Thursday, April 9, 2009

10 Albums from 10 Artists or Groups

I snake the cord of my iPod around the outside of my ear so that the bud goes in upside down. Earbuds are ergonomically unfriendly so while I listen in comfort, it is at the expense of looking stupid. Weezer's Blue album begins with "My Name is Jonas." I've had discussions about this album with friends before and I don't recall coming across anybody who didn't like the album. The volume goes up and I can't hear a thing except the tasty guitar licks, smooth base lines, precision drumming, and unique lyrics of Rivers. As the tempo from "Surf Wax America" slows and a mellow yet soulful "Say It Ain't So" begins, I decide to do what I've been kicking around in my head for over ten years now.

As I move my idea from my brain to the paper, problems develop. The solution to the problems is that it's impossible to come up with a wide range of albums that I can listen to from the first song to the last. In all probability, the albums would end up being heavily weighted with U2, Jack Johnson and Flogging Molly carrying the load. And so concepts in Darwin's Origin of the Species apply to my idea and it evolves to survive the inevitable criticism that others (see myself in ten years) may give it.

Here is my list of ten albums from ten artists or groups that I can listen to from start to finish in no particular order.

1. Weezer Blue Album- Weezer- 1994.
As a debut album goes, I haven't found one better. Weezer seems to have come onto the scene from out of nowhere. Their music has been described as nerd rock and to an extent I think it's true. The thing about Weezer that makes the Blue album so attractive is that there is an inner nerd in all of us. The clean tracks on this album stand out in an era where distorted grunge was the king of the jungle and that is why kids who were two cells in different bodies when this album came out know about it today. The album also has an amazing command of naturally changing tempos. "My Name is Jonas" establishes the overall feeling of the album, but songs like "Say it Ain't So" and "Only in Dreams" slow it down at the appropriate times.

2. Foo Fighters- Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace- 2007
When Dave Grohl was asked about the compilation of the Foo Fighters previous album, In Your Honor, he mentioned that the album was a two disc set because he found it difficult to blend the mellow songs of the album with the harder sound that casual listeners can easily recognize as classic Foo Fighters. On the follow up album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, they have accomplished just that. This album has classic Foo Fighters power sound as well as some more finessed songs with all the musical genius that fans have become accustomed to hearing.

3. U2- Achtung Baby- 1991
I have to include at least one U2 album and this is one that I think delivers. Coming off of the Joshua Tree album, U2 had some of the biggest expectations for a follow up album. Achtung Baby met those expectations with a sound that was both familiar and re-inventive. Songs off of this album have been U2 fan staples ever since its release. "One" has some of the most recognizable lyrics in rock history. Tracks like "Ultra Violet Love (Baby Light My Way)" "Zoo Station" and "The Fly" didn't get a lot of radio play, but remain favorites among die hard U2 fans and have been featured in soundtracks more than 10 years after the album's release.

4. The Set List- The Frames- 2003
Most people don't know who The Frames are. The average music fan in America has probably not even heard of them. But quite a few people know some work of The Frames front man, Glen Hansard from his role in the Oscar winning film Once. The movie won for best musical number with "Falling Slowly" which doesn't happen to be on this album. My wife doesn't like the sound of Glen's voice and at first, I didn't either. The Frames are somewhat of an acquired taste. By the time I actually purchased The Set List, I had been listening to the soundtrack for Once for a few months and liking The Frames was only a natural step forward. The concept of recording a live concert for this album has been done by many other bands, but nobody pulls it off quite like The Frames. The venue is small enough that you can hear the audience singing along, but unlike every other sing along crowd this one works. The energy of the crowd fuels the band and they adjust playing styles to make it work. Improvisation really works for The Frames as they implement medleys which include covers of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Gene Wilder's "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

5. Swagger- Flogging Molly- 2000
I've given some background in previous postings about Flogging Molly so for those who would like some background on the band, see the previous posts. I've never had a drink of alcohol in my 27 years. Swagger is an album that I imagine recreates all the emotion of a long night of drinking without the hangover. The first song, "Salty Dog", is a rowdy song about pirates. It doesn't get much better than Irish punk rock songs about pirates to start. The third track is perhaps in my top 5 favorite songs of all time. "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" is a great song for depressing situations. I could be in the worst or best mood and listening to that song makes me feel good. "Black Friday Rule" is a song about front man Dave King's struggle with living in America while his heart remains in his native Ireland. It contains solos of both the sweet face melting guitar and traditional Celtic instrument variety. Chances are if you've read this far, "Far Away Boys" has come up in my playlist. This song coming right after the raucous "Sentimental Johnny" helps to demonstrate Flogging Molly's versatility on the album. (Interesting side note, the last three groups are Irish.)

6. Sleep Through the Static- Jack Johnson- 2008
There's something about Jack that makes his music nearly impossible to dislike. Some may feel indifferent toward his music, but dislike is impossible. That said, I really feel like Sleep Through the Static is a good blend of Jack Johnson's two styles of feel good music (think In Between Dreams) and his more socially charged music with a mellow beat (Think On and On or Brushfire Fairytales). "What You Thought You Need" is typical of the catchy melodies Jack is known for putting out. "They Do They Don't" demonstrates an understanding of musical theory and has me nodding my head every time. Finally, "Goodbye" is a funny little song about dropping a cell phone in the toilet. Songs like that usually don't make it onto albums, but this one fits quite nicely.

7. Dark Side of the Moon- Pink Floyd- 1973
This is an album that I must listen to start to finish. Granted there are songs like "Money", "Us and Them", and "Time" that can stand alone for radio play, but all of these are greatly enhanced by being part of the album. This is an album that exemplifies the phrase, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." The fact that I see high schoolers wearing t-shirts with this album cover on it sometimes sickens me because I'm almost sure they have no idea who Pink Floyd is. At the same time, it is a very recognizable album cover that has maintained popularity over a span of 30 plus years, and teenagers knowing Pink Floyd gives me hope in this age of over produced crappy EMO; because some kids know and like Pink Floyd, I have some hope in the future of music.

8. Let It Be- The Beatles- 1970
This album has it all; a little bit of the blues ("For You Blue"), a little rock and roll ("Get Back"), a mega hit ("Let It Be"), and some more reflective stuff ("Across the Universe"). The Beatles are arguably the most influential band ever, so they deserve a spot in this list. Although there are two tracks that are less than a minute long on the album, I never skip them. They show the lighter side of recording an album and make me laugh.

9. Oh No- OK Go- 2005
OK Go is a band that was really popularized by their viral videos made popular on YouTube. I include this album at the risk of being mocked. OK Go is, in the minds of some, nothing more than an Internet sensation band the members of which can dance extremely well. They're also very talented musicians. "Invincible" is an ear shattering song that demands the inner rebel rocker turn up the volume. "Good Idea at the Time" is a clever lyrical response to the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil." "Television Television" is a humorous commentary on the mindless state that 300 channels promote in today's society. Besides, the classics "Here It Goes Again" and "A Million Ways to Be Cruel" are fun videos to watch and dance along to.

10. The Carnival- Wyclef Jean- 1997
While I was coming up with this list, I realized toward the end that most of the albums are labeled as alternative by iTunes. I don't necessarily consider The Frames, Jack Johnson or Flogging Molly alternative music. Grunge is represented. Punk is represented. Classic Rock is represented. Hip-hop music has, to this point, been noticeably under represented. Country music is an oxymoron and cannot be included in this list. Hip-hop/rap music is a genre that deserves some attention due to its influence and inclusion in cultures around the world. That said, there are many Hip-hop groups that deserve some attention, but none are as versatile as Wyclef Jean. The Fugees were huge in the 90's and after their breakup, the consensus among critics was that Lauren Hill would be successful and the others would always be just a former Fugee. Wyclef's debut solo album changed those opinions. The songs of The Carnival tell a story with intermittent spoken word tracks throughout. Wyclef brings in several guest artists on songs throughout the album, but that has proven to be typical of the rest of his albums. Although the industry is quick to label him as a rapper, Wyclef demonstrates musical versatility, playing guitar and keyboard on all tracks and providing vocals in English, Spanish, French and Creole.

So there you have it. Ten albums that can be listened to from start to finish without skipping tracks. Throughout the process of writing this, there are a few albums that I thought might deserve some mention. Included are the albums I thought about and a brief explanation why they didn't make the list.

-How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon, and The Joshua Tree by U2- As I mentioned before, I didn't want all the albums to be U2 albums.

-New Magnetic Wonder by The Apples in Stereo- This album is great all the way through, but incredibly long. Upon first listen a lot of the songs sound the same. Give it a few tries and that changes.

-Obadiah Parker Live by Obadiah Parker- I tried not to get too obscure with the bands I've selected and although they have a big following in their native AZ, they are not as known elsewhere. It's a shame because they have great lyrics and intense musical skills.

-Surfer Rosa by the Pixies- If not for one track that is just a recording of the group talking during a recording session, I wouldn't skip a song on this album.

-White Ladder by David Gray- While all of the songs on this album are good, some are great and I usually end up skipping one or two to get to the great ones.

-Twenty Something by Jamie Cullum- There are a few songs I occasionally skip, but I listen to the entire album most of the time. He's a jazz recording artist, so he's obviously not for everybody, but there's a lot of soul in his music.

-Clarity by Jimmy Eat World- This album came before the platinum Bleed American, which contains the mega hits "The Middle" and "Sweetness". In terms of creativity, Clarity is a grade above Bleed American, which is evidenced on the last track, "Goodbye Sky Harbor", which contains a loop to end the song that lasts approximately 13 minutes. It's also why I listen to the first four minutes of the last track and skip the rest.

-Costello Music by The Fratellis- This album has one track I skip half of the time. Minus that one track, the album is a really catchy fun sing-along type album.

-Give Up by The Postal Service- There's a track I skip on this album all the time because it doesn't seem to fit the rest of the album, which consists largely of melancholy lyrics put to upbeat electronic tunes.

-Guilt Show by The Get Up Kids- I actually don't listen to all the tracks on this album, but as a whole it's a great listen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Seemingly Brainless on Valentine's Day Part II

One year has passed since I last tiraded about Valentine's Day. I still feel the same about the ridiculous expectations that commercialism sets for men in America, but now I'm one of those men. As a disclaimer, I'd like to note that I have never had a girlfriend on Valentine's Day, and that has been by design. The pressure of clearing the bar that has been set so dangerously high was always too much for me. I figured that rather than trying to clear that bar, it would be easier to lay down on the mat with a pre-Valentine's Day breakup. That strategy doesn't work as well as a married guy.

I suppose that karma has found a way to make up for my despicable pre-Valentine's Day rituals of the past because preparing for the special day is every bit as difficult as I imagined and then some. From the perspective of a single guy, I have previously chronicled the idiocy of the poor suckers trying to measure up. Now that it's my turn to be the idiot, I'd like to write again about this subject in a different light. So here it is:

In an effort to figure out what would be the best course of action, I did what I thought all smart men do. I consulted her best friend. I was very appreciative of the advice given and oh how I wish I could have implemented it more effectively.

Natalie's first suggestion was, "Try and find a sitter. Look for a girl who is like 13-14. That way, they're old enough to be responsible, but also too young for too much boyfriend issues."

"That's a great idea, but I don't know any girls in that age range, which is probably a good sign that I'm not a sex offender." I replied.

Her second suggestion was lingerie. Again this was a great idea. I gave her some excuse about how Facebook put a Victoria's Secret advertisement on my page which I watched. The add had supermodels encouraging guys to snoop through their girlfriend or wife's underwear drawer for sizes and just pop into the store for a browse. Like any guy being told what to do by beautiful women, I snooped. And I found. Specifically something I'm guessing is my Valentine's Day present. (Sidenote: Why is it that people always hide things in the underwear drawer? Also, I hope my wife doesn't read this before Valentine's Day.) Natalie comes back with the end all be all of V-day suggestions that it doesn't matter what I give, just as long as we spend time together. So it turns out that asking the best friend is only a good idea for guys if they're willing to listen to the giver of the advice. I'm not smart enough to listen at first.

In the end, I decide on one of my own ideas and one of Natalie's. My wife has been annoyed with her hair lately, but she just doesn't want to give in and give up the bucks for a nice salon cut. As I approach the salon doors, I feel the eyes of every woman, window washer and gay guy in the salon scanning me in my Red Sox hat, surf shop hoodie, jeans and flip flops. Their eyes dart up and down. Their brains process the information and I'm sure few figure out my purpose.

I walk to the back of the salon where a security guard sulks in the corner, quite possibly upset at the fact that he pulled salon duty that day. A smirk crosses his face as he realizes I'm in there of my own volition. Besides the security guard, there are two other Y chromosomes in the place. The second is a guy who looked like he had literally killed his couch and made a shirt out of it. It's a "Southwest" shirt complete with purples, greens and weird blues zig zagged into pattern. His hair smacks of the 80's (see also, the middle of his back) and he complains about the last time he went in for a cut and color. The last dude is the dude working the salon. He's an older guy who smells like cigarettes. His teeth are stained purple, I assume from too much wine. As I talk to him I can't help but think to myself, "so this is what an older gay guy is like." He seems all too pleased to be speaking to me until I mention my errand and he discovers I have a wife. I quickly achieve my purpose and promptly leave the store.

The second store I patron is on the recommendation of Natalie and Facebook. For as much time and effort I spent in trying to avoid being pushed into the women's underwear section by my brothers as we walked the aisles at various department stores in our youth, I laugh at the irony that I'm now in Victoria's Secret of my own choice. The first woman I meet as I walk in is very friendly and quite attractive. I nervously fumble through a preplanned speech as to the entire reason I am in the store that day as if the women inside assume I'm some sort of pervert and an explanation would exonerate me of that mental accusation. The woman listens to my ramblings, smiles and nods her head. When I am done she simply says, "OK. Let me introduce you to (insert woman's name I can't remember here). I work in beauty and she can show you our other products." By the time I am done, I find I've spent $125.00 and I am sure that as I walk out of the store, all eyes are on my shopping bag and people immediately label me as a degenerate perv.

So what's the moral in all this? Well maybe I was a bit harsh on those poor suckers last year. Valentine's Day is rough.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The End of an Era

My hair clippers rest in the medicine cabinet. It's been over a year now. The batteries have long been removed at sometime in desperation to change the channel when the TV remote control batteries died. I had planned on using them again as I had last year and the year before. Next to the clippers is a can of green hairspray. It too has gone unused for the last year. The discussion that ultimately led to the retirement of the clippers went something like this,

My wife: "Why?"

Me: "Because it's something I do every year."

My wife: "But you don't need a mowhawk this year."

Me: "I never need a mowhawk, but it's pretty cool."

My wife: "I could understand if they were coming this year, but they're not."

Me: "So, I still want to do it in protest."

And so the argument arises and quells over a period of about a week. A green mowhawk and seeing my favorite Irish punk rock band, Flogging Molly, three days before my birthday has been the extent of my celebrating for the last three years. For 364 days of the year, I blend into the crowd. But on one day, St. Patrick's Day, I become a green haired, mowhawked, punk rocker. In retrospect, green mowhawks blend in with the Flogging Molly crowd, so I blend in 365 days of the year. It's not that I particularly like blending in. I blend because some people in society can't see past the surface and take someone who looks different seriously. For more about blending in, see It's gotta be one of the funniest websites out there.

And so my wife and I come to a compromise. She gets to cut my hair and not in mowhawk fashion, but on St Patrick's Day, I get green hair. This whole argument wouldn't have been and I could just have my way if the only independent radio station in Phoenix hadn't done as Reel Big Fish once satirically suggested and sold out. First they get rid of the only morning DJ that has ever really made me laugh and replace him with the nasally, regrettable and forgettable Adam Corolla. Then they start playing nothing but Paramore, Katy Perry, the Offspring, and Kings of Leon. To top it all off, they fail epically in bringing to town the one sure thing that would have redeemed them. Flogging Molly not only didn't play in Phoenix this year on St. Patrick's day, they didn't play in Phoenix at all.

So my wife can thank corporate greed for this punk rocker's lack of a sweet green do. Edge 103.9, great work going from the best radio station in Phoenix to the worst.