Friday, December 31, 2010

A Few More Great Albums of the Aughts, Pt. 2: 2003-2009

I thought it was about time I get this out there...

20 Adam Green, Friends of Mine [Rough Trade, 2003]

You get the feeling that everyone listening to Adam Green for the first time goes through the same state of confusion where they ask themselves “Wait a minute, is he kidding?” With the masculine croon of a ‘50s lounge singer, Green delivers vulgar and absurd lyrics with an earnestness that allows you to find meaning in them whether they're rational or not.

Key Track: "Jessica"

21 The Books, The Lemon of Pink [Tomlab, 2003]

Considering that during their prolific first four years of existence The Books virtually owned the indie avant-garde scene, it's amazing how little they are discussed now or were mentioned on "Top" lists at the end of the decade.  Once the darlings of hipster sites like Pitchfork, they have sine been forgotten; only their first album, Thought for Food, made Pitchfork's list, and all the way down at the #125 spot.  Frankly all The Books' albums, which are basically audiophiliac ecstacy and textbooks on excellent production, deserve a thorough listen.

Key Track:  "Tokyo"

22 Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place [Temporary Residence, 2003]

Key Track: "First Breath After Coma"

23 Fruit Bats, Mouthfuls [Sub Pop, 2003]

Key Track: "A Bit of Wind"

24 Kaki King, Everybody Loves You [Velour Recordings, 2003]

Key Track: "Night After Sidewalk"

25 Album Leaf, In a Safe Place [Sub Pop, 2003]

Key Track: "Over the Pond"

26 Ambulance LTD, LP [TVT Records, 2004]

Key Track: "Stay Where You Are"

27 Black Moth Super Rainbow, Start a People [70's Gymnastics, 2004]

Key Track: "Early 70's Gymnastics"

28 Elliott Smith, From a Basement on a Hill [Anti, 2004]

While many of Elliott Smith’s albums could be characterized as haunting, From a Basement on a Hill has the unfortunate distinction of fitting that description most literally. Released almost a year to the day after Smith’s grisly suicide, it contains some of his darkest, most schizophrenic work, though still distinctly Smith.

Key Track: "King's Crossing"

29 Johann Johannsson, Viroulegu Forsetar [Touch, 2004]

Key Track: N/A

30 Kings of Convenience, Riot on an Empty Street [Astralwerks/Source 360/EMI, 2004]

Key Track: "Homesick"

*31 Midlake, The Trials of Bamnan and Slivercork [Bella Union, 2004]

Key Track: "Balloon Maker"

32 Sondre Lerche, Two Way Monologues [Astralwerks, 2003]

Key Track: "Two Way Monologue"

33 Wilco, A Ghost Is Born [Rhino, 2004]

Key Track: "At Least That's What You Said"

34 The Books, Lost and Safe [Tomlab, 2005]

Key Track: "Vogt Dig for Kloppervok"

*35 The Headphones, The Headphones [Suicide Squeeze, 2005]

Key Track: "I Never Wanted You"

36 Jose Gonzalez, Veneer [Peacefrog Records, 2005]

Key Track: "Heartbeats"

37 13 & God, 13 & 13 & God [Anticon, 2005]

Key Track: "If"

38 Sean Lennon, Friendly Fire [Capitol/EMI, 2006]

Key Track: "Parachute"

39 Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL [XL, 2006]

Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke may not have the most audibly pleasing voice in the world, but that hasn’t prevented him from establishing his larynx as one of the most iconic in rock history. His vocals bare a sense of desolation that is both startling and penetrating, with an alternatively uncanny ability to galvanize any sound that dares to occupy the same time and space. On his first solo album, his resolute but ill-at-ease intonations play perfectly off of ominous and minimalistic electronics to create a tone as bleak and awe-inspiring as deep space. It might be tempting to crown The Eraser as Radiohead’s sixth and a half studio album; afterall, it’s produced by Nigel Godrich, and relies at least partially on sampling the band’s unreleased recordings. But granting such a distinction would ignore the extent to which Yorke’s voice, both literally and figuratively, overwhelm this album.

Key Track: “Cymbal Rush”

40 Endless Boogie, Focus Level [No Quarter, 2008]

Key Track: "Executive Focus"

41 The Horrors, Primary Colours [XL, 2009]

Rarely is a new band able to invoke a past style with this type of inspired originality as opposed to overzealous emulation. The last time 80's post-punk was done this well was when Interpol convinced us that they had genuinely resurrected Ian Curtis on 2001’s Turn on the Bright Lights (which well may have been my #1, had I made a list). The Horrors are equally gloomy and effective; perhaps this is what it would have sounded like had Billy Idol and Richard Smith ever made a baby – and yes I mean the sound of actually making the baby.

Key Track: "Sea Within a Sea"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beware of the Blob

A couple of weeks ago on a night in I decided to watch the 1958 classic “horror” movie The Blob, which was playing on for free on demand, and which actually turned out to be a surprisingly good film. As you would expect, the special effects were hokey and primitive, an aspect of the movie which I actually enjoyed for the humor and sense of nostalgia they provided. But the story and its progression were also unexpectedly well-done, and an early example of a now common format for thrillers, adventure, and scary movies alike, in that the story takes place against the backdrop of some small-town, terrorized teenagers whom the authorities think are just up to no good pranks, and who are inevitably forced to take matters into their own hands as the unsuspecting townspeople get picked off one by one (It comes to mind, but you get the idea).

Despite all this good stuff, the highlight of the film has to be the opening credits, which portray a pretty cool visual sequence set to an uncharacteristically suave and upbeat theme song for the movie’s tone and subject matter. While traditionally The Blob is known for launching the career of future star Steve McQueen, turns out the intro theme was done by another up-and-comer: Burt Bacharach (with long-time partner Hal David). The team would breakout in the ‘60s, writing songs for everyone from the Carpenters, to Dusty Springfield, to Tom Jones. However, they were most well-known for their long-standing relationship with diva Dionne Warwick, who would chart 38 of their singles. I happen to be a big fan, hence the reason for this posting.

It’s a cool video, check it out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Few More Great Albums of the Aughts: Pt. 1, 2000-2002

The calling card of the modern music snob is the desire to put all things music into concrete, unequivocal lists representing the best or worst of any topic of musical relevance that his or her brain can conjure up. It’s the tongue-in-cheek inspiration for the name of this blog, as borrowed from High Fidelity, which outs the futility of such an inane notion. At the end of the day, there’s no standard on which you can judge music: everything about it is subjective.  Even individual tastes will wander over a very short period of time - try making a list of your top five favorite (insert band name, genre, subject, etc. here) songs of all time, if you can, and then see if it's the same a week later.

