Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Stereophonics of Hopeful Pyromania: The Year in Music 2010

Some years, like bridges, deserve to be burned as you walk away from them and never re-visited.  Luckily, the sountrack to a year like this is full of potential.

This was the longest year of my life.  There's nothing implicitly suggested by the meaning of the word "long" that has a negative connotation, but whenever it's used it's almost always pejorative (using words like "pejorative" instantly make me a more eloquent, important, and physically attractive writer).  This has been a long day, the flight was long, "Why does it take so long for them to make my BLT?", the verdict of the H.R. hearing regarding this trumped up sexual harassment allegation is taking a long time, etc.  I mean, there are a few key instances when "long" is an endearing adjective, but I'll leave that to the suits in Washington to worry about.  

This was the longest year of my life.  And while there were a lot of positives for me regarding everything from God to overcoming challenges to traveling to Europe, there was enough ugliness, heartache, and being let down by people to give me the overwhelming urge to reach for the metaphorical gasoline and matches.  But hey, no need to get all emo about the whole thing.  Even though there were some "bigger" things this year compared to others, it was a mix of good and bad, great and terrible.  In short, it was a year.  And like most years you can remember, you have very little desire to revisit them unless absolutely necessary.  Years like these--just as I believe is true, really, for any year--have a distinct feel.  A taste.  A smell.  A vibe.  And an integral element tying all that together is the sound of it all.  It's all the big bad combined with the sugary sweet hazy goody good that inspires artists to compose and perform and for listeners to--well--listen.  I do my best to burn the bridge of the year I'm about to leave behind--and I'll be burning this year's bridge with a bigger smile on my face.  I'll take the important lessons with me and attempt to leave the rest behind.  But I'll also take the music.  And that--generally speaking--is a great thing.

I can't tell you all the details of 1997 that were undoubtedly "crucial" to me back in 1997.  But I can tell you that OK Computer, Too Far to Care, Blur, and Something to Remember Me By came out that year and I still carry them with me to this day--and they actually allow me to remember 1997 more fondly than in all likelihood it deserves to be.  Such is the transformative power of music or somesuch.  Having said all of that, here are two key observations you should be aware of regarding the way I view the year in music that was 2010:

1. If you "need" the following entry to include Arcade Fire or Kanye West to edify you, stop reading now. Arcade Fire has a whopping EIGHT members now, wears those ridiculous outfits, has a talented frontman who is allowing his no-talent hack of a wife to ruin the band and well--I just can't suffer them anymore. Even if I do still love their first album, Funeral. And Kanye? His latest album was a good rap album, but lyrically it is the greatest monument to victim mentality/"you don't know how tough it is to be a celebrity" ever recorded. Music? Strong. Lyrics? Well, let's just say they require me to care about Kanye and I just don't. My bad.

2. Despite what some of you may have heard, 2010 was NOT--in my opinion--one of the greatest years in the history of new music releases in the history of ever and ever. Just because a lot of the bands you really like all chose to put out albums this year doesn't mean all those albums were exceptional and thus make it an exceptional year. A lot of my favorite artists/bands put out albums this year and exactly TWO of them were what I consider to be the best work of that respective artist/band's career. Really good albums this year, but let's tap the breaks on how "great" this year was. And let's tap the breaks on overusing the word "great" while we're at it.

So let's do this. Here are my favorite albums of 2010. Now my friend Katie can finally figure out how to best use those iTunes gift cards as I am her musical compass. And my friend Angela is probably already thinking that this entry is too long, but a year-end "best-of" list requires a longer entry so stop your whining. Same format as last year's list. A refresher:

Three categories.  No rankings.  Except for my favorite.
1.  Honorable Mentioningz
2.  My Favorite 10 Albums That Weren't My Favorite Album (in no particular order)
3.  The Rob Album of the Year

Let's apply the people's elbow and get it on!

Honorable Mentioningz

III/IV by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals (Pax Ameicana)

The Quick Take: The latest and last entry to make it in to this year's list (it came out in December!)--and isn't it just like Ryan Adams to be tardy--III/IV is actually a double album that was recorded with his longtime band The Cardinals during the same sessions as his solid--if unspectacular--solo effort Easy Tiger. It--especially disc 1 which is presumably the III in this scenario--sounds like the spectacular rock album Ryan Adams has been trying so hard to create since he first released 2003's aptly-named and uneven Rock N Roll. Adams seems absolutely comfortable at poking fun at himself on this album--especially the more comic moments of his pre-sobriety. And he does all of this while tearing through themes of love, heartbreak, and lessons learned that feels cohesive and focused. Overall, these are tight, hooky, excellent rock songs that have all but assured me and many of Ryan Adams' fans that a sober Ryan Adams can still be a great Ryan Adams.

The Non-Rob Review: Here 

The Orchard by Ra Ra Riot (Barsuk)

The Quick Take: Ra Ra Riot are one of my favorite underappreciated, slighted, "little bands that could".  They don't need anyone's pity, but the lazy comparisons to Vampire Weekend are getting old.  Here on RRR's sophomore effort, there are admittedly less obvious hooks, but there is a sweeping, epic depth they are seeking here that is worth the listen.  There are still frenetic bass lines, pounding drums, those gorgeous strings, and Wes Miles' powerhouse voice--all which could lead you to think it's just more of the same.  The "same" that is still here is still great.  And the additional differences including the introduction of cellist Alexandra Lawn as lead vocalist on the gorgeous "You and I Know", the addition of a touch of synth, and the overall poetic upgrade to the lyrics makes it an album worth giving a real listen--if not several.  For me, it's a keeper.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Interpol by Interpol (Matador)

The Quick Take: The biggest criticism I've heard of this album is that it sounds too much like Interpol's previous work.  That's like saying Jack Nicholson is Jack Nicholson in every movie.  Dumb.  Some bands don't need to reinvent their respective wheels and Interpol is one of them.  Dark, brooding, post-punk power that lingers in the air like a bad dream--these guys didn't invent this music but they are the best at creating it in our current day and age.  Interpol isn't as strong as the essential Turn On the Bright Lights, but it retains the same atmospheric presence and songs like "Barricade" and "Lights" still find the band at their very best.  Here's hoping for a shorter gap than we've grown accustomed to between this album and their next.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Hippies by Harlem (Matador)

The Quick Take: "Someday soon you'll be on fire and you'll ask me for a glass of water.  And I'll say no.  You can just let that shit burn."  There is an art to taking petty feelings and ugly sentiments about love and making them  both comical and poetic.  This opening salvo from Austin-based garage outfit Harlem's latest album Hippies embodies that notion and introduces a rollicking, fun album that definitely has the power to make you laugh at how dumb love and girls and all that crap really is most of the time.  The band's style certainly isn't unique, but I've got to say that the sheer amount of hooks and catchy little tunes on this album sets them apart from the glut of their "garage" contemporaries.  The best example of this is the standout track "Gay Human Bones" which was selected as one of my dozen favorite songs of 2010.  Unlike most of the album's songs, I cannot possibly tell you what this song is about or what it's supposed to convey.  All I know is that I just can't stop listening and bobbing my oh so very Puerto Rican head to it.  This album demands your attention and some of these songs will simply hold you hostage.  Don't try to negotiate.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

My Favorite 10 Albums That Weren't My Favorite Album (in no particular order)

Before Today by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (4AD)

The Quick Take: So this is easily the weirdest album on this list. But in a good way. A great way. It honestly is like 70's FM soft rock mated with some alien creature and gave birth to this album. Much like the way I felt last year about The Flaming Lips' Embryonic, I wasn't impressed the first time I heard it. But with repeated listens, it felt like all the weird space-rock puzzle pieces started to fall in to place and I realized I was hearing something unique and rad. Yeah, I said rad--my ultimate adjective. It is befitting of this strange mix of rock, disco, psychedelic, and other unidentified elements. It works. With time. It'll get ya. Or it will possibly abduct you.
The Non-Rob Review: Here

Gorilla Manor by Local Natives (Frenchkiss)

The Quick Take: In this slightly sad age of the digital download, do you ever download so many albums that you end up forgetting about one you should have given a little more than the requisite ten minutes?  Well that happened to me with Local Natives and this album.  I downloaded it in the spring and didn't get back around to it until my iPod decided to randomly play standout track "Airplanes".  What I discovered was a true gem hidden under far too many wasted downloads this year.  A cross between the percussive might of The Dodos and the harmonic vocal excellence of Fleet Foxes, Local Natives offer a carefully constructed musical mix of rock, pop, anthems, and even a few muscular tribal beats they don't mind pounding you ever so gently with.  And they're so damn young, these kids--I can't help but be excited about their future.  In a crowded field of "indie" (yuck) rock, these guys are standouts.  A hope-inspiring debut.  Better late than never.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Transference by Spoon (Merge)

The Quick Take: Spoon is one of those bands whose albums share most of the same musical elements that will never (and should never) change.  But the funny thing about them is that some of their albums will grab you right away (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Girls Can Tell) while others will reveal their quality over an extended period of time (Kill the Moonlight).  Transference falls in to the latter category and grew on me as time went by.  This album is a bit rougher around the edges and is less afraid to "explore" for lengthier periods of time instrumentally than previous efforts, but the clever beats and lyrics that dare you to contemplate all worth contemplating are still quite in your face.  The music still goes down easy and is way beyond satsifying.  You just don't fill up quite as fast.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Expo 86 by Wolf Parade (Sub Pop)

The Quick Take: While I hate the perpetuation of the term "indie" with a passion, it's a reality I must accept like the budget deficit or the Kardashians.  But if I accept that term and its "inhabitants", one of my favorite of these is the great Wolf Parade.  They've always been "indie" while being unafraid to punch you in the gut or rock your face off.  If they took anything up a notch on Expo 86, it is the "rawk".  This is without a doubt their heaviest--though not to be mistaken for abrasive--effort to date.  The guitars and the drums at the right volume can shake that seldom-shaken-these-days chest cavity of yours--all while delivering the same melodic, sweeping, epic songs that suggest that everything is falling down around you while still somehow offering you hope.  There's talk that this may be their last album and that would be tragic.  Indie rock NEEDS Wolf Parade.  Probably a lot more than Wolf Parade needs indie rock.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Plastic Beach by Gorillaz (EMI)

The Quick Take: The album starts with the kind of gorgeous string arrangement befitting an Oscar-worthy epic and somehow seamlessly transitions in to a thumping groove of bass and beats--and the sound of Snoop Dogg.  And it works.  Even Snoop Dogg sounds great and less cartoonish than he has in ages--which is ironic considering Gorillaz was conceived as an animated, "virtual" hip-hop projectPlastic Beach is more luminous and less menacing than its predecessors, but retains its sonic power with ease.  Other guests on the album include everyone from Lou Reed to Bobby Womack to Mos Def to Mick Jones.  These seemingly ill-fitting parts maddeningly fit thanks to the constant undercurrent supplied by the great Damon Albarn--known in a previous life as the front-man for Brit-pop pioneers Blur.  The album has beats that won't quit and contains everything from Albarn's beloved tribal rhythms to entrancing electronics that are both hypnotic and joyful.  Get your copy and start grooving as soon as humanly possible.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Melted by Ty Segall (Goner)

The Quick Take: I hate pretty much anything that's done for the sake of itself.  Except maybe arguing for arguing's sake.  That's just fun.  But in music, I hate noise just for noise's sake and thus, have hated most anything termed as "noise rock" for a long, long time.  This is not to say, however, that I don't like great rock music with some noise and distortion thrown in--as long as it is noise with a purpose.  By that standard, give me more, more, more.  And Ty Segall has found a balance I absolutely love with Melted--an album with some creative uses of "noise", but that never come at the cost of strong songwriting and great pop sensibility.  Something about the noise and the "coolness" of this collection of songs lends itself to the post-argument car excursion you simply must take to retain what sanity you have left.  Segall uses some rough tools at times--but always, always with a purpose.  In many ways, Melted is the biggest surprise--and one of my favorite discoveries of--2010.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

Lisbon by The Walkmen (Fat Possum)

The Quick Take: Much like Spoon's aforementioned Transference, this was an album whose effects weren't immediately felt.  But as I began to feel them, I was moved.  A myriad of moods abound.  Alternating between easy-going lamentation (album-opener "Juveniles"), frantic desperation ("Angela Surf City") and spiritual discovery (the hypnotic and beautiful "Blue As Your Blood"), Lisbon takes hold of you in the way that it reveals the many sides of lead vocalist and lyricist Hamilton Leithauser's psyche--and shakes you in the way that the music begins to reveal the many sides of your own psyche.  While not as immediately touching and delicate as 2008's nearly perfect You & Me, this latest effort continues The Walkmen's string of memorable and significant contributions to sweeping, vintage-valuing rock music.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

$ by Mark Sultan (Last Gang)

The Quick Take: If you've read this blog regularly (my favoritest of you), you know by now that Mark Sultan is the "BBQ" in The King Khan & BBQ Show and one of my favorite musicians working today.  He's got a voice--as I'm sure I've said before--that sounds like it's straight out of a time capsule from the early 60's.  And while that has always lent itself well to the rollicking doo-wop he's best known for, Sultan sought with this album to add several additional dimensions.  Sultan weaves a myriad of instrumental sounds, uneven percussive time signatures, and a little psychedelia in to this time-tested mix on $ to create a challenging, but ultimately rewarding set of songs.  At first, you can't figure out what the chaos is intended to create, but this album is the sound of music falling apart all around you and then being put back together piece by piece.  Sultan's awe-inspiring voice never gets too lost in the shuffle and he finds a way to command the chaos like a quirky mad scientist/wizard who is completely in control of your little rock 'n' roll tempest. 

