Monday, August 31, 2009

Top 20 Songs of the 2000s: Another Opinion

Everyone has their list of the top 20 songs of the decade whether they know it or not. And everyone uses different criteria to make that list. My process was to take my subjective favorite songs from the decade and then try to pick the objective best 20 of those. While I didn't have a hard rule, I made an effort to keep it one song per artist for a little more variety. Thus, this isn't a true top 20. Also, the order would probably change on any given day. I'm kind of surprised that some bands didn't make the cut (The Strokes, The Knife, McLusky), but they will all certainly appear on any future albums of the decade list. Anyway, enjoy.

20. "You Know You're Right" - Nirvana
Why: This might be cheating a bit because it was recorded in the '90s, but it's my favorite Nirvana studio song by far and, I think, their best. Listening to it makes me sad that we tragically didn't get to hear an album of this stuff.
Best Part: 0:57 - "Paaaaaaaaiiin!"

19. "Paper Tiger" - Spoon
Why: It's an odd song, to be sure, built on a few austere organ chords. But because it is odd, it stands out on Kill the Moonlight and becomes that great album's heart.
Best part: 2:43 - "I will be there with you when you turn out the light."

18. "Emily Kane" - Art Brut
Why: It's a perfect punk-pop song. Not pop-punk. That shit sucks.
Best Part: The last, fist pumping minute.

17. "PDA" - Interpol
Why: I'm pretty sure I have Turn on the Bright Lights to thank for getting me into anything British from the '80s. It's a very big thanks. "PDA" is, by a nose, my favorite song from that album.
Best Part: 3:55 to the end. It's pretty.

16. "Toxicity" - System of a Down
Why: It perfectly straddles the line between rock and metal and is a killer song in either genre.
Best Part: 3:02 - When Tankian's incredible voice comes back for an encore.

15. "Kissing the Beehive" - Wolf Parade
Why: It's long, it's weird, it has some uncomfortable time signatures, and it has distinct parts, but it's probably the high point of Wolf Parade's lifespan, including anything they do from here on out.
Best Part: 10:27 - The reprise of the chanting first heard at the 3:36 mark.

14. "Hounds of Love" - The Futureheads
Why: Best cover ever.
Best Part: 2:24 - When the drums reset everything and the Futureheads begin to tear through to the end.

13. "The Grudge" - Tool
Why: Story time. I was in Myrtle Beach for post-exams when Lateralus came out. I went with two friends to buy it (along with REM's Reveal, and Weezer's Green Album) at some mall we found somewhere. One of these friends is a huge Tool fan and had been waiting for this album for, I don't know, six years or something. We got back to the house we were renting and went to separate rooms to listen to it on the Discmans (Discmen?) we brought for this one purpose. We must have started listening at about the same time because right after "The Grudge" ended on the copy I was listening to, my friend came into my room with the biggest fucking smile I have ever seen plastered on his face. I knew why.
Best Part: 6:58 - Maynard's scream.

12. "Empty Cans" - The Streets
Why: Spoiler alert: he finds his money. It was in the TV. In the TV. Yes, you're right, that doesn't make any sense. And it doesn't matter.
Best Part: 3:30 - When the piano kicks in. Might be my favorite three notes of any song I've ever heard.

11. "Kissing the Lipless" - The Shins
Why: Oh Inverted World was cute. This first song from its follow up was a statement announcing that The Shins were serious and were here to stay.
Best Part: 0:52 - When it, sort of shockingly, picks up.

10. "A Certain Romance" - Arctic Monkeys
Why: It's a really, really smart song disguised as NME hype-of-the-week. Alex Turner is good.
Best Part: 2:06 - "There's only music so that there's new ringtones"

9. "Postcards From Italy" - Beirut
Why: How did a teenager write this? God, this is heartbreaking.
Best Part: 1:08 - When the horns kick in.

8. "Leaf House" - Animal Collective
Why: Play it in the fall when it's raining. You'll see.
Best Part: 2:00 - The abrupt change from sleepy to uplifting.

7. "The Rat" - The Walkmen
Why: Needs no explanation.
Best Part: 2:30 - "When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw / Now I go out alone if I go out at all"

6. "Time For Heroes" - The Libertines
Why: Every decade, there's a song that just sounds like England. This is the '00s version.
Best Part: 1:24 - "There's fewer more distressing sights than that of an / English man in a baseball cap".

5. "Reckoner" - Radiohead
Why: The best band of the decade's best song of the decade. This does not automatically make it the best song of the decade. Anyone using this logic (best player on best team) to vote for Mark Teixiera for AL MVP over Mauer is a fool and an asshole.
Best Part: The fade-out at the end.

