Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of the decade: 1-10


Band: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Ilinois

It's hard not to be repetitive when I've already outlined why I like Sufjan Stevens. Illinois is better than Michigan. The crazy arranged stuff is more fun, the subtle beauty is more subtle. "Chicago" is just such an amazing song, with Stevens' voice taking center stage.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of the decade: 11-20


Band: Mastodon
Album: Leviathan

And so it began.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best of the decade: 21-30


Band: Battles
Album: Mirrored

As previously written, Mirrored is the sound of the future, for worse or for (mostly) better.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Best of the decade: 31-40


Band: Pinback
Album: Blue Screen Life

As mentioned in the bit about the Raconteurs, this list is often a romp through my life story since Jan. 1, 2000 (and mostly since May 2003, my college graduation). Thhe deeper I go into the list, the more I find the records that soundtracked my daily existance: The Metro, playing video games, girlfriends, whatever.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Best of the decade: 41-50


Band: Wale
Album: The Mixtape About Nothing

In making the list, I said I wasn't going to put any mixtapes on this list -- Lil Wayne would've been a bigger presence, for sure -- but I just couldn't put a list of great music of the 2000s without this record. Living here in DC, Wale is a big fucking deal. He's really talented and is a huge part of the DC hip-hop scene, whatever that is. He calls himself Wale Ovechkin, echoing the city's one great athlete.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Best of the decade: 51-60


Band: Outkast
Album: The Love Below/Speakerboxx

OK, complete honesty here: I don't love Outkast. More and more I think they fit my Kanye West/Lil Wayne theory of white journalists liking hip hop: it's graded on a certain curve. The dudes in OutKast are, essentially, hipsters (not unlike Common, see below) and journalists fancy them more than, say, Jay-Z. Jay, by the way, is infinitely more talented.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Best of the decade: 61-70


Band: Tara Jane O'Neil
Album: Peregrine

I admit I'm too much of a slave to my own tastes. TJO is an early musical crush of mine and I saw her touring this record in college. The "City in the North"/"City in the South" diad is beautiful and TJO's voice sounds as delicate and pretty as it ever has on this record.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the decade: 71-80

The series continues after the jump.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Best of the decade: 81-90


Band: Nelly
Album: Country Grammar

There's something invariably important about the music that soundtracks our existence. In writing up this list, I knew I had to put Country Grammar on here somewhere; I'm not even close to OK as to the placement of this record here at 90.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Best of the decade: 100-91

Introduction here. I'm starting to use jumps, as the LaLa.com previews are messing with load times.


Band: The Flaming Lips
Album: Embryonic

The Flaming Lips' latest album is less focused than others the band has released, but far less cutesy or maniacal. The band's other efforts from the decade are nice, but sound forced and, often, obnoxious. Embryonic is sprawling and lovely. It's crazy and subdued. It's the band's best work since The Soft Bulletin

Monday, October 26, 2009

Best of the Decade: Introduction

As the decade of the MP3 draws to a close, I am jumping on the "let's make a list" bandwagon. Take this list (spoiler alert: the whole list is here, in a really boring HTML table) with the usual mountains of salt:

  1. I am not an expert in anything, least of all music. Just because I write about music on the Web via a free blogging service doesn't mean a damned thing. Need I remind you, I am a fool. I spend one day a week dressed like this.

  2. I did my best, but I surely forgot something. I have a nice collection of music, but I do not remember ever record that's come outin the last 10 years.

  3. The more recent stuff has probably gotten short shrift. Timing is like that, I guess.

  4. My tastes are my tastes and they probably don't reflect your tastes. Please don't e-mail me with something about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, the Hold Steady or whatever. I like Sufjan Stevens, Mogwai, etc.

  5. As such, I don't listen to enough hip-hop. Take that for what it is.

I've already written about a lot of these records, including (sorta spoiler alert, if you're a detective) four of the top five and seven of the top 10. In the interest of keeping your suspense, I will post this list in 10 separate posts, over the course of the final 10 weeks of the year. Two albums came in just under the wire (including no. 100), having been released just a few weeks ago.


The 2000s are my decade, in a lot of ways. I spent my 20s -- my defining decade -- during this decade. I fell in love. My family situation, uh, changed. I went through college and spent four years giving a lot of effort toward the greatest college radio station in the world. A scant four months before Jan. 1, 2000, I moved away from home and started college. Four years later, I left the womb of the University of Missouri for the East Coast.

When the decade began, I was 18. I am 28 now. Despite being raised Jewish, I didn't become a man in March 1994 (my Bar Mitzvah); one becomes an adult in his or her 20s. Living on one's own for the first time. It was the first time I'd had a roommate; later I had two and had to play mediator between them. I got my first job, got my first promotion and changed jobs for the first time. I

Maybe I say this because I'm in it now, but this was my defining decade. No, my favorite album of all time didn't come out in this decade; that record was released before I was born. But, the years 2000-2009 define me and will have the most lasting of all memories for me. This is the music that soundtracked those memories.


So, without any further nonsense, I present my top 100 albums of the decade. I welcome any and all comments, of course.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crack the Skye

Band: Mastodon
Album: Crack the Skye
Best song: "Divinations" is among the band's best and tightest songs, up there with "Iron Tusk," "Blood and Thunder," "Crusher Destroyer," "Colony of Birchmen," "Shadows That Move," "Mother Puncher" and "March of the Fire Ants." Of course, the longest two songs on the records are also brilliant and complex.
Worst song: All good.

Like friend of the site Brad, Pitchfork and probably many other outfits, I'm going to eventually do a "best of the aughts" list. I've narrowed my list down a little, but it'll probably be in the 50-albums neighborhood. Recency is probably too much of an issue for these lists; it's easy to forget all the great albums released in the first two years of a decade.

For sure, I've written about a bunch of my top albums of the decade already on this and my old site (indeed, my two favorite albums of the decade were "unlisted" on the old site). But, making this list is becoming incredibly hard.

I write this because today's record is on that list, certainly, and very near the top.


Mastodon got me back into metal.

I was not a huge fan of heavy metal in high school and college. I listened to a fair amount of punk rock, but progressive- and post- rock occupied my mind almost entirely. I graduated, moved out here and had a friend introduce me to two bands. One was Isis. The other was Mastodon.

The first album I've heard of theirs was the brilliant, focused and furious Leviathan. Based on the Melville classic Moby-Dick, it's a record that's tight and insane, full of killer riffs and the best drumming in rock and roll. Based on a book? Slightly progressive? Fuck and yes. It was and is right up my alley.

I've written about the band's follow-up, Blood Mountain. Thought excellent, it isn't as hard as Leviathan nor as interesting as Crack the Skye. It's a striking record and a brilliantly structured one. It only pales in comparison to the Mastodon records that came before and after it.

With Mastodon came a revisit to Queens of the Stone Age (friends of the MAstodon guys and guest vocalists on tracks) and a look back into the band's influences, notably Judas Priest, Metallica and Iron Maiden. That's no small feat, considering I spent much of 2004 listening to Sufjan Stevens.

So, yeah, Mastodon got me back into metal.


My main criticism of Blood Mountain remains taht the storyline is fucking insane. This applies to the band's next/most recent album, only moreso. The storyline of Crack the Skye is absolutely indecipherable. GUitarist Bill Kelliher tried to get it out in a Pitchfork interview, but it hardly made sense.

It's got a quadripalegic boy and a Russian tsar and a wormhole and all kinds of crazy shit. Like, crazy. Apparently, Brann Dailor -- the dude whose drum work makes me want to kiss him repeatedly about the head and neck -- comes up with these ideas. He's a big Peter Gabriel-era Genesis fan.


There is no question this storyline is totally batshit insane. It's nuts. It produces lyrics like "crawling up through the crack in the sky" and "Wrathful one, nine eyes gaze." It's crazy.

But, lyrics in metal tend to be of a different animal than those done by singer/songwriters with an acoustic guitar. Elliott Smith -- my pick for favored songwriter -- wrote songs about real life with music that soundtracked real life. His worst work came when he fancied large arrangements and complexity over reality.

On the other hand, nothing about metal is all that real. It's fucking crazy is what it is. The guitar solos and the nutty drum rolls and -- especially -- the death growl. I don't want to say that you can't take it seriously, because that wording doesn't work. But, it occupies a different space.

Lyrics/vocals -- as I've mentioned before -- often are another instrument to me. In the case of Mastodon, this is especially true. Yes, I want them to make some sense, but "letting go" isn't Walt fucking Whitman, ladies and gentlemen. It needs to fit the emotion of the rest of the band and Mastodon's crazy lyrics -- and they are pretty crazy, to be able to fit that batshit story line -- fit.


