Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Picks for the Top Ten Albums of 2008.

I thought I could take a week off, but here I am. What would the end of the year be without my semi-predictable picks for the best records of 2008? Let's take 'em from the top:

10. Motorik - Klang

One of my favorite way-under-the-radar (read: CD Baby) bands of the whole year, and I'm exposed to plenty. This Seattle three-piece sounds like they're from 1993 in the best possible way. I've been driving myself crazy trying to figure out who they remind me of, but I don't give a shit anymore. "Or So I Thought" is one of the best songs I heard all year.

Motorik MySpace

09. Coolzey - Soixante-Neuf EP

I first met Zach Lint many years ago, when he was on tour in Portland with his former group, the Sucka MC's. I was in a group that was opening for them. We didn't talk a lot that night, but we've stayed in touch through the magic of the internet. So, yeah, he's a friend. But that doesn't make this little 15-minute romp any less fun. His beats are getting better and better with each release, and his lyrics are still a blast. When he rhymes "I don't give shit" with "a shot of Glenlivet," you know he means business.

You can listen to "Funk #69" and get some more info here.

08. Mokadas - Mokadas

This was another CD Baby band that I fell for hard. These dudes are from Sweden, and they play the best modern-Doors garage-y rock I've heard in ages. Their lead singer's voice is strong as shit, and just when you think they're going to fuck it up and deteriorate into some Dandy Warhols lameness, they pull it out and just get weird. It's a great, great record.

Mokadas MySpace

07. Black Francis - Svn Fingers

Basically an EP continuation of 2007's Bluefinger, this one keeps the weird rock coming, which still feels like a welcome change after some of the mellower Frank Black stuff of late. It's a stripped down sound that feels uncomfortable at first, but grows into some really likable tunes, thanks in part to him going back to the odd lyrics that made us all love him in the first place.

"I Sent Away"

06. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

It's not hard to see why there's already been a substantial backlash against these guys: the hype was huge, and they come off as some easy-to-loathe preppy boys. Too bad the songs are so good. I thought I would burn myself out on this record, but it has yet to happen. Comparing them to Talking Heads should stop now (I was initially guilty of this), because that's lazy. We should instead focus on why it takes two weeks to get "Oxford Comma" out of your head, and how it was the best video of the year.

"Oxford Comma"

05. Beck - Modern Guilt

This isn't Beck's best album, but it's a Beck album that was perfect for 2008. He's both subdued and focused, and the songs are both pretty and hammering. He's been so good at writing lyrics for so long, that gems like the ones included here get overlooked. The same could be said for his melodies, which are brilliant throughout this one. My only complaint: at around a half hour long, it zips by.

"Gamma Ray"

04. Supersuckers - Get It Together

In the grand scheme of my life, I have been listening to the Supersuckers longer than I haven't been listening to the Supersuckers. So, I always look forward to their releases, and I'm probably willing to cut them some slack when they let me down a little bit. This is a great record, featuring what some might call a more "mature" side of the 'Suckers (aside from the tremendous fun that is "I'm A Fucking Genius"). My beef is that a handful of these songs were included on the Paid EP last year. Their live shows always make me forget my woes.

"What It Takes"

03. Paris - Acid Reflex

Paris had me, then he lost me, and now he's got my full attention again. After a few uneven releases, he busted this bad boy out last month and I can't get enough of it. "Blap That Ass Up" is vintage P-Dog, angry and festering over a thick beat that sounds like the darkest part of the Bay. "The Hustle" is one of the best anti-theist songs I've ever heard, and Chuck D's guest spot on "Rebels Without Applause" seals the deal.

"Don't Stop the Movement"

02. TV on the Radio - Dear Science

I really didn't think these guys could get any better after their last album. And then they did just that, proving again, that (and I know you've heard enough of this) they're one of the most important bands making music right now. When Tunde Adebimpe sings "in the days of old, you were a nut/ now you need three bumps before you cut," on "Dancing Choose," I think all the Eazy-E fans know who their favorite experimental rock band is.

"Golden Age"

01. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

For my money (and time), this was it for '08. If there was ever any worry that Malkmus could pull it together and make a brilliant post-Pavement record, it's safe to say the naysayers got squashed when this one hit. Say what you want about the extended solos and the classic rock dalliances, nothing could stop the sheer force of just how incredibly fucking great these songs are. They're huge in scope and meticulous in detail, and the title track was hands down the song I listened to the most all year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Break.

I'm taking one.

See you around the beginning of the new year.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (CD, 2007)

If anyone wondered why it took El-P five years to make the proper follow-up to his first solo record, they got their answer when this one dropped. This record is deep, detailed, and all-out crazy. It's not incredibly different than his first one, though the production might be a tad bit cleaner and the guest spots might be a tad bit more diverse.

When I saw Trent Reznor's name on the credits I was a little put off, but the song he helps out on here ("Flyentology") is a really great tune. And I wouldn't have even known Reznor was on it if I didn't read the credits. Aesop Rock shows up on "Run the Numbers" and listening to these two dudes try and out-syllable each other is entertaining but not entirely likable. But that's me, I don't really like Aesop Rock. It's true. Take away my cool guy card. ("Limbo the Philistine art police on the armor piercing"? Gimme a break.)

This record features what is probably my favorite El-P track, "Up All Night." It's short, fast, and he cuts through the bullshit. A really infectious and gripping track. Actually, I like almost every song on this record. It's taken a while to grow on me, but I give it a good go every time I play it.

And for some reason, I always listen to this record when I'm at the gym. I think the scattershot nature of the music keeps me moving. Plus, lyrically, this one's a little easier to follow than his debut. For me, at least.

And it hits hard.

"Up All Night"

Monday, December 22, 2008

El-P - Fantastic Damage (CD, 2002)

I completely missed the boat on Company Flow, and I was OK with that. Still am. I find El-P's solo stuff a lot more interesting, even though that might be because I am still unsure of his appeal. I like his stuff. I don't love it, but I do get a kick out of the intricacies he's able to pack into an album.

I don't know this record super well, but I listened to it quite a bit when I first got it. I can see why people like it, I can see why people don't. The beats are initially abrasive, but once you listen to a few songs and realize that this is how it's supposed to sound (distortion-heavy lo-fi techniques, etc,), there's some cool shit to be found.

Whether his lyrics make any sense is up for debate. I don't really give a shit to study them. They sound cool, and the more sci-fi and otherworldly he gets, the more it adds to the density and spaced-out madness of the music. "Deep Space 9mm" on this album is a perfect example, and it's one of my favorite songs on here.

I have to be in the right mood for this one, because it tends to make me uneasy. That's not always a bad thing. In fact, most records can't do that. So that's something.

"Deep Space 9mm"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jonathan Edwards - Jonathan Edwards (LP, 1971)

I found this LP for a dollar earlier this year, and I bought it. I had heard good things at some point, and figured I'd give it a shot. I actually ended up liking it a bit. It's sort of Cat Stevens, sort of Gordon Lightfoot, sort of hippie-fueled idyllic crap that I can only listen to so much of in one sitting.

You've probably heard Edwards' song "Sunshine" before, even if you don't know it. I feel like it's been on some commercial recently. It's not a bad song, though it does contain some of that hippie bullshit I was talking about.

He's got a strong voice, and this isn't a bad one for a lazy afternoon.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Steve Earle - El Corazón (CD, 1997)

Full disclosure: this is the only Steve Earle album I own (not counting the split EP he did with the Supersuckers), and I bought it because I am an obsessive Supersuckers completist and they play on track eight, "NYC." This is sad, because I really like Steve Earle. I have a bunch of his tracks on soundtracks and compilations, but I just have never taken the dive and fully immersed myself in his catalog. I plan to, I just haven't come to it yet.

Anywho. I won't go through the long and torrid tale of Earle's career, but this album was recorded after he kicked heroin and decided to become a really fucking important songwriter. (I mean that sincerely.) Earle reminds me of Bruce Springsteen in a lot of ways, except that I like Earle a lot better and feel like if they were having a deep political discussion, Earle would kick his ass with endless references to specific events.

This record begins and ends with haunting acoustic numbers (the a-bit-too-long "Christmas In Washington" and the string-aided "Fort Worth Blues," respectively), but mostly rocks in the in between. Earle's country roots are still with him, but it's the old side of country, not the new-country he flaunted in the 80's. Songs like "I Still Carry You Around" and especially "The Other Side of Town" sound like they could be 50 years old. And they're both really great songs.

The song with the Supersuckers is my favorite on this one, but that could simply be because I've heard it the most, or because the Supersuckers wall-of-guitar sound is easily identifiable and sweet to hear with Earle's vocals. Plus, the melody is catchy as shit, and the lyrics are dour but sung with an uplifting conviction that betrays (what I interpret to be) the intended tale of naivety behind the song.

Man, I really do like this record.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Eagles of Death Metal - Death By Sexy (CD, 2006)

The production is a little more refined on this record, but otherwise, things haven't changed much since the first one. Nothing wrong with that, as the songs are almost as good and they're careful to not let the attitude factor overtake the proceedings and let things get hokey.

The songs on this record aren't as initially catchy as the ones on the first album, but I've found that's actually a good thing, as after giving them some time to grow on me, they actually seem to be slightly more mature than the ones on their debut. Only slightly though, as a song like "I Got a Feelin (Just Nineteen)" seems like it could have been a leftover from the first record.

Really though, overanalyzing records from a band like this is missing the point completely. They're not the type of group that's going to eventually shed their signature sound in favor of a more experimental one. They bring the rock, the lyrics are always great, and it's better "party rock" (for lack of a better term) than anything else I would choose to listen to.

Nothing wrong with a good time.

"I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eagles of Death Metal - Peace Love Death Metal (LP, 2004)

In 2004, I read that Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age was drumming in a forthcoming side project. Coming from Homme, the "side project" thing didn't shock me. Dude's a busy man. The "drumming" thing struck me as a little odd. I was a big Queens fan at the time, so I was curious to hear what the hell he was doing.

The first time I heard the band was on late night TV, I think it was Conan, performing "Speaking in Tongues." It was weird to see Homme behind the drum kit. He was bulky at the time, his kit was tiny, and the sticks looked utterly tiny his meaty fists. He wasn't technically great, but he didn't need to be. He just pounded away as this slightly gay-seeming dude hammered out power chords and sang in a hiccup-y falsetto in front of him. Two girls with mustaches danced behind microphones but never seemed to actually sing anything. They had no bass player, but did have another guitar player. It was not what I expected. It was way better than what I expected.

So, I was in. I had taped the performance, kept watching it, and the song was jammed in my head. I went out and bought the album as soon as I could find it, and it got played a lot that summer. You could write it off as glammy garage rock or something, but it's more complex than it initially seems. Everything on this record is calculated, from the innuendos in the lyrics to the medium-quality production and recording. It rattles and feels raw, which fits perfectly with the entire vibe of the band. I wouldn't have thought I would love a song called "Whorehoppin' (Shit, Goddamn)," but I sure do.

I went to see the band at Dante's in Portland and the show was wild. It was the summer, it was packed, and it was a beer and sweat-soaked mess all the way through. That's fine, that's how it felt like it should be. Homme didn't play the drums; I think it was Joey Castillo. It was a bummer not to see "Baby Duck," but Castillo's performance juiced up the songs even more.

Yeah, this is a good one.

"I Only Want You"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dungeon Family - Even In Darkness (CD, 2001)

I don't know about anyone else, but I was pleasantly surprised these guys actually got their shit together to do this record. Not because they're lazy or incapable, but because there's a ton of 'em. The fact that's it's really, really good is just the icing on the ol' cake.

The beats here are a good mix of the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear on a Goodie Mob or Outkast record. They're not throwaways, either. This is prime shit, and this record is far from some one-off hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the 'Kast. These are hard beats and rough rhymes, with posse cuts galore. No weak links, nobody phoning it in. Some strong shit.

"Crooked Booty" is a great song, but when "Follow the Light" kicks in, you know you're in for it. How that song wasn't a huge hit, I'll never know. Big Boi slays his verse as usual, and Cee-Lo once again reminds us that he's just as strong when he's rapping as he is when he's singing. (I actually like him better when he's rapping.) I think "Trans DF Express" was the single, which strikes me as bit of an odd choice. It's a great song, but not as immediately catchy as "Follow the Light." Still, strong.

One of the other real gems here is "6 Minutes (Dungeon Family It's On)," a track that runs about nine rappers deep and reminds us, as if we needed it, that Big Boi is a pure bred stallion:

"HOT tub.. Bubbling like warm water call me, HOT tub
Cut your wife and daughter like a meat cleaver
We be the, Dungeon Family
Niggaz up under the step from A-T-L to overstand me
D-F, is the clique that I represent
Puffin purple, poppin poppers, spittin straight pimp shit"

It also reminds us that Big Rube is the only guy in rap who can pull off poetry without sounding like a cornball. I dig the shit out of that dude. And I dig the shit out of this record.

We don't have to talk about Bubba Sparxxx being on this thing, do we? No?


"Trans DF Express"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst (CD, 1996)

Kool Keith is a nut job.

Lucky for him, it's all a widely accepted part of his charm. Otherwise, phrases like "rectal rebuilding" and "space doo doo pistols" might seem rather off-putting. In this case, and as is often the case, it's all being spit out of the mouth of an alter ego, so it's not really like it's Keith saying it anyway - it's Dr. Octagon. I can't remember the entire back story (it's been a while since I listened to this one), but I think he's some sort of interplanetary obstetrician. You know, your run of the mill rap shit.

If the premise sounds iffy, it should. Ostensibly, it's a pretty retarded idea. The beauty of this record is the amount of sheer lyricism that Keith pulls out of the woodwork for the subject matter. That, and Dan the Automator's swizzity beats. Kool Keith is all over the map, stringing non sequiturs together at some points, telling linear stories in others.

It's madness, but it's also strangely compelling. This is my favorite Kool Keith record, but there's a bunch I haven't heard. So really, I don't know what I'm talking about.

But I do know this is some spaced-out dope shit.

"Blue Flowers"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dr. Dre - 2001 (2xLP, 1999)

We can all act like this album is as good as the original Chronic, but it's not. It's still really great, and that's impressive enough. So, and pardon the pun, what's the difference?

Too many dudes. Too many guest spots from guys who just sound like dudes. Six-Two and Hittman shouldn't have been on this record. They're fine rappers, but on a song like "Xxplosive," next to Kurupt, they're outranked. Really, that's been my only ongoing beef with this record. Otherwise, aside from a little bit of filler and a few tracks that don't completely resonate, it's a damn fine album.

Dre's production is flawless as always, and I think while most people focus on his beatmaking skills, they forget the other part of his producer role that is integral: his ability to get great performances out of people. Snoop without Dre never sounds as good as Snoop with Dre. Same with Nate Dogg. He reins in their bullshit, cuts out the fat, and makes them as good as they really are. "Still D.R.E." was Snoop Dogg sounding like Snoop Doggy Dogg again. Finally. And "What's the Difference" is one of the best collabo cuts of the 90's, easy. Eminem's verse on that song is just way too good.

Daz is conspicuously absent, but Kurupt comes back and proves he's still got it. I was excited to see MC Ren's name on the track listing, but his guest spot is disappointing, though not his fault. It's a crowded record, and by the time you're into the 20's in the song count, it starts to feel long. But fuck it, it's Dre, and you knew he wouldn't put out another album for a long time.

And he hasn't.

"What's the Difference"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

200th Post: A Quick Assessment.

