Latest Blog Posts

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

17 Dec 2010


Mendelsohn: Before we talk about where we first heard this record or how it made us feel or why our world is a better place because of it or any of that—I’d just like to throw this out there: Radiohead’s OK Computer is to the 1990s (and probably the next two decades) what the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was to the 1960s (and ’70s and ’80s).

Klinger: Hmm . . . sonically daring, aesthetically bold, and fetishized beyond its standing by pale mopey geeks? You may be onto something there, Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn: It’s not just the pale, mopey geeks who love this album. OK Computer went platinum in almost every country, spawned three chart hits and a hit video in the waning days of MTV, when music videos were being shown the door. We’re talking about a pop masterpiece with a commercial and critical appeal that had seldom been seen in a decade or more preceding and still hasn’t been matched. We’re talking about one of the last great albums here. Very possibly the last entry into the Great Rock ’n Roll canon. Whether or not you like Thom Yorke’s crooning and the band’s sad-sack guitars, you have to give this album its due.

by Sean Murphy

16 Dec 2010


“Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see / It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out / It doesn’t matter much to me”. Those aren’t just defining lines from a defining song by the defining band of all time, the Beatles. They are lines written by the closest thing we humans get to a super hero at the top of his game, having just shouted down from the mountain top on one of the most innovative, shape-shifting songs of all time, “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

If some people, understandably, think the everything-plus-kitchen-sink approach on the subsequent Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) was in places a tad too haphazard and indulgent, no such concerns can apply here: songwriter John Lennon knew what he wanted, telling MVP producer George Martin he wanted his vocals to sound like “a hundred chanting Tibetan monks”. No worries, right? Martin, with appreciable assistance from an always-game Paul McCartney, sliced, diced, looped and spliced, and second by painstaking second, reel-to-reel tape transported the magic from Lennon’s mind. To say that this song set the tone for experimentation and was influential across multiple genres, including—or especially—ones that didn’t even exist yet, scarcely does it justice.

by Sean Murphy

15 Dec 2010


“I can’t go on, I’ll go on . . .” When it comes to the Beatles, I feel obliged to invoke Samuel Beckett. Everything has been said; enough can never be said. So let me say this: as long as I have eyes, ears, fingers and a keyboard, I’ll be talking about the Beatles.

And that is just referring to the band’s official discography. What about the incalculable covers of their catalog? With a band as beloved and unavoidable as the Beatles, we’ve heard it all. Especially the stuff we didn’t want or need to hear and, unfortunately, the stuff that can never be unheard (Bee Gees and Beatles don’t mix). That said, while nothing, of course, can ever compare to the real thing, there are some amazing tributes out there. Naturally, the more unorthodox ones tend to fare better, if for no other reason because they retain the spirit of the original without drawing an overly direct comparison, which is always a losing proposition.

I can think of several; so can you. How about Eddie Hazel’s funkadelic deconstruction of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? Or Joe Jackon’s plaintive take on “Eleanor Rigby”? Or the enchanting Allison Kraus’ version of “I Will”? Or Jimi Hendrix’s straight-out impounding of “Sgt. Pepper”? Or anything by Electric Light Orchestra—oh wait, those weren’t covers? Never mind. The best one I’ve seen in ages, and one I suspect I’ll never tire of, is St. Vincent’s stylized, sexy-as-all-get-out take on “I Dig a Pony” which needs to be seen, immediately.

Understanding, then, that there is always room for more Beatles, the question still must be answered: is there really room for an entire album of Beatles covers? Well . . .

by Evan Sawdey

14 Dec 2010


Tom Zé is one of the most underappreciated geniuses in all of pop music history. He is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the Tropicalia movement, which helped redefine how the world felt about Brazilian music culture from the 1960s onward.  Although people like Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes all came from the same collective mindset, it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s when Zé broke through, having caught the eye of David Byrne, getting signed to his Luaka Bop record label, and soon experiencing a remarkable career renaissance . . .

Back in October of this year, Zé became recipient of some unique reissues, ranging from a fantastic multi-LP vinyl box set called Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You, along with a single-disc greatest hits retrospective CD called Estudando a Bossa. To help commemorate these releases, Zé sat down to do a brief 20 Questions feature with us here at PopMatters, revealing how he wished he discovered the diatonic scale, why he looks so good in a fig leaf, and how psychoanalysis is his stress management . . .

by Corey Beasley

13 Dec 2010


Here it comes, to borrow a phrase. “Doin’ the Cockroach” marks the beginning of a trilogy of sorts on The Lonesome Crowded West. That three-part progression, moving through to “Cowboy Dan” and “Trailer Trash”, remains perhaps the most thrilling movement in Modest Mouse’s extensive career. All three tracks remain fan favorites and live staples—and for good reason. They represent Modest Mouse at its creative peak, or at least the peak of this era in its songwriting. While later releases would move into longer song structures and psychedelic experimentalism (The Moon & Antarctica) and hook-heavy, Americana-laced eclecticism (Good News for People Who Love Bad News), the band who wrote “Doin’ the Cockroach” was still that now increasingly rare beast: an honest-to-God guitar unit of the utmost focused intensity. Isaac Brock and company wanted to play loud, wanted to get you moving, and wanted to communicate full-throated and entirely potent emotive experiences in the process.

“I was in heaven / I was in hell / Believe in neither, but / Fear ‘em, as well”, sings Brock to start, barking those last few words in a way that almost sounds like a command. His guitar screams there, too, four quick power chords matching his staccato rhythm as his instrumental melody welds itself precisely to that of his vocals. As the verse continues, Brock paints a lightly surrealistic scene of long-distance travel, his pet theme on the album. He takes inventory of his fellow riders, alternately moving together on a subway, a Greyhound bus, an Amtrak train, each person more unbearable than the last. “PLEASE SHUT UP” becomes his refrain, yelled hoarsely over those brittle chords. The stop-start, soft-loud dynamics, combined with the unhinged imagery of the lyrics, create a queasy and unsettled atmosphere, as if we were riding with Brock on the trip through uneven, hostile terrain. The last traveler he describes sets up the song’s titular image: “This one’s a crazer / Day-dreaming disaster / The origin of junkfood / Rutting through garbage / Tasty but worthless / Dogs eat their own shit / We’re doin’ the cockroach—yeah!”

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