No, Seriously: Top 5 Bands You Should Already Be Listening To (by Joshua)

Listen up, kids. Claire and I have been writing this blog for years now, and we love it. Sure, we take off vast chunks of time sometimes for no reason, but we do love it. What has begun to bug me, however, is how little some of you actually listen to the stuff about which we talk emphatically. This is evident because I will put the music on, and you will say, emphatically (yeah, I used it again.), “Damn, this is really good.” And because I’m often a dick, I will Rob Gordon you and say only, “I know.” But what I really want to say (and occasionally do say) is, “You dummy! I’ve been talking about this band for so long now!” So here are the top 5 bands you should’ve already been listening to, if you took our recommendations seriously. And each band will be explained as if you have just told me you’ve never listened to them.

Alabama Shakes

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I cannot stress how good their debut album is. I’m not sure where you’ve been since it came out. It’s been all over the place – literally every music publication has a big ol’ hard on for them. And how can you blame them? It’s such powerful music, all punctuated by the unbelievably strong and sexy voice of lead singer Brittany Howard. The band sounds like a modern version of Otis Redding, and there is literally nothing wrong with that. And while Redding’s songs were often carried on his voice alone, Howard has an excellent band backing her. No, you’re not going to get rollicking solos akin to, say, the Hold Steady, but you are getting probably the best name in modern soul – and they do this without a horn section. So suck on that, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! Wait, you’ve never heard of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings?

Middle Brother

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Seriously? I know I’ve played you their songs before. It’s a super group comprised of the dudes from Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit….None of them? Really? Well, I mean, I guess I can’t blame you, because it took me hearing this album before I got into all of those bands, but I’m the one in the right here, so you have failed. This album has all the makings of perfection: soaring harmonies, rocking licks, and that bit of folksy twang that’s just so irresistible. I have described them before as if The Beatles were somehow American, grew up in Wyoming, and had a drinking problem….I haven’t? Well, the description fits. And honestly, if that description doesn’t make you want to listen to the album right now, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Little Green Cars

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Are you sure I haven’t told you about this band? They were my first musical obsession of the new year. I previously totally wrote off the album because it didn’t sound exactly like the single I had heard on the radio, but I’m willing to bet it was because I was totally hungover when I listened to it.  This is another band that has such amazing harmonies that they alone should sell you on the band. But the instrumentation is also wildly compelling – they manage to blend electric and acoustic so well I’m never exactly sure when I’m listening to each. And yes, the album does hit kind of a rough patch in the middle (actually, maybe it’s just the song “Red and Blue” – that song does suck), but it’s so worth it to stick it out to the aforementioned single, “The John Wayne,” because the song sounds like a happier Arcade Fire, like a happier, Irish, less full of themselves Arcade Fire.

The Oh Hello’s

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Oh, you like the Lumineers or perhaps Mumford and Sons? Perhaps you have been annoyed by both bands’ absolute failure at creating cohesive and compelling albums that make you listen all the way through. …You don’t listen to albums all the way through? You just have a few of their singles? Well…you suck. But, wait, just because I insulted you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to the album they have called Through the Deep, Dark Valley. This brother-sister team can really make folk music. And their harmonies are amazing, and they only get better by being bolstered by what sounds like the entire choir from their Texas church. (The siblings are from Texas, so I just assume they go to church with more regularity than me going to shul, which is for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs only). But yeah, speaking of folk, there’s only one name in folk rock, and also happens to have the best concert ever recorded:

The Band

the band

The Band! No, not which band, this isn’t a fucking Abbot and Costello bit. The Band, you asshole. So you haven’t seen The Last Waltz? That’s a real shame. I could go on for hours about why you’re all sorts of idiotic for having not seen the finest concert movie ever made, but I do have to ask – are you even familiar with them? Because it seems like most people these days only know their most famous song, “The Weight.” ….Yes, I mean what you have mislabeled in your iTunes as “take a load off fannie by bob dylan.” Wait, Bob Dylan? I know they were his backing band for a bit, but come on. There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to start. Ok, here’s what we’re gonna do. Here’s my personal copy of Music from Big Pink….and, you don’t have a record player. Well, I give up. Have fun at your Ke$ha concert.

So Hot Right Now, April 2014 (by Joshua)

 

springFucking hell, it’s about time.

Spring is finally here in Baltimore, after what has seemed to be the most annoyingly long winter in recent memory. There wasn’t as much snow as, say, the winter of 2009-2010 (The Snowpocaplyse, as it were), but it was frighteningly cold the entire time. Winter is always an ordeal in the Delmarva area, but I don’t know of another winter I quite hated as much as this one. I literally wept two days ago when baseball season started – I got out of an especially grueling day of work to come outside to bright sun and 64 degrees and I couldn’t help a tear coming to my eye when I got home, opened up all the windows, opened up a beer, and watch the Orioles beat the reigning World Series champs, the Red Sox. (I fucking hate the Red Sox…more than the Yankees, less than the Steelers, about as much as I hate Jeffery Maier.)

