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by AJ Ramirez

4 Feb 2011


Has it really been 20 years since 1991? That year that never seemed all that long ago until now is unequivocally one of the landmark rock album years, a 12-month span whose voluminous output of brilliant records places it in the same hallowed ranks as 1967, 1969, 1977, and 1984. This was the year that gave the world instant classics including Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album”, U2’s Achtung Baby, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica as well as flawed-yet-still engaging works by R.E.M., Guns ‘N Roses, and the Smashing Pumpkins, not to mention revered cult favorites by My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, and Fugazi, just to name a notable few. Even without getting into singles, it’s clear that any fan of rock music should investigate at least a good dozen releases from this year as part of his or her formative musical education.

What makes 1991 such a memorable year in rock is not just that it packed so many fantastic full-lengths into its span (which it undeniably did), but that those releases were (explicitly or not) emblematic of seismic generational and cultural shifts. The key event of 1991 was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War, finally putting an end to the collective dread of nuclear annihilation that had cast such a shadow over and informed baby boomer culture the world over in so many profound ways. Meanwhile, a younger generation of restless rock fans only just discovering what daring music existed just outside the mainstream was both looking for icons of its own while chaffing at the previous year’s dominance by dance pop and hip hop. Whether it was by overthrowing the old guard, engaging in self-reinvention, or by modernizing a particular approach for the new decade, change was a concept that imbued many of 1991’s seminal rock albums.

by Jacob Adams

1 Feb 2011


It has recently been announced that Alison Krauss and Union Station—the biggest band in bluegrass music today—will be releasing a new album, Paper Airplane, on April 12th.  This news has been greeted with much excitement from fans who have been waiting patiently since Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004) for a new full-length effort.  They now eagerly anticipate the record’s release to see what musical paths this veteran group will tread.  Will the remarkable critical and commercial success of the 2007 release Raising Sand, Krauss’ creative collaboration with Robert Plant, influence the course of the music Krauss makes with Union Station?

While Krauss has been known for working within the limitations of traditional bluegrass, no matter how far she might push these boundaries, it is interesting to note how much of her artistic success has been due to an apt and diverse song selection.  Although Krauss and Union Station fill their set list and album repertoire with traditional bluegrass standards by the likes of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, they mine the fields of many musical genres to turn previously recorded tunes into newgrass masterpieces.  Krauss’ past albums have included covers of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, the First Edition’s “But You Know I Love You”, Dan Fogelberg’s “Stars”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”, Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, and Shenandoah’s “Just a Ghost in This House”, just to name a few.  Union Station often closes its live shows with a particularly rousing, jammy rendition of Bad Company’s “Oh, Atlanta”.  Krauss and Plant’s Raising Sand further solidified Krauss’ reputation as a bluegrass artist exceptionally willing to explore unchartered territory.  Under the guidance of veteran producer T-Bone Burnett, Krauss and Plant covered tunes by the Everly Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark, and Tom Waits. Notably, Krauss has stated that some of her primary musical influences include not just traditional bluegrass icons like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, but also figures from the rock and pop worlds, like Journey and Steely Dan.

by Corey Beasley

31 Jan 2011


Isaac Brock claims the Pixies as a seminal influence on Modest Mouse’s sound, and Frank Black and co.’s general blueprints can be found in much of the band’s material: Brock’s sing-shout vocal style, the similarly soft-loud dynamics of his group’s music itself, the overall focus on guitar, guitar, guitar. Still, beyond this shared DNA, the Pixies’ grip on Modest Mouse’s collective brain doesn’t usually seem too overt. The band even seems to acknowledge that split on “Head South”, when Brock sings, “A surf rock band / From the land of plenty / Surf rock bands / With no surf, just pine trees.” In other words, Modest Mouse is missing that one crucial element of the Pixies’ formula: Joey Santiago’s riptide-ready fretwork. These dudes are from the Pacific Northwest—they’ve got evergreens in their sound, not board shorts.

“Shit Luck” is somewhat of a different story. No, you won’t mistake Modest Mouse for the Del-tones here. However, the track might be the closest thing to a Pixies song the band’s ever recorded. The arpeggiating riff that anchors the song sees Brock going as far as he’ll go toward aping surf-ish repetitive tremolo picking. It’s surf rock filtered through the dusty grit of The Lonesome Crowded West. Think rolling waves of cars on the highway instead of fresh blue-green salt water.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

28 Jan 2011


Klinger: A couple weeks ago, when I was insufficiently ebullient about Ziggy Stardust, I recall you all but threw glittery pixie dust in my eyes and challenged me to a duel. Now that I suspect the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m afraid I must reciprocate.

Mendelsohn, if you refuse to acknowledge the brilliance of Born to Run, I shall hereby slap you with a sweaty bandana and announce my intent to test you on the field of honor. Pistols at dawn, Mendelsohn!

Mendelsohn: Klinger, man, I tried. I really did and after repeated listenings I’ve come to begrudgingly respect the Boss and his E Street crew, but only for rockers like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and the slow-burner “Backstreets” and even the iconic “Born to Run”. But then I hit the back third of the album and all that goodwill disappears.

So I’m thinking that come tomorrow morning, one of us is going to be lying on the ground with a gut shot trying to stop the bleeding with a sweaty bandana. I may have hit you with a dose of Bowie’s pixie dust but I think you will find that I’m not so easily blinded by the light.

by William Carl Ferleman

27 Jan 2011


Paradise Lost author John Milton, a patriotic Englishman, was absolutely an aficionado of music; his father was, in fact, a composer of some 20 works.  Scholar Diane McColley recently notes that “Milton collaborated with a court composer, praised the church music that Puritans attempted to destroy, and in his epics represented choral and instrumental music in Heaven, Hell, and Paradise” (Milton in Context, 2010).  Notwithstanding, music is typically associated with the sacred among the devotional, and, for them, particularly and personally with God; in Paradise Lost, the angels endlessly, tediously sing to praise the heroic sacrifice of the Son.

This, I think, indicates that in some sense it is understandable that another Englishman and polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, refrains from citing music too frequently or specifically in his several endeavors.  “Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally?  This seemed servile, apart from anything else”, professes Hitchens in his book God Is Not Great (2007).  Aware of both Milton and the Bible, he links music, generally, with “songs of praise” to the Almighty, and, of course, a loathsome variety of human slavishness and worship.

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