Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Your dad is cool, and you know it.

Sure he’s balding. He makes awkward jokes around your friends, and his mustache is so shoddy it’s gone past ironic and straight into creepy. But your dad isn’t as lame as you might think. Though his tastes now tend toward talk radio, there was a time when your dad listened to good records. I swear. These days he may balk at Belle and Sebastian or giggle at the Go! Team, but once upon a time, he was the man.
For instance, way back in 1971, the Rolling Stones released “Sticky Fingers” and, as your then grade school-aged dad can attest, it was ridiculously good. Long before they toured megadomes with prices measured in limbs, they were five louts with noisy songs and dirty minds. The album starts with “Brown Sugar,” a song that, while questionably intolerant, is certainly incredible. “Sticky Fingers” hits a ragged peak with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” wherein Keith Richards’s warbled guitars meet a drunken horn section in what sounds like seven minutes of the Yarbirds jamming with Miles Davis on hiatus. Though the album is packed with Stonsian nastiness (at one point, a cordial Mick Jagger offers to leave “dead flowers on your grave”), the band chose to end the album with “Moonlight Mile,” a song with heartfelt lyrics and lilting strings worthy of Burt Bacharach that is so emotionally jarring, it inspired the teary Jake Gyllenhaal movie of the same title. As an added bonus, the Andy Warhol designed cover art was trumpeting homoeroticism eons before Morrissey made it hip and Franz Ferdinand put it on the radio.
Moving on, in 1977, your high school-aged dad just might have stumbled upon “Low” by David Bowie. While an album recorded in communist East Berlin and produced by shiny-headed weirdo Brian Eno might seem daunting at first, “Low” is actually a work of genius. Somehow, in the course of 11 songs, Bowie manages to squeeze everything cool about his past work – the unabashed drugginess of “Space Oddity,” the blue-eyed soul of “Station to Station,” etc – into one cohesive album. The song “Sound and Vision,” with its rollicking guitar and subliminally menacing electronics, is reason enough to shell out whatever ludicrous amount of money is demanded for the rerereremastered version of the album on shelves.
Older and wiser, your collegiate father, circa 1982, probably picked up Elvis Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom.” Costello was long billed as the “angriest man in pop music,” unfairly pigeonholed into the category of new-wavers who tried way to hard to make mothers angry. Thus, in an attempt to prove he meant business, Elvis got with Beatles producer Geoff Emerick and holed himself up in one of the few studios large enough to house his ambition. The resulting album is not only the best of his career (no small feat), but rivals what Emerick did with those other guys from Liverpool. The record begins with the foreboding swirls of “Beyond Belief,” where Elvis likens his word to “the canals of Mars or the Great Barrier Reef,” and finally concludes with “Town Cryer,” the album-closer to close all album-closers. With “Imperial Bedroom,” Costello did what few could do before; he transcended disposable pop without succumbing to the perils of prog-rock – unlike, say, Rush.
So never mind his gut and affinity for M*A*S*H reruns, I know your dad is cool. Just ask to see his records.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Oh, indie guilt, you cruel mistress.

Picture, if you will, a young music fan. Let’s call this fan Stu. Now, Stu tends to keep up with small-time bands and has recently been enjoying one in particular. Let’s call this band the Cumquats. After buying the first Cumquats album, (which was totally awesome, by the way) Stu has taken quite a liking to the band. However, much to his dismay, Stu discovers the single lamest girl he knows (let’s call her Tiffani) sporting a Cumquats t-shirt.
Stu is now faced with a conflict of interest. He loves the Cumquats and wishes them nothing but the greatest of fortunes. However, seeing Tiffani, the absolute epitome of uncool, sharing his interest breeds an amazing amount of anger in the young man. Stu is plagued by what I’ve come to call the Indie Guilt.
If you were an Interpol fan in 2003, a Shins fan in 2002 or even a Death Cab for Cutie fan before the OC, you probably know just how Stu feels. Every year, millions of innocent music fans are faced with this dilemma. Wishing that your favorite band would remain obscure (and therefore poor) is selfish and underhanded. However, there are few things more painful than seeing your taste shared by those without taste.
This has led many normally reasonable people to miserly horde their favorite artists, hoping that they won’t be forced to hear them on the radio, followed by a slacker-stereotype deejay talking about farts. Many have been known to take the term “cult following” to the extent of forming actual cults (this means you, Wilco fans).
Music snobs have been fighting this for years. It’s the very reason the bad-skinned guy at your local record store balks at your Postal Service purchase but swears by Serge Gainsbourg. He has a vested interest in maintaining exclusivity, lest he be faced with oceans of people sporting uncreative haircuts and singing his favorite Devendra Banhart tunes.
But snobbery is not the answer. In fact, I’m afraid there’s no solution outside of musical fascism. Instead, cheer as your favorite little band jumps from Made in Some Guy’s Bedroom Records to Hulking Conglomerate. Some bands get better with a little money hanging around (Jawbox, anyone?), and many of them have earned a groupie or two after slogging it out in a smelly van while holding some depressing job (except for the Strokes).
As for the whiny bandwagon-riding quasi-fans, let them misinterpret your favorite songs all they want. You still remember the first time you heard “Date with the Night,” and it was yours. Sure, they got Modest Mouse, but you know it’ll be another year before they’re up on Joanna Newsom. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Yo, fuck Sufjan Stevens

