Everyone can do year end blurbs. Blurbs are, frankly, dime a dozen, and quite honestly, who needs ’em- you can listen to the songs and get all the stuff. Here’s some writing about some music that I loved this year.
I’m not sure if Atmosphere have a truly great album in them. I can say that their most recent, When life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, contains four absolutely brilliant songs, which, if they had been released as an ep (by the way, that tactic, the “if the best songs had been released as an ep” tactic is about the ultimate sign of a writer who really really wishes he were making music instead. Just a heads up), would have been phenomenal, a bold cohesive statement on their own. Slug’s production on these tracks is crisp, and Ant’s rhyming is bold and over the top, but mostly without falling into the ruts of his favorite topics (fallen angels, failing relationships, etc.). I’m giving you the best of the four. You can pick our the other three for yourself.
“Yesterday” is from Atmosphere’s album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold.
that’s the problem with God. God stops being God once God stumbles, even a little bit. Learned that last year with the weakerthans album, learning it this year with what I had hoped would be my favorite album of the year. It’s good, at moments, it’s great, but you’re better off starting elsewhere if you’re new to these bands.
no more whiskey poetry
please, find something else to celebrate. I worry it won’t taste the same
that it’ll die and rot after it’s poured into a song that hasn’t earned it yet. A song that will choke
on its aftertaste and disguise it as a guffaw.
Whiskey is drowning in its own name, and the world wakes a little colder.
Mr. Bondy gets an exemption this time because his voice is perfect, and because these songs whisper you the grain of the wood of his guitar.
“World Without End” is from A A Bondy’s album American Hearts.
sometimes you wake up to an alarm, sometimes you wake up to a car alarm,
other times you wake to a 10 car pile up, the last rim from the chevy spinning,
spinning, the flames giving the bare oxygen a sound.
Why Would You Like To Work at Trader Joes? I love food, and worked at the local Co-Op at my college. I lived on a Vegan-only hall, and last summer I worked at an organic farm up in maine.
What do you hope to get out of this job? I hope to learn more about the food that Trader Joes sells. I hope to be able to work on my own cooking while i’m here, and maybe learn something about wine.
A very rude customer is in your line and is being very confrontational. What do you do? I’m not a very aggressive person, so I would probably just treat the customer like any other. Everyone has their bad days.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us? I shopped at this store for all four years of college, and it was one of my favorite places in town. I’ve been told that Trader Joes throws pretty kickass dance parties after hours, and i’ve been repeatedly told that I would be quite good at teaching awkward Grocers how to dance.
Some days I can’t even bring myself to ask you how you’re doing, because I know it’s not good, and I know i’m not doing well either. Other days I listen just to gloat, to know that there is someone doing worse than me. Other days I avoid coming home because I love you so much and I can’t bear to think that you’re doing the same as yesterday, two weeks ago, a few months back. I hang around at the bus station and replay old voicemail messages from last spring to hear you laughing and then eventually i sneak in the back door when I think you’re probably asleep. You’re so beautiful and smart but you didn’t always used to look like you were on the verge of tears. It’s not the kind of thing where I’ve lost hope, it’s just tough, you know? Of course you know.
Here’s a shocker for you: Detroit’s not doing so hot these days. It’s best moments are daydreams it has when no one is looking. It makes sense a city so undeniably troubled and near-rock-bottom could not produce a pop album. And Pas/Cal, the closest thing Detroit has got to a pop band (ok, fine, Friendly Foes, but I’m trying to make a point here.), constructed an album as difficult and complex as the problems of their fair home city. Sure, these songs are powered by melodies, but they’re also filled with a brilliant sense of pop-sabotage, often trading those melodies for buckets of words, two or three distinct bridge sections, and two or three scaps of failed songs they stuck in the middle just to fuck with you. I honestly can’t think of a pop-rock record as entirely overwhelming as I Was Raised by Matthew Luke and John. Not everyday listening, but when it fits, it surely pulls its weight.
It’s easy to forget, but without math and science we wouldn’t have swingsets or rollercoasters. It’s astonishing to me that textbook writers don’t highlight this; they make velocity problems about car crashes or bowling balls falling from shelves, and not kids pedaling their bikes down hills in mid summer. They make chemistry experiments about putting magnesium into vinegar, but not about the process that happens when colored wax melts into perfect cylinders and can then be spread onto paper and create beautiful drawing. I guess that’s their choice, but it means you don’t end up associating the wonder with the science. Sometimes it’s important to see that complexity can create things you’d swear were magic.
