If you’re like me (and I would have to assume that you are), you probably spend a lot of your time wondering why song lyrics can’t be a lot more straightforward. Take, for example, Born in the U.S.A. You’d think it’s about some guy who’s born in the U.S.A., but no, it’s about communism or Ronald Reagan or something. So I appreciate it when someone can step forward and cut through the clutter, like with this video. Presented for your viewing pleasure, the literalist version of A Ha’s classic, Take On Me.
So much better, don’t you think? Now if someone could just explain to me what the hell’s happening when that guy’s slamming into the walls at the end. Is that how cartoon characters become real?
Fans of Paul Westerberg got a pleasant surprise a month ago when a online-exclusive album called 49:00 popped up for sale on Amazon and Tunecore for the low low price of $.49. It was a single-track album, a mish-mash of gems, toss-offs and teasers that ended up sounding like a someone channel-surfing through some of the best radio stations ever imagined. It also offered up a great look inside the ADD-addled brain of one of the best songwriters of the past 30 years, starting with full songs and then quickly devolving into half-songs before it ends up with snippets of covers at the very end.
Since I downloaded 49:00 as soon as it was available and never looked back, I was shocked to read that it had been taken down and was no longer available. Rumors and speculation have been swirling, as much as they can for a musician that has been largely forgotten by the mainstream. The general assumption is some sort of copyright issue, due to the myriad of covers that Paul offers snippets of near the end of 49:00. All of the clips are incredibly short, the only one longer than 10 seconds is the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” which Paul has covered throughout his career, most notably with The Replacements.
But the denouement of this story is perhaps the most odd. Right after 49:00 was pulled from download, another Paul Westerberg track, 5:05, appeared in it’s place. This time, you can choose between a $.99 price point and a $5.05 price point. The funny part about this is that the actual run-time of 49:00 was only 43:55. Add 5:05 to that and you get, you guessed it, 49:00. This bonus track, or whatever you want to call it, seems to have been written with the expressed intent of blasting the powers that be for forcing the recall of 49:00, as evidenced by the chorus; “If they wanna sue me / can’t see through me / they’ve got a law suit / I’ve got a swim suit / all the girls and guys / enjoy the 5:05.” It also starts off with a not-so-subtle jab at “The Man” in the form of a sped-up clip of Adolf Hitler speaking.
Cheeky monkey, that Paul.
The music blog, Aquarium Drunkard, has a nice little review of the whole mess, complete with some more speculation on the ins and outs of the whole issue, as well as some insight into the equally odd, super-short clip of The Beatles “Oh, Darling” at the very end of 5:05.
Maybe, once Muxtape gets back up and running (fingers crossed) I’ll cut up 49:00 and post some of the tracks for everyone to enjoy.
Last week saw the first annual Sod Conference (patent pending), when Nate and his wife were in Bismarck (which, as was agreed to be all attendees, should henceforth be referred to either as The Biz or ‘Smark) and joined me, the admin, and infrequent blogger Kelly Hagen for drinks at the local drinking hole. Much merriment and festivities were had. If you weren’t invited, rest assured that it was probably intentional.
Anyway, it was during our gathering that Nate stated that he felt like everyone on the Sod Blog should have joined in on his, Kelly’s and Chris’s recent listings of the definitive albums of each year of their sad, empty lives. So fine. I’m nothing if not a frequent and tragic victim of peer pressure. Here’s my list of the only albums that have ever mattered during my stay on the planet earth.
1978 – (blank)
1979 – (blank)
1980 – (blank)
1981 – (blank)
1982 – (blank)
1983 – (blank)
1984 – (blank)
1985 – (blank)
1986 – (blank)
1987 – (blank)
1988 – (blank)
1989 – (blank)
1990 – (blank)
1991 – Pearl Jam – Ten
1992 – (blank)
1993 – Pearl Jam – Vs.
1994 – Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
1995 – Pearl Jam – Merkin Ball (Yeah, yeah. It’s a single. Shut the hell up.)
1996 – Pearl Jam – No Code
1997 – (blank)
1998 – Pearl Jam – Yield
1999 – (blank)
2000 – Pearl Jam – Binaural
2001 – (blank)
2002 – Pearl Jam – Riot Act
2003 – Pearl Jam – Lost Dogs
2004 – (blank)
2005 – (blank)
2006 – Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam
2007 – (blank)
2008 – (blank)
I’ll fill in the blanks some other time, if and when every other musical band on earth discontinues sucking.
