March 26, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home

Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone Magazine's #31

exile staff consensus: Awaiting Votes

the breakdown: Awaiting Votes

the essays:
None Yet

some of the album (covered):

the introduction:
When one of our esteemed colleagues Dr. Ancient Scientist told us he was using Bringing It All Back Home as a part of one of his college lectures we thought "What a perfect time to feature this classic album on!" Hopefully he'll post his lecture later on in the month.

But getting back to Bringing It All Back, this album has been lionized, adored, immortalized, and canonized countless times in film, print, and probably podcasts. It's when Dylan fully emerged from his folk tradition and became the greatest American rock artist of all time. Is that fair to say? We're sure to figure that out. In the meantime check out some of the above covers of the album's iconic tracks. There are a few we wanted to include - like Caetano Veloso's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), Ricky Nelson's "She Belongs to Me", and a Grateful Dead version of any of the songs but neither nor the venerableseed had a copy. Please note that imeem did have William Shatner's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its exclusion is intentional.

click here to
read it all...

March 22, 2008

What's He Saying?

The year was 1988. Summer had been spent swimming, staying up late to watch 120 Minutes on MTV, and trying to figure out the lyrics to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” But now it was the beginning of high school freshman year and there were much more important things to figure out.

Like what to wear. I mean this in all seriousness. After 8 years of catholic school uniforms I finally had my chance to show my real identity beyond belligerent acts of too long earrings or purposely mismatched socks. But just what was that identity? I flip flopped between long hippy skirts, goth-y tops, trendy pants – most times unsuccessfully merging all three. I’m sure I looked a mess.

I had to ride the bus. No license yet. No parents or older friends willing to drive into the city every morning. The bus came early and took a circuitous route through the suburbs – plenty of time (I would later learn) to catch up on homework left undone or papers only half-written. Enough time to listen to most cassettes end to end. Which is what I did every morning.

There were two older students on my bus whose sullen faces made it obvious that this was not their preferred method of transportation either. Francie used her time to apply layer upon layer of makeup. Foundation, eyeliner, blush, mascara – she was a woman transformed by the time we arrived. Kevin, like me, slunk into his seat with his walkman on, eyes closed. Maybe he was trying to figure out the words too.

One day, he decided to talk to me. “What are you listening to?” I can’t remember my response but I do remember being smug in the answering. For the purposes of this essay, let’s say it was Echo and the Bunnymen or some other appropriately alternative name. He was impressed. “What are you listening to?” I asked. “Only the greatest band ever. R.E.M.”

I knew about R.E.M. or at least I thought I did. They wrote the song that drove me crazy with lyrics I couldn’t decipher and a video of the skater who I couldn’t decide was hot or not. The lead singer had long hair and came off as kind of a dick when interviewed. He was always being asked about how he felt about their newfound commercial success. I honestly didn’t know they existed before their newfound commercial success. Sure I had Document. Who didn’t? It was a 120 Minutes staple and whatever 120 Minutes sold, I was buying.

Once Kevin decided he could trust me (?) the daily exchange of tapes began. Reckoning for Crocodiles. Murmur for The Head on the Door. Dead Letter Office required some negotiation until Kevin was satisfied that he was receiving something of equal value. None of our tapes were originals. They were recorded from CDs or other tapes or other recordings of CD’s or tapes, making Michael Stipe’s words all the more illegible. I always felt like I was furrowing my brow and really, really listening to try to get the mystery out of these tapes.

The stash that I was NEVER privy too was Kevin’s collection of bootleg performances that he and another upperclassmen were apparently in competition to collect. These guys were hell-bent on amassing one-off performances, tracking rumours of unannounced shows. Any city, any club where Stipe was alleged to appear, they were somehow tracking down, trying to get a copy of the show. I have no idea how they did it. I picture a clandestine network or R.E.M. fans slipping unmarked manila envelopes in the mail to each other under the cover of darkness.

Frankly, I still didn’t get it, but the tunes were catchy and their obsession was fascinating. I kept listening. And I listened enough to know that I wanted Green for Christmas and needed to tape Eponymous off a friend. I never saw R.E.M. as masterful lyricists, but keep in mind, I could barely make out the words. Years later, as I give Murmur a proper listen, I can finally give it its rightful respect.
click here to
read it all...

March 19, 2008

Shaking Through the R.E.M. Wall

In the past three weeks I've become completely immersed in Murmur. I can't stop listening to it. I can't stop humming its tunes. Its choruses are in constant rotation in my head. My dreams contain its melodies. It's a new discovery, a revelation and acceptance of a group and a sound that I never wanted to understand or spend any time with. What was my problem(s)?

Let's recap Murmur first. The album is flawless. It's mesmerizing, it envelopes the being, sucks you into its heart and refuses to let you go. It's lithe, willowy, and steadfast; urgent, measured and soft; meaningful and meaningless, epic, understated, and restrained; longing, yearning, and self-confident; complex and so very, very, simple.

It's the perfect pop album. It's the perfect place to start listening.

It's Michael Stipe without the blue eye mask, with long hair, with only a tad bit of the pomposity but the full dosage of romanticism. Nevertheless, on record he doesn't sound any different than he would today. He doesn't sound any more mature on Murmur. Not one bit more learned, not one bit more full of understanding. In 1983 he sounded old and sage-like, much closer in age to his 48-year old self today than a sensitive 22-year old about to announce himself to the world at large.

The rest of the band was no different. Their sound was self-assured almost to the point of self-actualization. This was how their souls sounded, they knew it and they would never feel any need to change. And I guess this was always the beginning of my self-imposed no-R.E.M. wall: they sound old.

This kid always thought "Talk About the Passion," "Fall On Me," "It's The End of The World," "Losing My Religion," etc. ad nauseam sounded like old people's songs. And not the cool older cousin kind of older person's song, more like a song for your parents or your authority figures. R.E.M. felt like it was music for and by those disaffected baby boomers who came just a tad bit too late to protest in 1968 but just soon enough to be memorialized by Richard Linklater in the 1976-set Dazed and Confused.

Heck, I've always blamed R.E.M. for making KRS-One old and stodgy before his time. Pop Song '89 why did you have to happen! I still can't accept the fact that KRS was only five years younger than Stipe at that time. Impossible!

Pop Song '89's painful juxtaposition of my beloved new, young, exciting, Gen-X musical form with twangy old-person's gentle and bordering on adult contemporary guitar rock told me everything I needed to know about R.E.M. I was never going to like them. My musical taste was also never going to get old. I would never let it happen.

Well, it's happened. This week in fact while Murmur's been on heavy rotation. Thing is, their accept at all costs musical maturity isn't really that bad. It's beautiful, it's peaceful, and it's nice. That doesn't mean I'm going to start liking Automatic for the People or any Steely Dan album for that matter.

I really really mean it this time. I really do.
click here to
read it all...

March 14, 2008

Indie Americana

Shining PathI don’t know about R.E.M.’s Murmur being the best album of 1983, but I do believe it is an extremely important album for an underrated music decade. At least, it is an essential text for understanding the American independent music landscape that bustled with energy below the thick layer of high selling pop of the day.

Part of the importance of the album is how borrows partially from the post-punk creativity of early 1980s, but only does so to create a launching pad for creating strikingly enticing and unique paths of melodic rock filled with a surprising dexterity and cohesiveness for an emerging band. Traces of a distinct non-Blues inspired post-punk are sprinkled throughout the album, but are overwhelmed by a vibrant new organic and string-led (guitars) pop sound.

For example, “Pilgrimage” has a cavernous, sober, and rather methodical opening sound which is quickly swept aside for a more upbeat and pop chorus, one that even breaks into a collection of voices and guitars the second time around. Immediately next in line, “Laughing” begins with a dub/reggae skank-influenced rhythm a la The Slits and Pop Group, only to quickly forgotten as the song surges with a gentle, but firm melodic structure. “Catapult” is similarly deceiving as it starts dark, heavy, and inward, especially with the heavy marching beat, but changes tone and opens up as it introduces a wavy chorus with a high-pitched mandolin guitar feel. “Moral Kiosk” and “9-9” have a jagged, more chaotic, and rhythmically experimental (industrial and tribal) vein, but are heavily supported by an undercurrent of melodic guitars and astute pop chorus structuring. And, between “Shaking Through” and “We Walk”, highly melodic and upbeat tracks (musically), one can find a somewhat hidden musical aside that sounds unlike the accompanying tracks. These contrasts show a band bursting with creativity and ideas and amazingly adept at bring in disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

Again, these post-punk elements serve as references and do not define the overall music. Rather, R.E.M.’s ambitious melodic rock experimentations are what give the album its feel and depth. They are clearly not afraid incorporate tight pop choruses that structurally resemble classic song-writing in many songs, but that incorporate sounds and energies unlike that of the contemporary scene. “Moral Kiosk” and “West of the Fields” use staggered and competing vocal chants in the chorus parts to create a very interesting feel of tension that moves forward in an exhilarating manner like a marching procession. “Catapult”, as mentioned above, has a chorus that breaks free from the shackles of its lyrical contemplations and seemingly carries you on a countryside journey.

Indeed, one thing that is striking about the album’s music is how much of the songs seem like ideal companions for driving through the gentle and picturesque country roads of the southern United States, like the Blue Ridge Parkway. The chief reason for this is how the music flows so naturally and with little to no adulteration from high-tech gimmickry being used repeatedly across the Atlantic Ocean at this time in music history. Here, I think is part of the appeal of the music. It attempts to be new, but does not forget the craft or art of constructing sound and melody, something not that far off from some sounds of the region where R.E.M. hails. I don’t want to link their sound with bluegrass music or Allman Brothers gently and gorgeous guitar streams, but I think there is a spirit or undercurrent in the not-so-distance background of Murmur that elicits and justifies these types of mind or memory associations.

The other impressive element of Murmur is how it seems somewhat minimalist and gently muted at times, yet seems to resonate and reverberate in the mind. It’s not the louder D.I.Y music variety that is emerging in American underground and indie music scenes at the same time, yet on repeated listens, it really does creep in the caverns of your ears and head and becomes an infectious, extremely rich sound.

In conclusion, let me say that I listened to Murmur for the first time just recently as I am somewhat ignorant or indifferent about R.E.M in general. Still, with my little knowledge, I can see the direct connection with Automatic for the People, the group’s much ballyhooed album of the 1990s and probably its last great piece of work. My memory and instinct suggest to me that Automatic was so successful critically and commercially as it represented a return to R.E.M.’s strengths of creating understated and vibrant resonant melodic rock. Even in terms of sound, there are blueprints laid out in Murmur that are copied in Automatic, like the affected, deepened voice in parts of “Talk about the Passion” that reappears in “Man on the Moon”, or the somber and gentle feel of “A Perfect Circle” in comparison to “Nightswimming”. More than the direct comparisons, though, there is an overall feel that binds the two albums, one that is rooted in the South, yet striving to be different with a simplicity and unpretentiousness that creates its own aura and charisma. The title for Automatic is taken from an expression used by man behind a Athens, Georgia eatery, and I can’t help but thinking that R.E.M. had a strong yearning to return to its roots and glorious, less complicated (not superstardom) early years. Murmur is that return and how fortunate they were to have such a memorable reference to re-examine.
click here to
read it all...

March 8, 2008

How much, how much, how much time?

My one previous submission to this blog is a testament to my specific musical tastes. Surely, dozens of artists I’ve avoided either purposefully or not would interest me, but I am more than content with having only one occupy the majority of my listening time. R.E.M. is my touchstone, that to which all else musical is compared. I relate at least one life experience each day to an R.E.M. song, lyric, or image proposed therein (as best as I’ve interpreted them, at least).

A history of me and R.E.M: I was aware of R.E.M. when I was a pre-teenager thanks to the videos for “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World…” I was not mature enough to grasp the music yet and still wasn’t quite there for Green when “Stand” was all over MTV and even featured in the Get a Life opening. When I was 15 years old, a confluence of burgeoning maturity and self-awareness, high school English and religion teachers helping me see the real through the symbolic, and a new confidence to reject my many Lehanian acquaintances’ belief that anything even remotely aesthetic was quee-ya opened me up to Out of Time and the ubiquitous “Losing My Religion”. For the first time, I was able to appreciate popular music’s ability to be challenging on multiple levels. My last 18 years have seen a constant R.E.M. absorption – collecting music, reading biographies, seeing them live (ninth time this June), and now anxiously awaiting Accelerate, the new album praised as the best of their three-legged dog era and one of their best overall.

Perhaps surprisingly, Murmur does not play as major a role in my devotion as one might expect. I first heard R.E.M.’s debut LP when I was 18, so my understanding of its historical significance is more borrowed than perceived. I won’t deny countless observers’ acknowledgement of Murmur as alt rock’s genesis, but the album falls a little short among R.E.M.’s top works behind Reckoning, Lifes Rich Pageant, Automatic for the People, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Murmur establishes a number of R.E.M.’s standards. Most obvious are the jangly guitars and mumbled lyrics. (“Sitting Still” is the archetypal R.E.M. song.) But more important is the band’s practice of keeping albums thematically whole. Each album (with the exception of the disordered Around the Sun) generally explores a single topic. Murmur focuses on the notion of legend, referencing Greek tradition (“Laughing”, Moral Kiosk”, “West of the Fields”), Christian tradition (“Perfect Circle”, “Talk About the Passion”), and the mythology of cultural idealism (“Radio Free Europe”, and the breezily waltzy, seemingly benign “We Walk”, an outsider’s account of Jean-Paul Marat’s bloody assassination in 1793).

