Friday, December 23, 2005


I'd been looking for this album on vinyl for a good year or so. It's hard to find anything good that's popular or desired by hipsters in Chicago because there are so many hipsters in Chicago. But I found out it at Deadwax on Lincoln a couple blocks from where I live. $4.99. I don't know why I don't go there more often. Reckless is fine for CDs, but it's rare I find something I'm looking for on vinyl there. Usually I'll see something that I didn't know I wanted, but they never have anything I'm going in there to find. When I visited Boulder last summer (twice!), I was able to find all sorts of stuff I'd been craving, which was great for my ears but bad for my wallet. What I need to do is to stop in record stores in random towns next time I drive across the country.

Anyway, I thought for $4.99 it might be in bad shape, but it sounds great. The faint hisses and crackles definitely add to this album. I might throw this one in a frame. Sorry, Randy Newman, but your time on my wall has come to a thrilling conclusion.

I also picked up this because it was $1.99:

I haven't listened to it yet, though. But I'll pour myself a glass of red wine one of these nights and DANCE.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Ben's Top 10 Albums of '05

1) Sleater-Kinney - The Woods

I have to put this album at #1 for a few reasons. First, it's the best album of Sleater-Kinney's already stellar career. Second, it shut up a lot of naysayers/made a lot of converts. Third, it was probably the album that I listened to the most this year; and, even after 100 listens, I was still left slack-jawed and grinning (and grinning with a slack-jaw is a very difficult thing). Every strength of Sleater-Kinney was intensified to the 10th degree on this record: the rhapsodic guitar interplay between Corin and Carrie, Janet's barnstorming backbeat, and Corin's voice - which had finally become a category 5, gale force surge of beauty.

2) Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

This album was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I'm still not a huge fan of Michigan or Seven Swans, but Illinois is an almost flawless album in my book. It is not a "library-card history" as someone has suggested, but, rather a collection of very intimate stories and memories spread across the geography and history of the prairie state. The songs that comprise this album alternate between sparkling minimalist pieces and tug-your-heartstrings anthems.
Rob summed up Illinois best when he told me "it's the album that seemed the most timeless."

3) Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

As I stated in a previous story on this site, I had been waiting hungrily for Wolf Parade's debut since last February. Thankfully, this album lived up to all the promise of their two self-released EP's. Half of the songs on Apologies had already been released in different versions on those two EP's, but, the best songs on the album were still surprises: "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son," "I'll Believe In Anything," and "This Heart's On Fire." Wolf Parade was unquestionably the best new band of 2005.

4) Animal Collective - Feels

Sung Tongs was a delightful surprise favorite for me last year, and Feels only compounded how mind-blowing this band has become. To my ears, Feels sounded more like their debut album Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, than last year's Sung Tongs - with it's hyperactive chanting, tinkling pianos, and tribal percussion. It goes without saying that no band, past or present, sounds anything like the Animal Collective. Also, "The Purple Bottle" was probably my most played song of the year after Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe In Anything."

5) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!

This album kinda came out of nowhere and became the soundtrack to my summer along with The Woods. While their influences may be obvious, their strain of synth-folk-pop/rock is relatively unique. The songs are all immaculately crafted gems that still hold up after intense scrutiny. I'm really looking forward to see what this band comes up with next. Extra props to "The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth" for reminding me of New Order's "Age of Consent." (Why has no one else noticed the subtle New Order influences on this album??)

6) Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

This was a regrettedly late discovery for me. I'm not even sure how to articulate the grace and majesty of Antony's voice and music. There is no denying the androgyny in Antony's gently quivering voice - but it is a voice of unquestionable power and beauty. Antony's music evokes soul giants like Otis Redding, Nina Simone, and Sam Cooke, but, he still has contemporaries in Cat Power and Rufus Wainwright. You can not deny an album that begins with a line that may be the most universal human sentiment: "I hope there's someone to take care of me when I die."

7) Sigur Ros - Takk. . .

