Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Deeper In: How To Stop Worrying and Love Tom Waits


Tom Waits.

The Onion A.V. club does a feature called Gateways to Geekery, a sort of beginner's guide to a particular genre, artist, writer, etc. They'll pick some work from the artists' catalog that serves as a suitable introduction to their full body of work, and show you where to go next. For the longest time, I've been meaning to lift the idea and write a Tom Waits primer. But alas, they beat me to it.

But I still think the idea deserves to take flight here, because Tom Waits is such a large part of my personal music philosophy. He's often the litmus test by which I guage other musicians, and even other music fans. I tip my cap to Waits fans, because I know it isn't an easy thing to be. There are immense barriers of entry. Becoming a Waits fan takes persistence, patience, context, and even faith. And I'm here to help with all those things.

You might be wondering, "If it takes such effort to find the guy appealing, shouldn't that tell you something?" I agree it seems a bit suspect, but it's like bitter wines, or dark coffee. It seems like the real aficionados are fans, and while you may not like it yourself, you sort of infer that there's something to it. Tom Waits is the creamless, unsweetened dark roast of folk music.

In what is now the fifth Deeper In feature, I'll recommend recommend six Tom Waits albums you should explore, and give you a bit of coaching on how to enjoy them. I'll focus on two records from each of his unofficially categorized eras: The jazzbo beatnik era, the avante-garde theatric era, and the mangled folk era. These are my categorizations, mind you. In fact, you could probably break it down further. His first eight albums--the so-called jazzbo stuff--range from quiet folk to smokey blues. Furthermore, the mangled folk category only really covers a couple of his albums, but they're so important to Waits' canon that they deserve their own grouping.

I'll divide my analysis of each album into several sections: "Why You Should Know It", "Songs to Know", and how it measures up on the "Waits-o-Meter":


This ridiculous thing will give you an idea of how accessible the album is. A low rating means anyone can enjoy it; a high rating means it'll take some getting used to. Finally, I'll supply an "Also Check Out" section--similar albums from Waits' vast discography that qualify as necessary listening.

Stay tuned for the first entry in the series: Closing Time, Tom's debut...a.k.a the one that you'll probably like!

Craig Finn, tellin' it like it is



Since we're talking Hold Steady, I stumbled across this excellent Craig Finn quote and it's had me smiling all day.

First, a little context. I am of the mind that The Doors are the most overrated band in the history of rock and roll, and Jim Morrison the most overrated rock star. Not to say that Morrison was a complete non-contributor--I know he was a unique frontman and all--but I think the enigma that surrounds his life and death has caused his artistic quality to be unduly inflated.

Which brings me to Craig's quote. It's taken from an excellent piece on The Guardian, wherein musicians were interviewed and asked what album they'd be OK with never hearing again. Craig chose The Doors' L.A. Woman, and laid into the whole Doors mythos. Go and read his and others' spiels in full, but I had to highlight this one-liner:

"(Morrison) gave the green light to generations of pseuds."

Finn, for the win. And it's so true. Unfortunately, trite poetry resonates with some folks, and it breeds more trite poetry. And such is Morrison. I'm sure many will disagree, admonish the dissenters, and continue to plaster Jim Morrison posters all over their dormroom (or parents' basement, as the case may be.) But not me. I just want to buy Craig Finn a beer.

(I also agree with most of Ian Rankin's assessment of Velvet Underground & Nico, except for the part where he praises The Doors. Seems like he and Craig are on the opposite side of the fence, doesn't it?)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 27, 2010: The Hold Steady



The Hold Steady

w/Wintersleep
The Music Farm (Charleston, SC)
September 27, 2010
"Chicago seemed tired last night!"

This lyric is the namesake for the third-to-last song on the Hold Steady's titanic second album, Separation Sunday. When I saw them on Monday night, they played the song. I couldn't help but think that the lyric might be invoked the next morning by some folks in attendance, only replacing "Chicago" with "The Hold Steady."

Just to set the record straight, Craig Finn was an absolute joy to watch. He was completely engaging and charismatic as always. It was the rest of the band that appeared rather sedentary. Tad Kubler--a blistering guitar player who's earned the right to hop on a monitor and bust out some over-the-top posturing--kept his eyes lowered on his axe pretty much the whole night. It didn't really bother me, but it wasn't hard to notice. The Charleston City Paper's review supports my observations.