So I figured my April list, which is usually bright, had to be especially upbeat this year. I had a lot of help this month from NPR’s lists of SXSW artists, which are…extensive. I’ve been pouring over them at work, much to the chagrin of my co-workers, who seem to prefer 80’s arena rock and Trampled by Turtles. (I know, it’s an odd combo. But it’s still better than Katy Perry and Eminem on forever repeat.) The song “Jardin Du Luxembourg” by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is a good example of a song that I discovered from these lists, my co-workers are baffled by, and I’m enamored with. It’s got this great groove to it, but the ethereal lead singer and the droning, parallel fifths harmonies have proved to be just too weird for most. I guess I get it? But come on, get on board.

Really short story: You know how I often say I either write off or immediately dislike music when I first hear it, then once I either re-discover it or actually listen to it I find I love it? I had to live with the unfortunate result of my quirk this month when I super excitedly sent Claire the track “Oh Man” by Born Ruffians. The message was all like (as they often are), “Oh fucking fuck hell balls shizzbot, Claire, you gotta peep this with your earballs right this very second!” Of course, nearly immediately she sent back, “Uh, yeah, I know. I have. Born Ruffians were on my wonderful February SHRN list, which you follow.” Nice job, Joshua.

Some quick hits:

  • Holy balls, I cannot get the synth line from “Peaches” by In the Valley Below out of my head. They need more stuff on Spotify, pronto.
  • Also, according to this list, I’m apparently super into synth pop/rock now. Who knew that was gonna happen. Claire, I guess? She did turn me on to CRHVCHES. (Who are doing two shows at the 9:30 Club which are already both fucking sold out.)
  • Sold out too? Fucking Alabama Shakes. Why in the world didn’t I buy tickets when they first went on sale? I’m totally slacking on concerts recently, and I’m angry about this.
  • Not sold out? King Kahn and the Shrines, playing at the Ottobar in June. I’ll buy tickets to that, uh, tomorrow. Yeah.
  • I’ve always written off ELO as kinda lame (“Evil Woman” is, in fact, totally lame.), but holy hell is “Long Black Road” fucking funky as hell, and “Mr. Blue Sky” is perhaps the happiest song ever.
  • Most of these artists I’ve heard the one song on this list, so I’ve got some albums to listen to this month. I did already listen to the Summer Camp album, and it was really fun. I’d check it out, if I were you.
  • Yes, “April Come She Will” is a lazy, easy way to end a list for April. Also, fuck you.

So Hot Right Now, March 2014 (By Joshua)

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I cannot figure out what I’m into this month.

When I first was putting this list together a couple weeks ago, it was like two-thirds 90’s rap. I had gotten into a discussion late last month with my brother about the best rap albums of the 90’s and my list quickly became a who’s-who of that genre: 2Pac, Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan…all the best were there. But after about a week I realized that I just couldn’t listen to them anymore. I don’t know why I’ve changed, but 90’s rap is really boring me recently. It shouldn’t; I really believe some of the best rap ever came out in the early nineties. I mean, it’s just hard to find a rap album better than A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, but I still can’t listen to it right now.

Having said that, this list is not devoid of rap or hip-hop….or whatever the hell you call OutKast. There might not be a better hip-hop album released in the Aughts (2000-2009) than Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s so much fun, and it’s so fucking weird. Also in this list is perhaps my favorite song from 1990, “Fight the Power.” It’s weird to think about how much Chuck D and Flava Flav hated white people, and the latter had two different shows on VH1.

Still, this list all over the place. I go from a band that sounds exactly like the Alabama Shakes would if they had a male singer (St. Paul & The Broken Bones [it's freaky how much they sound like AS. Still great, obviously.]) to St. Vincent (how fucking awesome is their [her?] new album, guys?) to a whole section of 90’s songs I never thought I liked, but nonetheless have been stuck in my head. (90’s posts are coming, people. We just have to get up off our lazy asses. Well, I’m lazy; Claire has a wedding to plan.)

A couple quick hits:

  • “The Sign” is fucking poetry, y’all.
  • I really would like to hear a funk or soul version of “Come On Eileen.” Make it so, soul bands.
  • I could listen to “Counting Blue Cars (Tell Me Your Thoughts On God)” on repeat for days. It’s also probably responsible for the band Live, so, there’s that.
  • The series finale of Dollhouse is freaking awesome, and the it’s mostly the song they use at the end of the episode (“Everywhere I Go”) that makes it so heart wrenching.

Listen To This, Not That (by Joshua)

eat this

I’d like to introduce a new series on this blog. Are you familiar with the popular books and web series, Eat This, Not That? (Sorry for the link to fucking Men’s Health.) I read Yahoo! Sports a bunch and there are always of ads for this diet, and I’ve clicked on them a few times because I’ve always been curious about what you skinny people actually eat, and if it’s any good. (No, it isn’t.)

