Nights Like These: Music Fest, Day 3 May 3, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts, Memphis.
Tags: Beale Street Music Festival, Gregg Allman, JJ Grey & Mofro, Lucero, Memphis in May, The Avett Brothers, tornado warning, Wilco
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Day 3 started out a bit rougher than its predecessors.
Overnight the skies had opened and dumped rain across the Mid-South and today more severe weather was predicted from the threatening atmosphere above which would no doubt throw our plans askew. I ate lunch with my family and then drove over to the park, where I was met by the two friends who stuck around for the whole weekend, Chris and Dan (Berry and Meredith had to go return to their home, Jerry was still not feeling well, and James didn’t have a ticket). We began our day with the southern rock sounds J.J. Grey & the Mofro, a band out of Jacksonville, Florida, whose sound I was really digging when one of the worst possible calamities that could have struck began snarling from the skies above. The sirens started to wail, the band cleared the stage, and we knew exactly what was happening. Tornado.
Yes, apparently a tornado had been spotted in Crittenden County, just across the river in Arkansas and the ETA to Downtown Memphis was reportedly a mere 10 minutes. Knowing that our cars, much less any sort of shelter, was far more than 10 minutes away, there was little we could do, so, like many in our situation might choose to do, we grabbed a drink found a spot in the torrential downpour, and decided to wait it out. I mean, if you’re going to die in a tornado, you might as well be doing something you love, right?
But, luckily the vortex of doom had other plans and moved just north of Memphis, leaving us wet but otherwise unharmed. Due to the fact that the warning was still affecting the county, though, the sirens continued to wail and the crowds cowered wherever it was that the rest of the people went. The finishing time for JJ Grey came and went, and soon the start time for the next band was gone as well, but just then something amazing happened. Something that made me believe that perhaps there was still a real spirit of rock and roll beneath all the corporate hype strangling away all that it once was. Lucero, Memphis’s great local band and the next performers on the bill, stepped out in the rain amid the sirens, and they began to play. My God, did they play. In what could have been a disaster of terrible proportions, Lucero gave the proverbial middle finger to mother nature and launched into a blistering, awe-inspiring set that saved the day, turning them into tattooed, musical messiahs. Vocalist Ben Nichols was like a man possessed, prowling the stage as the band ripped through a number of their better-known tunes like “Sweet Little Thing,” “Nights Like These,” “Chain Link Fence,” “That Much Further West,” before ending with an inspired, almost revival-like version of “Drink ‘Till We’re Gone,” a song whose prophetic lyrics are still giving me chills now as I write and think of that moment when a few hundred of us gathered together, huddled in the rain, with the wind whipping around us and the river at dangerously high levels just to our right, and sang these words,
Because this big old river
Will us in time
‘Till then we’ll drink it’s weight
In cheap beer and wine.
We can drink just as fast
As the river is strong
And we’ll drink ‘till we’re gone.
It was without a doubt one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced in my 15 years of going to Music Fest. Thank you, Lucero. (I’ve got another idea for a post that has to do with this, so stay tuned. I’ll try to write it out this week)
When Lucero finished their incredible set, we were then treated to a legendary figure, one who has been at the forefront of Southern rock for more than 40 years, Gregg Allman. Allman looked and sounded strong, despite having undergone a liver transplant over the past year as he played a number of songs from both his solo catalog and that of his legendary band, the Allman Brothers. It was a good show and I’m glad that I can now add Allman to the list of artists I’ve been able to see over my nearly 20 years of concert-going.
Next up was another young folk band and one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend, The Avett Brothers. The Avetts play a really cool blend of folk, bluegrass, and rock music that few others can match because really there aren’t very many people who can rock a banjo like these guys. Their set was comprised of songs from across their album catalog, beginning with the great and upbeat “Tin Man” and including some really great versions of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “January Wedding,” the rocking “Paranoia in Bb Major,” a John Prine cover “Spanish Pipedream,” and “Kick Drum Heart,” before ending with the beautiful “I and Love and You.” At Music Fest there are few non-headlining bands who get the opportunity to play an encore, but fortunately for us, the Avett’s did and they chose a killer song in “Talk on Indolence.” It was, without a doubt, one of my top five performances of the weekend and I can’t wait to see them again.
So, we’ve been standing for three days. We’ve stared down a tornado, endured a thunderstorm, and had our ears blasted by hours upon hours of music. We’re soaking wet and have subsisted on little besides pronto pups and Budweiser. We’ve seen aural spectacles like the Flaming Lips, danced with Mumford and Sons, been moved by Lucero, and rocked out time and time again. We’re exhausted, but there is still one band left to go, one more group of artists to light our way home, and it is arguably one of the most important acts of the past two decades: Wilco. Jeff Tweedy’s & company open with the slow “Ashes of American Flags,” as if they realize our tiredness and are trying to ease us into the set to come, before then throwing out the piano driven verses of “Bull Black Nova” and reeling us into their groovy world. It’s an excellent set, with songs like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “War on War,” “Impossible Germany,” “Shot in the Arm,” and “Jesus, Etc.,” but it’s the final song that really brings it all back home, that turns this night into something distinctly Memphis. For their final tune, the one they use to send us back out into the streets of the Bluff City and then into our regular lives is none other than a cover of the hugely influential and Memphis—based Big Star’s “In the Street.”
