Friday, April 18, 2014

One Year, 100 Albums: #21 Sufjan Stevens "Come On Feel the Illinoise!"

Sufjan Stevens Come On Feel the Illinoise, 2005

I tried to tell a friend about this album the other day and was basically unable to describe it accurately while also making it seem like something he should check out. I think that's because this albums SHOULDN'T work as well as it does. It should be a complete pretentious mess! But it's not. It's a beautiful work of art that everyone should hear and enjoy.

I first heard about this album from my wife. One morning, she was checking her email before going off to grad school. I was still in bed, because I had a second-shift job (nowhere to be until 3pm). She started reading me this article (possibly from the Yahoo homepage?! Could it have been??) about this album with super ridiculously long titles and, (I was about to say "for whatever reason", but that's disingenuous. I know the reason) because Sufjan Stevens knows how to title an album in a catchy and memorable way, the album title stuck with me until right before Christmas a number of months later, when I decided to purchase the album for myself (this might not be true. it MIGHT be that I got the songs from my friend Riley and felt really bad about it. but I own the it could have been that and then guilt made me buy the CD later? Whatever. Not important.) and boy was I surprised at what dulcet tones graced my ears when I listened to the album for the first time. It was unlike anything I'd heard before, and remains unlike anything I've heard since, even from Sufjan himself!

It's half avant-garde indie concept album and half 1950's musical soundtrack. The songs have a way of sneaking under your skin, up your bloodstream and into your heart. Listen to "Casimir Pulaski Day" at your own risk. It's weapons-grade songwriting.

I should say that this album DOES have ridiculously long titles. The longest, and my favorite, is the title for a 2:15 long instrumental track:

"The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'"  

Which is certainly one of the songs that that article mentions. 

All of that novelty stuff falls by the wayside when you actually listen to the music. Sufjan purrs the lyrics which are sometimes silly and sometimes bone-chilling. He epitomizes the latter in the 4th track of the album, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". The video is below. It's not the official video, but it's one that I think captures the heebie-jeebieness of the song.

If you don't take my word for it, and want a higher authority than me, then I should also point out that this album made #1 on Paste Magazine's "Best Albums of the 2000's" list. High praise, indeed.

Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Feel the Illinoise!: Part 1: The World's Columbian Exposition/Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream

Sufjan Stevens - The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!

You can buy Come On Feel the Illinoise at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Neon Trees - Pop Psychology

I don't think Pop Psychology, the new Neon Trees album being released on Tuesday (4/22) is going to end up on many 2014 Year-End lists.

It's weird to start a review of an album that I really enjoyed like that, but it's the truth. Neon Trees remain one of those bands that are on a lot of people's radars but people don't tend to check them out. I felt like I was completely alone in my love of the Neon Trees' debut Habits, but then fell into the trap myself when I didn't buy the follow-up, Picture Show (the name of which I had to look up just now), even though I really enjoyed the big single from it, "Everybody Talks".

Pop Psychology sounds like an album that you might have found in your older brother's room after he left for college in 1987. And I mean that in a very good way. It has all of the pop conventions of that era, but contextualized in the middle of the modern world. Songs like "Love in the 21st Century" and "Text Me in the Morning" make this juxtaposition clear. And it's that very same juxtaposition that I loved on Habits.

I really hope that I'm proven wrong about the Year-End lists, though. It would be a shame for people to miss out on this fantastic synth-pop time machine. But I feel like people still haven't woken up to how talented this band is. If you really want a great example of this, perhaps something to play for your friends, check out that last track, "First Things First" (great closing track title) for a heartfelt song punctuated by one of the greatest musical creations of all time, the Bitchin' Guitar solo. It's a rare beast to find in pop music these days, but when it appears as majestically as it does on this song, you count yourself truly lucky to have witnessed it.

So pick this album up, go home to your bedroom, throw on some neon-frame sunglasses and dance til you drop. Then get up and do it again. See if you don't wake up in the morning with a new favorite album. (I realize that buying an album outside of your home is rare. If you're planning on a download from your bedroom, then at least leave the room and come back, to simulate the experience. It'll feel SO 80's!)

Here's the video for the first single from the album:

Throwback Thursday: 1976

Happy Bicentennial!!!

10. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

I was actually going to play the Peter Frampton song below, but watching the video for this song changed my mind. MAN is it a good song. Sorry Peter. Better luck next week.