So while I obviously don’t care about what I eat, I care immensely about what I listen to, and perhaps making me a bit insufferable, what other people listen to as well. It pains me when I know people I like listen to crap music. Yes, I know that sentence makes me a complete asshole, but it’s the truth. When I get into someone’s car or go over their house for a party or something and they’re rocking out to Sublime, I cringe, and silently weep for them.

I have to wonder, though – is it that they really like Sublime, or have they just never been exposed to something that is better than Sublime? I’m willing to bet it’s the second. Well, that’s what I’m here for.

DON’T LISTEN TO….

“Santeria” by Sublime

I’ve gone on record with my distaste for Sublime, and all of those reasons are immediately present in this song. It begins with a boring guitar sound (looks like someone found the reverb pedal!) and punches into an equally boring beat. Even Meg White could handle that drumbeat. Brad Nowell’s voice isn’t bad, but like all parts of this band, it’s bland and uninspired. The lyrics are pretty heinous – most of it is gibberish, and the rest is about killing Sancho. And I get that lyrics aren’t supposed to be the focus of reggae music, but this is barely reggae, and the lyrics sound like they were just filler sung over the music while they were recording the track, as if they showed up to the studio with the music written and Nowell was too stoned to put pen to paper and just said, “Fuck it, I got this.”

LISTEN TO THIS INSTEAD:

“You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff

If you want a nice musical pick-me-up, put this song on. It also works in literally any place you would’ve played “Santeria,” from the car to the party. It has a wonderful slide-in-guitar, trumpet opener,  and Jimmy Cliff’s silky smooth voice keeps you in, and the wonderful backup vocals are complementary without being overbearing.  The lyrics, while not winning any awards, are at least pleasant and uplifting. The trumpet really gives it an extra punchiness, too, especially in the short bridge section. This is reggae – none of this SoCal lo-dub bullshit. It also begins one of the most wildly influential reggae albums (at least one of the most successful) of all-time, The Harder They Come, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, put together and mostly written by Mr. Cliff, with a few great standouts by other artists (such as the always enjoyable “007 (Shanty Town)” by Desmond Dekker). If you like Sublime’s fake ass reggae, try on the real thing. I’m willing to bet you’re gonna like it.

Anatomy of a Mixtape: Sussing You Out (by Joshua)

spin

I have a seriously problem when it comes to mixtapes. I’ll make them for any and all occasions. Birthday? You bet. Kwanzaa? Sure. Arbor Day? That was one hell of a party. Don’t knock partying on Arbor Day until you’ve tried it. But the mix I make most often is, without a doubt, one for a current or potential love interest.

Obviously these lists are always different, and those differences aren’t just based on the lady involved. If it was just about making a mix for a potential special lady friend, I might make the same mix every time, simply because if I found something that worked, I’d keep doing it. (It’s a combination of the idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and sheer laziness. To quote Dave Chappelle, “If a guy could get laid in a cardboard box, he wouldn’t buy a house.”)

So I have a treat for you. I normally don’t talk about this on this blog, but I have had a crush on a girl, a friend of a friend, and unsurprisingly, I made a mixtape for her. (Correction: She has already shot me down in the process of writing this post, but I like the idea enough that I’m gonna keep writing about it.) I was going over to my friend’s house under a thin pretense of playing drinking games, but really I was just going over there to try and see where she stood. So, before I left, I quickly slapped together a list. I called this mix, “Sussing You Out.”

And that’s what it was designed to do, musically. I had recently played a song for the friend that she was convinced the girl in question would like (that song was “What We Gained In The Fire” by The Mynabirds) so I built a mix around it, designed to figure out what kind of music she was into. But obviously I couldn’t put the Mynabirds’ song at the beginning, for two reasons: 1. You have to bury the lead when it comes to mixtapes for potential special lady friends, or else they may not listen past the song you said you’d play for them. 2. The song is really kind of an ending song, despite it being the opener on its respective album. No, I decided to open with “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, a great opening track, and one designed to slip into whatever situation the night had presented when I decided to start the playlist. It’s a chameleon song, you see.

But it has a flaw as an opening song – it’s not punchy at all, so I had to kick it up quick. Hence “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I put this song on the list, it immediately synthesized my secondary goal with the playlist – subtly hint at the fact that I had a crush on the girl. If you look at the mix song to song, you’ll notice almost all of them are some kind of love song. Maybe not all of them are happy love songs (“Use Me” is a particularly fucked up version of love), but some of them are almost sappy (here’s looking at you, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”).

