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by J.C. Sciaccotta

10 Nov 2010


In the not-so-distant past, the roundtable of NPR’s All Songs Considered sat down to discuss the ‘80s. What was at times a thoughtful discourse on the much-maligned decade more often than not devolved into a bunch of aging hipsters laughing at synthesizers. At one point, a panel member (I can’t recall whom) brought up Tears for Fears. Immediately, Bob Boilen (the host) recoiled in disgust. After some coaxing from the forgotten panel member, he reluctantly began to spin “Head over Heels”. Before the synth-laden opening bars of the song could even give way to the first verse, he hit the faders, gasping, “I can’t even get past the damn opening keyboard!”

Nineteen eighty-five was 25 years ago. I wasn’t even born yet, but given my childhood worship of Marty McFly, that’s still pretty hard to believe. To many, Back to the Future is about the only thing worth celebrating from that year (the Goonies and The Breakfast Club notwithstanding). Yet seemingly lost on pop culture historians is the anniversary of another massively successful piece of pop art celebrating its first quarter-century: Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair.

by Sean Murphy

9 Nov 2010


Anyone who was born before Y2K cannot be unmoved by the announcement that Sony has ceased production of the beloved Walkman (Begging the question: they were still making them? I admit rocking mine into the late ‘90s past the point where I was getting ridiculed by senior citizens on airplanes; teenagers just looked at me like I had been transported from a time machine, or in character for a movie about the bad old days).

Let me stand up and be counted: if I wasn’t the last American to get an iPod, I was definitely closer to the end than front of that long line. I love my iPod; in fact I’m listening to it right now (so there).

So I’m not preparing to deliver an impassioned screed about how much better everything used to be. I endorse old school on many levels, but I’m on record (recently) advocating the inevitable—and often welcome—advancements technology are providing us in terms of the toys we love and the content they provide. As I have stated recently: “We can—and should—linger long on the myriad advantages and benefits [consumer electronics have] brought us over this past decade. E-mail and e-books alone have already saved entire forests, not to mention being environmentally-friendly upgrades over costly and inconvenient manufacturing and transportation processes. Remember when portable music meant a portable cassette or CD player that ran on short-lasting and expensive batteries? Now we have tiny, rechargeable devices where we can stores thousands of songs that are available wherever we roam. There are literally dozens of other examples, and not many of us would savor reverting back to the way it used to be.”

by Corey Beasley

8 Nov 2010


Modest Mouse, more than perhaps any other band, embodies the strange place indie rock has come to occupy in the 21st century. It is, of course, no longer an “indie” band by definition—the group is signed to a major label and has seen an enormous amount of crossover success. The group’s 2004 song “Float On” went from quirky single to near ubiquity in a matter of months, while We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) debuted at a surreal number one on the Billboard charts. Though a guest spot on The OC and allowances for its songs to be used on American Idol and, why not, Kidz Bop earned the band plenty of ire from indie purists, Isaac Brock and company had long solidified their place in the contemporary canon before they actually started selling records. The Moon & Antarctica (2000) blew critics’ minds wide open with its hallucinatory edge and indelible hooks, and the album handily topped many of those recent Best of the Decade lists. To many fans and critics alike, The Moon & Antarctica represents Modest Mouse at its best, giving us the band’s purest synthesis of ambitious artistic sentiment and irresistible pop songcraft. That may be true, but the band laid the groundwork for that stratospheric success in the equally seminal 1997 album The Lonesome Crowded West. If Moon sees Isaac Brock lifting himself above the Earth into full-on acid prophet mode, The Lonesome Crowded West has him firmly rooted on solid ground, an American visionary of singular strength.

If anyone claims Issaquah, Washington, as a place unlikely to give a rock band its start, do your part and correct them. Issaquah, hailed by Brock as the type of deadly boring suburban wasteland that America so excels in creating, typifies the kind of setting that could breed the restless ingenuity he and his band have managed for nearly two decades now. Brock writes songs about sprawl and distance, both emotional and physical, and the scenes in New York or Los Angeles would’ve been too urbane, too cosmopolitan, to birth the group. Modest Mouse is the anti-Brooklyn band. Brock’s country-fried roots, his wholesale incorporation of banjo-and-brass Americana, his bizarrely Southern accent: these are not borrowed Bushwick affectations, but the product of his trailer trash (to borrow his term) childhood in Issaquah. He is a blue-collar poet in the best American tradition, and The Lonesome Crowded West is his opus.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

5 Nov 2010


Klinger: Ah…that opening riff…the salacious “Oh yeaahhhh…”, that sweet, sweet groove…Truly, my friend, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better side one/track one tune than “Rocks Off” from the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. And from there the rock just keeps coming, for 67 glorious minutes. I’m not gonna lie to you, Mendelsohn—Exile is quite possibly my favorite album of all time. And while the critics were slightly less than effusive at first, they seem to have come around, as it’s firmly ensconced in the Top Ten on the Big List over at acclaimedmusic.net.

Mendelsohn: You forgot the mention the horns, man, the horns!

Klinger: Oh, dear lord, yes, the horns. That kick of trumpet and sax right before they roll into the chorus—Jim Price and Bobby Keys deserve some sort of unsung heroes award.

Mendelsohn: I’m going to get this out of the way as quick as I can—my first run in with the Rolling Stones was Mick Jagger’s appearance in Freejack, which came at a precarious time in my musical development and pretty much turned me off of the band until many years later. Conversely, it was David Bowie’s performance in Labyrinth that turned me on to his music. Go figure. Regardless, I climbed on the Rolling Stones bus just a couple years ago, but I love what they’ve done to and for the American blues.

Klinger: I’m glad to hear that the damaging effects of Freejack were only temporary. From the synopsis on Wikipedia (which, by the way, is nearly 750 words long), it sounds like it could have been quite scarring. I, of course, didn’t see it, because I have the sense God gave a billy goat.

No matter, though, Exile on Main St is unassailable, and anyone who says different probably listened to the album incorrectly. Perhaps they were vacuuming while they were listening to it, or they were on the phone with their mother. Perhaps the CD was in the player upside-down. I don’t know, but I do find it interesting that one person who refuses to give Exile its due is none other than Mick Jagger. I find that quite telling indeed.

by Chris Colgan

4 Nov 2010


When I first listened to the 2008 album Armamentarium by German metal group Neaera, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find it particularly impressive. It was fast, harsh German melodic death metal—the kind also played by Heaven Shall Burn, Maroon, and other German bands. However, after a lot of listens since its debut three years ago, I have come to realize that this album is one of the best expressions of aggression and ferocity in all of music. This album truly brings out the most extreme emotions that music can create. It excels both musically and lyrically beyond the abilities that most bands have.

The album’s musical strength comes from guitarist and primary songwriter Tobias Buck, who may be one of the most well-rounded guitar players in all of Europe. While he may not have mind-blowing solos, his lead lines and chord progressions are some of the most well-put together compositions a melodic death metal band can have. Sebastian Heldt’s drumming also intensifies the musicality of the album immensely, providing solid rhythm lines and great fills for slower sections. These two musical forces together create the immense soundscape that encompasses this album. Slower guitar parts are matched with machine-gun drum sections, while lightning fast guitar riffs are combined with slower, groove-oriented drum parts. Both combinations create a dense layering of sound that give the overall instrumentation greater strength and depth. “Spearheading the Spawn”, “Tools of Greed”, “Synergy”, “The Orphaning”, and “Mutiny of Untamed Minds” are the best examples of this.

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