Top 10 Albums of 2007: As told by Jameson

Well, here it is ladies and gentlemen. The moment we have all been waiting for. An entire year of (great) music smashed into one ten minute long blog post. I spend all year talking about whether new albums I listen to "have a shot at my top 10 this year", and I will spend all of the next few years mentioning that these albums "made my top 10 in 2007" anytime they come up in passing conversation, as if my list is the definitive reference for all that was great (musically) in 2007. This is no litmus test though. There are plenty of 2007 albums that will not be mentioned below that certainly deserve to be. Wilco's 2007 release, Sky Blue Sky, is arguably some of the most accessible (classic) rock music they have ever made, certainly a "back to basics" effort for Tweedy and company. Ryan Adams' new album, Easy Tiger, is one of his most focused efforts to date, a (dare I say) tight example of alt-country pop from start to finish (well sans rocker "Halloweenhead"...which I hailed as both the best and worst song on that album at different points throughout 2007). Some bands released albums in 2007 that were just a few songs off: Bright Eyes' Cassadaga is 11/13 brilliant, Stars' In Our Bedroom After The War is about 10/13 theatrical indie-rock triumph, and Fall Out Boy's Infinity On High is 9/14 pop-punk grandeur (too bad the wheels fall off on the album's last 1/3). None of these albums, along with many other greats, made the cut though. Only room for the best (where "best" = how Jameson feels about you at the end of the year). So without further delay, here they are: the top ten albums of 2007, as told by Jameson.

10. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
The last time Les Savy Fav released an album, I was a senior in high school (October 2001). In the six years since that album's release, Les Savy Fav frontman (showstopper), Tim Harrington, battled a demobilizing case of writer's block. Lucky for us, he fought through the endless hours of frustration spent in a room littered with index cards containing lyrical ideas on them, and managed to put together the band's best album yet. Let's Stay Friends is at times hardcore, and other times poppy, but it is always rock and roll. Album opener, "Pots&Pans" sounds huge and showcases the band stating that they are not to be counted out just yet ("This is where it stops, and this is where it ends, let's tear this whole place down and build it up again, this band's a beating heart and it's nowhere near its end"). From there, the album kicks right into overdrive as "The Equestrian" takes us back to that hardcore, angular rock that Les Savy Fav is most known for. This grainy brand of rock and roll reappears several times throughout ("Raging In The Plague Age", "Slugs In the Shrubs", "Kiss Kiss Is Getting Old"), and holds the album together as a cohesive unit. Mixed amongst these splintered rock numbers, Les Savy Fav weave in and out with a variety of approaches. Sonically, "The Year Before The Year 2000" sounds like Bloc Party, "What Would Wolves Do?" is reminiscent of the Strokes, and album standout "Patty Lee" finds Harrington's usually coarse vocals transformed into a falsetto over a memorable guitar riff. While the aforementioned bands may be more popular, Les Savy Fav sounds better than any of them. Maybe that's because they sounded like this when those bands (along with myself) were still in high school.

09. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
Iron & Wine's first album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, sounds as though it was recorded in Sam Beam's bedroom on a tape recorder. Lo-fi defined, the album consists of Sam Beam's voice, an acoustic guitar, and some brief touches of slide guitar and banjo. In the five years since this debut release, it is safe to say that Iron & Wine have expanded. Beam ditched the lo-fi sound on his spectacular follow-up to Creek, Our Endless Numbered Days, and along the way picked up a band. While the band created some subtle accents on Our Endless Numbered Days, the album still maintained that singer-songwriter feel. On The Shepherd's Dog however, it sounds as though Beam has picked up a circus. While this progression was somewhat hinted at on the Woman King EP and the tag-team EP he recorded with Calexico (In the Reins), I don't think anyone was quite prepared for the exuberance that Iron & Wine displays on The Shepherd's Dog. The album opens (almost in a nod to The Creek Drank the Cradle) with a somewhat hollow sounding guitar for the first 15 seconds, and then the drums kick in over an array of scatterbrain piano, followed by a bevy of strings and horns. From here on out, the album flows seamlessly through a cornucopia of sounds. Derek Miller's Stylus review described The Shepherd's Dog's sound as "a kaleidoscopic work of roots music with a junkyard musical palette". This pretty much hits the nail on the head. There are so many different sounds coming out of the speakers during the album's 50 minutes, that I couldn't even begin to touch on them all (partly because I wouldn't know how to describe them). The Shepherd's Dog does not sacrifice quality songwriting for uniqueness though. Sam Beam's masterful imagery is still the album's strongest suit amidst this bounty of instrumentation. A consummate wordsmith, Beam takes yesterday's vernacular and applies it to contemporary affairs, once more building a remarkable album on the strength of his songwriting. Five years after the release of The Creek Drank the Cradle, Iron & Wine have proven that while you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, if you give him big enough yard, he might just amaze you with what he already knows.

08. Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew - Spirit If...
In case you were not aware (or unable to read the album's jacket), Kevin Drew is a member of Canadian supergroup, Broken Social Scene (he is often credited as a co-founder of the group). Broken Social Scene started as a group of friends making music, and about 20 members later, the band has made quite a name by taking relatively simple pop songs, and turning them into orchestral rock vignettes. As one may have guessed, Spirit If... sounds a lot like a Broken Social Scene album. Drew's BSS cohorts make appearances all over the place, and this collection of (mostly) acoustic songs show their presence with waves of fuzz, interimitten blips, and crashing glass throughout the mix. Recorded over the past couple years, Spirit If... is a collection of Kevin Drew solo songs though, so the album is certainly Drew's baby. As a whole, Spirit If... is a pretty even medley of mid tempo songs, with the occasional rockers ("Back Out on The...") and slow builders ("Gang Bang Suicide"). As a songwriter, Drew contributes moments of brilliance amidst mouthfuls of dense verse (see: "Lucky Ones"). The album is of no shortage of off-beat hooks though (exhibit A: "You are too beautiful to fuck" in "Tbtf", exhibit B: "They say size doesn't count, but my heart is a house" on "Gang Bang Suicide"). Drew's wide-eyed romanticism framed in these relatively sparse (by Broken Social Scene standards) arrangements creates a warm blanket over the entire album, and this intangible ability to cultivate such a glowing sense of familiarity is perhaps the album's strongest suit. Spirit If... closer, "When It Begins", embodies the album's theme of camaraderie with what sounds to be a one take group singalong, lamenting the end of the album. Drew and company imperfectly sing that "it's gonna be really hard when we get to the end", clearly mourning not just the album's literal end, but more significantly the completion of the recording process. I guess that's what happens when you get your friends together, you never want it to end.

07. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Last time we heard from the Arcade Fire, thematically, their focus was very personal. 2004's Funeral was a collection of eccentric epics about individual struggles in the face of adversity. On Neon Bible though, Win Butler and company expanded their scope (dare I say, "went political"). Touching on everything from a religious regime in America, to the war in Iraq, and notably the American public's startling dependence on television (essentially all media) to tell them how and what to think (hence…Neon Bible). The band's sound has expanded as well to fit these grand motifs. Where Funeral teetered that line between unrestrained passion and over-the-top melodrama brilliantly, Neon Bible disregards that the line ever existed. Swelling with brass, strings, and (the always ominous) organ, Neon Bible sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned church (which is appropriate because it was) with about 30 people playing at once. The result is high-octane, controlled chaos that sounds like a dark rock and roll symphony. Both sonically and thematically, Neon Bible flows seamlessly. From start to finish the songs all just contextually make sense, and it would be difficult to imagine them standing alone (or anywhere else for that matter). The album really listens like a good book. All that and I didn't even have to mention Bruce Springsteen.

06. The White Stripes - Icky Thump
Many hardcore White Stripes fans were disenfranchised by Jack and Meg's 2005 foray in country and marimba, Get Behind Me Satan (sidenote: I actually enjoyed Satan quite a bit...although I can't remember the last time I listened to it). Additionally, in the time since Satan's release, the Whites both moved out of the gritty city that molded that classic Stripes sound (Detroit), and Jack has started a marginally popular rock band, The Raconteurs. Needless to say the Stripes' future hung in the balance leading up to their 2007 release, Icky Thump. Rest assured though, order has been restored. With perhaps their heaviest record to date, the candy cane siblings (cough*ex-husband and wife*cough) have managed to take all that is great about the Stripes' past efforts, and mold them into one cohesive record on Icky Thump. There is vintage Stripes garage rock - "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)" -, there is the oddly successful cover - "Conquest" -, there is a little bit of country - "Effect & Cause" -, and there is a whole lot of heavy rock - "Bone Broke", "Little Cream Soda", "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" - . The album is a jagged collection of some of the most focused White Stripes material since White Blood Cells, and I would argue that Icky Thump is the most solid (start to finish) album the Stripes have ever released as a result. With Meg White anxiety attacks leading to cancelled tour dates, and Jack White working on "multiple" side projects, the Stripes future is once again uncertain. While I would hate to see it happen, as a pretty hardcore Stripes fan, I think Icky Thump would be a fitting swan song.

05. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Prior to 2007's Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem was seen as a great band that made electronic dance music with indie appeal. I would say that is still a pretty fair assessment of James Murphy's outfit, however, Sound of Silver feels bigger than that. It is one of those albums where you keep waiting for the lull, and it just never comes. One track after another starts out as a simple frame, and then builds into this thick, pulsating epic by song's end. All LCD Soundsystem reviews touch on the fact that band mastermind, James Murphy, leans heavily on his influences. While these influences are certainly prevelant (and vast), Sound of Silver is unmistakably the work of one (very talented) man. Silver bumps, beeps, and blips from high to low over the album's 56 minutes, but always sounds smooth, never forced. The greatest development here though is Mr. Murphy's songwriting skills. Whereas prior LCD Soundsystem efforts came off as scatterbrain with clever lyrical spikes, Sound of Silver finds Murphy showing he is deeper than anyone else in the genre. This is most notable within a three song stretch in the album's heart ("North American Scum" -> "Someone Great" -> "All My Friends"). In this 20 minute sequence, Murphy gets patriotic without getting ignorant (what a novel idea), laments the loss of a loved one, and bitches about the harsh realities of growing old. Pretty heavy subject matter for "dance music". That's just it. With Sound of Silver, Murphy has managed to transition from electronic dance phenom to indie music master. Perhaps he's lost his edge, and all for the better. It looks like 2007 will be known as the year LCD Soundsystem dropped all the descriptors, and started being recognized as simply a great band.

04. Okkervil River - The Stage Names
In 2005, Okkervil River released an indie-rock classic. Black Sheep Boy, was a dark, dejected opus roughly framed on the life of ill-fated folk musician, Tim Hardin. The album's ambitious descent into the world of self-depricating rock and roll was universally hailed, and Okkervil River made their place in indie-rock history for it. Fast forward to 2007's The Stage Names, and Will Sheff and company did the best possible thing any band can do following up a great album: They did not attempt to make Black Sheep Boy II. While thematically the album is still fairly depressing, musically, The Stage Names is considerably lighter than BSB. Album opener, "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe", discusses how the real world is anticlimactic in comparison to the movies, and (ironically) bursts at the seams while doing so. "You Can't Hold The Hand Of A Rock And Roll Man" is a honky-tonk, rock and roll romp which details the less-glamorous side of life on the road. The album's crowing moment though is Stage Names closer, "John Allyn Smith Sails". A biographical track told from the mouth of a deceased John Berryman, "John Allyn Smith Sails" manages to effortlessly interpolate the Beach Boys, "Sloop John B", into the song's (and album's) climax, ending The Stage Names in perhaps the most uplifting/comedic moment to appear on any Okkervil River album. Like I said, Okkervil River chose not to re-create Black Sheep Boy in 2007. In the process, it appears as though they have created yet another indie-rock classic.

03. Menomena - Friend and Foe
In April of this year, I purchased a high quality stereo system. I (ironically enough) bought it from a place called Jamieson's Stereo. This is one of those places where the people working there are so intense about "the sound" that you find yourself blankly nodding along as they demo different speakers for you, asking "Isn't it amazing how much better these $1,000 speakers sound in comparison to these $800 ones?". They sit you in these specially made "listening rooms" that are supposed to mirror a room in your home (as long as you have a room in your house that resembles George Lucas' personal screening room at the Skywalker Ranch), and turn the speakers up to a level that no (sober) person would ever feel comfortable listening to. To "enhance the personal listening experience", they will ask you to "get a CD from your car". If you persist that his copy of Queen's Greatest Hits I should suffice, he will insist that, while he agrees Queen has released some rather "lush sonic arrangements over the years", you still need to listen to "your own stuff" on the speakers before making the purchase. The enthusiasm was appreciated, but all I kept thinking was that I couldn't bring in a burnt copy of the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday (my "own stuff") into the same place where people my dad's age were simultaneously demo-ing multi-thousand dollar "home theatre systems". What would suffice though? What album would impress this 40 year old audiophile, that has probably forgotten more about music than I will ever know? As I sat there, and heard every single sound from Friend and Foe's herky jerky, rock and roll symphony of a first track, "Muscle'n Flo", crisply laid out for me on those three foot tall Klipsch speakers I realized a few things: 1) The rear speakers (the front speakers are blown) on my 95' Honda Accord and the three inch tall computer (factory) speakers that came with my Dell have been doing my music no justice over the past few years, 2) I was about to drop over a grand on a stereo (and oddly enough, my dad would interpret this purchase as a writ of passage into manhood), 3) This Menomena album is fucking brilliant.

02. Radiohead - In Rainbows
The most common criticism I have heard of Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows, is that "any band could have made this album". Almost as if we have come to expect Radiohead to produce albums only capable of being made in outerspace. In Rainbows is definitely a more sparse sounding incarnation of Radiohead, but it is by no means any weaker as a result.

In fact, I felt the band's previous album, Hail To The Thief, was at times bogged down by the band trying too hard to make the album sound "complex". In a welcome gust of fresh air, In Rainbows finds Oxford's finest (for the most part) putting away their laptops and returning to their guitars and drums. What we are left with is a smoky collection of simmering, guitar-based tracks that are as bare as anything the band has put out since The Bends. Interestingly enough, on an album that finds Radiohead's (semi-insane) leader, Thom Yorke, using his voice as an instrument more than any other Radiohead release, Mr. Yorke has also managed to put together some of his most "straightforward", even soul-bearing, lyrics (Example 1: "How come i end up where i started, how come i end up where i belong?", Example 2:"This is my way of saying goodbye, because i can't do it face to face, so im talking to you before it's too late"). The emotions always felt like they were there, but prior efforts displayed it more in Yorke's inflection rather than his dictation. This less obtuse form of songwriting humanizes the album, perhaps making it more accesible to those alienated by the band's exploration into the dense "Man vs. Machine" theme seen on Radiohead's last few albums. Another improvement upon its predecessor is In Rainbows' length. Clocking in at just over 42 minutes (ideal album length), In Rainbows leaves listeners satiated, but wanting more, something that the rather dense (57 minute), Hail To The Thief, fails to do (in my opinion).

Prior releases aside, In Rainbows is a tight example of Radiohead proving that whatever angle they take, they will emerge with a consummate, cohesive album. In Rainbows is unmistakably a Radiohead album, but sounds nothing like anything the band has put out before. No matter what Radiohead does, they manage to sound both fresh, and like themselves. Critical darlings because they manage to maintain their identity, all while breaking the mold of what everyone expects them to do. In the meantime, bands everywhere are just trying to keep up, or even emmulate Yorke and Co. (Coldplay anyone?). The imitators just fall flat though, drowning vanilla, acoustic ballads in a pool of electronic drum loops and flat computer blips. Sure, any band could have made In Rainbows, but no one else did.

01. The National - Boxer
As 2006 came to an end, everything seemed to be falling right into place for you. In the aforementioned year you graduated from College (a stage of your life that you enjoyed thoroughly, but were admittedly "tiring of"), and seamlessly transitioned right into a shiny, desk job (a livelihood you believed in your heart of hearts was perfect for you). It was almost as if at the end of college, instead of thinking (honestly) about your future life, you decided to turn the light out, say goodnight, and not think about it for a little while. After all, there was a lot going on, and there was no reason to try to figure out everything at once.

Everyday, showered and blue blazered, you made your way to that white collar wonderland. Always out to impress your superiors you did everything that they asked you to do. Sure to underline everything, and double-check it twice, you were a professional in your beloved white shirt. Work required quite a time commitment from you too. Your office started to feel more like home than your apartment (you certainly spent more time there). You'd come home late from work and be mistaken for a stranger by your own friends. Even you couldn't keep track of everything falling through the sky. Half awake in a fake empire, it was just another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent life of an adult.

One day, you wakeup, and it is spring. You are using two weeks of vacation time to study for exams (work-related of course). You're young though, they say it doesn't matter, and besides, you're shooting up the ladder. However, you start to think about things. You are falling out of touch with all your friends. You think about them somewhere (without you) getting wasted, and you hope they're staying glued together. It feels like you hardly know them anymore, but you still have arms for them. Your mind is racing like a pro now. Is this really what you want? It doesn't mean a lot to you. Not long ago you were young and had the world in front of you, now that feels like a million years ago. You tell yourself, "this isn't working." You're dumbstruck.