With all that craziness, Crack the Skye is fucking brilliant piece of music. It is, in short, when Mastodon discovered the best of progressive rock. Tempering the Dream Theater-esque crazy speed stuff is the melodic Pink Floyd-esque soaring melodies.

That's not to say that the band goes full-on Floyd. It doesn't.

With any seven-song album, the expanse of styles covered isn't exactly wide; seven songs -- no matter the length -- can only be so cohesive. And, indeed, Mastodon doesn't try out, say, roots rock on Crack the Skye.

Rather, the band incorporates elements from other genres and applies the elements to the metal genre. "Oblivion" has the aforementioned Floyd-esque guitar solo, while "Divinations" has the crazed banjo intro -- Brent Hines developed his guitar skills first by playing the banjo in Georgia as a kid -- of an Applachian mountain song. "Quintessence" borrows mid-career progressive rock keyboards, but only for small spaces. "The Czar" takes a funk rock detour mid-way through the song building into a classic rock epic, all while processed through a metal filter. The album's title track is pounding and And the soft(ish) beginning of "The Last Baron" could've been borrowed from the baddest ass AAA radio station.

Overwhelmingly, though, MAstodon remains Mastodon. Brann Dailor's drum fills on the longer songs -- "The Last Baron," specifically -- are epic and sustained. Hines' solos are varied (the slow burns of "The Last Baron" and "The Czar" to the barely contained insanity of "Divinations") and amazing. Guest vocalist Scott Kelly (of Neurosis) partially carries -- via death growl -- the load on the title track, while Troy Sanders' own voice -- less death growl, more soaring singing -- acents the songs wherein he plays a huge role ("Oblivion" and "Ghost of Karelia," specifically). Dailor himself sings the verses on "Oblivion" and puts fellow drummer/singers Phil Collins and Don Henley to shame (cut me some slack, those were the only two I could think of).

It's a striking album. The long songs (all but "Divinations" clock in at five-plus minutes and two are more than 10 minutes) make for interesting changes; "The Czar" is actually a four-song suite. It's an ambitious one. The storyline is crazy and another band could've easily spent the record showing off how proficient it is.

Mastodon is proficient; indeed, these guys are great musicians. But, overwhelmingly, the album works, it flows and it's catchy and rocking. Progressive rock has a new face.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whipped Cream and Other Delights

Band: Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass
Album: Whipped Cream and Other Delights
Best song: "Love Potion No. 9" is awesome because it sounds like the type of thing you'd hear in a 1960s stag club. "A Taste of Honey" has become a theme song for many and rightfully. "Lemon Tree" is intricate and pretty.
Worst song: There really isn't a bad song on here.

There are many memories of my college roommates that stick out in my mind, most of them recurring jokes. The Crocodile Hunter impressions. The "Howard voice." Animal Crossing. So many jokes.

One of the running jokes, though, was our collective love for Herb Alpert's music. It started because we put LP jackets on our book shelf as typical students do in rented townhouses. One roommate threw up a Slim Whitman album sleeve. I supplied Whipped Cream & Other Delights.

The album is most famous for its amazing cover art (parodied by Soul Asylum here and by Pat Cooper here), but it's also Alpert's best record. After assembling an entirely non-Mexican band (three Italians, two Jews and a German guy), he dubbed it the Tijuana Brass, after the sound to which he was adding a pop element.

The album is lovely and ridiculous and thematic and cool. Background music all the way, John Pisano's guitar rolls through mariachi on "Lemon Tree." The nominal title track, like the rest of the album, rolls through Alpert's piercing trumpet. He's not Miles Davis, but, god damn, isn't "A Taste of Honey" fun? Or lest we forget, the burlesque swing of the Brass' version of the Leiber and Stoller classic "Love Potion No. 9," one of the porn-iest songs I've ever heard.

The album sold six million copies and not to idiot college kids or people who couldn't get adequate porn six years into Playboy's run. It's a fine album of ridiculously fun music.

Friday, October 2, 2009

American Water

Band: Silver Jews
Album: American Water
Best song: "Random Rules" and "Send in the Clouds" are lovely songs.
Worst song: "We Are Real" isn't great.

There's a certain breed of indie rock singer/songwriter that's remained constant, the deep-voiced misanthrope. They come in different flavors, whether it's the old South warbling of Will Oldham, the wholly strange Bill Callahan or Jason Molina's industrial North Neil Young impression, these singers can bring colorful storytelling, a distinct delivery and stilted writing.

David Berman is often thrown into this mix and I'd say that's probably incorrect. While the Silver Jews isn't a project far off from the aforementioned musicians, he is decidedly more cryptic and far more optimistic.

Moreover, it's the Pavement connection that fueled the early Silver Jews records. Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich's presence on the records seem to mark Silver Jews as a Pavement side project, though that's quite incorrect. Indeed, the Pavement tinge is the side dish to Berman's main course. It is a nice addition to the party, but hardly the Silver Jews sound.


American Water is the best of Berman's work. Pitchfork, in a review of Berman's final record, calls the album's opening line ("In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection.") "among the greats." I don't disagree, but the key point is American Water's opening song is a tour de force. "Random Rules" is both caustic and pleasant, somehow.

The album's Malkmus moments are well-tempered with Berman and make for beautiful music. "People" has a wah wah pedal-fueled funk guitar thing as the verse backdrop as Berman sings an observational ditty. The chorus lilts with Malkmus and Berman doubling one another. The chorus ends with Malkmus alone and a Pavement riff that hangs in the air. Similarly, "Federal Dust" is the most Pavement-esque on the record -- dour and scattered. -- and "Blue Arrangements" sounds as something that could have been on Brighten the Corners, laid back and suburban.

It's the observational songwriting aspects of the record that makes songs like "Smith & Jones Forever" such landmarks. Berman's simple vocal style -- he sometimes even sounds bored -- is fun and pleasant and the production surrounding it is flawless. Berman and Malkmus' blues guitar work is amateurish and charming, as "We Are Real" sounds like any of the classic white boy cops (paging Bob Dylan). "Honk If You're Lonely" has a 1970s folk record's feel with a touchy guitar line and a jaunty drum.

The album's highlight is the lovely and charming "Send in the Clouds." Armed with the innocent-sounding but complex line "Why can't monsters get along with other monsters?" Berman's existentialism seeps through the song. He sounds as cryptic as he is in interviews (example here), Berman recounts a biographical sketch of troubled youth and questioning the world. It's a departure from the album's optimism, but challenging and catchy.

American Water is a folk rock record through and through, but it is the best Silver Jews' record, hands down. The record dances around various microgenres and borrows from friend Malkmus' other band heavily, but in the best possible combination.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tropics and Meridians

Band: June of 44
Album: Tropics and Meridians
Best song: "Anisette." Hands down.
Worst song: Nope.

Maybe this is foolish, but I sometimes wonder if Wikipedia is the real measure of something (anything, really) and its q rating. If something or someone has a Wikipedia page, it truly exists in the world. If said Wikipedia page is of some substance, it is truly popular and is (or has been) on a lot of people's radar.

Maybe that's common sense, but Pink Floyd, for example, has a really big Wikipedia page. And the Floyd page is considerably more detailed than, say, that of Camera Obscura.

This can be somewhat troubling to me. Tortoise's page isn't anything to write home about. And today's subject, June of 44, hardly has a Wikipedia page at all.

It's like one of my favorite bands never existed. That's upsetting.


I've seen two bands twice in one week. Calexico was one, though the second show was a CMJ showcase show, so the band only played a short set in the second show of the week.

A few years earlier, though, I had seen June of 44 twice in one week. It was my freshman year of college and June of 44 was one of my favorite bands. The band had released the sublime Anahata -- a record I'd reviewed for a local zine as a high schooler -- the previous spring and was touring it across the United States.

So, a sophomore friend of mine asked if I wanted to see June of 44 in St. Louis on a Monday. Though I had a fair amount of work to do -- really, not a hurdle for me as I was never a good student -- I said I'd do it. So, we drove the two hours each way to the Side Door, a little club in a shitty neighborhood in St. Louis and June of 44 fucking rocked.

Cut to Thursday and the same guy asked if I wanted to see the band again. I remember thinking that this was a very odd thing to do; we would be driving 150 miles the other direction to see a very similar show in another town.

I'm not sure why I did it. It might have been the freshman mindset, that anything was possible now that I was a college man (not boy. Man.). Maybe it was the fact that I knew I wasn't going to drive. Maybe it was my wanting to impress someone with some pull at the radio station -- he would become Program Director the next year -- by being up for seeing a band I'd just seen. Maybe I knew that I wasn't going to drive and could sleep on the way back from the show.

The sets were similar and I don't remember much in the way of greatness. June of 44 was a methodical band live. They rode their steady music like the force that it was. Anahata isn't the record it should be -- after all, June of 44 liked to branch out -- but those shows were worth it. What an experience.