4. "Goin' Against Your Mind" - Built to Spill
Why: It's just fucking epic.
Best Part: 5:30 - "Thought it was an alien / turned out to be just God."

3. "3rd Planet" - Modest Mouse
Why: While "Float On" is, understandably, the more popular song, "3rd Planet" is the band's best.
Best Part: 0:55 - "Your Heart felt good / it was dripping pitch and made of wood / and your hands and knees / felt cold and wet on the grass to me." One of my favorite lyrics ever.

2. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" - The Arcade Fire
Why: I've heard this song maybe a hundred times and it still gives me cold chills.
Best Part: 3:00 - When the tempo picks up again, this time for good.

1. "Hey Ya!" - Outkast
Why: Lost of great songs have a simplicity that makes me think "I could have done that if I knew how to play a guitar/use Protools/use a 4-track." Not this one. It is expert and mad, complicated, unique, and perfect.
Best Part: 2:46 - "Shake it like a Polaroid picture."

--Jim Powers

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top 20 Songs of the 2000s

I mentioned in the last post that Pitchfork recently listed what they thought were the top 500 songs of the 2000s. It was a pretty good list, and as I was reading it I found myself thinking, "Yeah, that would be on mine," (or "Who the hell is Jackson And His Computer Band?"), and as this list was forming in my brain, I grabbed a pen and started to jot them down. Of the 30-35 that came to mind, 20 seemed to really stick out as songs that "define the decade." What does that mean? That means ten years from now they will all be lumped together on some terrible compilation album that can only be purchased by dialing some 1-800 number. No, actually, it really doesn't mean anything. These are just songs that I have a feeling I will remember. And these aren't necessarily my favorite songs of the decade, although some of them are, and the others I like very much (that was a prerequisite), but more like songs from 2000-2009 that I feel have the ability to pull numerous people into the wonderful world of music and are damn good. The number one song notwithstanding, there really is no significance to the order, it took approximately two minutes to put together and just seemed right at the time. This list is not comprehensive, and no less than five seconds after this is posted, some song will pop into my head that should have been on it, but I'll just save that for the comments. Feel free to do the same. Here we go:

20. "Stuck Between Stations" - The Hold Steady
19. "Wolf Like Me" - TV On The Radio
18. "The Funeral" - Band Of Horses
17. "Last Night" - The Strokes
16. "Crazy" - Gnarls Barkley
15. "99 Problems" - Jay-Z
14. "Clocks" - Coldplay
13. "All My Friends" - LCD Soundsystem
12. "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - Wilco
11. "The Rat" - The Walkmen
10. "Chicago" - Sufjan Stevens
9. "Mr. Brightside" - The Killers
8. "Such Great Heights" - The Postal Service
7. "Float On" - Modest Mouse
6. "Idioteque" - Radiohead
5. "Do You Realize??" - The Flaming Lips
4. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" - The Arcade Fire
3. "Paper Planes" - M.I.A.
2. "Hey Ya" - Outkast
1. "Fell In Love With A Girl" - The White Stripes

"Fell In Love With A Girl" is not the best White Stripes song from the past decade. "Seven Nation Army" probably is. In fact, it probably isn't even the best White Stripes song from White Blood Cells. "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground" might be. But this song matters more and here's why. I remember watching the MTV Video Music Awards in 2002 back when the VMAs were a total train wreck, but also extremely watchable if not completely unavoidable. (I presume they are now just a train wreck.) The usual suspects were there: Eminem, Nelly, Avril Lavigne, etc. But because of a pretty cool lego-like animated video, so were the White Stripes. They seemed out of place, the song seemed out of place, and I loved it. Maybe it wasn't as monumental as my memory suggests, but at the time it seemed to hint that decent rock music was seeping back into the mainstream for the first time in about ten years. And if the other 19 songs are any indication, it is one of my earliest memories in what turned out to be a pretty good decade in music.

--Alex Crisafulli

Sunday, August 23, 2009

7 Random (And Mostly) Musical Observations To End The Summer

1. Well, it ended over two weeks ago, but Jim DeRogatis is still hammering away at Lollapalooza. (I think he has officially reached "curmudgeon" status.) He is now calling it...wait for it..."Wal-Mart on the Lake." Well done. I grew up in a town of 16,000, and had no idea all those years I was going to a "Lollapalooza by the Burger King" to buy socks. Maybe Lincoln, Illinois, is more hip than I ever knew.

