Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unrevisionisting


Ben Lee patented the art of odd looking singer-songwriters named Ben scoring hot Hollywood ass long before Ben Gibbard.


A mix of 90's music plays upstairs while I write these words.  Starting with "Eurotrash Girl" by Cracker.  But I can't wait to hear you, "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish...
What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

It was about the point that John Cusack uttered these words in High Fidelity that I knew it wasn't just me.  From the time I first heard "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS or "Love Bites" by Def Leppard, I knew something was wrong and right all at once.  I first heard these songs at the age of eight and thus knew that I was going to be alone and miserable for the rest of my life.  Of course this is a preposterous notion for someone as young as an eight-year old to have.  It's much more suited to someone like at least three or four times that age.  You know? Hahaha. Ha.        You betcha.

Cold, cold boy with American heart.

But anyway, I got suckered in by the sweet poisonous nectar of pop music a long time ago.  It started in the 80s with the first albums I "owned".  Now this is where most music douche hipsters tell you that their introduction to rock music was Dylan or The Beatles or some shit like that.  The problem with most men my age who love music and love to TALK about music is that they revise their own listening history.  We're fucking liars.  All of us.  Except me. 

Like a lot of guys my age, the first popular music I ever remember owning was a cassette copy of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" that I played on my shitty-sounding but durable as a concrete block Fisher-Price tape player.  Then there was a lot after that I don't remember.  I was probably reading books or some nerdy shit for a few years.  But then came 1987.  And the three albums that changed my life.  "Kick" by INXS.  "Hysteria" by Def Leppard.  And last but certainly not least, "La Bamba: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" largely sung by the greatness of Los Lobos.  Damn those fucking Mexicans knew how to get me to air guitar.  Music became an obsession to me at this point (in addition to the movie La Bamba which I saw at least twelve times in a two year span).  Those of you who know me think I annoy you now when I talk music?  Imagine a loudmouth eight year-old Rob (shorter yes, but with LOTS more hair and still with that winning smile) whipping the neighbors who agreed to babysit me with more information and misinformation about Ritchie Valens, one-armed drummers, and Australian power pop groups than any rational human being ever wanted to know.  "Yeah, he totally plays drums with just that one arm and uses his legs to help!  No, I don't get why he goes barefoot, either!"

This was followed by a brief dalliance with New Kids On the Block hero worship that I think may have been rooted in the idea that these guys were the key to getting girls--but was in fact probably just a little gay.  Or maybe "gayness" is the scientific term?  And this was followed by a "country phase" (Garth Brooks and Mark Chesnutt were my leaders).  Which somehow was unpredictably followed by a rap and R&B phase.  MC Hammer, Paula Abdul, Jodeci, Boyz II Men, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G had to regulate.  You get the picture.

After that?  Yeah, I don't have some totally unique, brilliant story.  Like a lot of kids, I saw the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and everything sorta changed.  My best friend had (and still has) the cool older brother who had arrived at that party WAY before me.  He had a TON of tapes and even some CDs of bands like XTC, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Cure, Cracker (there are a TON more but for some reason these stick out).  I used new blank tapes to make copies of copies and whenever I did get money I started to buy CDs like a mad man.  But mind you, there wasn't nearly as much "cool" in most of my music collection back then if I'm judging by the unforgiving standards of today.  Oh sure, I had a Pavement CD, but I discovered them on their last album, "Terror Twilight", which all my friends tell me was their worst album.  Well you know what dicks?  I fell in love with Pavement on that album!  But I digress....

I had Weezer and Stone Temple Pilots and No Doubt and Rancid and Reel Big Fish and Fatboy Slim and Jewel and Tori Amos and Toadies and Sublime (I didn't know what the fuck Santeria was.  But neither did you and you still loved it!).  When I was sixteen, I secretly liked many of the songs by both Bush and Third Eye Blind but couldn't bring myself to buy either of them because I had adjudged them to be "lame" or "sellouts" (because of course none of the aforementioned bands were either of these, right?).  But if "How's It Gonna Be?" came on the radio while I was driving around delivering pizza, I took the long way to my delivery and turned that shit up loud in my '89 Civic!

Something in my veins, bloodier than blood.

