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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

25 Oct 2013

Klinger: Is there any prospect more daunting to the hip-hop novice (which, if we’re being completely honest, I must sheepishly confess to being) than the idea of entering the world of the Wu-Tang Clan? I’ve been eying this album for weeks now, knowing that the day would come when the Great List would give me my marching orders and send me into the unchartered territories of Shaolin and the 36 Chambers and its attendant lifestyle and lingo. Plus there are nine guys on this record—that’s a lot to keep track of—and I keep remembering back to the ‘90s when every few weeks one of those nine guys seemed to be putting out a record. It all just seemed like a lot to take in. So I kept putting it off, like a kid hoping for a blizzard the night before a test. But here we are.

And it is a lot to take in, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t completely worth it. The more I listen to it, the more I realize what is going on. And unlike the other East Coast hip-hop we’ve covered (which is really just Public Enemy and De La Soul), Enter the Wu-Tang seems to be built upon less immediately recognizable samples. So it’s the lyrics that keep me coming back, which seems like an obvious thing to say, but this is one of the few records we’ve covered (hip-hop or otherwise) where the lyrics are almost completely driving the record. Not since Leonard Cohen, Mendelsohn. Did I just compare Wu-Tang Clan to Leonard Cohen? Somebody had to.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

18 Oct 2013

Mendelsohn: Hey, look, it’s another Neil Young record. Which is, coincidentally, something you and I will be saying over and over in the coming years as we trudge through the ranks of the Great List. This time around, we get to examine Young’s 1975 effort Tonight’s the Night. An album that finds Young working with Crazy Horse and ruminating on sadness of loss after losing guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry to drug overdoses in short order. I also understand that this album was recorded mostly in a single day in 1973. The rough, slap-dash nature of the record shows through in some spots, but overall there isn’t an unappealing bit to be found. And I’m saying that genuinely. Not just because the alien-implanted chip in my head is telling me I have to.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

11 Oct 2013

Klinger: Back in the 1990s, I had a job working in a record store. Really more of a CD store by that time, of course, but I did buy pretty heavily into the myth of the record store employee. Possibly a little obscurantist, certainly a little condescending, painfully aware that the people I was serving were generally more interested in Dave Matthews than I cared to admit. So you’d think I would have been all over the solo works of Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk Guðmundsdóttir, with her accessibly avant-garde sensibilities and her pixilated, pan-musical approach.

Unfortunately, back in the 1990s I was also completely insufferable, and given to certain rockist tendencies that I’m still working through. So I was immediately bothered by anything that sounded like dance music, whatever that means, and I wrote off this album as vaguely annoying and not worth the bother. Now that we’ve begun this Counterbalance project and are forcing ourselves to sit down and actually listen to the Most Acclaimed Albums of All Time, as compiled by the mathemagician over at the Acclaimed Music website, I get the distinct impression that I may have missed out on something. Mendelsohn, you seem to pay more attention to this sort of thing that I do—is this accurate?

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

4 Oct 2013

Mendelsohn: I’m of two minds when it comes to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu. On the one hand, there is some top-notch song-writing and instrumentation on this record—just high-end, super slick, well-executed recording. On the other hand, I’m supremely annoyed every time Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all sing at the same time. It might just be a consequence of production, since all four prime movers acted as producers. I imagine that none of them wanted to turn down their own vocals even if they were just backing vocals. Maybe it’s just the way they sing those vocals. I’m not really sure.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

27 Sep 2013

Klinger: Hey Mendelsohn, ever play that game Taboo? Where you get a word or a name and you have to get the other person to guess it without using any words from the list? Like if you get Groucho Marx, you can’t use words like “cigar” or “mustache” or “nudist”? Let’s try that with this week’s Counterbalance. We’re going to talk at length about the Gang of Four’s 1979 album Entertainment!, but we can’t use any of the words that critics invariably fall back on when describing the group’s sound. So our Taboo words are scratchy, angular, and chattering—let’s see how we do!

While you’re planning your strategy, I’d like to go on record that I wish I’d had the good sense to get into Gang of Four and groups of their ilk while they were still a going concern. I was this close when I was young, having gotten into Elvis Costello and whatnot when I was a young youngster, but somehow I got myself distracted by the classic rock that was unavoidable and I ended up with a bunch of Eric Clapton cassettes. And to think I could have been the coolest/dorkiest 13-year-old in my suburb.

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