Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I think my dream job, right now, would be to be paid to write a blog about the NBA. Specifically, a blog about the 1992 Dream Team, but I'll quit being picky.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

9. Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway
Came After - The Dismemberment Plan, Heartbreak
Mark Kozelek is the saddest man alive. Sadder than that guy in American Music Club. He is so sad, that in Red House Painters debut album, he coined the line "glass on the pavement under my shoe, without you, is all my life amounts to." That is the saddest lyric in the world. It should come as no surprise, if you've been following these posts, that I gravitated towards Mark Kozelek's sad voice during the saddest point of my life. I came across Sun Kil Moon (which is what Kozelek calls himself now that he's done with the Red House Painters, but seriously, they're the same thing, except Sun Kil Moon is without that 4AD production "value,") when listening to the insound.com streaming mp3 feed, and "Carry Me Ohio" came on. It was beautiful and...sad. I was a Tower Records (RIP) on West End sometime later that week when I found a copy of Ghosts of the Great Highway and bought it based off of that song.
It fucking kills.
The entire album is stunning, from opener "Glen Tipton," to "Salvador Sanchez," and it is quite simply the saddest thing I had ever heard. Consider this lyric from "Glen Tipton":
I knew an old woman, ran a donut shop
she worked late, serving cops
then one day, her heart stopped
place ain't the same no more.
Doesn't that just make you want to cry? Lyrically, Kozelek leans toward the simple, uncomplex musings of a high school senior who just got dumped on the prom. But his lyrics and delivery make all those terrible "emo" bands sound like soap opera stars. When Kozelek gets his heart ripped out, you know it. He is quite simply, the saddest man in the world.
The Ghosts of the Great Highway affected me something terrible in my songwriting process. I spent the entire summer in Columbia, TN writing Mark Kozelek rip-off songs. I even recorded covers of Kozelek songs, when my rip-offs just weren't good enough. I tuned my guitars to open tunings. I was obsessed with Kozelek. Then, after my speculating he was going to do it for about 2 years, he came out with a covers album of Modest Mouse songs. So, here was my favorite singer of all time doing songs by my favorite band of all time. How much more perfect could life be? But it wasn't so. Kozelek nails a few MM songs perfectly, but really, his voice is not meant for musings on life and God. It's meant to convey the emotions of the saddest motherfucker in the world. And for one summer, that is exactly what I needed to know. No matter how depressed I might have been, Kozelek was worse off.

Friday, January 18, 2008

8. The Dismemberment Plan - Emergency & I
Came After

I discovered this album through a great program called ourTunes. ourTunes was this software that allowed you to take advantage of the shared-music function of iTunes via the networks on college campuses. You could basically take any audio file that was listed in a user's iTunes software and download it to your own computer. It was like napster, but 100x faster since it operated over the school's network. So I downloaded this on a whim, and then, dang. It fucking blew my mind (and then I went out and bought the CD, thank you RIAA). The most vivid memory I have of listening to this album is coming back to Texas from Nashville on an airplane, sitting next to a Mexican wearing a cowboy hat. I got on the plane, turned on my Philips CD player, and just watched the landscape below me, soundtracked by Travis Morrison's voice.
However, I did not understand the magnitute of the album's centerpiece song, "The City," until I grew older.
As a teenager (19 or so), the concept of abject lonliness was a bit foreign to me, as I had always been surrounded by friends and family. This changed when I moved with my dad to Columbia, TN for the summer before my sophomore year of college (my mom remained in San Antonio to try to sell our house). As I sat in our apartment one night, I threw on Emergency & I and listened to "The City," and I began to understand. In the song, Morrison describes noticing things that he never has before, because his lover has left him, and because that person previously had made him so happy, he never saw just how lonely and full of despair the place where he is living actually is. As a transplant to an unfamiliar city, this expressed exactly how I felt as I stared out the windows of my apartment. I knew absolutely no one, and (alright, let's see if we can guess the theme here), I had come out of a relationship, and everything was just sad sack and depressing to me. When I heard this, I thought, "shit." It was the perfect song for me at that time.
As far as the rest of the album goes, it's flawless. Each song is brilliant and now, as being nearly 23, this album resonates even more with me. "Spiders in the Snow"? Fuck, does that not perfectly describe what life is for many, many of us after college? Emergency & I perfectly captures that mid-20's sentiment of "What do I do with my life?" It was with this album that I actually began to understand what many songwriters were getting at, because I was now living that life. The truth hits the hardest.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

After posting yesterday afternoon, I went home and re-listened to two of the albums on the list so far, MXPX and Gin Blossoms. I found that Gin Blossoms appeals to me more as a nearly 23 year old than MXPX does, though I did find myself enjoying MXPX, probably based on nostalgia alone. But, on with the list.

5. Death Cab For Cutie - We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes
Came After: Sigur Ros, random mp3 finds.

I had a funny experience with DCFC. I had seen them listed on the Homesick for Space website under links, and found an mp3 of "Lowell, MA" and assumed that the band was from MA. I went to Berklee College of Music that summer for a week-long engineering program and thought to myself as I listened to that song, "This is what MA sounds like," chiming guitars, lo-fi recording, general awesomeness. Then I found out that DCFC was from Washington, and MA bands sounded more like the Ladybug Transistor or whatever white-man reggae was being churned out by white college students. But for a while, I was convinced that MA was the land of perfect music.

The level to which I loved DCFC my senior year of HS was pretty intense. I had this habit of listening to music as I fell asleep, and that album was in constant rotation in my CD player, and as I listened to it, I would pretend that I was Ben Gibbard, playing these beautifully intricate songs to an adoring crowd. This stemmed, I'm sure, from the fact that the bands I played in never really played the music I wanted to create, and DCFC was exactly the music I wanted to make at that point in my life. I would try to play it for my bandmates, and they kinda shrugged it off, preferring we play yet another Metallica cover. The most frusterating thing about living in San Antonio, for me, was the lack of likeminded musicians my age. I have no doubt that there were others fans of DCFC in San Antonio; I just had no idea where to find them. I wasn't a big concert goer, and bands rarely toured around San Antonio, preferring to hit Austin. Whatever scene there was in San Antonio, I was simply not a part of it. So, my way of coping with not having likeminded music fans around me was to imagine them as I fell asleep at night.

After coming to college in Nashville, I finally made connections with others who, at the least, appreciated DCFC. Finding these people was a validating experience for me, a way of knowing that I wasn't alone. I think that this was probably the same for a lot of students at Belmont. We came there mostly because it was known as a "music school," and we finally made connections with kids who had the same interests as us, instead of being outliers like we probably were in HS.

DCFC were also responsible for the most disapointing concert experience of my life, although they had nothing to do with it. My first semester at Belmont, I saw they were playing at the Exit-In. I foolishly waited until the day of to snatch up tickets at Ticketmaster, but I did get them, thankfully. I also took along my then girlfriend, Madeleine, who I had forced DCFC upon, and who, in hindsight, was not meant for any rock concert, be in Built to Spill or even Michael McDonald. But this is not about me being blind to the obvious, but about how her presence completely ruined that show. To grasp the concept of how much I was waiting for this show, and how I had no idea of concert ettiquite, I wore my DCFC shirt, which, I was told later, is not cool at all. But I really didn't know that. Also, since I didn't have a car, I had to bum a ride from my friend Robin, who didn't have a ticket, but managed to sneak in to the show b/c she had a friend who knew the openers, Mates of State. DCFC came on and played a 2 hour set, which would have been probably the highlight of my life up to the point if it hadn't been so obvious how much my girlfriend did not want to be there. And, being in love, I didn't want her to be mad at me, so that in turn ruined my experience, which was not helped by the fact we had to hang around for Robin to get a ride home, and she was interested in talking with people after the show, which didn't make for a happy girlfriend. The world that I was embracing was nothing like what she expected for us, or close to where she was going. Did indie rock and a sorority girl really have anything to do with each other? maybe in some circles, but the ones we ran in were complete opposites. I should have realized then that we were not compatible, but instead I let it drag on until she broke up with me, at my total surprise due to my obliviousness. She was totally right when she said we were moving in different directions, and that was never more apparent than at the DCFC concert.

So, what am I getting at here? DCFC not only allowed me to validate my existance as a music fan, but they also served as a signifier for a failing relationship that I never saw until it was too late.

6. Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica

Came After: DCFC, Pitchforkmedia.com

For this record, I'm going to post an essay I wrote back in 2005 about why this album is my favorite of all time:

"I know it seems sort of a cop-out to write about music changing a world, but I don't believe I can do the subject justice unless I write about the most influential creative force on my young life. I suppose this is meant to be deep, certainly the topic question is one with many loaded directions to persue.So, being stumped, I thought about things that have changed my world view, or at least allowed me to view art in an entirely new way. The most jarring experience that I could think of is when I first heard Modest Mouse. I had been playing with a bunch of hard rock bands, and I think the particular one I was with was playing Metallica covers at the time, with a drummer who found it necessary to play his double bass pedal constantly.Anyways, I was going through a local record shop in the summer of my junior year in highschool, and I came across a record by Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica, in the bargain bin. So I bought it, having not heard anything by them ever before.I put it in my car cd player and drove home. On the way home, I freaked out at the utter amazingness of this album. The first line sets the tone for the entire album: "Everything that keeps me together is falling apart, I've got this thing that I consider my only art of f---ing people over." At age 17, and trying to figure out where I fit in the grand scheme of things and constantly messing up, this hit home. The entire album is sovivid and surreal, like Dali threw paint on a cd and it came back as music. Even when the singer, Issac Brock, is just shouting out random phrases, it was described so brilliantly that it seemed to make sense."The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth, if you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were." On the album masterpiece, "The Stars Are Projectors" Brock sings "The Stars are projects, projecting our lives down to this planet Earth," which is the best song ever for driving home on dark Texas roads and wanting to sing at the top of your lungs at a God you're not sure exists or not.This album came along at a time when I found it hard to relate to a church and or Christianity in general, and it's amazing that an album full of songs so obviously written under the influence of drugs could describe a confusion about the concept of God as beautifully as this one did. Anger, fear, self-doubting, all of these are addressed in this record, and spat out in ways that seemed to make perfect sense to me.The music itself is so amazing, visceral and beautiful at the same time. I once read an article by Brock about how he wished he could just slap his name on the Pixies' Dootlittle album and call it his own, and I feel the exact same way about this album. It flows perfectly and by the time I get to the last song "what people are made of," I am so enveloped by it that I inevitably hit play again.So while looking back over this, I realize it seems like more of a review than how words and ideas changed the world. I'm not sure how this album affected anyone else or it's effect on the world, but for me it showed that it was ok to be confused about a higher power, and that maybe it's part of a life to question things and maybe get angry about it, and maybe you could write about things beyond what you experinced in the hallways of a high school. My favorite line off of the album comes from the song "Lives," and it goes:"it's hard to remember that we're alive for the first timeit's hard to remember that we're alive for the last timeit's hard to remember to live before you dieit's hard to remember that our lives are such a short timeit's hard to remember when it takes such a long time"I think that in his alcohol induced haze, Issac Brock described life much better than I ever could."

As talked about in the essay, for me, this album is about religion and it being viewed by a person who is both in awe of it and disgusts it at the same time. It became so important to me as I grew up in HS and college with it as perfectly expressing how I felt. The songs still resonate with me the same way as they did when I finally let myself be enveloped by the albums beauty. Modest Mouse is not an easy band to love. During my first orrientation at Belmont, the first day I wore a Modest Mouse shirt, and the second day, I wore a DCFC shirt. One guy I was hanging out with remarked on the 2nd day "Oh yeah, DCFC, they're so much easier to like than Modest Mouse." But for me, everything about that album makes pefect sense.

7. The Rapture - Echoes

Came after: Sparta, The Get Up Kids

A brief admission: I love Pitchfork. I find that, while I do not always agree with their reviews, they constantly offer great information at help me find bands I otherwise may not have discovered. This, of course, will get me shot in an indie snark-fest, but whatever. The reason I bring this up is because I discovered the Rapture via Echoes being the top album of 2004 according to Pitchfork. I was still living in New Braunfels, and the day after I read the list I went out and found a copy, thinking it had to be awesome if it was supposed to be the best album of 2004.

I really, really, did not get it.

