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Friday, Jan 8, 2010

PopMatters has unveiled its list of the Top 60 Albums of 2009. And as testament to the diversity of taste here at PM, I found exactly ZERO of my choices on that list. No overlap whatsoever. With apologies to Animal Collective, from where I’m standing, that is one butt-naked emperor. So, be it ever so humble, here is my personal Top Ten for the year.


10 Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young
Those who know me have heard the story a dozen times apiece. When the Strokes still played clubs right after Is This It? came out, I stood in the front row at the Casbah and got biffed in the bean by Julian Casablancas’ microphone stand, producing an impressive golf-ball sized knot. He was deep in his training-wheels-alcoholic phase where he fancied himself quite the Johnny Thunders Jr. Between the head injury and the revelation of hearing “Barely Legal” for the first time, I fell in love on the spot with what became one of my five favorite bands of the decade. Phrazes for the Young is the first time since Room on Fire that I felt a tingle in that phantom spot on my forehead.


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Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009
Why I can't tell you why this band rules.

Driving home from a really tremendous rock show is an adrenaline-fueled bummer for me.  I am so hopped up on the rocky goodness that I can fairly stay strapped into my Honda, buzzing with all of the things I want to pour out into this blog—and knowing damn well that I won’t, because I can’t.  Because the saddest truism for a writer like me is that I cannot find the words to say why I love the music that I love.  The emotion does not easily translate to the written word, nor does the giddiness, the sore glutes that come from rocking out as violently as is possible on a barstool, the can’t-hardly-wait anticipation of “OH MY GOD THAT SONG IS AMAZING WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO RELEASE IT?!”  Punctuation is so cumbersome to the 14-year-old I become in the wake of a show like the one Apes of Wrath played on October 9th at Tin Can Alehouse in San Diego.


The venue, bless it’s heart, was as nondescript and tiny as one could imagine, and my companion assured me the sound was atrocious.  I myself do not really care about stuff like bass levels or other minutiae of audio amplification, as those things have never stopped me from getting my face rocked off.  Going to the women’s restroom necessitates stepping almost right onto the stage, or at least the invisible border that delineates the stage from the regular old floor.  Opening acts the Sunday Times and the Howls put on energetic and entertaining sets, especially the latter, who handed out burned copies of their homemade CD with their website name written in Marks-a-Lot.  The music reminded me of early Wilco, and the singer was sort of like Whiskeytown era-Ryan Adams (but without the crazy).  I especially dug the song “Dead Men Tell No Lies”. The adorable factor went through the roof when the singer announced that this was their first show since their drummer turned 21.  (Adorable to me, anyway, since 99% of the crowd wasn’t far ahead of him.)


Apes of Wrath are a San Diego band who put out a wee gem of an EP in 2007 called Plastic, Fake & Frozen that really blew my hair back after I bought it at one of their Casbah shows.  It was this really manic pop that reminded me of early Oingo Boingo and had great lyrics like “I wear purple in the sun now / Cos it doesn’t retain too much heat”.  Months later, I still haven’t removed it from my car stereo, and after the Tin Can Alehouse show, I officially declared Apes my New Favorite Band.  They didn’t play even one song off that EP, and therefore not one song that I knew, which usually bums me out to no end.  That’s the mark of true musical love for me—if the words “This is a new one off our upcoming CD” don’t send me running for a bathroom break.  I can’t wait to see them again.  For all those reasons that I can’t describe, and all those feelings that I can’t put into words.


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Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009

In belated recognition of the recent release of Beatles CD remasters, I thought I should briefly discuss my favorite Beatles song.


“Dear Prudence” is the second track on the group’s 1968 double album The Beatles (more commonly referred to as “The White Album”).  It was one of several songs the band members wrote during their early 1968 trip to study meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. John Lennon wrote the song about attempts to get one of his fellow meditation students, actress Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, to come out of her room after suffering a panic attack. During recording sessions for “The White Album”, Paul McCartney played bass, piano, and drums on the song, the latter the result of the temporary resignation of drummer Ringo Starr from the group.


The most distinctive aspect of “Dear Prudence” is its ethereal, almost foreboding quality, something which is quite uncommon in the Beatles’ discography. The song’s sound is partially due to the fact that the group recorded it on eight-track equipment. However, the arrangement of much of the song is intentionally sparse; after the upbeat power-chord Beach Boys homage of album opener “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence” wafts onto the record like a gentle breeze. At first “Dear Prudence” seems nothing more than low-key ballad wrapped in sadness; its strength lies in how it builds up to a fantastic finish that banishes the negative atmosphere just like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day.


Tagged as: the beatles
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Thursday, Sep 3, 2009
One of the foundations of the alternative rock genre, Hüsker Dü's best album is a vital, hook-laden work that deserves far greater recognition.

I say this with utter, unwavering conviction: Hüsker Dü is the most criminally underappreciated alt-rock band of the pre-Nirvana era.  While contemporaries like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth have joined the rock canon, Hüsker Dü (which consisted of vocalist/guitarist Bob Mould, vocalist/drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton) remains relatively unknown, and is often forgotten in the modern narrative of the development of the American underground scene in the 1980s.  This is especially troubling since Hüsker Dü was the group responsible for pioneering the sonic hallmarks traditionally associated with alternative rock: the potent mix of distortion and pop melodies, the angst-filled lyrics, and even the rhythm of the guitars.  Music journalist Michael Azerrad gave the group its due in his 2001 history Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, and the band does make sporadic appearances on various “Best albums of the 1980s” critics lists, but it’s nowhere near what it actually deserves.  Bluntly, Hüsker Dü‘s best albums deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as alt-rock classics like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, and the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa.


Of all its records, Hüsker Dü‘s New Day Rising is its best and most consistent, bursting with hooks and driven by a sheer urgency that overwhelms the listener.  Recorded in July 1984, New Day Rising was the first of two albums the Minneapolis band released on Southern California indie label SST in 1985.  The group’s preceding release, the justly acclaimed double album opus Zen Arcade (1984), blew apart the conventions of hardcore punk into a thousand searing pieces in methods that ranged from one-and-a-half-minute acoustic numbers to fourteen-minute punk-psych epics.  Zen Arcade‘s legend looms large in the Hüsker Dü discography; what is generally overlooked is that the group’s follow-up album naturally had to figure out what to do next.  SST’s edict that the group’s next release be restricted to a single disc actually benefited the trio. What the Hüskers did on this album was summarize the lessons learned on Zen Arcade into a concise 40-minute package, in the process closing the door once and for all on its punk incarnation and setting the template for the sound of alternative rock well into the next decade.


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Thursday, Aug 27, 2009
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mall-Rock

I get a lot of flack for loving My Chemical Romance. As a 37-year-old woman who runs with a decidedly indie-rock-snob crowd, there is no end to the taunts when someone spots The Black Parade in between the Mudhoney and New Pornographers CDs. Not for nothing is there little mention of MCR on PopMatters, and not even the release that broke them worldwide, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, rates a review. “Real” music fans simply do not acknowledge such adolescent pablum, and rarely will they even deign to ridicule it. Mall-rock, they call it. Any band with bags full of Warner Brothers’ money behind it, that can fill stadiums with teenagers the world over and sell T-shirts hand over fist at Hot Topic, forfeits any right to serious appraisal. Even my hairstylist calls them My Chemical Tightpants.


So what happened to me? I heard “Helena” on the radio back when it was released in 2004, and found the chorus stuck in my head at all hours of the day and night. Later on, a friend, whose indie rock cred is airtight in my book, divulged (gasp!) that she was a fan. I bought the aforementioned Three Cheers, and that was all she wrote. I bought a car over a year ago that’s never seen another disc in slot #3 of it’s stereo. I have to wrestle with my nine-year-old son and my four-year-old daughter over who gets to wear which My Chem shirt on any given day.


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