Archive for the ‘Wilco’ Category

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Like a wide blue sky, Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is relaxing and spacious. Also like a blue sky, when stared at too long, it gets to be a little boring.

Though long, Sky Blue Sky has some great tracks – especially impressive are the lead guitarirst’s almost progressive solos on the likes of “Impossible Germany” and “Side With the Seeds.”

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, however, are definitely better. A Ghost is Born also seems better, but that doesn’t mean Sky Blue Sky is bad, it’s just not as good as those other two albums. While Summerteeth is an alt-country pop marvel, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a perfect blending of alt-country and sonic experimentation, and A Ghost is Born really ups the ante on experimentation, Sky Blue Sky returns to the pop format which makes Wilco so great in the first place. Though they are good at experimenting, they are even better at not going overboard and keeping the songs catchy.

But Sky Blue Sky has the misfortune of being front-loaded, and being long, it makes the whole album difficult to listen though in one sitting. After “Hate it Here,” it goes slowly downhill. The songs are still good, but it just seems gets old quickly. Maybe if I listened to each song individually, then I wouldn’t be so hard on the second side of the album.

Nevertheless, Wilco have done a good job with his album. I didn’t really get into them until about two years ago, and I guess when compared to other choice albums, I sometimes have to force myself to listen to this, hoping that someday, it will speak to me in the way other albums have. 

I get to see them in concert June 16, which will be fun!

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The Art Of Making An Awesome Mix CD

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nothing is awesomer than an amazing mix CD.  And I came up with an awesome one. At least, for me, it’s awesome. I think it’s an extension of my psyche, and anyone who is just like me should love it too!

Almost all, coincidentally, come from bands I’ve reviewed for my blog, in some form or another.  Of course, it’s not perfect (there’s no such thing as a perfect mix CD – Johnny Banks of Iowa claimed to have made one in 1978, but before it could be heard, it was tragically eaten by his pigs.)

Here is my mix, and beneath the track listing, I will explain why it’s so awesome.

1. “The Bandit” -The Starlight Mints
2. “Triple Fascination” – The Listening
3. “Lazarus” – Porcupine Tree
4. “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” – Modest Mouse
5. “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies
6. “So Real” – Jeff Buckley
7. “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)” – Sufjan Stevens
8. “A Lack of Color” – Death Cab for Cutie
9. “Roads” – Portishead
10. “Untiled” – Sigur Rós
11. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – Radiohead
12. “Mexico” – Incubus
13. “Jesus, Etc.” – Wilco
14. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” – Gustav Holst

Now, I will go into the logic behind making a mix CD. Here are some of the basic rules:

1. The mix CD can never stop or end with a lead track or closing track from an album. For example, I could not start this mix CD with “Airbag” off Radiohead’s OK Computer, since that is the lead track from that album. Likewise, I cannot end it with Sonic Youth’s “The Trilogy” off Daydream Nation, since that album ends with that track. Otherwise, it just feels like your listening to that particular album, thus defeating the purpose of a mix CD.

Notice, then, with my track selection, I chose my lead song to be “The Bandit” by the Starlight Mints, which is track two off their album The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of. This was an awesome choice because the song is upbeat and gives energy, enticing the listener to listen further. Only in the rarest of circumstances do you start a mix CD with a slow, soft, or track that’s a downer, but we’ll get to that later.

In a similar vein, I chose my closing track to be “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite. This was a wise choice, because “Jupiter” is in the middle of the suite, yet the piece can also stand on its own. Also, being so glorious sounding makes it conducive to be the ending of a great mix CD, although to some professional CD mixers, this choice might seem a little cliché.  Regardless, it is important to end the mix CD as strong as you started it, if not stronger, in a vainglorious way if at all possible. I am hard-pressed to think of a more epic sounding song than “Jupiter.” (If you haven’t heard it, listen to it! It rocks!)

2. The songs must flow well! Each and every song on my mix CD must blend reasonably well into the next. If you notice my selection above, I would argue that some of my choices are just pure genius, in particular, the transition from Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” into “Mexico.” Both are guitar-picked songs, and both sound like they are in a similar key). By the way, it’s always good for the next song’s first note to either be the same as the previous song’s last note, or at least in the same key. Usually you can tell if you’re ear is good enough – though not necessary, it’s a nice touch.

This also works for similar instruments. Note how strings conclude Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.,” which blends very well into Holst’s strings at the start of “Jupiter. More often than not, a good mix CD has tracks that blend well together, either through similar instruments, keys, distortion, or any other similarity.

3. Having the same two bands in a row is almost always a tacky decision, defeating the purpose of having a mix CD. Similar to this is having two songs from the same band on the mix CD, though you can get away with this more often. If you opt to do this, make sure that these songs showcase different styles for the band. For example, to use Radiohead again as an example, I could pick “Exit Music,” a nice acoustic number by them, and accompany this with “Backdrifts,” a mostly electric song by them using strange chord progressions.

4.  Try not to have all your songs have a similar feel, musicality, or theme. This also defeats the purpose of making a mix CD. The challenge of making an awesome mix CD comes with having plenty of variety form different bands, but still making it flow logically. An exception to this rule is if you’re making a “greatest hits” CD of a certain band, or an eighties themed post-punk CD, or a childhood guilty pleasures CD.

5.  Try to start lighthearted and happy before getting more serious. Try also to end on a light note, so the listener goes away feeling good. It’s the same with writing a book. There needs to be a hook, but it also has to end well or the reader will feel cheated. It’s the same with a great mix CD. Ask yourself: what do I want the listener to feel from the first notes of the first song? And what do I want them to walk away with? Like a good book, save all the heavy conflict, breakups, and drama for the middle. While I didn’t really have the foresight to do it with my mix CD above, try to have songs following your depressing songs that are sort of an answer to them in a positive way, thus making the sun shine over a dark and weary land, so to speak. Notice how in my example of a mix CD, I’ve incorporated all my heavy and depressing songs toward the CD’s middle. Notice how blatantly happy my last track is…I mean, the word “jollity” is in the song’s title! And the happiness of the sickly sweet Starlight Mints song speaks for itself.

6. The sixth rule is the hardest of all – don’t be so rule-bound! If all your mix CD’s follow a formula, than this, too, means that they aren’t a truly mix CDs. There has to be some sort of randomness to it. And keep in mind that once you get better, you’ll learn how to bend and break the rules at the right moments, thus becoming a Mozart or John Coltrane of making mix CDs.

I hope this essay has helped enlighten you on how to make an awesome mix CD. Next time, when you’re at a loss for what to put after that weird TV on the Radio song or just why your mix CD isn’t flowing right, I hope you’ll remember these rules and right your paths on the road of CD mixdom!

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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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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.