Illiterati Lumen Fidei May 14, 2012Posted by Matt in music, spirituality.
Tags: god, I Can't Stand It, illiterati lumen fidei, Jesus Etc, Misunderstood, Open Mind, theism, Theologians, theology, Wilco
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Or, how Jeff Tweedy helped write my personal theology
This weekend I will be afforded to opportunity to again see one of my favorite bands, Wilco, live and in concert. So, to ready myself for the upcoming show, I’ve been inundating myself with music from across their career, from old and new favorites to rediscovering those songs that have slipped through the cracks in my mind over the years. As I did this, I began to realize the profound beauty of the words and music, and just how much of an influence a well-written song can have on an obsessive music fan like me. In many ways, the poetry of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco mirror my own belief system and the spiritual progression I have undergone for the past several years.
“No love’s as random as God’s love / I can’t stand it / I can’t stand it.” (“I Can’t Stand It,” Summerteeth)
One of the first casualties in my move away from a belief system centered in classic theism was the idea of Divine Providence. I simply could no longer believe in a God who arbitrarily inserted itself into the world at seemingly random points in history to do things as innocuous as winning football games and as violent and awful as winning wars. Accordingly, God is always on the side of the victors. After hearing the name of God invoked in so many circumstances, you either become numb to it or you reject it as being logically incoherent. The realization that life is more a series of random variables than a carefully cultivated divine plan is quite liberating.
“You know you’ve got a God-shaped hole / You’re bleeding out your heart full of soul / You’re so misunderstood.” (“Misunderstood,” Being There)
The move away from a belief in theism is a difficult one, one that is fraught with anger and rejection, and that is something I discovered a few years ago as I began to speak these ideas aloud (or online), facing the inevitable backlash from many who have been important in my life. It’s a disheartening experience to face exclusion and dismissal from others, to realize that entire relationships are contingent upon the acceptance of a few axioms of faith.
“Our love is all of God’s money. / Everyone is a burning sun.” (“Jesus, Etc.” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
So, what do we do with God if the Divine can no longer be looked upon to provide divine intervention? It seems as though we must look within, to search for those characteristics marking our own inherent divinity. There is perhaps nothing more God-like than the concept of love, that cosmic force that envelopes our being, that drives us beyond the realm of critical thinking and logic and into a radical concern for others that could ultimately cost us our own lives.
“Illiterati Lumen Fidei / God is with us every day / That illiterate light / Is with us every night” (“Theologians,” A Ghost is Born)
With God no longer being the classic, thunderbolt-hurling deity in the clouds, what is left?
Perhaps God is something bigger than that, something that we can’t know intellectually, something meant to be felt, to explored through different paths. Maybe God is ultimately indescribable and unknowable, but something to which we all have thoughts and inclinations. I like to think of God as the indwelling spirit of the universe, swirling about in the cosmos, bestowing life and love upon all its denizens. Is that the correct way to describe the Divine? Probably not, but it’s the explanation that works best for me at this time of my life, and that’s really the best we can do.
“Oh, I can only dream of the dreams we’d share / If you weren’t so defined. / I would love to be the one to open up your mind.” (“Open Mind,” The Whole Love)
Thanks for the great music, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, and thanks for helping to open my mind. I’ll see you on Saturday.
Lenten Listen #19: Wilco – The Whole Love March 12, 2012Posted by Matt in Lent.
Tags: Lent, Sunloathe, The Whole Love, Wilco
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I know I’ve already done a Wilco post, but with the announcement today that the band would be returning to Memphis on May 19 for a show, I had to celebrate. Wilco’s latest album, 2011′s The Whole Love was a wonderful return to form after a few mediocre albums.
It’s full of great songs, but one of my favorites from the album is “Sunloathe.”
Sometimes I don’t
Know how to love
Hold on to it all
But kill my memories
With a cheap
Lenten Listen #12: Wilco – Summerteeth March 4, 2012Posted by Matt in Lent.
Tags: god, I Can't Stand It, Lent, Summerteeth, Wilco
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Wilco is one of a handful of artists who could be considered the best of the past two decades and this 1999 album, arguably their best (along with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) is all the proof you need. Like Radiohead, Wilco’s sound cannot be rationally pigeonholed. At times they seem to embrace their place among the alt-country elite, while at other times they seem to be grasping in a multitude of other directions, from Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles to surf rock.