I came to Tropics and Meridians in a way that I really dove into independent music. My junior year of high school, I took over the music director position at our station. Fueled by WNUR and a love of Chicago's scene, I borrowed and taped everything that was on Touch and Go's distributed labels (Merge, Quarterstick, Thrill Jockey, T&G itself, Atavistic and Drag City).

Tropics and Meridians was selected solely because it was on Quarterstick Records. Full of nautical references -- the whole band seemed to be based on such references -- T&M is stilted and amazing. It has hard-charging drums, crazed vocals and angular guitars.

Indeed, the "single" was "Lusitania," a song named after a famous downed ship. Whispered vocals turn into screaming, taking a Slint-esque approach to a crescendo as the guitars dance around one another to a climax. Dynamics rule the song.

"June Leaf" shuffles, but breaks into two guitars using harmonics to create a lead guitar line, while the quick drum line edges. The dual vocals bring the song up and down. Shifting rhythms mean math rock on this record.

"Sanctioned in a Birdcage" is crazy, with a yelled/spoken lyric over guitars that fall between harmonics and angular riffs. Rhythmically, it dances around the drumset with a steady backbeat.

The album's highlight, though, is its opener, "Anisette." Nine minutes of a looping, hummable bass line ends up with the band shifting time signatures and loudness. The band starts and stops around a riffing guitar and a screaming Jeff Mueller. It's intense, to say the least.


God, did I listen to a lot of T&M in high school. I love Four Great Points, the band's follow up. But, man, you'll never forget your first. T&M was my first exposure to June of 44 and one of my first entries into indie rock.

I had two June of 44 t-shirts, one I bought at a show and the other I bought through Touch and Go's mail order catalog.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fleet Foxes

Band: Fleet Foxes
Album: Fleet Foxes
Best song: "Ragged Wood" is fun. "Sun it Rises" is a great opener.
Worst song: "Meadowlarks" isn't particularly good.

Requested by a friend, my opinions on this record are far too late. Fleet Foxes was the most critically acclaimed album (non-Tha Carter III division, of course) of 2008. Pitchfork named it the top album of 2008. It's one of the records that has kept Sub Pop relevant, critically and financially. The band has appeared in festivals and on Saturday Night Live. Almost everyone agrees, this album is amazing.

It's not to say that I disagree; Fleet Foxes is a great, great record. Meticulously produced and arranged, the record is lofty and pretty. It's full of appegiated guitars and layered vocals and...

Well, that's it. The vocals are the driving force in the record. For all the band's skill at constructing Love-esque soundscapes, the vocal style is what sets Fleet Foxes apart.

This is not always a good thing. The band's harmonies get very old by the end of the record, but in each individual song sound lovely and moving. Vocals, all too often, are meant to convey message, whereas the Fleet Foxes use vocals as an additional intrument.


Maybe I'm just promoting my own time to important status, but it seems like the postmodern world is becoming increasingly obsessed with nostalgia. We seem to be so tired of modernity that anything echoing something old is seen as attractive.

There are scores of Web sites -- run by women -- promoting Mad Men's protaginist Don Draper as the perfect man, largely because he's uncommunicative, philandering and tortured. There's no question that the modern man is not perfect and the 2009 idea of masculinity is no great thing, but the 1950s man was, um, not great. But, it's old and therefore, must have been better.

Indeed, Fleet Foxes and Mad Men are good analogues. Each is considered the best of its medium and are so overhyped that actual interaction left me disappointed. In another, less-hyped world, I probably would've loved this record and that show. But, instead, I find myself thinking "well, it wasn't as good as I was told."

Fleet Foxes has tinges of Summer of Love sounds in it. The folk of "Ragged Wood" is pleasant, but hardly forward-thinking. It could easily double as something from the back end of the Nuggets box or a Zombies record.

That's not to say it's bad; it isn't. "Ragged Wood" is amazing and the best song on the album. But, it's not super interesting. Just because Fleet Foxes' influences are 40 years old doesn't make them so much better than, say, Band of Horses (influenced by bands from 10 years ago). Fleet Foxes likes the better Grateful Dead records, Phish likes the crappy ones. I could go on.

Nevertheless, Fleet Foxes remains an excellent collection of music. The album opener builds as well as any record. For a folk band, it drives strongly and showcases that vocal style. "Quiet Houses" has an almost circular guitar line that builds into another vocal breakdown/acoustic guitar thing. The single, "White Winter Hymnal" keeps a pretty boring midtempo beat the entire song, borrowing a the shuffle from the Shins' "New Slang." "Blue Ridge Mountains" has the band working a more subdued place, with sparse drums eventually building to a timpani-sounding expanse by the end of the song.

There are colors of the past everywhere. The album artwork reminds one of a renaissance painting. The original Pitchfork review -- mistakenly, I'd say -- mentions that one song " could be a field recording sung by a small-town congregation 50 years ago." That's not attractive to me, but the stilted drums on "He Doesn't Know Why" move the song along as well as a record with more modern influences.

Like Mad Men, the hype is mostly deserved. It's a lovely record, but best taken in small doses.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I mentioned it this last week, but I've started a -- very poorly recorded -- podcast. The URL for the podcast site is http://albumsthatiown.podbean.com/. There, you can listen to the first two episodes -- one of me introducing myself and the other with an actual live human guest. Of course, you can also e-mail me (rjgianfortune at gmail dot com) if you'd like to be a guest. You could talk to the Internet about anything you'd like.

This week's guest is Tony Bowman, who is a lovely human being who runs D.C. Live Tracks, a Web site featuring, uh, live music recorded in our great city.

Again, I cannot stress this enough: If you'd like to be a guest, I would love to talk to you. Please e-mail me and we can figure out the details.


I use Podbean to do the podcast. It automatically generates the feed and whatever. It's not perfect and, like, Blogger, has some weird constraints. The way I'm doing it is not free, but it's got the features I need. Including embed.

I haven't figure out the art -- I don't think I can do that yet. The site's design sucks, but so does this one. If you care about that, I apologize.

So, if you want to listen to the podcast, you can do so here. You can also do so on the podcast site, where you can also comment, e-mail me, read the links and e-mail me. Take a look.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let's Get Out of This Country

Band: Camera Obscura
Album: Let's Get Out of This Country
Best song: "Tears for Affairs" is brilliant.
Worst song: "If Looks Could Kill" isn't great.

It's of no surprise that Camera Obscura's first album was recorded by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian. Seemingly, every writeup of the band has a reference to the shared Glasgow hometown and similar sound of the bands.

However, on the band's third album, Camera Obscura somehow became a more interesting band. Removing male vocalist John Henderson from the mix made for a great record. Wrapped in Swedish production and a more widely spun worldview, 2005's Let's Get Out of This Country is a brilliant collection of indie pop music.


Just an aside here, and one often repeated on this site. I fell ass backwards into listening to this record. I was a subscriber to eMusic for a few years -- and no, they don't pay me to extoll their virtues, especially considering I'm no longer a custome -- and one of the grand joys of eMusic was the ability to take a flyer on an album.

I'm not the world's biggest B+S fan -- I've seen them live, but talk more shit on them than anything else -- but Let's Get Out Of This Country was so wildly praised in the music press, I took a flyer on it. When you have 90 downloads a month, spending 10 on some Glasgow indie pop band is no big thing.

And, like many of my non-Mogwai eMusic downloads, I barely listened to the record for almost two years. Certainly, my Rolling Stone project was a factor in this; I was listening to so little new music that I tabled most everything not on that confounded list.

Cut to last fall.

I had started dating a girl; I was totally enraptured in her in that way that only the "getting to know you" way can bring. In those initial stages, I promised her a slew of mixtapes and found myself searching my collection for stuff she'd not heard.

One of the finds was Let's Get Out of This Country, specifically the romp that is "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." Written as a reply to 1980s Glasgow band Lloyd and the Commotions' hit "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?," the song dances around a sweet guitar riff. In it, Tracyanne Campbell -- no relation to Isobel Campbell, formerly of B+S -- begins the song with a flourish:

He said “I’ll protect you like you are the crown jewels” yet
Said he’s feeling sorrier for me the more I behave badly I can bet.

Like the rest of the record, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" is a song about failed love and misery. In the case of the title track, this misery is directed at one's lot in life. Feeling restless, Campbell's lyric speaks of a wonderful love in need of a relocation. She repeatedly asks, in her sugary sweety voice, "What does this city have to offer me?

Built around swirling strings and a lead guitar line that takes as much from chamber pop as it does from Dick Dale, "Let's Get Out of This Country" is a hummable, lovely track.

Exploring the band's different influence seems to be a pasttime on the album. The album closer, "Razzle Dazzle Rose" works a horn and jangly guitar into the mix, while a skiffle drumbeat moves the song along. "Dory Previn" is a hurt love song set against a hopalong-on-quaaludes beat.

