Saturday, December 31, 2005


Happy New Year everyone!

I've been feeling a little "blah" about this New Year and I wasn't exactly sure why. By all accounts, I should be celerbating. I've had one of those "grown up" years that other people around my age have. I got my first real job, car, girlfriend. You know, same old shit.

Then I listened to TV on the Radio's "Dry Drunk Emperor" (mp3 link) just now and was moved beyond reason. We still have a tyrant in power. We have a fumbling, moronic, corrupt, government that is incapable of handling anything (apparently). My blame for 9/11 has always gone squarely on Bush. He mishandles a war. Spends billions and kills thousands of civilians in a "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign against an army that was surrending before the war started. More recently, we've seen that he (and his people) cannot handle a major natural disaster. He's trying to convert the country to his whacked-out religion while completely ignoring real threats to our country like unchecked immigration, corporate monopolies, and class divisions.

All this makes me sad, uneasy, and a little afriad for the future. This is all crystalized beautifully by the lyrics to Dry Drunk Emperor. TVOTR has never shied away from criticizing the President but with this song, written in response to Hurricane Katrina and released for free to honor New Orleans, is a rallying cry if I ever heard one. "get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!and bring all his thieves to trial."

Lyrics and words by the band.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Best of the Year (Part 2)

One album glaringly absent from Pitchfork's Top 50 2005 is The National's subtle and ambitious third-album, Alligator. This album is best on a dark day in summer. Their sound is all kinds of Americana, blending a Springsteen-esque twang with modern rock asethtic. They sound like a little a quiet, suburban-version of Interpol. They're not always quiet though, given to big tear-jerking guitar-driven ballads and effects-heavy songs laden with heartbreaking lyrics. Their stories romanticize the mundane (office work and cross-country travels) and sound off longingly about far-off ideas like astronauts and spies.

Their primary weapon is their lead singer's passionate voice, deep and Morrisey-ish with a hint (a whisper) of raspy Tom Waits-style vox. Their guitars sound like good old American Gibsons. Their drummer is competent and not show-offy. Showing off would be unprofessional and these guys are anything but. They shed the idea of being a "rock band" and instead go about music as it really is: a job. A job they've gotten good at after two well-recieved albums and one EP. Their confidence in this album seem to be half about being sure of themselves after gaining some experience and half pure inspiration. There's a swagger and chillness here that is absent from a lot of other albums this year that seem to either try too hard or try too little. The National have struck the middle ground: They try just enough, without being late or messing up their hairdos.

The first time I heard them was on a live radio show through KEXP some afternoon at my last job. It was a special week of NYC shows for the Seattle-based radio station. They were a little late to the show, all of them coming in on their lunch break from their "regular" jobs. They spoke about not wanting to be a (quote/unquote) rock band and how it's good to be like normal people most days of the week. They go to work, they write some songs, they go home to their girlfriends or wives. They seem like the most functional and down-to-earth band since Death Cab for Cutie.

There's a lot to love about Alligator. Certain sound combinations and bridges and intros are magical and inspiring. They - like most bands these days - embrace the techonological sleekness available but keep it at a minimum-flourish, their music is caked in earth tones. It's very refreshing, I think, from the flashy-ness of a lot of the rest of standouts from this year. Their lyrical strength is surprising, casual, almost literary, dialouge that rings so true: "Well, whatever you do / Listen, you better wait for me / No, I wouldn't go out alone into America;" "I don't have any questions / I don't think it's gonna rain / You were right about the end / It didn't make a difference;" "I was in a train under a river when I remembered what / What I wanted to tell you, man / What I wanted to tell you, man / I got two sets of headphones, I miss you like hell / Won't you come here and stay with me / Why don't you come here and stay with me;" "Hey, love, we'll get away with it / We'll run like we're awesome, totally genius / Hey, love, we'll get away with it / We'll run like we're awesome."

Alligator is wonderful because it is mutuable. You can hear it how you chose. Either as a dour reminder of the weakening state of American middle-class reality or a fist-pumping outcry against conformity. There are songs that positively scream with restrained agression while other songs seem surfacely sad, but contain within them real truth that threatens to break your heart, but instead repairs it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Pitchfork's Year

That time of year again continues, with the ultimate annual tradition: Years Best Lists. And the first one out is one I look forward to all year: Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums of the Year.

There's a lot of shit on there I don't know. That didn't use to be the case. Then again, Pitchfork didn't always review hip-hop, although it has always enjoyed styles of music I consider uninteresting or un-listenable (like their fixation on electro-punk bands like Black Dice and Broadcast) so I've always been able to forgive certain differences of opinion, but there seems to be a lot of fucking hip-hop on that list. Remind me: What part of Chicago you kids from?

This is the first year I've disagreed with them so much, especially in their Final 10. Down the line from Wolf Parade, there's nothing I like except for #1. LCD Soundsystem? too upbeat. MIA and Deerhoof? That shit gives me a headache. Art Brut? I listened to them once for two minutes (should I have listened more?) Same for Animal Collective. And never heard nor even want to hear anything from Kayne "My name is unpronounceable" West: Late Registration.

Major Gripe #1: Bloc Party's Silent Alarm is way way way WAY to high up on that list. Fuck this short-memory shit, I know this album was from the beginning of the year, but this is genius stuff right here. This album is classic and this ranking is something Pitchfork going to regret in the future.

Major Gripe #2: No Broken Social Scene. Well, fuck you, too. No love for followups continues. Maybe it's the album. It's tough and difficult and loud sometimes. One of their members called it a "fucking mess" and he loved it anyway. I feel the same way.

Franz Ferdinand's romp is also way too high. Come on! This stuff will be party fodder for the next decade.

Real nice to see The Mountain Goats' wonderful Sunset Tree get a nice placement. A truly inspired album. Any lover of fiction (or, incidentally, non-fiction) needs to hear these words.

Nice Thing #1: Also, surprised to see The Decemberists' latest get such nice praise. I feel like Picaresque is uneven. Smart and funny and powerful, but holding back, somewhere. More polished, maybe, and I liked the looseness of old.

Nice Thing #2: It's nice to see the guys at Wolf Parade get their due. In my opinion, they've crafted a brilliant and nuanced masterpiece in Apologies to the Queen Mary. I would put the album higher in my personal list but it's still nice to see something you support do well.

Really nice thing: Sufjan Stevens. I don't know how I feel about calling his truly epic Illinois "the best album of the year." It's a (seemingly) small, often quiet, often shy, narrative about a boy and a little state up in the north. It's too sedate next to Kayne West and his hommies. But, the wonderful thing about that album is that it's surprising. It starts quiet, but then explodes with horns and strings and a thousand colors of sound. There's so much creativity and heart and power in those words, in each plucked strung and roared note.