Now, the sequencing isn’t great. I did slap this together in about 15 minutes, and it’s not a super great representation of things that I like, just a bunch of songs that don’t sound out of place at a party, songs that I’d like to know if she liked, and songs that say, “Hey, I’m digging what you’re throwing down.” These goals are certainly achieved, but it can be done better, and despite getting shot down, I am gonna take another crack at it soon.

And to be clear: by taking another crack at it, I mean do a second draft of the playlist, not keep trying to woo a girl I know is not interested.

So Hot Right Now, February 2014: Musical Regression (By Joshua)

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Have you ever found yourself reliving your past? I seem to be doing that this month. All I want to listen to is my old So Hot Right Now lists. And the funny thing is I have very little desire to listen to the ones from 2013, just the ones from 2012. I hit those lists out of the goddamn park. The March list of 2012 is perhaps my favorite So Hot Right Now list I’ve ever made, and it’s a seriously weird one. I mean, on one list exists Warren Zevon, Rasputina, The Band, Rage Against the Machine, The Beatles, and The Moments. The weird part is that I know how I sequence these lists, which is to say I barely do any sequencing, and somehow each song flows perfectly into the next one.

I’m struggling to find a reason for why this list is so good. Maybe I was having a good month that month…but my list doesn’t seem especially happy. I think that was the month I moved into my place in Charles Village, but I honestly remember that as totally stressful and not at all happy. Maybe it doesn’t have to be happy to be good. Maybe it’s good because it’s unhappy. Either way, it’s good, and there are like 8 songs from that list on this one.

Also prominently featured on this list is my list from November of 2012.  And looking back at our posts from those months, I think I found a parallel: March was our month on the structure of an album, and November was our month on the structure of a song. Maybe I was just in better musical mindspaces in those months. I had to’ve been, these lists are hot as hell.

Included as well is a smattering of songs from both of my birthday mixtapes Claire made for me. They are both truly excellent, though for some reason I am drawn over and over again to the one from 2013. I love the inclusion of They Might Be Giants right next to the bird and bee’s cover of “I Can’t Go For That.” Also, I had to throw in the excellent Mavis Staples’ cover of “Can You Get To That” off of this year’s birthday list.

Now, you might notice that this list has 14 songs rather than my customary 15. The reason for this is simple: there’s a song on this list Spotify doesn’t have that I do. If you want to listen to it, it’s called “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble. Good luck finding a good version – Youtube has a crappy video of a live performance in someone’s backyard, but that’s about it.

Oh! I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention why Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” is on this list, and the reason is simple: Because of my amazing acumen with music, I have won a slap bet with this song and therefore I get to slap my brother Matthew across his face. Hard.

So Hot Right Now, January 2014 (By Joshua)

what we gained in the fireWhen did I fall so out of practice?

The reason it’s taken me this long to post my January list isn’t that I didn’t have the songs. I’ve been seriously musically addicted this month, and it’s taken a few forms. The first musical obsession of the year, as I texted Claire late at night on January 2nd, was the indomitable track “Harper Lee,” the lead track off of Little Green Cars’ wonderful debut album Absolute Zero. I know it took me awhile to warm up to album, but I seem to do that often. The second and more recent obsession was another lead track, Alanis Morissette’s “All I Really Want,” a seemingly perfect 90’s song. I mean, it’s got everything: Wailing vocals, bitter and witty lyrics (the line before the beat drops is freaking hilarious), and a drum beat to rival all other 90’s drum beats. I even reached all the back to the 80’s for the not-quite-one-hit-wonder band Squeeze for their fantastic track “Tempted,” a jewel if there ever was one. Fun Fact #4757: The lyrical back and forth in the second verse? If you think recognize one of the voices from something else, you’d be right: It’s just their producer, freakin’ Elvis Costello.

So my problems this month were not with the songs, not at all. It was the sequence. For the life of me, I could not come up with a good way to fit these songs together in a cohesive way. There are at least three different lead tracks from their respective albums on here, yet none of them seemed like the best way to start this mixtape. I wanted to begin with the Morissette track, but since it doesn’t really sound like much else on the list, it would be sort of false advertising for the rest of the list. The only firm decision I could make was to place the track, “What We Gained In The Fire” by The Mynabirds at the end of the tape. (Speaking of which, the image at the top is a capture from the very same video, and I would totally recommend watching it as soon as you’re able.)

This brings me to a new idea in my monthly mixtapes: a non-sequenced, always shuffled list. This list defied all my attempts to be sequenced, so now its fate to be forever played in shuffle mode. It definitely help with playing the list out, as I so often do with my So Hot Right Now lists, since the songs are never in the same order. And the best part is you can do this at home, too! Just make sure, whatever you do, that you leave “What We Gained In The Fire” until the end – it really ruins the list otherwise.

Some quick hits:

  • “East Los Angeles” by Augustines is quite awesome, but doesn’t the singer sound an awful like if Dave Matthews both knew his vocal range and smoked 3 packs a day?
  • “Silver and Gold” by Noah and the Whale sounds like The Cars and the Talking Heads had a very odd baby together, in mostly a good way.
  • I wish all songs were about unrequited crushes on evil billionaires bent on taking over the world with airships and lasers, like in The Doubleclicks’ song.

Top 5 Albums Letdowns (by Joshua)

Have you ever been a superfan? Have you ever been hopelessly devoted to a band or a show or a book series, so much so that you debate its merits in every from you can? Have you ever been so obsessed that you read every bit of news about the thing-in-question (TIQ) the instant it comes out? Do you rush to defend every mistake the TIQ makes, rush to show off every triumph as proof of its greatness? It becomes all too personal – at some point your support of the TIQ becomes so ingrained into your personality that any slight someone makes of it you take as a direct insult. And you wait on baited breath  for the next instance of this TIQ to present itself to the world.

This is what it’s like to be hopelessly devoted to a band, as I have been many a time in my life with a few bands. And when, after sometimes years of waiting, the band releases its next album, I would rush to the store to buy the CD (I might not be all that young) and excitedly pop it into my Discman (really not helping that youth point) and play it over and over again.

But sometimes, I would go through all the waiting and consternation and impatience and finally get an album that was as if the band laid a turd in the jewel case (I’m a child of the 90’s, we get it). It felt like a betrayal, like the band personally came over to my house and spit in my face and punched my mom in the tits. This feeling is wildly irrational, obviously – the band is making music they want to make (presumably) and as much as I think it might be, their music is not for me. But that’s the core issue of being a superfan – you can’t rationalize that idea, that their art isn’t for you, it’s for them.

MaroonMaroon by Barenaked Ladies (previous album: Stunt)

I came into my fandom of Barenaked Ladies in the oddest of places: in a communal, barrack-style showers in a Jewish sleepaway camp in Western Maryland. (That may be one of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever written.) At this camp, Camp Airy, we all took showers at the same time, and it was 20 or 30 pre-pubescent kids in a long row of shower heads and a floor with a few drains, all while a 16 year old counselor sat in a lawn chair and watched to make sure of…something, I guess? That we didn’t fall? I don’t know. Anyway, I remember very vividly once a counselor was listening to Rock Spectacle – specifically, he was listening to “If I Had $1,000,000″ and all the hilarious hidden stuff after that track. I asked for only one thing that Hanukah – a copy of Rock Spectacle. I got Stunt, and I’ve been grateful for it ever since. It’s a wonderful album for a fresh-aged teenager: It’s delightfully sad, with a great sense of timing and wordplay. Maroon, however, seems like a pop afterthought. It seems like an album that was contractually obligated and therefore hamfisted by the record label producers. I hate the term “sell-out” because I don’t think that fame equates to a lack of artistic integrity, but it might apply in this album. It sounds like a shameless attempt to pander to a wider audience, and that’s just a shame.
showroom of compassionShowroom of Compassion by Cake (previous album: Pressure Chief)

I literally cannot get enough Cake – I constantly crave for more from this band. Perhaps this is because they have an album problem; namely, they cannot, in my opinion, put together a good album with a cohesive sound that’s engaging top to bottom. That being said, I think Pressure Chief came as close as possible to doing that as they are capable of. It’s tight, it’s poppy without being glib, and it’s heavy in moments only. Showroom of Compassion utterly fails at this. The album is wildly uneven, and is a tough sell from the jump: “Federal Funding” is a monotone, droning, mid-tempo’d disaster of a lead-off track. The album does have its moments, sure, like every Cake album, but they are few and far between. What’s worse is that from what I can glean, the band is moving closer and closer to breaking up, which means this is possibly their last album. That’s a pretty shitty way to leave out, Cake.

in through the out door

In Through The Out Door by Led Zeppelin (previous album: Physical Graffiti)

Ok, so this might be cheating a bit, as this album came out before my parents had even the chance of meeting, let alone getting pregnant with the gloriousness that is me. But my fandom of Led Zeppelin took a very linear route. As a teenager, I was all about the numbered Zeppelin albums, perhaps due to the fact that I thought that’s all the music they ever made. When someone finally smacked across the head and played me Houses of the Holy, I nearly shat my pants in reverence. This was the band at their pinnacle, taking everything they had learned from IV and applying it perfectly. Their next album, Physical Graffiti  was legendary. It had one of their most famous songs on it, “Kashmir,” as well as being the model for all rock double albums to come. Physical Graffiti  is Led Zeppelin’s White Album; it’s taking their pop roots to their logical artistic extremes. In Through the Out Door, however, is a soupy deuce. With songs as bad as “South Bound Saurez” and “Carouselambra” (perhaps the worst song they’ve ever written), it’s hard to justify the existence of this album. And fucking “Hot Dog?” When did Zeppelin become a goddamn honky tonk band?

