Monday, August 16, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #20: The Lawrence arms - Oh! Calcutta!

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

The formula is not overly complex. This is not ground-breaking music. When I first heard Chicago's The Lawrence Arms, I said, "Yep, this sounds good," and left it at that. But then the cravings took over. There is something inherently crack-like in the construction of these songs. I can't quite put my finger on it (if I could I would start my own band). After a lot of thinking, I arrived at my quandary. How can something that is obviously intended to be angry and shouty be so damn gleeful at the same time?

Each song leaps out of the starting blocks on fire and builds upon itself until it inevitably arrives at a series of triumphant crescendos. In sluggish moments, there is nothing better to yank me out of a funk. A quick spin of Oh! Calcutta! and I am ready for whatever the world throws at me the rest of the day. And the songs stick in my head for days and days. That's the crack-like thing. If I don't have access to the actual songs, I'm going to sing them to the great annoyance of those around me.

I really don't know what most of the lyrics are and I certainly don't pay any attention to what they may mean. I really don't even know what the theme is. "Count all your fingers tonighight!" makes sense enough for me. I could really pick any album by these guys (none are very different), but this one has the most energy and the one where they play most to their strengths - the aforementioned angry glee.

By the early 00s, the mainstream had already gobbled up the vanilla offerings of Blink 182 and Green Day, which essentially washed away any remaining edge left in the genre. Tweens that didn't follow those bands to bouncy, brainless pop-punk got lost in the Emo wilderness, swaying and braying to the tugging of heartstrings. So it is to their credit that The Lawrence Arms persevered in the face of such an overwhelming tidal shift. Then again, I can't imagine them shifting gears. This is what they do best. Oh! Calcutta! is the last album they've released, and probably the record in this Top 50 that points back to the 90s the most. The band is still around, having put out an EP last year. I eagerly await the next full-length, but thanks to the strength of this record, I can get my fix anytime I want.

These are short, so you get three today. Play 'em all. LOUD!

Previous Entries:
#21 - Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
#25 - Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
#26 - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
#27 - Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
#28 - Common - Be
#29 - The Futureheads - News and Tributes
#30 - The Black Keys - Rubber Factory

Monday, August 9, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #21: Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

I was burdened with horrendous pop music during my formative years. Popular music had swung all over the place in the 1980s, eventually settling in with two genres: Mullet-Metal and dance-beat R&B. The year I turned 14, the top four selling albums were Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Bon Jovi. And things were trending worse with MC Hammer and Mr. Big lurking around the corner. What's a boy to do when pop radio gives you nothing but absolute crap and the internet has yet to be invented? I went with the only feasible options: Classic Rock and Oldies. I've lauded Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in this space before, but it's important to note that my adoration for real R&B was founded in those preteen days, as framed by Dick Biondi and Magic 104.3.

Contrary to what you may believe, pop music hasn't always been terrible, and I have always known it with those FM radio years serving as evidence. Since that time, I have been forever longing for an R&B singer who "gets it." If someone with pipes like R Kelly could only find the resolve to rediscover the roots of the genre, I knew I could be won back over in a New York minute. It's the reason I dug Ryan Shaw so much when he played Lollapalooza a few years go.

But the only place we tend to see even remote reverence for those pre-autotune days is American Idol (and let's not get into that subject). And then suddenly, along comes Amy Winehouse.

After hearing the first two tracks on her breakthrough album, Back to Black, I dismissed her as a Shirley Bassey wannabe. It took me several months to dig in farther, and I still regret the time lost. In that third song, "Me and Mr. Jones," with its bold language and scene-setting directness, we learn that Amy Winehouse doesn't merely have pipes, but reservoirs of soul we haven't heard in decades. And the more I learned the more I liked. Winehouse not only reveres the classic R&B records that meant so much to so many, she's trying to bring them back. Heck, she even covers Toots and the Maytals at her live shows.

This reverence is never more apparent than in the album's high point, "The Tears Dry on Their Own." It's certainly a new song, but is supported by the bedrock that is Marvin and Tami's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." I can't imagine anything that would make James Jamerson more proud. Sure, these are new tunes, but they're founded in classic themes. Amy's voice has it all, and the whole album has a heart that is so rare these days in R&B. So far the trend hasn't set in with anyone else, but if she puts out another hit record, perhaps more will get on the real retro bandwagon.

In sum, Amy, you had me at "fuckery."