Still, music snobs and publications remain persistent in their desire to make more and more “lists”. The turn of the last decade offered no exception, as every music magazine, website and blog rushed to put out their lists of the top albums and songs of the last ten years. No less apparent than this epidemic fetish of list-making was the arbitrary nature of it all, as each source subsequently ranked albums based on their own mysterious criteria and agenda.  Two of the more publicized lists were that of Rolling Stone magazine and Pitchfork Media, two essentially at-odds entities, which came up with sometimes similar and sometimes different results.

The main problem with lists other than that they're opinions that are treated like something absolute, is that typically there is such a limited amount of value contained in someone else's opinion, particularly if the audience already has one of their own.  Like the television program of a political pundit, they exist much more to affirm than they do to inform.  No Rolling Stone subscriber is reading the "Albums of the Decade" article and saying to themself "I was right" or "I was wrong," and they most likely aren't even using it as a reference to what they might listen to next or go back and give a second look.  Instead, the first reaction of 99.9% of readers will be either "I agree" or "I disagree," which makes such a list just a catalyst to someone forming a sort of subjective list of their own.

In my opinion, I would say that mostly the two lists got it “right,” right meaning that within the context of those publication's agendas and biases, all the albums that we thought would and should be there were there, in some order or another. Between the two, a lot of really good albums were represented. Whether those albums were the "best" or not, no one can really say, and the choices of each publications were undoubtedly predictable. Outside of the obvious top tier (Radiohead, Wilco, Jay-Z, the Arcade Fire, and the Strokes, in some order), Rolling Stone mostly pandered to the bigger, more mainstream labels and trends, and Pitchfork did the opposite, and for that reason a "better" right, if such a thing exists, might be a composite of the two. Let’s face it, no one expected to see any Coldplay albums on the Pitchfork list, and where Stone had to leave out the Knife’s Silent Shout for fear of readers furrowing their brows, Pitchfork listed it at #15.  Each had their own glaring omissions, such as where Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People somehow missed Stone's list completely, and Pitchfork gave OutKast a nod for Stankonia at #16 and then seemed to say, “That’s enough for you, radio-played artist” and left out Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. There was also the occasional surprise; Elliott Smith fans were shocked and elated to see Figure 8 on Rolling Stone's list at all, let alone #42, and disappointed that Pitchfork allowed it to slip all the way to the nosebleed section at #192.

Other than that making observations, I can't really critique the lists any further without injecting my own bias I'm just not going to be a hypocrite and say something something like I thought Turn on the Bright Lights and Oh! Inverted World should have been higher on both lists.  How awful that would be of me.  What's hopefully not biased is to present a few forgotten albums which by no means am I saying "should have been on the lists," but, not unlike the ones that were actually chosen, are just some damn good albums of the last ten years. While they may not have fit nicely into any major publication's agenda, you personally might enjoy them, and that's all that really matters.

Here is the first set in unbiased, chronological order.  I couldn't help but denote a handful of my most personal favorites with an *.

1 Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030 [Ark 75, 2000]

An album which is for all intensive purposes the jumping off point for a collaboration that would later become the first Gorillaz record, Deltron 3030 features heroes of underground hip-hop Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala taking on the persona's of Del Zero, The Cantankerous Captain Aptos, and Skiznod the Boy Wonder as they voyage through the corporate-run galaxy of the year 3030 on a mission to restore hip-hop dominance in one of the most eccentric and ambitious rap albums ever produced. If it sounds insane, well, it is, but it’s also insanely good.

Key Track: "3030"

2 Pheonix, United [Astralwerks, 2000]

Though Pheonix hit it big in 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, they’ve got quite a catalog of past albums, which tells the story of a band losing their funk in favor of a more alternative sound. That’s what makes their debut arguably their peak, as United finds this French band doing what the French do best, besides surrendering: disco-esque dance pop.

Key Track: “If I Ever Feel Better”

3 The Sea and Cake, Oui [Thrill Jockey, 2000]

Super-mellow vocals from Sam Prekop meld flawlessly with crisp electric guitars, Latin drum beats (via Tortoise and Stereolab drummer John McEntire), and a fair share of electronic vibes. Oui is pitch perfect stoner music, low-key indie rock with the earthy, lethargic ambiance of a twenty-minute Phish jam session, impressively sustained throughout a wide variety of tempos and moods over the course of the album.

Key Track: “Afternoon Speaker”

*4 Air, 10,000Hz Legend [Astralwerks, 2001]

You get the feeling that the success of 1998's Moon Safari, with songs that personified cool like "La Femme D'argent" and "Sexy Boy," went to the heads of duo Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel a bit.  Comparatively, 10,000Hz Legend is a more ambitious and inherently more self-aware album, and in many places on the album that pays off.  But for a band that creates the kind of simple-pleasure electronic/jazz/pop music that Air does, it can also create a sense of melancholy that is counter-productive.  Although their sophomore release may be a bit rough around the edges compared to its near-perfect kid brother, with sporadic and unfocused interludes, including a guest appearance by Beck, you have to give them credit for their uncanny ability to evoke a sense of '70s lounge retro that nobody else since has ever been able to replicate.

Key Track: “Radian”

5 Aphex Twin, DrukQs [Warp/Sire, 2001]

Aphex Twin, the pseudonym for DJ Richard D. James, may be the Velvet Underground of modern electronic music. To those who are fans of the genre, he’s universally respected. To everyone else, he doesn’t exist, despite being an outspoken influence on many, many modern musicians. And if you have any doubts about a knob-twiddler being a true musician, just listen for yourself to his beautifully melodic piano composition, “Avril 14”.

Key Tracks: "Avril 14"

6 Azure Ray, Azure Ray [Warm, 2001]

You could knock Azure Ray for being essentially art-chick emo delivered with the same style of ghostly stoicism and multi-tracked harmonies utilized by probable influence Elliott Smith, and you could knock me for putting them on this list.  I struggled owning up to this one, but I am trying to be objective and represent a variety of tastes.  The truth of me putting this here and of this album is that sometimes honesty can be so stark that it's simultaneously beautiful and nauseating.  Burn it for your girlfriend to show her what a sensitive guy you are.