The highlight of the record, is similarly, gorgeous. "Tears for Affairs" is led by an organ line so catchy it should be illegal. Campbell's more accessible lyric -- "you had to drive, look me in the eye" -- falls over said organ and some background harmonies as the song builds. An accordion falls in and out, while Campbell cries into her beer over a lost love. Taking a competitive -- read: male -- look at the breakup, her anger belies the record's tender-while-still-upbeat arrangement.

It's a song -- and an album -- that doesn't drive into new lyrical terriroty, but uses the band's strengths in a different way. Interesting and new, Let's Get Out of This Country is Camera Obscura's best record.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

A note: The Albums That I Own podcast has started, sort of. I've posted a two-minute intro podcast. In it, I just recount what I do, what the podcast will be, etc. The podcast site is here. If you would like to be a guest on the podcast or have a topic suggestion for it, please e-mail me (rjgianfortune at gmail dot com).

Anyway, back to the reviews.

Band: Yo La Tengo
Album: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Best song: "Cherry Chapstick," "You Can Have It All" and "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" are among the band's best songs.
Worst song: "Night Falls on Hoboken" is about 10 minutes too long.

There are new bands to be discovered. There are bands that recreate themselves a million times. There are bands that engender passion and those that spawn a million other bands.

Yo La Tengo isn't really any of those bands. Having produced top-quality Independent Rock for going on 25, the trio's various rock sounds have been the backbone of intelligent college radio people since the mid-late 1980s.

The husband-and-wife-plus-fat-friend formula is not one that's been copied, but it remains classic. Using atmospherics, dual vocals and quirky flair, Yo La Tengo remains one of the genre's stalwarts.


As is a constant on this site -- especially lately -- I want to get into my own personal experiences with this band.


My freshman year of college (hell, just about my entire college experience), the station was my life and indie rock soundtracked said life. So, when I found out that Yo La Tengo was coming to Columbia during my spring break, I had to see the show.

There is something of import to remember here: non-frat freshman almost always live in the dorms during their freshman year.

A friend (also a freshman who lived across the hall) and I drove down from Chicago to Columbia a few days before the weeklong break ended. However, we didn't realize that the dorms were locked and inaccessible during the spring break. The show was Friday night. Drew (my friend) and I had nowhere to stay Friday and Saturday night.

The first night, we saw a friend with an open couch and a roommate's bed to sleep on; I remember it being the most uncomfortable couch on which I've ever slept. But, it was somewhere to sleep. His roommates were back for Saturday night, so we had no idea where to stay.

One of the things about college radio is that there are often open shifts during breaks. So, geniuses that were were, we decided to sleep in shifts at the station -- KCOU had a horrifyingly uncomfortable couch-- and the other would work the board, play music, etc.

It was a fun time and one I'm really glad I had. That's college, you know? It's doing stupid shit and enjoying it.


Yo La Tengo's ninth album is considered by many -- as in our good friend Wikipedia -- to be a change in musical direciton, but I'd more consider it an expansion of their previous album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

That album's "Sugarcube" is one of the band's best songs, with an uptempo craziness. Indeed, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out's similar song is moreso. "Cherry Chapstick" is longer, more insane and better, with Ira Kaplan's guitar sounding like Ken Vandermark's sax. "Tired Hippo" uses a little drum machine and a tropical bass line to much surprise. "Tears Are In Your Eyes" is slow and lovely, with a Georgia Hubley vocal to die for.

Outside of "Chery Chapstick," the album's two highlights are decidedly different. "You Can Have it All" -- a cover, originally written by the guy from KC & the Sunshine Band -- is a background-y arranged track with an ABBA-esque vocal. Kaplan's "bum bum bum bum ba bums" fill the track as Hubley intones the sweet disco lyric.

The other great song is one of the reasons I love this band. "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" is a song, but is also a line from one of the three best television comedies ever (it was a Troy McClure-hosted telethon). That there is a band out there willing to name a song after a line in the Simpsons? And a good band, not some crappy emo band from my high school that made it big after naming itself from a character?

Anyway, "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" has a driving keyboard lead line and another of Hubley's best vocal tracks. Hubley's voice is one of YLT's best aspects; it's slightly powerful while very soft. An easy drumline and a great lyric ("We proudly welcome/Tony Orlando") make for one of the band's best songs.


OK, one more thing about this record from my musical biography or whatever.

I applied and was accepted admission to the University of Missouri without every visiting the campus. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of my parents' house in any way I could. So, the second MU gave me the go-ahead, I said "let's do this."

Anyway, as mentioned before, I was raised -- musically, that is -- by my high school mentors' tastes and WNUR. Missouri, as a state, seemed to me to be a backwoods nowhere state, but it was more important to me to get out of Dodge than actually care about what eventually became my passion. In short, I had no idea if MU had a college radio station.

To make a long-story somewhat short, I did a registartion weekend thing there during the summer (the famed "Summer Welcome" many MU students will remember) and there was a KCOU booth at the activities fair. I was heartened to know that this Southern -- anything south of Peoria is the South to a Chicagoan -- outpost had some people interested in Thrill Jockey, Matador and Sub Pop.

Fast forward to the winter.

A few of us go-getters implored the dudes we worshipped at the station -- Tony, John, John and Ryan -- to let us on the music staff. The new Yo La Tengo record, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, had been sent to the station and instead of handing it out to one or another senior music staff member to review -- SOP for even huge albums -- the PD (one of the Johns) decided to have a listening party thing at the house he rented. We got a bunch of beer, listened to the record and passed a legal pad around. The next week, he would type it up and those notes would be the official review.

I probably had one sentence in the thing; I didn't feel like I had any particular insight on the record. But, I'll say this, it was one of the three best moments of my freshman year of college (the other two being the first kiss with my then-girlfriend and the time she sorted through all the Chex I like out of the Chex mix and gave it to me as something to eat on the drive home to Chicago).

At the onset, I was constantly worried about my place within the station. I initially felt like I didn't belong a little and I felt like I wasn't pretentious enough because I only listened to big indie stuff (YLT, Pavement, etc.) and stuff from Chicago (Thrill Jockey, Touch & Go, etc.).

But, sitting at that little gathering, I felt like I belonged. Forget the fact that it's the band's best record, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out is tremendously important to me simply for that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Band: Ryan Adams
Album: Heartbreaker
Best song: "Come Pick Me Up" is a great song. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" is a nice little song. "Winding Wheel" is gorgeous.
Worst song: It's all pretty good.

As mentioned many times before, I am not a fan of twang. While I enjoy my fair share of No Depression stuff, I was raised on classic rock (specifically, the Beatles), so I don't migrate to it immediately.

Indeed, when I'd heard about the record in college, I was not too into the idea of it. I wasn't a Whiskeytown fan, but the other DJs at our station -- KCOU may be a college station, but it was one of the first stations to embrace Uncle Tupelo, so this type of music has always been in KCOU's DNA -- fell in absolute love with the record. At the same time, a close friend of mine decided she was totally into the album.


Heartbreaker is Adams' first solo record and it's the best thing he's ever recorded. Outside of a few songs ("To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" being the operative one), it's a mostly slower-tempo record full of scarred love songs. "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)" is sparse and pretty, with a minimalist arrangement. "Oh My Sweet Carolina" features a lovely Emmylou Harris vocal. "My Winding Wheel," like the best love metaphors, was supposedly inspired by a breakup.

It's a lovestruck record, one forged in Adams' home of North Carolina. Like his beloved south, Adams is slow, classic and deliberate. He doesn't swirl strings around like Wilco or try to go back to a place that never existed. Indeed, he simply writes some pretty fucking sad songs.

Adams has a strong voice and an equally strong band. He rocks out("To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"), he tries to be Dylan ("Why Do They Leave?") and he strips it all away to don his Neil Young hat ("To Be The One"). It's a striking dance between influences and it makes for a great record.


And then, there's "Come Pick Me Up."

Recently named as the 285th best song of the decade (for whatever that's worth) by Pitchfork, the song is a soft-tempo dirge with an undeniable hook. I've been thinking recently that all great songs have one or two simple arrangement things. It's the simple revolving keyboard on "Tin Cans and Twine." It's the bells of Jens Lekman's "Postcard to Nina."

"Come Pick Me Up" has a simple banjo line that boxes in the chorus. It gives the song character, but backs up Adams' tortured vocal and an easy drum line. It then works with the harmonica driving the post chorus flood. Working a Pixies dynamic, the banjo goes silent for the verse, only to pick up again when the chorus arrives.

And that's all leaving out the exquisitely simply lyric.

Adams begins the song asking questions about the keepsakes we've all put in a box in a cabinet, only to pull out a week later with tears in your eyes. Adams encapsulates it well, singing of a "favorite sweater/with an old lover letter."