It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend of music.
Ten for Tuesday: Music Fest’s A-Comin! April 26, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: Beale Street Music Festival, Cake, Greg Allman, lineup, Lucero, Lucinda Williams, Memphis in May, MGMT, Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, the new pornographers, Wilco
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The biggest annual music event in Memphis is, without a doubt, the Beale Street Music Festival and I’ve made a point of attending the celebration for most of the past 15 years. Every year there is a certain level of anticipation, but never before can I remember being so enthusiastic about so many acts in one year. It should be a great one.
So, today I thought I would give you my top ten acts that I will try and see at this year’s Music Fest. You’ll notice a few artists missing that I might otherwise include – Stone Temple Pilots (playing at the same time as the Flaming Lips), Cee Lo (same time as The Avett Brothers), and Ziggy Marley (same time as Lucero), as well as an open slot for Saturday night’s headlining act – I’m not a huge John Mellencamp fan, but I’d take him over Ke$ha, but by-and-large I’d probably stick with these as the ones I want to see.
So, in the order they are appearing, here are the 10 acts I want to see at this year’s Music Fest:
Cake – 7:40 Friday
Cake hit it big around the time I graduated from high school with “The Distance” and their still-fun cover of “I Will Survive,” and though I always liked them fairly well, I mostly considered them to be sort of a novelty act. On the other hand, I have friends who swear by their live act and say it is not to be missed, so I’ll have to try and catch some of them Friday evening.
MGMT – 9:00 Friday
Dude, this is going to be a total psychedelic groove fest and I plan on being right in the middle of it when it all goes down. I loved their first album with incredibly catchy tunes like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend,” but I may like the 60’s-drenched psychedelic ramble of their second release even more. I’m totally pumped about them.
The Flaming Lips – 10:50 Friday
If there is one band that is a must-see for me this weekend it’s the Flaming Lips, a band I’ve been listening to for years and have long wanted to see live, but have never had the chance. When it comes to crazy psycedelia, nobody is even close to the Lips. They are the long-time reigning kings of acid-drenched weirdness and I cannot wait to see them live.
The New Pornographers – 5:40 Saturday
I was really excited to hear that this indie rock supergroup, which includes both Dan Bejar and a personal favorite, Neko Case, would be playing Music Fest this time around. Their brand of indie pop is impossible not to like.
Mumford & Sons – 7:15 Saturday
These guys made big waves in the folk community last year with an incredibly catchy release and an energetic live show, setting them up as darlings of the alt-country crowd. I found their first album to be both beautiful and brilliant, so I’ve got high hopes for their live show.
Lucinda Williams 8:55 Saturday
What can be said about Lucinda Williams, the long-time queen of alt-country? Her latest album, Blessed, is proof that, despite now being over 50 years of age, she can still produce some of the most relevant music around. I saw her at an earlier Music Fest some 10 years ago or so and she’s definitely on my list to see again this time.
Lucero 3:35 Sunday
Memphis’s own alt-country favorites are roaring back into town for another show that cannot be missed. Ben Nichols & company always put on a great show and I expect nothing less from them this year either.
Greg Allman 5:10 Sunday
Come on, he’s Greg Allman! One of the Allman Brothers! Of course I want to catch him live!
The Avett Brothers 6:55 Sunday
Much like the aforementioned Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers firmly put their stamp on the alt-country world over the past few years with recordings that range from high-octane banjo rock to tender ballads. I’ve never had the chance to see them before, so this one cannot be missed.
Wilco 8:40 Sunday
I’m a longtime fan of Wilco, but it seems like every time they come through the Memphis area, something comes up and I can’t make it. Well, this time around I will be there. Mark my words, I will be throwing down with Jeff Tweedy and the boys Sunday night.
What about you? Are you going? If so, who do you want to see?
The Grammy Awards Get It Right February 14, 2011Posted by Matt in Best of 2010, music.
Tags: Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, Grammy Awards, Mumford & Sons, Neil Young, Neil Young and Pearl Jam got screwed, Pearl Jam, thanks for reading my blog Grammy Award voters, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys
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I haven’t watched the Grammy Awards in years, mostly due to my dismissive attitude towards mainstream pop, and, though last night was no exception to that rule, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that my favorite album of 2010, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, won the prize. To top things off, I also found out that two of my favorite newer bands, The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, played with none other than the great Bob Dylan.
So, what does this mean? Well, the narcissist in me believes that the Grammy Award voters obviously read my blog. There is no other explanation for some of their choices this year. Just check out 3 of my top 4 albums of 2010, as posted in December:
4. The Black Keys – Brothers
Winner – Best Alternative Music Album
2. Neil Young – Le Noise
Nominated for Best Rock Music Album (lost inexplicably to Muse)
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Winner – Album of the Year
Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, my choice for best album of 2009, was also nominated in the Rock Album category.
The other album in my top 4, Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy, missed the September 30 cutoff date for the year’s award show, but I fully expect him to be nominated for everything next year.
And, if you missed it like I did, check out this link to the video of Dylan, Mumford, and the Avetts before they take it down. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading, Grammy voters. Feel free to laud praise on my music choices any time.
Best of the Decade – Music Artists February 9, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Arcade Fire, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, drive-by truckers, Green Day, Interpol, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, josh ritter, Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, neko case, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The Avett Brothers, The Black Keys, The Decemberists, The Flaming Lips, The Hold Steady, The White Stripes, top artists of the decade, Wilco
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Over the past few months we’ve taken a look at the music from the past decade in my ranking of the top 100 albums released during that time period. To arrive at this list, I considered more than 400 releases from those ten years, the majority of which I actually own. But, this undertaking led me to yet another question – if these are the top albums, who are the top artists? So, using these 400 albums and my rankings as a guide, I have compiled a listing of my 30 top artists of the time period stretching from 2000-2009. Let me know what you think.
30. Bright Eyes – Between his solo work and that with Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst is one of the most prolific artists on my list. Though he can be a bit over-earnest at times, I’m still a big fan of his unsure, wavering voice.
Notable Albums: Lifted or The Story is in the Soul, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002), Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005), Cassadega (2007)
29. The Avett Brothers – I became an instant fan of The Avett Brothers after hearing 2007’s alt-grass classic Emotionalism, a feeling which has only grown stronger through 2009’s piano ballad-driven I and Love and You.
Notable Albums: Mignonette (2004), Emotionalism (2007), I and Love and You (2009)
28. Modest Mouse – Modest Mouse had been around in indie rock circles for several years, but it was 2004’s unavoidable catchy “Float On” that propelled them to stardom.
Notable Albums: The Moon & Antarctica (2000), Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004), We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007)
27. Interpol – Downbeat and depressing, Interpol brought back everything that was good about the early 80’s post-punk movement.
Notable Albums: Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), Antics (2004), Our Love to Admire (2007)
26. Ryan Adams – Another prolific artist, Adams released the equivalent of 10 studio albums over the past decade. Though most of his work is hit and miss, when he is on, he’s among the best working today.
Notable Albums: Heartbreaker (2000), Gold (2001), Love is Hell (2004), Easy Tiger (2007)
25. Johnny Cash – The Man in Black may have passed away in 2002, but that didn’t stop him from being among the highest rated artists of the decade. His final series of works with Rick Rubin are some of the most poignant to be found anywhere.
Notable Albums: American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)
24. Jay-Z – There are few hip-hop artists who reach stardom that continue produce top-notch albums. Though Jay-Z has had his fair share of misses, he continues to be one of the best in the game.
Notable Albums: The Blueprint (2001), The Black Album (2003)
23. Neko Case – I fell in love with Neko Case’s soaring voice following her stellar ’06 release, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and she has yet to disappoint me.
Notable Albums: Blacklisted (2002), Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), Middle Cyclone (2009)
22. Arcade Fire – With a huge sound and a big Springsteen influence, Canada’s Arcade Fire burst onto the scene in a big way with their 2004 debut Funeral. They have a great deal of energy and passion that translates well in their stadium-ready songs.
Notable Albums: Funeral (2004), Neon Bible (2007)
21. Wilco – Though 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot may be the creative pinnacle of their career thus far, in my opinion, the 1990’s were a far better decade overall for Jeff Tweedy’s band. Nevertheless, they did produce some enjoyable and inventive fare over the past ten years.
Notable Albums: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), Sky Blue Sky (2007), Wilco (The Album) (2009)
20. The Decemberists – As I have mentioned in the past, there is probably no success story that is more unlikely than that of The Decemberists, with their obscure lyrical references and use of uncommon instruments (accordions, Wurlitzer organs, etc.).
Notable Albums: Picaresque (2005), The Crane Wife (2006), The Hazards of Love (2009)
19. Outkast – Given the fact that they have released two of the all-time quintessential hip hop albums over the past ten years, I wanted to place Big Boi and Andre 3000 higher then this. But, their lack of quality output since 2003’s double album extravaganza hurt them in the long run.
Notable Albums: Stankonia (2000), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
18. The Flaming Lips – Trippy and weird, these Oklahomans have been cranking out alt-rock oddities for more than two decades. The past decade from the Lips brought us pink robots, politics, and a penchant for sonic insanity. Really, what else do you need?
Notable Albums: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2000), At War with the Mystics (2006), Embryonic (2009)
17. The Black Keys – This is down and dirty blues-rock done right – by a couple of hippy-ish white guys from Akron, Ohio. The Keys have put together work after work of irresistible riff-rock that needs to be heard.
Notable albums: Thickfreakness (2003), Rubber Factory 92004), Attack & Release (2008)
16. Coldplay – Sure, their sound may be a bit contrived and safe, but this band, which is certainly among the most popular groups of the decade, know how to make stadium-ready rock.
