Tag Archives: Arcade Fire

You Must Bear Your Neighbor’s Burden Within Reason

Last year was a fine year for music, but only a few things really wowed me. That’s not to say it was completely bereft of anything good, but the prevailing theme, at least in my estimation, was that while 2009 was a banner year for new talent & a resurgence of older talent, 2010 had very little to offer. 2011 is shaping up to be, already, one of the better years. The Decemberists came out with a new album on Tuesday & it’s their best album yet. It hits chords in my soul that bring out such joy, that I can’t help but sway.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the blog & explain my prolonged absence. Boredom. That’s it. I was completely & utterly bored with anything that was coming out. I was searching for new & exciting things to come my way. Lissie made an album that I adore, but I couldn’t write anything that hadn’t been said. I had a whole soliloquy ready for the brilliance of Ray Lamontagne’s overnight transformation from Indie darling to bluegrass star & yet nothing came out. There was a block of sorts & much of it came from the draining effects of writing a book about my travels through Europe. A book that is finished in its infant form, but must now be raised into something I can market.

There were a few other albums that I quite enjoyed: Justin Townes Earle, Head & the Heart, Broken Bells, The Black Keys & obviously Arcade Fire which was the best album of the year, but perhaps through my own depression of  the musical offerings being put out there or indifference the ability to cognitively discuss these in terms that were worth reading was nonexistent. So here sat the blog. Relatively unchanged throughout the year as I struggled to put my thoughts into words. I feel I’ve made some sort of a turning point, even though I intended to begin writing last week. To be cliche I suppose it’s better late than never.

So I purchased two albums from Amazon the other day (yes I buy my music), where the $3.99 deals keep me coming back & spending on things I would otherwise think twice about buying. I bought Social Distortion’s new album Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes & the aforementioned Decemberists album The King is Dead. Let’s discuss Social D’s new album first. It’s been  7 years since they released an album & a few years since Mike Ness has come out with an album, himself. I’ve always been a fringe fan of Social D’s, as I do not have the dancing skeleton tattooed anywhere on my body. It has that patented loud Gibson sound & gruff Mike Ness nosy drawl, but with lyrics that seem to have more emotional impact than ever before. Take for instance “Still Alive”  where Ness pleads,

“I’m still alive, I will survive, I can handle what life brings, just give me time…I’m still alive, talking the same ol’ jive, I can handle anything that comes my way, just give me another day”

It ends with a short, but beautiful piano solo that made me really feel that this album rivals anything they’ve ever done. It is so reminiscent of early Springsteen that I haven’t stopped listening to it for 3 days. That is, except to listen to The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead, an album which seems to have awoken them from their prog rock malaise from the past few years. It sounds so similar to early R.E.M. that it came as no surprise to see that Peter Buck contributed to three of the tracks. The opening track almost sounds Tom Pettyesque with heavy drums taking the forefront much like “You Don’t Know How it Feels”.

Colin Meloy really lets loose with his voice on The King is Dead & goes places that I haven’t heard him dare go vocally before. It shows that the risks were worth taking. Changing the sound & straying away from that boring sound have worked wonders & even though it came out in January there’s a distinct feeling that come coincidentally December we will still be talking about this album as one of the best of the year.

I can’t say I will write everyday as I do have a job that requires a good chunk of time, but I will continue to talk about things I love & look forward to talking about new releases from groups like Foxxhound, Two Guns, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, Drive-by Truckers & Okkervill River. It will be a banner year for Indie music & soon Indie Music will become alternative & all the kids will have to jump on the bandwagon. I’m fine by that. Music should be loved by all & not thrown into some meta category to be hated once it becomes popular to the masses. If it’s good, love it. If it sucks, hate it, but don’t despise popular music for being popular. Despise it, much like I despise She Wants Revenge & Jason Mraz for being bad at music.

Machine Gun Blues – Social Distortion

Sweet & Lowdown – Social Distortion

Still Alive – Social Distortion

Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists

This is Why We Fight – The Decemberists

It’s Not Livin’ That You’re Doin’ If It Feels Like Dyin’

There’s a tenderness, almost a loneliness or desperation I haven’t heard in Ray LaMontagne’s voice that seems much more apparent in his latest album than in anything he’s released previously. There’s a great following for Ray, but until this album I was not on it. Oh, don’t get me wrong he had a song here & there & his talent is unmistakable, but there was just something there that I couldn’t grasp. With God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise what you have is subtle perfection. It blows me away & I run back to listen to his old stuff that I have to see if I was wrong.

I still don’t think I am. It may have to do with giving his touring band, The Pariah Dogs, partial credit on the album. Steel pedal guitars & banjos & LaMontagne goes from the shy, soulful singer that we all expect him to be to a perfectly pitched country singer.

Get so tired of all this concrete
I guess I’m tired of all this noise
Got to get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys.

That’s not normal talk for the Boston born singer, but it all seems so natural. It sounds so heartfelt & effortless that you wonder why he hasn’t gone this route previously. This summer is proving to be an amazing one for music with Arcade Fire, Ray & next week’s highly anticipated release of Fitz & the Tantrum’s latest album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces. There has been a lull in music for awhile with the recent pop explosion seems to garner all the music headlines, but this summer seems to be changing the rules. It isn’t like this every year. Oh sure, great albums are released every year, but this summer has truly opened my eyes to people I  ever thought I’d be on board for.

I feel the same way Ray does about the city about the country. I miss the city with an undying passion. I’ve been corrupted by it. It’s jaded me & turned me into something of an anomaly in the country. I’m utterly bored at nearly all times outside of the city. To me that noise you hear constantly in the city is a welcome return to reality. Back to Ray, though, this album is his finest achievement. To turn someone who wouldn’t have listened had it not been for his album being up on NPR, into a fan or at least a fan of his latest album, is a monumental achievement.

I try hard to be open minded,  but let’s be honest we like what we like & opening that gap has to be difficult. There has to be a special connection with the music or something that catches your ear & your guard drops just enough to realize you’re in the midst of that thing that soothes savage beasts. It’s that ethereal thing that you don’t why or how you love it, but you just do. It’s funny how music speaks to some & not to others. I couldn’t imagine a life without music. I use this blog as my outlet because it is such an all consuming feeling I get when I hear something that speaks to me. It engulfs me like a fire & there is an almost spiritual affect it has on my soul.

Is there anything better than smoking a joint, putting on some headphones, laying back & just listening to the music? It’s something like that that reminds you of how great life can be. Without being pretentious there is a sense of sorrow I feel for those who cannot feel that connection to music. They just don’t get it & it really pains me to know that people can go through life & just not feel anything when they hear something so beautiful that it stands through time as a pillar of an era. Music does that. Ray LaMontagne is yours he’ll never grow old.

New York is Killing Me – Ray LaMontagne

Old Before your Time – Ray LaMontagne

They Say We’re The Chosen Few But We’re Wasted

Two of the albums that I listened to over & over again while away on my trip to Europe were Arcade Fire’s two albums Neon Bible & Funeral so it comes as no surprise that when I heard the new album The Suburbs was coming out I was elated. I knew it would be a good album, but I had no idea it would be this good. While not as good as Funeral it is miles better than Neon Bible, an album I love. The Suburbs has a Springsteen feel to it & Bruce is an avowed fan (most likely the reason I fell into them).

The new album is rife with experimental or rarely used instruments but it’s songs like “Modern man” that stand out to me as good old fashioned rockers. While bands like The Killers & Muse do their best to get their music out to the masses, Arcade Fire does not rush out to complete his albums on a yearly clip as many others. Now, though is where it all gets so pretentious. The people touting the brilliance of Arcade Fire (which is a true statement) will become unbearable.

There is a fine line people, let’s not turn this beautiful music making machine into a pariah for doing nothing more than making the best music of a generation. I once got into a pseudo online feud about Josh Ritter being the best songwriter of a generation. A point I disputed & what went from a mere point of contention or a polite conversation on what defines the “greatest songwriter” designation turned into something that got ugly quickly due to dedicated readers. The point is I was remiss in not bringing Win Butler into the discussion.

But Matty D you just warned against hyperbolic statements about Arcade Fire & you’re now doing just that, what gives? The reality is there, I’m not trying to cram it down your throat. It’s there for you to hear it if you’re so inclined, but it isn’t my duty to force you to open your eyes to what is a fantastic musical experience. I am merely the facilitator. I bring to your attention things that you might not otherwise be aware of or wouldn’t have the wherewithal to know about at that second.

The Suburbs is easily the best album thus far this year, killing anything Muse or Brandon Flowers could vomit out. It is a themed album of sorts based on life in the suburbs, a fate not for everyone. I have now lived in & out of the suburbs at various points in my life & I have always had a special affection for them. The people that are in the suburbs have a genuine affection for their neighbors, they’re friendlier & much more affable yet not as naive as perhaps their country living counterparts.

City life is rough & tumble. It moves at break neck speed & oftentimes the soul crushing speed of it all can ruin whatever ounce of humanity you brought into it. The suburbs are the median between City & Country life & I believe that is the point that Arcade Fire attempts to convey. This is an album that also conveys regret, failure & the modernity of how we are different than previous generations. Arcade Fire brings a deeper essence of life to their music & today when so much is focused on laughable acts like proud lesbian Justin Bieber or Madonna wanna-be Lady Gaga it is refreshing to hear something come along that breaks the mold & simply makes great music not for the masses, but for the few.

City With No Children – Arcade Fire

Modern Man – Arcade Fire

Ready to Start – Arcade Fire

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire

250 Best Albums of All-Time 229-220

#229 – Morrison Hotel – The Doors

Morrison Hotel was a return to The Doors roots. Back to what propelled them towards the mainstream earlier in their careers. Even without a clear cut hit on the album it still got to #4 on the Billboard Charts. With a very bluesy feel to the whole album it had some surprise guest musicians including John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful & blues great Lonnie Mack. “Roadhouse Blues” is probably the most recognizable tune with Morrison’s familiar howls, Sebastian’s harmonica playing & not one but two brilliant guitar solos by Robbie Krieger.

The Doors – Roadhouse Blues

The Doors – Maggie M’Gill

#228 – Funeral – Arcade Fire

Never has a Canadian Rock band taken music by storm the way Arcade Fire did with Funeral. And not since Sonny & Cher have a husband and wife played in such tonal harmony as Win Butler & Regine Chassange. Hailed by Pitchfork as the #1 album of 2004 this ambitious album, breaks all the molds of what Indie Music is supposed to be with strings, xylophone, accordion & horns. A debut album that would set the bar extremely high for the rest of the 00’s for any other band. Counted among some of their many fans are: Bruce Springsteen, Spike Jonze & Jay-Z.

Arcade FireNeighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies)

#227 – Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons called it “Cosmic American Music”. Today we call it alt-country. Released 6 months after Parsons died at the age of 26 due to a lethal combination of Morphine & alcohol Grievous Angel came to be the second and final solo album for Gram Parsons. With Emmylou Harris on backing vocals & dueting on many of the tracks & James Burton (Elvis Presley & Ricky Nelson’s guitarist) on guitar Parsons created such classics as “$1000 Wedding” & “Return of the Grievous Angel“. This album is widely known as one of the fore-bearers of the Country Rock/Alt. Country movement & “Return of the Grievous Angel” has been covered countless times from artists such as Ryan Adams who shares a birthday with Parsons & was born a year after he died.

Gram Parsons$1000 Wedding

Gram Parsons – Return of the Grievous Angel

#226 – Pneumonia – Whiskeytown

Taking it a step further than his idol, Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams helped make Pneumonia, Whiskeytown’s crowning achievement. Though the same lineup was together as previous albums it’s Adams’ vocals that seem to carry this album, unlike in the past when he shared vocals with Caitlin Cary. Adams sings of the desolation of the town he once knew in “Jacksonville Skyline“. An army town that he can’t wait to get out of & start a new life somewhere else. Though, his desire to leave propels him to move out “soon as I turned 16” he longs for the home he once knew. The album sat on a shelf for 2 years & was bootlegged extensively before finally being released in 2001. This came to be the final album released by Whiskeytown as their label Outpost Records was shut down due to the merger of Polygram & Universal effectively breaking up the band.

WhiskeytownJacksonville Skyline

Whiskeytown – Sit & Listen to the Rain

#225 – Out of Time – R.E.M.

Before Out of Time everyone knew knew R.E.M. simply as a good college radio band with a nice following. After Out of Time they were a juggernaut that could not be stopped. the centerpiece of the album is “Losing My Religion“, a song of unrequited love. The feeling of being embarrassed because you have such unabashed affection for someone who doesn’t feel the same way. However, the song that may be the best in all of R.E.M.’s library of classics is “Country Feedback“. An amazing song that, minus a few words scribbled on a piece of paper, was basically improvised. Recorded in one take it is literally what Michael Stipe was feeling that day.

R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

R.E.M. – Country Feedback

#224 – True Blue – Madonna

My hatred of pop music can not be emphasized enough. It is trite, pointless, untalented gobbledygook. That being said, every once in a while a pop album comes along & it just blows me away. The 80s were perhaps the best era for pure unadulterated lasting pop goodness (oxymoron). As much of a train wreck & oddity that Madonna is today, back in the 80s she was attractive, talented & cutting edge. On True Blue some of the that she deals with were so controversial that the Vatican made it a sin for Catholics to see her in concert. This is years before Sinead O’Connor on SNL.

Papa Don’t Preach” is a classic plea from a pregnant teenage girl to her father (Danny Aiello in the video) as she asks him to help her through her tough time. Women’s groups hated her, the Vatican condemned her but what they all failed to realize was that on the song she, while not condemning abortion, decides to keep her baby, because it’s the right thing for her. This is the album that made Madonna famous & kept her there.

Madonna – La Isla Bonita

Madonna – Papa Don’t Preach

#223 – Snowflakes Are Dancing – Isao Tomita

Claude Debussey was an impressionist composer in the late 19th & early 20 centuries who composed music based on color & tone. What Isao Tomita did was take that music & transform electronically using a Moog Synthesizer. He paved the way for much of the Electronic music we hear today when he recorded Snowflakes are Dancing in 1974. He created such a unique sound that when I first heard it on my father’s record player as a boy I had no idea that what I was listening to was so revolutionary. “Arabesque no. 1” made me think of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz with it’s “Be-bop be-bop”. This recording is an achievement of the highest order that is so far ahead if it’s time that there are scarcely few artists today who could recreate such beauty.

Isao TomitaArabesque No. 1

Isao Tomita – Claire De Lune

#222 – Band of Gypsys – Jimi Hendrix

Banf of Gypsys was the album Jimi Hendrix was forced to make after losing a court case with a record company he signed with in 1965, before he was famous. It turned out to be one of his best selling albums & seemed to convey his views on the fighting that was going on not only in Vietnam but also the rioting that was going on all over the United States as blacks struggled for equal rights. When you listen to “Machine Gun” the sound of the guitar feedback & the percussive effects mimic war sounds (machine guns, bombs, grenades). “Changes” is drummer Buddy Miles’ song that features Jimi playing guitar only as Buddy sings. Played New Years Eve at the Fillmore East 1969.

Jimi Hendrix – Changes

Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun

#221 – Doolittle – The Pixies

Doolittle by The Pixies was an eclectic mix of surrealism, 3 chord punk anthems & even Spanish music. The second album released by the Pixies and their last with label 4AD it was their most successful at almost platinum (800,000-1 million). What’s most telling about this album is the scene that generated out of it’s wake…grunge. After writing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” both Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana thought: “this really sounds like the Pixies. People are really going to nail us for this” according to Michael Azerrad who wrote the book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha described Doolittle as less raw than Surfer Rosa but “more listenable” and “Here Comes Your Man” as a “classic pop record.” Fellow alternative musician PJ Harvey was “in awe” of “I Bleed” and “Tame,” and described Francis’ writing as “amazing”.

The PixiesHere Comes Your Man

The Pixies – Hey

#220 – Sweetheart of the Rodeo – The Byrds

David Crosby had just left to form Crosby, Stills & Nash & Michael Clark over creative differences Roger McGuinn & Chris Tillman decided not to break up the band, but instead to hire 21 year old Gram Parsons to play piano & rhythm guitar. This provided fortuitous as the band packed up for Nashville to record their most country/bluegrass album yet, Sweethearts of the Rodeo. They expanded upon the roots movement that Bob Dylan had started with his album John Wesley Harding. It featured 2 Dylan songs, covers of classic country songs & 3 original Parson songs including the classic, “Hickory Wind“. While being their least successful album, at that point, it is considered to be a seminal point in the Alt-Country movement.

The ByrdsHickory Wind

The Byrds – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere