February 21, 2006

Devin Davis

The internet is great. I discovered Devin Davis after hearing his "Cannons at the Courthouse" played on KEXP, the great public radio station in Seattle. As soon as I got home from work, I looked him up on Rhapsody, and after hearing only a few of his songs I knew I had to buy his record. It's called Lonely People of the World, Unite!, and it has quickly become one of my favorite albums.

Davis is an artist from Chicago who recorded this short (under 40 minutes) but amazing collection in his basement over the course of a couple of years. He plays nearly all of the instruments himself (from the album liner: "vocals, guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, organ, piano, percussion, theremin, trumpet, trombone, giant gong [ed.: (!)]"). And these aren't wussy Sufjan banjos or strings, either (not that those are bad!)-- Mr. Davis really rocks out on this album. Case in point: as the instant classic "Iron Woman" builds to its climax, a blistering tenor solo gives way to a mean electric guitar lick and a trumpet/trombone/sax outro.

No song on this record is bad, but since "brevity is the soul of wit," I'll just point out some of my favorites. The aforementioned "Iron Woman" is an great, high-energy opener, telling the story of a modern-day "caveman" who is heartbroken when his "Viking girl" ditches him for some "high-society friends" and a "General's shiny stars": "Iron Woman, / Wrestle off all the rivets around your heart. / Iron Woman, / I can still draw your picture in the dark."

When I first heard "Cannons at the Courthouse," it reminded me of Neutral Milk Hotel's "Holland, 1945," with its fuzzy guitar-and-piano stomp and absurdist lyrics. The track packs so many twists and reverses into its 4:11 playing time, though, that it can't be accused of being a counterfeit. "Sandie" is similarly hard to classify, but it's basically a country-tinged power-pop ballad that builds to its climax with an "After the Gold Rush"-style French horn solo.

The album really hits its stride with the last three tracks. "Giant Spiders" combines a nuclear doomsday scenario ("If we're curled up into a little ball / Behind some thick lead walls / We should be fine, if we can survive the giant spiders") with an insanely catchy, cheerful chorus: "No, I won't sit still / 'til I'm upside-down in the back of your eyes." "The Choir Invisible" begins with simple acoustic guitar and organ, layers on an "invisible choir" of ooohs and sensitive power-ballad electric guitar, and fades out in a burst of fireworks. "Deserted Eyeland" similarly builds to a full, horn-laden arrangement reminiscent of the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper, and closes the album on a note of hopeful melancholy. The speaker realizes that "We all live on a deserted island," finding community in his loneliness and echoing the imperative from "Giant Spiders" that gives the album its title: "Lonely people of the world, unite!"

In conclusion: get this album! Support Devin Davis by buying it through his own label, Mousse Records, here. It only costs a bit more than Amazon ($12 plus shipping in the U.S.), and you'll rest sounder knowing you supported a great independent voice in music. You might even get a personal note: my package contained a little, signed thank-you note from Mr. Davis that made me feel all warm and tingly inside. Who knows-- maybe it'll be worth something someday.

*Devin Davis' website
*Devin Davis on MySpace - there is a media player here that will let you stream album standouts "Giant Spiders," "Iron Woman," and "Cannons at the Courthouse." There are some mp3s available at his website.
*Pitchfork gave the album a 7.2 rating (out of 10)
*cokemachineglow's rave review

Thanks for listening.

Posted by smit2174 at 8:18 PM

October 8, 2005

"AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz"

I am going to do another one of those "here is how this entry came about" posts... so steel yourselves, dear readers, against an onslaught of randomness.

It all began in 10th grade. Mr. Bodey was my World History teacher. His class was insanely easy... I believe I finished with over 100%. He gave out candy for getting questions right, and once in a while, he would throw out a "Rich and Dreamy" question, a supposedly "tough" question which would entitle the first responder to one of these:

But that is neither here nor there. Mr. Bodey is most notable for the fact that, at least 2 or 3 times a week, he would begin class by playing Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," the Piano Man's furious epic of 20th century history from 1949, the year of his birth, to 1989, the year the song was written. Mr. Bodey had a transparency of the song's lyrics, and at some points he would devote an entire class period to reviewing them point by point. I guess it was an effective, if gimmicky, way of teaching 20th century history. Mostly, I think, he just liked the song. (He also had a strange affinity for a band called "BoyZone." But that is also neither here nor there.)

Several years passed. I occasionally heard "We Didn't Start the Fire" in one way or another. It always brought me back to the good ol' days of Bodey's 7:50 AM history class.

