Nov 28 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Bleed American

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

32. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

Originally called Bleed American, but changed to a self-titled moniker due to the post-9/11 censorship mania, Jimmy Eat World’s breakthrough album is an undeniable power pop classic. Spawning four huge singles, including unavoidable hit “The Middle,” the album propelled the band into the mainstream almost overnight. Listening in retrospect, it’s easy to hear why: everything here is infectious from beginning to end. You’d have to be a robot to not find something you liked.

“A Praise Chorus” is a lovely nostalgic sendup to the 80’s, while “Sweetness” is a call-and-response shout-along made for arenas. “Hear You Me” is a somber tribute to Weezer fans Mykel and Carli, and “Authority Song,” quite possibly the best track on the album, pays homage to the old Mellancamp tune in name only. Overall, Bleed American is an easy pill to swallow, but by no means is it one you get tired of consuming repeatedly. Even after ten years, the melodies still click in a way the band has been unable to match since. Catchy, intelligent, precise, timeless.

Listen to Bleed American on Spotify.

Nov 21 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Arular

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

33. MIA – Arular

There were two albums I purchased in high school while attending Dale Carnegie courses. Before going to class, I stopped by the ol’ CD store (remember those?) and snagged Weezer’s Make Believe and this, the debut LP from MIA. Needless to say, I was immensely impressed with one of them and the other, well, it got shelved. It seems now that MIA and Weezer might have more in common than we previously thought. Perhaps they both were destined to make two widely acclaimed works and then proceed to be hit or miss for all eternity. Only time will tell.

Still, we always have Arular, an album as exotic, engaging, and flat-out bizarre as its album cover reveals. From the horn hook of “Bucky Done Gun” to Maya’s still-infectious half-croon on “Galang,” the debut certainly is more minimalist and tribal than its sister album Kala, which was certainly a step forward in accessibility and Western dance music. The charm of Arular still remains, even though our protagonist later showed the world her lack of education on the actual political issues she was rapping about.

Listen to Arular on Spotify.

Nov 11 2011

My Fun Fun Fun Recap

Photo by Chad Wadsworth of Pitchfork

I haven’t had an extraordinary amount of time this week to delve into this past weekend, so this post is a little late. I suppose I wanted to let everything settle down and let the experience marinate. And after several days of contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that my initial thoughts were correct – this was the best Fun Fun Fun yet, and probably the best weekend of my year. Well done, Transmission. Well done.

I admit I was initially very nervous about the festival’s move to Auditorium Shores; was my favorite little 3-day adventure turning into a mini-ACL? Well after this weekend I understood that it kind of was….but the keyword is “mini.” The location may have changed, the crowds may have gotten slightly bigger (in a bigger park, it really didn’t feel like it, though), but the devil-may-care vibe is still there. Great food, great music, same ideal stage setups. They still haven’t fixed the beer situation, though. Just Heineken and Tecate? I think next year I’ll spring for PIP so I don’t have to pay $6 for that crap. Basically, it was a Fun Fun Fun experience just like Waterloo, pros and cons included, though it felt more smoothly run this time around. You still had the dust problems, the expensive drinks issues, occasional sound debacles….you know, festival stuff. But as far as weekend fests go, Fun Fun Fun still cannot be beat.

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Nov 8 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Sea Change

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

34. Beck – Sea Change

In 2002, Beck completely did a 180 and released an album I initially found very upsetting. Well, not initially. It’s still pretty depressing. But in a good way. After hearing the anit-folk of Mellow Gold, the dance rock zaniness of Odelay, the bluesy Mutations, and the boogie-laden Midnight Vultures, I was having a pretty difficult time pinning down the stylings of Beck. He was, and still is, all over the place. He recreates his style with every release. But Sea Change was probably the starkest transformation for the musician. And almost ten years later, it remains my favorite.

Inspired, or maybe tormented, by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Beck penned these uncharacteristically un-ironic songs about utter sadness to traditional instrumentation and beautiful string arrangements written by his father. Singles “Lost Cause” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” especially the latter, perfectly capture the theme of Sea Change, one of alt-country heartbreak and burgeoning depression. This album is still perfect for comfort after loss, or even just a contemplative drive along a lonesome country road, preferably on the vast, falt terrain that is West Texas.

Listen to Sea Change on Spotify.

Oct 17 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Hell Hath No Fury

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

35. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury

Most people prefer Lord Willing. I don’t blame them. After all, it was minimalist coke rap like “Grindin'” that made the Neptunes so famous. And four years later, when they finally dropped this follow up, that sound was less fresh. “Mr. Me Too” isn’t as sharp. No argument here. I guess I just like this one better because it was the first I heard. I came to the debut late, and while I can’t deny how great it is, nostalgia has the edge on this one; I spent more time with Hell Hath No Fury, and I still do.

But let’s get one thing straight: this album is a worthy contender, it’s excellent. Every song is a banger. How can you hate on the unpredictable percussion alongside Slim Thug’s guest chorus on “Wamp Wamp?” Pusha T’s wit is in high gear throughout, he makes peddling cocaine sound like an articulate profession. Fan favorite “Ride Around Shining” bumps (“the black Martha Stewart, let me show ya how to do it!”), “Dirty Money” is still hilarious, and I’ll never forget when I learned what the word “trill” meant. There’s no getting around it; Clipse’s second LP, probably their last great one, is an album for the popped trunks, or, in my case, the blown-out factory tweeters.

Listen to Hell Hath No Fury on Spotify.

Oct 4 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Vampire Weekend

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

36. Vampire Weekend – S/T

If I remember correctly, these guys took quite a while to get pretty popular, at least they did by comparison to some of their blogosphere peers who had almost overnight success (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Black Kids).  I recollect finding rough demos of “Oxford Comma” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” on Aquarium Drunkard up to a year before they released this gem, their debut album.  I also remember the Paul Simon comparisons being made almost immediately, as most critics are wont to do when they hear anything remotely referential to Afro-pop.

VW were the first to really incorporate the sound into the ever-growing indie pop landscape, however, and they brought the influences to a much younger audience.  They dubbed the sound “Upper West Side Soweto,” and indeed it had a small movement of its own, generating bands like Ra Ra Riot, the electronic experiment Discovery, and more traditional projects like The Very Best.

I’m not saying the Simon relation isn’t correct; it obviously is, but to deny the band’s growth from that blueprint is simply dismissive.  One listen to the simple pop of the aforementioned two tracks, as well as the stomping “A-Punk” (my personal favorite) and the falsetto friendly “Blake’s Got a New Face,” and you’ll see these guys either were showing all their cards at once or they had healthy knowledge and a palette to grow from.  We know now from their great sophomore effort two years later the latter was the case.

Listen to Vampire Weekend on Spotify.

Sep 26 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Permission to Land

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

37. The Darkness – Permission to Land

You’ve gotta be crazy not to love this. There are a select few albums out there that are perfect, absolutely front to back, for road trips. The karaoke staple that literally no one but frontman Justin Hawkins can sing, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” is the highlight, sure, but there are plenty of gems here to keep your fist pumping until your arm falls off. “Growing On Me,” a subtle-at-first ode to sexually transmitted diseases, is a tongue-in-cheek classic. The incredible “Love Is Only a Feeling” is the best ballad from the 1980’s that wasn’t really from the 1980’s. “Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman” is a comically vulgar screech-along from beginning to end.

Yes, it’s derivative. Yes, it’s in on the joke. But to write off the Darkness and Permission to Land as novelty is simply myopic. If a band is going to completely channel the glory days of guitar rock, the glam, the sexuality, the….hair, well, they’ve gotta have the chops to pull it off. And they do. This album rules. Hawkins has undeniable pipes. The guitar SHREDS. The melodies are infectious. Your face melts in 40 minutes.

And sure, their next album was a little more late-Zeppelin and not as good, and then they broke up, and the reunion isn’t really going anywhere thus far, so, yeah, you could argue the Darkness were a bit one-note. That after Permission to Land, there wasn’t much to offer. That they burned out just as quick, that they showed us all their tricks on their first effort.

But man….that was one hell of a first effort.

Listen to Permission to Land on Spotify.

Jul 21 2011

Late Night Rundown – Jimmy Fallon

Back in the 70′s, there was only Johnny Carson.  But since the retirement of the undisputed King of Late Night in 1992, there has been a plethora of new shows pop up, each with the same basic formula, but unique in their own way. After reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night, I have become addicted to late-night television all over again.  So I am starting a new series of posts dedicated to the many hosts out there currently making us laugh after prime time, analyzing one at a time.

Count me among the many who were certain Jimmy Fallon would fail. We had seen his spotty routines on Saturday Night Live – the little shit couldn’t keep from laughing in every sketch he was in (in retrospect, and considering the current state of that show, maybe we were too hard on the guy) – and we’d seen his short, unsuccessful foray into movies. So of course we were skeptical when he was announced as Conan O’Brien’s replacement for the Late Night dynasty – a dynasty created by the smart irreverence of a young David Letterman, and one that Conan made delightfully weird. How could this little unfunny prettyboy, even with a young writing staff and the best band in late night – the legendary Roots crew – successfully follow the great O’Brien?

The answer: a total re-invention of the show.  It’s true Fallon isn’t the funniest, quickest, or wittiest host in his time slot – that honor goes to Craig Ferguson – but Jimmy is young and hip, and he always goes out and acts like he’s having a blast every night.  Unlike an infamous flaw of Conan’s, spending too much time on his weaknesses, Fallon zips through the monologue and gets to the pinnacle of his program – the written bits and audience-participation game shows.  And while most of his material is akin to the laziness of Jay Leno (having your audience tell your jokes for you), Jimmy’s presence is so endearing, and the guy is so likable, he makes it work.  Or it could be that because his audience is younger than Leno’s, maybe they’re just generally funnier.  Whatever the case, his Web presence and interaction with viewers is fresh and creative – his weekly Twitter hashtag sketch puts Leno’s Headlines to shame, and the Late Night writers always find a way to inject some homage to/mockery of the game show they are blatantly, and absurdly, satirizing.

You know what else Jimmy does?  He really doesn’t interview that much.  How great is that?  I mean, wouldn’t you agree that’s usually the most boring part of late night talk shows?  Watching a comedian (who is usually sub-par at interviewing) let a Hollywood blowhard talk about how awesome his new movie is?  Jimmy Fallon treats interviewing like his monologue – short and sweet.  He tackles the big topics, throws some jokes in, and then finds a way to involve his guest in a bit or competition of some sort.  Fallon, who is likely the most competitive non-athletic celebrity in the world, is always challenging his A-list guests to simple backyard hangout games.  He’s beaten Betty White at beer pong; he’s lost a game of horseshoes to Kid Rock.  He may also involve them in a comedic musical bit, which is Fallon’s specialty.  He’s rapped an homage to hip-hop with Justin Timberlake; he’s danced around with Stephen Colbert to Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”  Hell, he even gets the stuck-up douches to loosen up and sing! (I’m looking at you, Blake Shelton.)

So let me just conclude with an apology – Jimmy, I’m sorry.  I underestimated you.  Your show is awesome.  It’s a late night show for the 21st century, surrounded by peers who are still trying to embody the long-gone spirit of a Johnny Carson era.  It’s fresh, it’s innovative, it’s interactive, and, most of all surprising, it’s actually funny.  And when you introduce a musical guest, you make me feel like you’ve heard of the band, or you’ve done research, and that you’re genuinely glad these people are performing on your show.  And as a viewer, I appreciate that.  Thank you for making a routine show not feel so…..routine.

Jul 5 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Because of the Times

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

38. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times

Nobody likes Kings of Leon anymore, and there’s a reason for that – Only By the Night, their breakthrough album, was disappointing as a whole, and Come Around Sundown was almost complete garbage. The group has all but reinvented themselves as a schlock, stadium-filling, Southern rock answer to U2. I suppose you could blame Because of the Times for all of that – they never really looked back after melodramatic, grandiose productions like “Knocked Up” and “On Call.” But the group’s third album, an obvious musical departure from the rowdy Youth and Young Manhood and the incredible Aha Shake Heartbreak, for temporarily better (and ultimately worse) showed a band growing into strong songwriters.

The refried Southern tinge is still present, though more subdued; this is a band undergoing a sharp transformation.  The aforementioned “Knocked Up,” arguably the album’s most memorable tune, is a 7-minute tale of the aftermath of an accidental pregnancy.  We still get the “Strokes in overalls” vibe, yes, but the melodies have shifted from dirgy rock pieces to more pop-influenced movements, reminiscent of some of the bands Kings opened for while writing this album – bands like Pearl Jam and, yes, U2.  There is more melodic romanticism – the captivating “True Love Way” and the simply sweet “Ragoo.”  And yet, the dirty rock is still here, just before it all but disappeared, and it is stronger than ever.  The screech of “Charmer” alongside rockers like “McFearless” and “Black Thumbnail” do not disappoint.

Many mark this album as the beginning of the end for Kings of Leon as a relevant band, and I am not one to argue.  But even if their output from here on out was less than satisfactory, to downright Weezer-esque atrocious, this was one hell of a last hurrah.

Kings of Leon – Knocked Up

Kings of Leon – Charmer

Kings of Leon – True Love Way

Jun 1 2011

Catching Up With the Kids 6/1/11

Occasionally I browse the pop music world/charts/blogs and see what the kids are listening to. Sometimes I am pleased with what I find, most of the time I am not. This is a journal of my discoveries.

Catching Up On: Wacka Flocka Flame

Although Pitchfork gave the album an 8.0, I really don’t understand the appeal.  This guy’s lyrics are unintelligible, and frankly, when I can understand them, they’re pretty simple.  And while that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker for me (I did give Wiz Khalifa a thumbs up several days ago), the melody and production don’t really add any plus signs for me.  This radio hit, which I’ve been unable to avoid lately, is jawdroppingly atrocious.

Catching Up On: Big Time Rush

Apparently this is a tween sensation that’s been around for years on Nickelodeon, but this is the hit that will cross them over to the pop radio masses, Bieber style.  The tune itself is pretty catchy, it’s good for a Friday night club run, though I could do without the continuing destruction of the legacy of Snoop Dogg.

Catching Up On: Mindless Behavior

Another R&B-based boy band, they all look 14 years old and are produced pretty slickly and whathaveyou.  Watch the video, and you can tell they all think they’re Usher, but it doesn’t hide the fact the melody is straight-up Disney.  And the lyrics, a romantic homage to texting your honey, are just pretty damn hilarious.

Catching Up On: Fabolous

Now to the good stuff: while I’m not necessarily “catching up on” Fabolous, who has been awesome for years, this new single is banging.  This is what the rap radio game needs right now, an elder statesmen showing everybody how it’s done.

Catching Up On: Swizz Beatz

Hardest beat on the charts right now, and it needs to be on the radio more.  In the same vein as his collaboration with Jay Z in “On To the Next One” (even the video is similar), Swizz keeps it simple and LOUD. And remember Eve? Yeah, she’s on here too.