Holy crap. I'm 200 posts into this mad experiment already. And I have to say, this has been an exercise. But, it's been fun, too. And it's far from over.

So, what do we know?

Well, I'm almost through the D's, which is the fourth letter of the alphabet, putting us roughly one sixth/one seventh of the way through (or about 15%, if my math isn't too screwy), at least alphabetically. So, at this rate, if these trends continue, I've got about 1100 albums left to do, which would take me almost exactly three more years.


The breakdown so far (check the tags on the right for reference):

CDs are leading vinyl 116-84. That sounds about right, though I think vinyl will make up some ground as we move forward.

Top Genres: 90's rock is in the lead, followed closely by 90's hip hop, with 2000's rock and 2000's hip hop tied for third. That also seems about right.

80's Pop: not making a strong showing.

So, really, no big surprises so far.

I press on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dr. Dre - The Chronic (LP, 1992)

I remember being at the mall, Christmas shopping with my girlfriend in December of 1992. We stopped by Musicland, and while I was randomly flipping through the rap section, I came across The Chronic. I had been a long time fan of NWA, and while I knew they broke up, I had no idea Dre had a new solo record out. I, as the kids say, "copped that shit."

I put the cassette (yeah, that's right) in my girlfriend's tape deck on the way home, and was instantly confused. There was some dude I had never heard before (Snoop) just railing into Eazy-E, Tim Dog, and even Luke. Clearly there was some new shit going on. I spent some quality time with the tape for the next month or two, and when I saw the "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" video on MTV one day after school, I was surprised, but not shocked. The album was too good to not hit the mainstream.

So, like most teenage kids at the time, the album became one of my soundtracks for life in 1993. It was played at parties, always played if people were smoking grass anywhere, and it was all over MTV. And it should have been: it's that good.

Dre's introduction of a new cast of characters, a new label, a new style of music, not to mention the very timely embracing of the resurgence in popularity of marijuana smoking, couldn't have come at a better time. West Coast hip hop, and hip hop in general, was starting to slip a tiny bit. Dre brought it all back, creating songs that flowed by themselves, but especially in the context of the album.

Snoop Doggy Dogg was the most exciting rapper to come out in years, and his initial awkwardness just endeared him to us more. Daz and Kurupt were perfect as his hard-flexing cronies, and RBX and Rage were solid bit players at opposite ends of the spectrum.

This is one of those records that will always be on any "Best of the 90's" list anyone comes up with, as well as being one of the most important and influential rap records in history. You'd still be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn't know the first few lines to "G Thang."

"Let Me Ride"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stallion Alert! - Paul Rothchild

Not a big enough picture, but what can you do. Paul Rothchild's on the left, there, taking a break from recording and hanging with Jim Morrison.

Rothchild, while mentioned quite a bit in conversations that really dissect the music of The Doors, doesn't, in my opinion, get quite enough credit. He produced all of their records, aside from LA Woman (Which he walked away from), and was really the fifth member of the band. The man initially reigned in the musicians, eventually (and quite quickly) crafted The Doors' sound, and made their records much better than they ever would have been without him. And this was in the days of four track recording.

Best of all, when he felt the band was losing it, he told them to eat it, and hit the road. A bold move.

He passed away in 1995, but if you look real close you can catch him in The Doors film, and you can read a super informative (Doors nerds get ready!) interview with him from 1981 here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Doors - Golden Album (LP, 1968)

I'm doing this one out of chronological order because it's a crazy oddity, and I'm not sure of the date on it.

This is another one of those weird Japanese bootlegs my dad picked up in Hong Kong during the Vietnam War. The cover says "Golden Album" on it, but the LP itself says "Golden Doors." I've been trying to find original copies of this online, and all I can come up with are versions like this one, where it's a 5-song, 33rpm 7". The one I have is a full album on a 12", and it's comprised solely of songs from the first three Doors LPs (hence the 1968 date I'm estimating).

So, not much to say about the music, though I guess it could have been a slightly more listener-friendly best-of. "The End" closes side one, "When the Music's Over" closes side two, and there's five songs on each side other than those. They're not in any sort of discernible order, but there's no glaring omissions, with the possible exception of "Moonlight Drive," which could have replaced "Back Door Man" as a more "radio" type song. Other than that, all the hits are here.

Semi-comical misspellings on the LP labels:

"Hellow I Love You"
"The Unknow Soldier"
"Ligeht My Fire"

And, from the lyrics to "The Crystal Ship" on the back, where the original line is "I'll drop a line": "I'll trap a ride."

Good stuff.

"The Crystal Ship"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Doors - An American Prayer (1995 Remastered Edition) (CD, 1978/1995)

I was stupid to not have purchased this in its original version when I was really into The Doors, because I would have loved it. As it is, I have the extended version, many years past my Doors prime. It's 23 tracks of Morrison's poetry, Doors music from both the Morrison and post-Morrison eras, and it's a lot to take in.

For hardcore fans, it's a good one. For the casual listener, there's going to be plenty of filler. It's really a weird mix: chopped up versions of previously released Door songs with added material, audio from Morrison's bizarre HWY film, and a strangely placed live version of "Roadhouse Blues."

Some of the better tracks ended up being used in Oliver Stone's The Doors film, and they worked really well. "Ghost Song" is one of these, and if you can get past the disco-y sound of the backing track, it flows really well. Same with "A Feast of Friends." But some of it is awkward and forced, almost working but not quite getting there.

It also stinks a bit of the surviving Doors sucking the last little bit they could get out of Morrison, which is problematic. As with any posthumous recording, the source material is varied, and it leaves a lot of the songs sounding choppy. It's also clear there was extensive editing of a lot of the spoken stuff, and you start to wonder if it's been cheapened a bit by the whole process. Like I said, as a youngster, I would have loved this. Any insight into the inner workings of Jim Morrison, and any unreleased material of his would have been intriguing to me. As I listen to it now, I still find it interesting, but the flow of the thing seems iffy, and hearing the surviving members recreating a section of "The End" for "Hour for Magic" just strikes me as lame.

It's a fine line: hardcore fans might eat it up, but purists might have some serious qualms with it. I'm still on the fence, I guess.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Doors - L.A. Woman (CD, 1971)

The Doors' final studio album with Jim Morrison is a solid one, though, like The Soft Parade, it stands out as veering off the beaten path of the instantly recognizable "Doors Sound." It sounds a little like Morrison Hotel, but even more bluesy, and the absence of Paul Rothchild as producer means the music just sounds different. Bottom line: songs from this record fit in a lot better on classic rock radio than most of their previous output.

"The Changeling" is, other than maybe the title track, the best song on this record, and I've never been able to decide if they were wise to put it first or if they were dumb to blow their load so early on. I can't deny that it's a great opener, a fast song with Morrison sounding enthused (though his voice sounds deep and ravaged throughout most of the record), and well he should be. This is a sweet, and somehow not incredibly popular Doors song.

"Love Her Madly" is a fine song, and it's this track specifically that I should point to when talking about The Doors being played on classic rock radio. This one's a staple. The piano's catchy, the song is succinct, but Morrison sounds positively bored throughout and I sort of lost interest in it at some point. But, if it's worth anything, I used to love it.

"Been Down So Long" is a chugging and charging blues number, notable only because it's too long and Morrison sounds like absolute shit on it. I hate to say it, but I have a really low tolerance for the "I'm an old blues man" dickery he wallowed in towards the end of his life. It's self-indulgent and obvious, especially coming from a guy who wrote such great lyrics. Doing it live is one thing, taking up 15 minutes of a record with it is lazy.

"Cars Hiss By My Window" - see above.

"L.A. Woman" is one of the last truly great Doors songs, a sprawling ode to the city that shows Morrison still had plenty left in him (making the above songs even more frustrating). Clocking in at almost eight minutes, this track has never felt long to me, and that's a sure sign of a great song. The "Mr. Mojo Risin'" thing might be a little too much for some people, and I get that, but I think it's pretty sweet. Also sweet: "Motel, money, murder madness/ Let's turn the mood from glad to sadness."