2. Walking around DC, I have seen a lot of these "Michael Jackson: August 29, 2008 - June 25, 2009" memorial t-shirts. Has anyone else noticed that MJ's picture on these shirts is usually circa 1984, and not circa 2003? Wonder why that could be? Hey, speaking of which...

3. ...the night he died, I decided out of all the possible tributes that seemed to be everywhere, I would watch whatever MTV had whipped up. Seemed fiiting, right? Problem is, I realized at that moment I had no idea what channel MTV was on. I was going to search my DirecTV guide but then realized I didn't really care and just watched CNN. That's how far MTV has fallen. And it has been that way for awhile. I guess it doesn't really matter, Youtube has essentially rendered MTV obsolete anyway.

4. Pitchfork recently unveiled what they considered to be the top 500 tracks of the 2000s. Numbers 500-200 are worth a skim, 199-21 can be read if you have time, and check out their top 20 because I thought they were pretty solid. Later this week, I'll post what I think are the top 10 or so songs of this decade. (Yes, hold on to your butts.)

5. Staying on Pitchfork, the Lala add-on to their revamped site is fantastic. Today, as I was reading Joe Tangari's review of the Arctic Monkeys' new album Humbug, I utilized the Lala play feature along the way and thought to myself, "Tangari is exactly right. The song 'Potion Approaching' DOES in fact opt for Zeppelin-ish start-stop passages that read just like 'Achilles Last Stand' but recast as a Britpop tune before shifting completely into a seesawing, almost mild-like psychedelic mid-section." I couldn't have written it better myself. (Honestly, I couldn't have, album reviews are harder than they seem. I think I would rather tell an Aristocrats joke at someone's wake than have to write album reviews for a living.) And still staying on Pitchfork...

6. ...I don't feel all that comfortable making light of this, since it is for charity, but I had to laugh when I read this story about an ebay auction for a shirt designed by Jeff Mangum. (For what it's worth, I'm not laughing at the charity, I am laughing at Ryan Dombal's c-jerk write-up.) Last I saw, the highest bid for the shirt was $305, with the proceeds going to help homeless children in Mongolia. And if a t-shirt that didn't look like it would survive more than three or four cycles in the wash just wasn't your thing, you also could have bid on a vinyl copy of Neutral Milk Hotel's first album On Avery Island. Oh, but that wasn't all! What if I were to tell you that the record was autographed by Mangum, and (AND!!!) even had his thumbprint?! Might that be something you would have been interested in? Of course it would! The highest bid I saw was $164.27 and that was with nine hours to go. But sorry, the bidding is over. (Why was the autographed record going for so much less than the t-shirt?) And I know that the homeless problem in Mongolia is a pretty serious issue today for most Americans, so if you missed out on the auction, please check out this link. (Okay, maybe I am sort of making fun of the charity, and that makes me feel like a jerk. So honestly, click on that link, you'll learn some pretty interesting facts about homeless children in Mongolia. For starters, it appears Richard Gere may or may not be one of them.)

7. Two things help heal the wounds of a disappearing summer. The beginning of football season (for all of us Bears fans, I must say, it's gonna be a good year, I can just tell), and fall concerts. For whatever reason, September and October just always seem to be stock-full with great shows. This was definitely true in Chicago, and it's still true in DC. I'm not sure if every band is trying to get one last tour in before winter rolls around, or if they're just looking to have a return to normalcy after a summer of music festivals, but my fall is pretty much booked and I am not complaining. So if you happen to live near a music venue, be sure to check out the schedule. Your favorite band is probably stopping by soon.


Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 Lollapalooza: Sunday (From Miles and Miles Away)

Lollapalooza was this past weekend in Chicago. I heard it was a great time, but I wouldn't know. Well, not really. I was actually 700 miles away in Washington, DC, where this past Sunday it was a typical August day in the District: hot, humid, and feeling like hell. It was in the mid-to-high 90's and may have been the hottest day of the year. After spending the morning on a walk running some errands and braving the hellements, I said screw that, and headed indoors where my air conditioner was working at such a furious pace, it was actually yelling "fuck you" at every Smart Car that drove by.

I knew some of my friends were at Lollapalooza, and I also knew that was video streaming portions of the festival. It was also hot in Chicago, and just because my friends were sweating themselves silly in Grant Park, didn't mean I had to be. I put on an old pair of Umbros (yep), grabbed a lemonade and tuned in. This is what I saw:

The first band I caught was the Airborne Toxic Event. I have never really listened to this crew, and they seemed intriguing (sort of like Interpol only without the sharp looks and deodorant), but what struck me was how great the video feed was. Clear and crisp with great angles of the stage, crowd, and city. That's what I call production. For those wondering where the price of their ticket was going, it was so people like me who didn't buy a ticket could also enjoy the festivities. Thanks! And let me tell you, this is the way to take in a festival. Whenever I got bored with the Airborne Toxic Event, I would check out my fantasy baseball team (currently in 2nd place, no big deal), walk over to my kitchen and make a drink, or just lie down on my bed and take a power nap. This is the life. Oh, and if you think for a second that I wasn't texting my friends and asking them rather mockingly how the weather was at Grant Park, you're crazy.