Key Track: “Sleep”

*7 Broken Social Scene, Feel Good Lost [Arts & Crafts/Noise Factory, 2001]

Most people know Broken Social Scene as the band that broke indie out of the underground once and for all, thrashing their way onto the radar screen in 2002 with You Forgot It In People, the album that would pave the way for and ultimately become overshadowed by Arcade Fire’s Funeral. By that time they were a ten-person ensemble, not including then unknown guests like Feist and Metric’s Emily Haines. Given that introduction, it’s hard to believe that only one year earlier, as a two-member group consisting of Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, they’d delivered one of the most flawless and captivating pieces of ambient music ever recorded. It’s everything music of the genre should be, meditative and unobtrusive, giving the impression of simplicity despite being painstakingly woven, as uneventful yet as addictive and enlightening as watching Bob Ross paint.

Key Track: “Passport Radio”

8 Dntel, Life is Full of Possibilities [Plug Research, 2001]

Dntel (aka Jimmy Tamborello) crafts electro-pop beats with an effortlessness that could make you believe he invented syncopation. Even if that wasn’t true, Life is Full of Possibilities deserves to be on this list even if solely for Dntel’s collaboration with Ben Gibbard on “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan.” They’d team up again in 2003 to make a full-length album, Give Up, as The Postal Service.

Key Track: “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan”

9 Gorillaz, Gorillaz [EMI, 2001]

It’s rumored that some people remember exactly where they were when they found out that the Blur’s Damon Albarn was more or less the “inventor” of the world’s first “virtual hip-hop group.” For those affected, it created an inner turmoil and unease almost akin to the feeling you got when you realized what your parents had to do for you to exist. Could it be true that the man on the cutting edge of one of the decade’s hippest and most original creations was the one of the same guys who personified Britpop? It is, and it’s time to get over it. While the 17-track debut is at times a bit too ambitious for its own good, its swagger, emboldened by producer Dan “The Automator” and effortless flow of rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien, is undeniable. And let’s not forget the imagery, which is as instrumental to the music as, well, the instruments.

Key Track: “Rock the House”

10 Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things [Saddle Creek, 2001]

Jenny Lewis says “fuck” a lot, and Ronnie from “Salute Your Shorts” plays bass. I don’t know when the “Hipster” movement became official but it well could have been at a Rilo Kiley concert.

Key Track: “Son or Daughter”

11 Telefon Tel Aviv, Fahrenheit Fair Enough [Hefty, 2001]

The title track is quite simply one of the best, most intricate and well produced tracks in electronic/ambient music’s history, so much so that I use it as a benchmark for people’s musical taste. When someone tells me that they’re getting into electronic music, I ask them “Have you listened to ‘Fahrenheit Fair Enough’?” If so, you’re off to a good start.

Key Track: "Fahrenheit Fair Enough"

12 Turin Brakes, The Optimist LP [Source UK, 2001]

You could pretty easily lump Turin Brake's music in with the rest of the soft alternative rock movement that resulted from everyone shitting their pants after OK Computer, a movement from which Coldplay was the only enduring success, and you'd be right to do so.  But that doesn't mean that The Optimist is anything like Parachutes; it's twice as edgy, substituting melodramatic piano for rhythmic acoustic guitar and  Chris Martin's croon for a a high-pitched rasp (think Stevie Nicks - I actually couldn't tell the first time I heard the band whether the lead singer was a man or a woman; it's the former).  If anything, Turin Brakes proves that good can come out of bad.  Check out "The Door,"which is as solid a melancholy alternative rock single as any other released in the past decade.

Key Track: "The Door"

13 Ulrich Schnauss, Far Away Trains Passing By [City Centre Offices, 2001] 

List out the ambient/electronic producers of the last decade and Ulrich Schnauss' name deserves to be there along with Boards of Canada, The Field, and Manitoba, among others.  Despite the myriad of styles on which each of these individual artists have staked a claim, Schnauss still somehow seems to stand apart from the bunch.  It's not that he's "better," he's not., but electronic music is supposed to be, by definition, unfeeling; there's an obvious inhuman quality to it that often makes it foreign and unwelcoming even to those who enjoy it.  It's because of that platform that so much electronic music has the quality of also being so barren, minimalistic, and experimental; it's only natural that the expressions of someone attracted to the cold circuitry of a synthesizer or computer would often carry those traits.  On Far Away Trains Passing By, Schnauss breaks that mold with his beautiful and lush compositions, producing aural electronic tapestries with the unique quality of being accessible and obscure at the same time.  One might even describe it as hopeful.

Key Track: "Knuddlemaus"

*14 The Good Life, Black Out [Saddle Creek, 2002]

Don’t be fooled by the fact that Tim Kasher, the creative force behind the Good Life, grew up a very close friend of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, and that they’re both disciples of Saddle Creek Records. True, they both sing forlorn songs about regret and despair, but where Oberst does it behind a trembling whimper and an acoustic guitar, Kasher belts it from behind heavy electronics with breath stinking of Jack Daniels and a confidence uncharacteristic of his peers. Though the flow and composition of this album is nothing short of genius, some people may find its darkness and intensity to be off putting - the title is not meant to be facetious: it’s about drinking yourself into oblivion while lamenting your lost love. While I’d venture that’s something a lot of people don’t want to listen to on their morning commute, for others it can actually be pretty comforting. Don’t act like you haven’t done it. This album won’t redeem you, but it may make you feel like at least your not drinking alone.

Key Track: “Empty Bed”

15 Pedro the Lion, Control [Jade Tree, 2002]

Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan was always a victim of the tragic reality that anyone who even attempts to approach the idea of faith in their music gets labeled an ideologue, or worse yet, a Christian rocker. In actuality, most of Bazan's references to religion are satirical: tongue-in-cheek remarks or back handed compliments.  Being branded with an unfortunate distinction, however, against which many people have an awkward stigma, has prevented Bazan from being recognized as hands down one of the best song writers of our generation. Though all the albums put out by the band this decade were great, no where is Bazan's skill more on display than on Control.

Key Track: "Magazine"

16 RJD2, Deadringer [Definitive Jux, 2002]

It would be misleading, but true, to say that RJD2’s Deadringer is the Entroducing… of the “aughts”, considering how far the DJ genre has grown since the peak days of DJ Shadow. Still, there’s no doubt that Deadringer is the landmark album of one the most talented DJs to ever spin the tables.

Key Track: “Ghostwriter”

17 Trey Anastasio, Trey Anastasio [Elektra, 2002]

If Phish frontman Trey Anastasio felt the need to prove that he was capable of more than just jamming out on gnarly guitar solos to spaced out scores of teenagers and twenty-somethings, he did so on his first solo studio album.  On his self-titled adventure, Anastasio demonstrates his versatility, leading a big band through a complex array of genres from salsa to southern, but without ever losing that trademark grooviness that made him a Jam Band God.  The only thing missing may be a Jon Fishman Electrolux vacuum solo.