On this particular album, I like to consider the opener, “I Can’t Stand It,” and it’s lyrics steeped in religious frustration. I’ve been reading through the Old Testament since last Fall in my EfM studies and one of the things I’ve noticed is the seeming arbitrary nature of God. This song brings that out.
You know it’s all beginning
To feel like it’s ending
No love’s as random
As God’s love
I can’t stand it.
I can’t stand it.
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?
Ten for Tuesday: 1995 August 31, 2010Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 1995, alice in chains, Bruce Springsteen, Everclear, Foo Fighters, Garbage, music, Oasis, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, top ten, Tupac Shakur, Wilco
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Hey everybody! It’s time to hop back into our top ten time machine and take a trip back a few years to see what made the music and film industries tick during that time. Over the past few weeks we’ve checked out the tens: 2000, 1990, and 1980, and we’ve looked back five years at 2005. Today we’ll take a look at 1995. In 1995 I began my senior year of high school, turned 18, and spent my time driving the backroads around our small town in an old 4-Runner. While much of the popular music I listened to at the time was not that great (Silverchair and Bone Thugs to name two regrettable choices), there were some true gems released that year, some of which I didn’t come to appreciate until much later.
10. Garbage – Garbage
I always liked what I heard from this album, but it wasn’t until later, after I saw them open for the Smashing Pumpkins, that I finally bought it. Its combination of dance-rock beats, a shoegazing guitar sound, and Shirley Manson’s vocals make this a recording that still holds up well. My favorite track is probably “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” but the best known one is undoubtedly, “Stupid Girl.”
9. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
Following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 and the subsequent demise of grunge rock in general, many music fans looked around bewildered, wondering what would be next. They would not have to wait long, though, for rising Phoenix-like from Nirvana’s ashes was drummer Dave Grohl, now as the singer/guitarist of a new band, Foo Fighters. Their brand of pop-punk-rock was a departure from the sometimes noisy sounds of Nirvana, but it was a welcome one nevertheless. “Big Me” was the hugest hit, particularly for it’s video, but I really like the songs “I’ll Stick Around” and “This is a Call” the best.
8. Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains
As the final album featuring vocalist Layne Staley, this work stands as an exit sign of sorts for the grunge era. While I don’t love this as much as 1992’s classic Dirt, it is still a good album that features a good deal of Jerry Cantrell’s trademark sludgy guitar riffs with metal sensibilities. My favorite songs on this collection include “Grind” and “Over Now,” with “Heaven Beside You” also standing as an excellent piece.
7. Everclear – Sparkle and Fade
This album is included more for the nostalgia it induces than anything else, especially since I was part of a band at that time that played “Santa Monica.” Overall, the album is a good one about growing up and moving on, topics that were important to me as an 18 year old. Though I still occasionally like to turn this one on, its place was somewhat diminished after I saw Everclear put on one of the worst concerts I’ve ever seen several years ago. Check out the aforementioned “Santa Monica” and “Summerland.”
6. Tupac Shakur – Me Against the World
Tupac was widely known as one of the best rappers of the decade even before his murder in 1996, and this album, along with the even better All Eyez On Me, display him in top form. For better or worse, Tupac took the 90’s thug persona to a whole new level and his untimely death made him a legend. On this album, check out the monster hit “Dear Mama,” and the title track.
5. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
With the possible exception of the aforementioned Everclear album, there were no new discs that I listened to from beginning to end more often as a high school senior than this one. The Gallagher brothers reached the pinnacle of their rock star careers with this one and that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. “Wonderwall” is one of the best and most nostalgia-inducing songs of the decade, while “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” are also great listens.
4. Wilco – A.M.
Wilco’s debut album following the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, evaded my interest as a high school senior and it wasn’t until several years later that I first realized the brilliance of Jeff Tweedy. Sure, this is not among their best albums to date (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth), but it is still a very good one, particularly on songs like “Passenger Side,” “I Must be High,” and “Box Full of Letters.”
3. Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
There is something criminal about the way that this incredible acoustic work from The Boss was swept under the rug in the mid-90’s. Harkening back to the great Nebraska, this album finds Springsteen traveling back to the Midwest, to the trials and tribulations of the common man, and emerging with sparse tales of hard times. Check out the title track, “Youngstown,” and “My Best was Never Good Enough.”
2. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mellon Collie is no exception to the general rule of double albums. It is bloated, ego-driven, and sometimes displays a little too much self-importance, but when Billy Corgan’s band is on target, which they are most of the time, they are one of the best around. The band rips through some huge riffs in songs like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” that can still blow the listener away.