In the midst of this haze of false pretenses, you happen to remember you had a girlfriend. In the process of losing touch with all of your friends, you managed to grow more and more reliant on her for all things social. Rather than being reminded of your youthful past (and how unnurtured you have left it), it was just easier to forge ahead with your (soon-to-be friendless) future. Putting blinders up was so successful in your professional life, it would have to carry the same fate in your personal life.

She (gracefully) dragged you around from the end of her coat all winter, but on this fateful spring day (when all this thinking started) you also realize that you have made a mistake in your life. It seems as though everything you love is lost in drawers. You want to start over, you want to be winning, way out of sync from the beginning. You realize something you have always known, but is suddenly clearer. This girl is special, and now you want nothing more than to show her how much you appreciate her. All you want to do is hurry home to her, put on a slow, dumb show for her, and crack her up. Unfortunately, the damage is already done, and this message ends up getting lost in translation. Your newfound enthusiasm turns into suffocation, and you overdo it.

In what is already a dark time, you lean on the wall, and the wall leans away. The floor drops out on you, and you are going down among the saints. "Does she really think she can just put it in a safe behind a painting, lock it up, and leave?" "She might need me more than she thinks she will." Time passes, and it doesn't really get any easier. You can hear the sound of her laugh through the wall. She has moved out though, and you just keep hoping she knows her way back around.

You slowly accept your newfound fate, and try to proceed with life, but she keeps changing her fancy mind everytime you decide to let go. You think to yourself, "She was always weird, but I never had to hold her by the edges like I do now." The two of you start to talk again. You make up excuses to see her: "I've got two armfuls of magazines for you, I'll bring em over." She backs her way in as well: "Let me come over, I can waste your time, I'm bored." It wasn't particularly romantic, but life rarely is. You are honest with her. You tell her that you miss going wild and bright in the corners of front yards, getting in and out of cars. You miss being deviants. Basically, you miss your younger years when things were not so complicated. You both agree that you don't want to be apart, but that you can't stay here. You say, "We were starting to stay the same, and we can't stay that way."

In an uncharacteristic move, you two decide to leave it all up in the air. For the first time in a long time, you decide to just live your lives in the present. Do what feels right for the moment because that is the only certain feeling you know. It is refreshing. Everything you used to believe is diving off the balcony.

In one year, not a lot appears to have changed, but everything seems different. The passing of 2007 has altered your outlook on things. You're still working that office job, but you know now that it should not define you. You may not get to see your friends that often, but you recognize that you cannot survive without them. You are seeing that girl again, but enjoying it now instead of always planning for later. You understand that the minute you fall into a routine is when you start to take things for granted, and that is the minute you have lost control. You realize life isn't like the movies because the movies skip over all the small stuff, and it is that small stuff that ends up defining our lives. I guess everything counts a little more than we think.

- Jameson


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Songs of 2007: According to Jameson

I guess this is where I should do the obligatory "These lists are so subjective" talk. You guys know that though. These are the songs that I enjoyed this year (it says "According to Jameson" right in the title). Your list would probably be vastly different than mine (I'd love to see your list by the way). Additionally, this list (as well as almost lists) is probably slanted towards my mood when I was making it. I did my best to combat this (by compiling the list over a period of weeks), but in the end, these lists are going to reflect how you are feeling in the time period when you are making them. The fact of the matter is that we like certain songs because because they extract certain emotions/feelings from us. I mean, if albums are full meals, then songs are like pieces of candy. If I am getting ready to "go out on the town" (something I don't do all that often), I may want to listen to Daft Punk's "Digital Love" to get me moving. If I am getting ready for bed, I may want a quick Iron & Wine lullaby to serenade me to sleep. If I am planning a night of heavy drinking with my friends, then the Hold Steady's "Massive Nights" would be appropriate. You get the point. Songs are a quick and easy fix, and can take you from one emotion to another in the course of 4 minutes. Anyhow, here are the 15 songs of 2007 that extracted a little something more from me than all the others.

15. Kevin Drew - "Lucky Ones"
I sat here for a long time trying to write something about this song. I honestly can't think of anything to say about it, and I don't know if that means it is perfect, or it has no business being on this list. I love this song though, and have listened to it a ton this year, so I decided to leave it on. I particularly like this verse: "I know i know i know it's true / all the things you thought about I want you to do / and when the clouds separate in comes the sun / hurry through the song that a girl once sung / she's the reason why i'm trying to make it alright / trying to drive through to Croatia tonight / wanna lie beside her with the wind in my hand / try to be a stereotype with a plan / but my love of god and my god is love / that's why i do all the things of the above / don't you expect to make a phone call tonight / treat me like a motherfucker who is right" I still can't tell if Kevin Drew is a genius, or insane. Probably a little bit of both...

14. Voxtrot - "Blood Red Blood"
With EPs that garnered them the title of "2006 indie blog darlings", Voxtrot had a lot to live up to with their 2007 full-length debut. While their self-titled album did not quite match up to the hype of their quick hitting EPs, Voxtrot closer, "Blood Red Blood" recaptured that 2006 magic. The song's carpe diem theme is not exactly groundbreaking, and in the hands of some other singers, could come off as hokey. However, the passion in Voxtrot lead singer, Ramesh Srivastava's, voice is so believable that it creates a sense of urgency, leaving listeners ready to "get up and do something". Musically, "Blood Red Blood" matches the song's message of proactivity. Purposeful drums and guitar open, and then the song builds into a wall of sound, brimming with glossy strings and high-flying horns at the summit. As the song closes, the music correspondingly deflates, and Srivastava reminds us that time leaves us "like blood, red blood".

13. Stars - "Take Me to the Riot"
Stars specialize in theatrical indie rock music. They traditionally write over-the-top, offbeat anthems that focus on characters and situations that are imperfect. These imperfections create a sense of credibility in the stories though, giving the songs an underlying integrity not found in traditional pop music. Torquil Campbell, Stars' male lead (the band has both male and female lead vocals), was quoted as saying "Take Me to the Riot" is the story of "two drug dealers in love with each other, but one of them has their shit together a little bit more than the other." This unconventional love story is told atop some of the most instantaneously captivating pop music of the year. A pretty simple rock song, with an infectious chorus, "Take Me to the Riot" will have you hitting the repeat button and singing along after only a couple of listens. It's not much, but it's just enough to keep.

12. Kanye West - "Stronger"
Those who know me (well), know that I am a sucker for Kanye West. Even worse (probably), I love the popular Kanye West songs the most (I still adore "Gold Digger"). See...I never listen to the radio, and I rarely find myself in environments where dancing is the main event, so the songs never get played out for me (sidenote: given the proper circumstances, I will dance...and enjoy every minute of it). House party play counts aside, Kanye's songs are catching. Throw in the fact that West (a producing genius) was smart enough to sample Daft Punk's, "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" on "Stronger", and I am on board. Daft Punk's track was strong enough on its own (no pun intended), but West cleans it up into a concise, radio-friendly beat, and then tosses his usual blend of swagger and hubris into the rhyme, creating a 2007 dance-floor standard. Oh yeah, Kanye manages to rhyme "Klondike" with "blonde dyke" on the track as well...

11. Les Savy Fav - "Raging In The Plague Age"
The first time I heard "Raging In The Plague Age" was one of those rare moments when I knew (during the very first listen) that the song was fucking awesome. Clocking in at 2:43 (the list's shortest song) the whole thing is just raw, grainy rock and roll. It's one of those songs where you don't even get a moment to brace for it. It just kicks you right in the face with this heavily distorted bass-line and barbaric drums, and it doesn't letup until the song's completion. Les Savy Fav leadman, Tim Harrington's, coarse vocals match the hardrock perfectly here as well, singing for a king that has fallen ill and been ousted from his throne (and out of his castle) only to hear everyone inside having a "raging" party. At the :56 mark in the song, the gritty bass and guitars drop completely out of the mix, and atop only the advancing drums, there is a moment of clarity in which Harrington spits (perhaps) the most rawking 12 seconds of any song in 2007: "Drop the drawbridge, draw down the blinds, everyone inside is getting high tonight, waiting for the plague to move on, no one's getting sober til the liquor's all gone!" Like I said, it's fucking awesome.

10. Black Kids - "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You"
Black Kids are the band that I've been dreaming of ever since I was a little boy. Seriously, "I'm Not Gonna Teach..." sounds so much like a kid show sing along that when listening to it, I feel like I am on Nickelodeon circa 1990. This is not a bad thing though. It has triggered some of the most sparkling pop music to hit the indie circuit this year. Floating on a glistening concoction of synthy keyboards and guitars, Reggie Youngblood leads us down a rainbow paved path to the story of a no self-esteem young man who just so happens to have some moves. For fear of losing the only link to his crush, the unconfident fellow refuses to teach his dancefloor partner's boyfriend how to dance with her. Whether it was Black Kids intentions or not, mixed amongst all this merriment, "I'm Not Gonna Teach..." manages to take a stand for the uncool, letting the world know that they will no longer be taken advantage of. Pretty sweet message...for a kid song.