To start off, I’d like to make it very clear that this whole thing was Chris’ idea. He came to Kelly and I with it and we, being the list-making addicts that we are, accepted, not fully understanding the consequences of our acceptance.
But, to his credit, he did save the best for last. Excuse me while I stroke my ego for a moment…still there? Good. I was worried that you may have left, what with me being a total ass about my arbitrary last-ness. All of our lists hold equal importance and relevance to each of our lives. That’s probably the hardest part about making these lists, because they’re supposed to be more reflections of your own personal experience than what the actual best album was, so it’s harder to attack one another for our choices. This was, obviously, the hardest part about making this list- knowing that you can’t realistically attack one another over album choices. It’s hard not to bicker and tear each other down over our barely differing musical tastes.
As a bit of a warning before we actually get into my list for best albums from each year of my life, I have to set out the ground rules by which I ordered my list. While we did indeed go back and forth over the ground rules and guidelines by which we’d adhere to when making these lists, we are different people (which certain picks in our lists make abundantly clear).
In the 1980′s and early 1990′s, I tried to pick an album that I was actually interested in from that year. This is, of course, subject to memory and tempered by the fact that I wasn’t that into music early in my life and tended to hear what was on the radio more than anything else (see: Huey Lewis & The News). In these years, the ‘Runner Up” is designated as the album I consider to be the best from that year, even if it wasn’t my favorite at the time.
In the more recent years (90′s to present) I used the “Runner Up” distinction when I couldn’t make up my damned mind about which album was best. I’m just like that. Get used to it.
On with the list!
For those of you who are interested in listening to a track from each of the albums listed below, follow this here link.
1979 – The Clash: London Calling (1)
1980 – AC/DC: Back In Black
1981 – Black Flag: Damaged (2)
1982 – George Thorogood & The Destroyers: Bad to the Bone / Runner Up- Michael Jackson: Thriller
1983 – Huey Lewis & The News: Sports / Runner Up- Stevie Ray Vaughn: Texas Flood
1984 – Prince: Purple Rain / Runner Up- The Replacements: Let It Be (3)
1985 – The Replacements: Tim / Runner Up- Husker Du: New Day Rising
1986 – Van Halen: 5150 / Runner Up- Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill (4)
1987 – Guns and Roses: Appetite For Destruction
1988 – Tom Waits: Big Time
1989 – The Pixies: Doolittle
1990 – They Might Be Giants: Flood (5)
1991 – Pearl Jam: Ten / Runner Up- Skid Row: Slave to the Grind(6)
2006 – The Thermals: The Body, The Blood, The Machine / Runner Up- Ghostland Observatory: Paparazzi Lightning
2007 – The National: Boxer (9) / Runner Up- The Weakerthans: Reunion Tour
 CONSENSUS!!! Go ahead, try and name a better album from 1979, I dare you.
 No, I didn’t listen to Black Flag when I was 2. I probably would have been much more messed up than I already am. In fact, I have problems listening to this whole album in a single sitting today. Still, it’s quite the statement.
 This was the first really tough decision I had to make. I love this ‘Mats album, but Purple Rain is Purple Rain. As a Minnesotan, the choice between guys that look and drink and wear awkward clothes just like I do and His Purpleness is hardly an easy one. But, I very well could have just listed the single of “Purple Rain” as the album of the year, it’s that important. It is a little-known fact that all Minnesotans are legally required to enjoy Prince’s music. The penalty for not liking it is listening to 10 straight hours of Garrison Keilor’s tales from Lake Woebegon.
 Sadly, this is not the most homo-erotic album cover from the 1980′s, but it’s close. Looking back, this is one of Van Halen’s weakest albums, yet, at the time, it was my favorite. I did not have very good judgement as a six year-old.
 “Is he a dot, or is he a speck? When he’s underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead? Nobody knows, Particle man.” Need I say more?
 Slave to the Grind was the first tape I ever bought by myself. Ten was the second. 1991 was a weird year for me, musically.
 There seems to be a trend here where, at this point in our lives, each of us turned to some form of rap or hip-hop. I’d been exposed to NWA and various other gangsta rappers (Easy E, anyone?) for years, but this was the first album that I would listen to at any time, any place. Just not within earshot of my parents.
 Technically, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out in 2002. But, it was slated for release in 2001 and was released by Wilco on their website that year as well, so I counted it for this year. A similar logic was used to make The Clash’s London Calling the best album of 1979, even though the record was not released in the US until 1980.
 CONSENSUS!!! Nice that we could start and end on a unifying note…except for Old Man Hagen and his 1978…
Is it so that favorites in music are made more neat and orderly within our disorganized mind, so that some day when we are near crippled by Alzheimer’s or dementia, we will still miraculously remember that “No Code” is far and away the best Pearl Jam album? Is it to drive steadfast barriers and divisions between us and the differing — and might I say, inferior? — opinions of our friends? Is it to swing blindly away in the face of conventional wisdom that you can make lists of substantiated mathematics and science, where 4 is greater than 2 and outer space is bigger than a bread box, but how does one put a mathematical value upon the appeal of Oingo Boingo?
I will choose the second option. Prepare yourselves for the list to top all others, especially those of Chris Rausch and Nate Sjol.
Point of order, I don’t have footnotes on my list, because I don’t have a master’s degree, nor have I attended law school, so the world expects a little bit less out of me. I have listed my favorite albums, first and foremost, with the benefit of hindsight. Because, I am smarter now than I was in 1987. However, I am including, as best as I can remember, a sub-list to the main list, included in parenthesis where applicable, of my Favorite Albums at the Time, or FAATT. Also, you should know that I didn’t really start liking music until the day I really got into the Bobby Brown song on the “Ghostbusters 2″ soundtrack.
OK, with no further adieu, thine list:
1978 — Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “This Year’s Model” (FAATT – I don’t know; “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”?)
1979 — The Clash – “London Calling” (Is this one even close? I’ll bet this sweeps all three of our lists. In fact, it’s so good, I’m going to go ahead and state that “London Calling” was my favorite album when I was 1. I’ll bet it would have been, if I hadn’t have been so busy pooping myself.)
1980 — John Lennon & Yoko Ono — “Double Fantasy” (FAATT – We’re going to skip this feature for a few years, at least until I’ve learned to ride a tricycle.)
1981 — Black Flag – “Damaged” (Wow, did ’81 ever suck for music. How did any of you older people get through this year? I mean, I like “Damaged,” but I certainly don’t love it. This selection pains me, I’ll admit.)
1982 — Bruce Springsteen – “Nebraska” (Yup, best Springsteen album. I said it. FAATT — The Smurfs – “Best of Friends”)
1983 — R.E.M. – “Murmur”
1984 — The Replacements – “Let It Be” (Oh, yeah. Get used to this pattern.)
1985 — The Replacements – “Tim” (Honestly, how do you choose between “Tim” and “Let It Be”? You don’t.)
1986 — R.E.M. – “Life’s Rich Pageant” (The best R.E.M. album. Every note is seared into my brain, thanks to repeated plays by my dad during my formative years.
1987 — The Replacements – “Pleased to Meet Me” (Hey, why not?)
1988 — The Pixies – “Surfer Rosa”
1989 — The Pixies – “Doolittle” (I’ve got “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle” side-by-side in reverence, just like with “Tim” and “Let It Be.” So, I don’t want to denigrate either without giving them the honors, even though it makes me look exceedingly repetitive in my musical tastes. It’s the truth, though. FAATT — Aerosmith – “Pump”)
1990 — Fugazi – “Repeater” (FAATT — Poison – “Flesh & Blood”)
1991 — Nirvana – “Nevermind” (Rausch is right about this one; not even Nirvana’s best album. Still … gotta go. FAATT — MC Hammer – “Too Legit to Quit”)
1992 — Tragically Hip – “Fully Completely” (I need some Hip. This is their high note. FAATT — Dr. Dre – “The Chronic”)
1993 — Nirvana – “In Utero” (FAATTSnoop Doggy Dogg – “Doggystyle”)
1994 — Weezer – “Blue Album” (FAATT — “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”)
1995 — Radiohead – “The Bends” (FAATT — Deftones – “Adrenaline”)
1996 — Pearl Jam – “No Code” (Wow, crazy year. Running so very close behind are Tool’s “Aenima” and, or course, Weezer’s “Pinkerton.” FAATT — Bush – “Razorblade Suitcase”)
1997 — Radiohead – “OK Computer” (Another close one. I just want to mention these runners-up: Elliott Smith – “Either/Or,” Deftones – “Around the Fur,” Smoking Popes – “Destination Failure.” FAATT – Foo Fighters – “The Colour and the Shape”)
1998 — Braid – “Frame and Canvas” (Actually, this was the first year I put together a Top Ten in published media, namely the Bismarck State College Mystician. I picked Pearl Jam’s “Yield” as the FAATT.)
1999 — Jimmy Eat World – “Clarity” (FAATT — Paul Westerberg – “Suicaine Gratifaction”)
2000 — Deftones – “White Pony” (I don’t even know if I made the right pick here. At the Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command” is just as good. Oh, decisions. The FAATT is hereby suspended. I’m a stubborn mule who no longer changes his mind.)
2001 — Alkaline Trio – “From Here to Infirmary”
2002 — Paul Westerberg – “Stereo/Mono”
2003 — The Lawrence Arms – “Greatest Story Ever Told” (The Wrens – “The Meadowlands” comes incredibly close.)
2004 — The Thermals – “Fuckin A” (Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Shake the Sheets” is just slightly behind.)
2005 — Bloc Party – “Silent Alarm”
2006 — The Hold Steady – “Boys and Girls in America”
2007 — The National – “Boxer”
The Premise: Pick out the best album of the year for each year you’ve been alive. The Players:Myself and fellow Sod-bloggers Kelly Hagen (list coming this Wednesday), and Nate Sjol (list due on Friday). The Result: Apparently I’m a much bigger Huey Lewis fan than I would have ever thought.
Here at Sod, we can only go about two to three good months without making a list of some sort before we start getting all itchy and distempered. Thankfully, next week we get to satisfy our joneses before being reduced to manning street corners and soliciting johns for list ideas.
The Constantines define catharsis. Their music is roiling drumbeat punctuated by growls, yelps and howls and cut with cleaver-like guitars. I caught them last night at the Doug Fir, touring in support of their latest, Hard Feelings, which is another step forward for them artistically, as well as a hard-charging ride. Seeing them live is like being continually slammed against a concrete wall, but in a very good, satisfying way. You walk out of a Constantines show spent, staggering and smiling from ear to ear. They are rock and roll.
In short, these guys are awesome.
That awesome was on full display last night, as they ripped through new songs (Trans Canada, Brother Run Them Down) as well as old standards (Young Lions, To The Lullibies), barely pausing to speak and only mentioning that Steve, their fifth member, was back home with a broken hand, after the first eight songs. It was business from the word “go” and despite the fact that I spent the second half of the show behind a very jubilant Kenny Rogers impersonator.
Dance! you gambler, you.
So, while Bry and the band were deafing each of us with both their explosiveness and their extended periods of charged silence, I was treated to a boppy-dancing bearded man. I can’t imagine how a show could be more enjoyable.
Oh wait, for the encore, the band brought up one of their opening acts, Ladyhawk (awesome in their own right and very, very Canadian) onto the stage and proceeded to tear through The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” at a fever pitch, complete with the lead singer/guitarist for Ladyhawk, Duffy, who writes a pretty funny blog on the side and happens to be a squat, pudgy, bearded, French/Canadian-looking guy, doing a spot-on Mick Jagger impression. Half of the audience was doubled over in laughter at one point or another during the encore. That is, when they weren’t getting their socks rocked off.
If you can’t picture that, then here’s a picture to help:
Duffy is in the top left with a PBR in his hand. But I’m sure visualizing any of these guys doing a Jagger impression makes you pee your pants, just a little.
Speaking of Ladyhawk, they’re worth giving a listen. They were very solid, even if they are the pasty-est, most inappropriately bearded group of fellas this side of the Yukon Territory.
The first opener, a band called The Weather Underground, was also very entertaining. Give them a listen here.
And, just in case my summation of The Constantines didn’t convey exactly how much they rock, here’s an example of how good they are live…
I have been watching a heavy, possibly excessive, amount of jubilant electro pop/electro hop music videos of late. I’ve noticed some commonalities, and have formulated some theories.
The electro pop music videos that have entranced me range from low-budget local projects to polished, lavish videos accompanying international chart-topping hits. They come from Tampa, Seattle, Kansas City, London, Paris, and Oslo.
4. 60s-esque trippy imagery (think Yellow Submarine or further back to Ernie Kovacs‘ style of comedy)
5. Flat color fields (a flat monochrome background, for example, somewhat reminiscent of the 1950s Color Field style of painting)
6. Happy fantasy-land settings
7. Heavy borrowings from/incorporation of gay culture
8. In many, queering of gender roles (as well as equal space for men & women, queers & straights)
Watching Mika’s “Relax, (Take it Easy)” you can see the seamless confluence of many of these elements. What interests me specifically in music videos like this is how influences have been plucked from several different decades and woven together to create a look/sound both distinctly modern, yet unmistakably retro. And, why these influences?