Key Track: “Alive Again”

*18 The Walkmen, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone [Star Time International, 2002] 

When the Strokes Is This It was unleashed on the public in late 2001, people were almost startled by its grittiness.  After all, with the exception of Radiohead, they had mostly been listening to over-produced, uninspired, "music for bed wetters" for the nearly half a decade.  Like fellow New York bands the Strokes and Interpol, the Walkmen were on the forefront of the "revival" movement of the early 2000s, and despite embodying that movement more than either of their contemporaries, the Walkmen slipped by mostly unnoticed.  Perhaps their off-beat style was too raw; if the Strokes were gritty, these guys were as filthy as Pigpen from Peanut's, their songs played with the kind of abandon only geniuses are capable of, reminiscent of Velvet Underground avant-garde tracks like "Heroine".  Where the Strokes, particularly lead singer Julian Casablancas, were famous for getting inebriated beyond comprehension and playing reckless, noise-filled shows, the Walkmen were so good because they could do it better unimpaired.

Key Track: “We’ve Been Had”

19 Brendan Benson, Lapalco [Star Time International, 2002]

Before Brendan Benson began taking the stage as Jack White’s right hand man in The Racontuers, he was a one-man Weezer, churning out catchy, alt-pop foot-tappers from his home base in Detroit. Musically, his songs are surprisingly driven despite their mild temperament. His glaring weakness is as a lyricist; his simple rhymes collect in skin-deep verses that are often juvenile and unpenetrating - modern adaptations of wussy, early British Invasion ballads like “Please Please Me.” It’s no wonder that despite being left off of American lists, Lapalco made it all the way up to #47 on British publication NME’s list of the albums of the decade. Still, as the recent success of bands like Free Energy illustrates, that kind of nuts-and-bolts simplicity and unobtrusiveness offers a form of escapism that clearly appeals to people. And at the end of the day, if it’s good enough for Jack White, it’s good enough for you.

Key Track: "Metarie"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Old News: An Enigmatic Rap Prodigy and Daft Punk Go to the Movies

Jay Electronica Rising

Somewhere in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a young black man conspires to save the rap game. His apartment is relatively bare, save for some clothes strewn on the floor, a couple of pairs of shoes and a few scattered personal items. He hails from the South, having made his way up from New Orleans slowly but surely, spending some time as a homeless drifter on the way. Today, he feels poised to take the hip-hop world by storm.

Anecdotes like that above are a dime a dozen amongst people trying to make it entertainment, and unfortunately a lot of those dreams will never come true. Yet for one man, the elusive rapper Jay Electronica, massive success seems all but a certainty, a certainty he seems to toy with as he still embraces the quiet life of a starving artist. Despite being a virtual no-name, a quasi-recluse living in Brooklyn, Jay is engaged to and has a child with Erykah Badu, produced a track for Nas on his 2008 LP, and claims Diddy, Nas, and Mos Def in his close circle of friends, all of whom attest to his prodigal talent. And while he has a small following of committed fans and tours often, he’s never released an album and remains unsigned, thereby remaining largely unknown in the hip-hop world and by extension mainstream music.

If you dig this or "Exhibit A," you should buy them on i-Tunes. Support an up and coming artist and the sound quality is significantly better.

That all may be changing, slowly but surely. Whispers that began as early as 2008 of a southern rapper with Kanye’s ear for production and ability to sample but with the East Coast flow of a Jay-Z have become hard to ignore for industry labels, and a slowly growing fan base seems intent on having the rest of the world discover the epic and unorthodox works of Jay Electronica. Late last year two tracks were finally released on iTunes, “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C”, with the latter creating a spark as it briefly hit the iTunes’ Top 10 Hip-Hop list and #86 on the U.S. Billboard’s R&B charts before quickly fading again.

For the people who heard those tracks, however, they won’t quickly be forgotten. Jay's beats are catchy and well-produced, but that's the easy(er) part. The most impressive part about his songs, as it should be with a rapper, is his flow and skill as a lyricist. Just listen to the first verse of "Exhibit A", or fast forward 3 minutes and 5 seconds into "Exhibit C".  And while these are only two tracks, they're the first two tracks to be released by Jay commercially, and a promising sign that there’s more to come, something that hip-hop fans might find both exciting and relieving.

When it comes to hip-hop, by no means do I consider myself an expert. But I have enough of an awareness of it to be able to see the changes that have occurred over the last decade as rap has moved into the mainstream, and hip-hop taken over rock music as prominent on the airwaves. There was once a time where MCs were (at least at occasionally) socially and politically aware, and would deliver poignant and enlightening commentary regarding life in America. Alternatively, modern MCs are mostly divas. In the last ten years, the “h” in hop has seemingly become silent and the "p" on hip now drags out. Hip-pop. Tracks are over produced, utilizing silly effects likes auto-tune. Lyrics have no content and songs are written for their hooks so that they’ll get played on the radio and snatched up on iTunes. Guys like Ludicris rap on Justin Bieber songs. The list of guys I respect in the game today pales in comparison to guys who are jokes, and most of the guys on the former list are guys who were around before it all happened, like Nas and Jay-Z. The most exciting thing about Jay Electronica is that he might be able to bring new accountability to a genre that’s rapidly losing it, much in the way bands like Radiohead and the Strokes saved mainstream rock a decade ago.

Daft Punk to Score TRON: Legacy

Although the announcement that Daft Punk would be scoring the modern revival of the visually groundbreaking 80’s film TRON was made last March, it wasn’t until the first trailer featuring the score premiered as a Coming Attraction to Inception in July that the full potential of such a relationship materialized. It’s no surprise that almost immediately following Inception’s theatrical release six tracks were leaked onto the world-wide-web before quickly being pulled down again.

While the idea of the quintessential space-age electronic duo scoring a film set in a futuristic digital world whose architects clearly had a penchant for glow-sticks is more than serendipitous, don’t expect anything overly intricate or that will have you dancing in the aisles amongst elementary schoolers and video-game nerds. Initial impressions of the soundtrack indicate it will be surprisingly minimalistic, Hans Zimmer-esque (Zimmer most recently scoring the aforementioned Inception), invoking repetitious and straight-forward melodies that slowly build to create heart-racing tension as the listener becomes more and more aware of them, a rising crest before finally crashing into a brief but potent explosion of bass and brass (or in this case, synth-brass) at the opportune moment.