"L'america" still strikes me as the single weirdest Doors song. As a Doors-obsessed teen, it took me a long time to get on board with this one. Once I did, I loved it. Still do. But the composition is initially jarring, as it sounds backwards or something. L'america was a running theme in some of Morrison's poetry, but I can't remember much about the significance. Morrison sounds fucking sweet on this song.

"Hyacinth House" is a much-needed breather from the rock, a simple but really beautiful song that is sad in retrospect, but you never know how much of the words were autobiographical. I always forget how much I love this song, but when I hear it, it comes right back to me. I listened to the shit out of this one when I was 14.

"Crawling King Snake" is not only another blues number, but a cover, even, and it stands alone as the worst and most unnecessary Doors album track.

"The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" is another song, like the title track, that features Morrison getting hit shit together and making the track really work. Once this one gets going (after the spoken word section), it is really damn good.

"Riders on the Storm" wouldn't be my choice for the last song on the last Doors album, but it certainly works. I've grown a little weary of this one over the years, but I can readily admit that the haunting melody and the rain/thunder thing are both fantastic. And at least Morrison goes out sounding like himself, with some great lyrics. "His brain is squirming like a toad" is a great, great line.

Not my favorite Doors album by any means, but this one still sticks with me through the years. I just skip the blues numbers because I'm lame like that.

"Hyacinth House"

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Doors - Morrison Hotel (CD, LP, 1970)

Is it utterly cosmic that we're covering my favorite Doors album on what would be Jim Morrison's 65th birthday? Nah, it's just coincidence, but I'll take it.

Morrison Hotel is The Doors returning to form in a huge way, ditching the horns and strings of The Soft Parade (not that there was anything wrong with that one-time dalliance) and getting back to the unfettered rock. They sound certifiably huge on this record, and right out the gate, Morrison sounds unrestrained and positively enthused. Maybe it's because he wrote the majority of the songs on this one, maybe it's because they're inching closer to the blues-based rock he had such a hard-on for at the time. Whatever the underlying cause, it adds up to the band at their peak, even as Morrison was headed fast down the crapper. Check his bloated mug on the cover and you can see he's gone to the bad place. Hard to believe this was only three years after their debut.

The songs on this one are all fantastic. Let's do it:

"Roadhouse Blues," a song I've heard way too many times but still hold some affection for, comes chugging right out the gate with Krieger's deep guitar plunking and Morrison bellowing like he really means it. And really, the "woke up this morning and got myself a beer" line is fucking fabulous any way you shake it. So are Morrison's ad-libbed scats in the bridge.

"Waiting for the Sun," a song you would have figured to appear on the album of the same name, apparently didn't get the finishing touches until two years later. Whatever, it fits in perfectly here, with Krieger's guitar loping and fiddling over Morrison's strong-as-shit vocals. "This is the strangest life I've ever known" = an awesome way to sum up Morrison's travails at the time, and a perfect line for this song.

"You Make Me Real" is a rolling piano frolic that features Morrison sounding better that ever, though he does sound a bit drunk as well. The way he slurs "Let me slide into your tender sunken sea" works perfectly, especially when punctuated by the almost knee-jerk sounding squeal he lets out right afterward. I never grow tired of this song.

"Peace Frog" would easily make my top ten list of best Doors songs, if not my top five. It's one of the only Doors songs with Morrison's vocals divided in a way that he sounds like he singing along with himself, and when it's stacked on top of Krieger's guitar line with the rare use of the wah-wah, it's just unstoppable. When it vamps at the end and Morrison starts crying out and rides it to the end, it just works in every way. And the lyrics are sweet, especially when the title has nothing to do with them.

"Blue Sunday" is the second half of "Peace Frog" in that they're joined by a bass line that never stops, but otherwise the songs don't seem to have anything to do with each other. This is a straightforward love song, and they wisely keep it short, adding to its effect. Morrison sounds sober and sincere, and it works well.

I think I heard Ray Manzarek once refer to "Ship of Fools" as one of the first "Ecology Rock" songs, and though that may stake too much claim in his Morrison-as-prophet tendencies, there seems to be some truth to it. "Smog gon' get you pretty soon...," etc. In the end, it's just a damn fun song.

Putting "Land Ho!" right next to it makes perfect sense (though on the LP they're separated by being on different sides of the record), because they sound a lot alike, and the aquatic-themed lyrics link them as well. This one is fun too, sounding celebratory and driving continuously towards a big finish that starts once Morrison yells out the title. This is Morrison beginning his big lean towards blues-base structures for lyrics, too.

"The Spy" is a slow groove, and though the lyrics are standard Morrison fare, they match perfectly with the creeping lull of the track. This one too, is bluesy.

"Queen of the Highway," though a tad bit too transparently autobiographical for my taste, is a great song. There's not really a discernible chorus, and the band just keeps pushing ahead, while diverging into some solid breakdowns. It's a rocker.

"Indian Summer," I found out fairly recently, was an old Doors composition, resurrected here and given proper treatment. I love this little song, though it's quite simple. It's short, but Krieger does some great stuff with it and Morrison sounds strikingly lucid.

"Maggie M'Gill" is, other than the shoe-in "Peace Frog," the best song on this record. Morrison sounds possessed, and Krieger breaks out the slide and goes ballistic. Morrison's lyrics are rife with tragedy (shocking), and though the blues influence is there, the real strength is just in the layers of gritty guitar and Manzarek's rolling bassline. There could not be a better closer for this record.

So yeah, I could really make a case for any Doors album being their best one, but I've always been pretty confident in this one being my favorite. It's a somewhat disconnected batch of songs that work really well when they keep coming one after another. And ol' Jimmy really sounds like he means it.

"Land Ho!"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Doors - The Soft Parade (CD, 1969)

Definitely the oddball in The Doors' catalog, this record is a diversion for a few reasons: First, the arrangements are noticeably larger, with horns and strings playing a big part in the majority of the tracks. Second, Morrison's songwriting credits are fewer here than on any other record, with Krieger stepping up and delivering some really strong numbers.

So, you would think the album might be uneven and, given Krieger's past output, a bit sappy. Not the case. This is a divisive record for sure, with many people not agreeing with the switch from the group's signature sound. I find it incredibly compelling, a record that should stand alone, proudly, as some of The Doors' more experimental material, as well as providing some of their most memorable songs. Here we go:

"Tell All the People" makes it clear right off the bat: this is not The Doors you have come to know and love. The horns are big, the progression is very Manzarek-less (though you can hear his piano), and Morrison is aided by big background vocals for the first time. Compared to their previous work, this sounds absolutely huge. For me, it works.

"Touch Me" has never been one of my favorite Doors songs. I don't really care for the lyrics, and the arrangement is almost too much on this one. You can see what they were going for, and they nailed it, but the lyrics are some of the most cliched ones in the history of the band. Knowing that is was originally titled "Hit Me" makes it a little more interesting, but not much.

"Shaman's Blues" is the first Morrison composition on the record, and the musicians are pared down considerably from the first two tracks. It's got a terrific haunting groove, and lyrics that work perfectly with the vibe of the song. Morrison's ad-libs at the end are also a lot of fun ("Optical promise" was always a favorite of mine).

"Do It" is the one song on the record credited to both Morrison and Krieger, and it does sound like a solid mix of the two. The song is dark but intricate with the changes, and the lyrics, while fairly simple, seems to have some sort of ulterior motives that add some mystery to the song. It couples nicely with "Shaman's Blues."

"Easy Ride" was a song that I initially hated when I was young. It sounded like The Doors at a ho-down, and I hated to hear this peppy and jangly side of them. I've learned to love the song, especially the lyrics. This is Morrison in juxtaposition mode, singing about masks and black polished stone, over a standard country-ish groove. It's a lot cooler than I ever gave it credit for.

