Phil: A handful of winters ago I met up with an old roommate of mine at a Belgian beer bar for happy hour that happened to have half-off Belgian draughts from 4:30 to 6:30. So there we were, in the glow of yellow lights and green carpet, talking about those kids we hadn’t seen in forever, about ex-girlfriends and abandoned buildings and photographs, just getting pretty damn drunk. So I walk out of the bar, and stumble the few blocks to the bus station, trying to make sure I don’t miss the 500 because it’s pretty damn cold and I get to the bus stop and of course I miss the bus because I’ve been drinking and have completely lost track of time so I put on my headphones not remembering which damn album I left in my walkman and
Jeff: What, you might ask, is the prestigious and well-esteemed SWR blog doing reviewing a derivative 90’s pop-punk-revival album? The answer is multifaceted but the first component of it is that it’s an amazing album. Another part of that answer is that I for one first began coming of age in musically the mid-’90s–the major labels were well into their signing spree of “alternative” bands, and MTV was playing music that was like nothing else I’d ever heard (it’s not Debbie Gibson, it’s not Guns ‘n’ Roses, it’s something else entirely). Weezer, Green Day, the Offspring, and Hole seemed like a breath of fresh air to a kid who wouldn’t hear indie music for another four years. It was an exciting time to be a 7th grader.
Glenn: Odelay‘s stylistic diversity, junkyard-dada sampling aesthetic, and anticipation of the mash-up have beenjustlypraised. However, what strikes me 14 years out is the sheer range of moods Beck’s masterwork strikes. Is there any other record with this much emotional variety? From the goofball hick-hop of “Sissyneck” to the monster-movie drone of “Derelict” to the melancholy sigh of “Jack-ass” (a personal favorite) to the sheer fun of “Hotwax,” Odelay makes you feel joy, fear, sadness, confusion, and flashdance-ass-pants dance lunacy all in equal measure, sometimes in the same song.
Adam: I was 12 years old and my family was on vacation in Florida when I saw the news reports on TV in our hotel saying that the singer from a band I was vaguely familiar with had killed himself. I was just beginning to be interested in rock music in 1994, and after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I wasn’t allowed to own any Nirvana albums. I had to get my Nirvana fix from the radio and from a mixtape a friend gave me later that year which included half of Bleach and half of In Utero. I used to listen to it through headphones on the school bus and in the back seat of our minivan. I listened to it a lot in the winter of 1994-95, and for a long time after that, listening to In Utero reminded me of winter. I still haven’t heard the other half of Bleach, but I bought In Utero a few years later and I listen to it every now and then. My inspiration for writing this post was the recent media attention surrounding the DVD/CD release of Nirvana’s set at the 1992 Reading festival. I bought the DVD, and it is great because it documents what a Nirvana concert was like when the band was at the peak of its popularity. Continue reading →
Warren Zevon doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a great songwriter. He was well-respected among other musicians, and his songs are often covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and others. As a teenager, Zevon briefly studied modern classical music with Igor Stravinsky, and in the 1970s, he was the touring keyboradist with the Everly Brothers as well as with Don and Phil Everly on their respective individual tours. He was also an occasional stand-in for Paul Shaffer on both late-night iterations of David Letterman’s show.
“Carmelita” is a junkie’s lament and one of Zevon’s most famous songs, after “Werewolves of London.” The song first came to my attention recently after hearing a cover by GG Allin, of all people. The version I’ve posted is an acoustic demo, but after comparing it to the original release I felt this version was more affecting.
There are some songs that, when I listen to them on my headphones while walking around in public, I start to feel really, really cool – like I know something that no one else does. This song has such groove. Try it out.
A while back, Jordy and I were talking about songs with dense, complicated arrangements, and how that density can enhance the meaning and emotion inherent in the song. He mentioned the late-60s/early-70s Beach Boys — Brian Wilson was nothing if not a genius of overload.
But the first thing that popped into my noggin was this ditty from the Flaming Lips’ best record. In fact, it is not especially dense, but I think that every guitar strum, every echoey mellotron yawn, every cymbal ping serves to create a sort of rock-and-roll tone poem. Toward the end the song itself begins to disintegrate.
What dense complicated platters do you love to spin, and why?
Few instruments play melancholia like the famed Wurlitzer Electronic Piano. Its touching tremolo is often overlooked but always critical to whatever tune employs it. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
-Neil Young – “See the Sky About to Rain” from On the Beach (1974) [buy]
Neil brings the piano to the center of this song, often sending Ben Keith’s slide guitar to the side. Nevertheless, they complement each other very well.
-Kris Kristofferson – “Epitaph (Black and Blue)” from The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971)
This song inspired the post. The Wurlitzer is probably meant to lend a more funereal mood as if it wasn’t morbid enough with the vocal and string arrangements. (Buy this album. Fans of John Prine, take note.)
-Wilco – “Jesus, Etc.” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) [buy]
Leave it to Wilco, classicists that they are, to prop the Wurlitzer up in the modern era. Its use here is primarily as a rhythm instrument under all the strings and plucking. It doesn’t so much sing as propel the song. A lot like Supertramp might use it. Did somebody mention Supertramp?! Man, that was a great band… like Boston, but not as loud and better.
-Supertramp – “The Logical Song” from Breakfast in America (1979) [buy]
The piano is the spine of this song and, indeed, much of the album. How about that sax solo halfway through? That’s killer. What a slick song, eh?
Any other examples you’d care to cite?
*Update (7-30-09): Adam brings up the Fender Rhodes piano, which certainly has its place among the great gear of the 60s and 70s. The Rhodes’ sound is a bit sharper and jazzier than the Wurlitzer. I usually associate it with Bitches Brew as played by the late, great Joe Zawinul. See Glenn’s homage and hear the Rhodes in action. Also hear Zawinul and Jan Hammer in two different fusion outfits featuring the Rhodes.
As for rock, Pink Floyd owed a lot of its sound on Dark Side to the Rhodes. Also, see the intro to “Sheep” from 1977’s Animals.
On Sunday evening, I was driving through west Michigan and scanning through radio stations when this song came on. I had spent a wonderful weekend with old friends; the sun was setting over rolling soybean and corn fields (no barley, far as I could tell); the gentle lilt of this tune bowled me over. It’s a great melody.
Give it a listen if you haven’t ever. It’s a tasteful, non-pompous song. This guy is way better than those other adult contemporary bozos.
The band Live (ryhmes with jive) represents several firsts for me. This album, Throwing Copper, was the first album I ever acquired on CD. This song, “Selling the Drama,” was the first song of theirs that I heard on the radio, and subsequently made me a fan. Also, Live was the first band I saw in concert without parental supervision, on the Secret Samadhi tour, back when I was in eighth grade.
I still listen to Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi every few months, and every now and then one of their songs will pop into my head for no apparent reason. According to my last.fm page, I’ve listened to 51 tracks by the band over the past 12 months. Not bad for a band who I have not purchased a new album by in twelve years. I didn’t even know, for example, that they released an album in 2006 called Songs from Black Mountain, or a live album (that’s right, a live Live album) in November of last year.
I’ve always liked singer Ed Kowalczyk’s voice, and the thought-provoking lyrical content on Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi (I can’t speak for their newer albums). Plus, Live is one of the few bands that I listened to then that I still come back to today, which adds a nice bit of nostalgia for me. This must be what it feels like for my mom to listen to the Beatles today.
Because of the recent hype around the 18th Anniversary reissue of Pearl Jam’s debut Ten, I’ve been diving back into the catalog of a band I haven’t listened to with any real interest in about 8 years. What I’m finding is that the first 4 PJ records are absolute monsters. Ten and Vs. reek of an earnest early ’90s obsessed with absent fathers, gun violence, homelessness, heroin, abortion, teenagers with “issues”–the sort of poker-faced stuff the culture wars of the early Clinton years fed itself with. Ten, which I thought for years was a.) overblown and b.) the genesis of the band I hate most in the world, turns out to have one-upped Loveless in the textured guitar department (this is how you do reverb and compression, folks); plus Eddie Vedder sings like Al Green or Van Morrison or somebody, a soul shouter always ready with a well-placed holler or mumble.
And Vitalogy. My god. This is one of the best albums of the ’90s. No joke. For all the talk about experiments and brittle punk rockers, don’t forget that Vitalogy is Pearl Jam’s most tuneful record. These are great melodies, well-played by a limber band. (Listen to the guitar solo on “Immortality.”) The songs on Vitalogy have a classic quality that seems to have started to elude PJ around Yield, when, not coincidentally, Ed Ved started letting the other guys write melodies and started trying to write Fugazi songs (“Grievance”? “Insignificance”? Yuck.).
That still doesn’t negate the fact that PJ’s albums are among the best-sounding albums of all time. Listen to these fuckers on headphones and they sound incredible.
Like Led Zeppelin and The Who, their two most frequent comparisons, Pearl Jam’s secret strength is an absolute killer bass player. Jeff Ament’s melodic licks are the tastiest parts of any Pearl Jam song — enough to distract you from the often-terrible lyrics.
God, what kind of dork am I, going on about Pearl Jam like this? Jesus.
I might not be the Britpop enthusiast that Phil is, but I do like me some Pulp. Their 1996 classic, Different Class, would make a wonderful musical. Wouldn’t this opener sound great with a full chorus, dancers, a flashy light show? Glamorously unshaven ragamuffins on the dole singing bitterly against the upper crust they desperately want to be a part of. It’d be like the present-day Threepenny Opera. I can’t believe no one has adapted this album for Broadway yet.