There are some concessions to make immediately. Many of the elements of these music videos could be dismissed as pure escapism. Other elements can be dismissed as simply “trendy”. And for a certain set of the artists making these videos, budget constraints significantly define the aesthetic of the final result.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to prod a little deeper. Color fields and disco beats are minimalist and stripped-down. They reduce their respective mediums (color and beat) to their most essential quality – i.e. clear out a lot of bullshit. They provide the background and foundation for the vision and message of the artists. Built on top of that is a very interesting structure indeed.
First, I would like to say a word about fuchsia. This color is significant in electro pop for a couple reasons. The color that actually appears in the majority of these videos is “Fashion Fuchsia” or “Hollywood Cerise” which is a color developed in the 20th century specifically for women’s clothing and having movie-star connotations. The color Fuchsia also has a life in the world of gaycode-terms, possibly because it is a relative of lavender, and it is no stretch to assume that its frequent invocation represents both a reference to gay culture and to feminine Hollywood glamor. It was also popular in the 80s, and appears accompanied by many other neon or fluorescent colors that enjoyed a similar popularity in that decade.
The 70s and 80s references of the videos seem to cluster around the disco/synth aesthetic of the years 1976-1984 (more or less). Limited synthesizer and drum machine technology formed the boundaries of the electronic beats and sounds the artists were able to develop. Fortuitously for cash-strapped electro pop artists in the 00s, these sounds are relatively cheap and easy to replicate, and so continue on in a retro life.
Fashion choices for current groups also draw from this time period. This is probably because the subcultures (the gay club scene, early NYC hip hop, the backlash against the hyper-masculinity of some underground 70s rock music, art school students, performance artists) that birthed electro pop’s predecessors, disco and synth pop, also form a direct lineage to today’s subcultures that produce the electro pop. After a rather masculine music terrain in the 1990s, where grunge, alternative rock, gangsta rap, and rap-rock were prominent, electro pop music that started exploding in the late 90s and early 00s could again be a backlash against hyper-masculinity in music.
One can see the references to hip hop in some rapped lyrics, posture and movement in the videos, and blingy jewelry. This is no accident, as some early forms of hip hop, electro funk and/or electro hop (Afrika Bambaataa, Hashim, Jonzun Crew), did successful experiments in electronically-produced beats.
The influence of gay culture on disco and synth pop at this time (76-84) was huge (Sylvester, Marc Almond, Patrick Cowley, etc), and this is by no means lost in contemporaneous electro pop. If anything, it is even more pronounced, most likely because of a more accepting social climate today. Having historically sprouted from subcultures more equitable towards gays and women than the mainstream, electro genres foster higher participation from these groups than other genres do. The jubilant tone of much of the music from this time and these genres (pre-AIDS epidemic) is reflected in contemporary electro.
What may be the truly fascinating element of current electro pop is this jubilance. I see it expressed most clearly in the use of trippy and fantastic design and images. While many would write off trippy images like in “Relax, (Take it Easy)” or Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E” as mere celebration of drugs and odes to escapism, I detect more nuance. The trippy images hearken back to the experimentations of 1960s drug culture, and its peace and love tone. While having a psychedelic experience involves liberating the mind from its ordinary thought routines or exploring new levels of consciousness and could refer to any decade, the style of these electro pop music videos directly refers to graphic styles of the 60s. They relate to a nostalgic feeling for the exuberance of the youth culture pre-1968. In many ways 1968 was a year of innocence lost: end of the Prague Spring, My Lai Massacre, Mao Zedong’s reeducation programs, MLK and RFK assassinations, the French demonstrations, and killing of college students by the military in the US and Mexico.
By doggedly focusing on the jubilance of subcultures pre-loss of innocence (1968, AIDS), electro pop is defying the general consensus that liberal-minded people should be feeling downcast. Electro pop artists are searching for time periods from which to draw their happy aesthetic. Though they, as anyone, are inundated with messages of how the world is awry, from global warming to unethical corporations to international conflict, they are defiantly happy. They carefully select cultural references to signal to their listeners and viewers. And they choose to celebrate, dance and be uninhibited.
Well, maybe that is escapism to you, but to me, these days it seems like an outright political statement.