Monday, June 27, 2005

Shot at Stardom

To the average person, being shot, specifically, being shot numerous times, is a bad thing. Bullets probably hurt and, with rising insurance costs, the hospital bill can prove to be formidable. However, in the game of mainstream hip-hop, getting shot is, quite possibly, the best thing that can happen to a young upstart.
Take New York City’s 50 Cent, for instance. 50 (born Curtis Jackson) endured a rough childhood and apparently sold lots of drugs. After numerous run-ins with the law, 50 began to turn away from crime as he met with the Trackmasters, a New York production duo. When 50’s single, “How to Rob,” turned few heads, his future as a rapper seemed uncertain.
Then, on May 24, 2000, an angry gunman attempted to kill 50 by shooting him nine times. Everything changed. After spending a year detailing the incident on various mix-tapes, a major-label bidding war began over the rapper. 50 finally signed with Eminem’s Shady/Aftermath imprint and, after the success of the “Wanksta” single, 50’s debut, “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” sold a ludicrous amount of copies. The follow-up single, “In Da Club,” became the highest selling single of all time.
That’s fine. The guy made lots of money. Good for him. But think back to 2002; what did you hear first, one of 50’s singles, or that there was a rapper out there who’d been shot nine times?
Since his ascent to the top of every chart, 50 has proven to be quite the businessman. He’s introduced his crew, the G-Unit, as a platinum selling entity unto itself, made careers for his friends (like Lloyd Banks) and even sponsored a sports drink. A movie about his life is in the works.
In terms of business, being shot was great for 50 Cent.
The same applies to Compton’s The Game, a member of G-Unit. After a childhood similar to that of 50 Cent, The Game (born Jayceon Taylor) sold drugs to get by. Then, during a home invasion on October 1, 2001, Game was shot five times by rival drug dealers. After recuperating from his wounds, Game began to rap for the first time.
Perhaps he understood the commodity he’d become.
Both of these rappers have gone on to be huge, working with the most talented artists in the business. However, 50’s talents as an MC are often questionable and sometimes laughable (he has a song called “Gatman and Robbin’”). The Game’s debut, “The Documentary,” has more shout-outs to industry big shots than memorable rhymes.
Not to say that hip-hop, as a genre, is flawed. In 2001, before 50 burst onto the scene, the biggest rapper in the game was Jay-Z. Jigga had done what only the Beatles had before: he was not only the most successful, but also the best in the game. And he was never shot.
Instead, the problem lies in how hip-hop is marketed. Record labels seem to have forgotten that hip-hop is music and have started selling it like cinema. Instead of focusing on songs (remember those), hip-hop is all about scenery. Before I heard The Game’s first single, I heard that there was a new rapper from Compton. Who’d been shot five times. Game’s heritage is so important to his handlers that his website is comptongame.com.
Of course, The Game didn’t sell nearly as much as 50 Cent. And, for those keeping track, 50 was shot four more times. Thus, according to what seems to be the logic of major label brass, a rapper who’d been shot, say, thirteen times would be a gold mine.
Please don’t buy his albums. It’ll only encourage them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


