Archive | June, 2011

Day 102: Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

10 Jun

Hummingbird

What?  Wait, what just happened?  Did I just listen to a Wilco album?  No…it couldn’t have been.  There’s no way.  I mean, they’re Wilco, they’re only capable of making great music, right?  Here’s my theory regarding the making of A Ghost is Born—Wilco, or possibly just Jeff Tweedy, was kidnapped or abducted by aliens for a few years after the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  The captors were just as awestruck by the beauty that is YHF, they just had to have the man/band behind it. During those two years, Nonesuch wanted to keep the Wilco money train going, so they got a guy who sounded like Tweedy, but was not capable of writing good lyrics, and also loved—I mean loved—guitar solos.  Tweedy was returned safe and sound eventually, as Wilco (The Album) is really freaking good too.  I don’t know if he made it back in time for Sky Blue Sky, but I’ll find out in a couple of days.

How farfetched is that?  Honestly, it can’t be too far off.  Before Tweedy disappeared, he had recorded a few songs already, and those made it onto GhostWishful Thinking and Hummingbird definitely have that old-school-awesome Wilco sound, but that’s about all the good that I can say regarding A Ghost is Born.  And this is the record that won the 2005 Grammy for Best Alternative Album, whatever that means.

Wilco is not the band that makes 15-minute drone tracks.  They just don’t pull crap like that.  Fake Wilco does though; just give Less Then You Think a listen.  What is going on here?

A Ghost Is Born proves one thing: it’s hard to come back with something good after a highly acclaimed piece.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is amazing, and maybe Wilco didn’t want to appear to be recreating that record with a different name.  They should have done that, though.  It would have been better than Ghost.

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Day 101: Wilco – Being There

9 Jun

Outtasite (Outta Mind)

There we go, this is the Wilco that I know.  The “alt” definitely outweighs the “country” on Being There, the group’s second abum.  Today is Day 2 of Wilco Week, and I may  have found a new favorite Wilco record—well, technically, two new favorites.  Being There is a double album with nineteen songs in total, but only clocks in at an hour and seventeen minutes.

I’ve discovered something today.  There is no limit to my enjoyment of Wilco.  I listened to nineteen songs back-to-back, and never got sick of it.  It’s great hearing all of this material that’s new to me from a band that I love.

Tweedy and company pump up the tempo a bit on Being There, compared to A.M., at least.  While they don’t abandon their country roots, they definitely tone down the southern influence.  In fact, Misunderstood, as the name implies, sounds less like it was created by an alt-country band, than a negative indie-fuzz-rock band.

With this record, it appears that Wilco begins making the transformation into the band that would go on to make Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which is indisputably one of the greatest records ever made.  With darker phrases like “I guess all this history/is just a mystery/to me” on Hotel Arizona, it’s easy to see Tweedy beginning to drift towards the darker and more abstract lyrics that he would sing later in his career.

Being There really impressed me.  I may even like it better than the legendary YHF.  I’ll definitely have to give it a few more listens before I can make a decision of that much importance, but the fact that I’m even considering it to be at that level shows that it’s pretty freaking good too.

Day 100: Wilco – A.M.

8 Jun

Box Full of Letters

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should do when I reached my 100th day on Swole Ear.  Lots of ideas ran through my head, and I’ll admit, some were better than others.  Luckily for you (and me), I stayed away from a few of my ideas, like listening to Rick Astley’s Whenever You Need Somebody, or doing a 1,000 word review of Cheese Foot?’s (nonexistent) sophomore album.

Among the huge quantity of terrible ideas, a solid one finally emerged.  I decided to turn the coming of the 100th post into a weeklong celebration.  Hey, if there’s one thing that I’m good at, it’s stretching things out for way too long.

And with that, I give you the first post of Wilco Week.

Wilco has been around forever (to a 17-year-old).  I love everything that I’ve heard by them, but they have so much stuff that I’ve never gotten around to listening to.  For the next six days (Wilco Week will not interfere with the next DRT), I’ll be listening to and posting records that are either Wilco releases, or somehow Wilco-related.  The band has four studio albums that I haven’t heard, so this shouldn’t be too hard.

Wilco’s music is often described as “alt country,” a label that I’ve never really understood until now.  Everything that I’ve heard by them has leaned more towards the indie/alt spectrum than anything.  Country definitely can be heard on A.M., their 1995 debut, perhaps even outweighing the “alt.”  Guess what, it’s still Wilco; it’s still awesome.

Sure, they may rely on western guitar solos and country components more than I prefer, but even on this record, Jeff Tweedy delivers his lyrics with the same passion that I’ve come to know and love on his band’s later releases.  I’d say Wilco Week is off to a great start.

Day 99: Tom Waits – Small Change

7 Jun

Pasties and a G-String

I do not like Tom Waits.  I’ve never liked Swordfishtrombones, I did not like the first five minutes of Nighthawks at the Diner that my dad inadvertently had me listen to, and I definitely do not like Small Change, his replacement this Dad-Rock Tuesday.

 I’ll be straightforward here.  I cannot stand Mr. Waits’ voice.  That’s it.  That’s why I don’t like his music.  This is a strange occurrence for me, because I’m a huge proponent of the “vocals themselves don’t matter, content of the vocals matter” mindset.  As I’ve stated before, two of my favorite bands—Los Campesinos! and The Hold Steady—are known for their…unconventional…voices.   Mr. Waits takes obnoxious vox to a whole new level, though.   His voice is often described as “gravelly,” but I don’t think that does it justice.  It’s gravelly like my alley the week before its annual grading—bumpy, painful, and capable of popping tires if driven across too quickly.

Maybe I’d be able to deal with Waits’ cringe-inducing voice if he didn’t rely on it in every single song.  Seriously, not a moment goes by on Small Change without your ears being molested by something that does not appear to be of this planet. Just listen to Pasties and a G-String.  If you don’t punch something multiple times while listening to that track, there’s something wrong with you.

Or maybe there’s something wrong with me.  Everyone loves this guy.  I guess we can add Tom Waits’ work to the ever-growing list of “classics” that go straight over my head.

Day 98: Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future

6 Jun

It’s Not Over Yet

English teacher of mine, what the hell do you want from me?  You’ve been my Lit & Comp teacher this entire school year, and I still haven’t figured you out.  You tell me that I need to write with more of a voice, so I do that.  I let the Jacob flow out of me on this last paper, almost unfiltered. What happened? Another B.  Beyond frustrating because I know that this last paper was good.

Why am I venting all over you, the Swole Ear reader?  I’m not even tryna’ front.  The main reason is that I am really frustrated with this grade that I perceive as unfair.  Secondly, I think this anger fits well with Klaxons’ Myths of the Near Future. No, Klaxons are not an angry band in the typical sense—they don’t smash things or shout or whine a lot or preach or act like they’re better than everyone, but their catchy indie pop does have a bit of a dark twinge to it.  Fortunately, this sets them apart from every overly enthusiastic obscure band out there.

Klaxons make fast-paced, infectious, danceable music, and I love it. They go deeper than surface level lyrically; something that most bands of this type just don’t do, and I really appreciate that.  Listening to their music doesn’t make me feel like I have a 4th grade education, as lots of pop music does.

Often, when you go deep lyrically, you go angry.  It’s just human nature—we’re angry life forms.  I know I’m angry.

Day 97: The Dodos – Visiter

5 Jun

Winter

Sometimes, I pick a record that just isn’t for me.  That happened today.  I found Visiter by The Dodos fairly boring, but I also understand its appeal.  Unfortunately for me, this record is an hour long.  I can deal with boring, but when you add long to the equation, you get an irritable Jacob.

Eyelids, the third song out of fourteen on Visiter, is where I became certain that I was not going to enjoy this record.  Up until that point, I had been on the fence.  The first two tracks are essentially sensitive-indie-banjo-rock, which I can deal with from time-to-time—I really like Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes—but this stuff was packing too little of a punch, even for the relatively low-key genre that it falls under.  When Eyelids, another soft track, rolled around, I knew that this music was just a little too subtle, even for me.

There are high points on Visiter, but not nearly enough to justify giving it another listen.  It opens with Walking, a fairly catchy song that I wouldn’t skip on shuffle.  Every now and then, a track has a decent line or cool composition—I really did like Meric Long’s delivery on Winter—but these moments are too few and far between for me to give this full record another listen.

People love The Dodos, and I get why.  They’re just not for me.  Their style is fairly original, and not painful to listen to.  It’s not as if I was dying while waiting for this record to come to an end—I was just really bored.  Ultimately, The Dodos are a bit too soft for me.

Day 96: Kaiser Chiefs – The Future is Medieval

4 Jun

Download this record (the Jacob SwoleEar! version)

Dead Or In Serious Trouble

Every once in a while, you hear an album that can only be described as perfect.  All components of the record—from the artwork, down to the track list—come together to create something beautiful, something bigger than all of us.  That’s exactly what has happened with The Future is Medieval.  Well, my version of The Future is Medieval, at least.  Every other version is entry-level garbage.

Kaiser Chiefs have done something very interesting.  Their newest release—one that has been long awaited by this blogger—isn’t an actual record.  In what can be viewed as marketing genius or pure laziness, they have left the creation of the record up to me.  And you.  And anyone else who wants to make their record.  But mainly me.

I was given twenty song options, told to pick ten of them, and organize them in the way that I saw best fit.  Yeah, I guess you could do it too, but believe me, it’s a ton of work.  You may as well just buy my version, as I assure you, you won’t be able to create anything better.

I was also left to create the artwork for the album, which you can see above.  Look at that.  It’s beautiful.  See, most people hardly play with the composition of the images that they are given.  As a result, lots of the other covers out there look like the clip art folder on their desktop projectile vomited a meal of nostalgic children’s book illustrations.  Look at my cover, though.  Beautiful.  I’d tell you what it symbolizes, but its numerous meanings and metaphors would melt your plebian brain.  Buy my record.

Okay, I’ll serious-up now, because this new concept is something that deserves at least a paragraph out of me.  The fan-designed album is a very interesting idea, and I’d love to see it happen every once and a while.  As long as this doesn’t become the new standard, I think this is a great idea.  As I wrote earlier, it is a stroke of marketing genius.  Most fans—as you can see—feel very passionately about their creations, and will share them with everyone they know—as you can see.   This brings a plethora of free advertising for Kaiser Chiefs, as everyone is tweeting about the record that they personally created.  I know I’ve devoted two Facebook statuses to mine already.  You also get access to all kinds of posters and .gifs that you can place in your blog after you create the record, with a banner above them all reading “promote your album.” Your album.  Brilliant move, Kaiser Chiefs.  Just don’t do it again.

Day 95: Band of Horses – Everything All the Time

3 Jun

The First Song

“Hey guys, you know the first song on our record, the one we can’t come up with a name for?  Let’s call it The First Song.  That’s hilarious, right?  I mean, its got nothing to do with the fairly abstract lyrics, but hey, who cares?”

When statements like that run through my head while listening to a record, it’s never a good sign.  I’ll be honest; I was skeptical of this band before I pressed play on this record.  They’ve been hyped so much over the past couple of years, I can’t help but cast a wary eye upon them.

Fortunately, the song titles got a little more…good…from that point forward.  Unfortunately, Band of Horses was unable to live up to their massive amounts of hype on Everything All the Time.   Seriously, people hold this band in the highest regard, and I just don’t understand it.

By no means is Everything All the Time terrible.  In fact, I kind of liked it.  It’s just that I was expecting the freaking second coming of Jesus condensed into an indie rock album, and that’s not what I got.  Under other (non-hyped) circumstances, I might have considered this album anywhere from decent to pretty good.

The truth is, Band of Horses is just another band of indie rockers.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Anyone who takes their love of this band to such extreme, hype-inducing levels needs to listen to more music.  There’s plenty of stuff just like this already out there, and it’s not even that hard to find.  Give The National, Manchester Orchestra, or Fleet Foxes a go.  I think all three of those bands do indie rock better, and in a manner similar to Band of Horses.

Day 94: of Montreal – The Sunlandic Twins

2 Jun

Requiem for O.M.M.2

Albums like this are why I started this project.  This is an album that I never would have listened to otherwise, and I ended up liking most of it it.  Sure, I’ve heard of of Montreal, but the truth is, this is just another band that I would have ignored back in the days before I started this project.

Anyway, of Montreal have been on my radar for forever, but I think I’ve subconsciously avoided them because of what I’ve heard about their shows.  Apparently, they put on a spectacle, with costumes, nudity, and just overall insanity.  To me, it seemed like it’d be more of a pain in the ass than it was worth to get into their music.  What if I loved it? I’d have to spend a ton of time acquiring everything they ever released, memorizing lyrics, and then waiting and anticipating for their next show near me.  None of this ever materialized as actual, conscious thought—I’m not that crazy—but I am pretty sure that this was going through my head at some level.

As for The Sundlandic Twins (great transition there, right?), it is a pretty solid record.  If anything, it’s a bit top-heavy, with the first half making the second look foolish.  The beginning of this album provides numerous examples of indie pop at its finest.  There’s everything you need in order to get your jam on, with catchy guitars and quirky vocals aplenty.  “Let’s pretend we don’t exist/let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica” is repeated countless times on Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games.  Yeah, stuff like that.  If you don’t like goofiness, my advice to you is to avoid of Montreal.

The later half of this record is very disappointing, unfortunately.  It’s not that it is terrible or anything, but its unenthusiasticness is only exacerbated by the fact that the first seven songs are awesome.  After The Party’s Crashing Us, the seventh track out of fourteen, Twins moves into a desolate land of boring synths. It’s a shame.  This could have been a masterpiece if of Montreal kept the off-beat party going.

Day 93: Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

1 Jun

For Emma

I am about to commit an indie hate crime.

I, Jacob SwoleEar!, do not like Bon Iver.  I do not like Bon Iver’s album For Emma, Forever Ago.

There, that’s out of the way.  I’m sure that over the course of this project, I’ve said something that has alienated every single one of my potential readers.  Whateva, I do what I want.

Anywho, Bon Iver.

So there’s been a lot of buildup for me in anticipation of this listening.  I’ve known all about this particular record for a while now. I had heard all about the three months that Justin Vernon spent alone in a cabin in the woods while recording this or something.   I also knew all about the hype that this record got, going from an obscure self-release to a label release within a few months.  With all of that in my head before I pressed play, I guess I was expecting this album to completely blow me away.

Not only is For Emma underwhelming, it’s fairly obnoxious.  Vernon almost always sings in a falsetto.  Believe me, I don’t usually have a problem with high vocals in my music, but Vernon brings them to a whole new level of annoying.  That’s not the only obnoxious thing about Vernon’s voice, either.  Every now and then, he gives off a little screech or “whoop” after a lyric that I assume he must find pretty good.  It’s like he’s trying to be Prince or something.  Indie, whiney, white, sensitive Prince. Who wants to listen to that?

Apparently, a lot of people.  This record won all kinds of awards and accolades from the indie community.  Could someone please explain why?  I just don’t get it.  Boring boring boring.