Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Favorite Albums of 2008

Edit: I wanted to post this yesterday, but the Zunepocalypse of 2008 made me freak out and I didn't finish it in time.

Its really hard to put these lists together, and on a given day/hour I can change my mind about the order of any of these albums, but this is what I submitted to the AltCountryTab message board for their annual Gambler Awards. I think this list is slightly biased towards the bands I saw live this year (see #4, 5, 6, 9). You can't go wrong with any of these albums.

Rockstar Aimz' Favorite Albums of 2008
1. Drag the River - You Can't Live This Way
What a solid alt country album. I unfortunately did not discover this band until 2008, even though they have been putting out albums for more than a decade. One of my buddies gave me this album and I put it in my Zune on a playlist with all of my other 2008 releases and hit shuffle. I would listen to this playlist while doing my tasks at work, and every time I heard a song that I really liked I would look at the player, and four out of five times it was from this album. The band incorporates everything you would want in a rock/country album: in addition to the standard electric and acoustic guitars, they incorporate pedal steel, rock piano, and even a horn section. Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass take turns with songwriting and lead vocals, and their voices seamlessly harmonize on several tracks. This album reminds me a bit of early Son Volt, with songs that examine the themes of isolation and desperation in a small town, growing old before your time, and, of course, heartaches and headaches. There are rumors on the internets that this will be Drag the River's last album. That would be a shame, especially since these guys are new to me this year. Let's hope for another release before I finish digging through their back catalog.

Standout tracks: "Death of the Life of the Party," "Caleb's Grave," "Br00tal," "Lizzy," "Bad Side of a Good Time"

Bad Side of a Good Time.mp3
Buy: You Can't Live This Way

2. Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers
Ottawa based songstress Edwards delivers a wonderful country/folk collection on Asking for Flowers. Edwards frequently incorporates bits of Canadiana into her songs (hockey, CBC), and tells gorgeous and heartbreaking stories in other tunes. "Alicia Ross" is the song of the year. See my post about this song from August 31.

I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory.mp3
Buy: Asking for Flowers (Maple Music, Canada); Asking for Flowers (Amazon, US)

See the video for "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" which features a hockey game with former NHL players Marty McSorley and Paul Coffey, and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo.

3. Matthew Ryan - Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State
Not to be confused with Matt Ryan, the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, though I wish the singer/songwriter was as famous as the first round draft pick out of Boston College. Matthew has been composing rock and alt country music for over 10 years, sometimes recording in his home and releasing his music on his web site. This album further cements Ryan's talent as a genius songwriter, with his distinctive raspy voice pushing through ballads and belting out the rock and/or roll. My favorite lyric is from "Could Have Been Worse." Her mascara was born to run. Awesome.

Could Have Been Worse.mp3
Buy: Matthew Ryan Vs. Silver State

4. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Another great album from our favorite Brooklyn via Minneapolis bar band. Although not as good as 2006's Boys and Girls in America, its still damn solid. I do have a few issues with this album - please see yesterday's post, (Trying To) Stay Positive.

Buy: Stay Positive (2008)

5. Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins
Okkervil River was big cheaters on this album. Most of it was recorded at the same time that they recorded The Stage Names, so naturally this album is more of the same, which is a very, very good thing. But since they released two albums instead of a double album (see #6, Brighter Than Creation's Dark), they (presumably) sold twice as many albums and toured twice as much in support of these albums. The music business is rough, and you gotta do what you gotta do. I was just happy to see them live twice in 2008 (and twice in 2007), as they are one of the best live acts going today. My big issue with this album is the crappy instrumentals, which I call The Fill-Ins. But those three are less than a minute long each. The rest of the album contains eight very solid indie rock tunes.

