19 December 2008

Austin Scaggs: Huh?

I must admit I wrote something much worse originally that I felt compelled to take down as my anger has subsided a little since I first read the following and I've really enjoyed some of this writer's previous articles. Austin Scaggs, a journalist for Rolling Stone, my favorite publication, and primary blogger on the Smoking Section (therefore a person who should know better) wrote this poorly analyzed piece about Jason Mraz:

Jason Mraz: Huh?
December 10, 2008 6:01 PM

"Jason Mraz's Grammy-nominated song, "I'm Yours," has reached the Number One slot at Top 40.

Now, first and foremost, we are music fans. We think it takes a lot of balls to get up and perform songs in front of crowds, and to put your lyrics and melodies out there for the whole world to hear. And we're sure Jason is a nice dude, but...

We just listened to "I'm Yours" really closely, and here are our thoughts, arranged chronologically:

"Wait, did we click on Jack Johnson by accident?"
"No, that's Mraz's voice. God damn he's been listening to Jack Johnson!"
"Maybe Jack Johnson wrote this song. And he gave it to Mraz?"
"Wait... maybe Colbie Caillat wrote this song."
"Record stores should have a section called Retarded Reggae, and this album should be the one on display."
"Did he just sing, 'We're just one big family?' Please say he didn't. We hate it when people say shit like that."
"He did."
"Let's see... When was scatting cool? Hmmm... Right! Like eighty years ago."
"Will somebody please take two ice-picks and drill them into our ears until all we hear is a faint scrape of metal."
"How, on God's sacred planet, did 'I'm Yours' get to Number One on Top 40?"

Here was my posted response to this interesting bit of work:

You clearly cannot be much of a music enthusiast if you can get yourself to write something so demeaning about one of the few pop artists that write their own songs and literally came from coffeehouses to mainstream while maintaining a very decent amount of integrity. Whether you personally like an artist or not, you should really watch the facts while insulting them. Jason Mraz has always written all his own songs and genuine fans know the song, "I'm Yours" has been around for years in different incarnations. I find it very sad that your musical knowledge is limited to Jack Johnson in this genre and that you clearly find exceptional artists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald to be "uncool" since they're the masters of scat.

Please resign and let someone who genuinely loves music take your place for the sake of everyone involved. You'd probably have more luck as a cashier.

Much sympathy,

It was way over the top and ridiculous but I care! Loving music means at the very least respecting all genuine music - whether you approve of it or not.

18 December 2008

The Wonderful

This is the beginning of a long line of posts about the brilliance of The National, my favorite band in the world. There is not much I can write about them that would explain their magic so I just have to let them explain it to you themselves.

The National - Lit Up

The National - Mistaken for Strangers

The National - Slow Show

Fun Knees

17 December 2008

How Speakers Changed My Life

I was in a store today and that's how it all started. I walked in, directly headed to the speaker department, found a nice looking box and thought I had made a decision. At the last second I decided to ask for help from a friendly man in a blue shirt (he happened to work there). He escorted me to computer speakers and discussed something called "watts". Basically the more, the merrier where watts are concerned I soon learned. Thank god for that young man. My life is now complete. I am so in love with these speakers. For $70 I bought Best Buy brand (Insignia) speakers and they are phenomenal. I'm in such a state of bliss right now, I don't know what to do. I'm listening to a song I don't even like because I can't get myself to skip any song on this genius system. I think they call it surround sound. I think they also call it heaven.

Add this to my already incredible Sony subwoofer CD player and awesome Crosley record player and I am seriously in good shape. Now I just have to find friends who love music and want to hang out at my swinging pad. Unfortunately you can't buy those.

Fashion Rocks

These photographs speak for themselves.

Queen Latifah
Patti Smith
Jackson Browne
Tom Petty
Johnny Cash
John Mayer
Gram Parsons
Eric Clapton

Buffalo Springfield

16 December 2008

Top 25 Albums of 2008

Rolling Stone had a great Top 50 list that compelled me to create this, a knock off, but in my opinion even better.