This brings us to Friday, October 7, 2005. But let's back up a tick, to this spring, when I was burning a copy of Bright Eyes' masterful album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning onto CD. The album is less than the full 80 minutes, so I decided to throw some random tracks on at the end. By fortuitous chance, Track 14 turned out to be "We Didn't Start the Fire."

So back to Friday. I was sitting at my extremely interesting and intellectually stimulating desk job in a state agency which will remain unnamed, staring at a computer screen, doing mind-numbing tasks while burning out my eyes staring at a computer screen. (But I would do that anyway, so who cares.) Since my job mostly requires absolutely no thought, just punching keys like a trained monkey, I am sometimes able to put on my trusty headphones and listen to music. On this day, I had me a hankerin' for some Bright Eyes, so I popped in my legal backup copy. When I reached the end of the album, I still had almost an hour left. So I decided to listen to Billy Joel. I disabled all the tracks but "We Didn't Start the Fire" and set Windows Media Player on repeat.

I proceeded to listen to this song ad nauseam for the better part of an hour. (Let's assume it was, oh, 52.14 minutes. Dividing the total amount of time by the length of the song (4.8 minutes) gives us a grand total of 10.8625 repetitions.) By the end, I was almost able to sing along to every lyric, if prompted correctly.

Because of Mr. Bodey's tutelage, I knew what pretty much everything in the song referred to. However, in the last verse, when Billy sings:

Foreign Debts, Homeless Vets/ AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz

I was unsure who this "Bernie Goetz" fellow was. I was also stunned by what hatred Billy Joel had for him to associate him with the plagues of the 80's: the spread of AIDS, the crack epidemic, the massive national debt racked up by Reagan's budgets. I resolved to do some research.

Well, it turns out that Bernie Goetz deserves to be lumped in with these scourges of society. He shot 4 people-- kids-- over 5 bucks. His excuse was that he was being mugged with a screwdriver. (The kids claimed they were merely panhandling.) From Wikipedia:

On the afternoon of December 22, 1984, four African American youths, Barry Allen, Troy Canty, James Ramseur, and Darrell Cabey, boarded the train on a mission to rob video game machines in Manhattan. Minutes later, Goetz entered the same train and sat down across from the four youths. A few minutes later, two of the youths asked Goetz for five dollars. Goetz, pretending not to hear them, asked them to repeat themselves. Canty responded, "Give me five dollars."

The youths responded to Goetz's refusal by threatening him with sharpened screwdrivers. Goetz had a gun, a .38 five-shot Smith & Wesson, and shot his assailants, one bullet for three of his assailants and two for Cabey. All four survived, though Cabey was paralyzed for life.

After checking whether two nearby women were injured -- they were not -- Goetz refused to hand over his gun to the conductor and left the emergency-halted train. After Goetz left the subway, he rented a car, and drove to Vermont. He almost died in Vermont when he got lost in the woods where he went to bury the gun. He turned himself in to New York City police nine days later.

He was later convicted of illegal possession of a weapon, and served 8 months in prison. He also serves as a textbook example of why only the police should be allowed to carry pistols. [An aside: the new Florida law, allowing, basically, anyone to kill anyone for any reason, as long as you make up a good excuse later, scares me.]

In conclusion:
1. Mr. Bodey was a crazy teacher.
2. Mr. Billy Joel wrote a crazy song called "We Didn't Start the Fire"
3. Mr. Bernie Goetz is a crazy man who shouldn't be allowed back on the street.
4. Mr. Pat Smith has a crazy desire for his band Brad Halen to cover "We Didn't Start the Fire" in its epic entirety. (I just added that one now, but it's true.)

Bonus: Go to this website to see a charmingly crappy and tacky animation of "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Posted by smit2174 at 8:32 PM

September 22, 2005

More Beck, courtesy of the good ol' Daily

Still no setlist for Monday on beck.com, (I'll keep checking) but there is a new review in the Minnesota Daily...

from which I shamelessly ripped off these pictures:

It's kind of nice to be able to see what Beck actually looked like on Monday night, because we couldn't really see too much detail from our vantage point in the balcony. What with the hat and all. And, damn, Beck shaves less than I do!

Posted by smit2174 at 10:47 PM

September 20, 2005

Beck concert 9/19

Melissa and I, along with two Nicks (actually three if you count the Nick that gave us a ride-- but he had a floor seat) and Nick's (which one?) girlfriend Erin made the pilgrimage to Roy Wilkins Auditorium last night to see Beck. I saw him when he played the same venue in 2003, and it was the best concert I've ever been to. So I had high expectations going in. While I personally don't think it was as good as last time, Beck still put on a great show.