Previous Entries:
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
#25 - Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
#26 - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
#27 - Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
#28 - Common - Be
#29 - The Futureheads - News and Tributes
#30 - The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
#31 - Wolfmother - Wolfmother

One Word Review: White Noise

28: Garbled

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fishbone @ Teatro Colegiales

After two years of living in Argentina, I have made it to scant few concerts. There's a local scene, but it's hardly thriving these days. We're so far away, and the peso is worth so little that only the most popular of bands bother to make the trip. Rather than sit through The Killers or Coldplay, I've chosen to simply wait for better options. I couldn't have been more surprised when I saw that Fishbone was coming to town. I wasn't sure if I should be excited or concerned. Does touring the world mean that their popularity has finally dried up in the US? Seriously, Stryper is going to be here in August.

Would anyone here even know who the heck they are? And would they understand what to do? Sadly, I couldn't even get anyone to go with me to check 'em out. The last time I saw Fishbone was at Subterranean in Chicago under similar circumstances when they were trying out a new lineup. Norwood got drunk and the show was a complete disaster. But that didn't deter me at all. Were I to miss this show, I would consider my time here a failure, or at least consider myself a failure.

When the curtain went up, the band tore into "Unyielding Conditioning." My overwhelming first reaction was to note that Dirty Walt was back (and skinny as hell). The band has been through nothing but turmoil over its 25+ year history, and seeing Walt onstage at least helps regain some continuity. After the first song, they tried talking to the crowd. This did not work. Perhaps their accents were hard to understand. Three songs in, I was really worried that I would be the only person jumping around, and furthermore that the band would simply give up.

How foolish of me. Angelo Moore dove headlong into the audience and it changed the entire room. A real pit erupted and churned for the rest of the evening, and those who remained outside jumped up and down, singing along as best they could. Later this year, Angelo will turn 45 years old. Watching him perform, it seems impossible. He's easily the best frontman I've witnessed, bringing wild energy, comedy, and all manner of entertainment to each night's show. I can't help but believe that behind his often clownish exterior he takes himself extremely seriously. Even in a half-full smallish club in a country where nobody is buying their records, he's six times the entertainer Mick Jagger could ever hope to be. Of course, that stage dive would hardly be his last of the evening.

Furthermore, I swear his voice has more velvety soul than ever. Crooning on "Forever Moore," it's clear he really means every note. And aside from Dirty Walt, who seemed disinterested in the entire event, the rest of the band gave it their best, too. My only complaint was that I wanted to hear more songs, but when your catalogue features 8 superb albums, that's to be expected. No band can be all things to all people, but Fishbone is clearly all things to me. They play every kind of music I love, and always play it red hot.

I came away with the same mixed feelings I always do after seeing them... Awed: How lucky I am to have been here for this! Torqued up: I can't wait to see them again! Sad: Why is this band not bigger? They should be superstars!

But this time there was a new profundity - how this band has persevered. Their first record came out in 1985. They have nearly broken up countless times. Their namesake left the band. Their guitarist joined a cult. Their major label dropped them, leaving them close to broke. After that embarrassing display in Chicago, I was sure they were done. But here they are, still one of the best live bands in the world.

In the middle of "Alcoholic," the band riffed Sabbath's "Iron Man" as Moore and keyboardist Dre Gipson raced each other to the back of the main floor on the heads and hands of just enough Porteños to get them there. I couldn't think of a more fitting jam for them to appropriate. They are survivors. I will see them again, maybe even back here in Buenos Aires. As the curtain fell and the Argentines changed "Ole, ole ole ole, Feeshbooone, Feeshboooooone," I came away certain that nobody from the crowd will miss another opportunity if the band does us the favor of returning. Maybe I can even convince some of my friends to come next time. I know the experience would serve them well, and that the band will sound as young as ever.

Show setlist:
Unyielding Conditioning
Everyday Sunshine
A Selection
Ma and Pa
Date Rape
Give It Up
Bonin' in the Boneyard
Behind Closed Doors
I Wish I Had a Date
Forever Moore
Skankin to the Beat
Lyin Ass Bitch
Party at Ground Zero

Simon Says The Kingpin
Let Dem Ho's Fight
Freddy's Dead

PS - Fishbone is the subject of a new documentary currently touring the festival circuit. Link to the website here. Below you will find a brief taste...

One Word Review: Open Water

54: Bleak