09. The Arcade Fire - "(Antichrist Television Blues)"
After the 2004 release of the Arcade Fire's eccentric indie rock classic, Funeral, music writers spent a lot of time analyzing the similarities between Win Butler and Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne. On Neon Bible though, the comparisons all shifted to Springsteen. Butler takes his best shot at Boss mimicry on several of Bible’s tracks, but most notably "(Antichrist Television Blues)". In fact, the aforementioned track, Neon Bible's climax, sounds more vintage Springsteen than even Springsteen can pull off anymore. Over a shuffling guitar, Butler strings together a startling image of a father trying to better his life via his talented daughter (sidenote: the song's inspiration was rumored to be Joe Simpson, father - turned pimp - of Jessica and Ashlee, and to my knowledge, the band never denied this). The song builds to a rage in which Butler's singing turns to maddened scolding. Then, right when the song feels like it is going to burst from its own pressure, it comes crashing to a screeching ha-

08. Josh Ritter - "The Temptation Of Adam"
"The Temptation Of Adam" is just another remarkable credential on Josh Ritter's resume. The song is a simple acoustic ballad with fragments of strings throughout. Lyrically though, Ritter weaves an intricate tale of a man and a woman that slowly fall in love while locked inside a missile silo. As the song progresses, the two fall more in love, but Ritter's protagonist begins to fear that their love would never last amongst the distractions of the outside world ("our love would live a half-life on the surface" - see what he did there?). In the end, Adam's rationale is so blurred by his love for Marie that he starts to wish the two would never leave their underground bunker. His temptation transfers from Marie, to whether or not he should start WWIII, so he will never lose her. Thematically, "The Temptation Of Adam" speaks on a few different levels, but ultimately addresses the selfishness of love. Given the choice, would you send the world into peril if it meant you would have love forever? I'd have to imagine that for most, it'd be tempting.

07. The White Stripes - "Rag & Bone"
"Rag & Bone" is one of those songs where if I were to describe the premise, it would sound silly. In fact, it kind of is...but perhaps that is why "Rag & Bone" is so successful. The White Stripes are notorious for taking themselves ultra seriously, and that has never hindered them. However, on "Rag & Bone" we get our first glance at the more comedic side of Jack and Meg (it only took six albums), and its a refreshing take on Detroit's most dysfunctional rock and roll siblings (insert: eyeroll). A half spoken/half sang number, "Rag & Bone" is the story of two scavengers digging through other people's trash. The spoken word parts (the verses) find Jack and Meg playfully sparring back and forth over a bluesy little guitar riff, and as each verse ends, the steady drums of Meg White (along with the song) pick up force. Jack then spouts off the the sang parts (the choruses) which lead right into signature Stripes guitar chords. Six albums in, and the White Stripes still manage to make their simple brand of bluesy garage rock sound fresh. Looks like they've still got plenty of places to go, lots of homes they ain't been to yet.

06. Iron & Wine - "Resurrection Fern"
Much has been made about Iron & Wine's steady transition from the "lo-fi acoustic" sound of debut album, The Creek Drank the Cradle, to the more eclectic, full-band sound found on 2007 release, The Shepherd's Dog. "Resurrection Fern" however, lands somewhere in between those two. A slowly (but steadily) picked acoustic, mixed beautifully over lucid steel guitar serves as yet another rich canvas for Sam Beam to softly stroke-out his Southern folk tale. Beam is often dubbed the most talented songwriter of my generation, and the "Resurrection Fern" is great support for such a thesis. A song ultimately about equality, "Resurrection Fern" (like most Iron & Wine songs) uses imagery from a time long past to sing about current issues. The results are delicate, but powerful: "And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire, our tender bellies wound around in baling wire, all the more a pair of underwater pearls, than the oak tree and its resurrection fern." All that from a song named for a plant.

05. Okkervil River - "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe"
I had written a mini-essay about "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe", but once I read Amy Phillips' (of Pitchfork) take on the song, I decided that I should scrap it because she said it better than I ever could: "The lyrics are a bummer, all about how the real world can never live up to the drama of the silver screen. ("It's just a life story, so there's no climax.") But the music! It's a wild, barreling celebration of the pleasures of rocking the fuck out, shouting in the wind, and breaking down into random noise just for the hell of it. Will Sheff strongarms these two opposing forces into working together for the greater good of laughing in the face of disappointment. Because he knows that even if life can't deliver the satisfaction of the cinema, sometimes a song can." --Amy Phillips (

04. The National - "Slow Show"
Anymore, it seems that I can't pay attention to the sound of anyone. Every minute I feel more unprepared. To make matters worse, I made a mistake in my life today, and now I just want to start over. I keep looking for somewhere to stand and stay, and when I finally lean on the wall, the wall leans away. It seems that if I could just get a minute of not being nervous, and not thinking of my dick. Now I better get my shit together, because I want to hurry home to you. I want to put on a slow, dumb show for you, and crack you up. However, I am frightened because I know I'll overdo it. You see it's not my fault though, because I dreamt about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you. I missed you for twenty-nine years.

03. Ryan Adams - "The Sun Also Sets"
Ryan Adams recorded Easy Tiger sober. Ironically enough, the vocals on "The Sun Also Sets" sound as though they were recorded in one take after a some heavy soul searching and some heavy drinking. Over the stop-start piano and drums of the verses, Adams expresses his confusion ("When you get the time, sit down and write me a letter") and bitterly advises his former mate ("When you get these feelings next time, oh be sure you're gonna tear someone apart"). The wounds are still fresh, and Adams spends most of the song trying to make sense of it all (although he never really succeeds). What we are left with though is an honest recollection of the fragility of love ("we are only one shove from the nest, we are only one argument from death"). Like many heartbroken individuals, Adams just never saw it coming. I guess that is a pretty sobering experience.

02. Bright Eyes - "Classic Cars"
While Conor Oberst tentatively (albeit successfully) explored the alt-country waters on I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, on Cassadaga, Oberst set out to show the world that this country stuff wasn't just a phase. In fact, on "Classic Cars" we find Conor abandoning his angsty (yet eclectic) brand of acoustic rock for all of the country music mainstays: banjo, steel guitar, and saloon-style piano. While his sound may have changed, Oberst has (thankfully) maintained his chops as a top-notch songwriter. The story of a young man recalling an old flame (literally and figuratively), "Classic Cars" is laden with the little one-liners that have made the Bright Eyes franchise so acclaimed. Via Conor's older woman, we are instructed not to live in the past ("Life is how it is, not how it was") and to be patient ("Everything is a cycle, you've got to let it come to you, and when it does, you will know what to do"). In the end though, it is Mr. Oberst who offers the best advice. The most important thing he learned from his ex-lover? "Never trust a heart that is so bent it can't break."

01. LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends"
A seven and a half minute song with a droning piano that never misses a step, LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" is one of those songs where the music mimics the story. James Murphy, speaking for aging young adults everywhere, articulates the feeling of waking up one day and realizing that the "best years" of your life are past you. Your life has turned into a daily routine (hence the repetitive piano), and all of the sudden you discover that you don't have as many friends as you used to. Murphy frames (my) young adulthood perfectly: "You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan, and the next five years trying to be with your friends again." Some artists might try to serve listeners a glimmer of hope by providing a solution to this great dilemma, but in the end, Murphy is no prophet, just a scenographer, capturing this unfortunate realization in a song. The track hurdles along as the time passes, with the music and sentiments growing more resonant. As "All My Friends" closes, Murphy repeatedly asks, "Where are your friends tonight?" and ultimately pleads, "If I could see all my friends tonight", vocalizing this idea that the transition to adulthood wouldn't be so hard if we could just be around all of our friends. I agree.

- Jameson


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Top 3 "Non-2007 Release" Music Items of 2007

I know what you are thinking. That title makes absolutely no sense. Allow me to ellaborate. Throughout the year, I will listen to a wealth of new music. However, not all of this music was released in the current year, and then I never get a chance to include it in my year-end lists (which are still to come this month). The way I see it, I have spent the whole year listening to this music, and it deserves some recognition. As such, this year I decided to put together a (mini) list of musical odds and ends that I discovered this year. The only criteria was that it was "new to Jameson" in 2007. Here they are, in no particular order.