9. Peter Frampton - Show Me the Way
8. Gary Wright - Dream Weaver
7. Commodores - Sweet Love
6. Dr. Hook - Only 16
5. The Sylvers - Boogie Fever
4. Captain & Tennille - Lonely Night (Angel Face)
3. Maxine Nightingale - Right Back Where We Started From
2. Bellamy Brothers - Let Your Love Flow
1. Johnnie Taylor - Disco Lady

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

One Year, 100 Albums: #22 Yellowcard "Ocean Avenue"

Yellowcard Ocean Avenue, 2003

A pop-punk band with a fiddler. Who does backflips off speaker stacks. Yellowcard must seem like such a novelty act and I'm sure everyone is as surprised and pleased as I was when I first saw them on the 2003 Warped Tour.

It was my first full summer after my family had moved to Virginia Beach and so this was pretty much the perfect album to commemorate that atmosphere at that time of my life (just after Sophomore Year (of College) (SYoC, for people who have been reading these posts from the beginning). I didn't really know a lot of people in the area, but the weather sure was...well, hot. But sometimes that's ok. The weather was hot and I did a lot of driving. And I was missing a girl in Northern Virginia.

All of that meant that this album really connected with me. There's something about the driving pace of the pop-punk with the smooth lilt of the fiddle. It's the vulnerability of the singer's voice, the heartfelt lyrics, the regret and heartbreak and hope and pride and love. This is a very important record to me.

In honor of the 10th anniversary, they released an all acoustic version of the album, but I don't believe I will be picking it up. I need the loud to make the quiet mean more. A fiddle in an acoustic song doesn't seem so out of place. In a song where it's drifting over the electric guitars, it entrances you like a siren song.

This video is for the song that starts the album. You could say it starts with a bang.

Yellowcard - Empty Apartment
Yellowcard - View From Heaven

You can buy Ocean Avenue at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (UK Edition): Sigma "Nobody to Love"

So, because there aren't any new songs on the Top Ten in America, I decided to go check out the UK charts. Well, it turns out, they have a new number one over there. And here it is!

Now, to some of you, this might sound a little familiar. Well, it turns out this song started life as a bootleg remix of the last (and in my opinion best) track on Kanye West's latest album, "Bound 2". Pretty cool. I wish they'd gotten the original vocalist from this part, Charlie Wilson, but it's still kind of cool to see something so underground DEBUT at #1. It really is a different world over there, strictly speaking of charts, of course. Here's the video for the original song.

And then a shot-for-shot tribute video from Seth Rogen and James Franco

And then just for the sake of completeness, here they are side-by-side:

Congratulations Sigma!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Countdown: Gonna be sleeping in the podcast doghouse for a bit here...

The Black Keys
Well, once again, I've forgotten the anniversary of the podcast. that I think of it, this is the first time that's happened. I was thinking of the anniversary of the blog itself, which i have missed, I believe, every single year. No, I usually remember the podcast's birthday. Hopefully, the 4th birthday isn't a big one.

It's a great show this week. A bunch of movement and surprises and bonus songs and stuff that I included without remembering that i could be playing bonus songs to celebrate, but rather just playing bonus songs because I like them! (Idea for t-shirt: "Live life like it's your podcast's birthday")

Countdown #193

Alan Wilkis
Arctic Monkeys
The Black Keys
Cage the Elephant
Fitz & the Tantrums
Foster the People
Young the Giant

Friday, April 11, 2014

One Year, 100 Albums: #23 Cartel "Chroma"

Cartel Chroma, 2006

Cartel's Chroma is the best pop-punk/power-pop album that I've never heard anyone else mention. I first encountered the band with their video for "Honestly" which is a great song. If that was all I ever heard from them, I'm sure I wouldn't have the pleasure of knowing this album. But then "The Minstrel's Prayer" was put on the Take Action Vol. 5 comp and the combination of the two sealed it for me.

One of the things I like about bands like Pink Floyd and Coheed & Cambria is they will often refer to one or more of their other songs. When this is done within the context of a single album, it gives the album a feeling of inevitability and organization that might not otherwise be evident.

The song "A" is an amazing song (flowing directly out of the song "Q", of course) because it ties at least 4 of the other songs on the album together into this nearly 10 minute opus to close out the album. It's a bold choice. For me, it makes every replay of the album better. Like, instead of hearing separate tracks, we're just hearing parts of a symphony that are tied together in the end. It's powerful stuff and I am simply appalled to feel like the only person who loves this album.

I love this album so much, in fact, that their follow-up was a crushing disappointment to me. And I hate crushing disappointments. But then I just put this one on again and all the pain just drifts away.

It's no surprise to anyone, I'm sure, that I love this album. It's like the band tapped into my brain and figured out all the elements of what I like about their particular brand of music and then crafted the album to suit those preferences.

Cartel - Say Anything (Else)
Cartel - Luckie St.

You can buy Chroma at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes