Archives For Random Music Writing

In the end of the summer/early fall of 2001 I immersed myself with Radiohead. Having just seen them live for the first time at Grant Park in Chicago, I lived and breathed Kid A and the still new to my ears Amnesiac. I was still coming off of a jamband drip thanks to Phish’s first hiatus and had quickly realized that many of the indie bands that filled my hard drive were broken up, never to practice or perform together in person ever again (<- Lies, I saw Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel many years later)  – so I injected Thom Yorke, the Greenwoods and the rest of Radiohead into my veins.

I distinctly remember moving into my third floor apartment (the one I never slept at) on Bernard Ct. in Madison at 10 o’clock on the Sunday night before classes started my first semester at UW. My Honda Accord parked in the alley, doors wide open and blaaaaarrring “Idioteque” at volume levels that I assumed a neighborhood at one of the top party schools in the nation would applaud…when from the stairwell I noticed that the sound had ceased. I came outside and found one of roommates (the one I barely knew) stepping out of my car after turning the radio down and shutting all of my doors.

“Think we’re all done here, dude.”

If you didn’t already get the idea – Radiohead was my jam. And if my countless hours spent listening didn’t make it so – the IT hours clocked removing malware from campus computers thanks to me illegally downloading every b-side, remix and live performance definitely did.

I loosened the tie and pulled out the needle one day I noticed an electric buzz flowing through the bus on the way to class one morning – a journalistic hypnosis that had the whole bus wide-eyed and drooling. It was either like an electric current or a scene from a movie where a packed educational transportation vehicle full of zombies had their faces buried in the Arts section of the school paper (really whichever image works better for you).

Naturally, there was an abandoned copy of the school newspaper, bent up and seemingly weeks old next to me after half the kids rushed off at Union South. I quickly flipped past the unfinished crossword and ads for drink specials, used books, and legal versions of otherwise illegal stimulants (with every intention of going back to check them out) so I could find out what the hell all of the zombies were drooling about.

As it turned out, a short paragraph informed me that there was a band called The Strokes that had just played one of their first live shows in New York the previous weekend. No. They didn’t have an album out yet. It wasn’t coming out until October. This article was pointing to the fact that they played a show. In New York.

So why did the hip kids belonging to Madison’s zombie army give a shit about this NOW, months before full length release? Well, I would later find out when Is This It hit shelves and quickly found its way into my ‘too big to fit in any pocket’ Sony Discman.

Upon pressing play and hearing the first notes of “Is This It” I was sucked into a sound that mimicked everything that was going on around me. College. Highs. Lows. Victories. Defeats. Is This It?  was loud, gray, fuzzy, and cocky while also managing to inflect a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It was fast paced and modern. Aggressive and abrupt. Loud and lazy. Vocal phrasing came from a voice that sounded just as good when the words were screamed or sung softly.  Songs like “Last Night” and the track stripped from the US version of the album post 9/11, “New York City Cops,” invoked attitude and a turned up lip of Billy Idol proportions. Others like “Someday” and “Hard to Explain” hit on the confusion and inexplicable.

Is This It is unforgettable for the feeling that it induced and also for the movement of music that it seemed to launch. Soon after, the world was treated to fantastic debut albums from bands that even if they weren’t trying to top The Strokes first offering, it will forever seem like they were. Simply because everything post-Is This It? was offered to me in a comparison. “Have you heard Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights? It’s a darker version of The Strokes. What about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Similar vibe.” Or even when a friend called me out of the blue the following summer to see if I’d heard of Kings of Leon. When he heard that  I hadn’t, he said “Dude, they’re like the southern version of The Strokes. But maybe better.” And while Turn on the Bright Lights and the first couple of Kings of Leon records are phenomenal, they’re no match for the sounds that Julian and Co. produced on record 1.

Because of all that – I will forever be indebted to The Strokes for creating an amazing debut record that paralleled and soundtracked a monumental year of my life. Everything about it made sense. Musically, I prefer their second, Room on Fire, over Is This It? but I’m probably in a vast minority there. I suppose I also owe them a hardy thanks for helping me temporarily shelve my Radiohead addiction- I was slowly turning into an android.

Thanks for reading!

Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that’s usually the answer to the demand – Gimme one band that you’ll never forget the first time you heard them.

In the summer of 2000 I was living in a genre specific world where I maniacally and unabashedly consumed music that carried around a complex – jam rock or whatever term you use to poke fun at it. While some of the best jambands of that era were exploratory and improvisational in form, blending many genres to create a musical melting pot – my shallow focus was managing to confine and partition me off from music of other varieties. I was unknowingly blind to music that was smart and more … thought provoking.

But … some might say that being consumed by bliss and (in some cases) lyrical nonsense was a bonus – it saved me from Limp Bizkit and Korn – shit rock bands that over dominated Milwaukee’s local rock station. I managed to narrowly escape doing it all for the nookie and I believe I owe an incredible debt to Phish for that assist. Their existence prevented me from ever owning a red Yankees cap or frosting my tips. Consider me forever grateful.

The musical discovery that is the focus of this post happened in the middle of Indiana, at a makeshift campground in Noblesville, while traveling the midwest to see the above mentioned. After returning to the campsite with my arms full of new cds – the only 2 that come to memory are String Cheese Incident’s Carnival ’99 and Grisman, Rice, and Garcia’s The Pizza Tapes – I remember being proud to show off my purchases to anyone milling in our group. After showing them off and passing them around, me and everyone hanging around appeared to be pretty stoked. Everyone except …

this fella that quickly had intrigue turn to disappointment which then resolved to disapproval of my entire existence. “DUDE. There is so much better music to be listening to. I mean, the jam scene is cool but … there’s so much more. Are you listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, Sunny Day Real Estate? PAVEMENT? Tell me you dig Pavement?”

Now I wasn’t offended. Maybe I hadn’t heard of any of those bands but I wasn’t a rook when it came to music. I was coming off of a Bob Dylan hangover and I had gotten cavities from over indulging in Elliott Smith and Matthew Sweet. Ben Folds Five was cool and … I had just that past year fell in love with Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I had just gotten a little off track. I had just gotten over a bad break up that allowed me to replace my relationship by focusing on traveling and seeing a band that to this day never fails to make me smile.

But on that day – it was if someone had turned the light on. Pressing play on a mixtape that led off with Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2 & 3” I sat motionless as Jeff Mangum whined an undying love for Jesus Christ. And even though the boomnbox was shitty and the tape was worn out, that voice – full of power, emotion and energy, transformed me. It was 98 degrees, as humid as a Florida August and my feet felt like they had just been pulled from a kiln. [lame alert ->] But the only thing I could feel were the goosebumps the music created.

And as the tape rolled on and I gave mere handshakes to bands that I couldn’t live without now (Built to Spill, Guided By Voices, Pavement) I remember nodding my head and ignoring merely every word not coming through those speakers. I can’t quite recall the way that I felt the rest of the trip … but with 3 shows left on the tour schedule and one more city to hit – I do slightly remember being briefly underwhelmed by Phish those next few nights. We actually ended up (stupid. regret.) selling our tickets for the summer tour closer in Columbus.

Now it might have been the heat of that summer. It might have been the fact that we did 9 shows in a few weeks or it might have been that I wanted to get home to hear more from the bands that would end up becoming part of my life after that day at the campground.

And that’s why I’ll never forget the first time I heard Neutral Milk Hotel.

Moments after sending in samples to be considered for a freelance reviewer for *1st kid on the block music blog* and hours after reading a New York Times article about the very same behemoth, I’m pondering music, blogs, music blogs, albums, reviews, and album reviews.  After going over many of the album evaluations that I’ve written for this very blog and also for I’m starting to think that they (album reviews) aren’t all that necessary anymore.  Hear me out.