The Non-Rob Review: Here

The Monitor by Titus Andronicus (XL)

The Quick Take: The overwhelming feeling I get every time I listen to Titus Andronicus is that I'm listening to more than just rock music.  I'm actually listening to a mission statement.  And typically that statement involves a clear delineation between an "us" and a "them" and that the time for sitting on the sidelines and taking it is over.  And that we've all lived for this day whether we know it or not.  The Monitor uses thematic elements of the U.S. Civil War as a backdrop for these statements--seamlessly drawing emotional comparisons between the sentiments of now and then.  The laziest observation I continue to read in reviews is that while it's a concept album, "it's not actually about the Civil War".  But that's missing the point.  The point is that the Civil War is ABOUT US--specifically the way that we as Americans are prone to division and how necessary conflict becomes to flush out those of us who are holding back the continually moving needle of progress.  The album is full of indignation and anger, but it's also full of inspiration and makes me want to go out and change the world--even if I have to bruise a few faces to do it.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

High Violet by The National (4AD)

The Quick Take: I run out creative things to say about The National, but I never seem to run out of enthusiasm for them as musicians, performers, or artists.  High Violet continues the calculated brooding of men who are all too aware of the dark parts of your heart and whose sole mission is to add a soundtrack to it.  But unlike previous efforts such as Boxer, there's a tangible sense that The National are trying to make the sound, the sweep, and the scope of this whole thing tangibly bigger.  Bigger strings and drums, more horns, haunting backing vocal tracks--The National feel like they've added an extra layer on this album.  Songs like "England", "Bloodbuzz, Ohio", and "Conversation 16" are epic in this way, but the album never loses its intimate feel.  "Runaway" and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" keep you right there--in the moment.  It's a strange symmetry The National have perfected here, but one whose impact is felt in both ways that validate and tear out our hearts all at once.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

The Rob Album of the Year

Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter (4AD)

The Quick Take: My friend Jake introduced me to this album one night while we were at this bar we don't visit often enough.  I say we don't visit it often enough because they let us plug our iPods in and drink to our own playlist.  Because Jake is a much more "plugged in" and well-connected music blogger than I am, he got an advanced copy of Halcyon Digest and plugged it in one night.  And all I can say is that I had "that" feeling.  The one I get when I hear something and know immediately that it's special and it's different and I'll probably love it forever.  I had heard of Deerhunter, but never actually HEARD them.  When the album arrived at my apartment, I was happy that my intitial affection wasn't due to the scotch I was drinking that night.  From the track opener "Earthquake" and its slow-building wall of dense sound to the precise and mesmerizing guitars of "Desire Lines" to the pop mastery and E-Street Band-esque saxophone of "Coronado", front-man Bradford Cox and his bandmates created an album that is creative and unique while still remaining universally enthralling.  The album haunts me in the way that an album by a band whose members are all dead does, but yet never gets me down.  Halcyon Digest retains a mystique that is retained effortlessly and an identity that sets it apart without qualification.

The Non-Rob Review: Here

UPDATE: Due to "popular demand" (relative, liberal use of that phrase), I've graciously decided to add a playlist highlighting one great track from each of the fifteen albums highlighted above--none of which have been included on previous playlist.  I think.  I'm not that diligent at checking, but I'm pretty sure I'm right about this.  Enjoy!

Now go forth and invest a little piece of your soul in some good music, Kids.  You have all the tools you need now.  As always, I look forward to your feedback, your insults, and your general apprehension over everything about this entry and my blog so that I can sit back and laugh at you.  And love you.  And marvel how we still--in so many ways--are doing this thing together.  Good riddance, 2010.  But thanks for the tunes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Playlist of the Week: 2010 Favoritism

Picking twelve has its pros and cons, but overall it's a pretty good number.  No, I am not comparing myself to Jesus.  Yes, I believe I have a God-given talent for making great playlists.  Probably as a consolation for not making me gifted at math.  Or matching clothes.

Part 1.  Part A.  The beginning.  Maybe just the preface.  Or the beginning of the end of 2010.  I can't figure out how I want to start this, but since I just type in an akward/sexy stream of consciousness manner, I suppose that it will all take care of itself.  Part 1/A/beginning/preface of what you ask?  Ah yes, this entry is the beginning/introduction of the highly anticipated M.J.R.M.B.Y.I.M.2010 (I'll let you figure that acronym out all by yourself.  I have faith in you.  Ish.)--as well as my effort to fulfill my contractual (in my head) obligation to crank out another bravely-sculpted playlist.  The anticipation of my year end best-ofs/harsh judgements is literally growing at about the same rate as the number of your Facebook friends who are changing their profile pictures to pictures of their kids because they think anybody else but them cares*.  Literally.  So with that sobering scientific conclusion in mind, what are we to do about your great need to rock, my friends?

Now I know for many of you, this is the beginning of that slightly sad post-Christmas afterglow.  The decorations are coming down, the copies of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are being put away, the resentment over the inappropriate comment/gesture your mother/significant other made at dinner/Christmas Eve church service while drunk/high is finally subsiding--and for reasons you can't quite grasp, you're feeling a bit empty.  But have no fear, the man of your dreams if he looked like Jared Leto/George Clooney/insert any Twilight actor here is here to pull that proverbial Red Ryder 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle from behind that desk in the corner of your heart's desire.  I give you... so lovingly and tenderly, my favorite dozen songs of 2010--highlighted in some of their own all their heartbreak, humor, weirdness, straightforwardness, vagueness--and beauty.  Oh yeah, this is art and absolutely not a cheap way of me getting out of writing more original content for this entry.  And yeah, there's still a playlist, too.  Be back soon with M.J.R.M.B.Y.I.M.2010.  Until then, plug in your ear phones and listen real good like.

"It's always the same as always.  Sad and tongue tied.  It's got a memory and refrain..."/"No nothin' was planned.  You just can't help yourself.  Some people are so easily shuffled and dealt."/"Life rolled us over like a town car...Bruised up and busted to the ground...The Lord came down and said to me...'Throw off your worries and be at peace...'"/"So I had to make up my mind.  And hold it for a while.  I would not just leave you without a kiss.  But I guess there must come a time.  When there's no more tears to cry."/"And we can no longer afford.  Waiting for someone to lift this terrible swift sword.  In our basements, we all look so bored.  We've never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."/Water moccasins crawlin' through my "Hell yeah!".  I know I'm all alone."/"Words will break us down.  Where you can't make a sound.  And tear you along every different line.  And spit it away."/"In my heart I feel so high.  I wanna know the answers why.  I ask so many questions they let me go.  They hang up the telephone."/"All I know is that I think I know.  So they can't live forever.  Playing games and choosing sides.  'Til all that's left to do is go berserk./"Don't call your mom to tell her I'm a demon.  She'll say you're wrong and end up screaming.  She knows I'm strong. And that I won't say goodbye."/"And sing your songs.  Sing them all night baby.  If it's out of key, well nobody's perfect.  And you don't know how to stop it all .  You just don't know how to stop it at all .  And you don't know how to stop it.  But morning will turn, turn everything back to gold."/"Put an ocean and a river between everybody else.  Between everything, yourself, and home.  Put an ocean and a river.  Between everything, yourself, and home."

*My friend Julie is an exception to the snide comments about my other friends I so casually insulted since she just gave birth to twins and the sheer physical exertion of that feat alone warrants just about any form of boasting she cares for.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Playlist of the Week: Winterlifer

I'm not gonna lie.  The idea of winter--like many other things--sure seemed a lot more fun when I was a kid.

I've always been fascinated by the way that people who listen to music seem much more inclined to listen to what FITS their mood rather than what might ALTER their mood.  This is not an original or groundbreaking observation on my part, but it intrigues me nonetheless.  When we're sad and brokenhearted, do we listen to classic happy music like The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA" or Digital Underground's complex, joyous masterpiece "The Humpty Dance"?  I mean, that would make sense on so many levels (do you all realize the lyrical genius of "The Humpty Dance"?), but yet most of us resort to finding some sad bastard music that spins a tale of even more gut-wrenching misery than we're currently feeling.  But why?  So we somehow feel better in comparison?  I used to think that that might be the case, but it is rare that listening to sad music when I'm sad has any positive effect other than to increase the likelihood that I bust out the scotch a little earlier in the evening.  And apparently "conventional therapy" claims that that is also not considered a "positive effect".  Oh well, I'll leave that to the experts.  

Either way, I've been in love three times in my life and there was an album for each of those breakups/disappointments I dove in to shortly thereafter for an extended period of time and I'm pretty sure none of this music would be sanctioned by the APA.

1996: Pinkerton by Weezer: Great album, but full of heartbreaking teen angst at its finest/worst--widely considered the breakthrough of "emo" music. My God, I was SO emo back then.  Surprised my mom didn't poison my food during this period.

2005: Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams: The title pretty much sums it up.  Luckily, I wasn't living with my mom by this time or she would have definitely poisoned my food.

2010: High Violet by The National: Great album by a great band.  But this is the kind of music that with too much exposure might cause me to do something horrifyingly rash and negative.  Like move back to Dallas.  I've been able to measure my relative recovery based on how much less I listen to this album now compared to a couple months ago.

So we cope how?  By trying to drown our misery in musical misery?  I mean, when we're happy we don't listen to sad music to try and make us less happy.  And why?  Because being happy is the tits, that's why!  So what's up with the sad music?  

I find the only other similar music preference correlation I've ever caught on to is what I refer to in my own terms as "winter music" or "cold music".  It's the type of music that may either be the symptom of or solution to the season.  This music either makes me colder or I somehow find warmth in the fact that they REMIND me of cold while it is actually cold outside even though I may actually be somewhere warm listening to this music but all of that is counter-intuitive until I remember the way that it seems completely normal for me to listen to sad music when I'm sad.  You betcha. 

Again, there's a dark gray sky out there you wish was like London but is probably more like Cleveland.  A sharp whirl of wind that snaps you awake and yet makes you crave slumber the way bears do.  And for some of us there's snow.  So much snow.  And for most of us, the fun of the snow has gone the way of our childhoods and a belief in Santa Claus and the hope for a kid like me to someday have the chance to fight on the ice planet of Hoth along with Luke Skywalker.  Some songs fit our mood--maybe even reinforce our mood.  Cold songs remind us of what is just beyond that door--all of the frigid elements and the reality that there's very little difference between being one of the lucky ones and being one of the ones stuck out there.  Beach music, warm music, none of it seems that appealing in December and January when there is no logical reason it shouldn't.  But logic eludes us more than we care to admit, eh?

So for you all, a dozen of my winter songs that just make sense for me to wrap myself in this time of year.  Even the ones that warm me up on this list are still unmistakeably songs whose identity is entrenched in the winter for reasons I can't fully explain.  The opening notes of "Everything In Its Right Place" are some of the warmest I've ever heard, but the song remains a winter piece for me.  And maybe, just maybe, it's because that warmth would be wasted on us during the summer, just as the heartbreak of sad music and its mystifying empathetic powers would be wasted on happy listeners.  Maybe the answer is that music, like God or "fate" or destiny gives us what we need when we need it--even when we don't or can't get it.

Spotify playlist below the track list. Not a Spotify member?  No problem. An 8tracks playlist (requiring no membership) is also found below.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quick Music Jerk: Indiandoowopabilly, The Flaming Lips, and Upcoming Greatnesses

Indiandoowopabilly.  Traditional Indian music mixed in with doo-wop rock and rockabilly.  Indiandoowopabilly.

1.  For those of my readers (now that there are apparently more than one of you) who consider themselves somewhat musically adventurous, may I recommend one of this year's most unique albums, Curry Up, It's the Tandoori Knights ('YES, click on the link to hear samples' says Rob in Montgomery Burns voice), by--you guessed it--The Tandoori Knights.  Yeah, it pretty much sounds like the ridiculous caption above--and you have to admit without having heard it that that sounds somewhat intriguing, eh?  Maybe just a bit?  All I can tell you is that it is a fascinating little record.  Using all the core instruments of rock but with a sitar thrown in as a foundational undercurrent, Curry Up meshes the traditional with the even MORE traditional--as in traditional Indian music structures.  Now I am not Indian and don't claim to know a thing about traditional Indian music--I only know that I've made out with an Indian girl before and I bet she does know something about traditional Indian music and I'm sure that's somehow relevant here. What I also know is that this album sounds like plenty I've heard while simultaneously sounding like nothing I've ever heard.  Some songs are sitar driven, some are hard rocking drivers, and others are a mix of multiple styles.  Arish Ahmad Khan--better known as King Khan (one of my rock 'n' roll leaders and someone I have a slightly unhealthy man-crush on)--has teamed up with another Montreal under-the-radar rock staple, Bloodshot Bill (I couldn't make up a name like that), to form the Tandoori Knights.  Both men strum and strain and laugh through this undeniably fun album while still remaining faithful to a particular concept throughout the album of meshing two seemingly incongruous musical styles.  The album grows continually intriguing with each listen and while not for most of you (you probably know who you are, and that's okay), it's worth a listen for those of you always on the lookout for something a little quirky.  Or something for your next Indian-themed sock hop.  Whatever the case may be.

2. For those of you who live outside of my beloved Oklahoma City area, you may not have heard about the annual tradition that is the greatness of The Flaming Lips playing a hometown show (yes, Oklahoma City is their hometown) every New Year's Eve.  I've attended this confetti-filled, man-in-giant bubble, smoke monster of a show the last two years and have never walked away disappointed.  If there was ever a band whose stage show was designed for a specific night, it might just be the Lips.  The combination of all those effects, the energy of the music, and the overall spectacle makes for a night of grandeur befitting the best New Year's Eve party you'll ever attend.  Even if you don't particularly like their music, I challenge you to walk away from one of their shows without having had a ton of fun.  To add to an already epic showcase last year, the Lips performed a live cover of Pink Floyd's seminal Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety.  This year, the band announced that in addition to their normal show, they'll be playing what many (including myself) consider to be their definitive masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin, in its entirety.  The announcement created such a buzz that floor tickets for the show sold out in less than thirty minutes (while in previous years, tickets were slightly easier to come by).  Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones and got my tickets early and you should all know that I keep weapons handy in my house and am also moving said tickets to a new secret location every three hours.  Just sayin'.  Anyway, if you have a chance to make this show (and yes, there are still ways to get tickets), I can't recommend this enough.  Exploding high five with a giant, oversized hand!

3.  This dumb little blog is gonna be somewhat prolific in the next few weeks.  I mean hey, it's my gift to you in the spirit of the holiday season.  Three more life-changing, perspective-altering playlists are coming your way starting in the next couple of days.  The third of these playlists will be my favorite dozen songs of 2010 and that will be followed up by my annual, end of year, reason you all fight through each day of your lives and work and get out of bed, "Year in Music" feature.  It'll include my favorite albums of the year (the best to me at least) along with another playlist as well as the finely-crafted wordsmithery you've come to expect from me.  Please, kids, try to stay focused on the rest of your lives until then.

Also, while you're at it, check out some of the quite strong links over there to the right--especially the link to The Spy FM, simply one of the best music stations in the world.  For those of you not familiar, the Spy is a truly independent station with tons of favorites along with plenty you've never heard before and will never hear on regular radio stations in this day and age (for my Dallas friends, think of The Edge before it was bought out and turned in to another douche-rock station).  A great place to discover discoverworthy tunes.  Also, check out my Pandora station at your own risk.  But if The Killers come up on the playlist, I can assure you that that is ALL Pandora, ok?  Finally, I have some supremely talented friends with blogs who are way better at this than me that you might want to check out (also over there on the right).  Alright, enough with all the plugs.  I assure you that no one is paying me for those and I can triple assure you  no one pays me for this.  It's all about my borderline inappropriate love for each and every one of you.  See you real real soon soon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Playlist of the Week: A Dozen Overlooked Perspectives

Like sports, it's important to remember that music is just a game.  And your kid doesn't think you're nearly as cool as others do.

The above picture may be one of the greatest music-related pictures I've come across in some time.  I mean, it's certainly not as iconic as all those Beatles pictures we're so used to seeing.  You know the ones.  Currently, we are all being endlessly inundated with a bunch of old black and white photos of The Beatles so that we can be once again reminded that A) The Beatles were a great band that we should care about (as if we're ever allowed to forget this) and B) that their entire catalog is now available on iTunes!  I bet you didn't know that last fact because Apple only reminds us about a thousand times a day when they're not making me feel like less of a man for not having an iPad or the new iPhone4.  But I digress.

Some pictures of bands or musicians aren't quite so iconic--but still may be more poignant.  Case in point: The above picture is of Matt Berninger and his beautiful--albeit visibly upset--daughter, Isla.  Matt Berninger is one of my favorite musicians and the lead singer and songwriter of one of my favoritest bands in all the known blue big world, The National.  I had the good fortune to see The National in concert twice this year and one of those times (I can't remember which one), Mr. Berninger commented to the audience that he was really, quite a happy man living a happy life.  The undeniably sad, dark, though beautiful songs, he claimed, portrayed a misery that was self-contained.  He smiled and sipped his wine while saying this without a hint of irony or sarcasm.  The guy really seemed to mean it and the ongoing joking banter between he and his bandmates suggested that despite the ultra-serious tone of their work, the artists behind that work don't take themselves quite so seriously.

So I suppose this is one of those "perspective" moments I need every once in a while--a concept that goes overlooked and ignored about the things, the games, the art that I, and we, all dig so much.  Ultimately, there are people--real people--behind all of this "stuff".  And while some of them have really epic stories that make for tabloid and VH1 Behind the Music fodder, some of them are married dudes with a mortgage, a wife, and a kid who isn't remotely impressed by their dad's high ranking on year end "best of" album lists or hero worship from jerks like me.  Somehow, that picture says it all and helps me to keep the music I love and find myself emotionally tugged by in the proper light.  

That picture represents in some ways everything that I want out of life.  And no, it's not to be the well-dressed, ultra-talented lead singer of a critically-acclaimed band (not that I'm not working on it).  Ultimately, I want to have the "incovenience"--dare I say the freedom--that comes with responsibility.  A beautiful child I love and who loves me even if they're screaming their head off at me at the most inopportune time.  A wife that I love and who loves me through thick and thin.  And yeah, I want a life of purpose and a life where I can live right and do right by others and be the man God wants me to be.  And of course I want to do all of this while listening to great music and getting my facial hair right and traveling the world and being great at my job and wearing some half-way decent clothes that fit my body which is slowly improving while keeping my blood pressure down so that I have the chance to see Kevin Durant and the Thunder eventually win the title.  

I'm gonna do it.  Watch me.  Just as soon as I get some lunch.  I'm on it.  Swear.  So in the spirit of today's most likely annoyingly positive blog that no doubt has you punching the air and/or fist-pumping for your good buddy Rob, I'd like to offer a dozen overlooked gems from my collection by a dozen of my favorite dozen bands/artists.  These are songs that aren't singles, aren't generally that well known, and will never be on a "best of" collection of theirs.  But they're songs I appreciate and try not to neglect remembering.  So don't forget how much you love me and this blog.  And I won't forget that there's a good life somewhere down the road.  Somewhere.  In the general area.  I heard from a guy who knows a guy that something relatively decent is waiting out there for me.  And you.  In all likelihood.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Playlist of the Week: Reconsiderationing

They tell you it's important not to just hear, but to listen.  So I became a better listener.  Then, when I listened better, I wondered if I was actually hearing correctly...

Such has been a cycle in my life.  And a worrisome one at that.  I mean, your predicament goes from being one of mental laziness to an outright potential physical disability and then finally to a case of you just actually being an idiot.  It plagues our relationships, it plagues our professional work, and it can certainly plague our music listening experience--especially if you get to that third stage and realize that what you thought you were enjoying in the lyrics or what you thought it was envoking was all wrong to begin with.

Maybe "wrong" isn't really the word.  Something about music goes beyond the words to make you feel what you feel.  I mean, I never really knew the correct words to Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" when I was a kid, but I still feel approximately the same thing after having learned the actual lyrics that I felt then.  Which is pretty much a combination of Voltron and a bald eagle soaring through the sky.

But there's still just that part of you that feels like a bit of a fraud when you find out that either A) as was aforementioned, you had been completely wrong about the words to a song you love or B) the song's ACTUAL meaning was quite different than the ASSIGNED meaning you had given it when you were saying to yourself, "Yeah man!  This is an exact reflection of MY situation and MY heartbreak and MY longing and MY desire and--you know--pretty much the song I'd write and sing to everyone right now--especially her--if I had, you know, any musical and/or songwriting ability!"  And that's why for some of us, it goes beyond an appreciation of music or even a conventional love of it.  These people are my personal conveyors of truth in a world where I am unable to shout it myself from a mountain top!  Yes Baby, Neil Diamond says the sweet clean words of my soul that I just can't quite get out of that stupid gut of mine.  You're welcome.

So when you find out you were wrong, it makes you question whether any of your sentiment was valid or that important in the first place.  The first song on this week's playlist is a beautiful love song by the criminally underrated and currently on indefinite hiatus Phantom Planet called "By the Bed" which falls tragically in to this category for me.  The song contains a dialogue between a man and a woman about their relationship.  The man who finds himself holding on for dear life and unable to let go.  The woman who responds with an unequivocal rebuff to these pleas that "there are things we cannot save, no matter how hard we try".  Now as you can imagine, I've FELT this song.  I've lived it.  I've cringed and screamed the lyrics while driving aimlessly through the overcast city.  We all have songs like that for us, right?

Well today while doing a little research for my blog (since I had already decided this song was going to top my newest playlist), I watched a video where Phantom Planet's lead singer and the writer of this song, Alex Greenwald, told an audience before playing it that this was a song about an interaction with his dying grandmother.  Umm, ex-squeeze me?  Baking powder?  But this song is part of the greatest hits collection of my perpetual and highly important heartbreak!  Who the HELL do you think you are making this about your grandmother????  Your GRANDMOTHER???  I was in denial like Preston from Can't Hardly Wait when he was told that Barry Manilow's "Mandy" was actually about a beloved pet dog and not about a forlorn lover.

After a bit of pacing around my living room and a couple of re-listens, I calmed down a bit.  I mean, the song was still beautiful, but just slightly different.  And I worry that by even telling you this that you all won't be truly able to truly appreciate the greatness of the song.  But ultimately, the song is still about the same big picture things it's always been about.  Love.  Loss.  The frustration when the other party can't or won't give you a say in the matter.  And whether I'm hearing right or listening intently or doing both, I've figured out that the truth is still the truth.  The music will ultimately mean what we really, really want it to mean.  So I will still reflect on heartbreak that has nothing to do with the death of my grandmother each time I listen because I can and because music affords me that opportunity.  I suppose the most vital thing is that while hearing what we want to hear, we also hear what we really NEED to hear, even if it wasn't necessarily what we were meant to hear.  Having said that, I plan to spend the remainder of my weekend examining the psychological and social implications of Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance".  Good day to you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playlist of the Week: A Dozen Chicks

Because it's fine art, these chicks are classy.  Just like I like 'em.

There's a lot on mind these days.  Like the fact that with every episode of "The Office" watched, I grow sadder with each day we move closer to losing Steve Carrell.  There's work and the knowledge that I should really be in bed right about now since I'll need to depart my place at around 415 AM tomorrow.  There's the mild excitement that while my abs can't be described as a "situation", there's definitely a "mild occurrence" developing somewhere in that area.  Possibly.  And of course, there's women.  One woman. The concept of women.  Lots of women.  My life as it relates or doesn't relate to a woman moving forward and who she is or who she was.  I don't know.  I'm a heterosexual, thirty-one year old man with an improving abdominal "situation" (giggle), a slightly upgraded wardrobe, and a sudden relationship status change.  So.  You know.  Woman.  Women.  Whatever.

Having said all of that, I'm at that stage just before "full rebound" and right after "disorienting sadness" where the obvious next step is to make a playlist of all your favorite songs with a girl's name in the title.  It's science.  I've consulted professionals about this, I assure you.  This method is found in many important books by authors whose names I can't pronounce because they're so brilliant.  So come with me on the continued therapeutic journey toward recovery and love and chicks and inner peace.  By listening.  Carefully.  Lovingly.  Softly.  Like the way chicks do.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Playlist of the Week: Airport Commuter 2

If anyone ever asks you, "But why?"  Just tell them because Rob said so.  It works every time that it does.  And that's a promise.

Live from Louisville, it's Rob!  Me!  Guy who speaks of himself in the third person but yet still paints a touching and lovable figure in the little sparse universe of your heart.  I'm at the airport right now (SDF, for those of you are down with the "codes").  I'm having one of those months where home is wherever I am and it's usually at a gate closest to a power outlet.  I wish that someone could plug me in for a bit because I must admit to dragging a bit.  But in the new world I suddenly find myself in, I have no choice but to forge on and keep moving.  As I am one who does his best to utilize his iPod not only for entertainment, but also as a means of avoiding conversation with overly "friendly" fellow travelers, I choose to listen and listen hard to all that is good at this moment.  And alas, the glorious return of the Playlist of the Week for your edification and my time-filling.  This week is a bit of sad, a bit of happy, a bit of relevant, a bit of random.  Don't read too much in to them, but don't fail to read a little in to them.  I wouldn't want you to think I'm just throwing this all together.  No, no.  I simply care too much about whatever this blog is all about to do something like that.  I'll be coming to an airport near you this month in all likelihood.  Next stop: DFW on the way home to OKC.  Before driving back to Dallas.  You'll just have to trust me on this one.  I can feel your faith.  Think a good or bad thought.  Say a little prayer.  Drop me a line.  But most importantly, find some of this music if it hasn't found you yet.

Song of the Day: "Pobody's Nerfect"
Artist: Wolf Parade
Album: EXPO 86
Lyric of Possible Relevance:

"And sing your songs
Sing them all night baby
If it's out of key well nobody's perfect
And you don't know how to stop it all

You just don't know how to stop it at all 
And you don't know how to stop it 
But morning will turn turn everything back to gold."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Music Humane Society Saturday: "Being There" by Wilco

"I bought this album as a CD in the music section of Borders when I was nineteen.  Which was in the '90s!  Yeah, they used to sell music in round, shiny, disc form in stores," said Rob while stricken with a serious case of "good old days" syndrome.

Artist: Wilco
Year of Release: 1996
For fans of: The blending of rock and country, once referred to as alt-country--this is one of that genre's signature, standard-bearer albums.  Those songs about going home or back to someone and it's never quite the same and all the scars contained therein.  Albums with a mystifying mix of poetic breakup/heartbreak songs and songs that are infectiously fun--that somehow work.

Last night I maintained a stance that often sounds like an accusation.  Three years a generation gap does make.

Me: You claim Arcade Fire is the Radiohead of your generation.
Her: My generation?
Me: Yeah, your generation.  How old are you?
Her: 28.
Me: Yep, definite generation gap.
Her: How old are you?
Me: 31.
Her: Three years?!?  We're in the same generation.
Me: No, we're clearly not.  For me, 1992 was when music got good for me.  To you?  Like five years ago.
Her:  That's not true.  And besides, I love Radiohead!
Me: Sure you do.
Her: I do!  And I don't like Arcade Fire as much as Radiohead, by the way.
Me: Shut up.  I'm on a roll with this argument.

So yeah, that's essentially how that "discussion" went last night with a couple of drinks in me.  But it's true. A generation gap has to occur somewhere along a line of time and there have to be points in history where people only a few years apart are members of different generations.  So I'm planting my flag in this claim, plugging my ears, and saying "Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon!" to any and all critiques of this.  Like a grown-up.  

A prime illustration of this comes with the way that Wilco's great discography is typically judged by fans of these different generations.  If I was a twenty-something growing up in the Pitchfork Media hipster-tainted generation of today where albums create a meaningful impact equal to the amount of time they are trending topics on Twitter, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot--no doubt a fine album with an even better backstory--would be adjudged to be Wilco's pinnacle of artistic achievement.  The album was certainly a testament to the band's conviction and principles in a record industry that lost its way--as well as a collection of abstract, well-crafted, noise-filled gems.  But for those of us who had giant compact disc (I've linked it in case you don't know what that is, kids) collections long before the age of high speed internet and album ratings with a pretentious decimal point, and of course those of us that love Wilco, Being There is still tops.  Wilco's magnum opus is a lush, meticulously-built album full of music made by musicians playing musical instruments.  And while that seems like an insultingly apparent statement, keep in mind today's musical landscape.  It is a statement of purpose and intent--just like the album.  Skilled guitars, pianos, strings, percussion combine with the vocal heartbreak, longing, and hope of a generation both inspired and broken by music to create something more than just a record.  Being There is a sheer, undeniable event reflective of all those moments that define and destroy us all at once.  Listening to this album gives me the same feeling I had watching The Wonder Years.  The moments aren't specifically yours, but yet somehow you've been there and you can touch those times all too easily.  It's not a sad album.  It's not a happy album.  It's not an angry album.  It's not a love album.  It's an album that--just like your life--is all of it and none of it and more of it and less of it and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Don't get me wrong, I celebrate Wilco's entire catalog.  But I think I'm right on this one.  Or I've cleverly used this whole generational argument to make the case that no matter what claim I make, my membership in a particular group correctly guides and directs an opinion that--if you disagree with it--you're wrong about because you just don't get it because you're not "in my generation, man".  Either way, I'm a genius.  Maybe a diabolical genius, but a genius nonetheless.  And so is this album.  Get it, says your leader.

MP3 Link: Amazon

Rob's Favorite Song: "What's the World Got In Store"

Lyric of Possible Relevance:

"There's rows and rows of houses
With windows painted blue
With the light from the TV 
Running parallel to you.
But there is no sunken treasure, 
Rumored to be
Wrapped inside my ribs 
In a sea black with ink."--from "Sunken Treasure"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quick Music Jerk: Newly Deerhunted, Twitterjuana, the "Other Show" and more

My mom always told me not to judge a book by it's wild-assed, Marfan Syndrome-having, long freaky limbed cover.  And she was right.  Case in point: Bradford Cox.

1.  So I have arrived very late to the whole Deerhunter party.  For those of you reading this who have been listening to Deerhunter and their twisted genius frontman Bradford Cox for some time, you'll agree with this sentiment.  For those of you who are hearing about Deerhunter for the first time at this very moment, let me assure you that you are ridiculously late to the party and everyone already has a huge head start on the drinking and you'll probably never catch up in time and will be expected to just go ahead and volunteer to be the designated driver.  Knowing that, if you still wish to come along for this ride, then best of luck.  In short, Deerhunter is a really, really good and strong to quite strong four-piece from Atlanta.  Their influences are all over the place, but the most apt description I have for them is a noisier Velvet Underground.  But really, there are a lot of sounds in there and I often feel that most comparisons for most bands don't do them justice.  My dear sweet ex always seemed to think that everyone sounded like The Beatles.  I don't really blame her for that since there's some truth to that statement for about 80% of rock bands.  But it does neither the band nor The Beatles any favors.  And yes, I did hyperlink The Beatles in the highly unlikely case that one of you reading actually doesn't know who The Beatles are.  The Beatles.  Which would be sad on many levels.  And another reason the terrorists want us all dead.  Anyway, their latest album, Halcyon Digest, has absolutely captivated me for reasons I can't fully describe.  It haunts and warms me all at once.  For the longest time I avoided Bradford Cox and Deerhunter because I'd seen his spaced out, unfocused, and spastic interviews, heard about his stream-of-consciousness songwriting style, and seen his general appearance (which sometimes includes wearing old dresses on stage)--and made the general conclusion that his music would be as unfocused of a mess as he is.  Well, I just couldn't be more wrong.  Halcyon Digest is focused, beautiful, unique all while retaining a large measure of adventure.  I'm not calling the guy an idiot savant or something (Cox is actually quite intelligent), but his lyrics and composition retain a measure of order and focused brilliance that you wouldn't have expected if you were judging a book by its cover.  Like I did.  Head hanging.  Shoulders shrugging.  Hey, this is one of those times I'm really glad to be wrong.

[Listen to samples of Halcyon Digest here]

2.  I've decided that one of the primary reasons for my relative laziness which leads to the infrequency of updating this blog has to do with Twitter.  Yes, I'm going to shoot the fish in the barrel that is social networking and blame Twitter.  Having an outlet for my all my random musings about music and life and the injustices of the world takes a bit of the piss out my passion for writing this blog.  But I'm going to really try so very much harder because of how obvious you all make it to me that you need this blog.  You need me.  You need...US.  Also, I believe I may have coined a term for the way Twitter makes me lazy the way that weed makes one lazy--Twitterjuana.  I did one Google search and found nothing matching this term, so I'm claiming it for my own based on my exhaustive and thorough research.  Yes, kids.  My legacy on this earth is coining the phrase "Twitterjuana".  Self-doubt creeping in.  Surely someone has already meshed these together.  I mean hell, the word is a veritable "Brangelina".  It's too obvious right?  Right?  Oh, and my Twitter name is @RobRobRiot if you care to try and follow me.  If you must.  (I'm making a stern face of resigned humility at this very moment.)

3.  I would be remiss for failing to mention the "other" show that was a part of the ballyhooed pre-breakup concert weekend of 2010 that I referenced in my previous entry.  In addition to seeing The National, I had the distinct pleasure the night before of seeing Muse at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  Muse are a relatively big, famous band who regularly play big arenas and headline big festivals and fill said arenas and festivals with big arena and festival rock music.  For such a "big" band, it might come as a surprise that there are only three guys in the band proper.  But these guys play a mean show with heavy drums and guitars that at times border on metal.  The visuals include huge glowing platforms, big screens showing images focused on each member of the band, and a light show guaranteed to cause an epileptic seizure within about 30 seconds--probably to people who don't even have epilepsy.  Yeah, it's that full throttle.  Now this is not to say that they're all hype and visuals and no substance.  I was thoroughly impressed by the songs, the hooks, and the overall presence of these guys.  Muse is the closest thing we have to a modern day Queen out there and I highly encourage you--if you have the means--well let's just say one of their live shows is so very choice.

4.  And finally, thanks to a recommendation by my good friend Lori, I'm listening as I write these words to a band I'd never heard of until today called Here We Go Magic.  So far, so good.  She said I'd be blown away by these guys.  Now let me tell you, it's typically not a great idea to promise anyone they'll be "blown away" by anyone the first time they hear them.  That's sort of like telling a girl that you're really good in the sack before you've ever had a chance to actually, um, "engage".  You better deliver and you probably won't because the bar has been raised a bit higher than what actually matches the reality of your "skills".  Just sayin'. Anyway, these guys are promising.  On first listen, they remind me of a more focused and less abstract version of Ariel Pink--an artist whose most recent release, Before Today, has already cemented a place on my year-end, best-of 2010 list.  I'll be interested to listen more.  And therefore, I can only assume you will be, too.  Just follow all the above words and links to a place called music bliss.  I triple dog dare you.

That's all for now.  I love you all so hard with the fire of a thousand exploding suns flying in to a great, big huge mega-sun.  Yeah.  That much.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Breakup Music: The Soundtrack to the End of an Era

Last concert together: The National at House of Blues in Dallas this past Friday.

There really is no nail in the coffin for a relationship that's just ended quite like opening up Words With Friends on the good ol' iPhone to see that your ex has just resigned the game you were in the middle of playing.  This is especially true of my ultra-competitive ex who has always been quite principled about resigning WWF matches because "you should never quit because you never know what might happen".  Those words hang in the air with a myriad of meanings to me as I begin writing this--as I'm sure a series of flashbacks will begin to hang around my head over the next several weeks and maybe months as I mourn the loss of my relationship.  We were actually playing two games and I was ahead in both (in one for sure, the other I can't remember but I know it was close!), by the way--which for those who know how bad-ass of a WWF player my lovely ex is, they'd know that that's no small feat.  Figures.

But life is all about contingencies and coping mechanisms, right?  That's why I'm suddenly blessing you all with this entry.  That's also why in my oh so "High Fidelity" sort of way, I plan to dive head first in to my record collection.  I'll also pray and I'll also probably have an extra drink or two and then I'll get up and go to work because that's just what you do.  But as it was before, the soundtrack to the end of one era and the beginning of a transitional one is noteworthy to me.  And whether it is noteworthy to any of you isn't really the point.  The point is that when major relationships end for all of us, we all have certain signposts in that wounded little brain of ours--the last place you had dinner together, the last time you kissed, the last 100+ point word you played against them (QUILTED, in case you were wondering).  For me, there are notable music moments I'll always associate with "us"--both in good times and in bad.  These aren't so much the bad times as much as they are the end times (that sounds a bit apocalyptic, eh?).  And this music will always be associated with this time no matter what happens next.  But in the same way that I was able to keep listening to Ryan Adams, Morrissey, and Juliana Hatfield after my ex-fiancee and I broke up, I have no doubt that I'll be able to listen to this music fondly again.  If I believed that great music could be somehow ruined forever for me, it would almost be like saying that a huge part of me was ruined forever.  And I'm not that emo.

Last concert together: The National.  House of Blues, Dallas.  Saturday, October 9th.

This concert came just days after "The Big Fight" and preceded "The Last Fight" of last night.  Wounds were still fresh, but we had both had time to make enough peace to drive to Dallas and make this show.  I credit her, because my initial inclination was to cancel this trip and she insisted we go.  She was right, as she often was, and we went and I'm glad we did.  We both love The National and they didn't disappoint.  They played almost every one of my favorite songs--the sad, beautiful, frustrated songs that are indicative of their catalog.  But also the songs she and I both knew and had heard together so many times.  The songs that bonded us just a bit.  At one point, she leaned over and remarked that The National was the first band she'd heard me play that she was unfamiliar with that she actually liked.  I leaned over and spoke in her ear (since it was pretty loud in there), "You're welcome."  I kissed her on the cheek and at that moment I had hope for us.  It was our last tender moment--but what a great last moment.  A great last concert.  The band finished their encore with an a capella, sing-a-long version of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks".  I felt at that moment that we were all a part of something so unique--that rare feeling of camaraderie where you feel like you're a part of something no one has been or ever will again be a part of.  Magic.  For one night.  I'll store this one away as one of our best moments and will remember it fondly no matter what.  I hope.  I mean, if I can, that shows maturity or something, right?

Last Record I Listened to Before the Breakup: Brighten the Corners by Pavement

This is my favorite Pavement record.  Album opener "Stereo" starts buzzing and blistering and exploding so soon after the needle hits the vinyl and I am suddenly a teenager again.  And it is good.  About the halfway point of side one, she calls and we begin--I believe unbeknownst to us both at the time--"The Last Fight".  I was just about to step in the shower and I almost didn't answer the phone.  But I did.  And such is the way of fate and related things.  This is not to say that we wouldn't have eventually broken up, but it's the little moments like this and all the little decisions you made or didn't make that find a way to nip at your heels as you try to escape all of this madness.  One minute, it's this.  And the next...  You all know what I mean, I think.  "Brighten the Corners" is an amazing album on many levels, but the irony of it being Pavement's last great album before the band collapsed under the weight of internal disagreements, fights, bickering, etc. is not lost on me.  A band responsible for so much good was susceptible to the same mistakes, the same harsh words, the same actions that destroy so many human relationships.  It's sad and a tragedy on some level, but go on we must.  They did.  And I will.  After this weekend, at least.

First Record I Listened to After the Breakup: Girls Can Tell by Spoon

Armed and/or burdened with a night of sleep and a little time to digest it all, I chose this record to listen to around 7 AM this morning.  This is not to say that I gave much thought to the selection of this album at the time.  I was barely awake and I just knew I was looking for one of my "comfort records"--one of those "old standbys" that you listen to because you know it and it knows you and is like a great friend, a comfortable pair of shoes, or your favorite single malt scotch that warms your chest and might be a good idea or a bad idea depending on what time of day you decide to drink because you're not an alcoholic and you don't want to fall in to using liquor as a primary coping device--but I digress.  As I listened to it and took that shower I never ended up taking yesterday because I was too busy answering a certain phone call and dealing with the aftermath, a realization related to the aforementioned "Brighten the Corners" came to me.  Just as that album represented the last great moments of a band barreling down the path of dissolution, "Girls Can Tell" was Spoon's first truly great album--their third album and the one that solidified them as a band and as a unit capable of doing great things.  It took some time, but they found greatness in their work and ran with it.  And I can, nay must, believe the same thing for myself.  And I'm not talking about finding some great girl.  My ex IS a great girl, but like many things in life it apparently wasn't meant to be.  No, I'm talking about putting it all (back) together and coming out stronger and moving on and moving forward, and blah blah, etc.  And today isn't really the day to ask me why that's important or what I envision moving forward in my life.  I just know there's no other choice but to move on.  

For me, I have faith God is watching out for me.  I have the same faith that my friends and family are there.  And for these reasons, I am truly blessed.  For all of you, it may be the same or something different based on your perspective.  Either way, the music will prompt thought, reflection, relief, and release.  It'll always be there in the background.  Another one of those constants I don't have to reach too high to grasp.  It's one of the things I can count on.  And most of us don't count too high when it comes to the number of things we can count on.  As Morrissey once said, "There is a light that never goes out."  Mine's a little low, but it is still lit.  It is still lit.