Or the pleading questions of "Do you wish I was there? /Do you wish it was me?" Or the notion that a walk downtown is one that would remind the girl of him. Sarcasm drips and he finally asks her to sleep in his bed in the bridge, singing "I wish I could," reminding the listener of the recent breakup and the sleepless night.

The chorus' hook is undeniable to a rock snob, as Adams recounts the High Fidelity idea of a breakup:

Come pick me up.
Take me out.
Fuck me up.
Steal my records.
Screw all my friends.
They're all full of shit.
With a smile on your face.
And then do it again.
I wish you would.

Desperate and gorgeous, it's not complicated. Like the rest of the record, it's raw and emotional, but beautiful.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Woman King

Band: Iron & Wine
Album: Woman King
Best song: The title track is gorgeous.
Worst song: It's only, like, six songs.

I wrote a little bit on this before, but my first impressions of certain albums and/or bands are often really wrong. In the case of Iron & Wine, I thought Sam Beam's first album -- 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle -- to be cheap, lo-fi singer/songwriter fare with a geographical placement I couldn't understand.


In my defense, I did see potential in Beam's work, if I remember correctly. I loved his voice, but the first album felt (and still feels, sometimes) half-done, with tape hiss and poorly-recorded guitars. Our Endless Numbered Days added a few instruments later and Beam's melodies, references and arrangement sounded much better.

Of course, I&W's third album was a revelation. It remains one of my favorite albums of this decade (screw you, Pitchfork, for leaving "The Boy With The Coin" off your stupid list.).

Not to retread the point, but The Shepherd's Dog is an extension of an EP he recorded a few years before, the subject of this review. Woman King begins with a thumping, clapping singalong and ends with a circling, muted kaleidoscope of a song. In all points between, Beam mostly sings of the fairer sex with a biblical tinge, one of his strengths. Passionate while still intimate, it is a wonderful prelude to Beam's best work.

Indeed, Lilith is a figure in mysticism, supposedly Adam's first wife. She wasn't too down with being the lesser sex. As written in The Alphabet of Ben Sira:

After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone.' He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.' Lilith responded, 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.

You can imagine how that went down.

Nevertheless, the song's lyric backs up this reading:

Garden wall of eden, full of spiderbites and all your lovers.
We were born to fuck each other, one way or another
But I'll only lie, down by the waterside at night

The song's circular guitar line is gorgeous over Beam's hushed vocals. In it, he sounds like he's singing directly at the listener, an intimate vocal as ever.

"Jezebel" similarly exalts a biblical villianness. While the titular character has become a synonymn for "evil woman" in modern culture, Beam empathizes with her:

Who's seen Jezebel?
She was born to be the woman we could blame
Make me a beast half as brave
I'd be the same


I have a friend who is a similar fan of Iron & Wine. She was in town recently and we discussed my love -- and her not-love -- of The Shepherd's Dog. Her reasoning is the earlier I&W stuff is better.

And while I disagree with the sentiment, I can understand it. Let's say I loved The Creek Drank the Cradle and found some comfort in it.

Like any relationship, shit changes. Sometimes, it's mutual -- Death Cab for Cutie and I will always have We Have the Facts, but those days are over -- and sometimes, it's not.

I fell in love with I&W and grew with the band. I&W and I went through a lot; there was college and post-college. There was a Postal Service cover. There was stuff happening. I think I did my part as a fan.

And then shit changed. I&W did something different. The relationship changed.

Woman King is a different thing. There are pieces of familiarity, but it's different. Just as going to dinner at a familiar diner with an ex feels like a rerun, "Jezebel" sounds like something from earlier records. It's watching TV with a head on a shoulder. It's the accidental use of a pet name.

But, ultimately, "Freedom Hands Like Heaven" or the title track or "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Song)" are different. I&W has a new boyfriend or doesn't want you or is in a different place. Familiarity, while easy and comfortable, is not what you think it is. It's different.

Maybe you cry and maybe you yearn for the past. Maybe you pout and search for signs of the past in the new. Maybe you convince yourself of clues that really mean nothing. Maybe you think you're happy that things are different. Maybe you convince yourself that you love the new sound. And maybe you do.

And ultimately, you move on. You see the old records for what they are and you lament the change. But, you move on. Because you can't make a band be something it is not anymore.

You don't really have a choice.


I love Woman King. My relationship with the band is such that we evolved in a lovely way. Some of that is an evolution in my character. With so many bands -- Elliott Smith, Death Cab, Cat Power, etc. -- I thought the previous efforts to be the only ones worth my time. I didn't grow with the band.

Woman King, to me, is I&W's second-best release (after The Shepherd's Dog, of course). It's a short bit, but a great one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Stand Ins

Band: Okkervil River
Album: The Stand Ins
Best song: "Lost Coastlines" is one of the best songs of recent vintage.
Worst song: "Blue Tulip" isn't great.

God, I love language. I love the intricacies in the way we use language. I love the way we describe certain things. I got into this fray on my old RS project when I criticized bands for being derivative, while saying others showed their roots or whatever. A commentor took issue:

To recap: The Chili Peppers suck because they're derivative, repetitive, non-intellectual and populist. That goes double for CCR. Paradoxically, ZZ Top is great for all the same reasons.

This Benner character is absolutely right. The nuances of that stuff are hard to explain, but I love the idea that language can be manipulated in that way.

Anyway, "pretentious" and "hipster" are two of the dirtier words around. In reality, both have more pleasant synonyms ("literate" and "edgy," respectively, though both miss the stereotypes). Calling someone "pretentious" -- especially in regards to music taste -- is a kiss of death. Being a hipster is a more of an aesthetic situation.

I've been called a hipster thrice in my life, all within the span of two months. I would welcome this, were I an actual hipster. For one, I've never tried cocaine and I take no illicit drugs. Moreover, I'm not vain enough to be a hipster (though I am vain). Third, I'm too old. Hipsters stop being hip, I think, around age 25 or 26. I'm 28 and most of my friends are my age or a little older. Fourth, I'm not very smart or well-read. I have two journalism degrees, for Christ's sake. I took two English classes and read -- in my free time -- short story compilations or (as I am currently reading) 600-page histories of the white nationalist movement. Fifth, I hate NPR. Sixth, my favorite bands, while sorta indie, are either mostly instrumental hard rock (Mogwai), a defunct progressive rock band that is nearly synonymous with stoners (Pink Floyd) or Tortoise.

Also, I'm too bulky to be a hipster. I've got a gut and I lift weights as part of my fitness routine.

Look, I understand the hipster accusations. I like mass transit, I eschew action movies and blockbusters. I enjoy irony. I like indie rock, microbrews and Mad Men. I wear Chuck Taylors and buy organic. I am trying to better myself by reading. Again, I'd gladly be a hipster in the same way I'd gladly be handsome.

I am neither.


Okkervil River is a pretentious band. You could even call them hipsters. The band is named after a short story by Tatyana Tolstaya and Will Sheff (the brains behind the operation) was an accomplished rock critic. He has a whole song on The Stand Ins ("Singer Songwriter")accusing someone else of being kind of pretentious and in doing so, cites a list of references that only an English lit major would know. I mean, Sheff is the guy who, in a 2007 interview, said this:

At the beginning of last year, I had just returned from a long tour and I was sort of feeling a little bit like music didn't really have any more surprises for me.

(Emphasis is mine)

Does that make The Stand Ins, Sheff or the band pretentious? Yeah, it probably is. Sheff's idea of a double album about popular culture and show business turned into this and the band' previous album. The Stand Ins is darker than The Stage Names, hitting the suicide of porn star Savannah ("Starry Stairs") with softly sung vocals and a low end guitar line. Augmented by a powerful organ, Sheff asks "what do you think this world is made of?" early in the song, echoing the woman's desperation.

"Pop Lie" has the acoustic guitar/Cars-esque keyboard juxtaposition found on so many indie rock songs of recent vintage. An easy trick, yes, but an effective one. The cynicism of the lyric belies the pop standard of Sheff's croon. The chorus is standard pop fare, albeit done better and smarter than most.

Like the Decemberists, Okkervil River uses references to its advantages, though without the hassle of annoying vocals. As mentioned, "Singer Songwriter" is a call out of hypocrisy (while being hypocritical), referencing The Kinks, some French playwright, some German silent movie, the bible and Angkor Wat. "Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979" makes reference to the glam rock artist turned lounge singer, with reverence to Campbell (a friend of the band).

Much of the album deals with the life of a musician, always hairy territory. "On Tour with Zykos" is a straightforward song about, well, touring. Moreover, the best song on the album is one that makes metaphor of the sea, "Lost Coastlines." The song's use of "boat trip as band relationship" can easily be misread into a romantic relationship metaphor, as Sheff intones about "that light that you love might not shine."

