Thursday, June 26, 2008


Band: Battles
Album: Mirrored
Best song: "Atlas." No question.
Worst song: "Bad Trails" is a good song, but probably the weakest on the record.

Formed in 2003/2004, Battles had released two EPs before Mirrored. I was asked to describe the band to a friend recently and couldn't do it. I tried to use terms that deccribe the former bands of some of the members -- math rock, experimental, etc. -- but it didn't coalesce.

The best way, though, to describe Battles -- especially after seeing the band live this past weekend -- is with this sentence: Welcome to the 21st century.

Mirrored is nothing if not modern. The band fuses the digital and analog remarkably well, vocoding Tyondai Braxton's vocals all over the album and distorting every possible instrument, save for John Stanier's punshing drums.

The driving force behind the band is, indeed, Stanier. The album cover puts on no airs about it; his bright yellow Tama kit is in the center of the art. Live, it's similarly set up, with the high-cymballed drum set at the front of the stage and in the middle of it all. Stanier is the one constant in the band, a respite from the drum machined indie rock of the Postal Service, Big Black and mid-career Flaming Lips.

This essential humanity is what makes Mirrored so great, but the technology and creativity make the album a marvel. Like the space program, the Internet and video games, Mirrored is the human potential aided by technology. It's wonderful to think of a band as something organic and analog; bands like Band of Horses or the Hold Steady do something tried and true very well. But, at the end of the day, those bands are boring; they go guitar/guitar/bass/drums/vocals. They're treading over the same course.

Mirrored is anything but boring. Battles, as Braxton himself says, are "a modern experimental band... We're a product of our time."

And the band's live show reflects this. Ian Williams and Braxton both stand at the side of Stanier behind analog keyboards. Williams' holds a scant few delay and effects pedals, while Braxton's is crowded with samples, digital delays, distortions and pitch shifters. Both have guitars, though they move the guitars around to their backs when not needed. Braxton's mic rests on its side on his keyboard when not needed. Dave Konopka stands barely behind the drums, easily shifting between the bass and guitar while using an arsenal of effects pedals.

Like many great records and bands, I can't fully describe it. Instead, here the band is, playing "Atlas."


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Taking the Long Way

Band: The Dixie Chicks
Album: Taking the Long Way
Best song: "Not Ready to Make Nice" and "Long Way Around" are both great.
Worst song: "Baby Hold On" isn't great.

I've mentioned this before on my old site, but I'm not one for twang. My musical tastes were totally devoid of country until I got to college and even then, it was limited to Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams' first album and a Johnny Cash greatest hits package.

There are a myriad of reasons to this, most notably country never entering my life as a youth. My parents weaned me on the Beatles, Stones and the Who. There is a country music station in the Chicago area, but I never even knew about it until my sister later got into the genre. Even then, the American flag logo on their bumper stickers -- this was a time when the flag wasn't on everything -- turned me off.

Nevertheless, after being involved in my college station, I became more involved in country, alt-country and the like. I was introduced to KCOU favorites Uncle Tupelo and its offshoots Wilco and Son Volt. Cash started to release his American Recordings series. Hank Willims was standard at our station. Later, in doing my old site, I got into Loretta Lynne, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

What is known as popular country music is given absolutely no credit in most music circles. Like the religious vote in the 2000 election, popular country music is largely ignored by music critics, even in lieu of other popular music. The weight of the consumer base is discounted and, frankly, taken for granted.

I fall into the camp that never pays any attention to the country music crowd (the same crowd who also inhabit the religious voter group) even to this day. I just don't even listen to that stuff, though clearly it's no worse than the vast expanse of boring rock music shown on VH1 (Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, Pete Yorn, etc.).


Because of my aversion to country music, I always wrote the Dixie Chicks off. Even with the band's dustup with the president back in 2003, I only knew them as a country band who sorta didn't like the president. I knew some country fans were annoyed with them, but I didn't really follow the controversy closely.

This was until I saw Shut Up and Sing about two months ago. Wow. I did not know about the shitstorm that came about after lead singer Natalie Maines said. It wasn't just Toby Keith criticizing the band. Country music fans, apparently, freaked the hell out. Not only did they burn the band's albums, but they protested the band's concerts, eventually leading to their management canceling a bunch of the band's tour. The vast majority of country music stations banned the band's music.

This, of course, is nuts. Maines' London comments ("Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.") don't sound so crazy now, six years into the Iraq war, but even in 2003, free speech is free speech. Maines didn't say anything particularly bad. She's against the war and she doesn't like violence. That's nothing particularly shocking.

Which just brings around another point: I live in an echo chamber. I don't know anyone who would be offended by any of what she said.


The documentary was the reason my interest in the Dixie Chicks piqued my interest. It shows the recording of the band's 2006 album, "Taking the Long Way." Specifically, the song "The Long Way Around" sounded great to me.

And it is a good song. It's full of harmonies, layered guitars, a banjo and a rousing melody. The song is as good as any pop song. It's pleasant and catchy. The song references the Byrds (the line "I wasn't born to follow" is the name of a Byrds song), the politically fallout and the band's unity. The beginning of the record is similarly pleasant; It falls between hook-laden and somber ballads. "Easy Silence" and "Bitter End" are of the latter, whle "Not Ready to Make Nice" is the most blatant song about the political fallout.

Rick Rubin produced the record and I'm generally a fan of Rubin's. Though, I'd suggest that "Taking the Long Way" is not really a classic Rubin record in that it's lushly produced.

The album's not great and the end gets a little repetitive and forgettable. I imagine this has something to do with my lack of knowledge of my genre, but it nevertheless is not a strong ending to the album.

Oddly enough, I still listen to the album, about six months after buying it. It's pleasant enough and those melodies are just ridiculously good. It was a worthwhile purchase and a worthwhile listen still.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


In order to further pollute the Internet with my nonsense, I'm taking up residence here. My name is Ross Jordan Gianfortune and I like to write album reviews that no one reads. So far, my tally on the Web is somewhere around 500 and I hope to add to that total with this site/blog/project/whatever.

Albums That I Own is an extension of the One Man, 500 Albums project in a way. In fact, it's an extension of my "unlisted" series that took place on that site. The unlisted albums are favorites of mine that have no real place on the Rolling Stone list or were overlooked by those who put together the list.

Past unlisted albums (which may be cross-posted here on this site) include:

Albums That I Own will let me stretch outside the RS list a bit. The unlisted albums gave me that avenue and I'd like to expand on it. These albums may not appeal to many of the One Man, 500 Albums readers and for that, I'm sorry.

But, I do want to bring out some of my favorite, odd and misplaced (within my collection, I mean) albums. This site gives me the opportunity to explain my interest, for example, in a Dixie Chicks record. No, I'm not joking.

I'm current a graduate student, I work full-time and I run a baseball blog (albeit posting infrequently), so Albums That I Own will be posted once a week. Any suggestions for albums should be addressed to me. My e-mail address is over there, to the right.