Music from Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson is notorious for his expert use of popular music in his films. Whether it was Elliott Smith's, "Needle in the Hay" as Richie Tenenbaum carved gashes into his wrists in The Royal Tenenbaums, or David Bowie's, "Life On Mars" as Steve Zissou first meets the man who may be his illegitimate son, Ned Plimpton, in The Life Acquatic, Anderson has always managed to find the perfect songs for his not-so-perfect characters. In 2007, Anderson released one full-length film, The Darjeeling Limited, and one short film, Hotel Chevalier (which served as a prequel to the aforementioned full-length film). I have probably watched Hotel Chevalier at least ten times since i first acquired it (Late September 2007), and I have seen The Darjeeling Limited twice in the theatre. As you could have guessed, I am quite fond of both films, and suggest you make whatever efforts necessary to see them.

As far as the music is concerned, these films are right in line with his prior efforts. Once more, Wes Anderson has found the perfect balance of familiarity and quirkiness to frame these two films. Hotel Chevalier, Anderson's story of a heart broken man whose lover suddenly reappears in his life, is soundtracked entirely by 1960's singer-songwriter, Peter Sastedt's, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)". Sarstedt's crooner style translates perfectly into the French hotel room (where the film's entire 13 minutes transpires), and the song's tale of a rags to riches socialite who has left the song's narrator, along with her impoverished past, integrates seamlessly with Anderson's anecdote. As for The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson chose the somewhat less prominent British Invasion band, the Kinks, to outline his chronicle of three brothers' trek across India. There are three Kinks songs that appear in the film: "This Time Tomorrow" plays during the opening scene as Peter (Adrien Brody) runs to catch a speeding train, "Strangers" scores the brothers' entrance at the funeral of an Indian boy (perhaps my favorite scene from the film), and "Powerman" brings the film to a close as the brothers run to catch (yet another) speeding train. These songs all hail from the Kinks' 1970 album, Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt.1, which displays a substantially more folkier incarnation of the Kinks. To be honest, I would never have guessed that the Kinks' unconventional brand of pop music would serve as the perfect counterpart to a movie with this setting (India) and this subject matter (three brothers finding eachother and themselves), but not only does it work, it is wildly successful. I guess that is why Wes Anderson is making remarkable movies, and I am writing a music blog read by 6 people.

Big Star - "Thirteen"
In all honesty, I did not stumble upon Big Star's track, "Thirteen", on my own accord. At some point during the first half of 2007, I innocently bought a book written by Rob Sheffield that altered my outlook on "things". The aforementioned book, Love Is A Mix Tape, is the story of Sheffield's life, outlined by the mix tapes that he made throughout the years. While there are some comical pre-pubescent tales and early lost-love stories, the majority of the book centers around the rise and fall that was Sheffield's life with his (now deceased) wife. So the story goes, Sheffield first met his wife in a Charlottesville, VA bar when he noticed she was the only individual in the bar to "perk up" when the bartender put on Big Star's second album, Radio City. The two started talking, and they realized they had the same favorite Big Star song, "Thirteen". The couple ends up getting married, dancing to the song at their wedding, and then (after five years of marriage) Sheffield's wife, Renée, suddenly collapses and dies of a pulmonary embolism, leaving Sheffield shattered (It should be noted that up to Renée's untimely death, this story is more or less my idea of a modern-day, fairy tale romance.). The remainder of the book follows Sheffield as he picks up the pieces, detailing the music that he listened to along the way.

Love Is A Mix Tape is both heart-breaking and inspirational, and I would encourage everyone (specifically anyone who has ever meticulously slaved over a mix tape for a girl) to check it out. However, this post was intended to be less about the book, and rather more about the song, "Thirteen", which I discovered from it. A simple acoustic ballad, "Thirteen", is an equally simple tale of adolescent love. With innocently painted lyrics of walking a crush "home from school", and asking her to a dance, Big Star's, Alex Chilton, captures the nervous feeling of one's first love perfectly. Chilton even ends the song with a verse akin to a middle school note, asking the object of his affection: "Won't you tell me what you're thinking of / Would you be an outlaw for my love / if it's so, well, let me know / if it's "no", well, I can go / I won't make you" (read: Do you like me? Check yes or no in one of the boxes below).

The whole song is only 2:35, and its perfect from start to finish. It is (currently) the most played song on my (one year old) computer (86 plays and counting...). On one level, it delivers us to a time when love was (presumably) much easier (purer, even). When words like "commitment" meant you had a date to the dance, and you felt like you "scored" because a girl agreed to meet you at the pool (nevermind the fact that you both brought 5 friends along). The narrator is neither scorned, nor familiar with the phrase "We need to talk", but rather just a virginal romantic, venturing out of his shell for the first time. On another level though, the song is still applicable to those beyond their first crush because the emotions expressed in "Thirteen" (most notably excitement and anxiety) are a part of the experience of love no matter how old you are. This uncanny ability to extract nostalgia while delivering modern-day relativity to listeners makes "Thirteen" the perfect rock ballad. Evidently, rock and roll is here to stay.

The National - Cherry Tree EP
As I have previously noted, when a band releases a new album, I will often find myself revisiting their old material. It's almost like discovering the band all over again. 2007 saw the release of the National's fourth full-length album, Boxer. (I will not talk about Boxer here because I have a feeling it may get mentioned - in depth - somewhere else on this blog before the year is over). With the release of Boxer though, I found myself going back and listening to the National's (spectacular) third album, Alligator (My #2 album from 2005), a number of times. After repeated listens of both Boxer and Alligator in 2007, I needed more of the National. One day, while reading a review of Alligator (this is what I do in my free time - scour the internet for record reviews of old records that I already like...hoping to find another "quality" music site to waste time on), I saw mention of Alligator's predecessor, a seven song EP, Cherry Tree. Being quite fond of both Boxer and Alligator, I decided it would be worth my time to check the Cherry Tree EP out.

The only regret I have about this collection of seven songs is that it took me so long to actually listen to them. I would argue that the otherwise unreleased original material ("Wasp Nest", "All Dolled-Up In Straps", "Cherry Tree", and "About Today") on this EP rivals anything the National has released on their other albums. Opener, "Wasp Nest", fades in with bells reminiscent of a Christmas song, but Berringer's deadpan delivery and bittersweet words about a beautiful woman that is nothing but trouble ("poison in a pretty glass"), remind us quickly we are not on holiday. An early version of the Alligator track, "All the Wine", follows, serving as a seamless preface to what I would argue is the best "three song-stretch" on any of the National's releases (writer's note: I may retract this statement someday if/when I write about the three songs that close Alligator: "The Geese of Beverly Road", "City Middle", "Mr. November"). The first of these three songs, "All Dolled-Up In Straps", is the story of a man tied down by the memories of a past relationship. Told over minimal piano and strings, Berringer speaks for a man who cannot get beyond the loss of his former lover ("My head plays it over and over"), and as a result he sees her everywhere and in everything. Next comes the EP's title track, "Cherry Tree". Starting as a solitary finger-picked guitar, "Cherry Tree" swells slowly into a turbulent climax, eventually bursting with feverish piano, frantic strings, and crashing drums. Amidst the chaos lies Berringer's chilling baritone alternating between a cautionary declaration ("Loose lips sink ships") and a condescending inquiry ("Can we show a little discipline?"). Rounding out this stellar stretch of songs is "About Today", the straightforward account of an individual in a fading relationship. The song's narrator is cognizant of the dire situation, and Berringer hauntingly conveys this sentiment ("Today you were far away, and I didn't ask you why. What could I say? I was far away. You just walked away, and I just watched you"..."Tonight you just close your eyes, and I just watch you slip away"). As Berringer exhales the final words of the song's foreboding last verse ("Hey, are you awake. Yeah, I'm right here. Well can I ask you about today? How close am I to losing you? How close am i to losing..."), "About Today's" soft steady drums also breathe their last breath, fittingly leaving listeners with the sonic equivalent of emptiness. After this epic stretch, the EP closes with (perhaps the only misstep on the release) a live version of Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers' rocking track, "Murder Me Rachel", and then a raw (but well done) cover of Padma Newsome's, "Reasonable Man (I Don't Mind)".

I would love to preach about the National in this closing paragraph, or perhaps talk about how the Cherry Tree EP soundtracked a portion of my 2007 (I honestly spent about 2-3 months of 2007 where I almost exclusively listened to the National and Okkervil River). However, I will leave my sermon for the not-so-distant future, and save the personal story for a rainy day. Right now, I am on a good mixture, and I don't want to waste it.



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Radiohead Economics

If one picks up any current magazine dealing with the music industry in any way, be it from a business, critical, or fan boy perspective, one will inescapably run into an article or series of articles dealing with the recent release of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” as well as the huge deal that Madonna has recently signed. Both are looked at by those outside the industry as indicative of what we can expect from a 21st century music business and by those inside as the death knell of profitability within the industry. Of course, the fact that Radiohead released an album with absolutely no press lead-in and then charged fans anything that the fans felt like giving them, does seem like quite a dramatic turn of events. However, it would be foolish to believe that Radiohead has done anything that will bring down the machinations of the music industry as a whole, and in all likelihood, might actually be forging a way for the industry to revive its’ plunging profitability.

All of this boils down to the economics of the market for music. The industry has been suffering horribly since Napster first began the world’s obsession with downloading music for free in the late 1990s. Lawsuits, piracy protection, and simple finger pointing have all gotten the industry absolutely nowhere as sales have continued to fall. Some fault the industry for not developing talent that is in any way interesting and simply trotting out ‘manufactured’ pop music that they think will sell. There is some validity to this line of reasoning but the real reason for the problems within the industry have much more to do with pure market economics than anything else.

Demand for music, despite the sales figures for material CDs and DVDs, has actually increased since Napster began hurting sales figures. Music is much more accessible in today’s modern ‘click it and its here’ world and music fans are taking advantage, amassing huge collections of music which would be unaffordable if money was actually paid out for each piece. This increase in demand usually, in simple economic terms, leads to a new market equilibrium with a higher price and a higher quantity produced, leading to a larger amount of profit (using a standard microeconomic model of supply and demand of the market for music). This is what the big wigs of the music industry are expecting to see, and the fact that these larger profits are not appearing is what is leading to the panic within the industry. (Note: I’m using the term ‘profits’ to describe the short-run and with the caveat that it is used to describe higher output and price compared with a previous time period. Thinking macroeconomically, in the long-run there are no actual profits as the market moves into long run equilibrium.)

So what is the matter? What externality is preventing the effects of an outward shift in demand from positively impacting the music industry?

The answer, to quote Raiders of the Lost Ark: “They’re digging in the wrong place!”

The demand for music has, indeed, increased, but the demand for physical units of music (CDs, tapes, records, DVDs) has greatly diminished. Thus, the demand curve has shifted to the left, resulting in the problems we see in the industry. So, what does this have to do with Radiohead and their “pay what you want” CD release?
In a standard model, there are two ways to offset a decrease in demand: shift the supply curve outwards or increase the quantity demanded at a given price. Increasing quantity demanded is very difficult to do and shifting the supply curve outwards (producing more CDs) does not necessarily mean that CD sales would increase. Radiohead managed to deftly increase the quantity demanded by doing several extremely important things:

1) They circumvented any leaking of their album by releasing the album online themselves.
2) They released the album at a (relatively) low bit rate.
3) They charged a high amount for a special box-set with extra songs.
4) They plan to also release the album in a standard CD format through a label early in 2008.

Releasing the album and not charging an actual rate for it is the most important part of these different aspects, because they, in essence, leaked their album themselves. This doesn’t seem to be important in changing the quantity demanded because so many people didn’t pay a single thing, but the people that didn’t pay for the download are the same people that would not have bought the album in droves in a CD format. Those that did pay for the download are most likely going to also buy either the CD in its standard release, the box-set, or both, resulting in Radiohead basically charging people a higher price rate than the sticker on any CD purchased actually states. Radiohead also served to further this ‘double charging’ by releasing “In Rainbows” at a bit rate much lower than would be found on a standard CD, meaning that people who want to hear the album in its true glory will be forced to pay for a hard copy of it.

The self-release basically amounts to a hidden charge, and the beauty of it is that Radiohead really doesn’t even need a high rate of people paying for the ‘free if you want it’ download (by some accounts 2/3 didn’t pay) because any amount of money actually paid is still gravy on the mashed potatoes of CD and boxed-set sales to come. The real question is whether the free downloads will impact the actual sales figures of the standard CD release. It will be interesting to see what truly transpires, but even if the sales suffer a bit, it makes logical sense that the sales would be similar because of the way the market has worked since Napster. Nearly all major, and most minor, releases have been leaked in advance of their actual release dates and, since Radiohead in essence leaked the album themselves, their CD sales should continue to be just about what they would have sold regardless of the early release. This just further fortifies the theory that Radiohead have managed to increase the quantity demanded at the given price of their actual CD.

Of course, Radiohead is a very successful and, by all means, a ‘huge’ act and the economics might not relate to smaller, indie bands, but they really don’t have to. The indie community has always, and will continue, to survive on word of mouth, ticket sales, and critical praise. The real problems in the music community are with the profitability of the major labels, which don’t profit off of illegal downloads like the indie community can. Radiohead’s precedent is a sound model which should be verified as a viable way to increase success in the music industry in 2008, but its success also depends on the industry managing to curb leaks and increasing the agility to release albums online quickly and change with the evolving market.


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Black Kids - Wizard of Ahhhs EP

Who here wants to have some fun? Now I know that the "Radiohead B-Sides" post was not all that much "fun", and to be honest, I haven't exactly been "bringing the fun" to Tuesday's On The Phone, in general. It is safe to say that my tilt towards the "dark-side" of the musical spectrum could probably be attributed to the fact that I tend to listen to music that fits my mood (i.e. I listen to sad music when I am depressed because it makes me feel me something to relate to). You have no idea how hard I am fighting the urge right now to go on a tangent about how counter-productive this behavior is, but I will forge ahead in the name of "good times". Anyhow, I have been listening to a lot of (emotionally) "heavy" music as of late, and its time to lighten things up. Ironically enough, it took a band named Black Kids to do this.

All I can think of when listening to the Black Kids' debut EP, Wizard of Ahhhs, is how much fun this four song gem really is. Hailing from Jacksonville, FL, Black Kids are in the business of making upbeat (intelligent) pop music in every sense of the genre. From the very start (all the way to the very end) of Wizard of Ahhhs, Black Kids have this effervescent air about them, that just makes me want to move (dance! dance! dance! dance!). Every track here is worthy of mention, as they could all be on the radio right now. "Hit the Heartbreaks", the EP's opener, swaggers along to a synthy guitar rock line that sounds familiar, but manages to maintain a completely fresh incarnation here. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You", Wizard's strongest track (an MVP amongst all-stars), continues the Black Kids' brand of coalesced guitar/keyboard rock, accented perfectly with the kind of fraternizing sing-alongs that appear on most of Wizard of Ahhhs' tracks. The EP's third song, "Hurricane Jane", is more synth, framed by a staccatoed guitar, and (yet another) spectacular chorus. "I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)", closes the EP with a blast from the past that starts out early 1960's rock and roll, and ends up sounding like it could have doubled as the theme to a show like Happy Days (I say this as a compliment).

In addition to its pop bliss, Wizard of Ahhhs is littered with spectacular tongue and cheek lyrics that remind me of Jens Lekman, and are already leading to Black Kids' main man, Reggie Youngblood, collecting the ever-so-popular Morrissey comparisons (something Lekman still gets pretty regularly as well). Whether it is the brash chorus of "Hit the Heartbreaks" ("What can I do, it's not me, it's you"), the self-deprecation of "Hurricane Jane" ("It's Friday night and I ain't got nobody, what's the use in making the bed"), or the backhanded passive aggression on "I'm Not Gonna Teach..." ("The second I do, I know I'm gonna be through, I'm not gonna teach him how to dance with you, you don't suspect a thing, I wish you'd get a clue"), Reggie Youngblood is spinning gold here. Amazingly enough, no matter what Youngblood and company are singing about, they maintain a certain level of playfulness, that keep the songs light, and avoid them from getting weighed down by their own sentiments.

With an introduction to the world as remarkable as this, it will be difficult for Black Kids to stand toe to toe with a hype machine that has already taken down their name and number. However, if Wizard of Ahhhs' versatility and incredible hooks are any indication, I am confident Black Kids won't have any trouble filling out an album with their brand of catchy pop rock, drenched in wit. I guess it was about time we learned how to have fun (again).

Listen and Download the Wizard of Ahhhs EP (for free) at the Black Kids MySpace Page:

- Jameson


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Top Five Radiohead B-Sides

While I will never fully commit to one band as being my end-all-be-all "favorite", I can, with all the confidence in my 5'6", 150 lb. frame, say that Radiohead is currently the best band in the world. No other (relevant) band in the world can tout the catalogue that these guys have. In the 14 years that this band has been making music, they have released six INCREDIBLE albums, and one OK album (Pablo Honey). The latter just so happened to be their first album, so that pretty much means that every album that Radiohead has released since 1995 has been spectacular.

