Archive for January, 2009

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Jackson Browne – The Pretender

Monday, January 19, 2009
The Pretender (1976)

The Pretender (1976)

Any man can live a life. But not every man can live.

Am I really living? Am I following my dreams, am I working towards the goals I’ve set for myself? Will I make it? Can I make it? What if I wake up one day when I’m forty and realize this is not what I wanted, that this wasn’t right, that I squandered the one life I had, the one life that is over before I even blink?

All of these questions come flooding into my mind every time I listen to The Pretender

This is yet another album it took me a while to come around to. I was stuck to listening to track eight, “The Pretender,” over and over, so much so that I didn’t fully listen to the whole album until months after I bought it.  

Wow, what a song! I can’t describe how close “The Pretender” is to me. When I first got this album when I was eighteen, I disdained the pretender, that man who gives up on his dreams to live an ordinary life. 

But now I know that chances are that man will be me. I’m still young, but I have to make the most of every day, everyday, to avoid the fate of 99 percent of the world’s population.

Everyone believes in something when they’re young. Their pockets are full of dreams, dreams that will take them all around the world. But then they grow older – not just in years, but in tears. Someone dies. Someone hurts them. They hurt someone else. Pain happens. They come to realize that dreams are just that – dreams. They begin to realize that what they need is money in their pockets, not dreams.  

Then, people really begin to live life: they fall in love, get married,  earn a living, live in suburbia, buy an S.U.V., have spoiled kids, watch movies where fictional characters accomplish their dreams (almost magically) and live happily ever after.

Sometimes, dreams are just too much trouble. People don’t want pain, don’t want to bleed, don’t want to be laughed at and mocked.

The Pretender gets me asking such questions about life. Jackson Browne puts the feelings and thoughts all of us have into words, and is a masterful poet for that reason. 

Partly through The Pretender, I now know that whatever I think I might have in my life, it’s all worth losing for the sake of living a life that’s worth living.

My favorites are “The Fuse,” “Your Bright Baby Blues,”  “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate,” and of course, “The Pretender.” 

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Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place

Sunday, January 18, 2009
The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

April 1, 2007. A day which will live in infamy (for me).
I was going to see Explosions in the Sky live at the University of Oklahoma (where I attend).

I was quite “stoked,” as one might say. Actually, for a while I thought it was a cruel April Fools joke. But when it was confirmed by others that Explosions in the Sky were in fact playing, I was pretty darn excited.

But I never got to go to that concert. I’m still a little sad about it – especially since EITS won’t be touring again anytime soon. They ran out of tickets – I was pretty sure they would have some leftover, but I got there too late. Lesson: always go Ticketmaster.

But on the way, I saw Munaf (a guitarist for the band) sitting with some members of the opening band on a bench outside the student union. My friend and I got a picture with him. I hoped it didn’t annoy him too much. I always get nervous around famous musicians (and people) for some reason. Not that they are exactly that famous..

Anyway, enough of my pity party. The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place was my introduction to Explosions in the Sky. It is their best release, in my opinion, but certainly there is something to love in everything they do.

For me, each song is a story.  “First Breath After Coma” is about a woman waking from a long coma, her husband sitting nearby, holding her hand. The first notes of the guitar mimic the metronome of a heart monitor beeping – the bass drum the heart beat. The beauty of the song builds up, a full celebration of a life not taken for granted in the least.

My favorite track is probably “The Only Moment When We Were Alone.” Just the emotions conveyed – the highs, the lows, the louds, the softs – is absolutely epic. Unlike the first one I don’t have a particular story to go with it.

Probably the fan favorite of EITS is “Your Hand in Mine,” which is played on Friday Night Lights. It certainly is a wonderful track, but the first two cannot be touched with their power.

A very beautiful accomplishment by one of my favorite bands.

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Wilco – Summerteeth

Sunday, January 11, 2009
Summerteeth (1999)

Summerteeth (1999)

Forgive me for talking about Wilco again. Actually, no. Don’t forgive me. They deserve it.

I know, it was merely last week that I gave you glowing accolades that put a New Year’s firework show to shame. But I’ve found a new love, Summerteeth.

I went to the BCS national championship a few days ago (I just got back, in fact). What a depressing game. 

The car ride there and back was almost as depressing, at about eighteen hours one-way. Around hour nine or so, I felt the cabin fever begin to grip me. Who would placate me in my time of turmoil?

I picked up my iPod and turned it to Wilco. Trusty old Wilco, the band I always mean to listen to, but never do. They had me as a captive audience now, as it was in that prison of a car where I heard the first strains of Summerteeth just a few days ago.

It was love at first sound. The song that really stuck out to me was “She’s a Jar.” It’s a very smooth jam. It’s just so catchy and perfectly crafted. I love the harmonica, the unexpected chord changes, the strings. It all just works to perfectly together.

And of course, there’s “A Shot in the Arm,” one of Wilco’s more popular tunes.

Other highlights for me include “ELT,” “How to Fight Loneliness,” and “My Darling.”

Wilco is one of the greatest relatively new American bands recording and touring today. How I’d love to see them live…

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The Pietasters – Willis

Sunday, January 4, 2009
Willis (1997)

Willis (1997)

The Pietasters first came to my attention when one of their songs was featured on a video game a few years ago.  Since then I have found it difficult to get my hands on this CD and I didn’t know of anybody who had heard of them, much less liked their music.  But I finally got my hands on a copy and Willis by the Pietasters, released in 1997, is a good example that the best bands are sometimes the hardest to find.

Hailing from the same ska-punk tradition established by bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Pietasters expand on the ska-punk theme while maintaining a traditional ska feel.  The opening track, entitled “Crazy Monkey Woman,” is very much a punk song.  The second song, “Out All Night,” is a catchy ska tune with some definitey Bosstone influence.  This is the song that got me turned onto them in the first place.

This CD is balanced out by the traditiona ska feel the Pietasters bring into their songs.  “Higher” is a good example of a traditional ska song.  It’s got a great reggae feel, which gives you a break from the manic melodies present throughout the CD.  A couple of tracks later, the Pietasters bring it out again in “Whithout You.”  This track makes me want to go to the beach.  It brings out a traditional ska feel while sticking to a more modern 3rd wave feel.

Willis ends with another more traditional tune, rounding out an excellent album.  Whether you prefer a ska-punk feel, a 3rd wave feel, or a traditional feel, this ska album offers a little bit of everything.  Anybody who enjoys ska and grew up in the 90’s will love this CD without question.

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Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Friday, January 2, 2009
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

I have to be honest here – it took me a long time to come around to loving this album. I stole it from the Iowa City Library. By stole, I mean checked it out and ripped in onto my computer. Where it stayed for six odd months, collecting cyberdust.

I stole a lot of music from that beloved library, which acted more as a video or music store than a place to enlighten one’s mind with books. Seriously, everyone who went there was either checking out music or a movie. But I digress. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

I don’t really know what the title means, but the album cover is pretty cool, half the reason I had to “steal” it. I assume it’s a photo of the said hotel. But the lyrics and music are catchy, dark, and like nothing I have ever heard before. Mind, I got this album a year or so ago. Since then, I’ve collected the rest of Wilco’s discography, which, oddly enough, is collecting cyberdust as I write this. Poor Wilco! You deserve better.

They really do, because they are amazing. I now love Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is like the girlfriend you don’t really like at first but after a while you stick with her because you know you can’t do any better. That’s a terrible analogy. Rather, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is like going out on a date three times with the same girl and not being too impressed because she seems a little dark and strange. But on the fourth time, you’re eyes are magically opened to her rare kind of beauty that is all but conventional – and you keep coming back  to discover more and more niches and crannies of her thick and intricate soul.

Enough of my terrible analogies. Songs I love: “Jesus Etc.,” “Ashes of American Flags,” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” and “Radio Cure.” All are truly heartfelt – in true country fashion these songs pull at your heartstrings with every line and chord change. Warm, yet dark. I know Wilco aren’t really “country,” but like good country, they pull off the heart-tugging effect masterfully.

I’ve heard Wilco called “America’s response to Radiohead.” Well…I’m not too sure about that. I don’t see it, except maybe both use electronica in their respective genres. So do a whole lot of other bands. Go figure.

In a similar vein, I’ve heard the electronica often turns people off of Wilco, and in particular, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Well, those people are stupid. This album is not.