Notable albums: Parachutes (2000), A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002), Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
15. Kanye West – With the kind of talent Kanye has who cares if he’s not a nice guy. If there is a single hip hop artist to be identified with this decade, it must be him. He is creative, fun, and a definite risk-taker across all four of his excellent releases.
Notable Albums: The College Dropout (2004), Late Registration (2005), 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
14. The Hold Steady – The band once proclaimed to be the “best bar band in America” has become one of the best bands period in America. Openly wielding a love for Springsteen, the band tears through song after song about the dead end people and towns.
Notable Albums: Separation Sunday (2005), Boys and Girls in America (2005), Stay Positive (2008)
13. Bob Dylan – Dylan’s career resurgence following 1997’s Time Out of Mind carried through the first decade of the millennium, a time in which his releases went from incredible to strange (whoever guessed we’d have Dylan Christmas album?), but never boring.
Notable Albums: Love & Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006), Together Through Life (2009)
12. Kings of Leon – KoL began the decade as little-known Southern rockers, the sons of a Tennessee preacher, and ended it as one of the biggest bands in America.
Notable Albums: Youth and Young Manhood (2003), Aha Shake Heartbreak (2004), Only By Night (2008)
11. Beck – Eschewing his “two turntables and a microphone” persona, alternative rock’s Dylan began the decade with a sad and darn near perfect collection of acoustic laments before carrying on with a return to the fun-loving and danceable tunes that propelled him to stardom in the 90’s.
Notable Albums: Sea Change (2002), The Information (2006), Modern Guilty (2008)
10. Sufjan Stevens – Earnest and uncertain, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens chose to do things his way over the past decade, releasing entire albums devoted to the states of Michigan and Illinois, producing a collection of Christmas EPs and wearing his spiritual side on his sleeve.
Notable Albums: Greetings from Michigan (2003), Seven Swans (2004), Illinois (2005)
9. Pearl Jam – The majority of Pearl Jam’s releases this decade were good, but lacking a bit when compared to their work from the 1990’s – or course, that was prior to 2009’s Backspacer, which ranked as one of my very favorite albums of the entire decade.
Notable Albums: Binaural (2000), Riot Act (2002), Backspacer (2009)
8. Green Day – This decade marked the evolution of Green Day from juvenile pop-punkers to worldwide fame and renown. Their newfound maturity and political themes turned Billy Joe’s band into one of the most important ones in America today.
Notable Albums: American Idiot (2004), 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
7. Spoon – Though Spoon had been around in the 90’s, it was not until the early 2000’s that I came in contact with their infectious, danceable tunes and I loved it. There are few bands that have been as consistently good as Spoon over the past 10 years.
Notable Albums: Kill the Moonlight (2002), Girls Can Tell (2001), Gimme Fiction (2005)
6. My Morning Jacket – Jim James’ band burst through their reverb-soaked haze early in the decade to claim a piece of the 2000’s Southern rock crown. Though their sound can veer from Neil Young to Prince, the overall product is a distinctly Southern one and not to be missed.
Notable Albums: It Still Moves (2003), Z (2005), Evil Urges (2008)
5. Josh Ritter – Ritter is quite possibly the best songwriter of my generation, and that’s really saying something. He could be the next Springsteen or the next Dylan, or maybe sometime in the future we’ll be calling another young singer-songwriter the next Ritter.
Notable Albums: Hello Starling (2003), The Animal Years (2006), The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
4. Drive-By Truckers – There are few artists that I have followed as intently over the past ten years as DBT. There is just something about their stories of the dark side of the South that I find appealing and they have a killer live show.
Notable Albums: Southern Rock Opera (2001), Decoration Day (2003), Brighter than Creation’s Dark (2008)
3. Radiohead – If my generation has an answer to The Beatles, it is Radiohead. Thom Yorke’s band has continually pushed boundaries for the past 15 years and, in so doing, have produced some of the most creative and incredible pieces of work to be found in the music business today.
Notable Albums: Kid A (2000), Hail to the Thief (2003), In Rainbows (2007)
2. The White Stripes – I’m an unabashed worshipper of the power of Jack White and his guitar. The guy can pull incredible solos out of nowhere and make them look easy. This duo’s five albums of blues-rock are among the best of anybody for the entire decade.
Notable Albums: White Blood Cells (2001), Elephant (2003), Icky Thump (2007)
1. Bruce Springsteen – Who cares if the Boss topped 60 last year? The guy can still bring it like no other. The 2000’s have proven to be his most fruitful time since the early-mid ‘80’s, with 5 great albums released over the course of ten years. All hail the Boss, he’s still the man!
Notable Albums: The Rising (2002), Magic (2007), Working on a Dream (2009)
Best of the Decade – Music Edition (31-40 January 11, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, best of decade, drive-by truckers, Garden State soundtrack, Interpol, Kanye West, Loretta Lynn, music, Outkast, Ryan Adams, Spoon, The Avett Brothers, The White Stripes
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Today we return to our look back at the top 100 albums of the past decade. In case you missed the previous entries, you can get to them through the following links:
40. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose (2004)
The teaming of this classic country artist with a new generation’s guitar god, Jack White, must have seemed quite strange on paper, but somehow it worked beautifully. Lynn turned 70 in the year this album was released and was long past her best known works, but in taking a lesson from fellow country star Johnny Cash, she reinvigorated her career while in her golden years. The Lynn/White duet on “Portland, Oregon,” ranks as one of the best songs of the decade and “Miss Being Mrs.” is as wonderfully old-school as you’re going to find.