I remember that as a college student I would devour  album reviews; reading every word David Fricke, Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and countless others wrote about their favorite and least favorite recordings.  I remember wishing and hoping that someday I would have the same luxuries that they had/have.  But then everything exploded.  The internet made thousands of reviews by thousands of pretentious writers available at the click of a mouse and it all suddenly became very trite.  It seemed that these kids (me included) wanted to take all of the obscure words that they’d learned in lit classes along with synonyms for those same fuckin’ words and cram them all into some discussion about Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights or some regurgitated rehash of Guided By Voices Bee Thousand. And people read them (me included) and then purchased one of the best albums of the 00’s or pulled out Robert Pollard’s finest work and listened in seclusion until somebody broke the door down and told them about Beck’s Sea Change and the double disc reissue of Slanted and Enchanted that had cleaned up sound but was still the best album in anyone’s collection.

Point is, back then words were free and so it seemed was the time to read ALL of them.  Maybe it was because I was a jobless student on a major college campus that had all the time in the world to read and reread what was written about an album from a band that might not be that obscure after the review.  Or maybe it was because only really quality bands made it through the bullshit and had intelligent schoolboys comparing Animal Collective to Infinite fucking Jest. Thing is, it all made sense.

But now it’s different.  No matter how good or bad an album is, the words are wasted .   In the end I believe that it only comes down to a summarizing paragraph, a different colored text deeming value like “best new”, or a number.  That’s really all people have time for.  I mean, really, after you give album that isn’t MIA’s latest a 4.4,Travis Morrison’s a 0.0, or a 3.3 to the latest record from a previously heroic rock band does anybody really have the time to read about an album you compare to refuse, whining babies, or an American Idol reject?  On the other side, who has time to read your entire wet dream about  a record  that gets a 9.3 while you gush and gizz in glittering prose all over the first paragraph?

Tired eyes have also become a chronic problem due to the massive amount of fringe bands getting onto someone’s radar.  It seems that somebody is always waiting in the wings to become a tastemaker.  It doesn’t matter how good a band really is if there is some niche audience to stroke or some other way that the said band can create a buzz, they will get press.  In these cases, the proof is in the pudding.  MP3s or streams of tracks are as important or more important than the pithy words that got you to click on the track in the first place.   And when it comes to who gets priority it’s a race for the prize or more so a privilege for the proven.

Now I’m sure that thousands of people have griped the same gripe; I’m just venting  because I have a space to do so and also because I miss writing and reading music criticism in full.  Something has changed and it works with the rapid paced culture that we live in and some/most thrive on but it helps us settle for mediocrity and worse, sometimes not even know that what we are being told is good is mediocre. Is it hard to evaluate when you have SO many things to place value on?

I’d be really interested to see what anyone else has to say.  Weigh in if you have an opinion. By the time you read this I’ll already be on hypem….

We left off with your anti-hero, mind made up to abandon his tickets to see Trey Anastasio’s first solo tour at Madison’s Oscar Mayer Theater to see some dude named Tom Waits.

Well, as it turns out – the burn outs – the ones with the wide eyes and exciting smiles – the ones that hugged absolutely everyone that came within 22 inches – had eaten some bad information. Tom Waits wasn’t in town. Tom Jones wasn’t either. Tom Waits was in AMSTERDAM. No idea about the whereabouts of Tom Jones.

And 14 years later, with a the light bulb struggling to retain its glow – I continue to chase seeing that man in concert.

Top 5 Albums of 2012

January 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

Better late than never.

#5 Spiritualized | Sweet Heart, Sweet Light [Fat Possum]

Multilayered space rock. Back in action, Spiritualized’s Sweet Heart, Sweet Light takes you on a trip around the solar system.


#4 Grizzly Bear | Shields [Warp]

Amazing follow up to Veckatimest. Every track on Shields builds a sonic city for you to explore. It’s quite lovely.

Grizzly Bear | Shields Cover Art

#3 Jaill | Traps [Sub Pop]

I had Jaill’s second Sub Pop release bleeding from my car speakers all Spring and Summer. Not a skipper on it.

Jail | Traps Cover Art

Tie for #2 King Tuff s/t [Sub Pop] &

Two albums that I recommended the most last year are hard  to put at #2 but …. #1 is that damn good. King Tuff’s s/t 2012 release will be in my rotation for a very long time. Much like #3, there’s not a track on this album that doesn’t make you move. It’s scuzzy, it’s dancey, and it’s T-Rex-y.Amazing live show taboot.

King Tuff s/t cover art

Woods | Bend Beyond [Woodsist]

Woods consistently puts out records that mean a lot to me for one reason or another. They always skim the surface of my conscience lyrically and musically they’re complex but simple just the same. Vocally unique as well. The cassette for this album kept me company as I lugged stuff from my old apartment to my new house in September. It’ll always be special for that reason!

Woods | Bend Beyond Cover Art

#1 Tame Impala | Lonerism [Modular]

Sonic masterpiece that’s so good it may give you a complex. Tame Impala’s LONERISM is a parasitic boomerang. It feeds on your psyche and the rest of your music collection.  It’s a maze that you think you’ve navigated to the end of but find yourself back at the beginning. Try to move away from it as much as you can with other sounds, but it’ll somehow creep back into your speakers. Headphones not required but recommended.

Tame Impala | Lonerism Cover Art

I’m basing this years list on the amount of times I tweet gushed about a new album. Because how else am I supposed to remember everything I listened to?

White Fence, super eclectic and super busy in 2012, put out 2 volumes of Family Perfume on Woodsist and cut a record with Ty Segall – before August.

This album is also 1 of the 2 cassettes I bought this year. Now if that doesn’t spell out its inclusion in my top 6 I don’t know what does.

Sound is a little all over the place and somewhat hard to categorize or nail down. It definitely reminds me of what you might label stoner  rock but it doesn’t have that sludge you sway and nod off t0. It utilizes drone for that.

Family Perfume vol. 2 is garden apartment lo fi and much of it made me long for Ween’s The Pod which definitely didn’t cause me to listen to it any less. There’s muffled words with lazy phrasing and sometimes it sounds like dude’s trying to make his guitar sound like the spread gun from Contra.

Good for those that dig The Kinks, VU, Syd fucking Barrett, Ty Segall, early Ween and lots of other good music, I’m sure.

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Playlist

I ran a marathon last year. I know that most of you either know that already or could care less but … you might care about what I listened to for 4 hours and 50 minutes. The idea for this post comes from NPRs recent Fresh Air about workout music which in turn caused my cube neighbor to ask me if there was a band or song that I would consider motivating. I was also motivated to put this up because I just today found the home of said playlist – my 2nd Gen iPod Nano.

And before you get too critical or threaten to burn any credit I may have as a music recommending friend – all I ask is that you remember the good times. Know that some of the selections were made out of desperation and only to fill time. I know I broke mixtape rules but … this is workout playlist. Cut me some slack. And please, if you can – try and forgive my undying adoration for Jackson Browne.

I’ve also created a playlist of all of the tracks that are available on Spotify.

Here goes:

Arms Like Boulders – The War on Drugs

Texico Bitches – Broken Social Scene

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne

Is This Love? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Digital Love – Daft Punk

Can You Discover? – Discovery

All I Want – LCD Soundsystem

Black Night – The Dodos

My Old Ways – Dr. Dog

3 Dimes Down – Drive-By Truckers

List For Life – GIRLS

Rock Me on the Water – Jackson Browne

G.O.O.D. Friday – Kanye West

Gone – Kanye West

Shadow People – Dr. Dog

Home – LCD Soundsystem

Your Time is Gonna Come – Led Zepplin

The Righteous Path – Drive-By Truckers

P.Y.T. – Michael Jackson

Death on the Stairs – The Libertines

Fat Man in the Bathtub – Little Feat

The Breeze – Dr. Dog

Crazy Feeling – Lou Reed

What are you Willing to Lose – Lucero

Cameras – Matt & Kim

Fade Away – Oasis

Tine to Pretend – MGMT

Roscoe – Midlake

Holland, 1945 – Neutral Milk Hotel

Hey, Hey What Can I Do? – Led Zepplin

Broke – Modest Mouse

X- Mas Curtain – My Morning Jacket

All of the Lights – Kanye West

The Breakup – The Rural Alberta Advantage

Where to Begin – My Morning Jacket

Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes – Paul Simon

Kill Devil Falls – Phish

Secret Meeting – The National

This Tornado Loves You – Neko Case

Ghost – Neutral Milk Hotel

RIngfinger – Nine Inch Nails

Juicy – Notorious B.I.G.

Stay Young – Oasis

Lost Coastlines – Okkervil River

ATLiens – Outkast

Southernplayaslisticadillacmuzik – Outkast

Little Secrets – Passion Pit

Mahgeeta – My Morning Jacket

I know What I Know – Paul Simon

Stereo – Pavement

Summer Babe  (Winter Version) – Pavement

Passing Me By – The Pharcyde

Hallelujah – Ryan Adams

Backwards Down the Number Line – Phish

1901 – Phoenix

Brothers Gonna Work it Out – Public Enemy

12:51 – The Strokes

Imitation of Life – R.E.M.

Everything In Its Right Place – Radiohead

Rock ‘n’ Roll Star – Oasis

Wasting Time – Reading Rainbow

I will Dare – The Replacements

Handshake Drugs – Wilco

Taking the Farm – The War on Drugs

Two Lovers – The Rural Alberta Advantage

New York, New York – Ryan Adams

The Wall – Yuck

The Comeback – Shout Out Louds

Rill Rill – Sleigh Bells

Two Kinds of Happiness – The Strokes

Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground – The White Stripes

Everybody Knows – Ryan Adams

Company in my Back – Wilco

Get Away – Yuck

On an overcast chilly May Sunday we milled around the capital- leaning against buildings, petting every dog that walked past, and acting as archeologists we scoured the pavement for anything that resembled an unfinished cigarette.

We weren’t poor but sometimes we sure did act like it.

As we tried hard to mask the delinquent thoughts that percolated under the yarn balls of our hats, a flurry of conversation flew past my ears. Three or four entered and quickly exited as I had a hard time keeping up with what must have been the most exciting, enlightening, and engaging collection of words put into sentences and then orated that I had ever been privy to.

That was a common occurrence for me during that time, though. Everything was interesting. Everyone I met I wanted to learn something from. Everyone excited me and everything was an opportunity.

“What the fuck do you mean, he’s in town tonight? How could we not know that?”

“Yeah, man. Word is it’s sold out but…I don’t think we’d have a problem getting in.”

“Fuck. I don’t care who I came here to see, I’m going to see him if he’s here.”

“For sure!”

I halted and grasped at these words. I calmed down and started to pay attention. My ears perked up at the passion and elevated excitement that was coming from these two kids that had just glided into our group. The clean/dirty dichotomy of their presence commanded they be taken serious as straight shooters who quite possibly could know where it’s at. They were firecrackers. And they had just been lit by something sure to be astounding. Clearly.

And besides, I had no idea who the ‘he’ in the conversation was.

It was 1999 and my friend Erica and I had driven an hour and some change to see Trey Anastasio on his first solo tour. It was to be an intimate show in front of a small audience where he ‘d play a set of Phish songs and a second set of covers and new originals. I was more than excited and up until this exact moment, had I not had tickets, I would have stowed away in dude’s guitar case just get in the building. Or done anything within reason, I guess.

But now there was something else. Something that could be more exciting or more of an experience than seeing a dude and a guitar that I’d be seeing with his band in July. The fast talk and ear-to-ear smiles of some kids I never knew had completely enveloped and coerced me to forget about what I came to do and to do something completely different.

So I thought to myself so what. Sweet. Let’s do this. Let’s skip Trey and see…

Tom Waits.

Up to this point I hadn’t knowingly heard of Tom Waits, his music, or seen him in films. I had no idea who he was, how old, what instrument he played. Nothing. I only knew that some people I was hanging around exploded at the sound of his name. I had no idea if I would like him more or less than the man I had worshiped as a guitarist. I had no idea at all.