With the new Radiohead album coming out this past week, I find myself in the middle of a Radiohead binge. It is crazy how when a band releases a really good album, not only will you beat the hell out of that, but you find yourself revisiting all of their old albums as well because you are reminded of just how much you love that particular band. This has been no different with the release of Radiohead's seventh LP, In Rainbows. One of the interesting aspects of Radiohead's most recent release is that it finds the band venturing away from their laptops and back to their guitars and drums, leaving us with a relatively "minimalist" rendering of Radiohead. This got me thinking. There are very few songs on any of Radiohead's "official releases" (their 7 LPs) that I would describe as "sparse" or "bare". However, there are quite a few (fantastic) Radiohead b-sides that fit this mold. Accordingly, I thought I would put together a list of my top five Radiohead b-sides. (For those unaware, b-sides are tracks that don't appear on a main album, but were recorded and released by the band in some alternative form - i.e. EP, single, etc. They got their name from the A-Side and B-Side of 7" single records that were released back in the day. Basically, record labels would release the radio single (the "hit") on the A-Side of the 7" vinyl, and then just another random track on the B-Side - traditionally a track that was recorded but didn't make the cut for the final LP.) Getting to the point, here are my top five Radiohead B-Sides (songs that Radiohead had released, but just not released on any of their seven LPs).

5. "How I Made My Millions" - No Surprises CD 1 (Single)
"How I Made My Millions" was recorded by Thom Yorke, by himself, in his home, on his personal four track. If the recording you have sounds like a demo, that is because it is. When Yorke took this solo recording into the studio to show his bandmates, they all agreed that it was perfect as it was (Radiohead members Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway said it "blew them away"). As such, the band did not touch Yorke's original recording, and released it (as is) on the No Surprises single (pretty rogue for a band known as being studio perfectionists). If you listen closely, you can hear Yorke's girlfriend moving about in the kitchen as Thom sings over a foreboding piano (Why do I get chills when I picture Thom Yorke's girlfriend putting away celery as he labors away in the next room on the piano?). As with many Radiohead songs, the meaning could be a number of things, but I think the ambiguity of this one makes it that much better.

4. "Fog (Again)" (Live) - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
This is actually the second countdown appearance this track has made on the blog (see: Another Thom Yorke solo piano track, "Fog" made its debut at a Radiohead concert in Israel. This has lead to much speculation that the song is about the impact that the Israel/Palestine conflict has had on all of the children living in Israel (and its surrounding areas). It is difficult to know if Yorke was truly trying to make that cultural statement by choosing to unveil the song in Israel (I would not put it past him, but I can also see him emphatically dismissing the claim). On a larger scale, "Fog" tells the story of an individual (or individuals) that has been altered forever by a significant event. Something everyone can relate to. Some of my favorite Yorke lyrics at the end of this song: "How did you go bad? Did you go bad? Some things will never wash away. Did you go bad?"

3. "Gagging Order" - Com Lag: 2+2=5 (EP)
Formerly known as "Move Along", "Gagging Order" is the story of a homeless man that died in the street, and no one even stopped to notice (I think the former title was more appropriate, but the latter title is more "Radiohead"). The song is nothing more than a finger-picked guitar and Thom Yorke (seeing a trend here?). Despite the fact that the song's subject matter is completely depressing, I find this to be one of Radiohead's most beautiful tracks, but I cannot explain why.

2. "Talk Show Host" (Nellee Hooper Remix) - Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack
True story here. During my freshman year of college, I went through a stage where I would download movies that I was too embarrassed to watch with other people, so I watched them on my computer with headphones on. One movie in particular that I remember doing this with was the new version of Romeo & Juliet (I also watched Meet Joe Black in a similar setting...). I remember watching a young Leonardo Dicaprio in Romeo & Juliet though, and thinking that the song that kept playing during all of the important scenes sounded really ominous. No surprise (pun intended), it was Radiohead. Sidenote: I have always thought that Radiohead's versatility would give them the ability to score an entire film, and that that movie would stand on its own just because the music would be so incredible. However, it would be a horrible move for any band to commit to something like that without having complete control over the movie, and that is exactly why this would never happen. Anyhow, "Talk Show Host" has a hollow, industrial feel that fits perfectly with Baz Luhrman's chaotic depiction of modern-day Verona. Additionally, the lyrics, while not written exclusively for the film (see: "Exit Music (For A Film)" for the Radiohead song specifically written for that version of Romeo & Juliet), seem to fit perfectly with the tragic story of star-crossed lovers: "I want to, I want to be someone else or i'll explode".

1. "True Love Waits" (Live) - I Might Be Wrong - Live Recordings
Now this song is almost the entire reason I wanted to make this post. Make no mistake, I love the other four songs on this list, but "True Love Waits" is hands down my favorite, non-LP Radiohead track. I could easily write a "Certain Songs" post based on this song (and i might). There are actually only three songs that have a higher "Play Count" in my itunes than "True Love Waits". Once again, this is a solo Thom Yorke track, and its just Thom strumming an acoustic guitar, singing his heart out. So much is made about the sonic walls that Radiohead has torn down over the years, but it all comes back to the songs, and "True Love Waits" is simply a well written song. Has anyone read the lyrics? You'll have to excuse me, but they're fucking fantastic. I mean, it's heartbreaking, and Yorke's delivery only accentuates this, but the desperation in "True Love Waits" captures the feeling of helplessly being in love more than any song that I can think of ("I'll drown my beliefs to have you be in peace"..."I'm not living, I'm just killing time"...are you kidding me!? This is a B-SIDE!?). I don't know, perhaps I am just too fanatical when it comes to Radiohead to even write about this band. I probably need to bring it back a couple notches. I'll be up in the attic trying to live off of lollipops and crisps if you need me.

- Jameson


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Chuck Klosterman on Led Zeppelin

I have been reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman lately. I love his writing because, while it may not be teaching me a lot, it provides me with the solace that there are other people out there over-analyzing life's (insignificant) minutiae as much (if not more) than myself. Plus, he pretty much relates every relationship/situation in his life to music, or music to every relationship/situation in his life...either way...he's right up my alley. I recently came across the following passage in his book, Killing Yourself To Live, in which he (tries to) deconstruct the young male's love for Led Zeppelin. I enjoyed it so much, that I thought I would post it here. It is perfect because, like most anything that is perfect, it is true.


"Whenever I find myself in an argument about the greatest rock bands of all time, I always place Zeppelin third, behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This sentiment is incredibly common; if we polled everyone in North America who likes rock music, those three bands would almost certainly be the consensus selections (and in that order). But Zeppelin is far and away the most popular rock band of all time, and they're popular in a way the Beatles and Stones cannot possibly compete with; this is because every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitionary period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed. And there is no other rock group that generates that experience.

A few years ago, I was an on-air guest for a morning radio show in Akron. I was on the air with the librarian from the Akron public library, and we were discussing either John Cheever or Guided by Voices, or possibly both. Talk radio in Akron is fucking crazy. While we were walking out of the studio, the librarian noticed the show's 19-year old producer; the producer had a blond mullet, his blank eyes were beyond bloodshot, and he was wearing ripped jeans and a black Swan Song T-Shirt with all the runes from the Zoso album. The librarian turned to me and said, 'You know, I went to high school with that guy.' This librarian was 42. But he was right. He did go to high school with that guy. Right now, there are boys in fourth grade who do not even realize that they will become 'that guy' as soon as they finish reading The Hobbit in eighth grade. There are people having unprotected sex at this very moment, and the fetus spawned from that union will become 'that guy' in two decades. Led Zeppelin is the most legitimately timeless musical entity of the past half century; they are the only group in the history of rock 'n' roll that every male rock fan seems to experience in exactly the same way.

You are probably wondering why that happens; I'm not sure, either. I've put a lot of thought into this subject (certainly more than any human should), but it never becomes totally clear; it only seems more and more true. For a time, I thought it was Robert Plant's overt misogyny fused with Jimmy Page's obsession with the occult, since that combination allows adolescent males to reconcile the alienation of unhinged teenage sexuality with their own inescapable geekiness. However, this theory strikes me as 'probably stupid.' It would be easy to argue that Zeppelin simply out-rocks all other bands, but that's not really true; AC/DC completely out-rocks Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC is mostly ridiculous. Whatever quality makes Led Zep so eternally archetypal must be 'intangible', but even that argument seems weak; here in Big Sky Country, I'm listening to 'Heartbreaker' at rib-crushing volume, and everything that's perfect about Led Zeppelin seems completely palpable. There is nothing intangible about the invisible nitroglycerin pouring out of the Tauntaun's woofers. Everything is real. And what that everything is - maybe- is this: Led Zeppelin sounds like who they are, but they also sound like who they are not. They sound like an English blues band. They sound like a warm-blooded brachiosaur. They sound like Hannibal's assault across the Alps. They sound sexy and sexist and sexless. They sound dark but stoned; they sound smart but dumb; they seem older than you, but just barely. Led Zeppelin sounds like the way a cool guy acts. Or - more specifically - Led Zeppelin sounds like a certain kind of cool guy; they sound like the kind of cool guy every man vaguely thinks he has the potential to be, if just a few things about the world were somehow different. And the experience this creates is unique to Led Zeppelin because its manifestation is entirely sonic: There is a point in your life when you hear songs like 'The Ocean' and 'Out on the Tiles' and 'Kashmir', and you suddenly find yourself feeling like these songs are actively making you into the person you want to be. It does not matter if you've heard those songs 100 times and felt nothing in the past, and it does not matter if you don't normally like rock 'n' roll and just happened to overhear it in somebody else's dorm room. We all still meet at the same vortex: For whatever the reason, there is a point in the male maturation process when the music of Led Zeppelin sounds like the perfect actualization of the perfectly cool you. You will hear the intro to 'When the Levee Breaks', and it will feel like your brain is stuffed inside the kick drum. You will hear the opening howl of 'Immigrant Song', and you will imagine standing on the bow of a Viking ship and screaming about Valhalla. But when these things happen, you don't think about Physical Graffiti or Houses of the Holy in those abstract, metaphysical terms; you simply think, 'Wow. I just realized something: This shit is perfect. In fact, this record is vastly superior to all other forms of music on the entire planet, so this is all I will ever listen to, all the time.' And you do for six days or six weeks or six years. This is your Zeppelin phase, and it has as much to do with your own personal psychology as it does with the way John Paul Jones played the organ on 'Trampled Under Foot.' It has to do with sociobiology, and with Aleister Crowley, and possibly with mastadons. And you will grow out of it, probably. But this is why Led Zeppelin is the most beloved rock band of all time, even though most people (including myself) think the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are better. Those two bands are appreciated in myriad ways for myriad reasons, and the criteria for doing so changes with every generation. But Led Zeppelin is only loved one way, and that will never evolve. They are the one thing all young men share, and we shall share it forever. Led Zeppelin is unkillable, even if John Bonham was not."

- Jameson


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Certain Songs - The Counting Crows - "Anna Begins"

When i went off to school (Miami University), I would not say I was a particularly happy person. I can honestly say that the summer that lead up to my freshman year at school was one of the worst summers i have ever had (the worst you ask?...well, that's another song). My off and on again girlfriend of the past couple years had officially turned off (which i think everyone involved would agree was for the best). Additionally, there was this other girl that i had somehow construed into being the "end all be all" of all girls on the planet (well at least Ohio). Unfortunately for me though, this girl also was not reciprocating my admiration (which i think everyone involved would agree was for the best), so strike two. On top of all this, and in the confusion of all the aforementioned girl troubles, i had misplaced all my friends (for which i was probably to blame...and certainly was not for the best). Anyhow, that was the third strike, making it a long, lonely summer. I counted down the days until my move to Oxford, and accordingly, the days went by as slow as possible.

Eventually though, I found myself in this totally new environment...and most of that summer fell into the background of my mind. All of the sudden there were all of these new people in my life, and we were all going through the same things. They were good things too. We were all getting used to the significantly less structured academic world of college, while trying to juggle video games, nap-time (freshman year of college i actually took, and of course the most recreational drinking we would ever experience. My freshman year of college will go down in history as the most accepting social experience of my entire life. I was hanging out with all sorts of characters that I never would have known in high school (most of whom ended up being my best friends). I fell in love with school, and loved it for all four years I was there.

I know what you are thinking though: 1) What's the point, so you had some post-high school/pre-college girl troubles and made some new friends in college? 2) More importantly, where's the music? My response to these thoughts: 1) This is just lying the groundwork for the rest of the story, a brief history so to speak (sidenote: those who know me well will appreciate this as being my most brief recollection of these events i have ever told). 2) There are volumes of mixtapes that could stem from these two time periods alone (Summer of 2002 and Freshman Year of College - "New Friends" Chapter), so rest assured there is plenty of music here. However, today's Certain Songs subject, "Anna Begins", would not appear on either of those mixtapes.

No, up until today, "Anna Begins" would have ended up on a mixtape marked "for my ears only". Unlike most of the music in my life, I tried to hold this song close to me because it hit too close to home, and by praising it to others, i would potentially be hinting that it somehow applied to me. Getting off track for a second: This pretty much encapsulates how i give people far too much credit when it comes to connecting the dots (read: my paranoia). Honestly, could you imagine how difficult of a world it would be if everyone was dissecting things as much as i do? I know this comment comes off as pretentious, but trust me I view it as a weakness of mine. Analysis becomes a deficiency when it becomes a conviction. Let's be realistic, is my passing comment expressing my enthusiasm for a single song really going to trigger someone into thinking that i am fighting with something internally? Most likely not. However, maybe you should remember that is how my mind works before telling me you like the song "Rocket Man" (not that there's anything wrong with that). Getting back on track though, this song struck a chord with me because, like most of the songs we fall in love with, it meant something to me (*it means something to me).

Freshman year at school I discovered a double live Counting Crows album that had been out since about 1998. This album, Across A Wire: Live in New York City, consisted of two discs. The first disc was an acoustic show that the band played for VH1 Storytellers which showcased a number of the band's best tracks in a (semi) unplugged format, and the second disc was a full band (fully plugged-in) live show that was recorded for MTV Live at the 10 Spot. I will be honest, I don't think i have ever listened to the second disc all the way through, and this is mainly because disc one is how the Counting Crows should be heard live. I have seen the Crows twice, and while both shows have been quite solid, neither has held up to disc one of Across A Wire. This mainly can be explained by the fact that the strength of their songs does not lie in the band's ability to "rock out", but rather their ability to convey emotion. This, in turn, can primarily be attributed to the unbridled passion of Counting Crows lead singer, Adam Duritz, who makes me look like a stone on his least sentimental days. The stripped down setup of the unplugged format showcases Duritz at his best, letting him rise above the band where he more or less resides anyway. The version of "Anna Begins" that i fell in love with resides on disc one of Across A Wire.

Ironically enough, "Anna Begins" is one of the least "unplugged" songs on disc one, but this is neither here nor there because Duritz had already declared the evening "his" about five minutes into the show when he brings "Round Here" to fervent close atop a single acoustic guitar ("Would you catch me if i was falling? Would you kiss me if i was leaving? Would you hold me because i am lonely, without you?"...those words don't appear on the studio cut...i like to assume - because that's what i do when left to my own devices - the omission was intentional because Duritz knew these saved-up lines would take the song to the next level in the live setting...although he probably just thought of it after the track had already been recorded). Either way, from there on out he owns the whole night, and despite a full band backing him on "Anna Begins", he still manages to rise well above the mix, a beautiful climax to an unforgettable show.

What allows Duritz to get so lost in the music though is that these are his stories (his life), and each night, he is reliving them in front of a crowd of strangers. "Anna Begins" is Duritz's story of two friends (a guy and a girl) that are wrestling with the fact that they are falling for eachother. The male in this story (presumably Duritz) spends pretty much the entire song denying the situation ("I am not worried, I am not overly concerned"), while the female (via Duritz) spends the same amount of time trying to persuade him into surrendering to, or at least acknowledging, what is happening. The narrator's denial at first comes off as cold, but the repetitive nature reveals that he is just trying to convince himself that "this is not love" because "if it's love", as the female character notes, "then we're gonna have to think about the consequences". As the song progresses, we find Duritz starting to let his guard down, but quickly putting the fences back up, and letting us know (multiple times) that he's "not ready for this sort of thing". It becomes clear though that Duritz's denial is really just a mask for his realization of the potential of what is standing before him, and he just doesn't want to fuck it up (risk losing this friendship, this person). Eventually though, Anna begins to change his mind, and he let's himself fall for her. Duritz does an unbelievable job of depicting the reality of this feeling ("Everytime she sneezes, I think it's love" and "She's talking in her sleep, it's keeping me awake...and every word is nonsense, but i understand"), hinting at the little imperfections he has fallen in love with . Unfortunately though (and perhaps something that is often missed by listeners), Duritz missed the boat here. Just as he submits to the feelings he fought for so long, "Anna begins to fade away" and eventually "disappears". As the song comes to a close, Duritz tells us once more that he's "not ready for this sort of thing". At this point though, it clearly is not Anna's love he's not ready for, but rather the loss of her.

I started listening to "Anna Begins" alot during the second half of my freshman year of college, and pretty much beat the hell out of it for a full year after that (and then some). Eventually, things in my life came to a breaking point, and like Mr. Duritz, i chose not to fight the situation any longer. How did it turn out? I think i fared (a little) better than Adam, but in the end i was left with circumstances i wasn't quite ready for as well. I like Duritz's take on the situation though: "... And it's a terrible thing to find out because it's too late, which is what it ended up being at that point's funny she's married now and she's got a kid and she still lives in Sydney. I still talk to her every once in a while, not too much, but whenever I talk to her she says that she still loves this song, and I do too..."

Heavy huh? Yeah, i don't get no sleep, man, i never sleep.



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