According to iClips, Dan Deacon would be featured next. This is something I really wanted to see. A lot of people said that his last album was really good, but I could never bring myself to listen to it. Deacon has just always seemed like one of those acts that needs to be seen and heard, and not just heard. (I have made a promise to myself to listen to a Dan Deacon record very soon.) After preparing a bowl of Edy's Double Fudge Brownie ice cream and returning to my computer, it came to my attention that the feed was down. I have no idea what happened, but do know that iClips user korm5421 was not happy about it. He posted about three or four angry messages. (If you scroll through the message board, you'll see that he was complaining nearly every five minutes the entire day.) By the time the feed rebounded, Deacon was onstage with what looked like an entire marching band, and he had somehow commanded the massive crowd to create a large hole near the center of the stage. One guy was in the middle doing some slow dance moves, and the surrounding crowd was mimicking him. Once the music got going, the crowd just erupted and went crazy. People were jumping, crowd surfing, and rioting. It kind of made me wish I was there, but that thinking ended with my next bite of ice cream.

The Kaiser Chiefs were up next. They did not sound well, and I headed to the living room and turned on the television where I was immediately treated to a live concert on HDNet by the Barenaked Ladies. Now seemed as good of time as any to stick my face in the fan. Luckily, I soon found Major League on AMC. Great movie, but boy does it suffer without the curse words.

I faded in and out of sleep and eventually made my way back to my computer for the Cold War Kids. It was at this point where I tried to watch the band and the movie at the same time. I wasn't accomplishing either objective so I turned off the television. As the band was playing "Hospital Beds" I noticed some guy crowd surfing. I know it has been said countless times, but it really does look douchey when someone is crowd surfing at a completely inopportune time. Really, it does. I learned this the hard way at GG Allin's funeral. (Too soon?)

Snoop Dogg was next on the feed. Holla. The crowd looked absolutely enormous, and I don't think I have ever been in a crowd that big. At one point I think I heard Snoop (shockingly) say, "Put your motherfucking hands in the air," but I can't verify this because I was too engulfed in a mesmerizing profile about great white sharks on 60 Minutes. Allegedly, the recent increase in shark attacks on humans might be connected to humans increasingly seeking out great white sharks. Yeah, and Snoop might be high. At the end of Snoop's set (great white sharks trump Snoop, but Andy Rooney does not), he led the crowd in an impressive chorus of "Na na na na/Na na na na/Hey hey hey/Snoop Dogg." Believe me, it sounded much cooler than it reads.

Fuzzy guitar lovin' Silversun Pickups were stuck with the task of following Snoop. Always fun. I wasn't digging them at first, and even found lead singer Brian Aubert to be slightly annoying any time he tried to scream out a note. However, I thought they got stronger as they went on, and by the time they closed with "Lazy Eye," I was really feeling it. That's an incredible single, and they nailed it. (Although I texted my friend Bret who was there right afterwards to express my enjoyment, and he told me that he thought they sucked. Maybe just maybe, watching the festival over a computer in a different time zone doesn't exactly capture the experience.)

The next three hours were just filler for me (Portugal. The Man, STS9, Neko Case), until the day's headliners, Jane's Addiction and the Killers, were set to close out the weekend. The iClipse site was still listing the 11:30 cst timeslot as TBA, so I had no idea who I would get to watch, and rather than just spend the next few hours staring at my computer, I killed a couple of hours and watched Iron Man on Netflix. Cool movie.

One of the reasons I am sort of relieved I wasn't at Lollapalooza is because it would have sucked having to choose between Jane's Addiction and the Killers. I love both. I realized I was a big fan of the Killers right about the same time it was decided that they were no longer cool. Interestingly enough, this same thing happened to me in high school with OJ Simpson. (Too soon?) But speaking of high school, Jane's Addiction, pretty much the namesake of the festival, was one of my favorite bands way back when, and I have never seen them. So I probably would have decided to linger near their stage, but man, it would have been a tough decision. Good thing at home I had iClipse to make the decision for me. Problem is, when the schedule popped up, it said we would be watching Jane's Addiction but only from 11:30 to 11:45. Fifteen minutes? We were given Bat for Lashes for an entire hour, but only get Jane's Addiction for 15 minutes? Oh, well. Also, the schedule was on central standard time, so this meant I had to stay up until 12:30 am. On a work night, no less. No matter, I was going to do it.

I grabbed a book and laid down on my bed to kill the final hour. I was naive, I didn't stand a chance. I think I fell asleep approximately ten minutes later, only to wake up around 2:15 am with all the lights and computer still on, and 3 Nights in August lying on top of me. I got up and turned out the lights, and briefly considered playing a few Jane's Addiction tracks before officially calling it a night, but thought the better of it. Sometimes you just have to be there.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why Are Certain Chicago Music Critics Still Whining About Lollapalooza?

Ever since Lollapalooza reinvented itself with the parnternship of Perry Farrell and C3 Presents and arrived at Chicago's doorstep in 2005, it hasn't exactly been welcomed with open arms by everyone. It seems every year on the heels of the festival the main music critics in town line up to take their shots, be it at the lineup, the corporate backing, or with misplaced comparisons to the Pitchfork Festival. Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times seems to annually slam the festival, or, if he must, begrudgingly deliver compliments in a backhanded fashion. Last Friday, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune was the latest to get his digs in, with a piece entitled Lollapalooza Promoters Still Searching for Chicago Identity. Kot seems to argue that Lollapalooza hasn't done enough to embrace and identify with Chicago. He writes:

But questions remain about how fully Lollapalooza has embraced and been embraced by Chicago beyond the considerable revenue it brings to the local economy. In staging the biggest annual rock festival in the city’s history on Chicago’s showcase property, C3 is held to a particularly high standard. So far it has executed a hugely successful festival with few hitches. But the organization remains at arm’s length from the city’s music community – more of a formidable interloper than a trusted accomplice.

Questions remain? Questions from whom? Probably not from those that bought the 225,000 tickets. Also, the fact that Lollapalooza has recently signed on to remain in Chicago through at least 2018 should quell any questions as to where their loyalties lie. And my guess is the last sentence in that paragraph stems from the "radius clause" that is in the contract for all of the bands that play Lollapalooza, which basically restricts them from playing local venues 90 days before or after the festival. I agree that these clauses are stupid and wholly unnecessary, but they are pretty typical for all large festivals. And the bands that play Lollapalooza never seem to have much trouble arranging an aftershow, or even playing the city a few days before or after the festival. The policy seems to be, ask the promoters if you can play, and they will let you play. If there has been a case of a band being refused a show after asking , I have not heard of it.

Not saying that I would have heard about it. I am a mere casual observer and fan of live music, I am not on the inside, nor privy to some of the politicking that goes on in certain Chicago music circles. That being said, I wonder if the bitterness directed at Lollapalooza is less about the radius clauses and more about the promoters not kissing the right asses. And I am not wondering rhetorically, I am asking because I don't know.

What I do know is, I can't think of a single person that I have talked to that has had a negative experience at Lollapalooza since its rebirth in Chicago. The main (and nearly only) complaint that comes to mind is the size of the crowd, which can make it difficult to maneuver from stage to stage. (And the off-shoot complaint, which is that the large crowd sometimes results in poor or non-existent cell phone service.)

Even more stupid, in my opinion, is this idea that the festival hasn't fully "embraced Chicago." In recent years, Chicago heavyweights Wilco and Kanye West have headlined Lollapalooza. I seem to remember Lupe Fiasco on a stage as well. And even small time and relatively unknown local acts like Cameron McGill have been included. I guess Oprah needs to be invited to appease some of these people.

I have heard others complain about the lack of Chicago "identity" at the festival. Oh, brother. Lollapalooza is stationed in Grant-freakin'-Park, under the glow of arguably the most beautiful skyline in the world. And second, does it really matter? Does the music not suffice? Last year everyone seemed to enjoy Radiohead just fine. Are you telling me it would be a much more fulfilling experience if everyone was up to their necks in stuffed pizzas and crooked politicians, too?

Everyone should just enjoy Lollapalooza for what it is, which is a world-class, three-day rock music festival that is slowly becoming a staple of Chicago summers. The Chicago identity and mutual embrace will slowly come, and the kinks will slowly go. But in the meantime, speaking as a former Chicago resident not yet 18-months removed, just feel lucky to have something so great in your backyard.

UPDATE: Almost right on cue, here is DeRogatis's annual whiny column from Saturday's Sun-Times. I am pretty sure it's the same article every year, he just changes the names of the bands.

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