Klinger: The Great List, the compendium of critical hive-mindedness from which we still draw a good amount of inspiration, is a fascinating document, albeit one that demonstrates the extent to which critics the world over have fallen short in acknowledging some of your less traditionally cool genres. So while we spent the first couple years listening to way more trip-hop than I ever thought possible, country music, which is so ingrained in rock & roll’s DNA, has been all but ignored. In fact, the only artist to shatter the hayseed ceiling so far has been Johnny Cash, whose At Folsom Prison LP has been meandering around the back half of the 100s for years (it’s currently on the rise again, clocking in at No. 157). And for the record, I’m not counting Gram Parsons. Readers can go argue with me over on Facebook if they want.
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Mendelsohn: It has been a while, Klinger, since I’ve made you listen to some sugary, flavor-of-the-month pop act with just enough critical cache to garner a little bit of acclaim outside of the Top 40. So when I happened upon Courtney Barnett’s debut Sometime I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, I thought I might as well force it upon your ears because it hit that soft pop spot in my head. But before you start to see shades of Haim, let me be the first to say that Barnett is not a pop diva in training, and while she does have a great ear for pop music, she also has an incredible sense of song craft. Coupled with lyrical material about nothing, in the same vein as Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing, it isn’t hard to see why this album is so well liked.
Klinger: First of all, yes. We’re back. We decided to take the summer off, then yada yada yada… and now we’re back. Tanned, fit and rested.
When we started this Counterbalance project back in the fall of 1987, we were young and naive, and possibly a bit foolish as we were still learning how to do this whole “writing about music” thing. So much so, in fact, that we managed to write several hundred words about The Velvet Underground and Nico without ever mentioning John Cale by name. It really was an oversight on our part, and one I’ve been kicking myself over for nearly 30 years. But since then, so much has happened. The Berlin Wall has come down, the Internet has presented an avenue for our correspondences, John Cale’s occasional collaborator and foil Lou Reed has passed on—and I have become completely obsessed with Paris 1919.
Mendelsohn: This week, Klinger, we are going to listen to My Morning Jacket’s Z. Released in 2005, this album took the band from being a reverb-soaked psychedelic outfit with a strong indie following to a bonafide critical success, racking up accolades for expanding and polishing their sound. Before this record came out, I hadn’t really paid any attention to My Morning Jacket. I couldn’t get behind all the reverb and warbling falsetto from lead-singer and main songwriter Jim James. It wasn’t until both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone started tossing around platitudes like”Z is My Morning Jacket’s OK Computer”, or “America is a lot closer to getting its own Radiohead, and it isn’t Wilco”, that I decided to investigate further. I didn’t find an American Radiohead. I understand why some music critics might be wiling to make that comparison, lazy though it may be. The record was produced by John Leckie, who had helmed Radiohead’s The Bends (also the Stone Roses’ self-titled debut and worked on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, plus a couple of Beatles solo projects to name a few). Z also finds a band shifting directions and elevating their game, much like Radiohead had done in the jump from The Bends to OK Computer. Was Z it another OK Computer? No, but My Morning Jacket seemed to find another gear, taking their music beyond the ordinary with a renewed vigor.
Klinger: Few mainstream artists this side of the Eagles took as consistent a critical beating as Billy Joel. Throughout his career, critics have taken immense delight in razzing and belittling him. When he wrote polished ballads, they accused him of not knowing how to rock. When he’d record more rock material, they teased him for being a poser. The poor bastard just couldn’t win. Of course, part of the reason critics kept picking on Billy Joel was he made it so much fun for them. Joel would actually go so far as to read his bad reviews onstage, which had be a perverse delight for the writer who got that far in his head.