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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.

by Evan Sawdey

18 Jan 2011

Common Grackle is about as uncommon a group as you’re likely to find. A collaboration between indie songwriter Gregory Pepper and the hip-producer Factor (who are both Canadian), Common Grackle’s debut album The Great Depression is a spry little rap disc that is dominated by acoustic guitars, acidic and cynical lyrics, and a Kool Keith cameo that’s as fun as it is totally unexpected.  When it is not lyrically dissecting all the hipster kids on tracks like “At the Grindcore Show”, the band find a dark heart beating at the center of the album’s title track, which features a morbid, snarky narrator facing uncertainty about taking his own life.  The band is unabashedly quirky, but unashamedly fearless, crafting an album that’s as funny and gut-wrenching as it is wholly unique, which is why The Great Depression remains one of 2010’s hidden musical gems.

Yet those who enjoy intelligent, wry pop music have gradually come around to Common Grackle, and just as its career is starting up, the band managed to take some time to respond to PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here discussing the “bored housewife” method of relaxation, why Bruce McCulloch was a brilliant actor, and how the works of Erik Satie has deeply affected Pepper himself . . .

by Corey Beasley

17 Jan 2011

“Out of Gas” marks something of a détente in The Lonesome Crowded West, an emotional cooling. Isaac Brock’s gently-whammied riff bounces along at a leisurely pace, as his bandmates follow suit and keep things toned down. The riff, as the central focus on the song, is as subtle of an earworm as anything else Brock produces on the record. In other words, “Out of Gas” marks the first real foray of The Lonesome Crowded West into straightforward pop songwriting. You can trace that pop streak through the band’s early catalog fairly easily, from its beginnings in “Breakthrough” on to “Out of Gas” and “Polar Opposites” (we’ll get to that soon enough) and into “Third Planet” and “Paper Thin Walls”. The rest of that trajectory, of course, should be well known to anyone who owned a radio in 2004.

Critics who dismiss Modest Mouse’s pop sensibilities generally began to do so after the band started to have some commercial success. That goes to say that fans embraced older songs like “Out of Gas” (and those Moon & Antarctica tracks up there, even more so) readily and without complaint (it’s also worth mentioning, if we’re taking this path, that We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank seems continually misunderstood by many listeners, derided as a too-polished “radio record” when it in fact holds the band’s most aggressive—and aggressively loud—material since, well, The Lonesome Crowded West). Whatever controversy the hit single “Float On” and its ilk would later create, the fact remains that Modest Mouse was, from the very outset, able to craft remarkable pop songs when it so chose. “Out of Gas” is one such gem, easy to overlook, surrounded as it is by show-stopping tracks on the rest of this album. Of course, it’s that very restraint that makes it successful.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

14 Jan 2011

Klinger: I gotta be honest with you, Mendelsohn. For years, I operated under the assumption that the only Bowie you really needed were the Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie compilations. Bowie just seemed like one of those artists for whom the hits told the story. That’s not a dig, either; I was inclined to lump CCR and Sly in there, too. But I was under the impression that anything beyond the FM playlists was strictly for people who showed up at parties wearing glittery unitards.

Eventually I came around and recognized that there’s a lot going on in Bowie’s deep catalog (I think it was Station to Station that did it for me, or maybe Hunky Dory), but even so, if you had played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for me during that time, I’m not entirely sure you would have changed my mind.

Mendelsohn: First: I’m shocked—shocked—that you would cop to owning a “best of” disc for anyone, let alone allowing it to stand in as a fair representation of the artist. That’s a rock nerd no-no. You might end up on some Criterati hit list for saying stuff like that.

Second: Bowie is part of the Rock ‘n Roll Holy Trinity. In the name of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, amen. I think the younger you severely underestimated the power this man has had in shaping music history over the past four decades. As for Ziggy Stardust, this record should be in the Top Five. Let’s initiate a swap.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

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