1. Radiohead – The Bends
Before The Bends, most thought of Radiohead as little more than a one-hit wonder of the grunge era. Their song “Creep” was huge, but there was little else on their debut that captured the imagination of music fans. When they burst back on the scene in 1995, though, it was with a true game changer and one of the best albums of the entire decade. Everyone remembers songs like “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” but it is the album in its entirety that truly astonishes. The Bends also marked the first entry in a trilogy of works, along with 1997’s OK Computer and 2000’s Kid A, that stands as quite possibly the best threesome of albums in the history of rock music. Seriously, I will put these three up against any three album span of The Beatles, Dylan, anyone, and I think it will fare just fine. For now, though, just listen to The Bends. Turn it up loud and let the genius of Thom Yorke take you away. You won’t be disappointed.
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 (1-10) February 2, 2010Posted by Matt in Top 100 of the Decade.
Tags: Beck, best of 2000's, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, josh ritter, music, Outkast, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, The Swell Season, top ten, Wilco
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I hope you have enjoyed our look back at the top 100 albums of the past decade. Today we will complete our journey with my top ten. Enjoy.
You can see the past entries in our countdown here:
10. Green Day – American Idiot (2004)
American Idiot marked a true milestone for Green Day, for it was the moment in which they truly grew up, maturing beyond their bratty 90’s punk rock to another level where they donned the mantle designating them as one of the greatest bands of a generation. Combining influences like The Who with their own punk sensibilities, Green Day constructed this magnum opus, a rock opera centered around the fictional character Jesus of Suburbia who is desensitized by a diet of “soda pop and Ritalin.” The album has a number of great songs, including the 9 minute “Jesus of Suburbia,” “Holiday,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
9. Glen Hansard/Marketa Irglova – The Swell Season (2006)
I was introduced to Hansard, Irglova and, by extension, The Frames, through their work in the incredible 2007 film Once. This album, recorded prior to the movie, contains much of the same material found on the soundtrack. The music is sparsely orchestrated, preferring to put most of the focus on Hansard’s emotional appeals to love with the Czech-born Irglova. Like the movie, it is quite a ride and one that everyone should experience. “Fallen Slowly” is the great Oscar-winning love song that most people have heard, but you should also check out “This Low,” “Lies,” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”
8. Outkast – Stankonia (2000)
Funky and hard-hitting, this is what Southern hip-hop is all about. The Atlanta duo of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin have proven themselves time and again to be among the most creative and interesting artists working in the rap world today. The album seamlessly blends different styles and genres of music, at times employing heavy guitars, George Clinton-like psychedelic funk, and others, layering them on top of each other from song to song to create one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded. Listen to “Gasoline Dreams,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “B.O.B.” and you’ll agree.
7. Bruce Springsteen – Magic (2007)
Springsteen’s comeback in the 2000’s, during which he released 5 albums, is the stuff of which legends are made. Today I’ve settled on Magic as my favorite of the Boss’s releases this decade, though with the volume and quality of his recent work, it can be hard to choose. This work flows exceedingly well from great song to great song all the way from beginning to end, putting it on par with his classic works of the ‘70’s and 80’s. If you have any interest in Springsteen at all (and if you don’t, you should), you need this album. Check out “You’ll be Comin’ Down,” “Livin’ in the Future,” “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” and “Long Walk Home.”
6. Sufjan Stevens –Illinoise (2005)
This second volume of the banjo-wielding Sufjan Stevens’ “50 State Project” consists of 22 songs and interludes, all of which reference something about the state of Illinois. It is a strange and interesting work, and one that caught the attention of the public upon its release in 2005 as Stevens led them on a guided trip around the state. My favorite songs include, “Come On! Feel the Illinoise,” “Chicago,” “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” and “Decatur, Or, Round of Applause for Your Step-Mother!”
5. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
After years of toiling away under the radar making great albums, Jeff Tweedy’s longtime band broke out 2002 with this, their masterpiece. Wilco’s preceding album, Summerteeth, displayed a band longing to break free from the alt-country constraints, but when they readied this Radiohead-influenced work for release, their label balked at its non-commercial sound, so Wilco decided to take matters into their own hands. In September 2001, they began streaming the album in its entirety on their website, amassing tens of thousands of hits. Soon after the web success, it was released by another label where it sold more than 500,000 copies and garnered rave reviews. Check out songs like “Kamera,” “War on War,” “Jesus, Etc.” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
4. Josh Ritter – The Animal Years (2006)
I was first introduced to the music of Ritter, who I now consider to be among the best songwriters of my generation, with this incredible album. Combining the sound of a young Springsteen with Dylanesque wordplay, he shows himself to be a true rising star among folk singer-songwriters. I’m a big fan and have no qualms whatsoever telling you that you need to buy this entire album. Just listen to “Monster Ballads,” “Lillian, Egypt,” “Good Man,” and “Thin Blue Flame,” and you’ll no doubt agree.
3. Beck – Sea Change (2002)
If I could only have two words to describe this album they would be, beautifully depressing. For this release, Beck eschews his fun-loving “Two turntables and a microphone,” persona and instead takes on that of a sad countryish balladeer, one that matches his real life personal heartbreak following the end of a longtime relationship. It is an incredible work, the best thing that Beck has ever done and that’s really saying something. This was my personal soundtrack when it came out and it accompanied me in a really tough time in my life. “Lost Cause” may be one of my favorite songs of all time, but you should also check out, “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” and “It’s All in Your Mind.”
1. (Tie) Radiohead – Kid A (2000), Pearl Jam – Backspacer (2009)
It may be a bit of a cop out to choose two best albums of the decade, but in my estimation there were no two works that better encapsulated the ten year period that these that bracketed each end.
With Kid A, Thom Yorke’s band faced a monumental task – following up both 1995’s incredible The Bends and 1997’s generation-defining OK Computer. The band took this daunting endeavor and completely turned it on its side, taking a different approach as they pushed the guitar-driven sound of their prior releases to the side and embraced a more experimental electronic sound. It was a bold move to say the least and one that probably turned off a lot of past fans, but it turned out to be a fitting way to open a decade full of uncertainty and fear. I graduated from college in 2000, saddled with a ton of debt (much of which I still have) and with a certain amount of dread as I entered the real world. The future was shrouded with darkness and mystery and my faith had taken its first real hits (with many more to follow), so it makes sense that this album, a cry of loneliness and uncertainty in a big dark world, became so meaningful to me. This is a true work of art and something not to be missed.
Now approaching middle age, Eddie Vedder’s band is not the same one that set the world on fire in the early 1990’s with stadium-filling anthems, flannel shirts, and crowd surfing. The maturation process has been kind to them, though, replacing youthful angst with a feeling of contentment, a belief in love, and a sense of mortality. I’ve been following the band closely for 18 years of my life now, collecting their music and seeing them live whenever possible, and I do not think I have ever felt a connection with their music that equals the strength of this one. Listening to Backspacer from beginning to end is a spiritual experience, one that is beautiful and moving and like no other. It is a fitting way to end a tumultuous decade, one full of fear and anger and discontent, and look ahead with hope at a brighter future. It is a particularly poignant work for me, personally, at the end of a sometimes stormy ten years. This was the decade in which I became a father x3. This was when I finally and quite painfully destroyed the belief system that had characterized my life to that point and embraced a new and different way. This was the time when I really found myself and came to some sense of understanding. This was when I learned that the only thing that truly matters is love, not doctrine, not education, not money. Pearl Jam’s 2009 masterwork sums it all up perfectly.
As a man in my 30’s with a wife I love and a houseful of kids I’ve come to an understanding. I’ve ventured through peaks and valleys, trials and triumphs, disappointment and victory. I’ve been forsaken by some and embraced by others. In 2000, I faced the world with trepidation, in 2009 that has, for the most part, been replaced with hope and love. The next decade will not be perfect and I’m sure that we will revel in highs and suffer in lows, but I’m looking forward to it – not because I have to, but because I want to.
Best of 2009 in Music – The First Ten December 29, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: Blakroc, Dave Matthews Band, Jason Isbell, Metric, neko case, Sonic Youth, The Decemberists, The Raveonettes, U2, Wilco
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. Yesterday we looked at five honorable mentions and today we will delve into the first 10 albums, those ranked 11-20 on our list.
20. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
I first came into contact with Jason Isbell’s music during his tenure with one of my favorite bands of the past decade, the Drive-By Truckers, so it goes without saying that I have also followed his solo career closely. This time around Isbell ratchets up the southern rock another notch, to a level that almost rivals his former band. It’s another great work from a real up-and-comer on the scene.