The opening act (I didn't catch the guy's name) was kind of bizarre. He gave new meaning to the term "one man band." Any description of him has to start with his appearance: He had long hair, nearly reaching to his waist, which he constantly brushed back from his eyes in cliched rock-star fashion. Also, he was wearing a kilt.

The guy had fashioned a musical suit of armor, with electronic drum pads attached to a breastplate and other drum sensors attached to his boots. He stomped his feet and beat his chest (not kidding) to lay down a rock beat. Strapped to either side of his waist was a keyboard/keytar. He used his right hand to play "bass" while his left hand played heavy-metal power chords. Somehow, he also used his mouth to "play" guitar solos with the help of some electronic device. He played AC-DC covers "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell," along with a few stupidly catchy originals. Sample chorus: "I'm gonna party while the world gets blown away," touchingly and poetically describing his contingency plan for nuclear catastrophe.

After a long delay— well, long enough for Melissa and I to share a $4.00 chemical brew dubiously labeled “Diet Coke,” and for her to have to pee—Beck’s band finally emerged from behind the curtain. There were probably 7 or 8 people in the band. They included two full drum sets, a conga player, a “video DJ” who projected images onto a backlit screen, and a guy whose only purpose seemed to be to dance around stage while the band played—he shook the titular “Black Tambourine” on the set opener and rocked a Radio Raheem-style boombox on a hard-rocking version of “Where It’s At” as another giant boombox descended from the ceiling on cables (an epic moment, to be sure.)

The setlist was pretty diverse, but skewed heavily towards selections from Guero. Some of the songs from the new record benefited from a live treatment, especially the “Loser-”redux-wannabe “Hell Yes,” which grows tedious in its recorded form but gained energy in Beck’s live interpretation. Two mellower tracks, “Broken Drum” and “Emergency Exit,” also sounded great live, and “Que Onda Guero” bounced with furious, silly energy.

However, at the beginning of the show, I was beginning to fear that the concert might not be as great as I’d hoped. I was disappointed with the early medley that included too-brief snippets of “Nicotine and Gravy” and “Hollywood Freaks,” as well as a couple of others. A cool rendition of “Girl” turned annoying because of some crappy sound engineering, as a pounding, repetitious keyboard drowned out the rest of the song. In a few songs, the presence of so much percussive firepower seemed to clutter and confuse the music. I preferred the smaller, tighter setup (only 3 or 4 guys) of the 2003 concert, but I grudgingly concurred with Nick S.’s assessment—the songs on Guero have a lot going on, so a bigger band is needed. But I really don’t think that every person was needed on every song.

However, things soon got better. Highlights of the show for me were a cool version of “Sissyneck”—probably the best track on Odelay—with Beck playing slide guitar, and a masterful performance of “Ramshackle,” its acoustic quietude Sea Changed with heavier beats, spacey electric guitar and pulsing synths. I also enjoyed “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” with Beck on accordion, backed by foot stomps and hand claps from his band. The solo set in the middle was good, too, with Beck loosely picking out some of his softer tunes such as “Guess I’m Doing Fine” on electric guitar. It also included a sweet solo version of “Debra” that morphed into a loving tribute to R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” saga.

The deafening applause at the end of the band’s set brought them back out for a high-octane encore of “E-Pro” and a funky, stretched-out “Mixed Bizness.” Beck invited a couple dozen fans onstage to dance with him, and the stage shook from the drunken getting-down. When the extended jam (Beck: “Take it higher!” Fans: “Higher!”) of “Mixed Bizness” ended, the crowd stood once again, craving a second encore, but it was not to be. We went home with warm fuzzies in our bellies and a healthy optimism for the Decemberists concert on October 21st.

See also:
Star Tribune review

Posted by smit2174 at 7:35 PM

September 18, 2005


Chuck Mangione - Feels So Good

The best album cover. Ever.

Posted by smit2174 at 1:10 PM

New releases

Neil Young - Prairie Wind

Comes out September 27... begin the countdown! Get your pre-orders in on Amazon!

Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow

I've been listening to this album on Rhapsody a lot since it came out last week. It is amazing. I'm not exactly sure why this music classifies as "freak-folk" (the term the critics are using these days), because there is nothing "freaky" about it. Banhart plays excellent acoustic-based folk with a few electric touches. A few of the songs are in Spanish, since Banhart is a native Venezuelan. He reminds me a lot of a less-depressed Nick Drake or a sweeter-voiced Leonard Cohen. Also, you've gotta love the cover. I think I'm going to have to buy it soon.