It's been more than two years since the Hold Steady played Charleston. An understandable absence, since they've been pretty damned busy. In addition to their steady touring schedule, they've made a live album/DVD, shuffled their line-up, played the Colbert Report, and released a fine new LP that received high marks in our Indie Music MAYhem feature. It was because of this album--Heaven Is Whenever--that I was exceptionally excited for another night of Craig and crew. When they played The Pour House on James Island in August of 2008, they were touring behind Stay Positive, their then-new album that's aged quite nicely. But now Franz Nicolay and his awesome mustache are gone and the band has graduated to the Music Farm, which is three times the size of the Pour House. Considering these factors, how would the updated experience compare?

We thought doors were at seven, so we showed up around 8:15 to find a small line by the entrance. We'd heard a band playing and assumed the opener was on, but someone told us that things were behind schedule, and it was just soundcheck. We waited about fifteen minutes before the line moved. We claimed some territory right up front and waited for Wintersleep, the Juno Award-winning rockers from Nova Scotia. The crowd was still thin when the quintent emerged, and I began to worry that the Hold Steady wasn't going to draw a full house on a rainy Monday in Charleston.

Wintersleep is a likable quintet that reminded me of the Tragically Hip and, by extension, REM. Again, their crowd was thin, but I heard some requests and it seemed like most everyone who made it early had their efforts validated. I look forward to exploring their catalog a bit.

The Hold Steady came out twenty minutes after Wintersleep left the stage. The crowd had filled out significantly by then, although I still had plenty of room to shift, which certainly wasn't the case the last time I saw a show at the Music Farm. Capacity crowd or no, nothing could faze Craig Finn. "We're gonna have a good time tonight," were his first words to us, just before Tad Kubler set into the slide riff of Heaven Is Whatever opener, "Sweet Part of the City". It was one of several songs on which we saw Craig guitarless. This is most likely the result of them having added a second guitarist (Steve Selvidge from Lucero). But Craig relished the freedom, sinking his teeth into every lyric, and air-punching with the crash cymbal.

The setlist was satisfying, and it served as a reminder of what a victory Heaven Is Whenever was. Besides "Sweet Side", we heard "The Weekenders", "Rock Problems", "Hurricane J", and "Barely Breathing". A nice serving of newer material, but not oversaturated. The band scratched a few of the two-year-itches that resulted from some unfulfilled wishes from the last show, namely "Southtown Girls" and a semi-acoustic "First Night". (Bassist Glen Polivka's rig went out during this one, and he entertained the crowd with silly antics while techs scrambled to set up a replacement rig--Craig was none the wiser to any of it.)

Incidentally, both these songs are cuts from Boys and Girls in America, which almost certainly would have been this blog's album of the year had we been around in 2006. All in all they played six BAGIA cuts, including "You Can Make Him Like You", which is just a brilliantly composed batch of lyrics about complacent girlfriends living vicariously through their boyfriends' interests. It's just slathered with dismissive sarcasm: "You don't have to know the inspiring people/let your boyfriend know the inspiring people/you can hang in the kitchen/talk about the stars in the upcoming sequel."

The band also rolled out tracks from Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday (song-of-the-night honors go to "Stevie Nix"), and Stay Positive, closing with "Slapped Actress"--something of a tradition by now, if I'm not mistaken. "Sequestered In Memphis" was also a high point, with Craig orchestrating the audience, directing us to shout either "subpoenaed in Texas" or "sequestered in Memphis!"

I can't emphasize enough what a brilliant frontman Craig is. He exudes a Jaggeresque level of expressiveness, pantomiming lyrics and shimmying between lines. He also has the uncanny ability to make eye contact with everyone simultaneously. But my favorite of his stage quirks is his habit of repeating a lyric, spoken word and off mic, after he sings it. It's like, "No, seriously, they've got cigarettes where there are supposed to be eyes!"

We heard 22 songs in all, and our ears were ringing as we wandered off. At one point during the show, Craig said, "You live in a beautiful place, even in the rain!" Fitting, since we had to spend about fifteen minutes under a nearby awning as the rain dumped on us. It weakened briefly, and we managed to duck into a bar for an after-show beer. But the rain held steady (hur!) and I finally had to make a run for my car so I could salvage something of a good night's sleep before work the next day. I found my car in a lake of shin-deep floodwater. De-shoed and -socked, I waded over, drove around to pick up my girlfriend and her sister, and off we drove.

In summation: I probably shouldn't have started this review off with a gripe, because this gig deserves to be remembered as the basher it was. If nothing else, the restraint of the other band members served to highlight Craig's strengths. It was just more subdued than the last time, and that's an inevitable result of playing a larger venue. While it's a more accessible show, some of the intimacy is sacrificed. But still, it was a knockout performance by a band I love. What more can a fan ask?

Setlist and a bunch of photos, taken with my phone. I have some more on my point-and-shoot, which I'll post when I can:

The Sweet Part of the City

Magazines

Rock Problems

Constructive Summer

You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came To The Dance With)

Hot Soft Light

Hurricane J

The Swish

Barely Breathing

You Can Make Him Like You

Navy Sheets

Chips Ahoy!

Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night

Stuck Between Stations

Goin' on a Hike

Sequestered in Memphis

Stevie Nix

The Weekenders

First Night

Southtown Girls


E:
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Stay Positive
















Other Music Farm reviews:
Modest Mouse
Andrew Bird

Friday, September 24, 2010

Band of Horses: Wedding singers

You might have noticed my general lack of urgency when it comes to writing The Tube Amp, our monthly blow-by-blow commentary of some interesting Youtube video. I'm gonna be honest with you: It's kind of a pain in the ass to compile, so I'm never eager to get it done. This month, I'm so uneager that I'm going to tell you right here and now that I'm skipping it altogether. I may jump on it again in October--we'll see. But you'll have to go elsewhere for your youtube breakdowns this month.

This is not to say there aren't some Tube Amp-worthy clips floating around. Take, for instance, this clip I found on Captains Dead, a highly recommended music blog and great source for downloadable rarities. The video features Band of Horses playing the tightly-harmonized ballad "Marry Song", from 2007's Cease to Begin. Not only are the playing it, but they're playing it at a wedding. Apparently, some Norwegian couple contacted the band about doing it. And as luck would have it, BOH was in Norway for a festival. How could they say no? Turns out they couldn't, so Ben, Ryan, and Tyler serenaded a church full of Scandinavians.



If the whole "successful band" thing ever flames out, they've got a viable fallback. Seriously though, great to see stuff like this. By the by, I'll be seeing a much less unique performance by the band at the end of next month. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Andrew's Armchair



Back in the summer of 2007 -- right around the time I started this blog, actually -- I was working in the heart of Columbia, SC. Fresh out of college, I was working as a graphic designer and errand boy at a small ad firm on the second floor of one of Columbia's few high-rises. That summer was a good one: My job only required about a 20 hour work week, and my paychecks easily covered bills. With what I had left, I'd scoop up new releases at Papa Jazz Records in Five Points. These included Emotionalism by the Avett Brothers, The National's Boxer, and Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha. As luck would have it, I found Armchair used for about six bucks, only weeks after its release.

And you know what? Armchair Apocrypha is a damn good album. It never quite got the credit it deserved. It did earn high scores among critics, but 'classic' status has eluded it. It's usually overshadowed by its predecessor, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Even last year's Noble Beast seems to be enjoying lasting accreditation not afforded to Armchair.

Armchair boasts a dozen ornate, enduring tracks that won't leap off the record like Eggs standout "Fake Palindromes". Instead, they entice the listener with a sort of majestic stillness. The production is more spacious than on either of the aforementioned albums, and Bird's vocals are at times barely above a mumble. At other times--most notably in the sprawling seven-minute "Armchairs"--Bird delivers Buckley-esque wails that underscore his versatility as a singer. As I've written before, few singers can sound like Mark Kozelek one minute and Jeff Buckley the next.

It's hard to say what my favorite track from the album is, for two reasons. First of all, there aren't any misses, so the pool of contenders is large. Secondly, as I mentioned, there isn't an obvious pack-leader like "Fake Palindromes". You could make a case for opener "Fiery Crash", "Imitosis" (which I believe was the single), "Dark Matter", and several more. But by and large, there is a steadily high level of quality that's maintained over the course of Armchairs.

I'm particularly fascinated by tracks nine and ten, "Cataracts" and "Scythian Empires" respectively. The former is the most unadorned track on the album, a ballad steeped in soothing melancholy that reminds Bird's followers that the term "minimalist approach" is in his vocabulary. It's followed by "Scythian Empires", which features an elegant build into a sprawling chorus that won the night in a live setting.





