2011: Music I Listened To

Russian Circles - Empros

Oh, is it that time of year again? The time just before the end of the year when everyone else’s Best Of lists have been published for weeks, thereby allowing me to peruse them and cobble together my own Best Of list based on everyone else’s editorial efforts, making it look like I spent the whole year researching and contemplating new music? Haha, just kidding! Mostly.

I started writing this post and it immediately spiraled into a long, rabling analysis of how I listen to music, why something should end up on a list, the reason best of lists should eve exist, and BOORRRRRRRRRING. Let’s just get to it.

This year I came across 6 albums (released in 2011) I thought were worth talking about:

Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
ZOMG, a rock opera from a hardcore band! When I first heard this record, I absolutely loved it. It had The Shape Of Punk To Come aspirations and I wanted it to live up to the hype. After about a week of listening, however, I decided I hated this record. Exhibit A, the opening lyric to “Turn The Season”: “Things go up, and then go down. Chase a smile with a frown.” Are you kidding me with that Dr. Seuss filler? After a few months off, I gave it another listen and had a much more balanced experience. Spin magazine made this their album of the year, which, okay. I guess my biggest complaint is that it takes itself WAY too seriously (see the video below, though, band nerds beware–the female actor’s “conducting” is going to make you really angry). After much internal deliberation, the bottom line is that I like listening to this record and I’ve returned to it repeatedly, so it’s on the list.

Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground
I love me some Hot Water Music, even if they did get a little glossy there toward the end. I say the end, but they reunited and are recording a new album early next year. During the HWM “hiatus”, Chuck Ragan has released three full length solo albums, the most recent being this year’s Covering Ground. It’s hard for me to describe Ragan’s solo work without sounding like Jeff Lebowski, so I won’t. It’s gruff, powerful folk music, but it’s uplifting and triumphant. Listen to “Nomad By Fate.”

Old 97s - Grand Theatre Vol. 2Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume 2
It is well documented that The Old 97s would have to really shit the bed in order to not end up on my list in any year they release a new record. I got to see them play earlier this year at the newly renovated Buckhead Theater. During their set, I remember thinking, “If I had to describe my moral center in one word, it would be Old 97s” (yes, that is one word). That is likely aspirational, but I believe it. About last year’s Grand Theatre Volume 1, I wrote:

I just picked this one up a couple weeks ago and I am still digesting it, but there are elements on The Grand Theatre that harken back to the mid-nineties, which, let’s be honest, is really all anyone has ever wanted from the Old 97s. Most notably, The Magician sounds more like Doreen or Time Bomb than anything since the first Clinton administration.

I originally thought Volume 2 might actually be a little bit better than Volume 1, but I have to come to appreciate them both equally. Not that it really matters.

Torche / Part Chimp - Split EPTorche / Part Chimp – Split EP
Torche is great. Like them a lot. I hadn’t heard Part Chimp before this release, and I was dismayed to learn that they are in the process of calling it quits. Drag. This was a vinyl-only release so finding tracks online is tricky. Here is a link to Torche’s cover of “Exit Flagger” by Guided by Voices on Soundcloud. No idea for how long the link will be good.

Dead Man Winter - Bright LightsDead Man Winter – Bright Lights
Last year was all about Trampled by Turtles. TbT did not release a new record this year, though I believe they have one in the bag. TbT frontman, Dave Simonett, did release a record this year for his solo project, Dead Man Winter. DMW is described as an outlet for Simonett’s songs that don’t quite fit with TbT. Whatever, I love it. It paired brilliantly with our trip to Iowa in August.

Russian Circles - EmprosRussian Circles – Empros
Sprawling, instrumental metal. Devilishly sludgy riffs contrasted with soaring melodies. Something sounded strangely familiar the first time I heard this record. I read later that Russian Circles’ bass player is none other than Brian Cook from Botch and These Arms Are Snakes. I’m not saying I could pick him out of the mix, I’m just saying something sounded familiar and I have listened to a lot of Cook’s playing over the years. Shut up. Leave me alone. This record is frigging awesome and everyone should listen to it. If you only give it one song, make it Mlàdek:

I listened to a lot of new music this year. I also missed a lot of new music, which I’m sure you’ll let me know ALL about in the comments (note: please do). Reading other people’s Best Of lists, I found myself thinking, “Who are all these bands? I haven’t listened to shit!” And you probably noticed that my list is full of stuff I was already familiar with and pretty much expected to like.

