Friday, June 24, 2005

Heyah! Heyah! You forgot something!

Ok, so most people who are vaguely interested in 'Top 100' lists for music know that Spin has released their 'Top 100 albums from 1985 - current.' Here's the link for the news story:

If you don't want to visit the link, Radiohead is atop with their masterpiece OK Computer (no argument there). In fact... I think I'm going to listen to that right now... Anyway, Number 2 is Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. There are some albums that were not included in favor of other albums from the same artist (e.g. The Bends was excluded in favor of the polarizing Kid A) and some omissions were borderline criminal (see list below).

Spin put out their 'best of the 1990s' list a few years ago and a few of the albums that were on the list are now in very different positions. For example, PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love was way the hell up at number three in the 'best of '90s' list, but it languishes in the lower half of the most current list. Rid of Me is now in the top ten. Some of the albums in this list are very, very good, but still - Elastica's self-titled album, D'Angelo's Voodoo, Cornershop's When I was Born... and Weezer's Pinkerton pale in comparison to these selections:

U2 The Joshua Tree
A bummer this wasn't included. However, at least All That You Can't Leave Behind was also excluded. This album helped bring in a much-needed air of legitimacy to mainstream '80s music.

Radiohead The Bends
Yes, OK Computer was a better album. But The Bends remains Radiohead's best 'front to back' listen. Yes, Kid A was more experimental and arguably more influential, but The Bend's exclusion is inexcusable.

Massive Attack Blue Lines and Mezzanine
Hard to believe that Portishead and Tricky landed on this list, but the pioneers of the trip-hop genre get left out. Mezzanine was the better album. Blue Lines helped usher in the genre. BOTH needed to be included.

The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin
In the tone of a teenager in a bad sitcom: "Were lobotomies like totally passed out when I was gone?"

Tori Amos Under the Pink
A tossup between this and Little Earthquakes. Tori Amos almost single-handedly redefined the singer/songwriter album for the '90s and today.

Tool Aenima
Aside from its relentless quality, this album made metal accessible once again to book-reading intellects.

Other dumb omissions:

Bob Dylan Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft - Old people made music too during this time.

Johnny Cash American Recordings - See above. It's hard to compare, but it's hella better than the White Stripes White Blood Cells (which I am a great fan of).

The Verve Urban Hymns - As long as we're including Oasis and Blur, this album definitely ranks up with Parklife and Definitely Maybe.

Modest Mouse The Moon and Antarctica - It's as good as the album that was included in the list (The Lonesome Crowded West) - meaning it's amazing enough to be in the Top 10 list.

Garbage - Their self-titled album is a pop album for the ages.

Albums that are my favorite, but I know Spin would never include, so I know better than to ask...

Morphine Cure for Pain

The Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Sessions

Rancid ... And Out Come the Wolves

Neko Case Blackisted

Current Listening Selections

Wilco - Summerteeth

Radiohead - OK Computer

Cowboy Bebop - mix CD

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

At least that's what I said - Wilco and the Roots - Red Rocks, June 17, 2005

The pairing of The Roots and Wilco seemed both horribly mismatched and totally right at the same time. The prospect of seeing Wilco live almost made me throw down the cash to see them at Red Rocks. But the inclusion of the Roots made the show one of those shows you have to see, regardless of funds, vacation days available or transportation issues. The last time I saw a show at Red Rocks was 1995, where I saw Pearl Jam and Bad Religion. Trekking up the steep incline and seeing the huge, sloping sandy maroon rocks brought back a flood of nostalgia ... which was automatically broken by seeing the $6 price tag for Coors.

The crowd was mercifully light on the hipster side. The only people with horned-rimmed glasses were people who actually needed glasses. No trucker hats. No tongue-in-cheek heavy metal Dokken or Def Leppard t-shirts. The only presence that was ample was the throngs of pretty and fit girls and guys, which my female traveling cohort pointed out. However, with respect to the folks near the Red Rocks area, when you're surrounded by mountains, trails and altitude, you're going to get a workout whether you like it or not.

The Roots was the first band to take the stage. Things Fall Apart and their latest, most straightforward album, The Tipping Point are pure hip-hop albums, but as a live unit, The Roots turn into a rock/rap/jam/R&B party band. The addition of guitar god Vernon Reid could have been a misguided match (think Dave Navarro in the Red Hot Chili Peppers), but Reid's style fused perfectly with The Roots.

The only issue I had with the Roots performance (aside from brevity) was the heavy emphasis on covers. Sure, I loved hearing the Roots do a slamming cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" (a perfect vehicle for ?uestlove, one of the finest drummers in rock today), but the inclusion of a few other covers meant less time to hear material from Phrenology and Illadelph Halflife.

Wilco came on stage and began their first 'instant concert highlight' with "A Shot in the Arm." Jeff Tweedy looked out and commented about the amazing breeze he was feeling and how he couldn't believe they were playing in Red Rocks. After the affirming "Shot in the Arm," he went on to the more morose "Handshake Drugs," which he dedicated to his sister during a concert last year.

The setlist focused primarily from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, however, old-school fans were treated to a liberal helping of tunes from Being There during the encores. Even tunes from their Billy Bragg recording sessions made it into their set (however, crowd favorite "California Stars" was not included).

Judging by Tweedy's notorious perfectionist leanings and volatile temperament, Wilco's lineup will always be as stable as the tech market for graduating seniors. However, after seeing Wilco's performance Friday, you hope that the lineup will remain the same at least for another album or two. Drummer Glenn Kotche showed a genuine glee banging away to "I'm a Wheel" and "At Least That's What You Say." Fairly-new Nels Cline also fit in perfectly, at times looking like a grizzled Bob Dylan (circa era 1997). Tweedy's mood seemed to change throughout the show. Some tunes he sang with an infectious grin, affably looking over toward his fellow bandmates. Other times, he just seemed slightly bored. But still, it's a job, and after performing a few hundred shows, you're going to run into a few moments of boredom from show to show.

Wilco closed the set with "Spiders," perhaps the only song that really worked the crowd into a pogo-stomping frenzy. Around this time, the smell of pot - be it skunky, generic or sweet - was as prevalent as the fresh Colorado air. Wilco took the stage and began to play the opening bars of "Misunderstood," which at least a fifth of the crowd sang along with half-drunk heartfelt affirmation. The second encore, Tweedy and company looked like they didn't want to leave. Tweedy joked that he wanted to play a ton of more stuff. By the time the band came on for the second encore, about a tenth of the crowd had already began making tracks to the exits in hopes of avoiding traffic.

The show was worth the nine-hour trek. The only thing I was hoping for was a joint encore that would have brought The Roots back on stage. Wilco's live shows have been compared with jam-heavy bands such as the Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic. However, Wilco's focus rarely allowed them to go into extended jams and noodling. What Wilco's live set accomplishes, like Radiohead's live shows, is that it brings an organic warmth to some of their more sterile and perceived standoffish albums. It's enough to make a bookish techo geek reach for a bic lighter.

Current listening selections:

Wilco - A Ghost is Born

Prince - Sign O' The Times

Yo La Tengo - Prisoners of Love

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jackson verdict and in defense of Reality TV

If you want to know why the verdict voted the way they did for the Micahel Jackson trial - check out Slate's assessment at:

The trial was said to have been the most-covered trial in history. I had a good talk with my roommate about this. It didn't seem possible, the OJ trial still seems like the "Trial to end all trials" in terms of media circus. It was the trial was able to spawn full-blown cable channels, devoting 24-hour coverage. It was the trial that most Americans could remember where they were when they were watching "the chase" in the white Bronco. The OJ trial made Jackson's trial seem almost subdued by comparison. However, my roommate pointed out that in terms of coverage, it was probably the international coverage that made it the most-covered trial of all time.

On to topic 2 - In Defense of Reality TV

Just watched Fox's Hell's Kitchen last night. For those who don't know, it's a reality TV series that features about a dozen-or-so aspiring chefs trying to win the respect of acclaimed, renowned asshole chef Gordon Ramsay and win their own restaurant. Like many series, it's lifted from a previously UK series. The series is amusing, derivative and ... fun.

Reality TV has been routinely bashed for its exploitive nature. It's also been bashed for pushing a lot of television writers out of business as networks turn to cheap reality TV instead of investing time and energy into creating scripted sitcoms and dramas. For awhile, it looked like TV was going to turn into "all reality, all the time," but shows like 24, Lost, Arrested Development and Desperate Housewives show that there will always be a place for writers (even though Arrested Development always seems on the verge of cancellation).

Truth be told, the criticisms facing reality TV are the same criticisms that faced TV in general when the medium first emerged: it panders to the lowest common denominator, it contributes to the "dumbing down" of our culture and it's vastly inferior to other artistic expressions. I remember Chevy Chase bashing television on "Politically Incorrect" - but seriously, I would find more humor in an episode of The X-Files (seasons 2-5), Seinfeld or Arrested Development than anything Chevy Chase has done on the big screen in the past 20 years. Those who say books are better than television are right (to a point) - in general, they do force the audience to use their imagination. But the writing and storylines in shows like The Sopranos, Lost and The Wire are just as good as the best books that came out last year - and are vastly superior to approximately 90 percent of the stuff published.

And in terms of reality TV, shows like The Amazing Race and Hell's Kitchen are more entertaining than most scripted sitcoms and dramas out there. Given the choice of According to Jim or Hell's Kitchen, I'm going to Hell, no question.

Hell's Kitchen represents the best of reality TV (just like the first season of The Apprentice and the best seasons of Survivor): compelling characters and an interesting premise. Just as business classes in college showed episodes of the first season of The Apprentice, Hell's Kitchen serves as a great primer for people who are thinking of going into a field that they don't know much about (other than the way it's romanticized in TV shows, books and plays). It also teaches you some fundamental lessons about the work world, namely:
  • as much as your boss may deserve to be told to "f**k off", it's almost never a good idea.
  • never, never leave a hot cookie sheet out in a work area filled with chaos
  • don't take criticism personally, especially when you're doing something that you're passionate about (e.g. cooking, writing)

Current listening selections

Beck - Guero

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground and Neko

Bob Dylan - Love and Theft

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mid-year report

I'm a few days out from seeing Wilco and The Roots at Red Rocks. Looking forward to that show.

So - mid-June is here and that means it's time to do a brief rundown of the new releases and see what are the standouts. Lots of stuff has come out: The Chemical Brothers, Tori Amos, Bruce Springsteen, Garbage, System of a Down, Oasis, Nine Inch Nails and Beck are a few that come to mind. Bright Eyes released a great album that is destined for my 'Top 5' with I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning. The Eels's double-album will most likely grow on me.

As someone who came of age in the '90s - I obviously have a soft spot for the '90s artist on this list and want each of these artists to succeed. But seriously... I haven't been too pleased with what I've heard. Tori Amos's The Beekeeper suffered from the same ailments of Scarlet's Walk - too long and forgettable lyrics. Nine Inch Nails came up with the most annoying chorus of the year for the title track "With-a-teeth-AH." And after reading about all of the studio hell Garbage endured, you have this feeling that the band is just waiting for this tour to finish so they can pack it in and move on. Oasis's Don't Believe the Truth is actually an entertaining release, depending on whether or not you can spot all of the riffs they ripped off from other bands. Still, just by listening to the interviews, I have come to the conclusion that music currently NEEDS personalities like Liam and Noel Gallagher. Actually, the only work from a '90s artist that I'm really impressed with so far this year is Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm.

System of a Down's Mezmerize is weird, even for System of a Down, but it lives up to the title and makes me really curious for their next album.

Listening Selections
Prince - The Hits (Part II)
Green Day - International Superhits
Paul Westerberg - Stereo
The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

And we were all yellow...

So now, Deep Throat is out and the political pundits are out in full force. Some range from ludicrous (G. Gordon Liddy and Pat Buchanan obvious have a thing against Woodward and Bernstein and they've pretty much painted them as traitors). Some critics have said the work of two self-serving journalists led to the downfall of Nixon's progressive agenda toward China. The more level-headed critics have decried that ever since Watergate, there has been impeachment fever for every president that has been in office.

Some media pundits have worried that Woodard and Bernstein have made a generation of attack dog journalists who value the scoop above all else and who yearn to be the one who brings down people of power. These folks wish journalism would return to the pre-Woodard and Bernstein world. Obviously, they've never heard of muckrakers - those journalists in the 20s and 30s whose desire to expose corruption was their fuel. In this time, if journalists couldn't dig up something, they would make something up - hence yellow journalism. You can say that journalism has declined, that reporters are lazy in the age of the Internet as opposed to when you had to rely more on good old-fashion footwork, but in virtually all of the major journalistic institutions, that yellow journalism crap would not fly today in the age of fact checkers, fear of libel and a more-informed public. So, in short - even with the problems of anonymous sources, bias and lazy reporting, the media is far more reliable now than the glory days some critics wish journalism would venture.

Lighter topic - Neko Case at Sokol Underground...

The cool basement of Sokol auditorium in Omaha was a haven from the wall of humidity that has settled for the past week. My roommate let out a few sneezes on the way to the show "12 hours into my f*$&ing 24-hour Claritin." Both he and co-concertgoer Trac grumbled about the 9 p.m. show (with all due credit, all of us had to work early).

Still, Neko Case is one artist that you gladly sacrifice sleep for - without question. The crowd initially was made up of a lot of aging hippies and Gen-Xers. It was a nice contrast to the Shins, where you were awash in ironic t-shirts. These folks didn't give a crap about how they looked - polo shirts, untucked generic striped shirts. Heck, one girl I saw had a Penn State t-shirt on, jeans and a clip that had at least 20 keys jangling from her waist.

After Low Skies performed their set to a polite reception (think Jeff Buckley's band backed by the Verve's Richard Ashcroft with a blown vocal cord), Neko Case's band took the stage. The girl with the Penn State t-shirt politely weaved her way through the crowd, climbed up on stage and began tuning her guitar. Internally, I was banging my head against the wall - I'm way too shy to be a stalker, but I definitely wanted to have a 'fan moment' where I thanked her for making one of the best albums of the decade (Blacklisted) and thank her for capturing the generic vibe and loneliness of Tucson (where she recorded Blacklisted and is recording her next album).

For fans who have not seen Neko Case live, her vocal translation from studio to live is virtually identical. Her voice (think Patsy Cline signing at a piano bar designed by David Lynch) is one of those few voices currently in rock that shocks you with its openness and power. She is one artist that you will not confuse with any other artist when you hear a song by her on the radio.
Case's set focused heavily from her latest live album, The Tigers Have Spoken. The album is a mix of Case's original alt-country/lounge/rock style ("If You Knew") and some extremely smart covers (Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Soulful Shade of Blue"). In the course of the show, Case stopped to tune her guitars (two acoustics, one electric). While she was tuning her guitar, her crowd banter was easygoing and never forced. The sometimes off-key acoustics from her supporting band gave the show an informal charm. However, you can tell Case is a perfectionist; at the end of virtually every song, she kindly instructed her soundman where to tone down the volume and where to add more and less reverb (other than the poser rock star move of raising a thumb up or down and mouthing 'can we get more?').

In addition to fan favorites ("Blacklisted", "Deep Red Bells", "Set Out Running"), Case tried out some new songs and rewarded the crowd of about 500 with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain."

Throughout the show, she tousled and occasionally tied back her hair. Some may see that as a nervous tic, but her laser-focused gaze toward the audience and her dead-on hit of every note shows a confidence that has come from years of hitting the road with various rock, country and even punk backup bands.

The fans, for the most part, let Case and her band play whatever the hell they wanted. There was an occasional cry for her cover of Aretha Franklin's "Running out of Fools" (sort of rude by the concertgoer, but who can blame her?), but Case politely dismissed the request, saying the band hadn't rehearsed that song.

The set clocked in at a little more than an hour-and-a-half. She closed with "Furnace Room Lullaby" and said her band would be available to meet the audience and to sell stuff after the show because the sales were needed to fuel their vans. The show may have been low-key, but Case packed a punch that left you hoping she would come back and perform at the small venue of Sokol Underground, even though you hope enough people catch on to her to fill a much larger venue.

Final Topic (thanks for those who have made it this far) - No one likes Coldplay

Coldplay's new one comes out today. No one likes it - it's either a masterpiece or a calculated, harmless piece of hokum.

Paste Magazine says it's a masterpiece:

Pitchfork Magazine says it's harmless: (altho Pitchfork wear their elitism like a badge of honor)

Rolling Stone plays the middle ground, but still give it three stars (which is like a 3.0 out of 10.0 for any other magazine).

I'm curious as to the folks who criticize the band for its broad lyrics. Some of the best blues lyrics are simple variations as "now you're gone." Hell, even critical favorite Joy Division's typical line was something like "Where will it end?" Not that I'm ranking Coldplay up with Buddy Guy, Son Seals or Joy Division. Just saying...

Others fault the band for its ambition. However, if you have the skills, ambition is not something that I usually dog. It was far more fun to make fun of overly-ambitions bands of the '90s like Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis than earnest folks like Dave Matthews and Hootie and the Blowfish. Be it Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Beck or Outkast, it's far more riskier to aim high and try to record that "album of the decade." For that, I have to side with the Coldplay supporters. I'll be in line picking up X&Y - even though I haven't heard a note of it.

It's funny that Coldplay is coming out with its opus the same day as the White Stripes come out with Get Behind Me Satan. Some critics are pitting this as the battle of the overly-earnest, studio-shined wizardry of Coldplay verses the scrappy, low-fi stomp of the White Stripes. The problem is that the White Stripes overly earnestness is just as calculated as Coldplay's ambitions.

Current listening selections:

Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken

Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Leaks and the incredibly shrinking newspaper

So - it was W. Mark Felt who was the famous "deep throat." In the journalism world, I'm sure this news is slightly bittersweet because arguably the most famously-kept secret in journalism history is now revealed. It's sort of like Carly Simon finally revealing the subject of the song "You're So Vain" - when the secret's out, it's typically anticlimactic.

Felt's revelation comes as leaks are being attacked by the administration and conservative media. Felt has already been attacked for having an agenda. If you want a good refresher on Felt and his impact, check out MSN's linked Washington Post article. One thing that all administrations typically do is try to deflect the fact that they engaged in illegal activity by attacking the leak as someone with an agenda. For Felt, it could have been the fact that he was passed over for a position as FBI director when Hoover died (the position went to relative outsider L. Patrick Gray). And just to play fair, Clinton supporters did the same thing with the leak(s) that broke the Lewinsky scandal, which, of course, led to his impeachment.

The fact is that people are generally self-motivated and have an agenda. You're not going to get that many Boy Scouts in 'leak-worthy' positions unless they are motivated by their own agendas. That doesn't discount the fact that wrongdoing occurred. It's also interesting to see that little has been learned from the lessons of Watergate: The tighter the grip on leak suppression, the more leaks generally come out. It's sort of like trying to hold water with your fist.

Topic 2

NPR's "On the Media" did a good story on The Christian Science Monitor. The paper's circulation currently stands at about 60,000. At its peak, its circulation surpassed 200,000. It's a problem that virtually all major newspapers are facing. For most people, it's hard enough to get out of bed, take a shower and make it to work on time without taking an extra 20-30 minutes to browse a newspaper.

Most newspapers realize this and have made their material available online. However, this poses a unique problem... most readers are not too hip on shelling out money for an online subscription. If it's a good article, it's bound to be copied and pasted into an email by a friend. The New York Times is planning to charge its online readers for specific columns. With the Internet approaching 15 years of mass use, it's going to be hard to readjust peoples perceptions that some content comes with a price tag. All I can say is woe to the advertisers who are facing this problem.

For newspapers, this means less revenue from advertisers that are reaching smaller audiences. This means less revenue for reporters, photographers and editors. That means less investigative reporting and local stories. This means more reliance on AP wire.

The good news - newspaper critics said television would kill the newspaper. It didn't. It was a kick in the solar plexus, but they still operated. Coffee houses and bars still need newspapers spread around. You still need newspapers on public transportation to distract you from a long commute. Also, the laptop can never replace the newspaper when it comes to reading the Sports (or comics) section on the throne on a Sunday morning after a night of poor eating and excessive drinking.

Current listening selections:
System of a Down - Mezmerize
Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
REM - Reconstruction of the Fables
The Eels - Bright Lights and Other Revelations