"Wild Child" is back to the pure Doors sound, seeming like it was left over from their previous record. This is ragged Morrison, sounding probably drunk and mostly crazy. He speaks softly in the bridge and then absolutely yelps at the end. It's a good one.

"Runnin' Blue" is, other than the undeniable title track, probably my favorite song on this record. The chorus is a little flighty, but it has some of the most powerful verse sections they ever laid down. And Krieger's guitar work, though overshadowed a bit by the wild sax, is fucking sweet. And, clearly, it's an ode to Otis Redding, which is doubly sweet.

"Wishful, Sinful" reminds me a lot of "Yes, The River Knows," though it's even more over the top, and even better. The buildup in this song is constructed perfectly, and when it peaks, the chorus really works, even though Morrison sounds noticeably haggard in sections. They really open up the arrangement on this one, so it can be a lot to handle, but I like it. It just sounds very Soft Parade.

"The Soft Parade" is a beast, a song that jumps between tempos and styles while still maintaining a cohesive feel. To me, this is Morrison close to his peak, lyrically and melodically. There is no other way this record could have been closed as effectively. When he sings the "Welcome to the Soft Parade" lyric in the middle of this track, it gives me the good shivers. And I always thought the "Successful hills are here to stay" was a great line.

This was, for a long time, my favorite Doors record. But, when it comes down to it, I think I have to give it up to the next one...

"The Soft Parade"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Doors - Waiting For The Sun (CD, LP, 1968)

Once you get past the first two songs on this one, it's flawless. I think some folks may not consider this one of the Doors' stronger albums, but that's tough to back up. The only real beef most Doors fans have with this one is that is was supposed to include the oft-fabled "Celebration of the Lizard," and instead you get one small part of it and the lyrics on the inside, which is just a tease. Sure, it would eventually show up on "Absolutely Live," but we never got a proper studio version. Anywho, I love the shit out of this record. I have listened to the second side of this one more times than I care to admit. Let's do it:

"Hello I Love You" is a strong candidate for worst Doors song. It sounds like nothing the band had ever done previously or would ever do again. On certain bootlegs you can hear Manzarek singing it because Morrison refused. And he was the one who wrote it. Yikes.

"Love Street" is a fine song, I guess, but I've never liked it. It seems lazy, and I always thought the lyrics were pretty weak for a Morrison composition. And the piano part makes the entire vibe just way too happy. Though it doesn't end up being a particularly happy song, but that "so far" tacked on at the end always struck me as obvious and corny.

"Not to Touch the Earth" gets us back into Doors-worthy quality. This is the only piece of "Celebration of the Lizard" offered here, and if this is all we get, it's much better than nothing. Manzarek's keyboards are steady and somehow manage to sound insane, and Krieger mirrors it with nutty guitar work that pluck and hammers and works perfectly. The breaks are many, and when they kick back in, the force increases every time. I've never grown sick of this tune.

"Summer's Almost Gone" is an old song, one that shows up in much worse form on some of their early demo recordings. Maybe this seems lackluster to some folks, but I've always really liked the layered pianos and Morrison's easy but sincere approach to the vocals.

It's followed (sensibly, I suppose) by "Wintertime Love," a song that I had a hard time getting into in my youth because I was obsessed with the darker material. I don't want to look it up right now, but this has got to be a Krieger composition. The lyrics are way too basic and the melody way too lilting. Still, it's nice and short, and Morrison fills it out well with deeper register in his crystal clear vocals.

"The Unknown Soldier" wraps up the first side. It's a cool idea, and really a pretty great song, but I'm not a huge fan of this song anymore. Seeing them do it live (on VHS) was a hoot for me when I was a kid, but now I just look forward to the throttling vamp at the end, and often don't have the patience to wait for it.

"Spanish Caravan" begins the second side, and it's a song that blew my mind when I was young. It did nothing less than convince me that Krieger was a full-blown guitar virtuoso, a man who could handle any style of music. He still sounds great on it, and so does Morrison. A really odd and fantastic song for them.

I could see people pegging "My Wild Love" as being self-indulgent and sort of indicative of Morrison's shamanistic obsessions, but I've never thought of it that way. I think the lyrics are great, the backing tracks are well thought out and reflective of the vibe of the tune, and the "she screams like a bird" line is fucking fantastic. Love it.

"We Could Be So Good Together" is a little "Hello I Love You" sounding, but it's better. Not the group's strongest composition, but I never skip it. It fits in great on what, as I've said, I consider a strong side two. Krieger goes a little nuts on his solo and you don't really see it coming.

"Yes, The River Knows" is about the most delicate song the band ever did. I could see some people being turned off by the lite-ness of it all, but I'm pretty sure it's, in the end, about drowning. And I think the melody is strong as shit.

When I read that Jim Morrison was falling-down drunk when the group recorded this song, it all made a lot more sense to me. Rarely has he sounded so out of his mind on a studio recording. It makes for a great song, and, particularly in the second verse, his slurring just adds to the build of the eventual chaos. I always think I'm getting sick of this song, then I listen to it and realize I think it's fantastic. Morrison's rambling at the beginning and the end are priceless.

"See, I've got to go out in this car with these people and..."

"Not To Touch The Earth"

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Doors - Strange Days (CD, 1967)

Ah, the days when a band would release their sophomore album nine months after their debut. Truly a great time to have been a music fan. Or so I imagine.

Though this album contains song that didn't make the cut on the first one, it's by no means a glorified b-sides compilation rushed out to capitalize on the success of "Light My Fire." Strange Days is an album unto itself, and quite a good one. It makes for a great companion to their debut, a sort of extended introduction to the band. Let's break 'er down:

"Strange Days" is the group at their most psychedelic, one of the only songs that features their instruments muddying together and not really working as separate, distinct parts. It sounds a little crowded as a result, but the lyrics are great and it's a good one to kick the album off with.

"You're Lost Little Girl" is a sullen and ostensibly sensitive song, though Morrison's lyrics seem almost sarcastic in a way. Maybe that's just me being pessimistic. Krieger's guitar solo is fantastic.

I always forget that "Love Me Two Times" is from this record. For some reason I always picture it being later in their career. This is a fine song, though not one of my favorites in the Doors catalog. Maybe I've heard it too many times. Or maybe the lyrics seem a bit trite to me. Odd for its very bass-y sounding bass.

"Unhappy Girl" is easily the Doors' album track that I've listened to the least in my life. It never made it onto any random collections or best-ofs (which I hit pretty hard in my youth), and it's one of those songs that is so short and so unmemorable that I guess it just got lost in the shuffle for me. The only song of theirs I can say that about, and the only song on this record that does sound like a b-side.

"Horse Latitudes" is awesome just for how bold it was for them to record it and put it on an album in the first place. It's short enough to not seem intrusive, and whatever they did to get those sounds is pretty sweet. The screams at the end that fade out are still enough to creep me out.

"Moonlight Drive" will always be remembered as the song Morrison sang to Manzarek on the beach that one fateful afternoon, but it should also be praised for being a great pop song with bizarre lyrics that meld perfectly with the eeriness of Krieger's slide guitar. I have always really loved this track.

"People Are Strange" keeps with the "strange" theme of the album, I suppose, and my only beef with it has always been that it's too short. It's a great song with a really striking melody, and I always thought they should have drawn it out a little bit more. At just over two minutes, it comes and goes really quick. Oh, how a teenage boy can convince himself he identifies with these lyrics perfectly...

"My Eyes Have Seen You" reminds me a bit of some of the more lackluster tracks on the first record, but when it picks up steam, it becomes a strangely forceful little number. Listen to it on headphones and you can really hear how much weird shit Krieger it doing to add depth to the relatively simple verses.

"I Can't See Your Face In My Mind" has always been a great Doors mixtape song for me, and I think it still would be. The meaning of the song is a little hazy, the lyrics get dark and then nicely confusing, and Morrison sounds sublimely tired during the whole thing. Great song that wouldn't have worked as well on any other album.

"When the Music's Over" always get compared to "The End," and while they're similar in length and their middle sections both have what seems to be stretched sections of Morrison free-wheeling it, the songs are quite different. This one is much brighter from the beginning, and it maintains a somewhat celebratory (or at least revolutionary) air throughout. The build-up in the middle ("We want the world...") is semi-legendary, and with good reason. This was expanded in their live sets, and the anticipation that it brought out of the crowd was something that was filled with a great sort of nervousness. And, if you need a song to close a set with, this is a good one. I've never had a problem listening to this one all the way through, as it is filled with wisely placed peaks and valleys that make sure the song keeps moving.

So, yes, another great one. I always love listening to the Doors in headphones. Their early recordings utilize very few tracks, and it's fun to hear what each one of them is doing.

"I Can't See Your Face In My Mind"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Doors - The Doors (LP, CD, 1967)

I mentioned in my Beatles Hey Jude post that there were three LPs that shaped the way I initially viewed rock music from an early age. This is the second one we're getting to, and it's arguably the most important, definitely the most influential.

I need to preface our run through the superb Doors catalog with some candid asides:

First off, I love The Doors. If you're one of those people who hates them, that's fine. It's none of my business. But admit it in conversation, and you risk some silent but harsh judgment from me as I try to decide if you're lazy or just stupid.

Second, my early teenage years were spent absolutely immersed in this band. It was the only music that really mattered to me. I listened to plenty of other shit, but The Doors and Jim Morrison were always placed on their own pedestal. I found out later I wasn't alone in this; in fact, it's a pretty common rite of passage. But when you're into The Doors, you feel like nobody ever "got it" like you did.

Third, I am unrelenting on my opinions of this band. Prepare for me to praise all of their albums way too much.

Fourth, I am not sure if I have a copy of Absolutely Live on CD or LP. That could be a problem. I'll see if I can get one before we come to it. I may just write about it anyway. You have no way of knowing what I actually own.

Also, please watch this for reference. Alright.

The Doors' eponymous debut is a legendary record, one of the most celebrated LPs of the 60's, and with good reason. You already know all there is to know about "Light My Fire," so we'll mostly skip that. The depth in this record is in the songs that surrounded it. Fuck it. Let's track-by-track it.

"Break on Through (To the Other Side)" was strangely released as the band's first single, and though it's a tremendous track, I'm not sure who thought it would have hit potential. It's still a great song, and if you listen to any of the live stuff from later in their career, it's really interesting to see how the song evolved into a more groove-oriented number.

"Soul Kitchen" has always been, for my money, one of the most underrated Doors songs. (Not that it doesn't get recognized plenty, it's just often overshadowed.) The lyrics are fantastic: "Your fingers weave quick minarets/Speak in secret alphabets/I light another cigarette/Learn to forget." And, it's a great example of how vital Ray Manzarek was to this band.

It's between that one and "The Crystal Ship" for my favorite song on this record. Most days, I think I'd have to give the nod to "The Crystal Ship." It's classic Doors eeriness, coupled with lyrics that used to haunt me in my sleep. And the melody is much more complicated than it seems. A really smart song.

"Twentieth Century Fox" has actually grown on me over time. It seemed like filler and very "un-Doors-like" to me for a long time, but I realized I was hung up on what seemed like corny wordplay in the chorus. The lyrics aren't mind-blowing, considering what Morrison was capable of, but it's a solid song.

"Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" is fun the first three thousand times you hear it. I finally sort of grew tired of it a few years ago. An interesting song to cover, but sort of an odd one out in the Doors catalog. I guess I prefer their original material...

"Light My Fire" is the song most often associated with the band, and I've just heard it way too many times. I could hum all the solos for you in the long version. So, that's sad, I suppose.

"Back Door Man" is another cover, but Morrison's guttural growling on it made it seem like a real Doors song. Feeding off the obvious sexual connotations, this is a song that showed the Doors really working as musicians, building to precipice and letting Morrison just wail it out to relieve the pressure. I never tire of this one.

"I Looked At You" is a song that I always pictured the band writing in haste to appease some label guy who was looking for something for the teenybopper set. This song is only notable for being the Doors' laziest composition. But it's short.

"End of the Night" is a dark creeper, a song that features Morrison in full-on prose mode. It's structurally strange as well, never really deciding on a proper chorus or verse. The lyrics are great, and if you pay close attention to what Robby Krieger's doing on the guitar, it's impressive.

"Take It As It Comes" is almost in the same league as "I Looked At You," but it gives the musicians more room to spread out and ends up being a stronger song. The lyrics are a bit generic for my taste, and the "specialize in having fun" line always struck me as awkward at best.

I bet I wasn't even ten the first time I heard "The End." I had no idea what the hell was happening, and probably was wondering why the song was so damn long. I've learned to love this song, and I don't know what it is, but I've always felt this was one of Morrison's standout vocal performances. When he comes in in the beginning, he just sounds flawless. People love to clown this song, and that's fine, but if you consider the year this came out, the content and length of the song, and the fact that people reference every line from it, you have to admit it's an indelible performance. I also think it's some of John Densmore's best work, and a bold way to end a debut album.

If you're 17, get stoned and listen to this on headphones. Really, you owe it to yourself.

"Break On Through (To The Other Side)"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner (CD, 2003)

Sometimes I just have to hear what all the hubbub is about.

So it went with Dizzee Rascal, the undisputed buzz champ of '03. I had to see if this 18 year old kid could really live up to the hype. Did he? For me, not really. Don't get me wrong, this is a great record, and a quite original one at that. But, come on, chopping up Billy Squier's "The Big Beat" is nothing new. And really, some of the beats here, while cool sounding at first, are just too sparse to have a really lasting effect.

What Dizzee's got going for him is a great voice and an outstanding knack for abstract rhythm that solely drives the majority of these cuts. Songs like "Hold Ya Mouf" and "Jus' A Rascal" wouldn't be shit without him going fucking tongue-twisty nuts all over the top of 'em. So, the kid's not to be written off. Would people love him as much if he didn't have that dope voice coupled with that thick-as-shit accent? Maybe, but it'd be a tougher sell.

I still listen to this record, and I still enjoy it. Do I ever rock it from front to back anymore? Not bloody likely.

"I Luv U"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy - Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury (CD, 1992)

This is another one of those discs that I always wanted to buy when I was a teenager, but never got around to picking up till about 15 years later.

I've been listening to it on and off for the last year, always wondering what I would have thought had I owned it when I was 16. Well, first, here's the deal with the Heroes: Michael Franti, who everyone mostly knows from Spearhead, fronted this group which, as you can probably tell, has some statements to make. Nothing wrong with that. Labeling the music as strictly hip hop wouldn't be completely accurate, because Franti isn't a rapper in the traditional sense, and the beats aren't typical hip hop, especially by 1992 standards. The music is dense and drum heavy, and it seems to be a mix of samples and actual players.

Franti often comes off as a more laid back Chuck D, choosing a spoken word approach to convey his concerns, of which he has many. It's cool for a while, but when you listen to three six minute-plus songs in a row, all describing how fucked up the nation is, it can get tedious. Franti is compelling in what he says, but his ability to gel with the tracks is sometimes questionable.

This is a great example of one of those records that's always going to be a darling with the critics (that's what initially piqued my interest in '92), but will have a problem connecting with a wide audience because there's rarely a break from the deadly serious subject matter. And songs like the slow and repetitive (and eight minute long) "The Winter of the Long Hot Summer" are hard to get with. It's well done, but at some point you have to draw the overkill line.

