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by Joseph Fisher

26 Jan 2011

Recently, I was having a conversation with Brian Flota, the author of PoMo Jukebox’s hilarious “Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding” column, and he suggested, perhaps somewhat grandiosely, that the best moment in the history of music comes in Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, right before the start of the last verse, and right after the band descends down the scale.  That singular moment is one of pronounced silence, when it’s pretty clear that the band, which seems to be comprised of about fifty orchestras, is winding up for the crushing blast of the song’s conclusion.  Flota’s reason for his claim was simple: sometimes the best moments in music are the ones when there isn’t much going on.

That comment got me thinking a bit more deeply about the reasons why I prefer some songs to others—why some remain immediate no matter how many times I’ve heard them, while others lose their visceral power mere seconds after concluding.  Clearly, any conclusions that I could draw—if I could ever draw any—would be entirely subjective and potentially irrelevant to anyone else’s listening experiences.  Nevertheless, given that we just wrapped up The Season of Lists, I thought it might be worthwhile to break things down a bit further—to get out of thinking in terms of the best albums, or the best songs, or the best playlists, or even things like the best guitar solos or drums solos or whatever.  Rather, I thought it would be interesting to hear back from PopMatters’ esteemed readership about the best singular musical moments that you can remember.  Those brief intervals where, to trot out a hackneyed literary allusion, you felt IT!  Where you heard that one note, that one drum fill, that one vocal tic that made the entire song for you—or, indeed, for the history of music.

by Corey Beasley

24 Jan 2011

“Long Distance Drunk” is the only track on The Lonesome Crowded West that actually sounds like a b-side. On an album full of unabashed guitar rock, “Long Distance Drunk” pushes that instrument to the side, focusing instead on Jeremiah Green’s stuttering beat and Eric Judy’s bass-guitar-by-way-of-moonshine-jug drone. Isaac Brock palm-mutes a simple acoustic chord progression, joining his bandmates in their atmosphere of rhythmic navel-gazing. In between “Out of Gas” and “Shit Luck”, it’s hard for the song not to sound like an interlude. Taken on its own, it fares somewhat better.

“Hang it up now or never”, Brock sings, “Hang it up again”. He sounds tentative, a fitting tone for that slight hesitation that comes before you call your ex on a tequila-fueled whim. “Eight AM and someone calls you on the telephone / You want to be by yourself and all alone”, he’ll sing later, his vocals pushed into the back of the mix, almost an afterthought. It is an afterthought, after all, since he knows he’ll make the call, anyway. You’d do the same thing, wouldn’t you?

The track’s repetitive lyrics don’t hit as hard or in quite the same manner as the rest of Brock’s writing on the album. But then, they’re not supposed to. “Hang it up now or never / Hang it up again / Long distance drunk”—these are the stakes, slight in the bigger picture but painfully large when you’re sitting there with the telephone and a spinning room around you. Nicole Johnson’s airy vocals provide a nice counterpoint to Brock’s plaintiveness and do just enough to keep things from getting too self-indulgent. Perhaps swapping out this track for “Baby Blue Sedan”, (included on the vinyl pressing of the record), would’ve made sense to many fans, but we have “Long Distance Drunk”. Sometimes understatement can work just as well.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

21 Jan 2011

Mendelsohn: I can’t take this album seriously. I know it has serious subject matter—it’s politicized, it’s raw.  I know that It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back also marks the point where hip-hop decided to grow up. I know all of this and yet listening to Flavor Flav rap about not selling out makes my brain spin. And not the good kind of spinning. The other kind of spinning—where you get dizzy and reach out to catch your balance but instead steadying yourself, your hand misses and you smack your forehead on whatever it is you were reaching for. Like the table, or your dog, or that flabbergasted elderly woman on the bus.

Klinger:  Wait a minute, Flavor Flav sold out?! That’s highly debatable, Mendelsohn. VH-1’s Flavor of Love is a puckish satire on contemporary mores, raising crucial questions about the nature of celebrity and, yes, even love itself.

I haven’t really listened to Nation of Millions in years, but I played the bejabbers out of it when I was in college. Returning to it now, I still tend to look past its flaws and find it to be a pretty solid listening experience.

Mendelsohn: See, I have a skewed view of hip-hop. I started in the ’90s with the smooth, alternative variety of hip-hop—the Pharcydes, the De La Souls, the Digable Planets and some gangster rap. But making the transition from that kind of flow to hearing Chuck D shouting me down was a bit jarring. So aside from repeated spins of “Bring the Noise” as part of the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 video game, which I minored in at college, I never got down with PE.

Going at it for this assignment, I just don’t believe the hype.

by AJ Ramirez

20 Jan 2011

When discussing half-remembered post-grunge hits with my friend Dustin a few nights back (this happens more often than you would think), he argued that any greatest hits album released by the Pennsylvania quartet Live should simply contain a copy of the group’s 1994 album Throwing Copper inside. And, you know, I have to completely agree with that, and I think most everyone else would, too. Sorry, “Pain Lies on the Riverside”.

Oh, Live: stridently passionate, humorlessly sincere, and insufferably portentous, the band always had a habit of crossing the mark into becoming unbearably overwrought. Around before grunge had even penetrated popular consciousness, the members of Live were in fact ardent devotees of R.E.M., injecting their spiritually-tinged college rock with U2-sized bluster and self-importance as well as the occasional questionable white-funk bass lick. Forgive Pearl Jam, everyone: it was really Live who paved the way for Creed. Yet for one album the group managed to dial back its most grating tics, beef up the hook-per-song ratio, and turn out one of the most consistent rock albums of the ‘90s. Live coasted for a long time upon the goodwill generated by Throwing Copper—allowing the ensemble to vex rock radio with the likes of the leaden “Lakini’s Juice” and the atrocious Tricky team-up “Simple Creed”—yet the band’s second album holds up today better than you would expect, in large part due to the presence of industrial-strength hits “Selling the Drama”, “I Alone”, “Lightning Crashes”, and “All Over You”.

by Natasha Simons

19 Jan 2011

I imagine that most of you had the time-honored Dick Clark countdown special on at some point during your New Year’s Eve. And, unless you were studiously avoiding Mr. Clark right around that all-important midnight hour—perhaps starting on your midnight amorousness early?—I imagine also that you caught the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys joint performance, intended to advertise their upcoming tour together.  Perhaps you watched out of the corner of your eye, amused. Maybe you cracked a joke to a friend or partner about the increasingly inappropriate moniker of “boy”, suggesting the word was starting to lose all meaning for you. I doubt that, for most of you, you thought about the Backstreet Boys very much more after that.  But speaking for myself, and for a certain special contingent of ladies out there, the performance marked yet another stop in a very strange tour of duty.

Take it from a former super-fan: watching the Backstreet Boys perform after all these years is weird. Down one “boy”, the remaining four 30-somethings soldier on, having been unable to forge successful solo careers, and clinging somewhat remarkably to the decaying specter that is the boy band (even as I type the latter, the 12-year-old zealot in me cries foul at my once-unthinkable betrayal).  On New Year’s Eve, watching, cringing, at the less-than-stellar performance, I recognized that what I was watching was a show of relics going through the motions; it was as if something mummified had been raised from the dead, only to sing (croak) and dance (stagger) about the stage for some unknown purpose.

An anecdote: a friend of mine was unironically dragged to a Backstreet Boys concert a few years ago by a prospective girlfriend. As he tentatively swayed to the familiar music and swore never to call her again, he took stock of his surroundings. No one around him was over the age of fourteen. The music of his youth was no longer his, nor hers, nor for most of the fans who had once been so devoted.  These legions had been replaced by new ahistoric droves, apart from the initial formation and progression of the Backstreet Boys.

And what a progression, eh? Bursting onto the European pop scene in 1996, the BSB became internationally famous after only a few short years toiling in anonymity.  “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” climbed the charts. In 1997, they returned home to a loving public; hence, “Backstreet’s Back”. I, a ten-year-old girl, was part of that public. Having first joined the fanhood in order to fit in at my new suburban Texas elementary school, I quickly took to the enterprise with great zest. What follows now you will have to forgive me for.

//Mixed media

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