For the sake of completion, the other R.E.M. album themes are:

Reckoning - water
Fables of the Reconstruction - the South
Lifes Rich Pageant - the environment
Document - fire
Green - responsibility
Out of Time - relationships
Automatic for the People - mortality
Monster - sex
New Adventures in Hi-Fi - travel
Up - hope
Reveal - consciousness
Around the Sun - ?

Okay, back to Murmur. Of all the tracks, “Radio Free Europe” and “Perfect Circle” stand out strongly for me. This version of RFE is folksier and darker than the superior single released in 1981, fitting the feel of the album much more appropriately. (I was in the Letterman audience for an R.E.M. appearance in 1998. I’d much rather have been there for this.) I feel an especially close connection to "Perfect Circle" with my singular interpretation of it as a description of the confusion and discomfort the remaining eleven apostles felt after the death of Christ. Retired drummer Bill Berry is informally acknoweldged as PC's lyricist (each member gets equal credit for every song). Guitarist Peter Buck has said the recording of PC marked the first time he felt "we were a real band".

R.E.M. A real band.

More later when we get to Document and Automatic for the People...
click here to
read it all...

March 3, 2008


Murmur, R.E.M., Rolling Stone Magazine's #197

exile staff consensus: awaiting votes

the breakdown:
4.0 cannons - venerableseed
3.5 cannons - eurowags

the essays:
3/19 @ noon - what took me so long to like R.E.M.?
3/14 @ noon - eurowags unexpectedly takes a Southern journey with R.E.M. and Murmur.
3/8 @ noon - jb makes perfect (circle) sense of Murmur

the album (minus two songs):

the introduction:
25 years ago today the #1 album in the United States was Thriller. That shouldn't come as a surprise given this week's (2008) second best selling album: the Thriller 25 anniversary release. And rightfully so. 1983 was the year of the Thriller. The year of the Motown moonwalk, the year of the red zipper jacket, the year of pop, the year Michael made MTV.

Thriller was, of course, one of the two finalists for Rolling Stone Magazine's 1983 Best Album. Its win was a no brainer. Who could beat its perfect nine songs, seven! of them top ten hit singles. Who could match its grip on the cultural zeitgeist and lasting historical impact?

It's unlikely challenger was a Byrds-y debut album from an Athens, Georgia four piece with mumbled vocals, mysterious lyrics, blurred cover art, limited sales, no MTV exposure, and only one released single which peaked at #78. Its melodic, beautiful music, though, was just as catchy as Jackson's Thriller but, the Album of the Year judges must have deliberated: "It's a nice little album but with its tiny label and small impact we can't give it the title; we'll look silly. Thriller is an epic, industry-changing, music-shaking event. Let's go with it."

Thing is, they didn't think that at all and Murmur was unexpectedly crowned 1983's Best Album. Turns out that opaque masterpiece has been just as influential as Thriller and its songs have been just as timeless. Thriller might have defined what music looked like in the eighties but Murmur defined what music would sound like. It invented college rock, it invented alt-rock, it was the future, it was our music. Let's listen 25 years later and see again how good it sounded.
click here to
read it all...

February 27, 2008

Make You Sweat

Quite frankly, I have never had much of an appreciation for live albums, or at least not enough to feel compelled to include them in any best-of rock and pop lists. My lack of enthusiasm for this type of album stems from various considerations and prejudices: they inevitably seem more geared for die-hard fans; they appear more as filler or fan-appeasement material during extended album production hiatuses; generally they seem to lack elements of cohesion as they include songs from all parts of an artist’s career; they are so-well planned or controlled that they rarely capture anything unique or historical – different or stunning interpretations of well-known songs, an extremely memorable or moving performance with a distinct crowd feel or reaction, etc.; and they can easily fall into cliché tricks such as documenting the crowd sing the chorus parts in unison of well known songs, particularly at the end of a set.

Off the top of my head, I could probably only name a handful of performances that, in my mind, do break from the norm and would warrant special canonical status. Johnny Cash, The Allman Brothers, and Nirvana immediately pop into my head. Well, after recently listening to Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 for the first time, I would quickly and easily add Sam Cooke’s name to this narrow list.

The recording has a lot of elements working in its favor, many of which help the album transcend mere fantastic live album status and join the list of legendary rock n roll moments and all-time great albums. First, the album was released at a time when the album format was still in its early stages, or far from the album as art concept that was developed in an extremely creative manner towards the end of the decade. So, releasing a concert recording as an album often represented a more than adequate or even better substitute for the standard studio album, which was often filled with singles and cover filler, especially in the R&B world. Indeed, a concert album in the case of a great and often-touring soul singer probably represented more accurately the talents of the artist at hand. This is clearly the case with Sam Cooke.

Another impressive element of Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is how the venue and performance display a unique intimacy and energy, which lend itself to the extremely cohesive nature of the musical performance. Listen to how the Harlem Square Club bustles with audience movement and feedback, on the one hand, and how you can discern certain movements of Sam as he moves around stage, claps his hands, or speaks to the audience, on the other. You can almost feel the sweat dripping off of Sam as he cajoles the crowd into twisting or heeding his advice on love and forgiveness. Also, the recording gives a good sense of the proximity of the tightly playing band in relation to Sam. Much of this closeness is probably due to the effectiveness of the technical recording (placement of mics, sound quality, etc.), which captures so many sonic nuances of the performance. It’s hard not to feel like you have been transported to the venue and are standing just several feet from the stage.

With regards to audience participation, it’s interesting to note how they cheer and applaud, but never in a uniform and prolonged manner like many of us are accustomed to hearing at the end of a song in other standard concerts. Here, the enthusiasm of the crowd is measured more by the crackle of voices in response to Sam’s singing or talking – essentially, the “amens” of the choir or parishioners as they praise the words of Sam the preacher man – and the movement of bodies (probably in dance movement) around what I imagine to be club tables. These are different times with different reactions based on a different style of show, and the album so dutifully documents these moments and gestures.

The immediacy of the music is what gives the album its cohesive feel. Here you have Sam and his well rehearsed band moving from one song to another with extreme ease, with one song seemingly blending into another. Sam knows his audience, the type of venue, and, consequently, and the importance of keeping the rhythm going and the song introductions humorous, soulful, or enticingly passionate. Ultimately, the tightness of the music exudes an infectious quality, which has the listener quickly moving his/her body in unison with the beat and in response to the singing. When the album finally concludes, it feels like the ride has been too short.

In the end, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 represents not only a snapshot of an artist at his peak in terms of performance, but an important historical document that captures the feel of a unique style of concert in a period seemingly far away from today. While I have listened to only a handful of live albums in my lifetime, I nevertheless feel rather confident in speculating that few live albums can match the importance and feel encompassed in Sam Cooke’s terrific performance. Taking it one step further, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is probably one of the most important R&B musical documents of both its era and of all time, which automatically gives the recording elite album status.
click here to
read it all...

Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, Sam Cooke, Rolling Stone Magazine's #443

exile staff consensus: Top 400 album

the breakdown:
3.5 cannons - eurowags
2.0 cannons - venerableseed
1.5 cannons - polchic

the essays:
NEW POST (scroll back up)
2/27 @ noon - Sam Cooke makes Wags sweat. Just try and listen to the album without perspiring. We dare you.
2/19 @ 9 a.m. - Sam Cooke, the sixties, and segregation.

the introduction:
Fourteen live albums make the Rolling Stone 500 list but Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is the only one not to have been released within a year of its recording. Cooke's legendary January 12 Miami, Florida performance did not see the light of day until 1985!

The obvious question is why did it take so long to appear?

Cooke's Live at the Copa album was released shortly before his December 1964 murder but was the antithesis to Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. At the Copa was recorded in an upscale conservative establishment in front of a largely white audience. Neither Cooke nor his audience seem energetic, excited, or legendary and for 21 years At the Copa served as the only audio documentation of a man history widely honors as the greatest soul singer of all time. How could "the greatest" have so little soul? Those who had seen Cooke in person attested to his brilliance but the was no evidence. Enter Live at the Harlem Square, 1963.

Its been just over 45 years since Cooke's Harlem Square performance. Does the album hold up? Should it rank in the top 15 live rock albums of all time? Does it belong in the canon? Let's find out.

click here to
read it all...

February 26, 2008

Cali Dreaming

Beck’s Odelay is pure 1990s southern California (or at least what I imagine it to be since I only first stepped foot in the state in 2007). It’s innocuous Hollywood strip or Venice Beach hipsterness with its mélange of self-professed freaks, aimless troubadours, and skateboard thrashers painting the laidback horizon. It’s the thrift store threads with a collage of artistic allusions to choose from for its irreverential dialogue in a retro piano bar.

I can’t help listen to Odelay and be reminded of some of the cultural landscape that pervaded the decade. Movies that immediately come to mind are Get Shorty and A Life Less Ordinary, flicks set in Cali and that borrow heavily from Elmore Leonard’s style of making the slightly sleazy and criminal elements of the world both cool and comical, all in a laidback and quirky setting. In fact, the latter film effectively uses Beck’s song “Deadweight”. The hipster criminal element of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, with its Vegas hipsterness not so removed from that of southern Cali, also seems somewhat connected to the mid-1990s Beck vibe. Although not necessarily influenced by Beck, sunny-music producing 1990s artists like Sheryl Crow, Smashmouth, and Sugar Ray don’t seem that far removed from elements of Odelay’s sonic collage – alt country pop, fuzzy organ sounds, etc. Of course, it’s hard not to be reminded of The Beastie Boys’ move to Cali to join Capitol Records and to record Paul’s Boutique along with The Dust Brothers, key collaborators on Odelay as well.

The mention of these sensory and cultural links is merely to demonstrate how Odelay seems distinctly set in a place and a time. That is not to say, however, that the music is dated and tarnished some 10+ years after its first original release. In fact, the album possesses a unique energy and an ever-changing internal identity that makes the music coquettishly elusive, yet ultimately attractive. Its leftfield antics and mind-bending lyricism, all within a broad socially acceptable domain (i.e. without the dangers of actual drug consumption or delinquent acts), certainly give the music a unique and lingering charm that invites repeated listens.

When Odelay was first released, I was passively aware of the music. “Where It’s At” was played ad naseum on radio and in live TV performances. Other tracks got plenty of airplay and the album was a hit among many friends and acquaintances. For some reason – probably because I was cynical of the hipsterness set on a large audience scale – I intentionally ignored the album. Listening to it now, I can’t help but be rather impressed and disappointed that I didn’t give it a fair chance back in the day.

Sure, it’s hard not to take notice of the massive production trickery that go into several of the songs and that give them an amusingly schizo feel. But, it’s the seemingly more straightforward parts in other songs – the countrified slide guitar on “Lord Only Knows” and the chorus of “Sissyneck”, the repetitive funky beat and Doors-esque organ on “The New Pollution”, the languid gait of the guitar on “Jack-ass”, the folksy “Ramshackle” – that give the album that extra edge and credibility, that is, the conviction that this stream-of-consciousness mumbling singer actually knows what he is doing and has some soul. These more straightforward elements no doubt feed the sterling production on Beck’s just as impressive Mutations album.

Does it matter that I have no idea what the hell the guy is saying? Not at all. Sure, I guess trying to decipher the lyrics could be somewhat annoying for those that value the words. I, on the other hand, usually consider lyrics in a secondary fashion, only considering them once I have determined the value or attractiveness of the music. In the case of Odelay, I am definitely attracted, which should lead to some consideration of the words. But, you know, when it is this fun listening to the sounds and feel of an album, the guy could be talking about apple strudel and bird watching, for all I care.

So, some 10+ years after Odelay’s original favorable impression on the pop and rock landscape, it is still pretty easy to see why this album is considered one of the more important albums of the decade.

click here to
read it all...

February 25, 2008


Odelay, Beck, Rolling Stone Magazine's #462

exile staff consensus: Top 200 album

the breakdown:
3.5 cannons -eurowags, lenbarker
3.0 cannons - venerableseed

the essays:
2/27 @ 9 a.m. - Beck brings eurowags back over the pond to California. With today's record euro conversion rate to the dollar his money will go far.
2/13 @ noon - Odelay is hip and not edgy? How could that be?
2/8 @ 2 p.m. - Nonsense Nonsense Nonsense!

2/6 @ 9 a.m. - I wonder what I missed way back in 1996.

(some of) the album:

the introduction:
Perfect welcoming catchy melodies. Easy listening sounds. Dada-ist lyrics. Hurricane Novocane derelicts, puzzles, pagans, devil's haircuts, jackasses, strange invitations, discos quebrados, Sergio Valentes, Sassoons, hand-me-downs, flypaper towns, lily-white cavity crazes, leperous faces, garbage man trees, odelays, and, of course, two turntables and a microphone.

Beck's precocious magnum opus Odelay dropped on June 18, 1996, manna from the heavens to an unsuspecting hipster world still yearning for the next Paul's Boutique and a perfect pop treat to the needy MTV-watching masses. Even those who fell in between these extremes found the album irresistible, a perfect fun soundtrack for a breezy carefree age where everything seemed to be going right. An inclusive melange that could be seamlessly played on any radio station, r&b, alternative, pop, hip-hop, adult contemporary, whatever.

Just last week, on January 29, the Odelay - Deluxe Reissue was released giving us a perfect time to listen again and recapture the magic.

Check back here for more posts, but in the meantime be sure to browse the online encyclopedia of Beck,, which could possibly be the internet's most exhaustive musical artist overview.

click here to
read it all...