Absolute Zero

Absolute Zero by Little Green Cars (debut album)

This might be a little tough to justify my (initial) disappointment for this album. I’ve talked about my love for their song “The John Wayne” in my end of the year post, but I feel I glossed over exactly what made this album so disappointing to me on first listen. I had been listening to “The John Wayne” practically on repeat for months at that point, and Spotify graciously let me know they now had their album. I got this notification, however, while I was drunk, so I decided to listen to it the next day at work, which proved ruinous. I didn’t get enough sleep and was totally hungover, and the lead track of the album, “Harper Lee,” begins softly, with an acoustic guitar and lilting harmonies. It was not what I wanted! I wanted the driving electric guitars of “The John Wayne,” along with the oppressive heat from the oven, to beat the hangover out of me. That is not what I got, at all, and while giving the album a few more songs, eventually turned it off for something more abrasive. Had I just taken the time and been in the right mood, I might’ve come to the conclusion I reached recently, that the album is (mostly) wonderful. But for months I pointed to this band as a great example of a single that overshadowed their album.

220px-DaveMatthewsBandEveryday

Everyday by Dave Matthews Band (previous album: Before These Crowded Streets)

This album inspired this post. I may not have been a superfan of any band like I once was of Dave Matthews Band. Shameful, I know, but being a white suburban 90’s child, it was almost unavoidable. I was utterly convinced of their infallible greatness, and that faith was grounded on the artistic achievement that was Before These Crowded Streets. Despite my current opinion of the band, I still think that album is a perfect “next move” album for the band; that is to say, it’s a solid move in an albeit similar but relatively new musical direction, and is a showcase of a band at its absolute peak of songwriting and lyricism. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (four years is a long time when it’s, by that point, 1/4 of your life) for more of this artistic perfection.

Then the news started coming out that they were having problems in the studio. The material they were recording was dark and not at all radio friendly. They then fired their long time producer, which is sort of like a football team firing their coach in the middle of the season: It’s a fucking emergency. But it looked up, at least to me – they hired Glen Ballard, the producer who co-wrote and produced one of the best albums of the 90’s, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. This was a good sign, I thought, the guy who did “You Oughta Know” should be able to handle a deep, dark album.

What came out, however, was a pop mess. Matthews mostly switched to electric guitar (despite that he still was a difficult asshole about it and played a baritone guitar), and the switch negated half of what the appeal was of his guitar playing. His odd runs and bizarre chord shapes sounded fresh and vibrant on acoustic, but on electric they sounded both muddled and generic. And the lyrics were hopeless banal, with none of the depth that was present in nearly every song of Before These Crowded Streets.

The worst part of this is that I really tried hard to like the album. I told myself it was actually ok, the electric guitar did work sort-of alright, the lyrics were never the strong part of the band anyway, the move of focus away from the rest of the band and soley onto Matthews wasn’t egotism but was actually supported by the rest of the band…That’s how I thought, as a superfan, that I somehow knew the specifics of the dynamics of the band interpersonal relationship. But even all that rationalization couldn’t help the knot in the pit of my stomach that told me my favorite band had just released a really bad album.

The worst part of all of this is that not long after Everyday was released, someone leaked the apparently entire album the band had recorded with their now ex-producer, Steve Lillywhite. And it was nothing like Everyday. It was the natural extension of Before These Crowded Streets, meaning it was dark and brilliant. It confirmed, finally, everything I wasn’t willing to let myself believe about Everyday: It was a musical mistake, and my musical gods were fallible. It shook my fandom to its core, and it never recovered. Everyday isn’t the only reason why I don’t listen to Dave Matthews Band anymore, but it’s perhaps the biggest.

Top 5 Ways to Deal With Your Co-Worker’s Taste in Music (by Joshua)

I have a pretty eclectic taste in music, and certainly a fairly wide breadth of  artists I know and love. An ex-girlfriend of mine used to joke that despite this, I still have a “sound” to my music taste; namely, that I, at the time, favored punchy, up-beat songs with a funky edge. (This was, of course, around about when I was 22.) I’m quite sure my taste has changed a fair bit since then, and it mostly has gone the way of indie folk rock. I’m a terribly big fan of the Decemberists (as even a casual reader of this blog would know instantly) and their stuff is, at face value, not the most accessible to your average music fan.

What is an average music fan? That’s a fair question. I would say your average American music fan is, by the numbers, a fan of Top 40 pop and a healthy dose of rap and R&B. Now, I can’t say all of this stuff is bad (Justin Timberlake, last year, put out perhaps one of the finest pop albums since Thriller), but I can’t listen to Lady Gaga or K$sha (having to spell someone who’s in Mensa like that makes me feel dirty) with any regularity before I want to kill myself with a rusty spork to the brain through my eye socket.