So, would I have liked it in my youth? I'll say this: I probably would have been much more willing to give it a fair shake. The subjects would have been more topical, the beats would have been much more mind-blowing (they're still great), and I was strapped for cash back then, so anything I bought got listened to quite a bit.

Would I have told people I loved it? You bet I would have.

"Language of Violence"

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Went to a Show (cont.): Supersuckers 20th Anniversary Show (November 29th, 2008 - Seattle, WA)

A few more notes on the Supersuckers show this last Saturday, and some addressing of Biff's comments:

The origins of "Seventeen Poles": Eddie prefaced the song by saying roughly this: When they were teenagers in Tucson, there was a party spot they would go to. It was on the outskirts of the East side of town, and once they passed a certain intersection, they would count seventeen telephone poles, then hang a left. This was where they did their drinkin'.

Mention of Dancing Eagle: None. Eddie did, however, mention at one point that Ron had been "in and out of the band a couple times." Not surprising: no mention of Mr. Rick Sims.

Other notable banter by Eddie: He mentioned a few times that it only took them twenty years to sell out the Showbox, and he punctuated that thought by saying that they told him he couldn't do it this time around, and he proved 'em wrong. A nice little victory for the band, no matter how long it took, I suppose. He seemed happy as shit about it. If we know anything, we know that Eddie enjoys the adoration of the crowd, and he was basking in it.

In possibly the most sincere moment in the onstage history of the band, Eddie paused towards the end of the show and gave a warm thank you to the band, who he said had literally given him his life, his family, and everything he has. Bolton gave a sarcastic "Aw, shucks," which effectively killed the moment. Eddie then thanked the fans humbly before they got back to business.

Early in the set, he said that to the best of their recollection, their first practice was in December of '88, which made this an almost precise 20th anniversary. Being a fan of accuracy, I thought this was pretty sweet.

Belligerent screaming requests for "Dead Homiez" by me: Sadly, none. Though I did hold up a middle finger during "Born With A Tail," which I haven't done since '01.

Typical shirtless moshing drunk dipshit rookie Supersuckers fan quotient: High, but I've seen higher. I only spotted one asshole with his shirt off, and I only got slammed into hard about three times. I did, however, get hit in the head with a hat that was flung into the air by a slam-dancing choadwad. I also almost got hit with a drumstick thrown by Zeke's fat shitty drummer. I dodged it, while also trying to make it crystal clear that I was not the least bit interested in catching it. Kept my arms folded.

Eddie's resemblance to James Hetfield: How dare you.

Holy shit, somebody's already posted video of the show:

"Tasty Greens"

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Went to a Show: Supersuckers 20th Anniversary Show (November 29th, 2008 - Seattle, WA)

I first saw the Supersuckers in 1991, when they were opening for Gas Huffer at the Keizer Lions Hall, right outside of Salem. I was in high school, quickly becoming obsessed with the burgeoning NW rock scene, and as wide-eyed as they came. From the first time I heard the band blaze through all 35 seconds of "I Say Fuck," I was hooked. I went out and scooped up all the 7"s I could find by the group, and made a point to see them whenever and wherever I could. Songs like "Ron's Got the Cocaine" and "Retarded Bill" spoke to me in a way that I wasn't sure was right. But these four dudes reeked of rock, and I liked it.

What they didn't reek of was a band who would stay together for two decades, release countless records, and become an ongoing part of my life that is really only trumped at this point by immediate family and a few of my closest friends. I've been listening to the Supersuckers four times longer than I've known the girl I'm getting married to. In an era when bands break up routinely, this is a big deal. The Supersuckers are, for me, a constant.

So, when they announced they were doing a 20th anniversary show (they formed in Tucson in '88), I knew I had to be there. I asked the old lady to accompany me, she agreed, I got us a couple of tickets, and when the time came, we hit the road for the three hour drive to Seattle. We got there on Friday night (the day before the show) and at some point she mentioned that the band was doing a "signing" at a record store in town during the day on Saturday. I, being an idiot, had missed this post on their website. When we got to our hotel, I hopped on the ol' laptop and gave it a look. Sure enough, they were scheduled for an in-store at Sonic Boom records at 2:30 the day of the show.

We drove over to Market St. Saturday morning, dicked around for a while, and eventually saw the band's van and trailer pull up. The dudes in Sonic Boom set up their stage, and pretty soon, the Supersuckers were up and semi-rocking.
As you can see, they're utilizing a sort of stripped-down setup. Dan "The Steak" Bolton, usually guitar player stage left, was playing bass here while Eddie Spaghetti handled the acoustic. They did a few songs from the Must've Been High record ("Roamin' Round," "Roadworn and Weary"), "Good Livin'," "Creepy Jackalope Eye," "Born With A Tail," and "Breakin' Honey's Heart," which is from their new album. There may have been a few others. Pretty short set, but great to see them in a tiny little record store. There were probably about 40 other people there, so it wasn't too crowded. Eddie introduced his mom, who was standing right next to us. There were video cameras everywhere, too. Maybe we'll be on the next DVD.

After their set I picked up the Live in Orange County DVD/CD, planning to have the band sign it, but when I purchased it, they gave me a Get It Together poster, so I had the band sign that instead. Rontrose Heathman chatted with me briefly, and when I told him I was from Portland, he reminded me that they're playing a New Year's Eve show at Dante's. Yeah, I'll probably be going to that. I wanted to talk to Dan Bolton, Age 40, more than I got to. But he was really nice about signing my poster. Yup, when it comes to the Supersuckers, I am a fanboy. Eddie was drinking a Corona and talking with some folks, but he was happy to hear that I was coming to the show later that evening. Scott Churilla, the only guy in the group who's not an original member, had the pleasure of getting cornered on the sidewalk by me for his signature. He was cordial. Fanboy plan complete.

We made it to the Showbox a little before 8, and I'm glad we did. The show was sold out, and there was a line curling around the block of people waiting to get in. The doors hadn't opened yet. We got stuck next to to 22 year old fuckwads in line who wouldn't shut their holes about partying and giving the band drugs, you know, all that cool shit. I managed to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, we finally got let in a little after 8 and the show commenced shortly thereafter.

Gerald Collier, who you may remember from my Best Kissers in the World posts and the one about one of his solo records, opened the show.
He made it clear when he came out that he wouldn't be playing for very long, and he didn't. But damn if he didn't make good use of his 20 minutes. He and his band ran through about five songs, they were all great, and his voice sounded fantastic under the high ceilings of the venue. And, much to my surprise, the notoriously rowdy Supersuckers fans weren't dicks about the slow songs he played. It was reassuring.

Next up was Zeke, a band that have a history with the Supersuckers, though I've never figured out why. I'd seen them once before, about eight years ago, opening for the Supersuckers at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were terrible then, and they continue to be a suckfest today.
They came out, did their little thing where they insult the crowd, acted like they were doing the Supersuckers a favor by showing up, sped through a bunch of their shitty songs, and sounded every bit as pointless as they are. We get it guys: you're old and you suck.

Mudhoney had been originally scheduled to perform at the show, but at some point the slot had changed to feature Green River. An odd reunion to say the least, but a wise one. The crowd was freaking out when they took the stage.
(This picture sucks, but it was the best I could do while I was getting knocked into by countless dudes.) I expected them to be shaky at best, but they were dialed in. It was weird to see Mark Arm sans guitar, but clearly, he knows how to handle himself. Seeing a couple of the Pearl Jam dudes onstage with a couple of the Mudhoney dudes would have scarred me for life in '93, but in this capacity it was somehow really fun to watch. They put on a great show, and between my internal fits of 90's (80's really, in their case) nostalgia, I realized I was seeing one of the best live sets I'd seen in years. I'm still a sucker for "grunge," if that's what we have to call it.

Not much banter, but Mark Arm made light of the Supersuckers being together for 20 years (he mentioned he distinctly remembered seeing the Black Supersuckers at the Vogue in '88 - probably not true) while Green River were celebrating having not been together in 20 years. And then at the end of the set when he was thanking the other bands, he referred to Gerald Collier as "The Best Kissers in the World," which was random and made me chuckle. To reiterate: they were really good.

Finally, the men of the hour were set to take the stage. The Supersuckers came out looking excited but overwhelmed, which is not something you often see in them. Eddie referred to the size of the crowd as "retarded," and Rontrose Heathman asked where all these people had been for the last 20 years. Then they busted into "That is Rock 'n' Roll," a semi-obscure b-side that seems to be their opener of choice these days. It was time to, as they say, "rock."
When Eddie explained after the song that the rest of the evening was to consist of a chronological history of the band, I may have achieved a slight bit of wood. This is a dream come true for a Supersuckers nerd. He then said they were going to play the first song they ever wrote together, Dan "Thunder" Bolton started in on the opening chords to "Poor," and I was happy as heck. They followed it with "Luck," "Girl I Know," and "Mudhead." Nice.

They then went into Smoke of Hell-era tracks, playing "Coattail Rider," "Tasty Greens," and "Hot Rod Rally." La Mano Cornuda was next (Eddie would preface each group of songs with "This brings us to 1993..."), and they rocked through "On the Couch," "Seventeen Poles" (featuring Eddie telling the origins of the song), "How To Maximize Your Kill Count," and their loungy-then-fast version of "Creepy Jackalope Eye." Sacrilicious was sadly barely represented, with the only nod given to "Bad Bad Bad."

At this point the acoustic guitar came out, and they reverted to the same setup they had used earlier at the in-store.
They played pretty much the same set, too (which screwed with the chronology of the whole thing, much to my chagrin), though Eddie did a solo version of "Marie" that was fitting and really pulled off well. By the time the electric shit was strapped back on and the first chords of "Supersuckers Drive-By Blues" were played, people were ready to rock again. Dudes started back in with the annoying slam-dancing and some of the hugest assholes were even crowd surfing. Fucking dopes.

The group ran through a sampling of the rest of their records, doing sweet versions of "Dead Meat," "The Evil Powers of Rock 'n Roll," and "I Want the Drugs" from the Evil Powers of Rock 'N' Roll record, and the standard selections from Motherfuckers Be Trippin'. They ended on "Goodbye," did the Patent-Pending Supersuckers Fake Encore, followed it with four songs from the new record, and wrapped the whole thing up with the always crowd-pleasing "Born With A Tail" finale.

After all was said and done, they had played for over two hours. It was a tremendous show. A major highlight also worth mentioning:
Ol' Dirty Bolton's white suit jacket. He's still got it.

I got my 20th anniversary shirt, managed to not get knocked into too hard, and was glad (damn glad) that I made the trip up to see the show.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - Change (CD, 2001)

This remains my favorite Dismemberment Plan album.

I'm not sure what that says about me. Maybe I prefer my production a tad slicker, my songs more straightforward. Though I don't think that's it. So maybe it's because this is the one I've listened to the most, and the one that took me a while to warm up to. But when I did, when I got it, I couldn't shake it. I listened to this album roughly a thousand times in 2002 alone, and I can still throw it on today and listen to it front to back, no problem.

There's something initially off-putting about this record, and I've never been able to figure out what it is. If I knew anything about time signatures, I think I might be able to put some stock in a theory revolving around the odd ways in which the beats hit on this thing, but as it is, I don't know what I'm talking about in that realm.

What I do know: "The Face of the Earth" is one of my top three favorite Plan songs, one that I keep waiting to get sick of. It was the last few lines of this song that, after repeated listenings that always left me uncomfortable, finally gelled with me and made the rest of this record fall into place instantly:

It's been a couple years and I guess I'm fine about it
It's not like we were married it was 3 or 4 months
And nothing's really different
Though it seems like I've spent my life in planes
Which is kinda strange, but I don't know

Admittedly, it doesn't look mind blowing when it's set out alone like that. But, wrapping up a song that is so wrought with wrenching cluelessness, it's a summary that couldn't have been penned any more poignantly. This album is the first time Morrison has seemed actually unsure, and his fright manifests itself in ways that most of the rest of us wouldn't initially go to. He latches onto a series of mild defeats, looks for a bright side, and if he can't find it, he throws his hands up, turns, and moves away. For me, it's both admirable and a brilliant centerpiece for a record that feeds off its own shiftiness and mortality.

But it's not all morose and shaky. "Pay for the Piano" is fun as shit, and "Following Through," though not an ultimately happy song, features verses that are bright and hopeful feeling, especially after following the dark and stripped-down "Automatic." A lot of the rest of the album flows like this; there are palpable shifts from song to song and sometimes within the song themselves. Overall, this record has always left a dark taste in my mouth, and, forgive me if this sounds corny, has always sounded better to me when it's raining outside.

The record wraps up with "Ellen and Ben," an incredibly catchy narrative that sounds very un-Plan like, and makes for a great end to their proper album career. The bridge on this track is probably my favorite moment in the history of the band. (Download the song from the band's site here. You will love it.) Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: they broke up shortly after this record was released.

You know how it goes.

"Time Bomb"

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - Emergency & I (CD, 1999)

Ask most Dismemberment Plan fans, and they'll tell you this is their magnum opus, the record that defines the band. They're right. Even though I prefer their next one, I'm not sure I can unequivocally say it's a better album than this one. When you listen to Is Terrified and this one right next to each other, the difference is stark. It reminds me a bit of Radiohead going from The Bends to OK Computer. You go from "Wow, this band is great" to "Holy. Fucking. Shit." Same deal here.

Listen to "What Do You Want Me To Say?" and there's no doubt: they've hit their stride. It's like "The Ice of Boston" fully realized and trimmed of any fat that was getting in the way of it ruling. It goes from there. "Spider in the Snow" sounds like Death Cab but better; "I Love A Magician" echoes back to the first two records, but the swirling screeching in the background is much more deliberate and way, way better. And "The City" is just a great, great song.

Like I said in the previous post, Morrison holds back on the quirk with his vocals this time around (though he reverts a bit in "Girl O'Clock"), but if anything, it's just made room for lyrics that might plunk a lump down in your throat if you read them after a bad breakup. I have been kicking my own ass for years for not discovering this right when it came out. I said the same thing about their first one, but I really could have used this one.

If you ever wonder why this band had some of the most hardcore fans out there (or at least it seemed that way when I saw them), listen to this record. It's every bit as good as people tell you it is. Even almost ten years later.

And yes, the terrible artwork continues unabated.

"You Are Invited"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (CD, 1997)

This is one of those records that, in hindsight, we can look back on as the link between the post-punk Plan and the Plan that most people think of when they talk about the band.

Still jagged and confrontational, this one features vocals and melodies that are creeping carefully towards more complex (and even more serious!) subjects, and the result is a record that feels just as supercharged, a little more mature, and smarter. Never a bad combo, and since I'm an unabashed fan of the awkward sophomore album, I've always liked this one. The songs are intricate while simultaneously filled with a don't-give-a-fuck spirit that equals some splendid ass-kickery.

The biggest sign of the band heading in a new direction is the fucking fantastic "The Ice of Boston," a song with lyrics that I'm not sure I understand, but I know I love. It's absurdity that should suck (it wouldn't look good on paper), but the chorus is the biggest and best hook they'd put together up to this point, and it just works in almost every way.

I was listening to this record in the car this weekend and my old lady piped up after about the third time through it: "I really can't stand this guy's voice." I can see that. But for me, Travis Morrison's style of speak is half of what makes the songs so strong. So maybe it's a deal breaker for some people, and they're never going to like this band. That's fine. He takes it down a notch by limiting the talk-singing a bit on the next few records, and he focuses more on melody as a result. We'll get to that.

Also worth mentioning: The Plan's penchant for terrible album art continues!

"The Ice of Boston"