejuvenated East. Even if we all agree that the West is still the stronger conference, the East is, if nothing else, a heck of a lot more interesting this year. With Kevin Garnett in Boston, Dwyane Wade hopefully back and healthy soon, and Lebron doing his thing in Cleveland, there are more big stars in the East than there have been in a long time. Factor in the Pistons and Bulls as well, and there is a lot more basketball worthy of our attention on the Eastern Time Zone this time around.
  • Reading Free Darko and Bill Simmons. Although they approach the NBA from often very different perspectives, not to mention writing styles, they both write about the NBA with incredible passion and depth. Every time they talk about basketball it reinforces why I call it my favorite sport.
  • Finally, the Detroit Pistons. Ah, the Pistons, my favorite team in any sport. This summer wasn't quite as bad as the last, where I couldn't even talk about basketball for six months as I recovered from their playoff flame-out against the Miami Heat (this after I actually predicted they would go undefeated in the playoffs. I'm always a little too quick to cross the line from confident to arrogant). Last year my expectations were lower, so I was able to recover from another disappointing season a little faster. Still, this season feels different. How can I not be excited about thier youth movement? Who doesn't look forward to rooting for Jason Maxiell's thunderous dunking this year?Also, don't forget about other young players like Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson! Or my favorite player, Chauncey Billups! The Pistons have been old and getting older for so long that I forgot how much fun it was to watch your team undergo a youth movement. For once, I can actually see the future of the Pistons, and it seems pretty bright. Hope always springs eternal in the world of sports...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

True Proof of Youth

Sunday night was cold. Really cold. Defying the bitterness of the blustery wind, I met my friend Angie at Studio B in Greenpoint, hoping a good old-fashioned rock and roll dance party would warm my bones. Unlike some, I love The Go! Team's first album. It uses layers of cheerleader chants, triumphant horns, and early 80s hip-hop lyrics to make you feel like you're at a sunny urban park jumping rope and playing hopscotch. Their last album sounded much the same only not as consistent, but was undeniably catchy nonetheless. On this night, rugs were bound to be cut.

We made our way inside, grabbed a drink or two, and settled in to watch the openers. The first band was a couple of MCs who looked like American Apparel models and sounded just as indifferent. Second was a group of 60s-psychedelic-loving Grace Slick impersonators. Their sound was tight and dark, but not exactly what I was in the mood for. After their set the crowd started to get into it. People packed the tiny dance floor in front of the stage, waiting for sonic joy to pummel their ears.

The Go! Team came out rocking extremely loud and hard and it didn't take long for the crowd to start jumping around. Right from the opener, MC Ninja had the crowd on a string. She danced, we danced. She told us to yell out a lyric, we did. All the while emanating cuteness I can only describe as luscious. They tore through a set of all the favorites: “Bottle Rocket”, “We Just Won't Be Defeated”, “Grip Like A Vice”, and the highlight o' the night “Ladyflash.” Ninja dared the crowd to dance harder than we ever had before, and we shook it fast because that's what we were there to do.

I find it almost impossible to be unhappy while listening to their pop-rock's youthful exuberance. So many times an audience of kids at a rock show will lead to some head bobbing and toe-tapping, but they're still too self-conscious to let loose. A club full of uninhibited 20-somethings barely stopping between songs to rest their feet gave me images of a 1950s sock-hop, back when hearing live rock and roll truly breathed life into your soul. The audience moved as one joyous entity. After their encore we thanked them, but didn't cheer for more. We were all far too giddy and exhausted to be greedy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jens Lekman at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Last night Megan and I bared the elements (what happened to autumn, by the way? how did we go right from summer to winter?) and went to go see Jens Lekman play a solo performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. At the risk of sounding a little too over-the-top, it was, without a doubt, one of the greatest show's I've been to. What made it great? Let us count the ways...

First and foremost, Lekman put on an amazing solo performance. His voice is even stronger and more assured than it appears on the record. That, combined with his excellent songwriting, made him a perfect candidate for a solo show. On a story-song like "A Postcard to Nina," he made you feel as though he were quietly and casually singing this song to you in the den of somebody's house. It's pretty hard to get across an "intimate" vibe when you have an audience of 600 people watching you, put he was in command of his songs and the audience for the entire show.

In addition, the crowd itself was incredible. Say what you will about Williamsburg, but it is without question a neighborhood filled with music lovers. It was heartening to see so many people more than willing to clap, to sing along, and to snap their fingers. For the song "A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill" (mp3) they even sang along with the difficult "bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp" chorus! Lekman wisely played off the crowd, giving them opportunities to sing along while effortlessly deflecting some annoying hipster requests along the way.

Finally, the set was perfectly constructed. Almost all of the songs he played were favorites from his three records, and the segues between them were perfect. On a personal note, if you had asked me what 10 songs I would have wanted to hear from him, practically every song I would have chosen found its way into his performance. He came out for two encores (possibly 3, if you include the psuedo-encore that Megan insists should count as well), with the second encore consisting of a cover of "You Can Call Me Al" and a half-English/half-Swedish version of "Maple Leaves," one of his best songs. The whole set was about 90 minutes, and didn't feel a minute too short or too long, which I can't remember ever feeling about a show. "Do you all have to work tomorrow?" he asked before the second encore, "because I could play all night."

It was a great time to see somebody that I think could really be on the cusp of, if not stardom, maybe semi-stardom? The New York Times, by the way, seems to agree, they have a great write-up of the other (full band) show he played on Saturday. While I don't know about that show, I can say pretty confidently that he made 600 fans for life last night.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Give it a Rest, Seinfeld!

As a huge, huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld, a big enough fan to have spent hundreds of dollars on Seinfeld DVDs, it pains me to say that I am getting really, really sick of his ubiquitous presence in the media. Good lord, how much can he plug "Bee Movie?" Shouldn't there be some sort of limit to how much he can shamelessly self-promote this (ok looking) animated movie?

One of the great things about Jerry Seinfeld has always been the way he projects a certain air of effortless cool. He's obviously an extremely funny guy, but part of his likeability seems to come from the fact that he just seems like a winning person, the kind of guy for whom things work out without him ever having to sweat. It's a facade, of course, and by all accounts Seinfeld is a pretty insanely hard worker, especially when it came to his show. Still, part of his appeal was the way he made it look easy, and his shameless promotion of "Bee Movie" is so desperately over the top that it reeks of an intense desire to be liked and embraced. Not appealing, and definitely not cool.

Perhaps some of this is NBC's fault. I personally have a bone to pick with that network anyway, particularly due to their unwillingness to license itunes/ipod-friendly shows any longer. Last year I probably spent 50 bucks buying shows that I missed and catching up with them on my own time. It was money well spent, especially when friends came over and I played them, say, my favorite 30 Rock episodes. Apparently, this method stood in the way of NBC/Universal's corporate synergy, so you can now watch commercial-packed versions of the show only on their internet website.

Regardless, there's no way Seinfeld didn't have his hands all over this supreme promotion. He even plugs the movie, along with his wife's book, in a computer commercial that came out this week. Yeesh. Additionally, I thought it was a major coup for "30 Rock" to have him on the show, until his performance turned out to be a.) not funny and b.) nothing more than a plug for his movie.

Enough already, Seinfeld! You're great, and it's great to have you back, but couldn't you blanket the airwaves in a way that isn't so grating to your fans?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sound Off

Most police sirens have a very distinct wail that frightens criminals, stresses speeders, and annoys the hell out of anyone who lives near a precinct. Yet every cop car in New York sounds like a different IDM DJ trying to mess with your ears. Despite this being arguably the most in-your-face city in the world, its sirens usually aren't intrusive enough to get people out of the way. I propose they be changed to something more alarming.

Some options:

The sound of someone vomiting
-Loud, guttural heaves should certainly get people uncomfortable and quickly onto the sidewalk. Hearing this as I cross the street would stop me in my tracks and check my clothes for stomach matter.

The whistle of a bomb dropping
-You know the classic sound. It might have been more effective to use this directly following 9/11, but it should still get people moving. I think it would be more menacing to hear the constant whistle without ever hearing the explosion, but I might be wrong.

Police officers calling people out
-Hearing actual officers getting personal with those in their way would strike fear in those not wanting to be ridiculed. Just imagine a cop yelling, "Hey tall guy with steel wool for hair, people are gonna die 'cause you won't get your hipster ass out of our way!" I certainly wouldn't want to hear it.

A baby crying
-Having been on many flights, the one thing that still irritates me is the incessant cry of a hungry, gassy baby. The shrill siren screams would have pedestrians covering their ears and running for silence and drivers pulling off the road and turning up their stereos.

Audio from an episode of Mind of Mencia
-You know he's annoying when even Maxim rates him as the 12th worst comedian of all time. Hearing one or two “DEE-Dee-dee's” would drive me insane. Throw in completely offensive jokes about midgets, the handicapped, and homosexuals and I would never want to see a cop car again. Maybe they'll even toss in one of his ridiculously self-righteous quotes:

"Somewhere right now, there is a soldier dying to protect our rights. One of these rights is free speech. And I will never let a soldier die in vain."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jens Lekman

Well, while I was going to write about Jens Lekman eventually and perhaps still will, you should definitely check out this article on Slate when you get a chance. Lekman is such a charming musician that he really defies you to like him, it would be like disliking Jonathan Richman (am I correct, Megan?). Plus, there just aren't a ton of indie artists that do the kind of pop music that everyone likes, so the few that do really need to be celebrated.

Anyway, his new record, Night Falls Over Kortadala, is unquestionably a top 5 record for me this year. This album boasts his typically excellent lyrics and singing, while having a great Motown-y vibe to it as well. In particular, keep an eye out for "The Opposite of Hallelujah," one of my favorite tracks of the year and one of those deliciously sad songs that for some reason you just have to keep playing again and again and again...

Also, everyone should go out and buy Oh You're So Silent, Jens today if you don't already own it. If nothing else, do it for the song "Black Cab," one of those songs I can't avoid being hyperbolic about, so I'll just go ahead and call it one of the greatest songs ever written. One of my favorite verses is in this song, too:

I killed a party again
I ruined it for my friends
well you're so silent, Jens
well maybe I am, maybe I am

Monday, October 22, 2007

Evolution of an Ipod User

The story of my evolution as an ipod user:

Phase One: Unevolved. A.k.a. still using the discman/cd wallet method. This was actually where I was until about a year ago. While in Michigan, I never really thought much about getting an ipod; most of the walking I did was from my car to work/class/the coffee shop. I didn't prowl the streets the way that I do today (yeah, that's right, I prowl.) So, even though the discman/cd wallet method was a mild space-occupying nuisance, I didn't really see any impetuous to spend a few hundred bucks on a piece of electronics I would probably just break. Which, make no mistake, I would have done. Or I would have lost it. Or I would have spilled coffee on it. Or I would have drunkenly loaned it to someone and never got it back.

Phase Two: New York, Year One. When I moved to New York two years ago, I didn't realize that everyone was somehow already in possession of an mp3 player. 45 year old Wall Street types sat on the subway next to 18 year old Williamsburg hipsters and they could both be found using the same ipod and headphones. It was actually kind of cool and appealingly capitalist, in a "the ipod is so clearly the best mp3 player that we all can agree to use it" sort of way. Of course, thus began the phase where it became vaguely shameful to have the cd/wallet combo. Unlike me, they could put their music in their pockets! They didn't have to buy new batteries every week! (New York batteries, by the way, are the absolute worst batteries in the world. A fresh pair will last no longer than two subway rides. It was/is infuriating). It was really only a matter of time (and money) before I got an ipod, too, once I got here.

Phase Three: The Ipod Purchase: Last fall, after a little prodding, I finally went and bought a 30 gig, video ipod. It immediate became, to an almost embarrassing degree, the greatest thing I owned. After the initial thrill of getting all my cds onto my ipod and realizing just how great it was to have all of my music available at once ( a truly thrilling experience, as all ipod users can attest), I began to wonder what I could get, for free, from the Internet. As I was working at the time at a job that afforded me serious downtime, this proved to be the perfect diversionary activity. And man oh man, is there a lot of stuff out there...

Phase Four: Taking It Up a Notch. After a couple months scouring the Internet, acquiring some favorite music blogs (Gorilla Vs. Bear, Moistworks, and Said the Gramophone in particular), and using the itunes store, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I had to find the holy grail. Maybe I found it, maybe I didn't (for legal reasons, let's keep the answer open-ended), but even if I did, the quest never really ends anyway. There's always more music, more bands, more bootlegs, more unreleased tracks, more out of print albums, more...

Phase Five: Cooling the Fire. Because finding new music is a quest that has no end, I finally got tired of the whole process and took myself out of the race. I stopped going to about 90% of the music sites I went to, I stopped trolling the mp3 blogs, and I cut back on the number of elaborate "theme" playlists that I like to make (somewhat). This had multiple advantages: It freed me up to actually listen to all the music I'd acquired while also giving me more time to spend on these objects I used to love called "books." In addition, I've fallen in love with podcasts, and they provide a daily dose of enjoyment while letting me pretend that I'm getting smarter. I still listen to a crazy amount of music, but it has settled back into a more normal, less manic place in my life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Radiohead and the National Conversation

Regardless of whether you feel positively or negatively about "In Rainbows," the new Radiohead album, one of the cool things that their unique distribution policy has done is create an album that basically all of my friends own. When was the last time that happened? I was really racking my brain to come up with the last time everyone was talking about the same record. It would have to be a hip-hop record, though, possibly something by Kanye West, Outkast, or Eminem?

Plus, the fact that everyone can get the album for free has created enormous goodwill around the record and the band itself. Assuming that most of you that read this have heard the record, what do you think about it?

Personally, I already like it more than "Hail to the Thief" and there is no doubt that there is something warmer about this record than the Kid A/Amnesiac duo (though I wouldn't say it's better, at least not yet?). Obviously, it can't touch OK Computer, but I find it sort of tiresome to bring this up every time a new record of theirs comes out. In re the songs themselves: "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" are an excellent, upbeat 1-2 punch to start off the record, while "Nude" and "Videotape" remind me of some of the best slow moments from "Ok Computer."

Does anyone have a problem with the sound quality? As much as I love music, I'm no audiophile, and the 160 bit rate sounds just fine to my ears (Check out this Slate article argues that most of the time, you really can't notice anyway). Still, I know that there are some people for whom this kind of thing drives them crazy, is this the case for any of you?

Regardless of what you think about the record, the conversation about this record reminds me of a time when everyone got a big new record on the same day (as opposed to now, when everyone seems to get leaked records 6 months or more in advance), and there was no avalanche of hype (or disappointment, for that matter) to make up your mind for you before you even heard the record. That alone has me more excited than I've been about an album in quite a while.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Talkin' Music With Billy Bragg

At a wedding I was at this summer, I made the unfortunate mistake of bringing up Billy Bragg to my friend Tanya. Although I love talking about Bragg's music any opportunity I get, I have a tendency to get a little carried away (a tendency that increases exponentially depending on how much I've been drinking). Pretty soon I was singing lines from his songs and demanding (literally, I think) that she acknowledge the genius in his lyrics. It was all pretty embarrassing.

Regardless, the point I am always very insistent in trying to get across is that regardless of whether you can really get into his singing voice or the music, it's just impossible not to fall in love with his lyrics. His lines are heartfelt, immediate, and way less oblique than other great songwriters like Elvis Costello or Bob Dylan. So, in the interest of advancing this theory, here are some of my favorite Billy Bragg lyrics (with commentary). Most of these songs can be found on the "Back to Basics," but, as that record is out of print, you couldn't go wrong with "
Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy" or "Talking With the Taxman about Poetry."

Billy Bragg's songs can be put into a number of categories, here are a few:

Unrequited Love: This is a category in which Billy Bragg especially excels. Not only are his songs sharp and honest, his voice (for which the word "doleful" may have been invented) work brilliantly with the lyrics. Consider "The Saturday Boy: (

We dreamed of her and compared our dreams

But that was all that I ever tasted

She lied to me with her body you see

I lied to myself 'bout the chances I'd wasted

Is there a sentiment that better expresses unrequited love than lying to yourself about the chances you've wasted? Can an unrequited love even exist if you honestly think the boy or girl would never love you in a million years? I'm amazed now how often I thought when I was younger than I "blew my one chance" with a girl when, really, I was probably kidding myself to begin with.

Social Status: Another great gift of Bragg's is his ability to see the world through the eyes of the middle class, in particular those of us that are working hard but still struggling to get by. He's not alone in this regard (apparently some "Springsteen" fellow does this too), but he has a great gift for getting the universal idea in his song across. From "To Have and Have Not:"

Just because you're better than me
Doesn't mean I'm lazy
Just because you're going forwards
Doesn't mean I'm going backwards

In New York in particular, that last line is something that a lot of us have to repeat to ourselves again and again in order to keep our sanity. That verse is also one that I'd think about in college sometimes when confronted with older friends/ex-girlfriends that were already doing a lot more with their life than I was.

The Single Life: Yeesh, does he deal with any happy subject matter? Still, despite some lonely, depressing topics, there's nothing especially melancholy about Billy Bragg and his lyrics. Take this one from "
From a Vauxhall Velox (mp3):"

Some people say love is blind
But I think that's just a bit short-sighted

Some people just want it now
It doesn't matter where or how

Satisfaction takes a second place

So long as they can get excited

If he's single then, by god, it's because he's tough enough to wait for something better to come along. Uh, yeah, that's why I'm single, too.

Love Songs: I guess I should pick some more political lyrics, considering that's what he's especially known for, but it seems like whenever I play him I always come back to the love songs. One of the absolute best is "Greetings to the New Brunette," a song that traces the beginning, middle, and end of a long, complicated relationship. Much of the pull of this song lies in the way that Bragg gets progressively sadder and the lyrics get a little more depressing the further the song goes on:

Early on:

it's quite exciting to be sleeping here in this new room
you're my reason to get out of bed before noon

Some trouble:

your sexual politics have left me all of a muddle
we are joined in the ideological cuddle

More trouble:

you really know how to make a young man angry
can we get through the night without mentioning family


give my greetings to the new brunette.

So, that's a sampling of the kind of stuff I go on about at 2 A.M. My analysis, sadly, really doesn't work as well in print, but give me a few drinks and I'll be glad to give you the full, interactive 3-hour presentation.