39. Spoon – Kill the Moonlight (2002)
There are few artists who put together a string of albums at the quality level of Spoon over the past decade. They have a real knack for creating pop gems that make you want to dance and sing along, in a way that few other higher profile acts can. This is the epitome of good time music for the new millennium. Listen to tunes like “The Way We Get By” and “Stay Don’t Go” and let the music carry you away.
38. Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
Kanye West holds the distinction (along with Jay-Z) of being one of the few consistently good rappers in the decade, releasing four interesting and adventurous albums over that span of time. West is smart, full of braggadocio, and his songs are catchy as heck, three needed elements to succeed in the rap game. Check out “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Gold Digger” and you may just agree that West is one of the best of all time.
37. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
In a time replete with 80’s nostalgia, this piece of work from a band obviously influenced to a great extent by the downbeat post-punk bands from the early part of the decade like The Cure and Joy Division. Though the lyrics never reach the utterly depressing state of their influences, their music continues to carry the torch with a sound of desolation and loneliness. Listen to “NYC” and “PDA” for a taste of retro despair.
36. Drive-by Truckers – Decoration Day (2003)
As most of my friends already know, the Drive-By Truckers are one of my favorite bands of any genre from the past decade. Their tales of the dark side of Southern life are second to none and they rock in concert like few others. From the first bars of “The Deeper In,” (which may be the best song ever about brother-sister incest) sung a capella by vocalist Patterson Hood to the manic depravity of “Sinkhole” to the heartfelt goodbye of “Outfit,” this is one incredible collection of tunes. If you like your rock southern fried without the redneck stupidity, this is the band for you.
35. The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2007)
As I’ve mentioned before, Jack White is the greatest guitar god of an entire generation, and with good reason. This album just rocks, pure and simple. I had the chance to see the Stripes on this tour back in ’07 and let me tell you, it was an experience second to none and I will always be in awe of White. The title track, “Icky Thump,” and “I’m Slowly Turning into You,” with it’s strange organ line, are two great examples of what this little two person band with a big sound is capable of.
34. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism (2007)
Country-rock, new-grass, whatever you want to call it, the Avett Brothers know how to rock a banjo. Intense, fun, and increasingly interesting, this album gets better and better each time you listen to it. “Shame” mixes sadness with a buoyant rhythm section and nice harmonies to create one of their better tracks and “Paranoia in B-Flat Major” just plain rocks. Make sure you check this band out.
33. Garden State Soundtrack (2004)
I’m generally not a big fan of movie soundtracks, mainly because they tend to be a repository for cast-off tracks with the occasional great song thrown in for good measure. But this soundtrack, for the wonderful little Zach Braff-helmed film Garden State, is a true stand-out. The songs contained here capture the essence of what is often called the quarter-life crisis, that depressing time in post-college life where you look around and say, “This is it?” It is an almost perfect mix of well known acts like Coldplay, classic folk from Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel, and a plethora of bands unknown to much of the general public. It was through this soundtrack that I first became familiar with great groups like The Shins and Iron & Wine, and that cannot be discounted. A few of my favorites from the collection in The Shins’ “New Slang,” Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” and Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights.”
32. Ryan Adams – Heartbreakers
Releasing 11 albums over the course of the decade, Adams is no doubt the most prolific artist of the 00’s, and thought they have their bright spots, it is this, his first solo album, that I come back to time and again. His teaming with folk siren Emmylou Harris is inspired for this collection of beautiful sadness, the kind that is akin to the best in country music. “To Be Young” is a rollicking number to kick things off while “Oh My Sweet Carolina” has the distinct ability of being sad without the country music cheese. When Adams is on, he’s among the best and this album is proof.
31. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
How do you follow up one of the best rap albums ever released? By releasing a long, brilliantly pretentious, double album that really amounts to two solo albums by the duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Big Boi’s half, entitled “Speakerboxxx” is straight ahead hip hop that hits hard and makes you want to move from beginning to end, through songs like “The Way You Move” and “Ghetto Musick.” Andre 3000’s selection, entitled “The Love Below” stretches out into the genres of funk, jazz, and soul, creating an eclectic and unusual mix, a style that drives the huge hit “Hey Ya!” as well as the rest of the interesting album. This is a truly incredible work and one of the most important ever released in the hip hop/rap genre.
Best of 2009 in Music – The Top Ten December 30, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: Best of 2009, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, Grizzly Bear, K'Naan, Mos Def, music, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, The Swell Season, top ten
2009 was quite a year in the music world, one that was filled with superb high profile releases and great recordings by artists toiling under the radar. I purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 new albums over the past year, most from either emusic or Amazon, and I have whittled that list down to 25 that I will present now as the best of the year. Monday we looked at five honorable mentions and yesterday at those ranked 11-20, so today will be dedicated to the top ten.
10. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
With their latest release, Grizzly Bear has established itself as one of the premier indie rock bands working today. They seamlessly bend and meld genres, from acoustic folk to jazz to intimate pop with vocal harmonies and large deal of psychedelic sounds to create a unique sound in a crowded music marketplace. This is a definite must-have for indie music fans.
Download: Southern Point, Two Weeks
9. Mos Def – Ecstatic
Employing intelligent lyrics and a strong social consciousness, rapper/actor Mos Def has long been an oddity in a genre that tends toward nihilistic materialism. I do not own a lot of his prior works, so I lack a real basis of comparison when it comes to his career, but this album is very good. If you are a fan of hip-hop and rap, this is a necessity for 2009.
Download: Auditorium, Quiet Dog
8. Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
2009 was a year when legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan looked the music industry square in the face and laughed. It was a time for him to say that he was going to do whatever he pleased, regardless of what others might thing. So, the great Dylan released 2 works in 2009, a strange but great Christmas album and Together Through Life, which came as a complete surprise with no press release concerning it until a short time before its release. At age 68 Dylan is still confounding expectations, this time employing accordions and a sound with a strange Southwestern/Zydeco/Blues fusion that somehow works.
Download: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, My Wife’s Hometown
7. K’naan – Troubadour
K’naan has a message for American rappers – you don’t know what a hard life is. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and having lived through the Somali Civil War that began in 1991, K’naan has a perspective that is unmatched by his peers. Adding to his uniqueness is the fact that he is a devout Muslim, something else that sets him apart in the American music scene. His lyrics are socially conscious and tell of things that few of us in America have any idea about and that need to be heard.
Download: Somalia, Wavin’ Flag
6. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
I was a bit disappointed with the Lips’ previous politically-driven release, At War With the Mystics, especially when compared to the preceding classics, The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, so I was apprehensive when I heard the news of their latest work. Soon, though, my fears would be allayed, for this is definitely a Lips record, filled with all of the sonic noises and the loads of just plain weirdness that we have come to expect from this unpredictable outfit. Be sure to check this one out.
Download: Convinced of the Hex, See the Leaves
5. The Swell Season – Strict Joy
The 2007 film Once is without a doubt one of my favorite cinematic pieces of the past decade and much of my adoration for the film is due to its incredible soundtrack, written and performed by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The duo then took the name The Swell Season, which also happens to be the title of their 2006 debut album, and released this incredible collection. Where Once and “The Swell Season” albums were tales of falling love, “Strict Joy” has been described as the breakup album, all of which mirror the real life relationship of the two artists. This is a great, heartfelt album that needs to be heard.
Download: Low Rising, Feeling the Pull
4. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
I first heard of the Avett Brothers following their last release, Emotionalism, with its unusual fusion of bluegrass and alt rock and quickly became a fan. For their latest work, the band has taken a different approach, though, doing away with rocking a banjo and instead embracing the piano-driven ballad. In doing so, they crafted the most beautifully constructed musical work of 2009. Though their country/bluegrass roots remain, they have been tempered a bit as the Avetts take a stab at near-pop perfection.
Download: I and Love and You, January Wedding, Kick Drum Heart
3. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Who ever would have thought that a brash 90’s punk band best known for songs about self-induced euphoria would become one of the most important bands in the world? This is Green Day’s second consecutive rock opera, the first, American Idiot, was a Grammy-winning success. 21st Century Breakdown continues in the same vein, this time telling the story of people dealing with the aftermath of the Bush years. It is a modern classic, a burst of punk-driven energy through a classic rock Who-like lens that will completely blow away your senses. I’m a big, big fan.
Download: Viva La Gloria, East Jesus Nowhere, American Eulogy
2. Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream
It has been so wonderful to see the Boss get a second wind of creativity this decade after a somewhat sub-par 1990’s and show that he still has a lot to offer the music world. As much as I loved 2007’s Magic, this one may be the best Springsteen offering in a decade full of great ones. “Outlaw Pete” kicks things off as a risky and magnificent opener, clocking in at 8 minutes that sets the tone for this outstanding set. I had the opportunity to see him earlier this year in concert and am now more of a fan than ever before. If you haven’t bought this album yet, do it. Now.
Download: Outlaw Pete, Queen of the Supermarket, Kingdom of Days
1. Pearl Jam – Backspacer
Those of you who read this blog know that I am always singing the praises of Pearl Jam. They have been a part of my life since their debut album, Ten, some 18 years ago and I have closely followed them ever since. Of all of their great recordings over those years, and there have been a lot of them, this one may very well be the best. I absolutely love it. It is an emotionally affecting, beautiful view of the world from a band in middle age, singing to fans who are most likely in their 30’s or older with families of their own. Eddie Vedder’s voice and lyrics haven’t been this moving in years and every song on the album is great, even approaching perfection.