I also seem to have this habit of discovering lots of great new stuff the year after it was released. For instance, this year I spent a lot of time with Cavalcade from The Flatliners and Chamberlain Waits from The Menzingers, both of which were released mid-2010 and both of which are great records to listen to while running.

Albums I listened to this year that I enjoyed, but didn’t find myself returning to repeatedly:

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
400 Blows – Sickness and Health
Bone Dance – Split w/ Divider & Plebeian Grandstand
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

Chasm. Youth. Wider.

As the chasm between me and my youth creeps ever wider, I find myself observing the behavior of younger folks less like we’re distant peers and more like I’m a miserly old researcher in a frayed lab coat with a salt and pepper combover.

Many many months ago, the Geester and I attended a birthday party for one of the Geester’s cousins who happened to be teen-aged at the time (not sure how old she is now). Upon opening one of her gifts, she exclaimed, “Oh. My. God.” What was in the box is not important, and her response was not at all unusual for someone in her demographic. I remember thinking that people have been saying Oh. My. God. since I was in middle school back when the girls who said it were referred to as ‘bops’ and they had bangs that could be used to guide maverick Space Shuttles to safety. (This is the part where you try to remind me of tight-rolled, acid-washed jeans, and I pretend to not know what you’re talking about.)

There may or may not have been some zoning out on my part during these particular gift-opening festivities and I began to ponder the two long pauses in the phrase Oh. My. God. I wondered how much of my life I’ve spent waiting for someone to get from Oh to My and then from My to God. I started to think about what would be required to calculate such a figure, but quickly realized it nigh impossible as the two pauses have different lengths every single time the phrase is spoken. In fact, I’d venture there’s almost as much variance in the phrase Oh. My. God. and there is in the word dude. Not quite, but almost. I don’t ever use the phrase with exaggerated pauses, primarily because the valley girl within this one is weak, but I do say OMIGOD! with no pauses whatsoever quite often, usually when I’m in the process of dropping something expensive and/or dangerous.

What the hell was I just talking about?

Oh yeah, the chasm between myself and youth culture. It widens. Most notably, I’ve recently noticed, “not getting” music more and more frequently. Don’t get me wrong, I am awash these days in so much quality music I actually experience pangs of anxiety at my inability to consume even a small percentage of it. I feel like I’ve been steadily falling behind for years. But, periodically, when I do finally dive in and go exploring, I often find myself with a furled brow asking, ” … what.” The most recent instance of was a few days ago creating a muxtape. Reviewing other people’s muxtapes (of which there are thousands) yielded a metric truckload of music that quite simply zoomed past my ears. I found myself conceding, “So … this is what kids are listening to these days. I see.”

I’m casting a very wide net here, and citing specific examples (like, say, so many artists’ tendencies to replace or augment traditional instruments with synthesized beeps and clicks or this inherent need for pop music to be precious and mousey) will only serve to undermine my point. I’ve never been surprised to feel older as I actually get older, but it always gives me pause when I feel like I’m missing out on something, not for lack of trying to understand but something beyond my realm of control, like because I’m “from another time” or some such cliché. I am certainly cynical and egotesticle™ enough to believe that it is I who gets it and everyone else is a moron. Another way to put it would be that I am acutely aware of the emotional attachment I’ve had to music my entire life. And when I listen to a lot of new music and imagine thousands of people having a similarly strong emotional attachment … it kind of bums me out.

And that’s pretty much it. Good talk.

NoMeansAnomaly

Yeah yeah yeah. Shut it. I would promise that my updates will be more frequent than once a month, but as soon as I do, two months will charge by and I will have broken a promise, so …

The Bulldogs of Georgia lost to the Volunteers of Tennessee on Saturday after they forgot that a game of NCAA Div 1-A men’s football does not in fact end after thirty minutes but rather lasts for a full sixty. I actually feel fine about the loss. Does it sting? Absolutely. But any Bulldog fan who tells you they didn’t see it coming is either lying, or they went to Georgia after 1999. I was there during the Goff / Donnan cluster, so this whole “beating Tennessee” thing is still an anomaly for me. If anyone is truly having a hard time with it, give me a call and I’ll remind you what it’s like to expect to lose to Tennessee and Florida every single year. Things are just fine.

If you’ve been by my flickr account in the past week or so, you’ve noticed that I went to some sort of Rock and/or Roll show. The weekend before last, Andy and I drove up to DC to see Nomeansno. DC is the closest to Atlanta they played this time around, and they’re geting to the age where every tour could be their last, so the trip was more than worth it. The set from the actual show is here. Below are some choice picks:

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Fiery impulses

So … after getting out of work a little early on Friday afternoon, I was sitting in the sun at Joe’s on Juniper enjoying a frosty Bridgeport IPA while waiting for the Geester and some of her coworkers to show up (Exhibit A), when I came upon a most curious bit of information in Ze Loaf Creativ. According to multiple listings, High On Fire was scheduled to play at The Earl that night.

At first, I gave the listing little more than a “Hmm. Interesting.” Admittedly, I had little to no experience with HoF prior to Friday. Lots of my friends have ranted and raved about them, but I had simply never happened to get involved. All told, I had probably heard part of one of their records once and I don’t even think I was really paying attention. Plus, Gia and I had a dinner reservation, and some hanging out planned, so I continued reading the paper and enjoying delicious glasses of beer. Going to a show way over in East Atlanta that probably wouldn’t even start until 1am was not likely in the cards.

But something stuck in my head. I could not ignore the potential opportunity to be washed over with gut pummelling guitar thunder clouds. I have a fairly fantastic life, but I do wish that I could make it out to more shows, and the more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to trek down to Flat Shoals and get my rock on despite having very little knowledge of the band in question. I realized I was subconsciously calculating the probability of me ending up watching High on Fire at the Earl that night based on such equations as: (Gia’s presumed level of annoyance / My required level of effort) X Anticipated number of involuntary head nods and goat horns due to blistering riffage.

I informed Gia of my impulsive desire, and, after rolling her eyes a full 360°, she agreed, because she is the most beautiful, understanding, accomodating, woman on Earth, that I could run off and play after our date. We proceeded to have a lovely dinner at Maggiano’s, and spent a couple hours looking for some new spring duds at Ze Mall Perimeter.

Rather than ramble on and on about a show you didn’t see, I’ll just tell you that my impulsiveness was fantastically successful. Parking was easy, the show only cost $12 at the door, I remembered to bring ear plugs, I ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and High on Fire melted the fucking face off the Jesus and on Easter weekend no less. The good thing about seeing west coast bands when they’re on the east coast is that they are almost always in the middle of their tour and hitting on all cylinders. After taking the first song to get the stage sound dialed in, Matt Pike and his two rock assassins carved a swath through the night like a coal-fired freight train. Look at the sweet pics I took with my camera phone.

Yes, they look like pencil erasers because I'm that happy to see you.

I love these days that get progressively colder as the hours tick by. You might think I’m crazy, but I think the weather in Atlanta today is fantastic. It’s been far too warm and annoying for the past couple weeks. Early this morning (4-5am) it rained like 6 sons of bitches, and when I walked down the driveway to get the paper at 6:45am, it was still muggy and probably 70ºF. Unacceptable. But by the time I had put myself through the morning routine machine (coffee, paper, oatmeal, Mandarin language lesson, monumental bowel movement, more coffee, shadow judo, shower, deoderant, toothbrush, dance steps, dress, forget something important but leave anyway) the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees and there was a noticeable breeze. By the time I parked my car, which is still pulling to the right despite having it in for an alignment, oh, YESTERDAY, it was a couple clicks cooler and the wind had picked up considerably. You know what that means. There’s a high pressure system on the way in to make it feel like November already. Embrace it. Temperatures in th 30s are good for your nose hairs.