Calling and Not Calling My Ex.mp3
Buy: The Stand-Ins

6. Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Its always a good year when the Drive-By Truckers release an album. This double album is so diverse and so strong at points, but I can't help thinking what a huge album this would have been if you took the ten best tracks and added the best tracks from former Trucker Jason Isbell's 2007 release, Sirens of the Ditch. But a great man once said, "You can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled first," so let me get back to the review. Even without Isbell, the Truckers still have three lead singers, this time bassist Shonna Tucker sings lead on her songs "I'm Sorry Houston," and "Home Field Advantage," which adds a really nice quality to the mix of country and rock songs. Mike Cooley performs some of his strongest songs yet, which is saying a lot from this gifted musician (see "3 Dimes Down"). "That Man I Shot," by Patterson Hood is such an incendiary song that I call it the Iraq War generation's version of CCR's classic "Fortunate Son."

3 Dimes Down.mp3
Buy: Brighter Than Creation's Dark

7. Two Cow Garage - Speaking in Cursive
"You were speaking in cursive,
I was pretending to care.

She spoke constantly, and ironically,
never ending hipster fare.

Of movies and poets and writers
no ones ever heard of or seen.

So many words so loudly,
somehow never saying a thing.

And in one verse, singer Micah Schnabel summarizes every date I had in 2008. I do not understand why this band isn't more popular. I should have rated this one higher.

Bastards & Bridesmaids.mp3
Buy: Speaking in Cursive

8. Chris Mills - Living in the Aftermath
Mills (not to be confused with former NBA forward Chris Mills) is another artist who has been putting out albums for over a decade who I just discovered this year. Someone described him to me as Rhett Miller meets Will Sheff, and this is sort of the case, as Mills blends alt country with indie rock and has a similar vocal tone to both of these artists. And I love both the Old 97's and Okkervil River, and therefore I love Chris Mills. Every time I listen to this album I find something new. Like Drag the River, I can't wait to dig into Mill's back catalog too.

Living in the Aftermath.mp3
Buy: Living in the Aftermath

9. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
Malkmus's lyrics are getting weirder as he gets older, and that's saying a lot coming from the former head of Pavement. This album is so happy and fun. A great summer album for me. Lots of spastic jangly guitar and some extended jams from our indie rock hero Steve.

Buy: Real Emotional Trash

10. Hayes Carll - Trouble in Mind
If you like country music but hate Nashville radio, then this album is perfect for you. The hysterical track "She Left Me For Jesus" has been garnering Mr. Carll a lot of attention, but, even though that song is great, it is not representative of the album. The rest of the album is classic country with tales of heartaches, troubles, and woes, with some sweet guitar and banjo to boot.

Buy: Trouble in Mind

If you are "international" like me, don't order this album off of Carll's web site. Whoever distributes Mr. Carll's albums stiffed me $17 for "international" shipping. The CD cost less than the shipping. Compare this to when I ordered The Stand-Ins from Okkervil River's label Jagjaguwar. $13 for the CD, plus two posters and a sticker, and it included shipping.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

(Trying to) Stay Positive

Album Review: Stay Positive by The Hold Steady

I have been meaning to write a proper review of this album since it came out back in July. Six months late is better than never, right? Actually, yes, since now I have had time to digest it and reflect on it, rather than making a snap judgment like I did on that sticky day in July when I picked Stay Positive up at the local HMV (which, unfortunately for my wallet, is a block from my apartment).

I was absolutely smitten with The Hold Steady's 2006 release, Boys and Girls in America. It was easily the best album of 2006, and, sorry Okkervil River, I still listened to it more than any other album in 2007. How can you argue with lyrics like "Lost in fog and love and faith was fear, I've had kisses that make Judas seem sincere" ("Citrus"), "He said “I’ve surrounded myself with doctors and deep thinkers, but big heads with soft bodies make for lousy lovers.”" ("Stuck Between Stations"), and "We kissed in your car and we drank from your purse." ("Massive Nights"). Yes, my expectations for Stay Positive were probably unrealistic.

But the songwriting is not what bothered me about Stay Positive. The songwriting is equally superb to BaGiA. And the songs friggin' rock. What kept this album from being my #1 of 2008 is me being a picky music snob. One of the many things that I love about The Hold Steady is singer Craig Finn's unusual and distinctive voice. Another band that has an incredible lead singer with an unusual and distinctive voice is Lucero, fronted by singer Ben Nichols. Ben Nichols sings backup on many of the songs on Stay Positive. Initially when I heard that Nichols was recording with The Hold Steady, I was as excited as a little girl waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. However, upon listening to the album, to my ears Nichols's voice really clashed with the rest of the band. I felt like I was listening to a Hold Steady/Lucero mash-up on some songs.

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I can't help it. Ben Nichols's voice on this album just doesn't work for me. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, who also has a distinctive and unusual voice, also does guest vocals on "Navy Sheets" but his voice doesn't stick out like Nichols's does. When I saw The Hold Steady in concert back in November, these songs sounded a lot better without Nichols. Sorry Ben, I love you, and I love, love, love your first solo album (The Last Pale Light in the West, due for wide release in early 2009, but now available from the Lucero web site), but I like Stay Positive a lot better without you.

Analysis of a few of the standout tracks
1. "Constructive Summer"
A great sing-along song, especially live. "Double whiskey, Coke, no ice!!!" Two things bug me about this song. 1) Ben Nichols's backup vocals. 2) The lyric "Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer." Is Finn just praising Strummer because his name happens to rhyme with "summer?" If you do some research you learn that Finn is actually a huge Clash fan, but to me this lyric sounds a bit contrived. 4 Stars.

2. "Sequestered in Memphis"
This song could have been written by Ben Nichols, who happens to be from Memphis. What a great song. "In the bar light she looked all right; in the day light she looked desperate." You really hear The E Street Band influence in this track. 5 stars.

3. "One for the Cutters"
The Hold Steady version of a murder ballad, with keyboardist Franz Nicolay playing the freakin' harpsichord. How rock and roll is that? "The Cutters" is a reference to the 1979 movie Breaking Away, where the townies are the heroes of film. 5 stars.

5. "Lord, I'm Discouraged"
This is as close to a ballad as The Hold Steady gets, even though it a song about physical abuse. I don't think its as good a 2006's "Citrus," but a solid, albeit depressing, song nonetheless. 4 stars.

7. "Both Crosses"
One of the themes through all Hold Steady albums is the struggle between one's Catholic Christian upbringing and the sins of the real world. This song is another great example of that conflict. Listen for the banjo part played by J. Mascis. 4 stars.

8. "Stay Positive"
This song was my big "WTF?" moment when I first listened to it. The song is about trying to "stay positive" while on the endless drag of touring, practicing, song writing, etc., and is basically a tribute to the fans that kept the band members going through the rough patches (see also "Unless its Kicks" by Okkervil River for the same theme). The second half of the song is mostly lyrics from previous songs. Now that's just lazy. But I will give them props for mentioning 7 Seconds, a band that I used to sneak out of the house to see when I was 16 years old. 3 stars.

9. "Magazines"
I love this song. What a great lyric: "Magazines and daddy issues, I know your pretty pissed but I hope you still let me kiss you." But then Ben Nichols sneaks in. This song could be easily taken out of the Lucero library too. Compare this song with one from Lucero's most recent album:

Buy: Stay Positive (2008)

I Can Get Us Out of Here.mp3
Buy: Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (2006)

OK, maybe not the best comparison, but you get the point. Also, check out KEXP Live Performances for a recent podcast featuring the Hold Steady doing this song acoustically. Awesome. 5 stars (even with Ben's vocals).

The limited edition of the Stay Positive came with three bonus tracks, the best of which is "Ask Her for Adderall." The band has been playing this one live for a while, and its a kick ass rock song. 4 stars.

FYI - Adderall is a psychostimulant used to treat attention deficient disorder and narcolepsy, both of which can also be treated by attending a Hold Steady live show.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Best of 2007 (Re-post)

While most music bloggers finished their best of 2008 list by the Hype Machine mandated deadline of December 15, I still haven't figured mine out. So much good music, so little time! Plus I am still on the road traveling for the holidays and I don't have time to blog. Here is my best of 2007 list that I post on Last.FM and MySpace, before I founded My Aimz is True. And, in retrospect, I still think this list is pretty accurate. Although I may bump Two Cow Garage up a few spots. Stay tuned for my best of 2008 list, which I will hopefully post before the start of 2009!

My Favorite Albums of 2007

1. Okkervil River - The Stage Names
This album grabbed me and never let go. Lead singer/songwriter Will Sheff writes and sings about the perils of becoming (relatively) famous, how to keep the band going when the tour becomes a drag, how weird it is to have groupies, and what happens when your creativity or songwriting ability dries up. The wonderful part of this album is the diversity of the songs (from rock "Unless its Kicks" to suicide ballad "Savannah Smiles" to obvious Motown influence "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man") and the array of instrumentation used (from coronet to pedal steel to rock piano). You can tell Sheff put a lot of time, thought, and effort into the songwriting, and his voice has really matured over the last few years. I actually had to ban myself from listening to this at about mid-October lest I burn out of it. I will love this album for a long, long time.

Standout Tracks: "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" (A kickass rock song about how life, unlike a movie, is actually quite boring), "Plus Ones" (what does happen to the 97th tear, or 100th luftballon?), "A Girl in Port"" (beautiful love song), "John Allyn Smith Sails" (Sheff turns the west indies folk tune "Sloop John B" into a suicide note from poet John Berryman. Brilliant!)

The only song I am not nuts about is "Title Track." Its not a bad track by any means, but it prevents this album from being a perfect 5.

Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe.mp3
Buy: The Stage Names (2007)

2. The NationalBoxer
Although this album was released March, I stupidly didn't hear it until early December. And when I did it immediately captured me and blew me away. In fact, I had a hard time NOT making this my number one album of 2007, and I am repeatedly kicking myself for having missed them this year when they toured through Toronto. TWICE! Lead singer/songwriter Matt Berninger sings in a baritone voice, which almost always sounds either sad or desperate. He works with the themes of white collar angst - the constant grind of the big city ("Mistaken for Strangers"), climbing the corporate ladder ("Racing Like a Pro"), losing touch with your old friends ("Green Gloves"), and general disillusionment. The music is deep and lush, and some songs are supplemented with horns and keyboards.

For me, this was the perfect soundtrack for getting into the airport at 1:00 a.m. after Christmas seven hours later than expected due to a snow storm, having United Airlines lose my luggage, taking a bus from the airport to downtown, walking home from the bus stop in the pouring rain through the club district of Toronto with all of the super young kids getting soaked in their mini skirts and heals and their hair gel running all over, and finally getting home at 2:30 a.m. so physically and emotionally exhausted that I couldn't sleep.

Not a bad track on this album.

Standout Tracks: "Fake Empire" (amazing syncopated piano opening), "Mistaken for Strangers," "Green Gloves"

Fake Empire.mp3
Buy: Boxer (2007)

3. The SadiesNew Seasons
The Sadies are my favorite Canadian band, and although they are mostly known for putting on kick-butt live shows, which they do (I saw them twice this year), their albums aren't bad either. Its nearly impossible to classify this band. They area incredibly talented musicians who are smart enough not to limit their music to one genre. Their previous releases have been parts country, rock, gospel, alt country, folk, bluegrass, surf rock and psychedelic. They are quintessentially Americana, (or Canadiana, I guess).

New Seasons is another great release. It starts with a bluegrass instrumental "Introduction," and launches into a slightly psychedelic rock song. The variety on this album is immense. This album sees the lead singers, brothers Dallas and Travis Good, doing a lot more harmonizing than on previous releases, and it really works. The frantic dual guitar work and country twangs that Sadies fans know and love are still included on the album, but this recoding also showcases some of the Sadies softer sides, with beautiful tracks such as "My Heart of Wood" and the instrumental "Wolf Tones." The album drags a little at the end, but otherwise its another wonderful release from a superb band.

Standout Tracks: "What's Left Behind," "Yours to Discover," "Anna Leigh"

What's Left Behind.mp3
Buy: New Seasons (2007)

4. For the Sake of His Songs: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt by Various Artists from the forum
This tribute album represents all that is good about the internet. It was put out by a group of people who have never met each other, who all post and discuss music on the forum. Eric Rhame, from Duluth, Minnesota, coordinated the project. People electronically submitted their home recorded tracks as MP3s to Mr. Rhame from locations as diverse as Tustin, California, to Denton, Texas, to Oxford, United Kingdom. The artists range from professional musicians, to law students, to stay at home dads, to civil servants. Some were singing for the first time, and others had never recorded before. It turned out so well that Mr. Rhame contacted Townes Van Zandt's widow, and she accepted a copy of it, and thanked the group for keeping Van Zandt's memory alive! Morgan King of The Popehawks and owner/operator of Yer Bird Records did the cover art.

I was only a passing Townes Van Zandt fan before I heard this album. Since then I have gone out and purchased three Van Zandt CDs and become a true believer. That is the point of projects like this. To keep the memory of a wonderful artist alive, and to encourage people to dig into his catalog. Amazing album.

Standout Tracks: "Marie" by Karl Haglund, "Kathleen" by Kristine Jones, "Flyin' Shoes" by Matt Kidney, and a punk version of "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold" by The Popehawks.

Download the entire tribute here.

5. Son VoltThe Search
If I learned one thing in 2007, its that I am a Jay Farrar chick instead of a Jeff Tweedy person. For the longest time I have been denying it, but after comparing Son Volt's The Search with Wilco's Sky Blue Sky (or, Sky Snooze Sky, as I have dubbed it), there is now no question. Although The Search is not a perfect album, and some of the lyrics are quite esoteric, I think that it's the best thing Farrar has done since Trace. Farrar is still the lyrical master of the blue collar plight. A good example of this is the second track "The Picture," and if you search the internet a little bit, you can find a version of it without the Miami Sound Machine influenced horns. (Seriously Jay, horns?) But this and other minor blunders are forgiven by what is, in my opinion, the song of the year, "Methamphetamine." You can feel the desperation of the recovering addict in this song, trying to make it though the night without giving in to his demons. A must have album for all alt country fans.

Standout Tracks: "Circadian Rhythm," "Methamphetamine," "Adrenaline and Heresy," "Highways and Cigarettes"

The Picture (No Horns).mp3
(An iTunes "exclusive." iTunes exclusives can suck it. I know its something that the label makes the artist do, but all it does is hurt the real fans.)
Buy: The Search (2007)

6. Chris KnightThe Trailer Tapes
Chris Knight is the most underrated songwriter in North America. Knight recorded these tracks by himself in his singlewide trailer near Slaughter, Kentucky, back in 1996. Bootlegs and outtakes of these tracks have been floating around ever since. They are stripped down, emotional, and very raw. Knight is a master of storytelling – recalling lost love and broken hearts, hating the dead-end job, the bank foreclosing on the farm, and disillusion with city life.

My person favorite track, "Rita's Only Fault," tells the story of unrequited high school love – of course she marries the high school quarterback. But will anyone believe Rita when Mr. QB isn't very nice to her?

Knight has been picked up and dropped by the major labels all through his career. I had the privilege to see him perform and to meet him this year, and he was very humble and soft spoken. I'll take raw emotion and brilliant songwriting in a Kentucky trailer over Nashville radio bombastic hair gel, fake smile pop-crap like Rascal Flatts any day.

Standout Tracks: "Something Changed," "Rita's Only Fault," "Hard Edges," "Here Comes the Rain"

Rita's Only Fault.mp3
Buy: The Trailer Tapes (2007)

7. Folk Music for the End of the World – Various Artists – Yer Bird Records
This compilation from Yer Bird Records is a rough concept album about things that will ruin the world – such as greed, war, violence, death, losing faith, and even global warming. All of the tracks are previously unreleased. What I love about this album, in addition to the vast number of extraordinarily talented artists, is their ability to tell stories through song. And each artist does things his/her own way, leading to a really challenging and remarkable record.

I bought this early in 2007, and it was a huge grower.

My favorite track is "Mississippi Sea" by Hezekiah Jones. He tells the story of the aftermath of some big unstated catastrophe (maybe the melting of the polar ice caps or a big earthquake?), then hiding for 17 years and emerging in 2043. Now he vacations at his condo near the Mississippi Sea. And with only 16,080 people left on earth, they spend all day making babies. Not a bad life.

Other Standout Tracks: "Message from London" by Hayden, "Barter Blues" by J. Tillman, "Sad Little Drunks" by Oweihops, "Angeline" by O'Death, "Lay Me Down" by The Hotel Ghost (unbelievable mostly a capella vocal performance by female lead singer)

Mississippi Sea.mp3
Buy: Folk Music for the End of the World (2007)

8. Ryan AdamsEasy Tiger
The extraordinarily talented Ryan Adams gets back to what he does best on this album: roots-rock Americana. There is not a bad track on this album. However, there are no real standout tracks either. His backing band, The Cardinals, superbly fills in the accompaniment. What really got me was seeing him on Letterman – for the first time in years Adams looked happy, like he was actually enjoying himself. I really love the consistency of this album.

Letterman, Nov. 2, 2007 (YouTube):

Everybody Knows

How Keep Love Alive (from 2005's Cold Roses) / Pearls On A String (amazing bluegrass jam)

Standout Tracks: "Goodnight Rose," "Off Broadway," "Pearls on a String," "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old"

I Taught Myself How to Grow Old.mp3
Buy: Easy Tiger (2007)

9. Two Cow Garage - III
If Paul Westerberg of the Replacements and Ben Nichols of Lucero had a kid, it would be Two Cow Garage's lead singer and guitarist Micah Schnabel. Schnabel sings his heart out on 9 of the 13 tracks, with bassist Shane Sweeney stepping in on lead vocals for four tracks. Sweeney's lower voice is a nice contrast to Schnabel's wailing, and makes for great variety on the record. This album is practically an alt country super group, with Slobberbone/Drams Brent Best producing and playing guitar on four tracks, and Scott Danbom of Centro-matic rocking the piano and organ.

This record is more rock than alt country, but I don't think that Two Cow Garage is too concerned about labels. They rock as hard as anything the Drive-By Truckers have done, and yet can dial it down when needed. This albums also has the best opening line of 2007, from "Come Back to Shelby." "I still smell the smoke from the bridges that I burned." Turn it up. Loud.

Standout Tracks: "Come Back to Shelby," "No Shame," "Mediocre" (bitchin' rock piano and horns)

Come Back to Shelby.mp3
Buy: III (2007)
This link to Amazon has the wrong track list. Try eMusic or iTunes.

10. Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara
I wish I could remember who turned me on to this trio from Toronto. It's a very mellow, mid to low tempo record, perfect for a rainy or snowy Sunday afternoon. The opening track, "Your Rocky Spine," displays beautiful banjo picking, along with backing vocals from Sarah Harmer. There's a feeling of deep longing and melancholy throughout this record, but there is also a feeling of hope. The songs are recorded using minimal instrumentation - mostly acoustic guitar, banjo, double bass, and drums played with brushes. People categorize this as "indie pop" and compare it a lot to the work of Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine, but I believe that, like the other two artists, this record has large crossover appeal to many genres and age groups. Very consistently gorgeous throughout the record.

Standout Tracks: "Changing Colours," "Put There by the Land," "I am a Part of a Large Family"

Changing Colours.mp3
Buy: Ongiara (2007)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Epic Christmas Crap

There are a lot of super annoying Christmas songs out there, and I could go off on how hundreds of them grate on my nerves. But this one in particular makes me want to rip my ears out. The only reason I am posting it is because I have a companion song to it which I actually find fascinating.

According to our friends over at Wikipedia, Alvin and the Chipmunks, started out as a puppet show in the 1950s. Ross Bagdasarian created the novelty record "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" in 1958. The record was highly successful, selling more than 4 million copies in seven weeks, and it launched the careers of its chipmunk stars. It spent four weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from December 22, 1958, to January 12, 1959. It also earned three Grammy Awards and a nomination for Record of the Year.

Record of the year??? And you thought Amy Winehouse (2008 Record of the Year winner) was bad.

"The Chipmunk Song" was recorded on audiotape at half of the normal speed, then played back at double speed which made the voices an octave higher in pitch at normal tempo. Here are the two for comparison.

Double Speed (The Chipmunks): The Chipmunk Song.mp3

Half Speed (Human Singers): The Chipmunk (remix).mp3
I found the "slow" version last year on the internets somewhere from a DJ called "Mr. Fab."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

High Cost of Living

Spin magazine just came out with their 20 Best Songs of 2008. I'm not going to pretend to be down with what the cool kids are listening to, but I do have to comment on one song in particular. Spin's #10 song is "High Cost of Living," by Jamey Johnson. This is a great, great country song about regrets caused by drug and alcohol abuse.

I appreciate the fact that Spin is trying to cross musical genres. There is a lot of alternative rock and hip-hop on this list, most of which I don't know, but I'm glad they threw in a country tune too. And a damn good one at that.

I'll have my 20 Best Songs list up some time before the new year. I'm still trying to figure out my top ten albums of 2008. So far I have it narrowed down to 33.

High Cost of Living.mp3

Buy: That Lonesome Song (2008)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

College Radio

College radio had a huge influence on developing my musical tastes in the 1980s and early 90s. Growing up in small town Wisconsin, I listened to WRST from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. They even let some of my high school friends DJ, usually at 4a.m. on Thursdays. My only other source of alternative music came from friends who had older siblings in college, and they passed on what they heard at their local college stations to we high school underlings.

Another recent article in the New York Times talks about how college radio is maintaining its presence, and in some cases thriving, despite the availability of a wide range of music on the internet. Most of these stations are student-run, and allow students to DJ whatever they feel like during certain programming hours. And, according to the article, some actually do influence the success of indie bands, many by integrating their broadcast with a streaming webcast. While commercial radio is run by huge conglomerates and so-called professional "DJs" have no influence on the playlist, its great to see that young people still want to get involved with local radio.

In the future I am going to say a lot more about college radio, but in the meantime here are a few tracks that I discovered by college radio in the 1980s.

Hüsker Dü - Never Talking To You Again.mp3
Buy: Zen Arcade (1984)

The Smiths - Cemetry Gates.mp3
Buy: The Queen Is Dead (1986)

They Might Be Giants -Ana Ng.mp3
Buy: Lincoln (1989)

And here's a song by the Replacements from their most produced record, but a great song regardless. I will have much, much more to say about the Replacements at a later date. Man, I remember seeing this on MTV's 120 Minutes. And now its VH1 Classic? I'm old.
Buy: Don't Tell a Soul (1989, reissued with bonus tracks 2008)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Doors Convergence

A few days ago I read an unusual article in the New York Times on how The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, who would have turned 65 on Dec. 8, appeared in two NYT obituaries in last week. Jim's father George Morrison passed away on Nov. 17 at age 89. Elmer Valentine, the founder of the Los Angeles club Whisky a Go Go where The Doors were once the house band, died on Dec. 3 at age 85. Author Verlyn Klinkeborg ponders what may have happened if these two men had ever met. Read the article here.

Light My Fire.mp3
Love Me Two Times.mp3
The End.mp3
Buy: The Very Best of the Doors (2007)