Download: You really need the whole album, but if I have to pick a few songs:
The Fixer, Just Breathe, Amongst the Waves
Best of the Decade – Music Edition (61-70) December 8, 2009Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: 2000s, Andrew Bird, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Eddie Vedder, Jay-Z, josh ritter, Michael McDermott, music, Sinead O'Connor, The Avett Brothers, top 100, Vampire Weekend
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70. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha (2007)
Armed with a college degree in violin performance and proficiencies in a number of instruments, Andrew Bird created this gem of an album from 2007. Bird has great pop sensibilities and an even more impressive vocabulary, one that will keep you searching through the nearest dictionary. The song, “Imitosis” has one of my favorite lines – “What was mistaken for closeness / Is just a case of mitosis.” In addition to that, check out the excellent song “Plasticities.”
69. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (2009)
The Avetts made a name for themselves on the indie circuit with their energetic live shows and a unique neo-bluegrass-alt rock fusion sound. For their latest release, however, the brothers reign in the banjo a bit, opting instead to focus on piano-driven ballads. In so doing, they created one of the most beautifully crafted albums of the decade. Check out tunes like “January Wedding” and “Tin Man” to get a feel for the band’s sound and then grab the whole album. It is truly great.
68. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008)
The Ivy League-educated guys in VW must have been raised with a copy of Regatta De Blanc close at hand, for the influence of The Police permeates throughout this excellent debut album. Their sound is light and poppy, mixing Afro-beats and alternative rock in a altogether fun conglomeration. I greatly anticipate their sophomore release, scheduled to come out 2010. For now, though, check out “Mansard Roof” and “A-Punk” to get a feel for the band.
67. Sinead O’Connor – Theology (2007)
It is no secret that I heap tons of disdain upon the contemporary Christian music industry, but that does not equate to an outright abhorrence of all things both musical and Christian. This double album, one which you will probably never hear of on K-Love, is the perfect example of one that is definitely in that vein that I absolutely love. The release consists of two discs, both of which contain most of the same songs but with differing presentations. One of the discs employs a full band, but my personal favorite is the other one which, for the most part, consists of only her and an acoustic guitar. Songs like “Something Beautiful” and “Out of the Depths” are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt.
66. Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003)
Bold, brash, and inventive, Jay-Z separated himself from most of the rap world over the course of the late 90’s-early 00’s as the best around. Utilizing samples from artists as diverse as Madonna, Mountain, and Run DMC, mixed with his own prodigious skills, this release is really a great work in a community not always known for producing good albums. “99 Problems” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” are killer, hard-hitting tunes.
65. Coldplay – Parachutes (2000)
Say what you want about Chris Martin’s ultra-popular band – that they are conventional or guilty of plagiarizing – but, regardless of that, they have had quite a run in the first decade of the new millennium. This, their debut album, vaulted them atop the music world back in 2000, largely on the back of “Yellow,” (which, in my opinion, is one of the least interesting cuts on the album) their lead single in America. Check out the songs “Don’t Panic” and “Spies” instead for better representations of the release.
64. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)
Written in response to the attacks of 9/11, the album is brimming with both sadness and hope in a way that only Springsteen, America’s everyman hero, could do. For this grand return The Boss reassembled the E Street Band for the first time in 18 years and was soon on top of the world again. This is probably my least favorite of his three E Street Band releases from the decade, but it is still very, very good and deserves a spot in the top 100. The release is full of great songs, but my favorites are probably “Lonesome Day,” “The Rising,” and the poignant “My City of Ruins.”
63. Michael McDermott – Noise From Words (2007)
My friend Scott introduced me to singer-songwriter Michael McDermott with the release of this album and I quickly became a fan. “Still Ain’t Over You Yet” is an excellent piece of sad, lovelorn Americana and “I Shall Be Healed” is a spiritual tour-de-force that should be heard by everybody.
62. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
Over the course of the past decade, I’ve become more and more convinced that Josh Ritter is the best songwriter of my generation. In a truly just world he would be our Springsteen or Dylan, but, as things currently stand, he still resides just below the radar playing small venues like the one I caught him at last year in Little Rock. This release diverged a bit from his prior albums, which were mostly acoustic folk rock pieces, but it is no less interesting. I’ve listened to it over and over again and have yet to tire of the entire work, but my favorite songs are probably “The Temptation of Adam” and the Dylanesque “To the Dogs or Whoever.”
61. Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild (2007)
What do you get when you combine one my favorite writers (Jon Krakauer), a tragic story of self-discovery, and the vocalist for one of my favorite bands of all time? Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame lends his voice and a mountain of heartfelt understanding to this soundtrack to the tale of Chris McCandless. The music itself is stark and lonely, yet hopeful and idealistic, much like the protagonist of the book and film. I love the song “Guaranteed” and its message of avoiding a life of quiet desperation, something that I strive to do in my own existence. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see Eddie Vedder solo and found it to be quite touching when he talked of writing the song “No Ceiling” for his kids. You need this album.