The song is about 45 seconds too long, with the las taking over the final minute. Nevertheless, it's a wonderful dual vocal between Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg's wonderful baritone. The interplay is fantastic and the song's midtempo romp is about as enjoyable as music is.

Pretentious or not, it's a great record.


As part of the album's release, the band had friends cover songs from the record. One of those covers has the New Pornographers' A.C. Newman pairing with Sheff to do "Lost Coastlines."

Sheff can't totally nail Meiburg's low register, but, still. Awesome.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Marry Me

Band: St. Vincent
Album: Marry Me
Best song: "Now Now" is the best song of 2007.
Worst song: The album trails off at the end, actually.

Here's an idea I've recently had, being that I have some friends getting married/just married in recent weeks. Though I am currently single, let's assume I'm dating a woman from Irkutsk, Siberia who now lives in the DC area. Let's say we met in college. And we got engaged.

So, let's say I proposed. Here are the five normal options, wedding-wise:

  1. Have the ceremony thing where the couple currently resides. No decision, really. Either neither family is pissed off or both families are pissed off.

  2. A destination wedding. I have a family friend who got married at Disneyworld. Seriously. This happens a lot. My sister, I believe, thought about doing it.
  3. Have the ceremony thing where the bride and groom met. With all due respect to Columbia, I don't know that I'd want to be married there.

  4. Have the ceremony thing where the bride or the groom were raised. I'm not really interested in going to Siberia. Chicago is sort of an option.

  5. No ceremony. This is my preferred option, though with the knowledge that I will probably never get married.

So, all of those make some sense, but here's my idea. Why not pick a random city on the map? Like, if my bride and I decided we were going to get married in Islamabad, why not? Or Davenport, Iowa?

This is related to the old idea of a woman changing her name when she gets married. I have a real problem with that -- your name is your identity and she shouldn't subliminate herself, etc. -- but I do understand the need to create unity should the couple want to create a family. This resides in the theory of combining names (Johnson and Ferrarri becomes "Johnnarri" or something) or hyphenating them.

So, my theory would be to just pick a name totally outside the couple's nationality or ethnic heritage. So, for myself and my Siberian bride, we could be the, like, Perezes. Why not?


Anyway, about the album. Marry Me is a great record, if only for the labum opener, "Now Now," probably the best song of 2007. It is here:

Also, the album is named after Maeby saying "Marry me!" on Arrested Development, arguably the best TV show of all time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You Forgot it in People

(Original cover)

(Reissue cover)
Band: Broken Social Scene
Album: You Forgot it in People
Best song: "Stars and Sons" is great. "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" is popular.
Worst song: Not really. The album is all pretty great.

I've spent the better part of two weeks exploring the range of Judd Apatow's film and TV work, spurred by his latest film, Funny People (see friend of the site Brad's take here).

Apatow is a guy with an eye for talent, no question, and I find much of his work to be entertaining, though I wouldn't say he's the genius others find him to be. Funny People is my favorite of his work and I did not find it to be some great work.

Relationships are the core of Apatow's work and there's something to be said for that. When you're in a relationship, you don't notice all the entertainment that is based around the various parts of relationships. Everything seems to have a relationship conflict portion of it. It's just part of the game in TV, movies, etc. Music is a little easier to deal with, but, nonetheless, if you want to think about something other than relationships, good luck.

Often, it's comforting. Other times, not as much.


I'm still friends with two of my three ex-girlfriends from high school. One, in fact, is probably my closest friend in the world (non-canine division, of course). The other is someone I've turned to for support and is a close friend.

This information is just to contrast with what follows and makes me wonder if it is, indeed, impossible to be friends with someone you date after the age of 18. Or maybe it's just me.


This has little, if anything to do with You Forgot it in People or Broken Social Scene. I'm not going to go over the band's gestation/history/lineage here, but rather will direct you to our good friend Wikipedia to see the contributions of Emily Haines, Feist, et. al. Needless to say, "collective" is a great word for the 15-piece band.

Nevertheless, I think about BSS for a couple of reasons; it occupies some places in my mind. One of those reasons is that I saw the band in 2004 in support of this album. I saw it with a girl who eventually became my girlfriend; a girl I dated for a few months, actually.

This particular girl is now engaged and, I think, will be married pretty soon. I say "I think" because I don't know. We do not communicate in any way. This is someone with whom I spent a lot of time for a period of almost three months. This is someone who, theoretically, cared for me a bit.

I do not speak to this girl. She doesn't speak to me. I imagine I did something to her in the post-breakup that made her unhappy; that seems to be my M.O. Nevertheless, we're no longer friends on Facebook, she's out of my Google Talk friends list, etc. (All steps she took, by the way, seemingly all at once.) I don't care enough to contact her to ask why this all happened, so we remain out of communication.

That case is less strange (Tragic? Sad? Weird? I really don't know how to describe it...) than the case of the girl with whom I've had the most serious relationship in my life. She and I dated in college, then for a bit after college. She stayed with me here in D.C. for a few months after she graduated college. I visited her abroad during our senior year. In India.

This is someone to whom I professed my love often; indeed, she's someone I truly loved. She's someone I referred for a while as "the one that got away." Though our relationship didn't end in a fireball as others of mine have, she is the person that I've put the most of myself out for. She's someone for whom I thought about the most after we broke up and the person for whom I thought the most about while we were dating. In describing our relationship -- both while it was going on and afterward -- I always used the words "magical" and "spark" and "chemistry."


We all grow and -- to quote my favorite songwriter -- "situations get fucked up" and nothing lasts forever and whatever. For a great many reasons (many Ross-based, I'm sure), that relationship ended.

We don't have an incordial relationship. When my closest friend passed away, I e-mailed her to tell her. She called me to see how I was. I e-mailed her in the winter and she sent me a very nice e-mail back. We're not enemies. I can't speak for her, but I have no animosity toward her (though, there were some hurt feelings in the immediate breakup). We're just not in one another's lives. She's in a serious relationship. I've been in a few relationships, both serious and not, since we broke up.

I have not seen her, physically, since before we broke up.

I want to say that distance means a lot in this case. She lives a few hundred miles away. But, really, I have friends from HS who live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles... And I keep in contact with them, albeit more sparingly as each year passes. E-mail is effective for that sort of thing, not to mention cell phones.

(I'll say this in both of our defenses. I don't talk to my closest friends more than once every few weeks. I talk to my mom once every 7-10 days and she carried me in her womb for nine months, then cared for me throughout my childhood. So, outside of my coworkers, I don't keep in that close contact with anyone. No one does.)

I don't see the need to include her in my life. She doesn't see the need to include me in her life. I could make more (as in "any") effort. She could do the same. It seems to be an unspoken agreement, not of unpleasantness or of anything other than the busy life that comes for a 28-year-old.

We've moved on.


But, then again, do you realize how very fucked up that is? Forgetting the sexual stuff (no small thing, considering I only appear shirtless for doctors and girls I date), I cared so much for these people (the latter far more than the former, but, nevertheless). I spent a lot of time with these women and now? Nothing.

I have friends I hung out with in HS, friends I hung out with in college and I don't talk to them. They're out of my life. But, I never told them I loved them. I never made out with them. I never talked to them multiple times a day, slept in the same bed, talked about the various vulnerabilities I had. I didn't cry in front of my college friends. They weren't there when my parents split up. I didn't visit them across the globe.

Look, I understand the nature of these situations -- this is growing up. But that doesn't make it any less strange and less tragic.


Facebook makes for some strange connections, no question. A HS ex-girlfriend (the one I am not close friends with) found me there and she's married with a kid! I'm still friends with my serious college ex and -- assuming she updates it, though I don't know if she will -- I imagine I'll find out about her engagement/marriage/life/etc. through Facebook.

Nevertheless, it seems odd to me that I'm not friends with exes anymore. I've had enough navel gazing for a bit (yeah, right.), so I'm not going to write it out here as to why I'm like this. But, nevertheless, it's sad.


Maybe the memory of these people is more effective than actually keeping contact with those people. I'd rather my exes remember me as I was during the relationship -- hopefully in the initial getting-to-know-you and "falling for you" stages rather than the all-too-inevitable "Ross is creepy" stages. In the case of my ex from college, I'm not much of anything right now as compared to when I was in college (for reasons, see this).

Maybe I'd just rather have memories.

And maybe that's the single saddest sentence laid down on this site.


The ability for music to be stapled to a person, place or experience is its greatest addition to life. It can evoke a feeling more than speech or the written word. It's why movies use popular songs to back up scenes. It's why "Needle in the Hay" plays as Richie Tenenbaum opens up his wrists.