"House of Jealous Lovers" was amazing, no doubt, but the slow jams? what the fuck? I really just didn't appreciate it. But, as with a lot of albums, it takes time to understand. I lived with that album for a few months before I really began to listen to it. And when I finally did, it became one of the most life-altering albums I have ever bought. The Rapture opened me up to electronic and dance music, through DFA and their associated artists. Before, dance music was kinda lame, and I connected it with pop music, useless music that may as well have been all Nelly. Now, dance music was exciting, it was new, it was daring. Screaming, four-on-the-floor, cowbells, whatever, I embraced it. For some reason, like DCFC, this music really connected with me at exactly the right time. I had just gotten out of the previously-mentioned relationship, and I was looking for something sonically to help me forget. Dance-punk, and its offshoots, became that for me. I started writing music with the most awesome of all programs, Fruity Loops, and the Rapture's influence affects me today in the work I do with DACC. I really didn't care when everyone started claiming it was ripping off Gang of Four and the like...why not use them as influences? It was great, moving, music. It unlocked a passion in me that still is in gear today, and I thank them for that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I haven't written on here in a meaningful manner in quite some time, due to factors such as work and, eh, generally laziness. With that out of the way, I'm going to try to post more regularly, since I have a lot of free time at my new job. The first thing I'm going to try out is a post on the albums that have changed the way I approached music. Not the best albums, but the ones that made me go, "hmmm." I will begin in chronological order, starting in middle school, as I do not believe I was really conscious of music in a way that I can really examine until around 6th grade. Before that, it was either oldies or country, which were listened to exclusively because they were the most un-offensive things my parents would let me listen to (Which is curious in itself, because I had a John Anderson album with the song "Straight Tequila Night" which is a song about drinking heavily, and "Steamy Windows," which was about, of course, screwing in the back of a car, and I loved those songs/album and no one made an attempt to censor it for me, probably because I was sheltered enough that I didn't really know what those things meant). Anyways, here we go:

1. Gin Blossoms - Miserable New Experience
Came after: country music, 10,000 Maniacs

I didn't realize until recently that the Gin Blossoms weren't really cool. Some thread on avclub.com was full of derison for them, chalking them up to another crappy 90's alt-rock band like the Spin Doctors or Counting Crows. But for me, the Gin Blossoms were so much more than that. I think I was a few years behind getting this album, but I was in 6th grade, so I wasn't exactly up on the newest hits, being an only child and all. But basically, the Gin Blossoms were responsible for my trying to write my own songs, specifically songs about Allison Sandoloski.


The Gin Blossoms had a song called "Allison Road," and in 6th grade, I had a huge crush on Allison Sandoloski (Allison, if you ever google yourself and find this, you should know you were pretty cute in 6th grade), this Jewish girl who had big brown eyes and hair, and I would sit in my room and listen to "Allison Road," and pretend I wrote that song about her, simply because her name was Allison. I sat alone in my room, with my little Epiphone acoustic, and I tried to write meaningful lyrics about my love for Allison Sandoloski, at least as meaningful as my 6th grade experience let me. I don't know what happend to those lyrics, but I do remember that my mom found them once and correctly surmised that I had crush on Allison. Nothing ever came of that romance, as I wore big glasses and didn't really know what to do with girls, but I do thank the Gin Blossoms for giving me the desire to create.

2. MXPX - Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo
Came after: Eve6, whatever was on 99Kiss at the time

After going to a Christian-based university, I found that my experience with MXPX is mirrored in the lives of other kids my age. Having been raised in a heavily Christian environment, I was looking for a way to rebel, yet at the same time, not entirely drawing the ire of my parents. The gateway drug for that, in the lives of many evangelical Christian youths, is MXPX. Who were MXPX? Where the punk? Were they Christian? They had tattoos and bleached hair and played in style that we thought punk should be: fast and loud. But hey, they also had lyrics vaguely about Jesus, and they were on Tooth and Nail Records, the predominant alt-Christian label at the time. I talked my parents into buying this record for me for Christmas my freshman year of HS, and I absolutely loved it. I went out and bought their back catalog. I bought stickers. I wore my bass low like Mike Herrera. In my little world, I was punk. Of course, what did my world consist of? I went to a wealthy, private school, were expressions of indivduality (however un-individual they may have been) were extremely limited, with mine being shown off through MXPX patches on my bookbag. But MXPX also validated my punkness a bit because the kids who actually listened to "punk" also listened to MXPX. Their being accepted in the secular music world was important to me, as I found something that, while not exactly popular, wasn't viewed as crap, like most Christian music is when it falls outside the ears of the converted.

MXPX also made me cool in the world of Christianity. I listened to the right music, had the t-shirts, I spiked my hair, and I was generally the most bad-ass of youth group kids. I can only imagine I looked as stupid as I thought the Christian hardcore kids looked when I got older. But no one else was going that direction in the small, insular world of Church of Christ kids. When we went summer camp that year, I was out there in my punk finest, also bringing along with me the Bad Religion records I bought without my parents permission. I even kissed a girl that summer at camp. What I'm trying to get at here, is that however un-cool MXPX might have really been in the world, they were important to me, as they gave me self-esteem. Music, before having been reserved as a way to escape in my bedroom, now became a status symbol and a way to identify myself to the world.

3. Homesick for Space - Unison
Came after: Face to Face, Rancid, Hair Gel

I've written about Homesick for Space here before, about how they were one of the life-defining bands for me. I'm probably the only person that will ever say that, but seriously, if any of the band members ever read this, thank you. I was deep into punk rock, and I had just discovered mp3s. When I found out that you could burn these to CD's and play them wherever, I became a downloading fool, searching the internet for anything punk I could find. Somehow, via some label that I forget, there was a song from Homesick for Space, who, I guess, used to be a hardcore band called I Robot, who now played more melodic fare. This was different than anything that I had been listening to, and I'm pretty sure the first time I heard it, I turned it off...it was slow and had this high pitched singing. At that point in my life, it was not what I wanted. I wanted loud and fast, profane and shambolic.

I'm not sure when I came back to it, and to be honest, I don't even remember the name of the song. When I did finally listen to it again, something clicked with me, and I became entranced with Homesick for Space. Pianos in music? Unheard of in my life. I did whatever I could to research them on the internet, to find out who these people where that made such beautiful music. From their website, I was introduced to bands such as The Doves, Mogwai, and most importantly Death Cab for Cutie and Sigur Ros. There's not a whole lot out there about Homesick for Space, except I think they just put up new demos on their myspace page (which I will check out tonight), but in terms of shaping the course of my musical maturation, they were giants.

4. Sigur Ros - ( )
Came after: Homesick For Space, Mogwai

I found out about Mogwai from a post on the Homesick for Space website, and was intrigued by the fact they were instrumental rock. Instrumental rock, to me, was the Ventures. What Mogwai was turning out, was apocolyptic in my mind. Now, you will have to excuse the hyperbole used in these posts, as I'm trying to capture how I felt when I first heard these albums, and as someone never exposed to this type of music before, it was, in a way, amazing in the purest sense of the world. I had made music my life, and to find out there was more out there than what I had limited myself to was, (cliche) freeing.
Mogwai directly led me to Sigur Ros, via a mention on the Mogwai website. As I was browsing through Borders one day after school, I saw their album "( )" for sale. The packaging was devoid of any writing, but I remembered that Mogwai seemed to love them, and therefore I should give them a chance. I came home and threw the CD on my boombox and started doing homework, which was how I always listened to music, haphazardly balancing schoolwork and listening to the sounds. After halfway through the 1st song, I quit doing my homework. I sat there and listened straight through to the entire album. I was floored at how beautiful this music was. The waves of distortion, the amazing falsetto singing, the repetition, all of it seemed new to me. Mogwai was one thing, but Sigur Ros took that idea of quiet beauty contrasted with overwhelming emotion to a higher level. I was writing for the school paper at that point, and in the next issue I published a page long review of "( )" calling it "a soundtrack for open spaces." I was obsessed with Sigur Ros. No one else, unfortunately, gave a shit. If I put it on in my car, my friends would complain until I changed it to Cake or Rancid or something like that. This signified another change in how I viewed music in relation to social settings. Before, I had used music as a way to show who I was, and it was important for me that the bands I listened to and promoted were seen by others as "cool." Now, listening to a band that no one I knew cared about didn't faze me. It marked the beginning of me loving music for its own sake, rather than a way to express who I thought I should be.

continued tomorrow, 1/15/08.