The above trailer displays the most compelling of the Daft Punk composed music for the film yet released. You can also find three relatively brief and uneventful tracks on Disney’s Offical Tron website: I have to say, I never thought I’d be promoting a Disney website on this blog, nonetheless for its musical content.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Album Review: The Suburbs, by the Arcade Fire

4.25 out of 5 Records

The best characterization of the Arcade Fire's music that I ever heard was made as I played their debut album Funeral for a friend while driving back in 2005.  He simply pointed at the sun setting over the top of a giant hill on the horizon and said, "This sounds like what that looks like."

The truth in that statement and the whole aura around the band make it hard for anyone who has been paying attention to what’s been going on in music for the past six years not to love the Arcade Fire. Funeral is not only an indie staple but one of the defining records of the “aughts”, helping to create a movement that would ensure a final end to the age of teen-pop after the Strokes’-led garage rock revival began to fade. Their second effort, Neon Bible, wasn’t quite as impressive, but was consistent enough in quality and style to prevent the nostalgia left by Funeral from wearing off.  Heck, regardless of your taste, you have to give some credit to a band that actually makes albums in 2010 - cohesive full-lengths works of art that tackle lofty issues like community, death, and religion - in a time when your standard chart topping artist is focused on only writing catchy choruses with empty lyrics. Perhaps even more impressive is that they sound sincere doing it.

Other things: They’re from Canada. They’ve received the blessing of art-pop godfathers like the Davids Bowie and Byrne. One of them looks kind of like Napoleon Dynamite. I could go on for hours.

Don't steal his tots. Yea, you know who I'm talking about.

While the subject of their third LP is probably not as grandiose as their prior albums’, it’s one that is probably as definitive in the lives of modern American youths. Most kids will classify themselves as having grown up in the suburbs, and know the love/hate relationship with it all too well. On the one hand, it’s the place we grew up, the place where we experienced so many things for the first time. On the other, many of those experiences we’d like to forget. Suburbia is where we struggled to find our place in the world against the backdrop of boredom and Bud Light, and on The Suburbs the Arcade Fire attempts to provide the memory of that struggle with their own soundtrack.

In the end they pull it off, and though this time some of the tracks have an initially off-putting but inevitably effective Springsteen-esque rock vibe, the band is basically up to their same tricks: the persistent beat of a heavy bass drum, the use of double time, pop symphonies as enriched with ethereal vocal choruses as they are with elevating strings. Win Butler is still most convincing when his howl is angry or murmur defeated, and the band again proves that they’re at their best when delivering epic anthems with the heartbeat of house music.  Like “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies)” off of Funeral, the heaviest hitting tracks are amongst the most memorable, including “Empty Room,” “Half Light II (No Celebrations),” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” There are refreshing developments on these tracks as well: the voice of Régine Chassagne is prominently featured on all of them, whereas on prior albums on which the former jazz singer seemed content to take a “backseat” to husband Butler, and they also feature the band seriously delving into synths for the first time, providing addictive accompaniments that are just begging to be re-mixed.

On The Suburbs, Win's music proves to be more like Bruce's, in both style and content, than most hipsters are probably willing to admit.

While at first listen the album may be impressive but missing something, it is inevitably the band’s ability to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts that make them such a promising and talented group. For example, initially the opening and title track may appear unwieldy, with clanging guitar, near honky-tonk piano, and a generally overly optimistic clamor for Butler’s less-than uplifting chorus, “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving passed the feeling”. But the band ups the aggression and turns town the brightness as they somehow lead us seamlessly into the profound vow to aesthetic endeavors, “Ready to Start”, which promises “If the businessmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would/Then I guess I’ll just begin again”. By the album’s end they bring us back to the opener with “The Suburbs (continued)”, this time with Butler accompanied only by strings, allowing us to focus on the vocal melody and bringing to light the whole new context that has been spun over the course of the album. Butler pins down that love/hate relationship with the suburbs in one refrain, “If I could have it back/All the time that we wasted/You know I'd love to waste it again.” For me, the same song I skeptically dismissed, pessimistically assuming that no band in the modern age could deliver this consistently, had now given me a chill.  As my car CD player cycled back to beginning of the album, I suddenly couldn’t wait to hear the whole thing again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

3.5 out of 5 Records

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan

Maybe it’s just that I’m a little turned off by the ubiquitous praise for Inception that I can’t seem to escape on Facebook, or Twitter, or IMDb, or any other Interwebs hang-outs. Maybe it’s just that eighteen year old kid in me that’s still repulsed by the notion of conformity, who believes strongly in something called the “cromo effect”, which you may know better as "hoping on the bandwagon". But despite the fact that I enjoyed this movie to an extent, I can’t resist the desire to meticulously break out all the things wrong with it. On one level, Inception was a great movie; as a film, it was only good at best.

The movie plays out like this (no spoilers here, although clearly if you haven't seen the greatest movie of the twenty-first century, you're already a loser): After a brief prelude that serves as an introduction to some basic principles of infiltrating dreams and stealing from the subconscious, Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is approached by wealthy businessman Saito (Watanabe) with a proposal to wipe Cobb’s criminal record clean in exchange for “inception”, the extraordinarily difficult act of invoking an original idea in someone’s mind through a dream. Cobb and his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) embark on a mission to convene an elite team, a clichéd premise more reminiscent of a Michael Bay film (and yes, that team will include a reliable sidekick, a cool-handed rogue, and a doey-eyed newbie just learning the ropes, who, believe it or not, will overcome obstacles to inevitably become instrumental to the team's success!). The difference is that Cobb has been set with the challenge of implanting an idea into a subject’s subconscious, not a nuclear warhead into an apocalyptic asteroid, so the nonsensical filler characteristic of Bay’s movies is replaced with fictional dream science and strategizing that is always fascinating (the notion of dreams within dreams, the layering of time lapse as one delves deeper into a dream state), though only sometimes compelling. The film progresses at an incredible pace in order to brush the audience up on everything they’ll need to know to understand the film’s hour-long climax, and that doesn’t just mean all the technical jargon but also Cobb’s dark past, neither of which end up doing us a whole ton of good on the wayward journey to the an ultimately unconvincing conclusion.

As far as storyline is concerned, Inception often makes as little sense as the Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if anyone tells you that they understood entirely what was going on the first time around, they’re lying. I guess the difference for me was that with the latter film I didn’t feel duped as much as I did curious and excited because I knew there were more layers, a deeper meaning, and it was only a matter of uncovering them with thought and more viewings. But with Inception, the message was pretty clear from early on. I got them when I was 13 years old when I saw The Matrix, which ultimately set out to do the same thing as Inception, but did a better job of it.  Inception's storyline, however, the mechanism for getting that message across, just inevitably becomes illogical and unbelievable, even within its own context, to the point where it feels like it's being made up as it goes along. Nolan fails to untie all the knots. And I think maybe people are afraid to admit the same for fear that they’ll be accused of “not getting it”.