Of course Blur and Radiohead and Wilco and the like got mixed in with all this stuff, but everything I've just described is the HONEST picture of who I was as a music consumer.  And in some ways, it's an honest and revealing picture of who I am as a person.  I've got good taste, sure.  But I am sometimes guilty of allowing my image-conscious nature to get the best of me.  In other words, I'm taking the piss out of the whole thing.  However, let it be known that over the last year or so, I've been working on just enjoying music without all the pre-conditions and strings attached (even though giving some of my friends shit about their music still sometimes occurs--but that's only because I treat being a jerk as sport.).  This doesn't mean that I won't throttle some of you with my "good old days syndrome".  I reserve that right.  I'm 30.  I'm old.  But my Jerry Maguire-esque mission statement rant up to this point is meant to be a cleansing--a means of cutting through the bullshit so I can start this stupid music blog with a relatively clean slate.  So if you've made it all the way to end of this, congrats.  Welcome.  Now go away.  But seriously, come back.  I love you like a whole bunch.

*Oh and about that picture of Ben Lee and Claire Danes.  If you get a chance, go listen to Ben Lee's "Something to Remember Me By".  When I was 17, that was the freakin' soundtrack to my life.  For realz.  I mean he got to date Claire Danes.  Tiny little Lyle Lovett starter kit Ben Lee got to plow the same girl that handsome Leonardo DiCaprio blew his brains out for in Romeo + Juliet, are you kidding me???  (Or did he take the poison?  Shit, I forget.)  Awesome.  Wrote great songs (for a while) and got that.  I actually bought an autographed copy of his next album from his web site just so I could have something touched by someone who had touched Claire Danes in that special way.  That is all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Because...


...you wanted it! Because you demanded it! Because you cannot live without it! The music blog o' Rob is now born. I Tweet and Facebook and generally whip all my friends to death with both written and verbal opinions about music on a neverending basis. So I might as well try to consolidate a good portion of that into a blog because there's no doubt that you need MORE social media and more ME. My mission is clear. I will say things about music and stuff. You'll reply with stuff about music and stuff. So yeah, no need to make it more complex than that. As we approach the end of both the year and the decade, a ton of "best of" lists will be beating you into submission. But since I know that for many of you I am your most trusted source for "good music discovery", you need look no further than this very spot. In the immortal words of the greatness of Morrissey, "All you need is me."

So just know that I'll be working hard on my own lists for your viewing and listening pleasure. In the meantime, I've re-posted my year end "best of music" articles from 2007 and 2008 that were originally on my personal blog to tide you over. Please feel free to give feedback. "Hate mail"-style responses are ESPECIALLY ENCOURAGED.  The hate makes me stronger. Unlike my personal blog, I don't really care to make an effort to hide the MJRMB (see what I did there?), so I'll keep you updated on new posts via Twitter and Facebook. Now go on and finish your work day and then schedule some time of thanksgiving to celebrate what may in fact be the first day of the rest of your music life.

Loving you so hard,

Rob

P.S. You're probably wondering why I have a picture of Andy Samberg high-fiving a bobcat and what that has to do with my blog or music. And my answer to you is don't worry about that.

Killing 2008 Softly...and His Mom, Too: The Year in Music


King Khan. Crazy motherfucker. Genius of rock and soul.


2008 is almost over and I have yet to buy many of my immediate family members presents, but I've made time to give your listening holes and looking balls some dirty elevator love. So let's get those metaphorical pants off and get to it...


Artist of the Year: King Khan

Simply the most fascinating, strange, badass on the planet, King Khan and his two acts (King Khan and the Shrines and The King Khan and BBQ Show) have never failed to do anything but entertain my lame ass this year. In 2008, The Supreme Genius of King Khan and The Shrines was released in the U.S. and is one of the best records I have or will ever own. Combining a cocktail of 60's soul, funk, and rock, the album is a compilation of all the band's best work that had until this year never been released stateside (because it's all previously released, I can't rank the album in the "Best of 2008" category). King Khan who is Indian by birth, Canadian by upbringing, and German by citizenship had neglected to share the Shrines with America in the same fashion that he had The King Khan & BBQ (Mark Sultan) Show until now. I am still awaiting my first opportunity to see the man, the myth, and the legend live but am sure there will be no shortage of entertainment and mayhem to go around. A short glimpse at madness/greatness if you will:





King Khan and The Shrines on MySpace:
http://www.myspace.com/kingkhantheshrines

The King Khan & BBQ Show:
http://www.myspace.com/thekingkhanbbqshow

The Best Albums of 2008

Honorable Mention

TV On the Radio: Dear Science, (DGC/Interscope)

The Quick Take: TVOTR's most consistent album to date. I always feel like I'm listening to the result of a dirty, one night stand between Prince and Radiohead. And that's a strong good thing.