Also, the new Sufjan and the new Sigur Ros are on the way from Amazon, as is the Silversun Pickups' Pikul EP. And the Beck concert is tomorrow! And I'm getting Decemberists tickets SOON!

Posted by smit2174 at 12:00 PM

June 15, 2005

Summer tunes

Hey, I know I haven't blogged in a while... I've been busy! Wait, no I haven't. Oh well. Just haven't had the motivation. Actually I think it's because I don't sit at the computer all day. Probably when school starts I'll be back in the swing of things.

Here's a good lil' Rhapsody mix I made for ya. Enjoy.

Check out this playlist I made using Rhapsody:

June 14 2005
"Holland, 1945" - Neutral Milk Hotel
"I Predict A Riot" - Kaiser Chiefs
"Roxanne" - The Police
"Black And White Town" - Doves
"The Angels' Share" - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
"Red Rain" - The White Stripes
"Sloop John B" - The Beach Boys
"Little Bombs" - Aimee Mann
"St. Ides Heaven" - Elliott Smith
"Late" - Ben Folds
"Chocolate" - Snow Patrol
"Slide Away" - Oasis
"July Jones" - The New Pornographers
"A Change Is Gonna Come" - Sam Cooke
"Way To Blue" - Nick Drake
"Broken Drum" - Beck

Download file

If you have Rhapsody, just click it and it should work... I hope.

Posted by smit2174 at 12:39 PM

May 3, 2005


Over the past few days, I've discovered what an amazingly great album this is. I've been listening to it on Rhapsody, but I think I will have to spring for the recent re-release (remastered, with 3 bonus tracks.) Of course, we've all heard "You Can Call Me Al" (and seen the ridiculous but great video), but every song on here is just great. The combination of Paul Simon's great lyrics and singing (everyone knows Simon>Garfunkel) with incredible African rhythms and musicianship (check the bass solos! and the vocals!) makes for a fantastic listening experience.

I ignored it for many years because it was a record my parents had, but I'm discovering that perhaps they don't have bad taste in music at all. Just a little different than me. After all, how did I get into Neil Young? By (*ahem*) "appropriating" my dad's copy of Harvest and listening to his vinyl copy of Decade whenever I could. I guess my parents had pretty good musical taste back in the day-- The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and so on. They just aren't up on what the kids are listening to these days.

Though I guess that Graceland's African influence started my dad's mild obsession with African musicians like Kanda Bongo Man and Youssou N'Dour. But, after all, I don't mind it that much. It's better than his former musical obsession-- Selena. (May she rest in peace.)

Posted by smit2174 at 7:55 PM

April 13, 2005

The fruits of boredom

I couldn't make this work exactly (you need to be using Blogger), but I copied the email I sent myself onto my blog. So it sort of works.

This is my soundtrack for the evening as I've been doing laundry, skipping my intramural soccer game, working on an astronomy paper, and taking a very pleasant break to observe the moon.


Check out this playlist I made using Rhapsody:

"Another Day In Paradise" - Phil Collins
"Leslie Anne Levine" - The Decemberists
"Eli, The Barrowboy" - The Decemberists
"Coming Up Roses" - Elliott Smith
"Cherokee" - Clifford Brown
"Cortez The Killer" - Neil Young
"Powderfinger" - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
"Tired Eyes" - Neil Young
"Helpless" - Neil Young
"Galang" - M.I.A.
"Life On Mars?" - David Bowie
"Caroline Goodbye" - Colin Blunstone
"Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground" - White Stripes
"Que' Onda Guero" - Beck
"Poor Little Fish" - The Jayhawks
"Wuthering Heights" - Kate Bush
"Hounds Of Love" - Kate Bush
"Hounds of Love (new mix)" - The Futureheads
"Clash City Rockers" - The Clash
"I Wish It Would Rain Down" - Phil Collins

To listen, just click the link and Rhapsody will start playing the playlist automatically. If the link is not clickable, then you can copy it into the "Address" field in your browser.

If you don't have Rhapsody, you will be directed to a website where you can download it, or you can go to

Remember: to hear this playlist in its full-length glory, you will need to be a subscriber. Not a subscriber yet? Start a FREE TRIAL today to listen to this playlist and thousands of CD-quality albums instantly!

Enjoy the music.