In many ways, to make an analogy, Inception reminds me a lot of the iPhone 4. For the most part, it’s wonderful. I mean I am giving this movie 3.5 out of 5 on an arbitrary scale, which is pretty good. But it’s certainly not without some major flaws. Nolan and Steve Jobs in the last month have teamed up to amend your grumpy uncle’s favorite mantra to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, well…just run with it, and hopefully people will forget when they see Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting bad guys in a hotel room with the physics of a Tilt-O-Whirl,” which is, admittedly, one of the cooler action sequences I can remember seeing, ever. Still, at times Nolan seems to ask us to simply accept certain points of the storyline that make little sense, to just trust him that it works and move on. And if we decide to challenge him then clearly we’re thinking about it wrong, and maybe we should, “just avoid holding it that way.”

Maybe this movie would be better if it had any kind of character development to fall back on whatsoever, but it doesn’t. Aside from Cobb, we don’t really get to the inner workings of any of these characters, other than maybe Saito to a minor extent. I was particularly disappointed that the character of Arthur was left so incredibly one-dimensional. Nary a word about his background, his relationship with Cobb, what makes him tick, is given even a glimmer, which also makes later hints of a romance brewing between himself and Ariadne (Page) more regrettable than charming. On the heel’s of The Dark Knight, whose entire cast of characters lived and breathed the film’s themes in one way or another, failing to create characters we really cared about was a bit of a let down from Nolan.

A bit of this review is just playing Devil’s Advocate in the face of the aforementioned Kool-Aid party that has been Inception’s reception.  However, as much as I want to call out the Emperor for not having any clothes, I do think that there is something to this movie. It was probably the best movie I’ll see this summer, after Toy Story 3. Cobb’s memories, sense of loss, and obsession with his regrets, it took me places that I wasn’t really expecting to go, places that frankly I might not have wanted to go, but the skill of which is required to do so I have great admiration for. It was wildy-entertaining, brilliantly imaginative, and had a commanding score. But I guess so did the trailer for Tron: Legacy. Though at times Inception held me captive and had me losing all sense of time and my surroundings, at some point, like happens sometimes when you’re dreaming, I realized that it was nothing more than a mirage. And that’s when the dream began to crumble.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Does anybody make real shit anymore?"

I was listening to Radiohead songs on shuffle the other day when the Bends track "Sulk" came on.  I guess I never realized it before since the Bends is not a Radiohead album I play very often, but it quickly became apparent to me that four-note guitar riff that leads into the song is exactly the same as the beginning of the Foo Fighter's track "In Your Honor" off of the album of thesame name (which came after "Sulk").  Both songs repeat the riff several times at the intro.

Despite the obvious similarity, I'm not calling foul as much as just making an interesting observation.  I'm not really one to buy much into the hype around "plagiarism" in music.  As someone who writes music, I understand that sometimes something that starts out as an original idea can bear a resemblance to something already written.  I thought the hubbub (apparently that is the technical spelling of "hubbub") around the similarities between the RHCP's "Dani California" with Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane" a few years ago was absurd.  It's 3-chords in a four chord progression, people, not an uncommon progression at that, and the cadence isn't even the same.  To be honest, it didn't even bother me when the Strokes admitted to ripping off Petty's "American Girl" on "Last Nite". 

In the modern era of music, where every other song you hear contains a sample or is a mash-up or a cover, it's just hard to be bothered when artistic freedom steps on the toes of creative licensing.  It used to annoy me when artists who I am really passionate about, typically ones who are not really that well known in the mainstream, were sampled/covered by huge artists whose "naive" fans (and I mean that as gently as possible) won't know the difference.  For example, when Coldplay took the main riff of Kraftwerk's "Computer World" for their song "Talk" on X&Y, or when Kanye West more famously sampled Daft Punk on "Stronger".  Inevitably I was able to reconcile those feelings though with the fact that a) those being sampled are (hopefully) making money off of royalties for those songs, and b) as people begin to discover that songs are sampled/covered it might inspire them to check out the original artists.  Obviously Daft Punk got absolutely huge exposure after "Stronger".  Yet, I still laugh every time I hear the hilarious Kanye (who I love) pointing the finger and asking "Does anybody make real shit anymore?" on a song whose entire backdrop was taken straight off someone elses album.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Album Review: MGMT Congratulations

Most of my opinion of MGMT can be summarized by a YouTube video I found when I was on a Talking Heads kick that portrays Wesleyan students Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser covering “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” in what seems to be an impromptu concert outside their dormitory back in 2003. Although their performance comes off as amateur, at the very least it’s hard not to find endearing. Here are two liberal arts kids playfully displaying some good taste, good intentions and nice synth equipment, but not taking themselves too seriously. Even though the execution isn’t necessarily there, that feels ok.

Over the next five years Andrew and Ben would develop and release the electro-pop smash Oracular Spectacular as MGMT. And although clearly they had polished up their act a bit, many of the same qualities that made them appealing in that video contributed to their very successful debut. They couldn’t really sing. They wore silly outfits. But in a time when many other electronic groups were trying to be avant-garde, they wrote simple but incredible synth-hooks to songs about growing up that evoke a sense of nostalgia to those that have already been there, done that, and are relatable to those on their way. And lyrics like “We’re fated to pretend” indicated they still didn’t take themselves too seriously, which meant we still didn’t have to either. All we had to do was enjoy them, and ourselves, for what they were.

While charming, that kind of appeal doesn’t necessarily have staying power in the music industry; in fact it’s the calling card of one-hit wonders. Being cute or a novelty eventually wears off, and you can’t always be in the right place at the right time. I often don’t agree with Rolling Stone, but I thought their note summarizing Oracular as they ranked it the 18th best album of the decade pretty spot on: “Two hipster geeks from Wesleyan plug in their rad vintage keyboards, pick out some far fetching headbands and compose a suite of damn-near-perfect synthesized heartache. . . but there’s also a sense that MGMT only could have happened right now.”

In other words, if MGMT wanted to continue to be successful post-Oracular, they had their work cut out for them with what is already one of the most daunting tasks in music: the sophomore follow-up to an iconic debut. Would MGMT end up making what equates to a B-sides release of Oracular, good but too similar to warrant any special praise, like The Strokes and Interpol had done with Room on Fire and Antics? Would they lose their identity by trying something completely different and falling on their faces like the Killers had done with Sam’s Town?