While Ben and I were brewing on Saturday, we ruminated on how fall weather invariably triggers intense nostalgia. I can’t think of a physiological hypothesis, but as soon as the air gets a little crisp you find yourself, without fail, taking a long, contemplative inventory, carefully pausing at items of sentimental note. It’s not unpleasant or annoying, but it is automatic and undeniable. We even went so far as to throw on a mix tape (a mix tape!) that Brain, King of Mixes, made for me in 1997. Does it get any more shoe-gazingly emo than an eight-year-old mix tape? Any further and we would have had to dye each others’ hair black with the ink of old love letters while crying tears of faux-heartbreak into cans of Cherry Coke. Jesus.

The Geester surprised me this weekend with the latest Foo Fighters CD, In Your Honor. I’m struggling to write a review that accurately balances my appreciation of the packaging, with my disgust for Sony BMG’s recent anti-piracy shenanigans, with my annoyance that the music piracy debate really only ends up hurting the music, with my observation that In Your Honor boasts some really great moments but still doesn’t realize the Foo’s full rock potential, with my reluctant acceptance of the fact that Dave Grohl might not make another The Colour and the Shape.

If you haven’t poured any Anchor Christmas Ale into your complain hole yet this year, you are doing yourself a massive disservice (edit: you don’t do an injustice). The Vortex on Peachtree has it on tap. $4.75 for an imperial pint. Put it in your face.

Meme fluff

I usually avoid memes like I try to avoid poison ivy, but, as we’ve all learned, sometimes I can’t help but rub it all over my body. I stayed home sick yesterday, and I’m playing catch-up today, so a nice fluffy meme is perfect. Nikki originally posted this one. Go to Music Outfitters and, in the search field on the left, enter the year you graduated high school. Take a look at the top 100 songs from that year. The most intriguing thing about this meme is that Music Outfitters is a business in Ely, Minnesota. For those of you who don’t know, and that should be the vast majority of you, Ely, a tiny town of only a couple thousand way up in Northern Minnesota, is where the Duke grew up. Strange coincidence indeed.

The point of the meme, as I understand it, is to strikethrough the songs you didn’t like and bold the songs you like. Luckily, popular music in 1994 was such a festering pile of horseshit that this list took me all of 22 seconds to complete. You know it’s a bad year when Ace of Base has THREE SONGS IN THE TOP TEN. Jesus crack-smoking Christ.

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I hope you die. I hope we both die.

Here’s something everyone can relate to, unless, of course, you’re a soulless, music-hating, dick. Every so often, you discover a new band and involuntarily go head over heels for them. Something about them strikes a chord (ha!) and, suddenly, you find yourself searching out not only their music, but their biographical information. When I was younger, this would happen fairly frequently and with much greater intensity than it has recently. Actually, this whole phenomenon has followed the same arc as that of a lifelong drug addiction — as time passes, highs become less frequent and less intense — but that’s a different essay all together.

During a slow, sweltering, random afternoon at the beeatch this past weekend, some of the restless younger folk took a trip to the store. Two cousins, Fancy Paul, and I piled into a car and rolled into town to buy some cabbage for slaw, ice, and all the Sierra Nevada at Winn-Dixie. As we sweated East down Hwy. 98, Paul dialed up, on one of the cousins’ iPods, No Children by The Mountain Goats.

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Dennis the Menace

It’s Friday night, April 29th, 2005. I’ve had a couple of drinks of drinks.