Oh yeah, don't look for a link, because there isn't one. I couldn't make it work. Sorry. :(

Posted by smit2174 at 10:37 PM

March 6, 2005


The convoluted history that has led to this entry:

Autumn, 1991: I board the school bus for the first time, off to the first day of kindergarten at Stonebridge Elementary School. The bus driver is a nice lady named Sue. She will be my primary mode of transportation to and from school for the next seven years. Each year on the last day of school before Christmas break, she will give me a candy cane. Each year on Valentine's Day, I will return the favor with a trendy paper valentine.

Each school day for the next seven years, I will board Sue's bus. Each school day for the next seven years, Sue will be listening to KOOL 108, the Twin Cities' premiere oldies station. By the time I reach the third grade, I know pretty much every song by heart.

Autumn turns to winter, winter turns to spring, and spring means the end of the school year and a summer away from Sue. But still the golden hits of the past haunt my dreams. I will be whistling them all summer, until the next autumn, when the cycle will begin again...

Thursday, March 3, 2005: Flash forward to the present. I am walking back from class on the Washington Avenue Bridge, chatting with a friend. We meander along, in no particular hurry, and our conversaton ambles with us. The conversation eventually turns to the subject of music. I hang my head and confess to her my shameful secret: I am a former oldies addict.

The words are out before I even know it. I'm so ashamed. I look up expecting to see a glare of reproachment and betrayal. Instead, I see the most beautiful smile.

Saturday, March 5, 2005: It is my roommate's birthday. Partly because of this, but mainly because I will do anything to avoid doing my homework, I decide to do him a favor. I decide to clean my side of the room and clean the bathroom. I fire up Rhapsody and choose a selection of golden oldies. The minutes fly by. Time flies when you're having fun. Good times, great oldies.

So, without further ado, here are a baker's dozen (that's 13 for all you non-bakers out there) of the greatest oldies ever. These are songs that will never die. They are part of all of us, as much a part of American history as Betsy Ross' Old Glory. This is not an all-inclusive nor an exhaustive list. It is not in any particular order. These are just some great songs.

The Mamas and the Papas, "California Dreamin'"

The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"

The Everly Brothers, "Cathy's Clown"

The Beach Boys, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "I Get Around"

The Crystals, "He's a Rebel"

Jimmy Ruffin, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?"

Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"

Elvis Presley, "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Suspicious Minds"

The Left Banke, "Walk Away, Renee"

The Four Tops, "Baby I Need Your Loving"

And, of course, the Muhammad Ali of oldies, the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time):

Sam Cooke, "A Change is Gonna Come"
Possibly the greatest song ever written.

"There's been times that I thought I couldn't last for long,/But now I think I'm able to carry on/It's been a long, a long time comin', but I know/A change gon' come. Oh, yes it will."

--Sam Cooke

Posted by smit2174 at 1:05 PM

December 23, 2004

Best songs of 2004; or, "Everybody's a Critic, pt. 1"

Over the past few days, I've seen a lot of lists of the best songs released in 2004. Lists are funny things-- we profess to hate them, yet we can't get enough of them. What a paradox. Anyway, here are my $0.02. These are the songs that I personally liked the best, or that touched me the most this year. Some of them are those songs that you don't want to like, but you can't get them out of your head. Feel free to comment or add your own. You can dis me, too, but be advised that I don't really care what you think. :) Just kidding, I do, but not that much.

A.C. Newman/"On the Table" - A.C., aka "Carl" from the New Pornographers, made a great solo debut this year. "On the Table" is catchy as hell, but the lyrics are great too. What a guy.

Ghostface (ft. Jadakiss)/"Run" - The best song about running from the cops produced this year. Great production and nice flow from both rappers. You also gotta love the sirens. But what's up with Jada's "I might got to take my shirt off" interlude in the middle? Ah well, still a great song.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists/"Me and Mia" - Ted Leo is the shiznit.

The Killers/"Mr. Brightside" - The Killers are way overrated, and you've gotta hate a band whose singer has a fake British accent. This is a great song, though.

Kanye West (ft. Jamie Foxx, Twista)/"Slow Jamz" - Kanye's ode to the previous generation of soulsters from whom he gets so many of his samples. Jamie Foxx croons a hook worthy of Marvin, while Twista "spits it like it's R&B" (albeit, very, very fast R&B.) This is a song you can dance to and laugh at at the same time. In that sense, it reminds me of Beck's classic "Debra."

Snow Patrol/"Run" - Will satisfy your urge for some Britpop. Simple but good.

The Libertines/"Can't Stand Me Now" - Good song. I really wish someone hadn't lost my copy of Up the Bracket. Oh well.

Terror Squad/"Lean Back" - @America: Pull up your pants, lean back, and "do the Rockaway."

T.I./"Rubber Band Man" - I guess this album actually came out last year, but I didn't hear it until a couple weeks ago. It still counts 'cos the single is out in '04. Very addictive.

The Von Bondies/"C'mon C'mon" - I love this song, so it pained me to hear it in a car commercial. (For an SUV, no less.) That doesn't take away from its glory as the best "garage" song of the year.

Kanye West/"Through the Wire" - The bass line, organ and soul loop will get stuck in your head, even if you really can't identify with the lyrics-- but his little spoken things rock. "You know what I'm sayin', when the doctor told me I had a, um, I was gonna have to have a plate in my chin, I said, 'Dawg, don't you realize I'll never make it on the plane now? It's bad enough I got all this jewelry on.' She can't be serious, man." Genius.

Iron and Wine/"Sodom, South Georgia" - If you like downtempo acoustic stuff (and I do), you will love this song.

Britney Spears/"Toxic" - It pains me to put Britney on this list. But this is just such a killer song. I think anyone could have sung it and it still would have been huge-- in fact, it might have been better. Kudos to whoever actually wrote and produced it, may you have good fortune in the coming year.

The Black Keys/"The Lengths" - You wouldn't expect a hard-rocking blues band to be able to go acoustic, but "The Lengths" is a perfectly delicate, melancholy love song.

Wlico/"At Least That's What You Said" - No matter what you think of A Ghost is Born, we can all agree that this is a good song. It starts out gorgeously tentative, but then Mr. Tweedy starts (tastefully) shredding.

Elliott Smith/"Last Hour" - We miss you, Elliott! Gorgeous acoustic song. Takes listeners back to the halcyon days of Either/Or.

Modest Mouse/"Float On" - If only the album was this good. This is the song I listened to when I needed to feel hopeful. Things might not be great, but we'll all float on all right.

Kanye West/"We Don't Care" - Yet another great song from the Kan-man.

Jadakiss (ft. Styles P, Common, Nas, Anthony Hamilton)/"Why (Remix)" - "Why?" is a question that more people need to ask these days, and Jada takes it to 'em in this song. I like the original for the production, but the remix for the rhymes. "Why's Bush actin' like he tryin' to get Osama/Why don't we impeach him and elect Obama" will be my theme for 2005. And Nas, as usual, drops a killer verse.

The Arcade Fire/"Wake Up" - This band took the indie world by storm this year, and the accolades are well-deserved. Funeral is an amazing album, and "Wake Up" is its most accessible track. But the album needs to be listened to as a whole for its full impact.

Franz Ferdinand/"Take Me Out" - This song was everywhere in 2004. That's a good thing.

The Black Keys/"10 AM Automatic" - It's the Keys' hardest-rocking song to date, but the spirit of the blues is still there. This shoulda been a hit.

Interpol/"Evil" - My second-biggest disappointment of the year (after "The Re-Election") was that I didn't get to see the Interpol/Secret Machines show at First Ave because a) I'm not 21 and b) I can't pretend I am because I don't have a fake ID. Antics is a good album, but ultimately it falls short of Turn on the Bright Lights when taken as a whole. "Evil" is a standout track that showcases Interpol at its best.

Interpol/"Slow Hands" - Stands on its own better than any other song Interpol has done.

Muse/"Time is Running Out" - Not bad for a Radiohead ripoff.

Brian Wilson/"Good Vibrations" - Maybe Brian Wilson works better without the rest of the Beach Boys. His new cut of "Good Vibrations" really benefits the song. It sounds great cleaned up.

The Secret Machines/"Nowhere Again" - It's really hard to describe this band. Suffice it to say that Now Here is Nowhere was one of my favorite albums of the year. "Nowhere Again" is a catchy song, defintely worth a few listens. I especially like the opening line: "Cellophane flowers never happen for me."

Franz Ferdinand/"Darts of Pleasure" - I really, really like this song, and especially when it breaks down into its full glory at the end.

Bloc Party/"Banquet" - Danceable and political -- and eminently listenable.

Elliott Smith/"King's Crossing" - Ethereal piano and disjointed voices build into a deeply personal tale of Elliott's battle with drug addiction. This is the best song on the best album of the year, the posthumous From a Basement on the Hill.

Kanye West/"Jesus Walks" - Contrary to others who have spoken about this song, I'm really not surprised this became a hit. Kanye definitely earns a Grammy for this track. The beat is amazing, and the lyrics are great. Isn't it everyone's dream to walk into a club and find "everybody's screamin' out: JE! SUS! WALKS!"

Modest Mouse/"The World at Large" - Even better than "Float On," but in a different way. It's more introspective, less brash, and more beautiful.

THE SONG OF THE YEAR (drumroll...)

Eminem/"Mosh" - I discovered this video when it stormed the internet about a week before the election, and it ruled my world for those fateful last days. At first, I was entranced with the powerful imagery of the video. The vision of a black-hooded army rising up and striking a blow for democracy inspired me to work my ass off for UDFL-- and come back to watch the video again and again whenever I got a chance between school- and election-work. (Suffice it to say that schoolwork came in a distant second that week.) Unfortunately, as it turns out, even the most popular musician in America today was too little, too late. But now, coming back to it almost two months later, "Mosh" is still an extremely potent song. The angry, stomping beat propels some of Eminem's best-ever lyrics-- the favorite lines of mine are, "Look in his eyes, it's all lies/The Stars and Stripes, they've been swiped/Washed out and wiped/And replaced with his own face/ Mosh now or die." The entire last verse is a masterpiece.

This is Slim's most powerful song to date, and it shows what he can do when he puts his mind to it. Too often, Eminem's songs are narcissistic; while in Mosh he tells us, "Come with me, and I wont steer you wrong," there is more "WE" than "ME" in "Mosh." Which begs the question, Mr. Shady: why don't you do songs like "Mosh" more often? "The Real Slim Shady" and "My Name Is" are hilarious, but if you lost a little of the immaturity and started kicking more tracks like "Stan" and "Mosh," we'd all be a lot better off. These next four years, Bush will be trying to cement his "legacy"-- what will your legacy be? This time, it wasn't enough, but don't let that discourage you. We are listening.

Posted by smit2174 at 11:15 PM

December 7, 2004

Grammy nominations-- my reactions

The big news today is that the Grammy Awards nominees were announced. Now, I am not a big listener to "popular" music. The only times I've listened to the radio since coming to college have been when I've been home for the weekend and my (undeniably awesome) CD-player-and-tape-adapter setup in the car has been uncooperative. But I have to say, Kanye West (10 nominations) definitely deserves them all. I don't necessarily like The College Dropout as an entire album; there are far too many skits and a couple of throwaway tracks. But in "Jesus Walks," "Slow Jamz" and "Through the Wire," Kanye has three of the best, most addictive songs I've heard all year. Whenever I get around to making a "Best of 2004" music list, I guarantee that at least two of those songs will be on it. I have a feeling that Mr. West will win big, like Outkast did last year, and even if the Grammy's weren't a complete farce that generally feature terrible music, I would say that Kanye definitely deserves whatever awards he gets.

Other comments:

Alternative Music Album: I have not heard the Bjork or PJ Harvey albums in their entirety, so I can't judge, but out of the three remaining (Modest Mouse, Wilco, and Franz Ferdinand), I would have to give the crown to FF. Wilco's A Ghost Is Born has some good tracks, but I think it is a flawed album overall, with too much gratuitous weirdness. It is certainly not up to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot standards-- but I don't blame them for that, because it would be hard to make a record as good as that every time out. Likewise, MM's Good News for People Who Love Bad News doesn't match up with the glory that is The Moon and Antarctica. GNFPWLBN is disappointing, because the first four (well, 3, the intro notwithstanding) tracks are amazing, but after that the quality drops off a lot. Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand is solid from start to finish. Try not to sing along to "Jacqueline" or "Take Me Out." Try not to smile when "Darts of Pleasure" breaks down into the bombastic Queen-style glory that is its "Ich heisse superfantastiche" outro. Yes, FF has been overexposed this year, which could limit their appeal to snobbish indie fans, but I think we should salute them for making a great album.

Rock Song: "Float On" wins this one hands down. It probably won't win. But at least "The Reason" wasn't nominated. I friggin' hate that song.

Various "Rap" categories: Kanye should sweep them all, if there is any justice in the world. The only one I am conflicted about is the Rap/Sung Collaboration because Kanye's "Slow Jamz" and Jadakiss' "Why" are both good songs. I would have to say that "Slow Jamz" is more entertaining, though.

Well, I won't be watching the Grammy Awards anyway, but tell me how they turn out. I might tune in if the performances look good-- Andre 3000 singing "Hey Ya" with extraterrestrial Indians and a full marching band was possibly the greatest moment of the year.

Posted by smit2174 at 2:50 PM

December 4, 2004

I saw two concerts tonight. Jealous?

Concert #1: University Men's/Women's Chorus, 7:30 PM, Ted Mann Concert Hall

My roommate is in the Men's Chorus, and since I wasn't doing anything else tonight (I know, I'm a loser. Why do you think I have a blog?), I decided to go. It was a good decision. This was the best choral concert I've heard in a long time. (Sorry, SAHS Choirs, but somehow you just don't compare. And the CLC Steeple Singers... umm... well, it's not your fault, you're senior citizens.) (j/k, j/k, you know I <3 you all.)

I liked it best when both the choruses sang together, but each of them individually was very good as well. I thought the women's chorus, aside from being more attractive, had a better selection of songs. Their last piece, in which they were accompanied by a harpist, was absolutely gorgeous. But the men did great, too. My favorite piece by them was an arrangement of Robert Frost's "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening", which sounds like it would be a disaster, but it was actually pretty amazing. Somehow, the piano accompaniment and the singing fit the poem perfectly. It sounded very... wintry, if that's the right word.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable concert, though it was pretty short. (Even with an intermission, the concert was probably over by 8:45 or so.) I heartily reccomend the University of Minnesota Choruses if you ever get the chance.

Concert #2: Endochine, 10:00 PM, "The Whole" (Coffman Memorial Union)

First things first: I think they should change their name. Honestly. I almost didn't want to see them, solely on account of their name, but it was free and I was bored, so I went.

Endochine is a band from Austin, TX, but you can tell they wish they were from England. (And, really, who could blame them?) Specifically, they wish they were Radiohead. They sound a lot like everyone's favorite band, circa The Bends, or at least they try. Occasionally their singer will shift into a faux British accent (see: The Killers) ; whether he is doing this intentionally or not, I don't know, but it is obvious they are hoping to pick up listeners nostalgic for the less experimental, guitar-based Radiohead of yesteryear ('95 or so). They try pretty hard, and sometimes it works. I have no idea what any of their songs were called, but I liked a couple of them.

The lyrics are what really killed it for me, though. Radiohead might not have the best lyrics either (too often, they go for poetic but it just comes out weird), but at least they are willing to spice it up a little. Endochine, it seems, is willing to settle for writing the most generic lyrics possible-- they aren't "bad," per se, but their lyricist/songwriter could afford to maybe take a few chances. Another minor annoyance was the frontman's "banter" with the audience: "This is a song about the times when things aren't going so well." "This is one of our happier tunes." "I really like Jeff Buckley." (Proceeds to cover some song that Jeff Buckley supposedly "liked to cover.") "And I like to cover it, too." That's nice. Good for you. (For the love of.... would you please just play your damn set?!)

Am I making it sound like I hate Endochine? I really don't. I did enjoy the concert, and you can't beat the price. They really do have the potential to be good. All 4 members are very competent musicians, and they have some interesting ideas musically. Both of their singers are excellent vocalists for their style of music, and they can get some nice harmonies going. Guys, cut your hair(*ahem* bassist *cough*), stop smoking weed (if you do... *ahem* Mr. Bassist, sorry to pick on you again, but it's the image, man!), and tone down your Radiohead schtick a little. Oh, and, ditch the name. If you do all that, I forsee I bright future for you in the world of music.

Well, that was my evening. Now, enough with the pleasant stuff... I need to rant. See you in a few.

Posted by smit2174 at 12:51 AM

December 1, 2004

Neil Young - Greatest Hits

In case you haven't heard, Neil Young just released his Greatest Hits CD. Which is good, because it gives me an excuse to write about it on my blog! I've been looking at the tracklist on Rhapsody, and it looks like a pretty good introduction to Neil's songs, but I think you'd do better to get Decade, which covers many of his best songs from 1967-76. There are a couple of glaring omissions on the new compilation-- where are "Thrasher," "Campaigner," "Cortez the Killer," "Sugar Mountain," "Pocahantas," "Powderfinger?"

All of Neil's records from the 70's are damn near invincible, though, and it's probably good to hear them in their entirety at some point. If you're new to Neil, I'd reccommend Decade, and supplementing it with the classic Rust Never Sleeps and possibly Live Rust for the live experience. If you like what you hear, then go for his masterpieces On the Beach, After the Gold Rush, and Tonight's the Night. Harvest is good, too, but it's a little inconsistent.

P.S. I have a problem with Rolling Stone's Top 500 list. Sure, the Beatles are good, but do they really deserve 20+ spots? While Neil Young gets only two? "Like a Hurricane" should have been in the Top 10, at least, but it didn't even make the list! And where was "Helpless?" Screw you, Rolling Stone! Pitchfork is where it's at now. You aren't worthy to kiss its 1's and 0's.

Posted by smit2174 at 11:20 PM