I encourage those of you who don't know Armchair Apocrypha to seek it out. It may not be the flashiest of Bird's albums, but it doesn't strive for that. It's a musical art gallery, each song its own painting, framed and hung for peaceful observation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New poll: What band's upcoming release are you most anticipating?

I wonder if I've reached critical mass with new music this year. I feel like I'm at an all-you-can-eat buffet, pants unbuttoned and stomach heaving with slow breaths, while the staff continues to cart out fresh steamtrays from the kitchen.

Suffice to say, our cup has overflowed in 2010 as far as new music is concerned. Dozens of noteworthy releases have slapped against the walls--some have stuck, and some of slid floorward into a congealed mass of forgettableness, leaving only a snailtrail of disappointment behind.

So I'm swearing off (most) new releases for now, digesting those that I've yet to fully appreciate and scratching my itch for new sounds by filling out my back catalog a bit. My diet won't last long, though, because a bountiful harvest awaits in the form of a stack of major releases that already have my stomach grumbling. Thus ends my extended culinary metaphor.

Not all of these releases are confirmed. Some are just announced, some are assumed based on empirical evidence. But that's enough to stoke the fires of anticipation, especially when we're dealing with artists of this caliber. Let's take a look at the bands in question:
Band: Radiohead
Confirmation Status: Suggested, although not confirmed. Colin Greenwood recently wrote that the group had finished a 'group of songs', carefully steering clear of terming it an album.
Projected Release Date: You never know with Radiohead. It could be tomorrow for all we know. However, I'd be surprised to see it this year. I'll say February 2011, because why not?
Reason for Anticipation: This should suffice.

Band: The Fleet Foxes
Confirmation Status: Album complete, announcement expected before too long.
Projected Release Date: If they don't get it out soon, they'll likely wait til at least January, to allow for inclusion onto Best of 2011 lists.
Reason for Anticipation: Their self-titled debut from 2008 was universally considered the best album of that year--it was ours, that's for sure.

Band: Iron and Wine
Confirmation Status: Confirmed.
Projected Release Date: Kiss Each Other Clean is confirmed for early 2011.
Reason for Anticipation: Steady quality output, including 2007's The Shepherd's Dog, which was HSW's inaugural Album of the Year.

Band: Bon Iver
Confirmation Status: Far from confirmed, but vaguely suggested in a recent interview.
Projected Release Date: I'd be surprised to see it before spring of 2011, if not summer.
Reason for Anticipation: Like the Fleet Foxes, he's got just one album under his belt, and it was incredible. The bar is set very high, but I bet he follows through.

Band: Bright Eyes
Confirmation Status: Basically all we know is that it exists. Jason Boesel, the drummer for Bright Eyes, recently tweeted this: "Just heard half of the new Bright Eyes record. Best sci-fi emo album of the last 20 years!!!" Dude, stop calling it emo. I mean, I know it kind of is, but I'd rather think of it in a different light.
Projected Release Date: No concrete evidence at this point, but I'd guess we'll see it by next summer.
Reason for Anticipation: I personally liked Cassadaga quite a bit, and thoroughly enjoyed his first solo record and his Monsters of Folk contributions. Conor is a good enough songwriter to carry any project, so I doubt the new Bright Eyes won't put his talents on display.

Band: The Strokes
Confirmation Status: Confirmed by the band.
Projected Release Date: Julian Casablancas curiously predicted it'll be out March 11, 2011.
Reason for Anticipation: What Chris Tucker is to cinema, the Strokes are to indie rock. Chris Tucker--a funny guy but not exactly Marlon Brando--only starred in two films last decade (Rush Hour 2 and 3). And because of it, he's considered a high-value star who makes Schwarzenegger-cash. Similarly, the Strokes have undersaturated the scene, and despite releasing only one universally heralded classic (although Room on Fire was pretty great), they've released and toured in such small doses that they've commodified themselves and are afforded top tier recognition. What I'm trying to say here is my anticipation owes less to the prospect of good music and more to the fact that the Strokes are actually doing something.

Band: Sufjan Stevens
Confirmation Status: Confirmed.
Projected Release Date: How about three weeks from now?
Reason for Anticipation: His last album proper, Come On Feel the Illinoise!, is considered a (if not the) triumph of the last decade. Like the Strokes, he's exhibited an almost excruciating amount of restraint in his output. But unlike the Strokes, he seems to only be improving over time.
Seven heavyweights, seven new albums to look forward to. Voting begins now and ends on Halloween...at midnight. /lightning crash

Monday, September 20, 2010

HSW Housekeeping: We now have pages


Several Pages.

I'm no web wizard--I know basic HTML and it ends there--but through Blogger's user friendly design allowances, I managed to separate the blog into 4 different pages. I'm referring to that nifty link rail below the banner.

You can now see a link of archive of our The Deeper In features and concert reviews, as well as find out a bit about the blog itself. This is a big, if not wholly necessary, step in the evolution of HSW. And to think it only took us three years and change. There will be a few more pages added in the upcoming days. But for now, enjoy the new look!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Poll Results 9: What's your favorite place to see live music?

This month's poll question dealt in generalities. When the house music falls silent, the lights dim and the band takes the stage, where would you rather find yourself: Draped in bar-sign neon? Shoulder to sweat-soaked shoulder in a pit of fellow fans? Glutei nestled in plush seating? That was your conundrum, and here's what you had to say:

3 (10%) - Hot, sweaty, cramped bar or makeshift venue
14 (48%) - Bar room with a stage
4 (13%) - Mid-sized general admission floor
2 (6%) - Outdoor venue
6 (20%) - Seated, mid-sized civic center or performance hall
0 (0%) - Arena or stadium

It was a runaway win for the bar with stage, which tells me you're all fans of quasi-intimate shows, or just a bunch of drunks. Either way, it took home almost half of all votes. A distant second place finish for the mid-sized GA floor, which isn't too different from the bar/stage option; the only difference is the bar is usually a bit less easy to access in the former than the latter. I'm proud of you all for skunking the arena/stadium option.

Thanks as always to those who contributed; look for a new poll in the upcoming days.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hey, guess what Zeppelin song M. Ward is covering



I don't know how many hardcore Led Zeppelin fans are simultaneously hardcore M. Ward fans. With Led Zeppelin we have legendary rock icons who specialized in eight minute epics and much-documented Bacchanalian exploits. M. Ward is known for his sepia-washed folk stylings and cavorting with Conor Oberst and Jim James.

But if you do know somethin' about both the British rock gods and the Portland-via-Cali strumsmith, and were told that M. Ward was showing up on a Zeppelin tribute album, what song do you think he'd be tasked with covering?

Before you hazard a guess, a hint: What appear in droves on every M. Ward album? If you guessed "finger-picked acoustic guitar instrumentals", you've just won the grand prize: this fun clown emoticon: <|:0) (copy and paste for use) Anyway, Jimmy Page was every bit the master on the acoustic as he was on the electric. In fact, Led Zeppelin III, which seems to be the only remaining hipster-friendly Zeppelin album, is deemed the band's acoustic turn (despite featuring a handful of Page's most blistering electric riffs).

The world would have to wait five years for one of the most impressive products of the Zeppelin III sessions to see the light of day. "Bron-Yr-Aur" (BRONna-Ryah) showed up on the third side of Zeppelin's much heralded sixth album, Physical Graffiti. The song is a brief, expertly fingerpicked instrumental piece, and the kind of thing that probably got M. Ward interested in fingerpicking in the first place.

So yes, Ward will be covering "Bron-Yr-Aur" for this sprawling Zeppelin tribute. In true indie-release form, it mostly features bands you've never heard of. I think I counted four names I recognized, including Ward, Laura Viers, and Chris Walla. But it should be worth checking out, if nothing else to shed some new light on the music of Led Zeppelin in a way that thousands of classic rock DJs fall short of with their nightly "Get the Led Out" songblock.

To the uninitiated, here's "Bron-Yr-Aur", which the keen-eared among you might have heard in Almost Famous. I actually played this song in my high school talent show senior year. I did not take home any hardware, because unless you were dancing/singing/popular, you needn't have bothered showing up. Ingrates.



Were I asked to contribute to the album, I'd have chosen "Down by the Seaside", which incidentally follows "Bron-Yr-Aur" on Physical Graffiti.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

HSW Newsflash: Iron deficiency, Wine withdrawal to end in early 2011




We're not a news source, so I try not to overwhelm this board with newsflashes. Maybe 2 or 3 a month, max, deal? But this one's worth it. Back in 2007, South Carolina boy Sam Beam released his third LP as Iron and Wine. The Shepherd's Dog was our first "Album of the Year", actually. But it's been a long time since we've heard new stuff from the sleepy folk-rocker (not bitch folk, dammit!), unless you count the excellent rarities & b-sides comp Around the Well, from last year.

Fear not, because Kiss Each Other Clean will be one of the first big splashers of 2011. I know nothing beyond that at this point, but let's hope it delivers the way I expect it to. They're a pretty low-risk kind of act, generally only releasing well-conceived and carefully arranged material. They've set the bar high, though, so let's hope they can maintain it. Also, it's crazy that 2011 releases are already being discussed. Where does the time go!?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Low Anthem - Behind (and in front of) the scenes

A recent discovery of mine--well, they were recommended to me by a likeminded musical colleague--is the Low Anthem. The band was a duo, then a trio, now a quartet, who hail from Rhode Island and play thoughtful, vintage Americana and make it seem effortless. Their much celebrated, HSW recommended album Oh My God Charlie Darwin has earned them both critical acclaim and a burgeoning fanbase. A new album is slated for early next year, but until then, here's something to hold you over.

Indiana filmmaker Riley Fields (check his stuff out here) caught up with the band during their opening run with the Avett Brothers--a much-coveted gig for up-and-coming Americana acts. The beautifully filmed and edited short form documentary touches on the band's versatility, as well as their approach to instrumentation and music-making in general.

My crystal ball is telling me this band will be very, very big. So watch the clip and hop on board now, so you'll have those "I knew 'em back when" bragging rights when they're a top-tier indie act...

Caleb Followil on the new KOL song

The following is a message from Caleb Followil of Kings of Leon.

Arraht arraht arraht paaawty pipple, lemme tell yawright now 'bout dat new Kangz o' Leeeeon sawng dats on our fresh new ell peee, Come Around Sundown. Mebbe yawl saw the music video bah now?

You might be wawndrin', "Why yawl find yoselfs in such environs?" Well, apparently they's some pipple who think KAY OH ELL is the whitest band evah! Awwww man, that ain't right!

Look man, Caleb down wit people of awwwwl colah shep and size, na'mean? So when the direckah tell us we gon' be playin' round with some young Af'can Ameh'can children, I say 'Where I sign up!?' Black pipple may not be our praaahm demographic, but I showly got admiration for the natural soul they so often put on display, an' I could not wait to immerse mah'self in they cultcha, you na'mean?

Here's some highlights o' my time spent wif dose wonduffle pipple.

Tekkin' a nice stroll with summa mah new fraaaynds:


I ain't one to pahticipate in spowtin' events, but a little volleybawl nevah hurt nobodaaay!


Don't know if yawl knew, but Caleb fancy hisself as somethin' of a grillmasta'!

Kess da cook, baybay!!!

I ain't used to soul food, so it had some unfowchanate repuhcussheeowns:

Right in "The Bucket" yawl!

Enyweh, hopefully dis has staved owf beyawnd any shaddah of a doubt that the Kangs boast a pan-cultcharal appeal. New album out Octobah Nineteenf, check it yawl! Unteeel next time, always remembah to use somebodaaaaay!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I do not have to eat my hat



Hey guys, remember two posts ago when I wrote this:
"If 'Paranoid Android' isn't in the top ten [of Pitchfork's Top 200 Songs of the 90's], I'll eat my hat..."
Lo and behold, Radiohead's alt-rock anthem came in at #4. Which seems adequate. Look, I can't claim to be an authority on good music from the 90s. I spent half the decade under the age of ten, and I certainly wasn't a cool enough teenager to listen to music that was both good and new. But I remember the big hits, and have played a good bit of catch-up in the past decade or so. But to me the 90s were defined by Mortal Kombat, Little League, and being shorter than pretty much everyone.

That said, here's the top 10, and along with my opinions on each song:
10. Weezer, "Say It Ain't So" -- Good choice, although I'm surprised the Forkers didn't go with something from the Pinkerton, the appreciation of which is sort of the litmus test for a real Weezer fan. "Across the Sea" and "El Scorcho" wouldn't have surprised me.
9. Beck, "Loser" -- Again they go big hit, but I don't blame them. "Loser" seemed to be an era-defining sort of song from a guy who's had an incredible amount of lasting power. Would anyone have guessed it?
8. Aaliyah, "Are You That Somebody?" -- I remember when she died. That was sad. That said, I know nothing about her music.
7. Neutral Milk Hotel, "Holland 1945" -- Excellent choice. While my personal favorite from NMH is "Ghost", I can't argue with Pitchfork's selection.
6. My Bloody Valentine, "Only Shallow" -- This is a band I've carelessly overlooked, so no comment.
5. Wu-Tang Clan, "Protect Ya Neck" -- I do not listen to hip-hop and certainly wasn't listening in the 90s, so I can't claim to know this one either.
4. Radiohead, "Paranoid Android" -- C'mon, it should have been #1.
3. Dr. Dre [ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg], "Nuthin' But A G Thang" -- I felt extremely white writing that. Of course I remember this one, but again I don't feel qualified to comment on it. I'm sure it's worthy.
2. Pulp, "Common People" -- Like My Bloody Valentine, I've sort of overlooked Pulp, but I did watch the Youtube video and I would agree that this is an excellent song.
1. Pavement, "Gold Soundz" -- Great song, but the best of the 90s? I'm not sure it's the best song on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but it does have that warm, breezy quality that makes it go down smooth. Should it have been ahead of "Silence Kit" or "Range Life"? Pitchfork thinks so.
I would have liked to have seen a Tom Waits song make the list--let's not forget Mule Variations was a 90s release and features some of his most celebrated work--but I have no major qualms. Hey, it's just a list. It's an unscientific hit-grab that means nothing in the grand scheme of things, right? In conclusion, "Paranoid Android" should have been #1.

Not to bring up long albums again...

You might recall July's feature, Musical Surgery, where-in I took albums that I considered overlong and pared them down to a reasonable length. While it was an enjoyable process for me, I fear it also might have led folks to believe that I don't like long albums. In the conclusion of said feature, I name-checked a few long albums that I hold near and dear. But, still, I wish there was some fresh examples I could submit to convince the doubting Thomases out there that I can take a long one. What?

Anyhoo, here are a couple of primo examples from 2010:


Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

At 65 minutes, it's an epic concept album whose Civil War theme practically demands an hour-plus treatment. You don't see 90 minute war movies, do you? No, they're usually three hours. And such is The Monitor. What's interesting about The Monitor is that it's comprised of only ten songs. But when the five-minute tracks seem relatively short, it adds up to a long ride. It's a rich effort, full of bombastic guitar and drum interplay, ravaged vocals, and macabre lyrics. To be sure, isn't for those of us with attention-span issues.


Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

There's been much fanfare about this album, and rightfully so. I may still be in the honeymoon phase, but the album has ascended the ranks quickly, and may have overtaken the #1 spot. Like The Monitor, it eclipses the hour mark. Unlike the Monitor, it takes 16 tracks to accomplish this. But there's nary a miss on the whole thing, conceptually rich and rife with uptempo tunes perfect for contemplative highway drives. In fact, if I had to levy a criticism on the album it would be that there isn't enough variation in style, as it rarely strays from 4/4 drum and guitar attacks. But that's always been the Arcade Fire's bread and butter, and packaged with a dystopian lyrical critique of suburban life, it makes for a rousing journey.


Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises

Newsflash: Mark Kozelek writes long albums. While it's shorter than and The Suburbs and The Monitor, it's still over an hour long. And because it's such a minimalist effort featuring scarcely anything more than vocals and a classical guitar, it demands more focus than the other two. The album has proved divisive among the Kozelek fanbase. Some folks have tired of his increasingly stripped-down arrangements, especially when the lush and magnificent Ghosts of the Great Highway was the result of years of cautious build-up. Since then, he's retreated to barren arrangements apropos of song titles like "Australian Winter". I'm an admitted Kozelek apologist, so I've embraced AFP as an ideal gloomy day/quiet morning album. I also look for it to pick up steam as the autumn cool sets in.

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I'm comforted to know artists are still giving it their all even in an era when albums are viewed as dated and passe. By the way, look for Mark Kozelek's next album in a year or two, which will probably consist of a single plucked note on a classical guitar for 65 minutes.