Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Friday, Jul 18, 2014
We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. Our great computers fill the hallowed halls. And it's time to talk about Rush, and their 1976 concept piece. Also, attention all Planets of the Solar Federation: we have assumed control.

Mendelsohn: There are two types of people in this world, Klinger — people who love Rush and people who don’t. Rush was the band that introduced me to rock ‘n’ roll, specifically their 1976 dystopian concept album 2112, so when we started working our way through the Great List, the first thing I did was check to see how long it would be before we got to a Rush album. I was sorely disappointed to find Moving Pictures, the band’s highest-selling and most well-regarded album sitting at number 867. Even worse was finding 2112 at number 1005. It seems the critics were mostly made up of people who didn’t like Rush. I may be a little biased here, but where’s the critical love for Rush? There are only two bands who have more gold and platinum records than Rush, you may have heard of them — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Rush has sold over 25 million records worldwide, putting them squarely in the top 100 in that category. But yet critical love seems to elude them. The reasons, I suppose, aren’t all that hard to ascertain. They do have a tendency to write complicated suites that regularly top ten minutes and eschew pop constructs for extended jams that are heavy on the riffs but light on the things that the critics love. Honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised to find them languishing on the Great List.


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Friday, Jul 11, 2014
You give your hand to me, and then you say goodbye. I watch you walk away beside a lucky to never, never know the one who loves you so. Because you haven't listened to this week's Counterbalance. Ray Charles' 1962 landmark this week.

Klinger: The Great List, that mathematical compendium of critical rankings that has served as our lord and master for the past four years, is an incredible resource for both discovering musical milestones and inspiring beer-fueled arguments. It also helps point out certain blind spots in the critical canon. One of the main issues we see is that it doesn’t really get going until about the mid-‘60s when writing seriously about rock music first became an semi-legitimate profession. As a result, many of the forefathers and foremothers of rock ‘n’ roll have been given short shrift. The case of Ray Charles is a prime example.


Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which came out in 1962, marks Ray Charles’ first appearance on the Great List, clocking in at No. 240. That’s a respectable placement, but hardly befitting one of the architects of popular music. I’d do a lot more grumbling about that fact, but luckily for rock critics I’m too busy being enthralled by this masterpiece, which manages to do so much more than just apply Charles’ gospel-infused R&B to the country format. There’s a wealth of influences coming together here, and the end result is a brilliant, understated statement on the state of pop in 1962. But it may not immediately reveal itself right away. Or does it? Mendelsohn?


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Friday, Jun 27, 2014
I can feel this week's album's energy from two planets away. I got my drink, I got my music, I will share it, but today I'm yelling. Yelling about a 2012 hip-hop breakthrough and the subject of this week's Counterbalance, that is.

Mendelsohn: We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last couple of years. But we have yet to talk about an album like Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 release Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. This album was ranked number two for the year, behind Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, and currently sits at number 397 on the Great List (which seems unfairly low, but what do I know?). There is a cinematic quality to this record, one that exceeds even the best concept albums that rock ‘n’ roll had to offer — namely the Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Those two albums seem almost silly in nature compared to the stark realities and self-awareness of Lamar’s vision. The incredible storytelling and unmatched lyricism has left me at a loss for words, Klinger. Where do you begin with an album as deeply layered as Good Kid M.A.A.D. City?  Hip-hop albums have been few and far between on the Great List, and while I enjoy hip-hop and am happy to see it slowly working toward its rightful position next to rock ‘n’roll on the List, I can’t help but feel completely overwhelmed by the breadth of material on this record.


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Friday, Jun 20, 2014
You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy. Jason Isbell gets that -- and a lot more as well. His 2013 release is this week’s Counterbalance.

Klinger: As much as we music nerds like to praise our rock stars for their untamed excesses, weaving their tales of substance-fueled debauchery into the grand narrative of pop mythology, we don’t often spend much time thinking about the realities of the lifestyle. For all the talk about Led Zeppelin’s mud sharks or Sid Vicious’ bad night at the Chelsea Hotel or Fleetwood Mac’s coked-out romantic recriminations, it’s easy to forget that these are the actions of actual people, who had to wake up the next morning and look at themselves in the mirror. Jason Isbell, former partner in the songwriting triumvirate Drive-By Truckers, has crafted an incredible new album, Southeastern, that chronicles the aftermath of people’s excesses, especially his own. It also reveals him to be a songwriter of uncommon depth and humanity.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
This week’s Counterbalance looks at a 2004 release from a relatively obscure Columbus band, hoping to gain an understanding of acclaim and success from a somewhat different perspective.

Mendelsohn: A couple of weeks ago, when we were talking about the Japandroids, we briefly talked about the fickle nature of the music business and just how much luck it takes to break a band upon the public consciousness. This week, I present you with the Tough and Lovely and their 2004 record Born of the Stars. The Tough and Lovely were an outfit out of Columbus, Ohio, who released an EP and two albums before, I can only assume, moving on to other things. They popped up on the tail end of the garage rock revival, and, for my money, released some of the best music to come out of the movement in the mid-2000s. I saw the Tough and Lovely play in a dingy bar in my hometown nearly a decade ago — a dingy bar that I grew up in and where I witnessed some of the most memorable concerts of my young life — a dingy bar that no longer exists, wiped out in the name of urban renewal. The Tough and Lovely were one of the last concerts I saw in that bar and while this piece isn’t an ode to that rathole my friends and I used to hang out in, it does fit into the nostalgia I feel whenever I pull out Born of the Stars.


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