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Thursday, Jan 13, 2011
"Jungleland" employs the epic, almost operatic strategy Bruce Springsteen developed on the first two albums, but this is at a whole other level.

“When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. . . .” The rest was history, wasn’t it?


I am, of course, quoting from “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, the second song from Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece, Born to Run (1975). It seems appropriate to send a shout-out to E Street Band member Clarence Clemons (a.k.a. the Big Man) on the occasion of his 69th birthday, and celebrate what I consider his finest moment—and one of the finer moments in rock and roll history. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).


First, a bit of backstory may be useful, since it would seem that little more needs to be said regarding Born To Run: it certainly does not need anyone to make the case it clearly and indelibly makes for itself as one of the ultimate rock albums, no further questions or comments necessary. That it came as the result of a fanatical and obsessive quest on the young Springsteen’s part (he was 25 when it was released) is well-documented. What is less understood and, for younger fans who came to the party during (or after!) the ubiquity of Born in the U.S.A., is that after two critically-praised but commercially-D.O.A. albums, there was a very real chance that millions of frenzied fans would never get an opportunity to scream “Bruuuuuuce!” at concerts for the next several decades. The desperation, ambition, and yearning wrapped within each song was very real, and more than slightly mirrored the state of mind of this scruffy underdog who (not unlike Rush before it made 2112) had the balls to stay true to his vision and figure he would either hit a grand slam or go down swinging.


And the rest is history, isn’t it?


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Thursday, Jan 6, 2011
The Beach Boys are my favorite band, and all following pop composers are compared to the incomparable standard of Brian Wilson, the true pop genius

The Beach Boys are my favorite band. I still can’t seem to give up the idea that the Beatles were the “greatest”. They never released a bad album, and were the prototype for all rock bands to follow. The Beatles were elite for a longer stretch of albums, but at his peak Brian Wilson topped them. The shining star of pop, Wilson achieved the highest levels possible in the realm of popular music. He wrote, arranged, and produced. The Beatles + George Martin wrapped into one. All following pop composers are compared to the incomparable standard of Brian Wilson, the true pop genius. Here’s my top ten Beach Boys LPs.


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Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010
Tears for Fears don't get much respect. Even in the wake of Donnie Darko, they're mostly considered an afterthought in pop history. Yet, in an era that favors stripped-down, no-fi production, the sheer majesty of Tears for Fears' sound is surprisingly refreshing.

In the not-so-distant past, the roundtable of NPR’s All Songs Considered sat down to discuss the ‘80s. What was at times a thoughtful discourse on the much-maligned decade more often than not devolved into a bunch of aging hipsters laughing at synthesizers. At one point, a panel member (I can’t recall whom) brought up Tears for Fears. Immediately, Bob Boilen (the host) recoiled in disgust. After some coaxing from the forgotten panel member, he reluctantly began to spin “Head over Heels”. Before the synth-laden opening bars of the song could even give way to the first verse, he hit the faders, gasping, “I can’t even get past the damn opening keyboard!”


Nineteen eighty-five was 25 years ago. I wasn’t even born yet, but given my childhood worship of Marty McFly, that’s still pretty hard to believe. To many, Back to the Future is about the only thing worth celebrating from that year (the Goonies and The Breakfast Club notwithstanding). Yet seemingly lost on pop culture historians is the anniversary of another massively successful piece of pop art celebrating its first quarter-century: Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair.


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Thursday, Nov 4, 2010
The full effect of this album may not hit you all at once, but when it does, the effect is too stunning to ignore.

When I first listened to the 2008 album Armamentarium by German metal group Neaera, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find it particularly impressive. It was fast, harsh German melodic death metal—the kind also played by Heaven Shall Burn, Maroon, and other German bands. However, after a lot of listens since its debut three years ago, I have come to realize that this album is one of the best expressions of aggression and ferocity in all of music. This album truly brings out the most extreme emotions that music can create. It excels both musically and lyrically beyond the abilities that most bands have.


The album’s musical strength comes from guitarist and primary songwriter Tobias Buck, who may be one of the most well-rounded guitar players in all of Europe. While he may not have mind-blowing solos, his lead lines and chord progressions are some of the most well-put together compositions a melodic death metal band can have. Sebastian Heldt’s drumming also intensifies the musicality of the album immensely, providing solid rhythm lines and great fills for slower sections. These two musical forces together create the immense soundscape that encompasses this album. Slower guitar parts are matched with machine-gun drum sections, while lightning fast guitar riffs are combined with slower, groove-oriented drum parts. Both combinations create a dense layering of sound that give the overall instrumentation greater strength and depth. “Spearheading the Spawn”, “Tools of Greed”, “Synergy”, “The Orphaning”, and “Mutiny of Untamed Minds” are the best examples of this.


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Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010
The Rolling Stones = Rock & Roll. It doesn't get any cooler than Mick Jagger strutting around while Keith Richards -- cigarette hanging from his mouth -- nonchalantly riffs like a king.

The Rolling Stones = Rock & Roll. It doesn’t get any cooler than Mick Jagger strutting around while Keith Richards—cigarette hanging from his mouth—nonchalantly riffs like a king. The Stones always had the attitude, but were firmly in the Beatles’ wake for the early portion of their career. It took bucking psychedelic trends and embracing the sleazy British white boy country/blues/R&B they perfected for the band to find its footing. Who would have known back when they started out as practically a covers band that Jagger/Richards would become such a force? While unquestionably the leaders of the band, each era of Jagger and Richards’ band can be defined by the second guitarist. Brian Jones’ versatile experimentation, Mick Taylor’s heavy Gibson virtuosity, and Ron Wood’s second-rate Keith Richards impersonation break up the Stones career in three distinct chapters. With 15 years separating their first and last classic album, Jagger, Richards, drummer Charlie Watts, and bassist Bill Wyman (plus one) were the rock and roll institution of the 20th century. The Rolling Stones bill themselves as “the greatest rock & roll band in the world,” and well, it doesn’t get any more rock & roll than that. Below are my top 10 Stones studio albums.


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