February 18, 2008


Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali, 1964A live album must capture a point in time and make that point both specific and eternal. The album sounds and vision must be a perfect representation of that year but the crowd, its mood, and their excitement must be universal and immediately understandable. You must be transported in time and say "That was an amazing show. If that concert happened tomorrow in my hometown I would be there and pay whatever amount."


Sam Cooke invented soul sometime in the late 1950's or at least that's what his 2000 Box Set titled The Man Who Invented Soul suggests. Sure, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, James Brown and many other lesser known artists make their own creation claims but Cooke's Promethean status does ring more true than false. Unlike the others Cooke owns a seemingly endless string of terrific singles that charted on both the white and r&b charts. His third single, the 1957 "You Send Me", knocked Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" from it seven-week-long number one perch. This event was no anomaly; Sam Cooke's perfect voice and beautiful songs were every bit the King's equal.

In 1960 signed with RCA garnering a $100,000 advance ($700,000 in 2008 terms). In the same year baseball's top earner, Ted Williams, made only $90,000. Sam Cooke was bigger than baseball.

He took that money and started his own record label in 1961; a pioneering move for any artist at the time. The crossover hits kept coming and in 1963 RCA recorded one of his concerts at the Miami, Florida's Harlem Square Club. Their inspiration was surely James Brown's 1963 Live at the Apollo Theatre recording which unexpectedly became a runaway commercial success. (Check out Cashbox Magazine's year-end list for 1963. How out of place is #25 Live at the Apollo?) Could Sam Cooke's Harlem Square Club performance repeat the JB phenomenon? We never were able to find out. Cooke's Harlem Square recordings were bagged and didn't see the light of day until 22 years later.

Harlem Square's 1985 release saw significant fanfare. Critics hailed Cooke's resurrected grittiness, tense sexuality, and hoarse frenzy. New York Times critic Jon Pareles named it the year's second best album wedging it between R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction and Husker Dü's Zen Arcade. Suddenly, it was argued, the public had heard the real Sam Cooke. Only, in 1985, the public was too busy watching Witness and seeing Harrison Ford fall in love with Kelly McGillis while Cooke's enchantingly saccharine "Wonderful World" played in the background. Which perfect side of Sam Cooke had really reappeared?


When I listen to Harlem Square what year does it sound like? 1963 or 1985 or is it transcendent? None of the above. Harlem Square sounds even older than 1963. It doesn't capture JFK, Dr. No, the Beatles, progressive politics and Camelot. Instead, it sounds like segregation and that was more Eisenhower, Little Rock, and the 50's, right? Wrong. My history is mistaken.

1963 was the high tide in the establishment South's pro-segregation battle. Newly elected Alabama governor George Wallace proclaimed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" the same January week that Harlem Square was recorded and in June of the same year stood in the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama in an attempt to prevent black enrollment. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter From Birmingham Jail that April and gave his I Have A Dream Speech that August. Medgar Evers was murdered that June. In October Sam Cooke and his band were arrested for attempting to check into a whites-only Louisiana motel. He subsequently wrote his greatest song, "A Change is Gonna Come".

The hopeful, steadfast, strength of "A Change is Gonna Come", however, doesn't appear on Harlem Square. The album feels resigned to guarded emotions and grudgingly accepting of its segregated milieu especially when heard alongside its defiant, end-of-the-world-level orgasmic Live at the Apollo contemporary. Harlem Square itself isn't sad. Cooke doesn't sound sad, relaxed and tired yes but not sad. And while his and his band's soulfulness and passion is unquestionable the album makes me very sad. The crowd screams and responds to Cooke's calls but they sound muted; there's something missing in their eagerness. Despite Cooke's soothing voice and loving melodies the room feels tight, steamy, and full of tension.

The concert marks a distinct moment in time but it's a time I hope never happens again. The 1963 South is not a place I would ever want to relate to and Harlem Square is not a concert that I would have wanted to be at. Harlem Square may sound old and dated to these young ears but that is a wonderful thing. The older segregation seems the better this country has become. Let it sound 45 years old, let it sound 100 years old, let the past die, and let the future continue.
click here to
read it all...

February 13, 2008

Two of These Things Don't Belong

Odelay is an absolutely loveable album. Sure, there are some funny, goofy lyrics that might be about weird or dark things or emotions but on the whole it's adult contemporary radio-ready. Would my mom like it? Not as much as she likes Lauryn Hill's Miseducation or Joni Mitchell or Linda Ronstadt but yeah. At the same time Odelay is lo-o-o-o-ved by your hipster friends, the pitchforkerati. The in-the-know kids love it, hell they made music videos for Odelay's hits ushering in a new era of quirky as cool.

All that got me to wondering: how many classic album rank low on the edginess factor a/k/a the would-my-mom-like-it factor but simultaneously rank high on the hipsterness factor a/k/a the do-the-cool-kids-like it factor. If you smell a chart coming then you're nose is keen.

So on the chart above are all the albums we've listened to so far. The hipsterness quotient was decided by where the album appeared in's best albums of their respective decade while the edginess was more subjective. For the edginess rating I played songs from the album for my mom and decided on the rating by her facial expression of comfort (not edgy) or disgust (edgy).

For the most part, there is a direct corollary between hipsterness and edginess as the general upward moving diagonal shows. In fact there are no albums, so far, other than Odelay which fit in the lower right quadrant! Similarly, only The Battle of Los Angeles appears in the upper left quadrant.

Despite our small sample selection it seems that the key to making a classic canonical album is to balance the factors of hipsterness and edginess. Or something like that.

But where does this leave our two outsiders? Why are they such anomalies? In the case of The Battle of Los Angeles I think that its aggressive politics both offended and alienated the moderate pragmatists who, at the time of the album's release, were doing pretty well financially and socially. Who needs the system torn down when internet speculation is making us all rich? Who needs anger when we've had four years of peace and prosperity?

Odelay, I postulated was both a harbinger and product of this peace and prosperity. It was also an accurate depiction of exterior world. Unlike OK Computer whose unprecedented millennial angst seems ridiculous in historical perspective. Nevertheless that album is the one that is remembered as the best of the 90's. It follows the above chart's pattern of canonization perfectly.

I disliked Odelay and The Battle of Los Angeles greatly when they were released, albeit for widely disparate reasons. But on my contemporary re-listens they've been the two albums that have surprised me the most and the ones that have, oddly enough, made me the happiest.
click here to
read it all...

February 8, 2008

Odelay's Lyrics Were Nonsense...Impossible!

So Beck has finally admitted that Odelay's lyrics were "utter nonsense". We all suspected it; we all probably even wished it were true. Now if only Michael Stipe would admit the same thing. Or Bob Dylan. Or (posthusmously) John Lennon. Or Stephen Malkmus. Or Ghostface Killah. Or (posthusmously) Arthur Lee. Or (posthusmously???) Jim Morrison. Or George Clinton. This list could go on on and on and on. Let's make it so!

Who is your favorite nonsense rock/rap/r&b lyricist and who should should be added to the above list?

Just hit the old comment button and put in your two cents.

click here to
read it all...

February 6, 2008

False Pre-Millennium Tension

Odelay's bright sing-songy choruses. The spontaneously planned and fun Dust Brothers samples. The hip-hop beats and alt-country melodies. Diminutive Beck at the MTV Video Music Awards decked out in playful cowboy gear strumming his guitar on top of Radio City Music Hall. They all seemed so contrived so obvious so fake and so boring at the time. 1996 wasn't supposed to be Odelay.

These were the times of romantic pre-millennium tension. 1995's hip-hop masterpieces were bottom-of-the-ocean dark affairs: Mobb Deep's The Infamous, Raekwon's ...Cuban Links, and the GZA's Liquid Swords. Were the Dust Brothers still living in Paul's Boutique? Hadn't they heard of this new hybrid affair called trip-hop and its brooding paragons Portishead, Tricky, Moby, Bjork, and DJ Shadow? The great rock albums, Radiohead's The Bends, PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love were similarly epic, angsty, and anxious. The Smashing Pumpkins' newest album title even included the words "The Infinite Sadness." In 1995, Alanis Morisette's screaming retribution ruled the pop charts, TLC's maddeningly depressing aim-low anthem "Waterfalls" ruled the r&b and MTV video playlist airways. Those albums were the times. Those albums were its mood.

Then came Odelay on June 18, 1996 and the mood changed. The music became more poppy, the times got lighter, things became more hopeful. The Village Voice's 1995 single of the year was Coolio's uber-maudlin "Gangsta's Paradise"; in 1997 the title went to Hanson's "MmmBop," incidentally another Dust Brothers production.

The United States was changing as well both politically and economically. The 1996 Presidential election was expected to be a close affair. A year earlier, Newt Gingrich's Contract With America based -Republican Revolution swept itself into power, conquering both the House and the Senate. The economy was on a downtown, reactionary politics ruled the day, and the young hopeful President from Hope was bound to be replaced by a 73-year-old career Senator who had publicly opposed LBJ's plan for a Great Society in the same year Meet the Beatles was released: 1964.

But the assumed 1997 United States was different, the doomsaying predictions had not come true. Trip-hop would not be the background music. Gingrich had been disposed and his wave of paranoid politics abandoned. Clinton was overwhelmingly re-elected and a tech-based economic boom had begun.

When I listen to Odelay today I hear this (sea) change of thought and American ethos. It's a joyful album that's inclusive, positive, diverse, and exceedingly boom-ready. It's the thrill of your first internet surfing experience, circa 1996 on a dial-up connection. It's slow, promising, surprise laden, fast, not too deep, full of wonder, without limitation, and ultimately very familiar.

Odelay is a welcoming and nonthreatening melange of that crazy world around you. The myriad random voices and musical styles don't attack your sensibilities, they just join the party. Despite the random, purposefully abstract lyrics the album had no edginess; Bob Dole would even like this album! Beware Andrews Sisters. At the same time so did your friends. The goth friends, the jock friends, your hipster friends, the entire range of John Hughes-characters friends.

I wish I had appreciated Odelay more in 1996, but I wish I had appreciated the United States more then too.
click here to
read it all...

January 29, 2008

Here, My Dear

Here, My Dear, Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stone Magazine's #462

exile staff consensus: awaiting votes

the breakdown:
2.0 cannons -eurowags
1.0 cannon - venerableseed

the essays:
1/28 @ 9:00 a.m.
- Marvin and Anna. I take sides.

the album:

the introduction:
Just found that love of your life? Thinking about getting married? About to walk down the aisle? Are you happy on account of love?


Just kidding. But be careful nonetheless.

Marvin Gaye's 1978 Here, My Dear had no marketable singles, no lasting memorable tracks, clocked in at a (pre-CD) 72 minutes, was poorly reviewed and was unbearably confessional as well as bizarrely bitter and caustic. How did it make Rolling Stone's Greatest 500 Albums list?

There must be a great story. Indeed there is. Keep track here to read it! (or just google)

click here to
read it all...

January 28, 2008

Let's Not Get It On

Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, and the Notorious B.I.G. It's not just a murderer's bullet that they share. No, they all made creepy, name naming, self-exploitative "soul-bearing" opuses that the Rolling Stone honored in their Top 500. I guess people are supposed to relate to their confessional nakedness but I don't. Why would I want to take Lennon's primal scream-ing psychotherapeutic ride? Why would I care about Biggie's suicidal dreams and small time drug deals? Why would I care about Marvin's messy divorce?

We all make choices in life. Most of us steer clear of being divorce lawyers. We stay away when our neighbors (or friends) have loud violent domestic mash ups. And in 1978 most chose not to listen to Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear. Amazingly, just last week, a double CD retrospective of Here, My Dear was released on Hip-O records that includes all fourteen songs remixed by contemporary producers. 150+ minutes of intolerable whining, finger pointing, and general insanity. Mercy, mercy, me.

On Here, My Dear Marvin is mad as hell (about paying attorney fees) and not going to take it (reason, a dignified grown-up approach) any more. Perhaps, for the album listener's sake, Marvin should have gone to a mediator. Because then we could have heard his poor ex-wife's point of view. He said she said is far more compelling than he said he said he said he said.

Paradoxically, the most powerful voice on the album is not Marvin's but his voiceless ex's. When he accuses her of "selling his gun" we totally agree with her decision. We want the judge to side with her, we want her to win. The album exists even as an odd and unintended feminist tome; Marvin's voice reveals the internal psychosis of an abusive husband. He has literally taken her voice away, suppressed her expression and denied her any meaningful public forum. Through his deranged thought processes, hateful words and meticulously documented actions he shows unadulterated marital cruelty. And somehow he still thinks he's the hero!

Your friends' divorces and break-ups also affirm dark and disturbing qualities and emotions that you always suspected but never absolutely knew were there. As a result your relationship with revealed divorcee can never be the same. Here, My Dear is no different. Musically, the most disturbing part of Here, My Dear is not the merciless, misogynistic, sometimes third-person, always accusatory lyrics but the effect those lyrics have on the remainder of the Marvin Gaye catalog. "Sexual Healing", "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "Let's Get It On" are subsequently rendered impotent and irrelevant, desperate crooning from a man to whom relationship breakup = restraining order.
click here to
read it all...

January 19, 2008


War, U2 Rolling Stone Magazine's #221

exile staff consensus: Top 400 album

the breakdown:

2.5 cannons - venerableseed, eurowags
2.0 cannons - the angry young man, lenbarker

the essays:
1/16@ 9:00 a.m. - What's my favorite U2 song? It must be on War, right?

1/6 @ 12:00 noon - I wonder whose War is it anyway?

Christmas is over and we all know what that means...New Year's Day.