Download: Seven-Mile Island, However Long
19. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
The last album from The Raveonettes, 2007’s Lust Lust Lust, seemed to make the female-lead band an heir apparent to the shoegazing movement, that genre best defined by bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. Like the aforementioned bands, their sound was an atmospheric blend of loud guitars and ethereal vocals that worked well and was a bit nostalgic to those of us who came of age in the 90’s. For their latest release, the band has taken a slightly different turn, making songs that can stand alone and do not need the album context to be recognized as good. To me this album sounds more like the band Garbage than it does pure shoegazing, and that’s a good thing.
Download: Bang!, Last Dance
18. Sonic Youth – The Eternal
These legends of noisy alternative rock have been relatively quiet over the past decade or so. Long gone are the halcyon days of the 80’s with their wild musical experimentation and the 90’s with their MTV video rotation, but after nearly 30 years Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon continue to plug away. This album marks a remarkable return to form for these oft-lauded figures, now well into middle age, and we are all better for it.
Download: Sacred Trickster, Leaky Lifeboat
17. Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
Throughout the decade, DMB continued to be one of the greatest live acts around, regularly performing to sold-out crowds around the world, but, despite this popularity, the quality of their studio recordings took a hit. It seemed as though they would never again capture the magic of their albums from the 1990’s, at least it did until they released this gem. Big Whiskey was recorded following the death of longtime saxophonist Leroi Moore and though that cloud of sorrow hung over the band, their creativity must have been rejuvenated because this is, without a doubt, their best album in a decade.
Download: Shake Me Like a Monkey, Why I Am
16. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
If there is a more unlikely success story than that of the Decemberists, I don’t know what it is. Their style is nothing like most mainstream artists and they have just released a second consecutive concept album telling a very strange story. Their last work, 2006’s The Crane Wife, was one of my favorites of that year and this later work, while not quite as good as Crane, is still very interesting and different. The Hazards of Love tells the story of a woman named Margaret who falls in love with a shape-shifting forest creature named William. It should also be mentioned that the best song on the album, “The Rake’s Song” is probably the catchiest song ever written about infanticide.
Download: The Rake’s Song, Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
15. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
I know it is cliché to say that you could listen to someone sing the phone book, but I truly feel as though I could listen to Neko Case, with her soaring vocals, take on anything and love it. I first began listening to her following the release of 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and quickly fell completely in love with her voice. This album continues in the tradition of her other solo albums, telling dark tales with a Southern kick while employing her huge, room-filling voice. I had the chance to see her earlier this year at a show here in Memphis and let me tell you, this woman is amazing.
Download: This Tornado Loves You, People Got a Lotta Nerve
14. U2 – No Line on the Horizon
I’ve been listening to U2 for a long time now and I would definitely count myself a fan of their songs. But while I love several of their individual songs, I have usually found their complete albums lacking. I mean, even The Joshua Tree is terribly front-loaded. Now that that is out of the way, No Line on the Horizon is, without a doubt, their finest work since 1991’s Achtung Baby. There are some truly great songs on here, some that nearly rival the best of their past works.
Download: Magnificent, Moment of Surrender
13. Blakroc – Blakroc
The collaboration of rap and rock music has a spotty history. On one hand, you have a great genre-bending band like Rage Against the Machine or an inspired team-up like Anthrax and Public Enemy or an accomplished rapper like Jay-Z who seamlessly blends rock guitar into his compositions. On the other hand you have Limp Bizkit. Blackrock continues the tradition in a good way, this time teaming blues-rock aficionados The Black Keys with an assortment of rappers, including Mos Def, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest), Ludacris, and an assortment of Wu-Tang Clan members like ODB, Raekwon, and RZA. Some of the tracks may be better than others, but the great ones are truly great.
Download: Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo), Hope You’re Happy
12. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
With their latest release Wilco continues to hold their position as one of the best and most interesting bands in the music world today. There has been no greater voice in the alt-country world over the past 15 years than that of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. This latest release harkens back to their first few albums, with happier, more joyful sounding songs than any we’ve heard since the release of their magnum opus, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Download: You and I, You Never Know
11. Metric – Fantasies
This Canadian indie rock band made a few waves this year with songs that ended up on the soundtracks of various television shows and movies. Their synthesizer-driven rhythms and danceable beats mix with vocalist Emily Haines in such a way that their music is irresistible. You definitely need to check them out. Between this band and government-run health care, Canada has a lot going for it.
Download: Help I’m Alive, Sick Muse
Stay tuned for the top ten…
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?