This is what happens when the kids take too many drugs and their parents, the only ones reading the paper, end up writing the protest albums. They skip city council meetings and ignore geometry homework because they’re so pissed that all their best intentions have gone to dank shit, towels under the door, and bleak philosophy coughed out between rounds from dormroom RAs. This album is furious. If I had to pick an epochal album for this year, it would be this one.
Here’s the thing about wrangler jeans. They’re designed to get beer spilled on them. Beer and mud. If you own a pair of wranglers and don’t soak them and stretch them and wash them at the wrong temperature, then they get restless. They’re not for a night out on the lower east side, but clothes that are meant for that are rarely worth the money you’ll turn over for them. This is clothing that ages well, it actually improves with age. Just when you think these pants can’t fit any better, when you think they’re bound to begin their slow decline, loosen themselves at the seems, tear at the bottoms, at that exact moment you’ll slip on your wranglers and honest to god, they’ll feel the best you’ve ever felt them.
I think this is the anthem I’ve been hoping Death Cab would make for years. It is certainly the most melodramatic and consequential they have ever sounded, and after the half baked philosophy and quiet sighs of Plans, this album sounds twice as good. Every track on here is terrified of death, terrified of being alone, or terrified of fucking up a perfectly good or almost good relationship and ending up alone and then dying. Contrary to what this sounds like, it’s not a weepfest. The album is louder faster and more exciting than anything they’ve released since The Photo Album. If worry comes out this well, here’s to hoping Death Cab never get happy again.
One of my favorite fellow english majors had a stress coping technique that involved escaping to the Earlham College library’s meager children’s literature section and rereading the words that she had read 15 years prior, or those that were read to her. She reread Beverly Cleary and Robert Cormier and Judy Blume and after all of that, want to know what she reported? That there was nothing except “no sex” and “no cursing” that made these books children’s books. That really the only difference between dejection at 12 and dejection at 22 was the number of stupid cigarettes that got smoked. The only difference between wonder at age 10 and Wonder post-college is that post college, it’s a fosil fuel, you preserve it, store it in barrels in a cave near the Gulf Coast, but it’s really the same wonder all the same. Kids are just as smart as us, really, they just use a langauge we dismiss. Thao Nguyen writes children’s songs for adults. She shows us the similarity, the continuity, we’re too stupid or busy to notice.
This is the simplest album on my list. True to form, it will probably end up being the most needlessly complicated. There is a real part of me, part of me removed from nostalgia and all that mess, that absolutely loves this album. This is the album I beat my steeringwheel to, that I played so many times I worried it might lose its shimmer. It was the album I wouldn’t let myself listen to that closely, because I was sure all of these songs were composed with the same three chords and the same basic tempo, and I didn’t want that fact to set in.
But there are some things.
First of all, they’re not Springsteen. This wouldn’t matter so much, none of the other bands on this list are Bruce Springsteen, either, but none of them are trying to be. When a group tries to be Springsteen, especially young-8-cylinders-in-a-car-meant-for-6-Springstreen (as The Hold Steady did on their so-so album Boys and Girls in America), they usually fail, and I usually end up just listening to Greetings From Asbury Park instead. Gaslight Anthem have everything down that made early Springsteen so important: the passion, restlessness, and that peculiar kind of hope that just limped out of a car crash. The only thing is, Brian Fallon, the Gaslight Anthem’s singer and lyricist, has 20:40 vision to Springsteen’s perfect 20:10. For example: the love interests. For Springsteen, the women who are almost always the objects of desire in his songs were more of a means to some end he was just hinting at. For The Gaslight Anthem, the girls in these songs are mostly the ends themselves. It’s not horrible by any means, it’s just exactly what we’d expect. Anyone who reads this blog knows I absolutely hate comparing one artist to another, but here, it’s just the elephant in the room.
And then there is the women who more or less make up these songs. Except for the one or two absolutely failure deviations (the bad-as-it’s-name-would-suggest “Miles Davis and the Cool”), these songs are all about girls. There’s Anna, Jane, Gail (and that’s just one track, the excellent penultimate coffee spill, “Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid”) and from a feminist perspective, it’s just a little bit tired to listen to another album filled with girl who have no trait except that they dumped the band’s songwriter. It’s a similar feeling I get listening to Lucero, another band I like a lot but who I worry I might have to stop unless their lyrical conceit changes. I’m not saying these guys are misogynists by any means, but once again, it’s just a lot of the same, and it piles up.
And then there’s New Jersey. These guys are from New Brunswick and they get the place, from the bus routes to the late night diner, to the even-later-at-night destinationless driving around, to the ever present excape, either to the noise of new york or to that whole fucking country that’s waiting to our left. They lived it and they get it, and I think it just hits a little close to home, makes me a little sad that they got so much of my teenage years into these simple loud, songs.
