Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 4: No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones

Michelle Branch - The Spirit Room
Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper
(I actually feel kind of bad for Michelle Branch. Her sound, while not the most original, was lifted by people like Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift, all of whom have had better careers than her. And to this day her most popular work is probably those collaborations with Carlos Santana. Not the best way to be remembered. I prefer to remember her as the bridge between the Britney/boy band era (which was still going strong at the time of her debut) and the rise of American Idol's brand of mainstream pop/rock. You can still hear traces of both styles in her songs.)

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (Good wintertime album. Hard to listen to because Conor Oberst sings on it. He's one of those guys. Also, he wants to be Dylan so bad it hurts.)
Butthole Surfers - Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP
Butthole Surfers - Rembrandt Pussyhorse
Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician
Butthole Surfers - Widowermaker EP
Butthole Surfers - The Hole Truth And Nothing Butt
(They toiled in the underground for years and put out albums of weird, psychedelic, trashy noise, influencing bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and The Melvins. But still they're best known as the one-hit wonder behind that "pouring like an avalanche coming down a mountain" song. If you have any taste at all for weirdness in music, check out that early stuff. It's like the music of cackling love demons.)

The Cars - Greatest Hits (Like Tom Petty, The Police, Talking Heads and others, I appreciate the hit singles of The Cars but never feel compelled to delve any deeper into their discography. Maybe I will someday though.)
Cave In - Antenna
Cave In - Perfect Pitch Black
(I love this band. Please listen to them. They started as a screaming heavy metal group, transformed into heavy space rock, and now they're some combination of both and yet neither at the same time. They were awesome when I saw them live, too.)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Lyre of Orpheus
(Nick Cave is a badass. He doesn't need any damn youtubes.)
Clair De Lune - Marionettes
(Not many hard rock bands past the 1980s have attempted to make piano/keyboards an integral part of their sound. There was Faith No More, and Faith No More. And then there was Clair De Lune, who debuted with this album in 2004, displaying a flair for intricate songwriting, dramatic dual vocals and rocking as hard as possible. It was my favorite album of the year at the time, but these days I don't listen to music that's this dark and angry so often. Still, they were just about the best post-hardcore band around until they broke up a few years back. Wish they had been more popular, or at least lasted longer.)

The Clash - Give Em Enough Rope
The Clash - London Calling
The Clash - Combat Rock
The Clash - Super Black Market Clash
(If any band could work as a one-word summary of all the music I've ever been into, it would be the Clash. They're punk, but they're also classic rock, and yet they were somehow "alternative" and "indie" before those terms existed. They were also "the only band that matters", dabbling in reggae, pop, funk and rap. Above all else, they were ambitious to the point of trying to be all things to all people in every nation. Whether they failed or succeeded is beside the point. The point is they were never content to be a little band making music in one genre -- and my philosophy of music is that no one should ever be.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party like it's 2007

2007 was the best year for music and film in recent memory. In 2007, these came out:

No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Lookout

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Battles - Mirrored
The Austerity Program - Black Madonna
Yea Big & Kid Static - s/t
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
Wu-tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
Nina Nastasia & Jim White - You Follow Me
Dälek - Abandoned Language
Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals

Plus on TV, there were the premieres of Mad Men (thus paving the way for Breaking Bad and the makeover of AMC as a powerhouse of critically-acclaimed drama series), Pushing Daisies (which had characters doing musical numbers well before Glee) and Burn Notice (the best post-24 action series and the template for a new genre: the "expert helps out regular people" show).

I don't have top ten from any other year that can touch those in terms of quality, diversity, or cultural significance. And I doubt we'll see another year like this anytime soon.

This year, for example, I can't even scrape together a top 5 of movies I've seen so far. I liked Inception and... what else has there been? Music? I'd rather not talk about it. This decade is not off to the most promising start.

But maybe I'm holding it to too high a standard. Not every year can be like 2007. And maybe I'm even wrong about that. Has there been a better year that I'm totally forgetting?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 3: The Botch Boys

The Beach Boys - Sounds Of Summer (I always think I like The Beach Boys more than I actually do. I mean, how can you not like them? They're The Beach Boys! They're the band that might have introduced me to rock n' roll; I've liked them since I was 6 years old. And they're arguably the greatest American band of their era. In spite of all this, I rarely get the urge to listen to them and haven't bothered to hear much besides this and Pet Sounds. There's something a little too wholesome about them for me. It reeks of skeletons in closets and forced innocence caused by repression. But every now and then I'm in just the right mood for that.)

Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk
(a band from Michigan that broke up a few years ago. They had a nice aggressive sound that was somewhere between mainstream and underground rock, which is a niche that I feel not enough bands fit into.)

The Beastie Boys - License To Ill
The Beastie Boys - Anthology: The Sounds Of Science (Was License to Ill truly a groundbreaking rap record or were The Beastie Boys just a bunch of idiots who got lucky because they right place right-timed it? And did they push the genre into new and exciting places, or are they ultimately to blame for the "rap-rock" era and the rise of a thousand Linkin Parks and ICPs? I'll leave that for other people to debate while I go put "Sabotage" on repeat.)

Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
(I first heard of B&S in the mid-90s, but I only heard this album for the first time five years ago. Just as well. If I'd heard it at the time, I would've thought "this music is way too wimpy for me". Without knowing it, what I'd mean is "I really like this, but I'm afraid admitting it will make me feel effeminate or even homosexual in some way, because apparently my grasp of masculinity is so shaky it feels threatened by enjoyment of the wrong type of music." Anyway this album is good. I have this and Boy With The Arab Strap. Remind me to hear more stuff by this band sometime.)

Benton Falls - Fighting Starlight
Benton Falls - Guilt Beats Hate
(Band from Santa Rosa, California that released two records on the Deep Elm label before disbanding. The first album is sad and slow, with heavy emphasis on dual guitar arpeggios. The second is still sad, but rocks harder and with more thought put into the arrangements. Sounds like they consciously tried to become a more dynamic group, but couldn't escape the sadness. I hate to overuse a word, but their singer has probably the saddest-sounding voice I've ever heard. He sounds like a guy who's never smiled in his life. That is dedication.)

Black Eyes - Cough (Black Eyes' best songs sound like a cross between Ornette Coleman and a kitten being set on fire. Two singers, one just talks and the other screams in an insane high-pitched voice while the band plays this weird jazzy, African-sounding music behind them. If you're in the mood, the effect is rather awesome. But if you're not, it's just a headache-inducing mess. Speaking of headaches...)
The Blood Brothers - This Adultery Is Ripe

The Blood Brothers - March On Electric Children
The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn
The Blood Brothers - Crimes
The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes (Of all the bands that started off as a standard hardcore/screaming outfit and gradually began to incorporate more diverse influences, Seattle group The Blood Brothers were the wildest. With their youthful voices and freewheeling approach to structure, their songs often evoked images of children screaming for more cotton candy at a carnival. They made one album too many and began to feel redundant near the end, but at their best no band was more fun in a "laughing as the world burns" sort of way.)

Botch - American Nervoso

Botch - We Are The Romans (Another Seattle band, often cited as a forerunner to all the "experimental heavy" groups that materialized after they broke up in 2002. Their members ended up in lesser bands like Minus The Bear and These Arms Are Snakes. Botch gets a little too much credit for their contribution to the genre. Sure, it's a sound that plenty of bands have borrowed, but that doesn't mean it was any more adventurous than what similar bands were doing at the time. In the early days of Youtube I used to search for videos of this band and mostly all I could find were terrible live recordings. Isn't it great how far we've come since then?)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 2

Alice In Chains - Dirt
Alice In Chains - Jar Of Flies (One of the best bands of the 90s and also one of the most disappointing. I wasn't into them at the time because I used to not like slow rock music. Basically I couldn't appreciate this sort of stuff until I started getting high. Some bands take drugs and make great music. Some bands take drugs, flame out way faster than they should and fail to live up to their potential. Then years later they re-form with a new singer after their old one dies and I don't listen to them.)

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Source Tags And Codes
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - The Secret Of Elena's Tomb
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart (Source Tags And Codes got a 10.0 rating from Pitchfork, aka the only relevant music publication left. Unfortunately, this was in 2002, before they became the taste-dictating juggernaut that they are today, so the band never got as popular as they should've.
But maybe they never would have been hugely successful anyway. There is an audience for this type of epic, emotional, and artsy rock music, but that doesn't mean it was ever going to be a mainstream one. It doesn't matter much at this point -- they have their sound and they have their fans, and anyone who's still a fan of theirs at this point will probably remain one.)

Another Statistic - 4 song demo (band from Provo that broke up a few years ago. They had a cool, sorta spacey sound, boy/girl dual vocals, and they rocked pretty hard. That's all I really know about them. Here's their myspace.

At The Drive-In - Relationship Of Command (I also have Vaya on CD, but my computer wasn't reading it, so it will remain un-backed-up. Anyway I used to be really into this band, but today their music sounds melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness. It's not that the music sounds any worse -- it's still heavy, melodic and energetic -- I just don't connect with it the way I used to. I'm 27. This is young person music. Nothing wrong with that, but still.)

The Austerity Program - Black Madonna (This band consists of two guys and a drum machine playing long, very technically structured songs that sometimes feature vocals. They seem to have a thing for economics, given their name and the slogan on their Web site -- "Too Big To Fail", long before those words became a cliche because of 2008's tremendous financial disaster. Listening to them is like turning the crank on an evil toy Jack-in-the-box, hearing the buildup music go around and around until suddenly, a riff pops out (or not). None of the songs from this album are on Youtube, so here's their myspace.

Bad Religion - Suffer (I loved this band when I was 15, when I was at the height of my punk phase. This album still kicks pretty hard, because the songs are mostly shorter than 2 minutes and the melodies are superfun to sing.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Back-up Plan

(picture a giant stack of CDs here)
Today marks day one of the most arduous and difficult task of my adult life -- beginning the process of backing up my entire CD collection (and Wendy's) on my external hard drive.

There's a couple of reasons I've been putting it off. Most of the music I care about is on the hard drive already. Plus I suspect that the only reason Wendy has been getting on me to do this for so long is because she secretly wants to throw all of our CDs in the trash. I'm a little more sentimental than that.

But mostly I guess I was reluctant to start doing this because it's going to force me to take stock. To take a long, hard look at every CD I've managed to hold onto over the years, whether bought, gifted, borrowed, or acquired through any other free-and-totally-not-illegal means. Some of this stuff I haven't listened to in years. I don't even know if it's worth backing up.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to do this. Wendy and I came up with these:

1. Makes it easier to share music. Someone wants something or we have a recommendation, just plug it in and drag the files over.
2. Makes it much easier to create mix CDs for the car. Wendy and I are both pretty OCD about these (a mix has to be just right or the whole thing will suck), so it makes sense to at least have a comprehensive foundation to work with.
3. One day maybe all CD players will vanish off the face of the earth.
4. Adding/deleting music from mp3 players becomes much easier.

It's that last reason that gave me the motivation to start doing this, and strangely, it was brought on by the fact that I've been listening to music on my Juke more often. I don't use the Juke as my phone anymore, but now I get more fun out of using it more as a music player than I ever did using it as a phone.

See, my iPod is 30 gigs(in reality, more like 24.70 worth of music files). It has most of the music I love. But because of that, there's no room to add anything else. It's got to the point where adding/deleting stuff becomes like cutting off one of my fingers to graft on a talon. Sure, the talon might be fearsome, but I might get sick of it and want the finger back eventually.

But having a 30 gig iPod, along with a 2 gig Juke is the ideal situation. I never have to change anything on my iPod again, and I can use the Juke to rotate music that I'm currently into as well as new music that I might even grow to love one day. Everybody wins.

Doesn't make this task any easier. While I'm doing this, I plan on logging some of my impression and experiences about the music I'm archiving, so you can all get a feel for why I never wanted to do this in the first place. For example, here's what I backed up this morning:

AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
AC/DC - Highway to Hell (if you have two AC/DC albums, you have two too many. They have some great radio hits and funny songs like "Big Balls", but to call their music one-dimensional is an insult to bands that have a dimension.)
Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth (I'm not really sure why I have this. I think I burned it to CD so I could delete it off my iPod or something)
Air Miami - Me. Me. Me. (I still like this album a lot. Check out a couple tracks from it below)

Alice Donut - Mule (This album is OK. I used to think it was a lot better than it was)

This could turn out to be a fruitful blog series or it could be something I tire of and abandon in a week. Either way, I know you guys will stick with me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why is he your favorite author?

Wendy asked me this question earlier today. I admit I never thought about it much before. I just thought it was enough that when I read Kafka, I know I am enjoying myself more than when I'm reading any other author.

But maybe it's not enough. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes I was able to come up with these reasons:

- I find his philosophy (that life is a series of obstacles with death as the ultimate goal) incredibly resonant and human
- His prose is neither overwritten nor underwritten, but just in between; exactly in the golden medium where all writing should be
- His stuff is funny (David Foster Wallace explains this better than I could in this essay
- He writes stories with messages, but never forces them on the reader; you're allowed to read into it whatever you want, or just take the story at face value

That was the best I could do. I could also throw out these reasons:

- His opening sentences are always strong and hook you right away
- His ability to find humor in futility is inspiring in a weird way
- His plots are totally original (for their time)
- The entire point of his writing is that life has no meaning except for what we create for ourselves; I agree with this
- He only wrote three unfinished novels and a bunch of short stories, making his catalog accessible and easy to collect
- His style (mundane presentation of extraordinary circumstances) was postmodern before there was that term
- The fact that he only wrote part-time and held down a crappy job until he died (despite being one of the most influential writers of the 20th century) fills me with respect, fear and hope

None of that seems to matter to me. All that matters is I know I can pick up The Judgment or The Trial or The Castle any time and be amused, astonished and disturbed all at the same time.

What are your reasons for holding one author in the highest esteem? Why is your favorite author your favorite author?