The Non-Rob Review: Here






The Stills: Oceans Will Rise (Arts & Crafts)

The Quick Take: A return to form for a band that I thought had faded away. The Stills are an imminently listenable indie band with pop sensibility tempered with just enough quirks to keep you interested. This is their best overall album to date and one that really grew on me with each listen.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


The Gaslight Anthem: The '59 Sound (Side One Dummy)

The Quick Take: Maybe the best straight-ahead rock album of the year, The Gaslight Anthem's latest was a late addition to my collection. This album is for those of you who think my alt shit is too alt and you need something simple and pure. These guys may do Springsteen better than Springsteen does. This record is very impressive, fun, and bold. They remind me a bit of The Reigning Sound, though maybe a little less "garage-y". There's a little of The Hold Steady in here for sure, but without the misguided experimentation of some songs on this year's Stay Positive.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Real Emotional Trash (Matador)

The Quick Take: The former Pavement frontman returns with another stellar solo effort. However, this one feels like the rawest of his post-Pavement work to date. Do I hear a little Black Keys in here? Malkmus is an excellent guitarist who really lets it howl here more than I've heard in a long, long time. If you love that Keys-esque dirty guitar rock, I think this may really be a great record to investigate.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


And now for the best of the best...


12. Okkervil River: The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)

The Quick Take: A conceptual sequel to last year's amazing
The Stage Names, this is another impressive effort from one of the best bands going. Lead singer Will Scheff continues to find a great balance between his poetic and literary lyrics and the need to rock you so gently and good awesome. "Blue Tulip" from this album is one of the finest songs they've ever made. If you haven't discovered Okkervil River yet, don't side with the terrorists. Go check them out. Start with Down the River of Golden Dreams or Black Sheep Boy.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


11. Jay Reatard:
Matador Singles '08 (In the Red)

The Quick Take: Don't let the name fool you. There's nothing dense about this guy--well at least not that much. His 2006 release
Blood Visions was a record that I discovered a year too late which was characterized by its two minutes and a cloud of smoke "rawk your face off" tunes that posessed a machine-gun like precision characteristic of early Ramones. If Jay Reatard was a one-trick pony, I'd pay to hear it from here to eternity. But his subsequent two releases including this one (which may be my favorite album cover of the year) have shown a greater depth and diversity both lyrically and musically. This is a man who knows how to make great little 2-3 minute rock songs. He keeps it simple, stupid. And ironically in music, that's often the hardest thing to get right.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


10. Pete & The Pirates:
Little Death (Stolen)

The Quick Take: In a real down year for British rock music, Pete & The Pirates stood out on several levels. Unlike so many of their current peers, they avoid the spineless unoriginality of so many British groups attempting to take the place of The Libertines or who are trying to "out-Franz" Franz Ferdinand. Pete & The Pirates only try to be themselves and in keeping with this year's theme so far, know how to make tight, pop rock songs. "Song for Today" may be the track that best embodies who this group is. It's epic without being self-important. It hints at the band's potential greatness without overshadowing the song itself--which always seems to be the band's first priority. The fuck they give is about the music as far as I can tell--something that is becoming increasingly rare in British music these days.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


9. Phantom Planet:
Raise the Dead (FBR)

The Quick Take: No one is more surprised than I am about the inclusion of Phantom Planet in this list. They've always been a guilty pleasure favorite of mine who I must admit made me cringe a bit when their fine song "California" was made the theme song for the recently deceased Fox drama
The O.C. But true to their name, they have this strange little niche of music that's part So-Cal rock and pop tinged with themes of zombies and aliens that were the inspiration for the band's name. It saddened me to learn recently that this would be their final album as the band members have decided to pursue separate projects. Raise the Dead is an excellent album of finely-crafted pop rock that grew on me with every listen. The album is fun and happy and sad and road-trip worthy. The album also includes what is perhaps the song title of the year, "Leave Yourself for Somebody Else". Awesometown. Alex Greenwald--you and your mates will be missed. Get that solo record out ASAP!

The Non-Rob Review: Here



8. Fleet Foxes:
Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

The Quick-Take: One of the most beautiful and affecting debuts I've heard in years, Fleet Foxes are about as different from anything on this list as you can get. However, there is something timeless and powerful about their sound. You'd never know these guys hail from Seattle as their harmonies sound straight out of an Appalachian chorus of bearded angels. My friend Julie gets huge kudos for exposing me to this band who have created something that is both unique and accessible and gentle and extremely well-made.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


7. The Dutchess & The Duke:
She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art)

The Quick Take: Two members. A guy and a girl. Simple rock. I'm sure you've heard this before. But The Dutchess & The Duke take some pretty simple rock pleasures and create a haunting record of acoustic Stones-esque songs that will stick in your head real hard. These two also have a vocal chemistry that offers a harmonic quality that is bigger than the size of the band. Songs like "I Am Just a Ghost" with its heartbreaking overtone and old-style guitar solo will leave you wanting and may even inspire you to finally pick up that notebook and write to your long lost love. And "Armageddon Song" is the sweetest, happiest song about the end of the world I've heard since Ben Lee's rendition of "End of the World". I'd really like these two to play at my 30th birthday if at all possible...

The Non-Rob Review: Here


6. Vampire Weekend:
Vampire Weekend (XL)

The Quick Take: In a year of really strong debuts, Vampire Weekend stands out. It would be easy to pigeonhole them into that New York scenester, music school student, trendy shit that many of us can get so easily annoyed at. But Vampire Weekend are most impressive because of their ability to incorporate complex instrumentation into completely hooky, polished pop songs that are hard not to love. There's a fine line between a diverse sound and a sound that's pretentious and inaccessible (the latter are usually the records Pitchfork seems to love the most). Vampire Weekend are a group of gifted musicians who know they're good but yet find a way not to alienate you in their precise pursuit of actually entertaining you.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


5. Ra Ra Riot:
The Rhumb Line (Barsuk)

The Quick Take: A New York band with diverse instrumental qualities in the vein of the aforementioned Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot distinguish themselves with the sheer pace and intensity of their music as a whole. Specifically, the percussion is a bigger player in their songs than other bands like them. Ra Ra Riot offer classical sensibilities with the use of the cello and violin in a manner that in no way takes away from their mission as a true indie rock band. Combined with Wes Miles' polished vocals (at times he's a dead-ringer for Sting), Ra Ra Riot construct a record for people who like Death Cab for Cutie but wish they would or could make something this good again.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


4. Eddy Current Suppression Ring:
Primary Colours (Goner)

The Quick Take: What a name, eh? How best to describe the sound of Eddy Current Suppression Ring's sound? Let me try this in a way that most of you might understand. Think about a simpler, purer, more elementary guitar-driven version of Kings of Leon--only Australian. Oh and before Kings of Leon really started trying to become the southern Strokes. Guess what guys? Only The Strokes can really pull that off. ECSR are a hooky little garage rock/punk outfit that just want to rock you or "rawk" you. The vocals are great, drunken outback weapons, but they only serve as an accent to the featured player--the instruments. Guitar, bass, drums. Success. This is not an album for everyone. It's a record for those who appreciate the truly primal, simple pleasures of rock.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


3. Titus Andronicus:
The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)

The Quick Take: You can't celebrate Festivus without
The Airing of the Grievances, right? As I stated earlier this year in this space, Titus Andronicus can be best compared to Bright Eyes if Bright Eyes had any balls and you didn't want to kick him in the teeth everytime you saw/heard him. Titus Andronicus makes dirty, messy, angry, really smart rock music that finds a way to burrow into your subconscience. Never has an album about alienation and the end of youth been so fun to jam out to. My favorite track on this album is "My Time Outside the Womb" that serves as a funny reminder about the bummer that can be the experience of birth and all that follows. Great record, great fun. It takes talent to take the morose and make it into something inspiring and gutsy.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


2. Gentleman Jesse and His Men:
Gentleman Jesse and His Men (Douchemaster)

The Quick Take: What a great, fun, amazing record. The first time I heard Gentleman Jesse spinning at my friend Clint's place, I swore I was listening to some pop rock outfit from the late 70s or early 80s in the tradition of The Cars. Gentleman Jesse and His Men have made a record that makes me want to speak of them in that kiss-ass way that James Lipton speaks of everyone. The record contains simple, clever lyrics all while maintaining simple, clever musical hooks. The album is timeless without a hint of irony. I love it because it feels effortless and doesn't try to do too much. It takes everything that is supposed to be good about rock music and gives it to you without pre-condition. There's no heavy context or understanding required to enjoy this rock. I challenge you to listen to this album on your next commute and keep a smile off that pretty face of yours.

The Non-Rob Review: Here


1. The Walkmen:
You & Me (Gigantic)

The Quick Take:
You & Me just barely edged out Gentleman Jesse, but it is certainly a worthy #1 for this year. The Walkmen have, in my opinion, made the finest album of their career with this one. Simply stated, this is a collection of beautiful, sad, hopeful little songs. The guitars and percussion sound like they're coming from some beach somewhere in the middle of the night in your dreams. Sometimes they echo in the background to the point that you think it may all be in your imagination until they return forcefully at the right moment. Singer Hamilton Leithauser has a pained, breathtakingly unique voice that is well beyond his years. I have walked around the historic neighborhoods of Oklahoma City at dusk with this record playing on my Zune and never felt more right with the world. It is the soundtrack of yearning, heartbreak, devotion, doubt, and just enough hope for now.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Well there you have it. You are all caught up on your music education for 2008. Let me know your thoughts. There's nothing better than a good discussion or discourse on music--especially when it's music that I love. Enjoy the holidays, everyone. Rob loves him some you.





2007 Is Dead. Am I?/The Year In Music 2007



No..... No... Fuck.

Sometimes I do feel that if I haven't written something in a spell that I might've died and just didn't know it yet. But also, I really have this great desire to die like a man. Like I wanna be killed by a cold-blooded, bad-ass killer like the great Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, above). I've begun to think that this sort of death is like the new lung cancer and reflects the shortened attention span that my American generation is built upon. Wow, that just sounded like some shit straight out of "Natural Born Killers"--a completely overrated movie, by the way.

Ring, ring, the bells do ring. The man who would be the devil has returned. For the first time, I can certainly acknowledge that this readership consists not only of dear friends and curious observers, but also by people who I no longer consider friends but yet for whom I still wish to have access to all these wonderful words. I mean hell, its not like I hate you or anything. Or I'm just too lazy to take you off the mailing list. Either way, you are all welcome. And you're welcome.

I've struggled with sleep lately. Maybe you can tell. But in all truthiness, I've been having some bad dreams lately. Typically, I never have dreams so bad that I remember or are truly affected by them. Lately, I've dreamt of sex and murder (my own), being chased and being loved. And while over half of that sounds cool, there isn't one part of it that has done anything but make me feel...done for.

But I've never believed in any of that premonition shit. I'm pretty sure that these last few nights of bad dreams have resulted from a lack of direction in my personal and professional life, the imminent arrival in a year and a half of my 30th birthday, or the fact that something, no matter how silly this seems, freaks me out about characters on TV who are supposed to be my age who have a wife and kids. But maybe it's none of that. I think it may be because I've never compiled a year-end, top 10 albums of the year, 2007 year end list to end the year.

So The Authority of Greatness is here with the best albums of the year. Just so we're clear, this is about what I like and what therefore is right. This isn't reflective of the opinions of Rolling Stone (too much sell-out crap), Pitchfork (too much self-righteousness), Blender (too douchey), or Spin (who cares about Spin anymore?). In addition to the list (which includes linked reviews), fancy boy has provided a playlist so you can listen to some of the best that 2007 had to offer. Best playlist ever? Of course not. Just the best playlist of 2007 of ever and ever. I honestly don't care to hear any arguments about my list. But praise and inquiry is certainly welcome. And again, you're welcome. So without futheradoodoo (giggle), like a hear hear go.


10. Of Montreal: "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"









9. Wilco: "Sky Blue Sky"










8. King Louie and The Loose Diamonds: "Memphis Treet"









7. Arcade Fire: "Neon Bible"









6. Okkervil River: "The Stage Names"










5. The Teeth: "You're My Lover Now"










4. The White Stripes: "Icky Thump"










3. Spoon: "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"









2. Radiohead: "In Rainbows"









1. The National: "Boxer"











So that is the guide for those of you who need to truly understand where the musical greatness of 2007 lies. Here's some nice audio candy for ya (just double-click on any track to start):










And so we begin again. Maybe my baddy bad dreams will finally cease now that I have done God's work. For me, 2007 was about getting right again. My aim for 2008 is to get good again. Some of you are now just memories, but that's the natural course of things. Don't take it too personally. Lord knows I've run out of usefulness in the lives of some people. The blog shall continue with more funny, more sexy, more goody. The introspection of 2007's depth has run its course. I am ready to take the mantle of court jester once more. Say a prayer for the following, even if you don't understand them: For Everton, for the Dallas Cowboys, for Barack, for Oklahoma City, for discovery, for sex, for culture, for Man. As I finish these final words at the bar, the lights of this episode slowly fade and the light of a frosty brew await my lovin' hands. I love you if I do...