There are plenty of songs that bring back memories -- happy, sad, etc. -- simply by hearing them. Beck's "End of the Day" makes me cry whenever I hear it (reason sorta here) and Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew. I'll always think of certain KCOU people when I hear Superchunk. A specific face appears in my head whenever I hear "Revolver," and, actually, You Forgot it in People.


Again, this all has little to do with Broken Social Scene's second record. It could apply to any record. You Forgot it in People is one of the most critically acclaimed record to have been released in the early century, with nearly every critic agreeing that it is a masterpiece. Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and seemingly half of Toronto made a record that Pitchfork gave a 9.2 rating. Pitchfork has described the band as having "grand instrumental swells, mumbly singing, and all things guitar-y and heart-wrenching and heart-on-sleeve."

Similarly, BBC described the album as such:

Imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor actually writing coherent pop songs or if Sebadoh decided to jam with about 20 other musicians from labels such as Sub Pop, Kranky and Thrill Jockey on some prog rock covers. But...you can imagine this almost on Top 40 radio. It's that good.

The hooks on You Forgot it in People are undeniable. "Pacific Theme" oozes along with a short guitar melody, eventually turning to a horn to lead the way into a fully arranged band. "Looks Just Like the Sun" has a hangdog guitar line, minimal lyrics and a chorus to die for. "Almost Crimes ((Radio Kills Remix) / Broken Social Scene)" is a cacophony of voices, guitars and a pounding Keith Moon-esque drum bit. "Cause=Time" is a guitar churn that evokes the best of 1980s post-punk. "I'm Still Your Fag" is decidedly sedate, as easy vocals abound and a picking guitar slips into the background.

Looking at iTunes, the most popular song from the record is "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl," not a surprise at all. The record features Haines (Metric's driving force) seething sarcasm and youth as a violin drones, echoing her beautiful alto. While repetitive, it builds on itself, showing an emotion that fills the entire record.

"Stars and Sons" -- featured in Ryan Fleck's excellent Half Nelson, a film for which the band curated the soundtrack -- is a one-tempo jaunt with dual vocals singing of an uncertain future ("This way we'll know, how far to live on"). The song is the album's highlight, with the increasingly arranged keys, vocals, guitar churns and clapping hands all pushing the song along.

There is a reason You Forgot it in People is so popular. It's great.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No One's First and You're Next

Band: Modest Mouse
Album: No One's First and You're Next
Best song: "Autumn Beds" is great. "Perpetual Motion Machine" and "Satellite Skin" are probably the best songs on the EP.
Worst song: "History Sticks To Your Feet" isn't great.

I should like Modest Mouse a lot more than I do. The band used to do a certain type of music really well; angular guitars, intricate drum lines and quirky lyrics dotted Modest Mouse records. Always compared to Built To Spill (a favorite), the band plays music I should enjoy. Since the band's maturation and move to a major label, Isaac Brock and Co. have gained more genre work and now use banjos and brass to augment Brock's songwriting.

I never got into Modest Mouse (as much as I should, I guess) because of a bunch of different things. Brock had a reputation among my college radio station friends as being something of a prickly individual with little use for our little Midwestern burg. Similarly, his vocal delivery always seemed like a bad cop of Stephen Malkmus crossed with Bob Dylan (neither a good vocalist). So, I've never really struck with Modest Mouse.

Still, I have a few of the band's records and I certainly fancy Brock a good songwriter. Despite his vocal problems -- "Float On" would be one of my favorite songs if not for Brock's singing -- Brock has a knack for putting together interesting guitar lines and mind-bending lyrics.

The band has gone through several changes since I last really looked into it (college). The drummer left and came back (the band now has two drummers). Johnny Marr of the Smiths somehow is now a member. The band has collaborated with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and had a number one album. They were up for some MTV Awards a few years back. It's all very strange.

No One's First and You're Next is another EP of the band's b-sides and rarities from the last two albums, 2007's We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank and 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News. It's a fine group of songs that continues the band's streak of music I should like. Only this time, I like it more than I probably should.


AV Club's Josh Modell brought up a good point in his review of thise record: Modest Mouse's (arguably) best song came from a Modest Mouse rarity compilation. "Never Ending Math Equation" is the band's greatest work.

And so goes No One's First and You're Next. The songs on the record are decidedly Modest Mouse-ish, with Brock attempting to lullaby listeners on "Autumn Beds," while wailing on them on other songs. Indeed, "Autumn Beds" is one of Brock's best melodies and a ton of wonderful soft(ish) arrangement. "The Whale Song" is one of Brock's most epic pieces, spanning six minutes and a few changes.

"Perpetual Motion Machine" features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and their contribution gives the song a circus feel that the band has moved toward. Lyrically, it's a creepy look at mortality that brings up the "Is Ike Brock really crazy?" question that seems haunt him whenever the band plays a show. The midtempo stomp of the song never lifts off, but it remains a wonderful move into a different genre.

The album opener and highlight, "Satellite Skin," has a has his growling lyrics played over a xylophone, all leading into a Built To Spill-ish guitar lead line. The lyrics ("Was it easier to say than was actually done?") reflect Brock's distrust and his vocals provide an easy spark for said distrust. The guitar work is among his best and the song. The video's bizarre stop-motion animation (here, directed by the guy who used to do Tool videos) provides an eery image party for the song.


"King Rat" is sorta famous for having a video directed by Heath Ledger (well, partially. He died before it was finished.). It's a fun song, the type of song wherein Brock's shouting overpowers the normally great guitar work. Banjos begin and trumpets flare, the song rolls like a gunshot and it continues to build throughout the 5:30 of the song. The violin line is somber and evocative.

The video (click here because I can't embed it) is pretty grizzly, with whales commanding a, uh, whaling ship that spears humans to be ground up for seal food. Proceeds from the single go to an anti-whaling organization (which, by the way, is needed. That shit is horrifying and whales are going to go extinct if we don't do something.).


I'd actually say that No One's First and You're Next is better than Modest Mouse's last effort, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. It's fuller, with better melodies. Brock's singing takes it down a notch, but as a songwriter, he remains strong.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Deltron 3030

Band: Deltron 3030
Album: Deltron 3030
Best song: "Virus" is great. The Sean Lennon-assisted "Memory Loss" is exquisite. The title track is great.
Worst song: "Time Keeps On Slipping" isn't strong.

Despite their being mostly just pains in the ass, I consider myself a fan of the concept album, up to and including rock operas. I love an artist that has the stones to try and tell a cohesive story -- or group of stories or whatever -- through rock music. It almost always fails -- for every Tommy or Animals, there are 100 Operation: Mindcrimes and American Idiots. Nevertheless, the heyday of the rock opera -- the mid-70s era that gave us Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Ziggy Stardust and Quadrophenia -- is a pretty fun period.

Hip hop is, by nature, a storytelling genre. The genre experienced its greatest developments during late 1980s/early 1990s when gangsta rap painted pictures of inner city life. Evolving since, the genre has branched out to different places.


Cousin to Ice Cube, Del tha Funkee Homosapien is a peripheral star in "backpack" hip hop. Unlike the subgenre's darlings, Del doesn't normally do much in the way of social commentary, but rather rhyme about daily routines, housing situations or dudes with bad hygene. Del's records are smart, but in an everyman, stoner-seeing-things way. As part of the Hieroglyphics clique, he did interesting records about everyday life, smoking weed and traveling.

In short, he's talented and very likable.

Similarly, Dan the Automator is a bit of an oddball himself. Though he's fallen off the map a little, his work in the late 1990s/early 2000s is a portrait of a master. His Handsome Boy Modeling School collaborations with Prince Paul are fantastic and the first Dr. Octagon record is, far and away, Kool Keith's best work. The Gorillaz record, though overplayed, is wildly fun and the Lovage record is smooth.

Automator's signature is a beat structure that moves somewhere between smooth (Lovage, some of the Handsome Boy stuff) to creepy and doomy (Deltron, Dr. Octagon). Augmented on Deltron 3030 by Kid Koala's amazing turntable work, Automator's beats shine.


Of course, being a concept album/rap opera, Deltron 3030's story isn't really clear. It seems to mostly be a futurologist study in a totalitarian/corporate government in place in the 31st century, with Deltron Zero as the hero of the future. Deltron Zero battles against institutions on "Upgrade (A Brymar College Course)," tries to recruit the young (and battle apathy) on "Things You Can Do" and fight technology on "Memory Loss." Like Terry Gilliam's dystopian futures, Deltron 3030 gives us a bleak picture.

The title track sets the scene:

I used to be a mech soldier but I didn't respect orders
I had to step forward, tell them this ain't for us
Living in a post-apocalyptic world morbid and horrid
The secrets of the past they hoarded
Now we just boarded on a futuristic spacecraft
No mistakes black it's our music we must take back

Seven minutes later, we learn that "half the world's a desert" and ""Cannibals eat human brains for dessert." Indeed, it's The Road with better writing.

The album's narrative is loose, but Del's charisms and Automator's beats make it entertaining. "Virus" is infectious, despite its calls to bring the United States back to a technophobia utopia wherein all records are "converted to papyrus." "Positive Contact" has a dance beat and a stutter-step chorus. "Mastermind" has Del touting his ability to save humanity and "Madness" takes Dark Side's notion of insanity via technology and puts it over a breakdown beat.

The album drags -- sixty minutes is probably too long for this concept -- and the skits seem to be solely there for the purpose of getting friends on the record (the singer from Crash Test Dummies, Damon Albarn, Money Mark, etc.). But, the album is probably Del's best and second to Dr. Octagonecologyst in the Automator catalog.


I've been listening to this record a lot for a few reasons. For one, I have a friend who has an almost Luddite view of economies and is a big supporter of a move back to tribal situations for humanity.

Moreover, I have been reading Slate's excellent pieces on the possible end of America (home page here). A lot of the notions perpetuated Deltron 303 are possible scenarios. Seriously.

Now, I won't live to see most of this stuff, but the prospects are fucking scary. I'm not in the same camp as my friend -- localism is great, globalism is great, some combination is best -- but, damn, this shit is scary. The example that dovetails with the record (specifically, the song "Virus") is the Live Free or Die Hard scenario: What the hell happens if a computer virus wiped out the entire finance sector?

(I can't even function when I lose network service for my iPhone. My cable went out last week for, like, an hour and I was going to have a nervous breakdown.)

The Slate series really brings up some scary possibilities. Global warming, no question, is going to fuck with us royally. One scenario has the Great Plains becoming a giant desert. Another has New York swallowed up by the Atlantic. God knows what'll happen to my digs of DC.

My point is this: Humanity is pretty well fucked. Awesome.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Shake the Sheets

Band: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Album: Shake the Sheets
Best song: "Me and Mia" and "Little Dawn" are the two best songs on the album.
Worst song: "Criminal Piece" isn't perfect, but still pretty good.

Punk rock isn't a genre I adore. There's a certain immaturity inherent in even the most mature Green Day record that turns me off.

That's not to say I listen to incredibly mature, thoughtful music. I don't. I listen to a lot of mostly immature music. I listen to a lot of immature, silly music. But, for whatever reason, punk rock doesn't appeal to me.

Ted Leo's version of punk rock is more mature, more nuanced and more interesting than most. It's not musically complex, though not as simple as the Sex Pistols or Ramones of the world. Leo's guitar work is cutting and sharp, with minimal silly riffing and even less power chording punk nonsense. Instead, he uses small riffs and trills to melodize. The rhythm section is easy and tight. "Me and Mia" is a drumming shock, with starts and stops aplenty, while "Heart Problems" has the drumline of a Rush song on mood stabilizers.

The main attraction, though is Leo himself. His slightly nasal, certainly distinctive voice runs through all the songs. Sustaining longer than normal, he cracks live and hits pleasant high notes as well as anyone of his gender (see his Kelly Clarkson cover here for an example). His shouts on "Heart Problems" contrast only with his falsetto optimism. "The Angels' Share" has a nice guitar line and a jazzy rhythm.

"Walking to Do" is a sweet lyric, sung with Leo's charm. The album's title track shows off Leo's politics fully, a skill he's acquired later in his career. Leo also noodles on his guitar fully, approaching Superchunk status.

"Me and Mia," though veiled, is a song about eating disorders, palpable and sarcastic. "Do you believe in something beautiful" bites, despite Leo's affable drone. The guitar line is fast and fun. It's probably the album's best song, if not for "Little Dawn." "Little Dawn" is sunny and pretty, with a driving guitar riff. The coda has Leo repeating "it's all right" over a full band repeat of the riff. Catchy and fun, it's Leo's best work.


The basis of this particulary site is for me to write about albums I enjoy. I've mentioned the concept of "driving albums" a little here, but my full feeling on it is that there are few albums that I can enjoy, front to back. Driving albums are the ones I am always in the mood for. They're the ones that can make a drive seem shorter. They're the ones I don't need to skip around on.

(When I moved out here, this turned into "Metro albums." The first Metro album, Pinback's Blue Screen Life, was the one I enjoyed while taking the Metro from the Washington Post to the end of the line in Gaithersburg. It's about an hourlong ride. Blue Screen Life remains a favorite because it was my companion through that time of my life.)

Shake the Sheets is a driving album. It's an easy album to get lost in. The songs flow from one to another.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Little Earthquakes

Band: Tori Amos
Album: Little Earthquakes
Best song: "Winter" is probably Amos' best song. "Crucify" is a good song, though the single edit is better.
Worst song: "Happy Phantom" isn't great.

A few months ago, a friend of mine accused me of being pretentious because I made a comment about the Decemberists (I believe it was "Decemberists fans are always annoying"). Really, I don't think the Decemberists are a particularly good or bad band, I have a perception of fans of a literate band that does, like, pirate music and quotes classic literature.

This, of course, is kind of a stupid thing to do. People don't just listen to one band. I, for example, am a fan of a wide span of music. I have thousands of albums and I listen to so many records. My favorite bands are, like, Pink Floyd, Mogwai, Tortoise, Elliott Smith, etc. I have a bunch of band shirts, but I really only wear one band shirt a lot.

This one:

Am I the world's biggest Iron Maiden fan? I am not. I've seen the band live once. I own three Maiden albums.

But, I love that shirt. I love the idea that I can broadcast that I listen to Iron Maiden and there isn't much in the way of confusion. It's not obscure. There's no question what Maiden is about.


Look, we all stereotype and in the grand scheme of things, stereotyping people by their music taste is mostly harmless. I could list a million bands that have a stereotype surrounding their fans. Phish/Grateful Dead and burnout heshers. Kelly Clarkson and fat chicks. Korn and idiot meatheads from Central California. Toby Keith and rednecks. The Indigo Girls and, uh, chicaks who wear birkenstocks, play softball and have short, cropped hair.

Tori Amos fans get one of the stronger, most well-developed sterotypes. Female fans of Ms. Amos tend to be a little nutty, dabbling in the magic(k), wicca and goth scenes. They describe themselves as very "sensual" or "sexual" people (here's a tip: If you have to define what type of person you are to others, you've got problems.). They like candles and hair dye. They might go for some cakey makeup and that really deep red lipstick thing. They believe in faeries and love that goddamned faery imagery, maybe she has a faery tatt. Or maybe a sun/moon tatt. They wear fishnets on their arms, but don't go full-goth. They often have a weird piercing or two. There's a lot of feminism in this group, but the sort of fucked-up feminism that is almost separatist. Not the kind I practice.

I don't mean to be mean in making fun of these girls -- they clearly have some fucked up stuff going on that makes them define themselves in such a way (short theory: People who dress so abrasively do so because they are putting up a wall. They're damaged. They don't want to let people in.). Whatever trauma or physiological situation made them this way is easy to mock, but it's sad nonetheless.

(I've never met a dude who called himself a "big" Tori Amos fan, though I imagine they exist. I had a male friend go to an Amos show in HS -- it was on a date with a girl who was a big fan -- and my friend said he saw a dude there wearing a cape.)

Amos so caters to these people. Her music is personal and reflective, slightly combative and very emotional. In the same way I feel Jens Lekman is speaking to me on "And I Remember Every Kiss," Amos fans feel she's speaking to her on "Silent All These Years." Stories of damage and redemption pepper her work and her often ambiguous lyrics make for near infinite fan intrepretations. Nowhere are these qualities more evident than on Little Earthquakes, Amos' solo debut.

Amos' songwriting is striking in its imagery. God knows what "Mother" is about (sample lyric: "And with your advice/Poison me against the moon"), but it can be intrepreted in many ways. "Crucify" is a little anti-religion polemic, contraining the lyric "Got enough guilt to start my own religion."

Lyrically, "China" is one of Amos' most traditionally pop songs. Structurally, the song is a ballad of lost love, with Amos lamenting her lovers' "wall" of emotions. Having been raped is the subject of "Me and a Gun," one of Amos' most-cited songs. Stark and minimalist, it is a seldom-played song in the Amos setlist.

Piano is Amos' instrument of choice -- and a symbol of her career as she named her career restrospective boxed set after the instrument -- though she branches often into other keyboards (harpsichord drives "Tear in Your Hand"). Overally, though, Amos' voice is her greatest asset. "Crucify" lives and dies with Amos darting around the scale for the "looking for a savior" line. Amos' pipes have a lilting quality on "Silent All These Years."

It's actually a wonderful record and one that I'm sort of half-ashamed I own. It's good, but, man, I don't want to be identified with those creepy Amos fans.