When it was announced that MGMT was releasing their follow-up album Congratulations as a “no singles album”, not releasing or promoting particular tracks and instead encouraging a more “individualistic” exploration of the album, most immediately feared the worst. Not only did it just seem like a poor marketing strategy for a band who had achieved success by writing catchy singles that America’s youth rallied had around as anthems, but it was hard not to be skeptical that a “no singles album” really meant “there are no songs on this album good enough to be singles.” Such a stunt seemed the equivalent of the film industry practice of not pre-screening movies that are so bad they will undoubtedly get lampooned by critics, thereby delaying a negative buzz.

Perhaps lowering expectation was part of the strategy, and if so it worked, because otherwise I don’t know if I would have made it through the first two dizzying tracks of Congratulations. On “It’s Working”, over-dubbed staccato vocals (and is that a French accent?) delivered over frantic synths and harpsichords had me convinced that I was listening to Air-on-crack or a post-punk rendition of Rolling Stones failed space-rock excursion Her Majesties Satanic Request. These themes continue on “Song for Dan Treacy”, as MGMT straddles a kind of awkward line between prog and glam that sometimes sounds like bad Bowie. If you listen closely at points you can even hear the goblins from Labyrinth doing background vocals.

However, the band manages to shake-off their sophomore insecurities after this initial stumble and seem to find their footing in the slower tempo of “Someone’s Missing”, reintroducing us to those comfortable and familiar falsetto vocals which we heard on Oracular’s “Electric Feel”. From here on out the songs are much more well composed and conceived, and the album begins to hit a stride through the next few tracks before delving into the spacey 12-minute endeavour “Siberian Break”, a schizophrenic, acid-induced adventure containing both gaffes and moments of brilliance, making it representative of the album as a whole. And, like the album, the track is ultimately rewarding, at times showing an airy psych-pop expertise reminiscent of the Flaming Lips. Still, Congratulations continues to offer its occasional misfire, such as on the track “Brian Eno,” which not only errs musically in the same vein as the opening tracks, but begs the question, “Is there any move in the ‘Appeal to Hipsters’ playbook as desperate as simply evoking the name of Brian Eno?”

Congratulations closes with the title track, although this tranquil song centered around a catchy vocal melody is barely indicative of the rest of the album. That also happens to make it far and away the most accessible song on Congratulations, and perhaps also its best, but unfortunately not nearly flashy enough to make it a good single. This relaxed endnote could be deciphered as a sigh of relief, and over a lackadaisically pounded bass drum and lightly strummed acoustic guitar, VanWyngarden sings, “All I need’s a great big ‘Congratulations’,” which he deserves for this challenging but worthwhile album. Although I highly doubt that in the closing weeks of 2019 we’ll see this sophomore effort on anyone’s list for albums of the decade, by no means does that make it a failure. The imperfections are there, and sometimes glaring, but under extreme pressure to deliver MGMT has attempted something starkly different from their debut, something that challenged expectations of them, and manages to escape largely unscathed. And while that might sound like a back-handed compliment, it's certainly not meant to be. If anything, it took this highly skeptical critic and made a believer out of him. While observing someone being “naïve” can, in some cases, be endearing, as it was when watching Andrew and Ben cover an appropriately titled song as college kids, so can watching someone mature and develop beyond childish notions. MGMT has grown up, and it’s time we begin to take them seriously.

You can listen to Congratulations streaming or by individual tracks here:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Harder, Better, Faster, Whiter

A couple weeks ago someone sent me the below video the band The Whitest Boy Alive performing live in Berlin in 2008. Though I hate the name (did you ever notice the direct positive relationship between number of words in a band’s name and band name lameness?), they've got a nice energy and it’s worth checking out. If you’re familiar with the band Kings of Convenience, the vocals of lead singer Erlend Øye will be instantly recognizable. The reason I mention it, though, is because of the awesome mash-up of the same song with Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” - one of the best I've heard.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Elliott Smith: The Band Before the Man, or: Mr. Heatmiser, Melt in His Clutch

For someone whose solo career lasted only just shy of a decade, and who never released an album on a major record label, Elliott Smith has amassed a surprisingly large and dedicated following. The allure of his compositions is undeniable, his early albums dwelling on the beautiful simplicity of acoustic guitar and vocals in the vein of Nick Drake, but with the raw, lyrical honesty of Leonard Cohen; on his later works these would explode outward with pop brilliance reminiscent of the Beatles and vocal harmonies that even Brian Wilson could appreciate. As someone who once worshipped the ground that Elliott walked on, I’ve come to notice two things that even devoted fans generally don’t seem to know about Smith. The first is how to spell his first name correctly (it’s two LLs and two TTs people, honestly). The second is that before becoming a solo artist Elliott Smith did belong to a band, the Portland-based group Heatmiser, his tenure with which coincided with, if not directly influenced, the development of his brilliant solo career. For die-hard Smith fans, watching this development can be a fascinating and enlightening experience.

Heatmiser was co-founded in the early 90’s by Smith and classmate Neil Gust while the two were still attending Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. A grunge band, it was only natural for the group to move out to Portland after graduating. There they would release three albums: Dead Air (1993), Cop and Speeder (1994) and Mic City Sons (1996). It was during that time that Smith began to emerge as the skillful song-writer we all know and love, both with Heatmiser and on the side in his solo career.

The first album in Heatmiser’s collection, Dead Air is a pretty clear-cut grunge album; it’s raw and aggressive, and if someone played it for you without telling you, you might not know that Smith was even playing on it at all. Smith would later express discontent at these early years, describing the band’s repertoire as “loud rock songs with no dynamic” and complaining that he “couldn’t come out and show where [he] was coming from.” One can’t help but think that this disappointment fueled Smith to exercise a bit more influence in composing songs for the next album, and he begins to reveal small hints of his genius on Cop and Speeder. Speeder is still pretty grungy, but it’s here that we find Smith’s influence apparent on the song “Something to Lose,” as well as on Heatmiser’s first unmistakably “Smith” track, the oddly titled “Antonio Carlos Jobin,” the most (and arguably only) subdued song on any either of the band’s first two albums. In the meantime Smith had also begun releasing his own solo material, including the almost exclusively acoustic Roman Candle (1994) only a few months prior to Cop and Speeder, followed shortly after by the like-minded but more ambitious self-titled Elliott Smith (1995).