Which brings me to my new job and my new co-worker. She’s a very nice person, to be sure, but she is the poster child for Mix 106.5. She controlled the music during our overnight shift, and it was wall to wall Lady Gaga, K$sha, Eminem, Katy Perry, and fuck-if-I-know-who-it-is Top 40 hit after hit. It was truly a worse hell than listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer on repeat for forever, my previous definition of a musical hell. 

The astute reader here will notice that I am talking about this hell in the past tense. I have supplanted my co-worker (well, technically, my boss) as the primary music player in the kitchen. How? Well, it took a few weeks, but eventually I was able to convince her I had better taste than her. Well, perhaps that’s a bit crass. What I did was far more manipulative than that: I planted the idea in her head that I had better taste than her though extensive musical training, thus making her come to her own conclusion that I would be better suited to handling the music than her. Ok, so I’m making this sound meaner than I should. I really do want her to listen to better music, and I am the perfect person to do so (besides Claire. She could do this ten times better than me, and do it with better music.).

1. Be Nice

Your first response when you hear Katy Perry three songs in a row will be to pick up the speaker and hurl it into the nearest wall (or, if you’re a baker like me, into the closest oven). Ignore that. Instead, do your best to ignore the music for as long as you can. I managed to last nearly a whole work week, so most people could probably stand two weeks. Aim to do nothing for at least a week, and after that period your co-worker will assume you don’t have a problem with their music. After a week, start complimenting the decent songs that come up. Any Top 40 station worth its weight will undoubtedly play some Justin Timberlake, and bam, you have something in common. (If you don’t like Mr. Timberlake, then perhaps stop reading this blog. You are just wrong.) Praise their taste in Justin, and finding that common ground, move on to step 2.

2. Be A Human Pandora/Netflix

This is where it pays to be a huge music nerd. Have you heard of those books called Eat This, Not That? If not, the basic idea is to suggest a healthier alternative to a popular junk food. That’s what your goal is with this step. You need to pick up on the general musical ideas of some of the songs played, and offer a healthier alternative. “Oh, you like Eminem? Yeah, he’s pretty good. If you liked Recovery, maybe you’d like Let’s Get Free by Dead Prez? It has that same energy, only it’s a bit more political, rather than introspective.” This is where it Spotify Premium pays for itself over and over again. You have to have all of your suggestions ready to go. Your suggestions will do no good if you it’s all talk, you gotta back that shit up, son.

3. Have A Soundtrack/Know Your Audience

And that feeds perfectly into this step. You need to be ready with exactly what you want to play. At first, you may only get a song or two here or there, but always be ready with a couple of songs or more if necessary. Do your homework. Create some playlists of stuff that is similar to stuff they like, that way when you get your turn up at bat, you don’t strike out on the first swing. If they like what you’re playing, there’s no reason not to let it ride. This is also where you can bring in the other people in the shop/office/kitchen/wherever the hell you work. After two or three songs, carefully gauge the response to the other people besides the co-worker in question. If they’re digging it, keep your list playing as long as possible.

4. Don’t Blow Your Wad Early/Don’t Hesitate

This is where being good at creating playlists comes in handy. You have to start small with your suggestions and playlists. They’re not going to go from K$sha to Arcade Fire in one step. It’s a process, and you have to respect that. But you also have to make your musical point quickly – If you take too long to get to the real good stuff, they will have never kept up interest all the way there. I find the best way to hit this balance is by starting with something they know they like, then move to an artist who is a household name with a song they’ve unquestionably heard before, to an artist that they may or may not know by name but they know the song, then move on to something a bit more obscure. Confused? Don’t be. Let’s say they love that song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. First, compliment them on a good song choice, then ask if they’ve heard the song it’s based on, “Got To Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye (too bad Marvin is dead, he would’ve made a bunch of money suing Robin Thicke for plagiarism). They more than likely won’t know the song by name, but I’m sure once you put it on, they’ll recognize it. Then while they’re looking away, queue up a few more songs. Move onto “Get Ready” by the Temptations, a perfect follow up. Then throw them a change ball and play “Hold On” by the Alabama Shakes. I will guarantee two things about this song: First, if they’re a purely Top 40 fan, they shan’t have heard it before, and second, they are going to like it enough to ask who it is because you lead from the last two songs so well. You would’ve never gotten the same reaction had you gone straight from Robin Thicke to the Alabama Shakes.

5. Set Up A Schedule

At this point you’ve got them on the hook. But you can’t be a dick about it – I know my inclination is to lord my good music taste over people, something I’m slowly learning to stop. You can’t just take over the music 100%, as much as you may want to. Maybe the first time you really get a crack at the tunes, play one playlist then relinquish control back to the co-worker. You’ll look like a good person, especially if everyone in the place prefers your lists to theirs. You want to act fair, even if it makes no sense to. The idea here is to make people want your music more than the co-workers, and you help this along by setting up a schedule. Maybe you alternate hours of the day, or you get half the day and the co-worker the other half, or switch off days, or whatever. Just as long as your other co-workers begin to yearn and pine for your music shift. Once this happens, you’re in like Flynn, baby.