On War, U2 tells us that "nothing changes on New Year's Day" and on The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine tells us that "everything can change on a New Year's Day." Are these politicized artists really that much different? Are their combat-related titles the only things the album's have in common?

click here to
read it all...

January 16, 2008

My Favorite U2 Song

What's my favorite U2 song? War's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". It's got nothing to do with Bono's out-of-control out-of-tune passionate vocals, the Irish jig guitar solo, the arching overwrought string section, or the Jesus-freak, passive resistance-promoting lyrics. I can't stand any of that shit.

I love the drums. The eight-second drum break that opens the song, that opens the album. They speak louder than any of the aforementioned extraneous nonsense. They hit with power, urgency, rawness, and necessity. They encapsulate war, War, and War. They are all the album needs. It's message is immediately clear. 8 seconds is all it takes.

11 years later those same drums returned. Only this time they took nearly a minute and a half to appear. For the first minute, the song drifts along, percussion supplied by a scratch DJ, church-like bells creating an ominous backdrop. The song's music stops and a deep, friendly voice appears and intones "You said to me I was out of my mind." A short pause and the drums return. The drums of War. Only this time the battle is a little different. It's about the fight for sanity in a world of lunacy or in a deeply depressed soul. The drums speak the same.

Maybe the battle faced on the two albums isn't different at all.

DJ Shadow's second single, "Lost and Found" appeared in 1994, its drums unmistakably "Sunday Bloody Sunday's". Just 19 years old the music papers were already hailing DJ Shadow a musical genius. In the United States more people knew his name than had ever heard his compositions. Or at least that's how it felt at the time.

His first single, 1993's "in/flux", began with the announcement "This song is about life, death, love, hate, wealth, poverty, racism", continued with a female vocal beckoning, "we call on you", a hip hop sample saying "stay strong" and another vocal enforcing with "here us now." It isn't until then that the beat kicks in. These drums aren't Larry Mullens. They constitute a slow funk sample. "in/flux" takes its cue from the great hip hop tracks of the era, sampling James Brown, Funkadelic, and Earth Wind and Fire. Nevertheless the track's endless political vocal tracks calling for a nondescript "revolution" and slow jazzy track which felt urgent in 1994 (just as Bono's call for Christian soldiers and wall of sound violins must have seemed urgent in 1983) now seem formulaic at best, dated at worst.

"Lost and Found" was different just like War's first 8 seconds was different. It was real, it was personal, and it was soul bearing. It wasn't preachy, it didn't call for pie-in-the-sky social change , and it looked inward rather than outward. These emotions and this direction weren't audible to me in "in/flux" and were audible on only 8 seconds of War.

So is my favorite U2 song actually "Lost and Found"? Given that U2 would receive most of its royalties if it were ever released (Fleetwood Mac would see some too) I would say yes.
click here to
read it all...

January 15, 2008

God's Warriors

U2's third album was called War. But who is the War with? What is the War about? Which War and when?

In a compelling 1983 New Musical Express article and U2 interview entitled "War and Peace", writer Adrian Thrills states that "(War) is different in that U2 are now facing out rather than inwards; they are now coming to terms with the outside world, and that means coming to terms with the horror of the Falklands, Beirut, Central America, the nuclear threat and the strife of their own battle-torn backyard in Ulster - coming to terms with war."

The Edge explained "October and Boy both had a key to the songs in the title and this one is no different. Not all the songs are about war, but it's a good general heading."

War tackles many of the above topics exposing their horror and human toll but it does not stop there. It continues with a solution, an answer, and even a War of its own. It's the fight invoked in the album's opening track "Sunday Bloody Sunday", and it's the fight that Bono has been fighting ever since through his crusade against AIDS, Live Aid, third-world debt relief, etc... His song states "The real battle yet begun. To claim the victory Jesus won" and the album continues along this fight's path just as Bono has with his own life. The album invokes Martin Luther King, Lech Welesa, and Jesus. Those are the album's role models and warriors.

In the same 1983 NME interview Bono continued "You have to have hope. Rock music can be a very powerful medium and if you use that to offer something positive then it can be very uplifting. If you use your songs to convey bitterness and hate, a blackness seems to descend over everything. I don't like music unless it has a healing effect."

And what U2 is offering is Christianity. A glimpse away from the negativity and towards a more positive light. A belief in the pure love of God, agape, 1 John 4:8. Bono added "I think that love stands out when set against struggle. That's probably the power of the record in a nutshell. (War) is about the struggle for love, not about war in the negative sense."

Bono's belief in God's goodness and everlasting love mark an overarching thread through all U2's albums. This theme is the key to U2's success, fervent crowds, and universal appeal throughout the Western world. We've all heard their message before, it's our most desirable interpretation of our most important and most holy book. They tell us and reinforce what we want our God to be. They are the perfection of hope, the perfection of religion, and the perfection of ourselves.

In War, U2's message of God's love is told so passionately (small p) and so earnestly that it's difficult to resist. Whether offering musical excuse or acknowledging U2's true power, Bono admitted "We believe that passion is more important than technique." On War Bono is so rarely in tune that the listener must assume that his Bono Vox alias, (Latin for good voice), is an in-joke. The band's shortcomings are covered by copious backup vocalists, trumpet solos, ornate violin arrangements, and ample atmospherics. Larry Mullen even admitted that on War he began wearing headphones in an attempt to keep better time.

Not that any technical misgivings mattered. U2 understood that the message of their militant Christian pacifism is beautiful. War is bad, love is good, God is love, God is good. Accept God and wars may not cease but they should become marginalized. Music should heal. Music will solve problems. God's love solves problems. Everything is tied together.

War naturally ends with a song based on an Old Testament song, based on Psalm 40. Bono's interpretation of his chosen Psalm casts himself as a messianic figure who is called on by God to crusade for His goodness. It's a tale of redemption and calling

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of the miry glade.

that moves into a holy warrior's quest and an an unerring life path.

He set my feet upon a rock,
and made my footsteps heard.
Many will see,
Many will see and fear.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?

Bono and U2 have not strayed. We want to believe in them, we want to believe in their God, we want to believe in their message, their God's message that Christianity's natural quest and natural state runs towards social justice, an end to strife, and an everlasting love.

We want to believe that his lyrics on "New Year's Day" are true, that "Gold is the reason for the wars we wage." But deep down we know that that is not true. All four "Sunday Bloody Sunday" sides felt God was on their side - the Irish Catholics, the Northern Irish Protestants, the Selma Peace marchers, the Selma police and citizenry - and none fought for gold. We know that the atomic bombardiers in "Seconds" aren't killing for gold either.

We look outside to present-day horrors of Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, the nuclear threat from China and Pakistan and the strife of our own battle-torn backyard in lower Manhattan and we see that we fight for our passions and we fight for our gods.