I would like to tell you a story about a musician from Umea, Sweden named Dennis Lyxzèn. He is on his way to greatness. As a lyricist, vocalist, songwriter, frontman, and overall showman, I have never seen anything like him. Ever. His ability to wildly transcend genres while maintaining the purity and strength of his message are unprecedented in this day and age of cookie-cutter entertainers. Let’s take a quick stroll down his resume, shall we? (Note: The following video clips are in some sort of Real Media format. You need to watch them from start to finish for this review to make sense. The vast suckitude of Real is for another rant, but this is all that was available for this review. Also, I am unabashedly linking directly to the media files at Burning Heart rather than sending you to each video’s respective page. This is because I have not the resources or desire to stream Real Media from my own server. So there. Watch the videos.)

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Lagwa(goner)

Derrick Plourde, drummer and founding member of Lagwagon, shot himself last Wednesday, apparently in his parents’ bedroom. As long as I can remember there have been stories flying around about “that drummer from Lagwagon” being kicked out of bands because he was on drugs or forming new bands because he had cleaned up. I guess it all finally caught up with him. To end it all in your parents’ bedroom, I imagine you’d have to be in a pretty dark place.

Say what you will about Lagwagon and Fat Wreck and that whole scene, but Plourde was a monster behind the drumset. As his tribute website says, he was every bit as influential as Freese and Wackerman. (Incidentally, if you Google Brooks Wackerman without quotation marks, a review I wrote for Ruthless comes up 34th. I’m big time.)

The first time I heard Lagwagon in the early 90s, I wasn’t totally blown away because there were so many bands cranking out the fast, melodic, yee-haw at the time. But I do remember the first time I heard their song, Mr. Coffee. I think it was on that first Fat Music for Fat People comp. I remember thinking, “Wow. That dude is like a machine gun.” From that point on I looked at them through the yeah-but-their-drummer-is-awesome goggles. The only time I saw Lagwagon live was in 1999 and ex-RKL drummer Dave Raun was with them at that point. (That’s not to say Raun wasn’t awesome, because he was, but it wasn’t quite the same.)

Jeebus, why can’t all the members of The Offspring gobble on some shotguns already?

Sick Rawk

Whatever flu-like nastiness has been going around for the past couple weeks finally caught up with me on Saturday. I thought I was in the clear. Gia had it bad a couple weeks ago, as did several people I work with. I have been eating vitamins and drinking orange juice and washing my hands obsessively. All for naught. The moment I woke up Saturday, I thought, “Shit.” I had plans to help Paul-in-law move, and then I was supposed to go up to Athens to see the maiden voyage of Twisted Sledge. Since, as of Saturday morning, I wasn’t completely sick yet, I surrendered to denial and went about my day as usual.

I helped Paul move. While we were on Freedom Parkway en route to his new place with a load of stuff, we were suddenly overcome by police officers and helicopters. They shut down traffic in all directions. It was incredibly sudden and startling enough that I turned my music off. I looked up and counted five helicopters heading in our general direction. A parade of police cars and motorcycles began to stream by in the opposite direction. In the thick of it all, four or five black Suburbans flew by, huddled together very closely, followed by what must have been 40 more police cruisers. And just like that, they were gone. I did something I NEVER do and turned on AM radio. The flappy-headed sewage-spewers were naturally babbling about vigilante justice and the callers-in were all bragging about how fucking tough they would be if they ran into the courthouse shooter on the street. I though to myself, “They must have caught Brian Nichols.” The small-dick AM assface said, “If you’re just joining us, Brian Nichols is in police custody. They had him at the FBI headquarters and are taking him to City Hall East on Ponce,” which was exactly the area we were in. What I’m trying to say here is that, on Saturday, I was like 30 feet from Brian Nichols for about 3 seconds. You know you’re jealous. After moving, Paul and I ate at Six Feet Under, which he can walk to from his new place.

Following lunch, the sickness hadn’t fully taken over yet, so I decided to prolong denial, push on to Athens, and last as long as I could. I miss Athens. I need to visit more than I do. I think the main reason I forced myself to go this time around was that I started thinking about how long it had been since I had hung out with Rob and I got really annoyed. There is not excuse for that bull-plop. Other than the 70 or so miles between our houses, I suppose.

The Sledges were abuzz with activity when I arrived.

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