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by AJ Ramirez

9 Mar 2011


Echoing last year’s call for discussion about great guitar riffs, this year music journalist Simon Reynolds has called for odes to the riff’s slightly-uncool sibling: the guitar solo. Naturally, you’re all welcome to join the festivities. Unlike the Great Internet Riff War of 2010, it’s a bit of a struggle at first to get people to expound upon how awesome guitar solos are. Consider that entire musical movements have arisen time and again—punk and post-punk, just to name two—that make a point of rejecting the soloing convention. While a lot can be said over the technique’s indulgent, sometimes stodgy nature, I honestly believe that a lot of the grumbling about solos is due to the fact that not everyone can pull them off well.

Really, think about it: a great riff can be just one catchy measure of music repeated for a full minute. A great solo is supposed to be an individual expression, and those by their nature have to be idiosyncratic and nuanced. They require a baseline amount of talent and/or imagination, and furthermore they are often improvised. Factoring all that in mind, even an oft-cited classic solo can have a bar or two that simply does not work for the listener. I for one can rattle off numerous riffs I consider classic, but my list of comparable solos would be much shorter.

Regardless, I’ve never been one to call for the head of the guitar solo on a platter. Having heard Pink Floyd a little too often on classic rock radio isn’t enough to make me want to deny an essential vocabulary element from genres such as blues, heavy metal, and even folk music. Additionally, solos are a handy compositional technique to liven up a song arrangement—the presence of that breakneck riff in Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” might satiate most hungers for six-string mania, but the whole affair would be a little less interesting without that “Fast” Eddie Clark speed freakout after Lemmy shouts out “And don’t forget the joker!”

by George de Stefano

7 Mar 2011


An acoustic guitar and a rocking chair, set against a green background. You could hardly ask for a more nondescript album cover. But that image has become iconic because of the extraordinary music inside the unremarkable packaging. In fact, the album has come to be known by its cover art. Chess Records titled the disk Howlin’ Wolf when the Chicago-based company released it in 1962. But everyone, or at least every serious blues aficionado, knows this collection of 12 tracks by Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett simply as “the rocking chair album” .

Rocking Chair—as I will call it from here on—comprises tracks recorded from 1957 to 1961, most of which were released as singles. But it has the stylistic unity and focus of a recording conceived as a whole. It is one of the greatest blues records ever made, as well as an ur-text for many rock and R&B artists. Here’s a partial list: the Doors, Cream, the Who, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the Grateful Dead, the Pointer Sisters, Koko Taylor, the White Stripes, Lucinda Williams, and especially the Rolling Stones, who covered two of its tracks, “Little Red Rooster” and “Little Baby”.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

4 Mar 2011


Klinger: All right, Mendelsohn, I know that in the past you’ve been somewhat, shall we say, lukewarm to our man Bob here. I’ve just about convinced myself, though, that Blood on the Tracks is the album that will change your tune. No obfuscating abstract lyrics, no fuzzy-ish arrangements, just a stunning display of heartache and loneliness, honed to a diamond-like precision by a man who reveals himself to be a true master of the form.

So I’m eager to hear what you have to say here. Is this the one? Has Bob Dylan finally won you over?

Mendelsohn: This album is very pretty. Very pretty and very sad. I imagine that Blood on the Tracks is useful fodder for any college-age troubadour lothario who enjoys preying on young, innocent, artsy girls who have yet to become jaded at life due to heartbreak at the hands of a guitar-wielding Don Juan.

All the guy has to do is play a couple of these songs while staring deeply into her eyes and the girl will say, “Oh, somebody must have really hurt you. Here, let me make it all better”, and then he’ll say, “Someone did hurt me but most of these songs are about the works of Anton Chekhov”, which immediately results in the girl taking off her pants.

Since I can not play the guitar and am no longer allowed on most college campuses (due to several incidents stemming from my uncontrollable mascot rage), this album, while enjoyable enough to listen to, is of no use to me.

by AJ Ramirez

3 Mar 2011


These days, Foo Fighters are one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Their new sure-to-be-mega seventh album Wasting Light is due in a little under two months from now, and founding Foo Dave Grohl is the recent recipient of NME’s Godlike Genius Award. Back in 1995 though, they were an unknown yet promising quantity, the latter due to the weighty legacy intrinsically tied to them. While the fact that the Foo Fighters were created by a member of Nirvana—ubiquitously regarded as the most important rock band of the last 20 years—is never far from public consciousness even now, in the early days of the group’s existence it was of interest to people precisely because the Foo Fighters was Dave Grohl, Former Nirvana Drummer, who started the low-key recording project as a sort of musical therapy in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s April 1994 suicide.

But even from the get-go, it was clear to me that Foo Fighters were capable of crafting tunes that rank up there with the best Nirvana compositions. In fact, I was a Foo Fighters fan before I even heard Nirvana’s Nevermind all the way through, and I was unaware for an embarrassingly long time that the two alt-rock combos shared a key member (in my defense, goateed late ‘90s Grohl looked a bit different from the long-haired, clean-shaven beat master behind the kit in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video). To this day, I consider their first two albums—Foo Fighters (1995) and The Colour and the Shape (1997)—the best material they ever produced.  Boasting a hearty serving of fantastic radio hits and ace album cuts, these two records should be the first stop for anyone aiming to delve into the Foo Fighters back catalog.

by Josh Antonuccio

1 Mar 2011


It’s hard to believe that 1991 was 20 years ago. In the wake of that anniversary, many have been harkening back to reflect on the top records of that year: U2’s Achtung Baby, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s (self-titled) “Black Album” just to name a few. Yet as grunge and the new wave of punk slowly emerged, an entirely different sound was inching over the horizon. Just three years from the brilliant Isn’t Anything, My Bloody Valentine (named after a Canadian horror film), had produced its masterwork, Loveless, a record of such sheer grandiosity and nuanced ingenuity, that it would become the reigning influence of independent rock, as well the expected candidate for every rock critic’s record collection, for years to come. It would also be the last musical statement from the band to date.

Bandleader Kevin Shields invested innumerable hours of studio time trying to create new and unprecedented sounds with this record, at times emerging from all-day sessions with absolutely nothing on tape. The process also found Shields barring any employees with Creation Records from access to the sessions. It was this kind of secluded and extensive work ethic that ended up nearly bankrupting the record label. However, it also ended up providing one of the most profound musical statements to emerge out of that year.

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