Mendelsohn: Let’s talk about Kanye West. First order of business — yes, he is complete tabloid fodder. The tantrum-throwing, mic-snatching, Kardashian-marrying Kanye West is a freak of nature. The man went on TV and called out a sitting president for not being a compassionate conservative. Then, a few years later, Kanye gets called out by another sitting president for acting up on national TV. Kanye is some sort of a spacial anomaly that sucks up public attention — a black hole (or just an asshole).
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Christmas music is built on duality, a lopsided mix of saccharine falsity and genuine emotion. For every decent tune we don’t mind hearing every December, there’s more than a few others that make us want to overdose on spiked eggnog. But Christmas is about taking the good with the bad, the head with the heart, and the joy and humility of the season.
Classic Christmas tunes have dominated the charts for far too long, so don’t expect to see any of these ten tunes cracking radio playlists any time soon. In fact, some of these songs aren’t even about Christmas specifically; just more about the feeling of longing and nostalgia that accompanies the memories of bygone Christmases past. Some evoke happiness in their desperation, and some call despair to the forefront and parade it about. All are reflective and more than a bit downtrodden, so fair warning to those whose emotional state is perilous enough on frozen winter nights. But if you open your heart and let the good of the season in, there are more than a few songs that surface around Christmastime that can illuminate the beautiful and spiritual side of an otherwise commercially-ridden holiday. Here’s hoping you can identify with some of the purity put forth by these indie artists.
In honor of Jack Bruce’s recent passing, and as a companion piece to my tribute to the late bassist, here’s my take on the ten best Cream songs. This list is offered with one caveat: it’s mostly going to avoid the ones everyone knows, so we’ll assume it’s more or less a given that the cream of Cream’s crop necessarily includes “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, “Crossroads” and especially “Sunshine of Your Love”.
These ten selections, some more obscure than others, are chosen to represent the songs where Cream was most focused, most locked-in, and most original. As such, many of the trio’s blues covers or blues-influenced homages (whether more paint-by-numbers like “Spoonful” and “Rolling and Tumbling” or more inspired like “Born Under a Bad Sign”) don’t rise all the way to the top. When Bruce, Eric Clapton, and Ginger Baker were properly locked-in, they not only used the blues as a successful point of departure, but they carved out a unique—and oft-imitated but seldom matched—blend of psychedelia and proto-prog (the frenzied “Deserted Cities of the Heart” is a scorching hand grenade of a song, planting a signpost of where rock had come and where it was headed): they took the British Invasion’s obsession with blues masters as far as it could (should) go, using their power trio pyrotechnics to blend a distinct English sensibility (“Wrapping Paper”, “Mother’s Lament”) with a more American rock ‘n’ roll aggression, which itself was a triumph of traditional music combining blues and folk, along with a more experimental edge influenced by jazz and the avant-garde (“SWLABR”, “Those Were the Days”).
Mendelsohn: I couldn’t tell you when I got a copy of the Violent Femmes’ self-titled debut. I don’t even know where I bought it or why (it probably had something to do with “Blister in the Sun”). I don’t even recall listening to this album all that much. But going back to it for this week’s edition of Counterbalance, I realized that I had done an adequate job of internalizing the record. And then I had something of an epiphany as it dawned on me that the Violent Femmes may have very quietly been one of the most important rock bands of the 1980s, if not the past quarter century. Not so much for the band’s surprisingly varied catalog of material but for their legacy and the idea that a three-piece acoustic punk band is a viable vehicle for rock music. They are one rock band in a long line of rock bands who celebrated the simplicity of pop music from the fringes, attacking convention with a mix of humor and violence.
What’s your take, Klinger? Is the Violent Femmes’ debut worthy of its No. 304 ranking on the Great List?
In pagan times, Halloween or “Samhain“, meaning “summer’s end“ in Gaelic, marked the time of year when people believed the boundaries between the physical and supernatural worlds were at their thinnest. They built bonfires and wore masks to communicate with spirits and prepare for the coming winter. These days, while Halloween often means getting a tarty costume from Spirit Halloween and a pumpkin-flavored latte at your favorite coffee shop, it remains the most bewitching time of year. The air sharpens and cools and the leaves blush and drop to the ground. As the daylight gets a little shorter, and the shadows get a little longer, Halloween lurks just around the corner.
Before you go out to your favorite haunted house or visit your favorite witchy woman this year, be sure to have the proper monster music handy. The supernatural has inspired some exceptional and creative tunes, so it’s not difficult to find the perfect song to spice up a dark autumn evening. The following list includes 12 solid staples, comprised of classics as well as a few lesser-known tracks, to add to your playlist this Halloween. Well-known or not, they all capture the essence of Halloween, from the nostalgia of childhood trick-or-treating to the superstitions we still harbor as adults. While this list is only 12 songs long, there are numerous spooky numbers that could have been added to it, so feel free to add your Halloween favorites in the comments section below.
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