Ten for Tuesday: Upcoming 2009 Releases June 23, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: 2009, alice in chains, Beastie Boys, Best Of, Coldplay, Dinosaur Jr., Matisyahu, music, Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers, The Dead Weather, The Flaming Lips, upcoming releases, Wilco
Last week I gave my top music releases for the first half of 2009 – you can see parts 1, 2 and 3 here – so today I wanted to continue that trend a bit longer and tell you what albums I am most looking forward to for the rest of the year. Let me know what you think.
10. Matisyahu – Light (Release Date: August)
What is not to like about an Orthodox Hasidic Jew as a reggae artist? His last album, 2006’s Youth was an interesting piece of work that even someone like me who is fairly ignorant about both the music style and the branch of Judaism’s tree from which this came can appreciate and really enjoy it.
9. Dinosaur Jr. – Farm (Rlease Date: June)
For more than two decades J. Mascis’ band has been trucking along beneath the surface, creating some of the most incredible noises to be found in the music industry. After finding some success in two minor hits (remember Keep Choppin’ and Feel the Pain?) in the early 90’s, the band again slipped into obscurity. But the band with the prehistoric moniker never quit and their last release, 2007’s Beyond, was a much-needed blast from the past, with the fuzzy distortion of J. Mascis’ guitar and his Neil Young-like vocals helping the band again find their groove. If this one is anywhere near that level of greatness, it could be among the year’s best.
8. Alice in Chains – Black Give Way to Blue (Release Date: September)
With their first album in 14 years, Jerry Cantrell & Co. are finally looking to bounce back from the 2002 death of singer and founding member Layne Staley, this time fronted by William DuVall. I had the chance to see them live last year and, let me tell you, they still rocked. Hard. There are few bands that survive and thrive after the departure of such an important member, so it will remain to be seen how they will fare in today’s music environment. But, as a fan from the early days, I’m hoping their comeback will be one for the ages.
7. Coldplay – untitled (Release Date: November)
Sure, the band plays safe, radio-friendly tunes devoid of anything too challenging that are custom-built to appeal to the masses, but, despite my outright music snobbery, I can’t help but like them. Their songs are catchy and stadium-ready, with sound that many compare to an early U2 without those pesky social causes or, frankly, too much thoughtfulness. Nevertheless, they almost always make for a good listen and I’m sure this will be gracing my Ipod soon after its release.
6. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee (Release Date: September)
After nearly a quarter century, the Beasties just keep trucking on, despite the fact that they likely used up most of their inventiveness on their classic albums from the 1980’s and early 90’s (Seriously, Paul’s Boutique is one of the greatest collections ever recorded). 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs was a fine return to form, but it was apparent that their well of creativity may be running dry. This album doesn’t need to be a music landmark, though, it will no doubt continue their legacy of enjoyable white boy hip-hop.
5. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (Release Date: August)
The Avett Brothers’ 2007 release, Emotionalism, was one of my finest discoveries of that year (thanks to some combination of Scott, Greg, and emusic) and for some time I listened to it on an incessant basis. The band morphs genres as diverse as bluegrass and punk rock into a fantastic whole, immediately broadening the musical horizons of the listener. If you’ve never heard someone rock out on a banjo before, then you obviously need the Avett Brothers in your life.
4. The Dead Weather – Horehound (Release Date: July)
I’ve been a disciple of Jack White for several years now, but his status was forever concreted among the pantheon of rock deity after I saw the White Stripes live in 2007. As a dedicated follower, I am resolved to immediately gobble up any release bearing his name, whether it be through the White Stripes, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, the Raconteurs, or, his latest outfit, The Dead Weather, an indie rock supergroup consisting of vocalist Alison Mosshart (The Kills), guitarist Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) and the aforementioned Jack White on drums/vocals. Make no bones about it, this will be awesome.
3. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Release Date: September)
Over the past 15 years the Lips have evolved from their mainstream gimmick-song beginnings to releasing two of the best albums of the past 10 years (1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots). 2006’s At War with the Mystics was a good piece of sonic guitar psychedelia, though perhaps not to the standards of their earlier work. So, I eagerly await the latest work with hopes for something as strange and inspired as they have recorded in the past.
2. Wilco – Wilco (The Album) (Release Date: June)
There are few musical groups working today as wildly inventive as Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco. Every album seems to take a step in a slightly different direction, as though Tweedy is feeling out every aspect of the rock universe just because he finds it so darn interesting. 2001’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of the greatest albums of the new millennium and the two following recordings, A Ghost is Born and Sky Blue Sky, have been excellent pieces as well. You can always expect great things from Tweedy, so I eagerly await him to continue his musical exploration in ways that will continually challenge us to think outside the box.
1. Pearl Jam – Backspacer (Release Date: September)
What more can I say of my love and devotion for Pearl Jam? They are a band that helped define my generation back in our formative years in the early 90’s and that continues to astound us today, nearly two decades later. Eddie Vedder is, hands down, the preeminent rock vocalist of the past 20 years and I expect the band to continue to blaze a trail for all bands under the umbrella of rock music to continue to follow. If their recent performance on Conan O’Brien is any indication, this album is going to blow every one of us away…and I couldn’t be more excited.
What about you? Is there anything in the music world that you are looking forward to?