1. The Way I See It - Raphael Saadiq

A genuine '60's throwback that cannot even be compared to other 2008 albums. This is in a league of its own. Saadiq is a recent discovery to me but I believe this to be his best album to date. If you love Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke - this will fit in perfectly.
Best Track: Sure Hope You Mean It

2. Modern Guilt - Beck

Mid-life crisis, scientology, the end of world: what else could you want? This album is brimming with catchy, almost electro songs that are too good for the radio to understand. This perfectly caters to my favorite mixture of sad songs set to happy beats.
Best Track: Gamma Ray

3. Volume One - She and Him

M. Ward has grown into one of my favorite artists over the last year and the combination of his guitar playing and Zooey Deschanel's beautiful, soft voice make this one of the most soothing records of 2008. Their undeniable charm glistens through every song, including classic covers of "You Really Got a Hold on Me" and "I Should Have Known Better".
Best Track: Change Is Hard

4. Evolver - John Legend

From songs about love to sex to politics, Legend's voice oozes honey all over the speakers. Sticking to a similar format as his previous two albums, Evolver dabbles in a range of genres but sticks to the smooth R&B beats that made songs like, "Heaven" and "Ordinary People" such big hits. Legend himself commented on his website that he wanted these songs to be more "radio friendly" but the first single, "Green Light", is the only one of its kind on the record.
Best Track: Quickly

5. Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch

Before the Heartbreakers, there was Mudcrutch, consisting of many of the same musicians but a style closer to country than rock. Tom Petty, the greatest lyricist alive in my biased opinion, is at the center of this southern jam parade and manages to separate this music entirely from anything else he's ever done although the trademark twangy voice is still in full force. A classic album from start to finish.
Best Track: Six Days on the Road

6. Firesight - Jessie Baylin

I first discovered there was a Jessie Baylin while seeing Matt Nathanson at the Nokia theatre in October. Her opening set blew me away. One song after another was catchy, witty, and genuinely captivating. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she has soul and humility that set her apart. With music that has more in common with early '60's psychedelic rock mixed with classic R&B than any sort of typical bubblegum pop, I expect Baylin to soon be a little more mainstream.
Best Track: Contradicting Words

7. The Age of the Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets

Lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, Alex Turner, has created another unique band that makes fantastically catchy songs while still keeping an experimental vibe. Although they have yet to fully catch on in the US, their albums has already gone #1 in the UK and the band is already planning new material for a 2009 release. These guys fit in perfectly with any band from The Rascals to The Kooks, just fun, indie pop rock.
Best Track: Standing Next to Me

8. Last Days at the Lodge - Amos Lee

Lee is described as jazz (famously discovered by Norah Jones), folk, and R&B almost interchangably but "soul" is the only way to perfectly describe these songs. On this album specifically, songs vary from fast paced to slow jams but all keep that soft spirit that is almost palpable through the speakers. There are few musicians that can speak as eloquently about serious issues as Amos Lee.
Best Track: Streetcorner Preacher

9. Little Joy - Little Joy

This is the newest discovery for me. Just last week I came across this band on iTunes and as is proned to happen when I love something: I couldn't stop listening all night. Little Joy, which consists of Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, Moretti's girlfriend Binki Shapiro, and Devendra Barnhart collaborator Rodrigo Amarante, is pure and simple. There is nothing flashy or hi-tech or particularly memorable even. That is almost the best part. This music just sounds like the noise your brain would make as it clears out. Although that doesn't sound like the best description, I think you'd understand if you took a listen.
Best Track: The Next Time Around

10. We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. - Jason Mraz

Mraz is the greatest at making corny music with a message. From songs like, "Only Human", that describes the difference between people and squirrels to the kinky "Butterfly", comparing a woman to well... you get it, Mraz manages to be an extremely coherent stoner on all tracks. Unlike the over produced Mr. A-Z, this album brings along some great new Mraz classics that his die hard fans aren't ashamed to have on the radio. Great album art as well.
Best Track: Make It Mine

11. Furr - Blitzen Trapper

Neil Young and Beatles influenced, as mentioned on a couple other sites, this album is full of nostalgic sounding tunes that cater to several generations all at once. Although I haven't spent much time with this album, some of the lyrics impressed me more than any other record on this list: "And now my fur has turned to skin And I've been quickly ushered in To a world that, I confess, I do not know But I still dream of running careless through the snow Through the howling winds that blow Across the ancient distant flow To fill our bodies up like water till we know." I think that says it all.
Best Track: Gold For Bread

12. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Probably the breakout band of the year, Fleet Foxes have garnered much attention and thankfully it's well deserved. As one Amazon.com reader points out, "The Fleet Foxes are a rock band that sounds like no other -- imagine a pastoral choir overwhelming a sweeping folk-rock band, in the middle of a sunlit forest in the spring." And that is exactly how they sound, in the best way possible.
Best Track: Ragged Wood

13. Tell Tale Signs - The Bootleg Series - Vol. 8 - Bob Dylan

I have not always been a Bob Dylan fan. For a long time I have been resentful of people acting like Tom Petty bites off his style and didn't understand the mass appeal of his songs. Luckily for me there are acoustic versions of songs I previously didn't enjoy like "Most of the Time", that have turned me around. This album in particular has some of the best versions of Dylan songs I have ever heard. Without all the fake rock hoopla in the background, it's easier to understand why Bob Dylan is considered one of the greatest poets of all time. In my opinion, his words sound better with as little background music as possible and this record perfectly displays that.
Best Track: Most of the Time

14. Warpaint - The Black Crowes

I don't understand why this album wasn't better appreciated by the masses but I know without ever hearing these songs previously I fell in love with them live. The Black Crowes played the concert venue I work at on the day of their album release and it was phenomenal. In a two set concert that first catered to their new album (in its entirety) and then a heaping helping of all their older classics, Chris Robinson converted me to an eternal fan.
Best Track: Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution

15. Gossip in the Grain - Ray LaMontagne

Although Gossip is no Trouble, LaMontagne has proved that he not only has massive staying power in an industry that doesn't always welcome sensitive, husky voiced singer/songwriters but he has a growing audience as well. Not only did we learn from this album that he can sing a country song like nobody's business, he also has a crush on the female half of The White Stripes in an appropriately titled song, "Meg White". This album is fabulous even subtracting the fact that he poses on the cover with one of the best beards I've ever seen - that's talent.
Best Track: You Are the Best Thing

16. Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams - Solange

Beyonce's little sister brought forth a stronger effort than her sister no matter what the numbers say. This album, which is a complete interpretation of what the '6o's would sound like today, makes me want to dance regardless of my mood. It is undeniable. I'm a huge fan of hand claps and this is THE 2008 Hand Clap album. It makes me sick how good this is. Girl group sound, funky R&B, blah, blah, blah. Just listen.
Best Track: I Decided

17. In Rainbows - Radiohead

A collection of eclectic songs that have been analyzed and reviewed too much already this year. As a semi-Radiohead fan, I found this album to be fantastic. I've heard rumblings of the usual, "this isn't as good as the older stuff", but I disagree. What's wrong with shorter songs and hipper beats? So many of these tracks are sure to be constants on my iPod for a long time to come.
Best Track: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

18. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends - Coldplay

Like In Rainbows, this is sure to be an album that doesn't just disappear after this year. Although I know it's tempting to dissect what makes this different from their other albums, I kind of feel like it's right on par with the previous ones. It's fantastic, true to its form, atmospheric-like rock that is lucky enough to have Chris Martin's haunting voice on every track (except the instrumental ones that remain haunting enough in and of themselves).
Best Track: Lost!

19. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver

Another genuine breakout star of 2008, Justin Vernon, sounds like way more than just one person. Holed up in a cabin in Wisconsin during winter time, Vernon managed to make the most texturally interesting album of the year. These songs sound like a winter's evening alone but manage to not be excrusiatingly depressing. Very acoustic and very soothing.
Best Track: Skinny Love

20. The Felice Brothers - The Felice Brothers

On a previous list I had forgotten completely about this album and although that doesn't sound very good, I was mortified when I realized it. The Felice Brothers are genuine country that do not compromise their sound in any way. With a sound not unlike The Band, this album is playable the whole way through.
Best Track: Frankie's Gun

21. Oracular Spectacular - MGMT
I can't pretend that I like this entire album but "Electric Feel" is one of my favorite songs I've ever heard and any band that could create a song like that has massive potential and extreme talent. They are unique, crazy, psychedelic, and undeniably catchy in a super hip way. "I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars". Aah, lovely.
Best Track: Electric Feel

22. Cardinology - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Once again, a reviewer on amazon.com manages to speak about this record better than I can find the words to: "It's obvious that Adams is a man who reveres the classics, as sounds of classic country, Elton John, and especially Neil Young are very prevalent in the music, working into a seamless blend which results in something greater than the sum of its parts." I haven't listened to this album as much as I'd like to yet but I've found this is one of those rare records that takes only one listen to understand its genius. I liked it instantly.
Best Track: Magick

23. Time the Conqueror - Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne never gets tired. His lyrics are as fresh today as they were in the '7o's. His exuberant energy to understand the world around him is compelling and inspiring. There are some wonderfully silly lines like, "Why is impeachment not on the table/We better stop them while we are able" but they are balanced out with the classic tales of love and loss. If there's any album to make one think this year, it's this one. It cannot be stressed enough what a brilliant writer Jackson Browne is.
Best Track: Time the Conqueror

24. AC/DC - Black Ice

I love this album and I don't even own much of it. One of the downfalls of iTunes is their lack of AC/DC. This band simply rocks and makes endless classic songs. Granted, many of their songs sound quite similar but if it ain't broke don't fix it, right? They're still number one.
Best Track: Big Jack

25. Loyalty to Loyalty - Cold War Kids

It was a toss up between this album and Jazmine Sullivan's Fearless for the final spot but Cold War Kids have the upper hand as I believe this to just be the start of their really interesting musical contributions to us. On thier first album, Robbers and Cowards, they had the tremendous "Hang Me Out to Dry" that I am still playing all the time and on this record they strum up a new collection of catchy, dark songs. I'm fascinated along with countless others. PS. The only thing I dislike are comparisons to The National, the greatest band to ever live.
Best Track: I've Seen Enough

15 December 2008

Top 25 Sexiest Songs - November 19, 2008

I was inspired tonight to go searching for the "sexiest songs" online and found very few I even knew let alone thought were sexy enough to make it on to anyone's list. I also found people rephrase "sexy" as "romantic", "slow jams" or "mood songs". I prefer a little more dirt. "Your Body Is a Wonderland"? No...No. And PS: If you're going to get down to any of John Mayer's songs let it be "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" (believe me, it's the hottest). I want to hear something right now that will make the hairs on my neck tingle and make me want to call one of those hotlines they advertise late at night on E. No Marvin Gaye or Barry White allowed either - way too obvious. John Cusack didn't make a Top Five list like this in High Fidelity, did he? Here's my working list right now...

I wish everyone much beautiful love to these songs. They. are. Goood.

Sexiest Songs: A Work in Progress

Electric Feel - MGMT
Everybody Here Wants You - Jeff Buckley
Speak Low - Billie Holiday
Slow Dance - John Legend
Lovesong - The Cure
Everywhere - Fleetwood Mac
Need You Tonight - INXS
Everlong - Foo Fighters
Sway - Dean Martin
Let's Stay Together - Al Green
You Send Me - Sam Cooke
Call on Me - Chicago
All I Want - Toad the Wet Sprocket
My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi - Radiohead
Echo - Incubus
I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) - Hall and Oates
I Only Have Eyes For You - The Flamingos
Hello Stranger - Queen Latifah
Lost Without You - Robin Thicke
Miss You - Rolling Stones
I Wanna Be Loved - Etta James
Sexy Love - Ne-Yo
Take My Breath Away - Berlin
D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin

Strong Addition: Waiting in Vain - Bob Marley

Just Like Riding a Bike - Upside Down.

I haven't done this in awhile but I'm more than prepared to come back and type my fingers off. Things have changed since September. Naturally, I'm more miserable than ever but thankfully the music is ever flowing. Time and time again music has proven to be the only reliable friend I have. Not to sound too depressing but I have a strong feeling a lot of people would agree with me. There's always a new, exciting, I-can't-believe-I-lived-without-this song that pops up out of nowhere and yet there's also those tried and true companions that are there for a good pick-me-up anytime you need them. I cannot for the life of me think of a single friend that is dependable in that context. It can't just be the voices either: my mom's voice is soothing but there are plenty of times I press ignore on my phone when I'm listening to Amos Lee or someone instead. Music talks back but it's always in a good way.

Not to second guess myself but I'm not entirely sure what I'm talking about. I just feel like writing and I always feel like talking about music. Let's see... oh! I am currently in love with Raphael Saddiq. I should just dedicate this entire entry to him right now. His album, The Way I See It, is so good I haven't been able to stop listening to it for the past week. It must be said that I stole this primarily from Rolling Stone's Top 50 Albums of 2008 article, where it landed at #48, but I had interest before that as well. Tracks like, "Sure Hope You Mean It" and "100 Yard Dash" are such throwbacks to '60's R&B that I would 100% believe these were exact duplicates of lesser known Marvin Gaye songs.
I'm also certain that these would've been tremendous hits if Saadiq was either more well known or simply in another era. I want to compare it to Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson but that's too easy. Saadiq is so delicious. So delicious. I'm in love. I remember texting my ex-boyfriend (when he was already my ex) when Winehouse's album came out because I couldn't contain my excitement and thought he would be the only one to understand. This time around I don't have anyone to voice my happiness to that would understand but I don't even need it. This album is totally something I can appreciate solo. If any random person is reading this: check it out! There is no chance you will be sorry.

I guess something else I've been wanting to discuss is the vinyl comeback going on. I was in a Virgin Megastore a couple weeks ago and almost bought at least three albums I didn't even know existed on vinyl. Suddenly there are these huge displays of top 20 albums in vinyl form right on the main floor. John Legend's latest album, Evolver, was on sale for $20 in this format along with a complete download of every song.
Needless to say I was really impressed. Although it's important for me to point out that this is not snobbery as my lover would like to think it is. I listened to the most vinyl in my life between the ages of 3 and 10. I'm not trying to fool anyone into thinking I listen to tons of music on my record player. I only wish I did. I listen to Eddy Arnold and live Tom Petty albums on record because that's the only format I have them in but I'm not a maniac like some wonderful, truly impressive people are. I lust after $400 record players all the time (at this price range I think they call them "turntables" - HAHA) but I never intend on getting one. Although I know the sound quality would be amazing on one of these (and most musicians agree that records allow the songs to be listened to in their true form), my all time favorite part about records is the packaging. You don't see Urban Outfitters selling CD frames. They sell record frames - even Target got in on this trend. Look in the background of Knocked Up when Katherine Heigl is on the phone with Seth Rogen for the first time: Tom Petty's Damn the Torpedoes all framed up! It's a beautiful sight to see. I am desperately in love with iTunes and all of its features that keep me up at night but there is nothing like a large cardboard cutout with the lyrics to every song on the album PLUS a two foot poster. What the hell could beat that? Records need to become even hipper than they already are so my kids (if they one day exist) will still be listening to them. I dream of walking into my kid's room and seeing them flat on the floor completely enthralled in the liner notes of some crazy new band, completely ignoring their algebra homework. That's the day I'll agree to put my name on their birth certificate. I'm just kidding. I've been seeing some really cute baby headphones around so they'll be cool long before they're able to read...

PS. Classic R&B music is the best around. I'm convinced it's the basis for all music in the universe.

and... I'm seeing The National at Carnegie Hall with Patti Smith and Vampire Weekend. Kind of exciting... no. Just EXCITING.