In Which Justin Timberlake Makes Better Human Beings of Us All (A Guest Post By Daniel Saunders)

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This year, I finally stopped clinging to any notion that I don’t love pop music above all else. I tried to tell myself that I was a bigger fan of indie stuff for the past few years, but the best defense I had was that I just didn’t listen to the radio all that much. It made me the worst kind of music snob: the illiterate. I made mash-ups on my guitar to prove that every Katy Perry song sounds the same and that Justin Bieber is basically Rebecca Black with Usher’s money behind him, with very little knowledge of their larger music libraries to back me up. Meanwhile, I still listened to Jason Mraz as if his opera-trained voice made up for the fact that his music usually sounds like a nursery rhyme wearing a fedora.

That all changed when I learned Justin Timberlake was coming out with a new album. Suddenly, I was ten years old again, and all five of the CDs I owned were either Backstreet Boys or N*SYNC. To me, those were the good old days of pop, when no matter if artists were in love, heartbroken, or anywhere in between, they would still find a way to have fun. I don’t know why I thought pop music ever lost that, but I’m gonna go ahead and blame the rise of dubstep.

south park

Then, my good friend and fashion blogger Maddie (plug #1: http://modaiolo.wordpress.com/) made me listen to “Suit & Tie” and finally, the fun was back, and this time, it was sexier. It took some modern sounds, some Motown, some Jay-Z, and a little bit of class, and rolled up a big, fat blunt with it. And it was awesome. And I was (and still am) obsessed. And I started listening to the radio again. And for the first time since wub-wub dropped the bass along with all the fucks I had to give, it seemed like the artists actually dared to put out music they were proud of as opposed to what would get people to dance mindlessly (read: Rihanna 2009-11). And though these 5 songs weren’t all on the radio this year, they’re the reasons I’ll keep listening.

“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Mary Lambert

“Thrift Shop” proved that there are more good white rappers out there than Eminem. “Same Love” did what more mainstream rappers should be: going personal and political. Drake can go on and on about that time he got to second base under the bleachers in seventh grade; Kanye can (and probably will) give a free copy of “Blkkk SkkkN Head” to everyone who buys his $150 white T-shirt; Kendrick Lamar can take a huge dump on Big Sean (too late); it doesn’t matter. No hip-hop song was more important than this one this year.

“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake

I could probably write three separate posts about Justin Timberlake and why this year should belong to him, but I’ll settle for writing about this song. Simply put, it’s what N*SYNC would sound like if they were still around today. A capella groups (plug #2: http://www.facebook.com/HarmonicCombustion), which are one of the hottest So Hot Right Now trends of 2013, have a huge boner for this song. I don’t think it’s the best song off of his album (that honor goes to “That Girl”), but it’s perfect as a pop song. The hook is catchy as hell, the lyrics are just deep enough so that it won’t lose the 7-year-olds listening, and it’s sung well. Extra props to Timbaland for making the best-produced album in a damn long time.

Side note: though the breakdown is unpopular, I love it, especially when paired with the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuZE_IRwLNI), which is also my favorite of 2013.

“Ragtop Car” by Noisettes

Noisettes have been written before on this blog, because they rule. Hard. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of them before, do yourself a favor and spend some time getting to know them. This song, off their 2012 album “Contact,” is the most laid-back love song I’ve heard in a really long time. Though it’s not popular in this country, it is pop music, and I’m including it because I think it’s everything “Ho Hey” wanted to be but couldn’t because The Lumineers kept writing the same song over and over again on their last album.

“Get Lucky” by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams

Man, did Daft Punk have it right this year. This song sums up pretty much what the entirety of “Random Access Memories” was trying to say: dance music can and should be simple. Besides the indisputable fact that Pharell is basically King Midas when he touches a track, and should be revered as highly as bacon, “Get Lucky” was Daft Punk’s answer to dubstep, and I think it’s nearly dead because of songs like this. That’s not to say I don’t like dubstep; there are subgenres like trap and house which, despite the fact that they’re still largely underground—never mind; that sentence doesn’t deserve an end. The point is, real instruments have started to find their way back into computerized dance music, and SURPRISE—it’s fun to have both, which is what these faceless French nerds have been saying the whole time.

“Somebody” by Jukebox the Ghost

I can’t figure out why this band isn’t more popular. They kick a lot of kinds of ass, and after seeing them live, they kick all kinds of ass. “Somebody” did come out in 2012, but it’s definitely my favorite song of 2013. It’s balls-to-the-wall sunshine that clearly came from a personal place, and if that’s not fun to you, then you can continue being a cynical asshole. I’ll be in 2014, where hopefully, hipsters will go to die, and the mainstream can have just as much to offer as everywhere else.