This Tom Waits could’ve been a cellist, a rapper, or a flutist. He could’ve been a Satanist, a rapscallion, or a stand up comedian. I knew absolutely nothing about Tom Waits on that cold May day except that I was going to see him that night!



Top Albums of 2011

December 24, 2011 — 2 Comments

2011 was a fantastic year for new music and it was super diverse, taboot. I always feel that there’s a lot that I’ve missed and for some reason this year I feel that more than most.

I discovered right after putting this list together that the top 20 or so congele as a cohesive favorite. I like them all and listened to them a ton, whereas the top 5 were really special in one way or another. I guess I found them more thought provoking, more inspired, and easier to lean on throughout the year. But anyway…

Here’s my top 25 Albums 0f 2011:

25. Kurt Vile  – Smoke Rings For My Halo

25 - Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

24. Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

23. Destroyer – Kaputt

23-Destroyer -Kaputt

22. Jay Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

22- Watch the Throne

21. Cass McCombs – Wit’s End

21 - Cass McCombs - Wit's End

20. The Roots – Undun

20- The Roots- Undun

19. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

19- Fucked Up -David Comes To Life

18. Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

19- Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire

17. Iceage- New Brigade

17- Iceage- New Brigade

16. Washed Out – Within and Without


15. Cloud Nothings – s/t

15 - Cloud-Nothings

14. Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

14 - RAA - Departing

13.  Wilco- The Whole Love

13 - Wilco - The Whole Love

12. Panda Bear – Tomboy


11. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harves

11- Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest

10. The Strokes – Angles

10- the-strokes-angles

9. The Decemberists – The King is Dead


8. Woods – Sun and Shade

8 - Woods -  Sun and Shade

7. Megafaun- s/t

7- MEGAFAUN - Megafaun

6. Real Estate – Days

6- Real Estate - Days

5. Yuck – s/t

5-Yuck - Yuck

4. James Blake – s/t

4 - James Blake - james blake

3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

3- Shabazz Palaces - Black Up

2. Carter Tanton – Freeclouds

2 - Carter Tanton - Freeclouds

1. The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

1 - The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

In 1994 we kicked around a new British band called Oasis. While “Live Forever” got decent radio play on our alternative rock station, 102.1’s lack of playing anything else from their debut album rendered Oasis as potential one hit wonder fodder. So we didn’t expect much from the shaggy haired Brits that we were told ripped off The Beatles. It was pretty easy not to. I mean, most of us were still hip hop heads.

But while urban sounds dominated our outward existences, we longed for ways to round out of our creativity. And besides, hip hop had a tendency to get dull. And sometimes it was angrier than we were. While we were into good beats and an occasional melody we finally figured out that we were suckers for (and still are) samples from something soulful and “way back,” and that wasn’t what hip hop was evolving into. It seemed to be getting more intense and situational. Situational in a way that we just couldn’t relate to.

Or maybe we never could quite relate to it but now we just needed something that paralleled our thoughts and the things we kept hidden. So now we would easily abandon the aggression for something glowing and insightful. But it had to be something glowing and insightful with a good amount of attitude.

New avenues had to be paved. And that’s exactly what What’s The Story Morning Glory?  did for us.

It did all that-had meaning and made us feel alive with living and breathing hopes. But it also fed us a new culture. And we wore it everyday. From our Adidas, to our make shift mop tops, to the music that we listened to everyday-we were mad for it. It rounded us out solely because at this time if you listened to Oasis, you wanted to wear what they were wearing and you wanted to listen to everything that they listened to- The Beatles, The Jam, The Stone Roses, etc….. It simply became what you did. Or maybe that’s what we as sophomores in high school did.

If you hate Oasis, that’s ok. I will always be indebted to them for giving me a sneer and a bit of a punch when I needed it most. For helping me find ways to spend my allowance on cd singles and also for recording one of the best episodes of MTV Unplugged ever!

Liam-less and fantastic, Noel sings his heart out on songs that he wrote. And he sings both parts. I would’ve chose their entire Unplugged performance as an album that changed my life but….it’s not an actual album. However, it is amazing! Check it.