Klinger: Make no mistake, popular music in the 20th century was split nearly down the middle with the advent of rock and roll. And the result was something like a street brawl, fought out in the newspaper columns and nightclub stages and dining room tables of America. The old guard took every opportunity to take potshots at this new, sexually/morally/ethnically ambiguous form, while the youngsters bobbed and weaved their way through the whole skirmish, confident that they’d at least end up winning the war of attrition. That’s the official story at least, and it’s not without its truths. But too many people, musician and critic alike, took the whole thing a little too literally, and as a result the age of rock criticism hasn’t done much more than pay lip service to the music that came before the Great Divide.
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Mendelsohn: Confession time, Klinger. For the past six months I’ve been listening to the new album from Run the Jewels nearly nonstop. Remember those weeks when we had to listen to the Violent Femmes, or the Beatles, or Husker Du, or Jefferson Airplane, or Daft Punk, or the Kinks? I was listening to Run the Jewels instead.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I did listen to the other records—a little bit—but most of the time, when I was by myself, the kids weren’t in the car, or I was hanging out in the garage making stuff out of wood, Run the Jewels 2 would be on as loud as possible. I am enthralled by this messy, uncouth, unbelievably smart record from the Odd Couple of Hip-Hop. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t perfect, but for my money it is pretty damn close.
Klinger: Sometimes sitting down to talk about an album is a daunting task. Sometimes that’s because an album just isn’t sparking a conversation in your head. But sometimes it’s because you quite simply have no idea where to begin talking. That’s the case for me with this week’s album, XTC’s 1986 masterpiece Skylarking. Arising from a series of difficult sessions with Todd Rundgren (“As if there were any other kind of sessions with Todd,” say the New York Dolls), Skylarking polishes up the group’s sometimes thorny pop and creates a shimmering, technicolor gem that I’m pretty sure every critic everywhere has called “pastoral”—and for good reason. Not only does it sound wholly organic with its lush strings and instrumentation, but it also conveys an almost spiritual quality in its underlying wisdom, “Dear God” notwithstanding. Skylarking is so nearly perfect to my way of thinking that it’s hard to actually pull it apart and turn it into words.
Mendelsohn: Like most people, I tend to romanticize the music of my youth a little. There are groups from the 1980s that loom large in the back of psyche because they managed to enter my brain and then stick there for a couple of decades before surfacing like some unwelcome repressed memory. I never really got to live through the cultural impact of some of these groups. I was far too young to understand the zeitgeist. My music consumption as a kid was pretty much limited to whatever my parents were listening to at the time, which wasn’t all bad, but they weren’t always following the trends. Inevitably, though, some of the current music seeped in and stuck around.
Klinger: My disdain for the music of the 1990s is well-documented, but in my defense I feel like I came by it honestly. My post-collegiate years were, for the most part, a time adrift, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Which does tend to conjure up memories of cheap beer hangovers and overdue utility bills. So you’ll have to forgive me when I can’t muster up much nostalgia for that time. Still and all, there were bright spots in that time, and one of them was Uncle Tupelo. The group might be best known as the well-spring from which we received Wilco and Son Volt, but for me they were an entity unto themselves, both with No Depression, the album we’re talking about today, and its follow-up, 1991’s Still Feel Gone.