There are a number of good U2 articles and websites that discuss the band's relationship with Christianity. Here are a few:

The website serves as a companion piece to the book, Get Up Off Your Knees, Preaching the U2 Catalog, which is linked in the slide show to the right. The book is a collection of sermons that draw on U2's songs.

The article Bono: Grace Over Karma appeared in in August 2005 and consists of excerpts from the book Bono: In Conversation. The article collects a few of Bono's interview responses that deal with Christianity.

A third, extended article, Cathleen Falsani's Bono's American Prayer, appeared in Christianity Today and is an enlightening look at life, musical career, and mission.

However, in the same issue of Christianity Today appeared this editorial, Bono's Thin Ecclesiology. The title explains it all.
click here to
read it all...

January 12, 2008

The Battle of Los Angeles

The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine, Rolling Stone Magazine's #426

exile staff consensus: Top 200 album

the breakdown:

5.0 cannons - polchic
4.5 cannons - venerableseed
2.0 cannons - eurowags
1.5 cannons - the angry young man

the essays:
1/18@ 9:00 a.m. - The Fire in the Master's House is Set

1/10 @ 9:00 a.m. - I rage about Rage.

Christmas is over and we all know what that means...New Year's Day.

On War, U2 tells us that "nothing changes on New Year's Day" and on The Battle of Los Angeles, Rage Against the Machine tells us that "everything can change on a New Year's Day." Are these politicized artists really that much different? Are their combat-related titles the only things the album's have in common?

click here to
read it all...

January 11, 2008

This is the new sound, just like the old sound

For over a decade I scoffed at Rage Against the Machine. I called them posers, spoiled Ivy leaguers, misguided, opportunist in their anger. I repeated the easy phrase: "oh you're so anti-establishment yet you're signed to Sony" dismissal.

And why? Because I read an article in SPIN saying much of the same after their 1993 silent protests on stage at Lollapalooza against the the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).

Had I done my homework (beyond the pages of SPIN), I would have known there are no posers here. Zach de la Rocha's dad was the first Latino artist to be shown at LACMA. Tom Morello's dad was a Mau Mau guerrilla and revolutionary. Morello's great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president in Kenya.

This rage isn't misguided; it's informed and razor sharp. There are no opportunities here, simply alarms and warnings.

The fire in the Master's house is set.

And as for being signed to Sony, now that I am older and wiser and actively working for social change instead of simply bitching about a need for it, I understand, just as they did, that it's not enough to voice dissent; someone has to hear you. And before MySpace, file sharing, and other network enabling mechanisms, signing to a major label was just about the only way you could reach out beyond a marginal audience.

I know that venerableseed had his own beef with the boys. My frustration isn't with the band, but with the fact that the Battle of Los Angeles is still relevant and its message timely in 2008.

Morello himself said that their reunion at last year's Coachella was a vehicle to voice the band's opposition to the "right-wing purgatory" the United States has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration.

Listen to the facist sing
"Take hope here
War is elsewhere
You were chosen
This is Gods land
Soon we'll be free
Of blot and mixture
Seeds planted by our Forefathers hand"
A mass of promises
Begin to rupture
Like the pockets Of the new world kings

I wish The Battle of Los Angeles were dated. But songs like "Ashes in the Fall"might as well have been written this year. I wish its chords didn't make my heart race, its word incite my, well, Rage. But the fact is, everything didn't change on a New Year's Day.

And incidentally, even though SPIN named Battle #53 in its "greatest albums 1985-2005," they still hatin'.

Fucking Bono was right.
click here to
read it all...

January 10, 2008

A False False Dichotomy

I'd read about the video for "Testify" long before I had seen it. I was living in Chile at the time; we didn't have a TV let alone cable. The article explained that the Michael Moore-directed video juxtaposed George Bush quotes and video clips with Al Gore quotes and video clips. The novelty was that there was no juxtaposition at all. Bush and Gore said and did exactly the same thing. They were the same poison, the same corporate-run evil.

The video's conclusions were not unique. Articles from the National Review to the The Nation from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times echoed the similarity sentiment lulling us into a false sense of resigned outrage. When I would call my parents in the States, they confirmed and agreed with the conventional wisdom. Clearly, our vote doesn't matter. America's presidential candidates are the same.

The chilling eventuality of our collective cynicism was clear: Bush was going to be elected.

The Chilean papers had a different view of the American election. Perhaps it was their history of political dualism. They characterized Bush as a foolish scion of a powerful family, a puppet of the conservative right and a dangerous force. On our refrigerator hung a political cartoon with three identical W caricatures. The caption: "Clan, Clown or Clone?" Gore was a soft green party wannabe whose election would surely sink the American economy and send the continent reeling financially. The two weren't alike at all.

I adopted the viewpoint of my South American home and filled myself with outrage at the forgone electoral conclusion. My anger was mostly directed at the myth-makers, the Bush-Gore equators. Whether it be the papers, Ralph Nader, or the corporate broadcasters they were my true villains, my personal scapegoat. Of course the most compelling of these false false dichotomies was a video by Rage Against the Machine. And I hated them for it.

Perhaps they hated themselves for it as well. One month before election day the band broke up citing personal, artistic, and political differences. They've reunited this year officially making one our generation's fieriest, smartest, and most politically necessary bands AWOL for the entire Bush presidency.

I got over my anger a few weeks ago, bought The Battle of Los Angeles, and put it on my mp3 player. It's been there ever since and I hope it doesn't go away. It's a conscience from a conscience-less time, it's a probing intelligence and protest from a Backstreet Boys-Britney Spears era, it's the son of Woody Guthrie that we weren't supposed to have. Zach de la Rocha really is Bob Dylan in 1963, Chuck D in 1988. In 1999 he was just as clever and just as smart.

The backing tracks are even better. It's the perfect live-instrumentation hip-hop album; a holy grail that wasn't supposed to exist. It's pure energy and a non-stop fast-paced thrill ride that doesn't just preach but also inspires one to action.

But after my pounding heart slows down and my adrenalin rush subsides the The Battle of Los Angeles moves me towards melancholy. Why did it lead to nothing, why did it pair with a slow reactionary like Michael Moore, and why did it disappear from our memory?
click here to
read it all...

January 1, 2008

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, Various Artists, Rolling Stone Magazine's #142

exile staff consensus: Top 1000 album

the breakdown:
2.0 cannons - venerableseed
1.5 cannons - lenbarker and the angry young man
1.0 cannons - polchic and eurowags

the reasoning:
"Just because an album sets a precedent that doesn't mean the precedent needed to be set" - polchic

the essays:
12/31 @ 9:00 a.m. - I chime in on the many Sons of Spector and make some startling admissions.

12/29 @ 9:00 a.m. - polchic speaks on "how Phil Spector has provided a perfect soundtrack not for Christmas, as many claim, but for Saturnalia."

This week we will all be listening to A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector. Will we get around to writing about it? Hard to say. Right now we're to busy opening presents. click here to
read it all...