But here’s the thing; despite all the redundancy and the worries and the theory, this was an album which I always wanted to play louder, even when my ears hurt, even when the volume actually couldn’t go any louder. All good albums should provoke some discomfort, take some thought, and ultimately settle into a place in your gut like a puzzle piece. And The ’59 Sound certainly does
You watch a man sniffle at a light rail stop during a burnt out cold spell. Pretty standard looking guy, leather shoes, long black overcoat, suit underneath, one of those impractical but loud leather briefcases, probably, knowing this guy, filled with briefs of some kind. He pulls a matted, balled paper towel out of his coat pocket, the kind that has been reused five or six time already, and with a sharp exhale, blows a yellowy film onto the wadded paper and then returns it to his pocket. He looks up and see that you noticed the action and says, with a hollow confrontational tone, “what?” You don’t respond, but immediately turn to stare at the commuter parking lot across the tracks. You look straight ahead for a few minutes, and see a dog stopping to take a piss in the inch of snow that fell last night, making a yellow mess in the median in between two cars. The train in running late, very late, and the man to your left has steped closer to you. You look low, avoid eye contact and can see that the bottom of his coat is begging for dry cleaning, covered in food stains, something than might be blood near the ends of his sleeves which hang losely by his waist. You notice all his clothing is far too large for his lanky figure. You start to feel a little bit chilly, but you swear, you can feel the guy’s hot air clogging up the space next to you. It is 18 torturous minutes before the train finally get there. The guy next to you, he doesn’t even get on.
each page was singed,
the burn on the skin was felt
more than the lost words. The spit end of the beer was spilled
on the whole box, but the letters were gone. A voice was heard
it was reading the missing words, it was reading
them off the hairless side of it arms. It was repeating
them, speeding up, it was hoping
that you were listening, it was taping
its heels at the table, it was praying for
accompaniment. But it would go on without it.
Reasons the new Firewater album should not be my second favorite album of the year:
A) More of less, it’s the same pattern as Graceland: white guy goes to non-white region of the world, records native people playing local instruments, mixes those recordings into his own songs.
B) Because a small but substatial amount of its lyrics contains a Bush bashing. Probably the stupidest, laziest, and most infuriating form of political involvement I can think of.
C) Because midway through the album, “Paridise” attempts to tackle the “thorny” (not getting into this one) issue of suicide bombers, but instead of nuance, it substitutes in a watered down version of Romeo and Juliet.
Reasons that, despite the above three reasons, the new Firewater album is my second favorite album of the year.
A) Because this isn’t Graceland; except for the bold failure of “Paridise,” Firewater lead singer/songwriter Tod Ashley isn’t trying to speak for the millions of people whose lives he traveled through during his pan-mid-eastern-trek. He’s trying to recount the tailspin of life that lead him to escape the relative stability of life in New York City for a several thousand mile walking tour through countries not so friendly to people from the us of a. He’s making the soundtracks to the thoughts he was thinking as he left, and as he returned. It’s a clumsy metaphor, but these decimated countries reflected his personal struggles. Projection? Sure. But better, MUCH better projection than representation.
B) Because musically, this album is a one hell of a clusterfuck. Gypsy guitars meets street noise from Pakistan over clips from Indian radio next to singers surely recorded in the back room of houses of prayer on top of the year’s most diverse and best drumming (courtesy of only other permanent band member Tamir Muskat), and adds up to menacing, beautiful listening expereince. It doesn’t matter whether I tell you to play this album loud; it’ll do that for itself. Nice to have you back, Tod.
“Some Kind of Kindness” and “Feels Like The End of the World” are from Firewater’s album The Golden Hour.
Take one had a cellphone ringing. Take two, the drummer almost died in a coughing fit, swore he was allergic to the studio or something, and everyone told him to stop being a pussy and play. Take three, asbestos rained in bass rhthym from the cracks in the ceiling and landed on the keyboards; people tried not to inhale. Take four the guitar sound was all wrong, but everything else was perfect. The band trashed it though, they wanted everything to be live. Take five had a zeppelin crashing through one wall of the studio, the band just stared as the driver tried to maneuver the thing out. During the 6th take, a bunch of double dutch girls echoed in from the stairway. Take seven was alright, but everyone was pretty slow. Take 8 might’ve been alright, but someone spilled their coffee on the mixer. Take 9 was going ok, but the electricity went off. Take 10 wasn’t recorded; someone forget to press record. Take 11 was too drunk. And that was all they could afford.
Big changes in ’09 coming to the site. stay tuned, and of course, have a happy new year.