By the time Heatmiser was constructing their final album Mic City Sons, Smith’s hand in the song-writing was clearly a heavy one, and I’d be only half-joking if I referred to it as “The Lost Elliott Smith Album,” in my opinion a must listen for any serious Smith fan. Regardless of the fact that it’s just a very good album all around, at least five tracks are obviously Smith’s work: “Plainclothes Man”, “The Fix Is In”, “You Gotta Move”, “See You Later”, and “Half Right.” All the facets of his style are evident here: the trademark layering of vocal harmonies, often to create a baroque-esque quality, the characteristic guitar strumming and chord progressions, and the minimalistic bass and drum lines that allow Smith’s distinctive voice and dual melodic acoustic and twangy electric guitar playing to always be the focal point. Interestingly, while any of those Sons songs would easily sound at home on his heavier, electric solo albums like XO (1998) or Figure 8 (2000) which would come later in his career, they were markedly different from the solo work he was actually producing at the time. Unlike on Roman Candle and Elliott Smith, on which Smith was mostly recording alone at home with a four-track, the songs played with Heatmiser were recorded in a studio with a complete band; not only are these some of his best composed songs, but they are also some of his best produced. Smith had a band in Heatmiser, a band which he had clearly become the star of, and he wasn’t afraid to exercise that influence. It was that lack of fear that led to the band breaking up before Mic City Sons was even released, as tensions grew over Smith’s blossoming solo career.

Obviously, and sadly, with Smith’s premature death in 2003 and the releases of the posthumous album From a Basement on a Hill (2004) and the B-sides/unreleased collection New Moon (2007) in its wake, it would seem that pretty much all of the material Smith recorded has now been made available to the public. For people looking for more of Smith’s sound, exploring his influences on the music he made with Heatmiser is a rewarding experience well worth the effort. For my money, Heatmiser’s studio album Mic City Sons is an even more interesting and fulfilling Smith album than New Moon, whose songs are good but generally “more of the same” of the early acoustic album sessions from which they are taken.

Below is a music video of the Heatmiser song “Plainclothes Man” from Mic City Sons, which I recently discovered on YouTube, and which to my surprise (as per the logo in the bottom left) apparently once aired on MTV2. There are gems of Elliott like this out there, so if you’re adamant about it, keep looking. Whatever we manage to find, though, it will never be enough to make us feel better about the loss of a great artist. In fact, it will surely only make us miss him more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Genealogy of Rock, 19th Century to Today

If you’re an avid fan of popular music (not just listening to the it but reading/thinking/talking about the people/places/cultural significance, etc.), you’ve no doubt been exposed to the myriad of classifications that are often thrown about by critics and historians alike to describe various movements in rock and roll history. There are the obvious ones: British invasion, psychedelic, and punk, to name a few. There are also the slightly more obscure, like British New Wave metal, boogie rock, and jangle pop. Believe it or not, these “genres” were not just dreamt up by music snobs to sound even more pretentious, an elitist code to make sure no one unworthy could join in the conversation, although undoubtedly they are susceptible to that abuse. However, I’m not necessarily sure most people who are even familiar with the various differentiations understand them, myself included. Sure, I’ll read an article where something might be described as “post-punk” or “new wave” and I’m able to feign comprehension to the extent that some titles are self-descriptive, or that the context of a piece might permit a degree of inference, but I never really had an understanding of how such genres fit together in relation to each other or to the broader evolution of music as a whole. It’s something I’ve always wanted to understand, and since this is “supposed” to be the anti-snob blog, something I actually want to help other people understand, too.

To express these relationships, I envisioned a type of flowchart, almost like an evolutionary diagram or family tree, showing how music has progressed and how new genres developed from others over time. I tried to find something online that was both visual and comprehensive but without much luck. The closest thing to what I had in mind was popular music scholar Reebee Garofalo’s “Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music”, which you can see below.

This was a start, but still not the ideal expression; for starters, it includes the use of artists to guide the flow, which is more information than I needed to see explicitly for my intent. It’s also a bit conservative in the sense that it only uses the most high-level genres, not distinguishing where there are sometimes popular sub-genres; it only shows about a dozen "rock" movements between 1955 and 1978. And therein also lies the most glaring issue: Garofalo’s genealogy stops, probably for good reason, at a vital period in rock and roll history. The development of punk and heavy metal in the mid to late-70’s and the diverse explosion of work that stemmed from them is incredibly dense and difficult to decipher, but no less important to understand than the invention of rock itself. If I wanted to see the complete visual diagram of the evolution of rock and roll from its origins to today, I would have to make one myself.

After many, many, many hours of work and research, this is what I came up with:

A few disclaimers: you might notice that not everything you’ve ever heard of is there. For the sake of clarity and my own sanity, I decided to limit this to only the development and evolution of rock and roll and it’s most well-known and pure-bred descendants. If I tried to, for example, include a parallel development of soul music into things like (contemporary) R&B and hip-hop, and then depict any integration of soul with rock… let’s just say it would be incredibly difficult and the illustration wouldn’t be pretty. The same can be said for if I had tried to include every genre of “rock” ever made, such as the dozens upon dozens of genres of heavy metal that apparently exist (Viking metal, anyone?). I did include a degree of folk and country, as these are more closely related to rock and roll and I felt contributed to the overall picture rather than hindering it. They aren’t nearly drawn out to their full extents, though. As far as the “boxes” are concerned, the idea is that they correspond with my interpretation of the time periods when genres came into being as unique movements; they’re not intended to show the length of those movements.

The final thing to mention is that obviously this is represents a massive generalization with the purpose of trying to understand something immensely complicated and perhaps in a way that it isn’t meant to be understood. Clearly this is not a science, and as someone who is creative myself, even I don’t like the idea of trying to align the creative efforts of thousands into a neat little diagram with boxes and arrows. However, such methods are often a necessary evil when trying to communicate complex subjects or ideas in a concise and useful way. What it is to write about music, particularly in the sense of critiquing, is to try to describe in words what something sounds like. When one tries to wrap their head around this, trying to take the very characteristics which make one medium truly unique from others and attempting to portray them in another medium, and in an absolute way, the idea is absurd. Just like I could never write a melody that would allow you to see what the Mona Lisa looks like, I could never write a review that allows you to hear what Lou Reed's Transformer sounds like. What I could do is compare it to some sort of foundation, central points from which I can then weave, at the very least, a notion. But like the diagram I’ve presented, that notion will still only be based on my own interpretations and experiences, and you’re better off listening, or discovering, for yourself.

Please feel free to add your own comments, however positive or negative, this is a work in progress, not my Gospel word.