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by Sean Murphy

13 Jan 2011


“When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. . . .” The rest was history, wasn’t it?

I am, of course, quoting from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, the second song from Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece, Born to Run (1975). It seems appropriate to send a shout-out to E Street Band member Clarence Clemons (a.k.a. the Big Man) on the occasion of his 69th birthday, and celebrate what I consider his finest moment—and one of the finer moments in rock and roll history. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).

First, a bit of backstory may be useful, since it would seem that little more needs to be said regarding Born To Run: it certainly does not need anyone to make the case it clearly and indelibly makes for itself as one of the ultimate rock albums, no further questions or comments necessary. That it came as the result of a fanatical and obsessive quest on the young Springsteen’s part (he was 25 when it was released) is well-documented. What is less understood and, for younger fans who came to the party during (or after!) the ubiquity of Born in the U.S.A., is that after two critically-praised but commercially-D.O.A. albums, there was a very real chance that millions of frenzied fans would never get an opportunity to scream “Bruuuuuuce!” at concerts for the next several decades. The desperation, ambition, and yearning wrapped within each song was very real, and more than slightly mirrored the state of mind of this scruffy underdog who (not unlike Rush before it made 2112) had the balls to stay true to his vision and figure he would either hit a grand slam or go down swinging.

And the rest is history, isn’t it?

by Rob McCallum

12 Jan 2011


Veiled. Mysterious. Masked. Call Nika Roza Danilova what you will. As Zola Jesus, she has certainly been a shrouded figure since her first release on Sacred Bones Records last year. Carving out a unique space—much in the vein of a young Kate Bush or Björk—to sit in since she shot to the forefront of the blogosphere last year, it’s hard to believe the operatically trained 21-year-old from Wisconsin is such a new figure in the music scene, as she presents a sound with a maturity way beyond her years.

There was an undeniable lack of expectancy for the transition she made from the solitary lo-fi of last year’s The Spoils to the all-enrapturing ethereal pop on this year’s Stridulum EP. It is a transition that seems to signal her ascendancy into the art-pop hall of fame as – backed by her new band – she embarks on a tour later this year with the Swedish songstress of insomnia, Fever Ray. Popmatters finds out more.

Zola Jesus is a stage name. Are you getting into a character when you record/perform your music?
No, that would be dishonest. Zola Jesus is too personal for that.

Do you still write/record all the music alone?
Yes.

by Diane Leach

11 Jan 2011


I heard it on NPR. “You might not know the singer”, Melissa Block announced.  “But you’d know that solo anywhere”.

The swelling saxophone filled my Dodge Caravan. I was driving home from work on a freezing Wednesday afternoon.  More precisely, I was sitting at the red light where the Alameda turns onto Solano Avenue.  From my vantage point I could see all the way to the coast, where the sun lowered into the sea. 

“Baker Street”, I said to the empty van.  “Gerry Rafferty”.

On this chilly, darkening afternoon driving in Berkeley, I piloted my van down the narrow street, carefully avoiding the pedestrians hurrying through the crosswalks, willfully oblivious to traffic as only Berkeleyans can be.  I wove around BMWs threatening to back into the street. A few stores still had Christmas lights up. Melissa Block announced Gerry Rafferty’s death.  He was 63 years old.  She mentioned “Right Down the Line”, and “Stuck in the Middle with You”, made notorious by Quentin Tarantino.  But I was not there.  I was back in Detroit, in my childhood home, where “Baker Street” played through most of 1978, that sax solo you’d recognize anywhere blaring through the custom speakers my father built in our basement.  He had in fact built the entire stereo system, save the Pioneer turntable.  Speakers, tweeters atop them (don’t ask me what they are or why he built them; all I know is they “boosted” the already impressive sound.), receiver, amplifier, pre-amplifier.  The stereo had to be turned on in order, starting with a light switch my father put on it’s own circuit for that purpose.  From there the order had to be followed or you would “blow up” the stereo system.  I could never remember the proper sequence and lived in fear of the stereo, which I never touched.

by Sean Murphy

11 Jan 2011


A considerable component of what made the ‘70s so awesome has, sadly, left the building we call Earth. And so it is on the unfortunate occasion of Gerry Rafferty’s premature passing that I’m compelled to talk about myself. Bear with me, this sentiment is not as inappropriate or solipsistic as it sounds; in fact, it is arguably the highest form of praise. In other words, I am incapable of talking about Rafferty without discussing how large his music loome—and looms—in my own life. I suspect I’m not alone here.

Anyone who drew breath in 1978 knew Gerry Rafferty (if you didn’t you were too young; if you still don’t it’s never too late).

by Corey Beasley

10 Jan 2011


If The Lonesome Crowded West’s default mode is mouth-foaming anger, “Trailer Trash” is the wounded heart at the center of the album. Its laconic despair goes a long way toward expressing the other side of Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse’s vitriol, the place of real, self-lacerating hurt where all that rage actually comes from. Here, for the first and perhaps only time on the record, Brock seems uncomfortable—or at least dejected—in his mantle of the blue-collar prophet. If the song, like so many others, focuses on the story of a failed relationship, it does so in order to bring out the vivid particulars of Brock’s narrative style and characterization. The sense of poverty—the emotional poverty, yes, but also the actual, abject poverty—Brock conveys is just as integral to the song’s impact and vision as the lovelorn imagery he creates. True to Modest Mouse form, both poverties are cycles, seemingly impossible to escape.

Both Brock and Eric Judy spend the majority of the song with their instruments locked in a single chord progression, Brock alternating between scratchy palm-muting and well-placed bursts of power chords and Judy laying down the song’s primary melody in a head-bobbing bassline. That repetition, combined with Jeremiah Green’s tom-heavy beat sitting front-and-center in the mix, gives the track an almost trance-like focus similar to that seen in its emotional counterpart, “Heart Cooks Brain”. The verses’ locked-solid foundation, by virtue of their steady consistency, also points the listener’s attention toward Brock’s lyrics. It’s easy to quickly internalize such a rhythmic piece of music, so our ears are free to actively pick out the details in Brock’s narrative while the rest of our body nods along in reflexive step to the beat.

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