With all the dilly-dally whosee-whats of things like paragraphs and sentences flooding the mainstream, I - purveyor of hip
counter-culture - forsake this conformist bullshit. So, with no further adieu, let the lists begin.
5. Radiohead – Kid A – Obvious, yes, but can you think of another album that allows you to hum along to information-age paranoia and crippling Kafkaesque isolation? Thought not.
4. The Walkmen – Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone – Apparently the only band from NYC not to be plastered across every indie mag you’re not cool enough to read. The Walkmen make rock music like Monet painted flowers. The musical equivalent of driving in the rain with no windshield wipers.
3. DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… - DJ Shadow makes vignettes, not songs, out of found sounds on forgotten records. ‘Endtroducing…’ is a hazy world where everything is vaguely familiar and everyone is on the brink of a major existential epiphany – or totally stoned.
2. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights – This couldn’t have been made at any other time by anyone else in any other suits. Sure, it’s hip to yak about how these guys owe it all to ‘80s post-punkers like Echo and the Bunnymen, but the glacial, arty alienation of ‘Bright Lights’ is pure new-millennium.
1. Nick Drake – Pink Moon – Quite possibly the most delicate recording ever made, ‘Pink Moon’ sounds like the slightest breeze could whisk it away into oblivion. As Drake died of an apparent suicide after its release, the album is all the more tragic and beautiful.
5. Lists.
4. Starbucks-drinking, Jetta-driving, Gap-shopping 46-year-olds who are still "with it" because they listen to the Shins.
3. The moment right before you sneeze in which all other thoughts are eclipsed by your crippling desire to do one singular deed that is over as soon as it commences - thus demonstrating the sad, yet inherently beautiful, futility of existence.
2. Boobies.
1. Knowing that, though they may be smarter and more qualified, I will always be wealthier than the Taiwanese.
5. Al Green – Greatest Hits – Please note: Don’t use this if you’re 40, have myriad chest hair and a Jersey accent. Use Poison or something.
4. Serge Gainsbourg – No one has a voice quite like Serge. He’s like a European James Brown – without the sweat or coke. Added bonus: Pretend you’re French! Oh, oui, je t’aime!
3. Suicide – Suicide – Use only if you know you’re partner REALLY well. Or, if you’re fucking weird. Martin Rev makes masochistic sex boasts sound like…well, masochistic sex boasts. Be safe kids!
2. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation – Sprawling and dramatic, for all you love makin’ hipsters out there. Also good for amorous junkies!
1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds – They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Every track has idealist lyrics, perfect arrangement and, of course, Brian Wilson’s innocent croon. Plus, there’s a good chance you were conceived to this record!
5. Ugly people.
4. Stupid people.
3. Stupid ugly people.
2. Straight-laced indie rockers who think it's ironic to use urban slang terms like "crunk."
1. Bitches dat straight up ain't givin' no play to no muthafuckin' crunk ass playaz.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Maybe we can be friends.

Catholics marry Jews. Asians marry Hispanics. Hell, brothers marry sisters. So why is it I can never be with a girl with bad musical taste?
I’d like to think bad taste is a trivial personality trait, sort of like being a smoker or thinking leather boots are cool. However, on closer examination, music makes up an immeasurable part of my existence, and no Weezer fan, no matter how cute, is welcome.
For instance, one of my favorite activities is record shopping (oh, like you’re so cool). As any music nerd can attest, when shopping alongside a person of interest, one of the surest signs of a connection is that sacred moment wherein both shoppers reach for the same artist. In the case of shopping with one of “them,” however, I would never have this affirmation. The closest thing would be me reaching for Morrissey while she went for Alanis Morrisette.
Furthermore, in my book, no romantic encounter is complete without a great record to aid the moment. From Air to the Walkmen, my CD collection is chock full of mood-setters. But, if I were sharing this moment with Ms. No-Taste, she might want to listen to something from her CD assortment. Not to be elitist, but, by principle, I can never make-out to Matchbox 20. Ever.
I suppose you could say I’m being prissy and difficult. Perhaps this stipulation will keep me from meeting my “soul mate.” But, as I see it, though true love may be blind, it’s not deaf. And Linkin Park sounds like shit.