I felt that Sigur Ros had a fallen into a bit of a rut with 2002's ( ), but, Takk is brimming over with renewed vigor and vitality. Their music will still conjure up images of snow-covered vistas, untouched wilderness, elves, etc. However, Sigur Ros decided to get to the point a bit quicker on this album. Many of the songs are less than 5 minutes long - meaning that their patented climaxes and crescendoes come sooner rather than later. Even after three albums, Sigur Ros can still make my heart swell like no other.

8) Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Superwolf

I was anxiously awaiting the fruits of this collaboration and was handsomely rewarded. Matt Sweeney's fluid guitar playing - alternating between rippling and crunching - proved to be a perfect foil for Will Oldham's (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) intimate and arcane stories. Will seems to have risen to the challenge of Matt's presence - he turns in some of the finest lyrics and vocal performances of his career.

9) New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

How does Carl Newman write so many perfect pop songs? I have never been a big fan of the New Porno's - I always felt they were a prime example of music that was sickeningly sweet, but, Twin Cinema is an album that is more than bearable from beginning to end. It definitely helps that this album contains a diversity of moods, tempos, and styles. Songs like "Use It," "Bleeding Heart Show," and "The Jessica Numbers" are equal part Beach Boys' harmonies and Bowie glam stomp.

10) Spoon - Gimme Fiction

Britt Daniel finally made an album that wasn't just wiry minimalism and hiccupy vocals. This album has huge, major-chord choruses! and ragged guitar solos! and a bonafide ballad! and loads of sass. Credit must be given to my girlfriend - who made me realize a good thing I had been missing.

The Year in Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams has always had the ability to polarize music fans. Some love him, some hate him, some just don't care. There's no doubt that he's a colossal douche, what with his public persona. But that's why I love him. Dull, quiet indie rock types don't fascinate me in the least. At least Adams is always ripe for a good quote.

This year, he put out three albums: Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. The first two albums were with his new backing band, the Cardinals, while the last was a true solo album, produced with Heartbreaker producer Ethan Johns. Since 2000, he has put out eight (!) albums under his own name (or with the Cardinals), and ten if you take into consideration that Love Is Hell was originally released in two parts, and the unreleased, unofficial collection Destroyer. Then, there's Pneumonia the last album before he left Whiskeytown in 2001, as well as a one-off collaboration with Jesse Malin called The Finger, whose album is called We Are Fuck You. I'm sure I'm missing something, as well. Dude is a song factory.

His detractors will accuse him of simply writing songs in the style of other artists, be it Bruce Springsteen, Paul Westerberg, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, T. Rex, or Gram Parsons. His influences are often obvious, but Adams is very upfront about what he is listening to at a particular moment, and how it affects his songwriting. But each of his albums also contains a little bit of Ryan himself. While he can affect his voice and guitars to sound like other artists, I've never heard a Ryan Adams song and thought it was actually one of those other artists. At their core, all of his songs sound like Ryan Adams in one way or another.

I like Jacksonville City Nights the best, followed by Cold Roses, and 29. Here's a look back at 2005 for the man who will always be described in reviews, interviews, and features as "prolific".

Album: Cold Roses
Released: May 3

This is the Grateful Dead album, from the name, to the album art, to the track titles. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than on opener "Magnolia Mountain". But, save for a few songs, this is a little misleading, because you'll hear less Dead than you'd expect. If any song here sounds like the real Ryan, it's "When Will You Come Back Home", which wouldn't be entirely unwelcome on Gold. "Let It Ride" sounds more country than anything else. If there's one trait of the Grateful Dead that shows up frequently on Cold Roses, it's the singing style of Jerry Garcia. Adams has an amazing voice, and sometimes it is slowed down and/or out of key like Garcia.

Album: Jacksonville City Nights
Released: September 27

Like Cold Roses, this album is presented with the look and feel of the artist it is most influenced by, in this case Gram Parsons. If the last album was the hang-out-and-smoke-pot-with-your-girl album, Jacksonville City Nights is the sit-at-the-empty-bar-and-drown-your-sorrows-with-your-best-buds album. Parsons is considered the father of country rock, and Adams would probably consider himself the father of alt-country (and he'd also tell Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy to go fuck themselves). Of the three albums, this is the most consistent in style, and that's why I think it's the best and most effective. "The End" could maybe find a home on Parsons' Grievous Angel, and is the least Ryan-sounding of the tracks. The best examples of Adams using an influence and making something truly his own can be found on the rolling "The Hardest Part" and the melancholy "Silver Bullets".

Album: 29
Released: December 20

I didn't care for 29 the first time I heard it. Here, Ryan seems to throw in all of the aforementioned influences, with large doses of his personality. The title-track opener sounds like the Dead's "Truckin'", while "Carolina Rain" brings back hints of Parsons, and "Strawberry Wine" contains traces of Neil Young. It is scattered, to be sure. But the album's grown on me, and what I first thought were faults now don't bother me. It's a concept album of sorts, each track detailing one year in Adams' 20s (although, by my count, that would be ten years and the album only has nine). So, if its about his life, then the patchwork of styles makes perfect sense. It's a very, very somber and melancholy album. The tracks are long and it isn't that easy to listen to, but lyrically it might be the strongest of the three.

Merry Xmas Pt. 2

Artist: The Walkmen
Album: Bows + Arrows

If I were throwing a Christmas party, I would have this album play in the background. This album really ought to be called Christmas With the Walkmen. It's the soundtrack for an urban Christmas. Outside of the obvious references in song titles ("No Christmas While I'm Talking", "The North Pole", and "New Year's Eve"), the album just sounds like this time of year. It's a winter album, no doubt about that. Even "The Rat", for all its angst, sounds like the perfect score for a lovers' spat on Christmas Eve. It's about rushing home to be with someone, and it's about being lonely. At times loud and at times gentle, it just feels right to me near the end of December. Hell, there are even sleigh bells.

I was listening to the album one night on the train a couple weeks ago; the car was pretty empty and snow was falling. It doesn't get much better than that.

Most Christmas-y song: "Thinking of a Dream"

Listen here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Today, we'd like to examine some of our favorite album covers-- with boobs on them.

First, there's this cover, for Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking. Yep, those are boobs alright. Oh I get, clever play on the album title. Nothing's shocking except for boobs. Oh, Perry, you so crazy.

This is the cover for Blind Faith's self-titled and only album. Apparently this is a thirteen-year-old girl. But, you know, it's art, so I guess it's okay. Tell that to Jerry Lee Lewis.

I remember being twelve and seeing this at a record store. My first thought was, "Holy cow, boobies!" I put the record down because I was ashamed to be seen with it. Years later, I would begin to like Ween and gathered up the stones to purchase it in that same record store. Still don't know what the album cover has to do with the album title, Chocolate & Cheese.

Roxy Music's Country Life. This is the only one on the list that actually has some semblance of sex appeal. Hot underwear, too. The censored version of this cover is the same thing without the women. Just the trees.

Finally, we have the Slits' Cut. Yep, those are the three members of the Slits, covered in mud, wearing loincloths. This could be sexy too, if mud is your thing.


Ben reminded me about the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, which I can't believe I forgot about. Shame on me!

I Wanna Be An Internet Sensation

Not since Andy Milonakis has there been a worthwhile internet sensation. You know, a video that you send to all of your friends, and they all send to you even though you've already seen it 100 times, etc etc.

Well, by now you've probably seen "The Chronic of Narnia Rap" that was on SNL this past Saturday. The shit's pretty hilarious. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch it here. I've actually taken to TiVo-ing SNL this season because they've had some great bits and, um, I'm never home on Saturday night, well, because I'm out with the bitches, you see, and, uh, I didn't see this particular one live...

Anyway, turns out my man Samberg (Jew alert! High five!) is/was part of a comedy troupe (or something) called the Lonely Island. The other two dudes in it are SNL writers now. Well, they've got some videos on their site, some of which are pretty hilarious and others are just okay. But, if you like the aforementioned rap, you might like some of them. They've also directed a few music videos for real artists, and have had other short films on SNL.

But right now, check this shit out.

UPDATE: And, every once in awhile, I see something that makes me go, "Fuck, I wish I'd thought of that." This is one of those things. For fans of old school Nintendo.

An Angel Heard On High

Sam Cooke's " A Change Is Gonna Come" is a song that transcends the trappings of genre and time. It is an unconquerable testament to the human spirit's ability to adapt and overcome. It still sounds every bit as epochal, inspirational, and breathtaking now as it did in upon its release in 1964. If Sam Cooke had never written and performed anything besides "A Change Is Gonna Come," his legendary status would still be set in stone.

Up until 1964, the majority of Sam Cooke's oeuvre consisted of spiritual, love, and dance songs. However, upon hearing Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin," Sam felt an urge to create something on par with Dylan's protest anthem. While Sam adored Dylan's song, he also felt that the song should have been written by a black man. Therefore, he composed a socially-conscious song with the urgency of "The Times They Are A-Changin," but, pitted in the shoes of a black man. Sam also committed his most passionate vocal performance to this song. It goes without saying that Sam Cooke had a voice of the ages - a rich, soaring, honey-thick tenor that could scrape the clouds.

As far as influence is concerned, Cooke's "protest anthem" ignited a new outlook among his peers like Otis Redding (whose cover of the song was a big hit). Marvin Gaye's socially-concerned masterpiece "What's Going On" would not have been possible without this song. And presently, Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons) weaves his spell-binding voice into string-draped songs that owe a sizable debt to Sam Cooke.

Download here.

Lyrics to "A Change Is Gonna Come":

I was born by the river in a little tent

Oh and just like the river I been a runnin' ever since

It's been a long, a long time coming but I know

A change gon' come oh yes it will

It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die

Cuz I don't know what's up there beyond the sky

It's been a long, a long time coming but I know

A change gon' come oh yes it will

I go to the movie, and I go downtown

Somebody keep tellin me "don't hang around"

It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know

A change gon' come oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother

And I say "brother, help me please"

But he winds up knocking me

Back down on my knees

There been times that I thought I wouldn't last for long

Now think I'm able to carry on

It's been a long, a long time coming but I know

A change gon' come, oh yes it will

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rock Vikings

Music Video

Artist: Jason Forrest
Song: War Photographer
Album: Shamelessly Exciting
Director: Joel Trussell

Watch here (free).

This video is awesome. It's easy to set an animated video to music, but this does it as well as I've seen in a long time. It's a musical battle between viking ships. The animation is pretty simple (think South Park style 2-D), but there are some extra effects when they start to rock out. It's cool as hell. Just watch the fucking thing.

First Impressions of First Impressions

Artist: The Strokes
Album: First Impressions of Earth

On the one hand, I like the Strokes a lot. On the other hand, it really does all sound the same after awhile. First Impressions is definitely different than and definitely the same as both Is This It? and Room on Fire. But straying from a succesful formula isn't always a good idea. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here's a brief track-by-track preview of the album, which comes out on January 3:

1. "You Only Live Once" - This is a nice album opener, which is something this band has done well throughout their short career. Familiar guitars, but the big change here comes in different (and in my opinion better) vocals from Casablancas.

2. "Juicebox" - I can't believe this was the first single-- it's terrible. It sounds like a bad version of Weezer's "Hash Pipe". Casablancas' vocals are better subdued, not screaming.

3. "Heart In a Cage" - I don't remember anything about this song.

4. "Razorblade" - This should have been the first single. It's not necessarily the best song on the album, but it has that certain feel, and it does demonstrate a slight growth in the band's sound. It's not too much different than the previous album, and it's more melodic.

5. "On the Other Side" - The bassline here is great and it drives an otherwise pedestrian song.

6. "Vision of Division" - This is successful because the band is trying different things with the basic "Strokes" sound. Casablancas doesn't have a great voice or anything, but it can be put to good use in more than one way, and this cut demonstrates that.

7. "Ask Me Anything" - Now this is a well-executed experiment that, for me, results in the best track on the album. It's just Casablancas and a mellotron. Again, some stretching of his vocals. The Strokes are often better when they take it down a notch, not when they kick it into a higher gear like on the dreadful "Juicebox".

8. "Electricityscape" - I hear hints of the mid-song breakdown in "Don't Fear the Reaper".

9. "Killing Lies" - The vocals are annoyingly muddled on this track. Almost sounds like a beach party band version of the Strokes.

10. ""Fear of Sleep" - The song nicely balances the best of the slow Strokes and the fast Strokes.

11. "Evening Sun" - Like the opener, this makes a really nice album closer. What? The album's not over yet? But it's already been 40 minutes. That's more than enough for a Strokes album.

12. "Ize of the World" - And now the poor sequencing beings. This song is pretty decent, but should have come directly before and/or after "Electricityscape".

13. "15 Minutes" - In my mind, the Strokes are inherently self-depricating, and this song is unnecessary. B-side, anyone?

14. "Red Light" - Sorry, I stopped paying attention after "Evening Sun". That song's banging fade out is how this album should end, not abruptly like "Red Light". A Strokes album has no business being 52 minutes long.

And what's up with the Hot Topic, faux-retro, bowling alley-chic of the album cover? Awful.

Monday, December 19, 2005


From the New York Post:

"As if Kate Moss needed another reason not to re-unite with junkie rocker Pete Doherty— consider that the British bad boy's HIV-infected former drug dealer is urging Doherty to get an AIDS test. Owen O'Dwyer started selling heroin to Doherty three years ago, and says he used to do drugs with his famous client. 'I'm terrified Pete might have HIV,' O'Dwyer tells the Sun in London. 'I had no idea I had the disease when we were doing drugs— I want him to know this was not intentional. We didn't share needles but we kept our needles in the same glass. I'm worried blood on the needles may have mixed.' Doherty, 26, fled an Arizona rehabilitation clinic after an unsuccessful attempt to get clean last month. Moss recently ended their 11-month romance."

C'mon Pete, sort it out. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that "I'm worried blood on the needles may have mixed" really means "We shared needles-- frequently."

Misc. Monday Song (12.19.05)

Artist: Brian Eno
Song: Discreet Music (31:34)
Album: Discreet Music

Download here.

Briefly: Brian Eno is, to me, one of the most fascinating figures in music, from his early days with Roxy Music, to more or less creating ambient music, to producing albums by the likes of David Bowie and Talking Heads. Discreet Music is his first fully realized ambient work.

Why?: I can try to describe this all I want, but the only way to truly understand and appreciate "Discreet Music" is to listen to it in its entirety. It's more or less made up of a few bars of music, repeated over and over again, for 30 minutes. That sounds boring. And, well, I suppose it is boring. It's not party music. It's not driving music (unless you want to fall asleep at the wheel). But for me, there's nothing better to take the hustle and bustle out of riding the L train home after a busy day. Or for trying to fall asleep. Or to accompany reading. Its purpose, after all, is for you to hear it without really noticing it. Eno has described it as music that can be "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener."

Further listening:
Ambient 1: Music For Airports by Brian Eno
Another Green World by Brian Eno

There are no lyrics, and since I can't really get my head around how to explain the process of making this music, here are Eno's liner notes to the album from 1975:

"Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part.

That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.

Two ways of satisfying this interest are exemplified on this album. "Discreet Music" is a technological approach to the problem. If there is any score for the piece, it must be the operational diagram of the particular apparatus I used for its production. The key configuration here is the long delay echo system with which I have experimented since I became aware of the musical possibilities of tape recorders in 1964. Having set up this apparatus, my degree of participation in what it subsequently did was limited to (a) providing an input (in this case, two simple and mutually compatible melodic lines of different duration stored on a digital recall system) and (b) occasionally altering the timbre of the synthesizer's output by means of a graphic equalizer.

It is a point of discipline to accept this passive role, and for once, to ignore the tendency to play the artist by dabbling and interfering. In this case, I was aided by the idea that what I was making was simply a background for my friend Robert Fripp to play over in a series of concerts we had planned. This notion of its future utility, coupled with my own pleasure in "gradual processes" prevented me from attempting to create surprises and less than predictable changes in the piece. I was trying to make a piece that could be listened to and yet could be ignored... perhaps in the spirit of Satie who wanted to make music that could "mingle with the sound of the knives and forks at dinner."

In January this year I had an accident. I was not seriously hurt, but I was confined to bed in a stiff and static position. My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 18th century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realized that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn't the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music - as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience. It is for this reason that I suggest listening to the piece at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility."