April 3, 2012

100 Songs. 100 Words. (The 5 Songs I Forgot to Post.)

Michael Jackson – Billie Jean

Choose Your Own Adventure

You are an unstoppable musical juggernaut, arguably the most gargantuan ever. Rich, famous, respected, beloved, you’ve got the whole world in your sequined hands.

What do you do for an encore?

A) Squander your talent, money, and sanity (chisel your nose to spite your face), gradually losing your grip on that world, letting it fall to the dance floor below.

B) Take five minutes to listen to yourself. Hear yourself as the whole world hears you. Can’t you hear your bassline? Listen: Metaphoric, hyperbolic, onomatopoeic, the bass is like a monster’s heart, da da dumming monstrously.

Ben Folds Five – Brick

Bricks, drowning, the day after Christmas? The images are coded, but the sound is crystal clear. The funereal chords, the catch in the throat. The unheard scream, the deafening whisper. Burdens so heavy they threaten to sink. Repression so deep it threatens to surface. Gifts unwanted, already opened. Cold and wet and lonely and selfish. These mysteries, as a boy, I thought I understood, but now, as a man, I know I don’t. These topics are unknowable, unthinkable, unspeakable. Unsingable, unplayable, and now, I know, unwriteable. The tune reveals more than a paragraph can, more than I would ever dare.

Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Can I talk about the intro, which always steals my breath, the way the guitar, like, kisses the synths? The way the drums, like, tap dance, on tiptoe? The way the whole thing’s like a sunrise, or something? Can I talk about the voices, weird, otherworldly, finding each other and fitting together, hands in gloves, or hands in hands, all of the parts, like, saving the whole? Can I talk about the bridge, which, I don’t know, soars, or maybe explodes, or really, ascends? Can I talk about the song, and only the song, and not the one who listened?

P.M. Dawn – Set Adrift On Memory Bliss

Critics praise rappers for being cinematic. Few were as filmic as the great* P.M. Dawn, who captured a scene, and my eternal admiration, with a flow that literally flowed, like a Steadicam:

“The camera pans the cocktail glass, behind a blind of plastic plants…”

The group was perfect only once**: This line, this verse, this lovely song. Even as a kid, as I rapped and bopped along, I knew it meant something deeper than dancing.

I was, and am, what the title said.

*Here, “great” means “underrated.” Also: “actually pretty great, really.”

**Or, “one time more than most of us.”

The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody

How did it feel to make this song? The singers, musicians, writers, engineers – the eavesdropping janitors, hushed hangers-on – did they shiver, tear up, swallow lumps, forget breathing? The high note – THE high note, the highest, the holiest – fluke or fate or living fiction? Did they try to repeat it, or know it was impossible? Did they know what they’d done? Could they recognize its timelessness? How does it feel to hear this song? The fan scribbling gibberish – slow dancer, dreamer – must he succumb? Will he always surrender? The note says yes; the words are redundant. This song feels like _____.

The Year in Tweets: Movies

Follow me at twitter.com/thegreatwebber

Somewhere: A movie of moments, tiny & miraculous. Nothing happens, yet everything does. The most Sofia Coppola-esque Sofia Coppola film yet.

Blue Valentine: From the performances to the music, this film destroyed me. I gotta warn you, this movie hurts.

Catching up on cartoons: Despicable Me (great) & Cloudy w/ a Chance of Meatballs (good). The fact that I'm watching cartoons (spectacular).

Sucker Punch: Pros: Hot chicks kicking ass in slo-mo. Cons: Everything else.

Adjustment Bureau: Talky characters dumb down intriguing premise. Everything is explained! Eternal Sunshine of the Manchurian Candidate?

Limitless: Filmmakers show limited imagination. Drugs & guns & paper-thin characters. Thrilling enough, but coulda (shoulda?) been better.

Rango: Old West critters amused me immeasurably.

Source Code: Can he get the girl & defuse the bomb in 8 mins... again? Groundhog Day + MacGruber = warm-hearted thrill ride, surprisingly.

Hanna: The latest in the cute lil assassin genre. Kill Bill + Nell = Visually striking, vengefully appealing fairytale. Killer soundtrack!

Lincoln Lawyer: Courtroom drama w/ actual drama. Matthew McConaughey + shirt (+ suit + tie) = career redemption.

Jane Eyre: I expected staid, I got smoldering, w/ typical walks thru gloomy moors. I bet the book is better tho.

Jane Eyre: I haven't read the book, but I saw the movie. I just became the person I hate.

I can't wait to NOT see Fast Five this weekend!

Burlesque: The midpoint between Chicago & Showgirls. In other words, a 2-hr Xtina Aguilera video.

Scream 3: 1D characters, flat script, same-y deaths, implausible killer, Jenny McCarthy speaking... Now I remember why I forgot this flick.

If Scream 4 isn't better, expect a documentary in which I stab everyone responsible for this atrocity. #Scream5

Scream 4: Fun, more or less. But the scariest thing about it was Courtney Cox's new face.

Win Win: Family wrestles w/ family & wrestling. More heart-warming than -breaking. Victorious.

The Beaver: Mel, Jodie & puppet act crazy, sad & beautiful. More comedic, humane & relatable than expected.

Super 8: Homemade zombies, bicycling kids, nuclear suburbia, widescreen nostalgia. No better film for a summer afternoon.

Bridesmaids: Kristen Wiig mugs for the camera w/ grace. Hilarious, sure, but also heartfelt.

Meek's Cutoff: Oregon Trailers get lost, scared, resolute. Scenery gets gorgeous. Dialogue gets terse.

Michelle Williams: If not the best, the most fearless actress of her generation.

Tree of Life: Too immense to be tweeted about. Trying seems futile, but... the movie was miraculous?

Harry Potter 7.2: Beloved series ends gracefully.

Seeing Hary Potter 7.2 at midnight w/ caffeinated friends & costumed strangers: Magical.

Horrible Bosses: Not a horrible comedy. Several laughs, hot Jen, enjoyable enough everything else.

ILoveUPhillipMorris: Carrey's gay conman schtick was either endearing or endurance test. Quirkiness mostly entertained, but not entirely.

Everything Must Go: Slight story, but subdued, soulful Will Ferrell sells it. Everyone must watch? Maybe not, but good anyway.

Moneyball: Pitt, Hill, A's dopplegangers make stats seem vital. Almost as good as actual game, almost as good as book. Inside baseball!

Drive: Man-crushable Gosling drives, fights, listens to 80s synth-pop in great bad film. Artsy, sleazy, cool.

Contagion: Stars fight flu or burn out trying. Invisible antagonist thrills & chills. Worldwide scare hits close 2 home. This film is sick!

The Help: Finally saw it. Acting was superb, story was typical Hollywood liberal bait. It'll clean up at the Oscars.

The Help: So yeah, I mostly liked it, I guess. But the question remains: How would Dave Chappelle mock it?

50/50: Cancer story is half funny, half poignant, all JGL goodness.

Take Shelter: Small indie film packs apocalyptic punch. Is local man crazy or prophet? The stuff of nightmares, in the best way possible.

Michael Shannon: The go-to guy for crazy. Jessica Chastain: Best year ever?

Ides of March: A+ actors play pols and/or pawns. Slickness leaves me feeling slimy. Maybe not perfect, but damn diverting.

Bridesmaids: Even funnier the 2nd time. Melissa McCarthy: Performance of the year?

MarthaMarcyMayMarlene: Olsen sister breaks out of cult (in the film), obscurity (in real life). Indie intensity keeps creeping up...

MyWeekWithMarilyn: All the other critics were right. Williams as Monroe was radiant, but the rest of the film was light.

The Muppets & Hugo: These 2 movies rekindled my love of old movies, movies in general & these 2 movies in particular.

Hugo: Scorsese film is surprisingly fun for the whole family! Storybook world is full of wonder.

Hugo: 1st time I saw a film in 3D. Worth the $. Not a gimmick, but a deep immersion. I felt like I was there in that Paris train station.

Muppets: Ode to joy.

Descendants: Clooney shined bright as Hawaii sun. But story around him seemed forced, false. Some sweet moments, but kinda disappointing.

Pearl Jam 20: Performances thrill. Band interviews bore. There's no internal drama in this band.

Senna: Absolutely thrilling documentary about race car driver. U might not think you'll care, but u will. 1 of the best movies of the yr.

Young Adult: D Cody's most grownup work + C Theron's nuanced descent into depression + J Reitman's trademark breezy direction =

Young Adult: = a film that's been stuck in my head for days like one of my favorite sad songs. I want to wallow in this world.

Melancholia: So melancholic an audience member walked out. But THIS audience member was completely blown away. Beauty in sadness. Epic.

MI4: Exotic locales, cool spy technology, crazy stunts & a ridiculous plot. Yup. Just another fun yet forgettable Mission Impossible pic.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Documentary about cave paintings digs deep. Why do we draw? Why do we dream? Spelunking = scintillating.

The Artist: A glorious tribute to black & white movies, silent movies, all movies, and life itself. Uplifting!

Midnight in Paris: Woody's funniest, most humane, downright likeable movie in years. Perfect for film fans, lit majors.

War Horse: It's beautifully shot, expertly crafted, but... There's a war. And a horse. And a symbol of purity.

ExtremelyLoud: Mostly avoids doomy pitfalls -- lit adaptation, 9/11 story, precocious kid, puzzles -- to move me. Not worth the hate.

With a double feature on Saturday, I've now seen all of this year's Best Picture nominees. From 1 to 9, I liked em as follows...

1-TreeofLife, 2-TheArtist, 3-Moneyball, 4-MidnightinParis, 5-Hugo, 6-ExtremelyLoud, 7-WarHorse, 8-TheDescendants, 9-TheHelp.

RiseofthePlanetoftheApes: CGI ape is more human than human. Exciting, moving, better than expected.

Buck: Man tames horses & humans who own them. Another surprisingly moving doc.

The Year in Tweets: Music

Follow me at twitter.com/thegreatwebber

The 13-yr-old me wouldn't recognize the 31-yr-old me's music tastes.

I finally figured it out. My favorite genres of songs are as follows...

Songs about heroin, real or metaphorical. Songs where a black rapper menaces white ppl, esp. cops. Songs by, for & about teen girls.

So I guess I don't really listen to everything.

Tupac hasn't released a new album in awhile. I wonder what he's been up to.

Decemberists: New sound is old sound: short, sweet, sepia-toned. Melodies shine, slide guitar sparkles, old-timey wordplay reigns supreme.

Robyn: Dance pop that actually makes me want to dance. Too bad I'm late to the party again.

Sugarland: Country music for people who hated country music before discovering Sugarland. Another CD of classic rock riffs & sassy singin'.

Adele: Brand-new album already sounds classic. Young soul makes old soul sounds. A voice like this cannot be tamed.

No one could croon a rap hook quite like Nate Dogg. RIP.

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day w/ Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." As if I needed an excuse to listen to music.

Eisley: Kids grow up, get divorced, rock out. Sad & Smarter songs are true. Less gorgeous, more aggressive, new sound seems transitional.

This new #Eisley CD is growing on me. Like grass in your yard when the snow melts away.

Currently listening to another country icon, Dolly Parton. God, she's great. So sassy! My education continues.

If a female singer can be described as sassy, chance are I'm a fan. Even that lil Rebecca Black has pluck!

moxie, pizazz, zeal & etc.

As I continue to listen to both of their albums on repeat, it's clear Kaiser Cartel is my favorite band of the last year.

I can't defend Katy Perry as a singer, artist or sex symbol. But damn, Teenage Dream is like magic or something.

Bright Eyes: So distracted by insane man's skits I forgot to mention music. It's more poppy, less rootsy, more melodic... less memorable.

Leave the skits to the rappers, Bright Eyes!

On second thought, I'm being too hard on Bright Eyes. It's not their fault my expectations were higher.

Lupe Fiasco: Political party music. It's got a nice beat. Dems & Reps & their enemies can dance to it.

REM: Return to form. Everybody still hurts. Monster riffs from jangly survivors. (Really, expectations met.)

Beethoven: Most deaf.

Beastie Boys: 3 wisecrackers are wiser now, still droppin' science, passin' mics, and etc, still exceeding everything I ever expected.

Best Coast: Simple but not simplistic. Cute but not cutesy. Slightly grungy or at least, like, reverb-y. I waited too long to listen again.

Britney: Every time she comes back, I pretend I don't care. Then I get the album & play it on repeat for a month. Then I resume pretending.

The Head & The Heart: Folsky, woodsy indie rock. The band name is literal; it's where the harmony hits you.

Avett Brothers: Folksy, woodsy, mossy, enchanted, etc. More great music to get lost in (like a forest!), wherever & whenever.

Eisley, Eisley, Eisley... I wish I could get my favorite band trending.

#Eisley #Eisley #Eisley

Bon Iver: More abstract yet expansive than before. It's growing on me slowly.

Radiohead: It took even longer to grow on me, months. Better than I initially thought but...

Radiohead: They're repeating their droning non-guitar experiments & I'm repeating my dissatisfaction.

Lady Gaga: Not as avant garde as she thinks, but heavier, more industrial & more exciting than you're probably thinking.

Lady Gaga: Has anyone compared it to Ace of Base yet?

My Morning Jacket: Wow. Best surprise of the yr so far. Beauty & shock & classic-rock epicness. 1st listen floored me like nothing else.

Foo Fighters: They're back! Return to form! Rawk! At least the 4th best FF album! Damned w/ faint praise, but solid as hell.

Thompson Square: Splits the difference between Lady Antebellum (honey) & Sugarland (raw sugar).

The Band Perry: Dixie Chick w/ background bros. Sass & sap & songs that stick.

Paul Simon: Unsurprising: Another beautiful comeback record. Shocking: Guitar album of the yr?

Weird Al: His parodies still amuse my inner 13-yr-old, but it's his originals that amaze my inner 32-yr-old. No joke.

Baseball Project: No sophomore slump here. Each & every song is a triple, at least.

Waking up to Nat King Cole on the turntable.

Watch the Throne: This is monocle music!

Watch the Throne: The soundtrack to playing Monopoly with actual money.

Watch the Throne: Music to burn dollar bills to.

Watch the Throne: I can't tell if it sounds good, or if it just sounds expensive. Thoughts?

Mumford & Sons: Is there still room on the bandwagon? The banjo makes me jump. The songs roll along like steam-powered carts.

This week's turntable: Carole King & Billy Joel. Unfortunately not at the same time.

Death Cab for Cutie: Still winsome after all these years. Headphone music for lonely hearts.

Civil Wars: Their voices intertwine like bodies in sheets. Whispered prayers for mended hearts.

Civil Wars: If I were either singer's partner, I would not approve of this band. Joy & John Paul are way too intimate!

Rootsy, folksy, acoustic, harmonic... I've listened to this stuff a steamboatload this year. What to call it, Americana?

REM: I'm missing them way more than I thought I would.

St. Vincent: Weeks later, she's still melting my face. She's also implanting her gorgeous melodies directly into my brain.

The Runaways are the best jailbait rock band of all time!

She & Him Xmas album: Totes cozy. It's not too early to celebrate, is it?

Cake: The return of deadpan rock/pop... funk? How do u classify? Why do I luv it? When did I forget they're 1 of my faves?

Cake: Despite or because they sound exactly the same?

Not that I've been listening to it or anything, but the last Avril Lavigne album is surprisingly profane for, well, an Avril Lavigne album.

Bjork: Beats & strings & wildwoman howls. Listenable, even likeable, but law of diminishing returns and all that.

Tori Amos: Classical song cycle about goddesses or something. Listenable, even likeable, but see previous tweet.

MyMorningJacket & DeathCab: Still listening to both on repeat. Shocking! MMJ revives classic rock. DeathCab's still like sad and stuff.

Florence + Machine: Expansive, pseudo-mystical, big-bigger-biggest. Sound is great, songs r just good. I miss her old eclecticism.

Lykke Li: Fantastic solo female pop-rock, sure. But overrated by indie critics who don't listen to any other solo female pop-rock.

Feist: The album I never knew I wanted her to make. Not as immediately poppy, but richer, more rewarding. Perfect for lonely times.

Miranda Lambert: My fave country star kills me w/ kindness this time. Killer riffs, killer metaphors, but less, um, killing.

Pistol Annies: Miranda Lambert forms a posse, gets drunk, burns down a house. Adorable! That's the Miranda I fell in love with.

Sunny Sweeney & Ashton Shepherd: 2 more country chicks I just discovered. My ghost from Christmases past continues shaking his head.

December 16, 2011

My Favorite 10 Albums of 2011

1. Eisley – The Valley

I didn’t pick this album to be obscure or a contrarian, to convince or convert you it’s better than your favorite, and absolutely not to declare it The Best, the greatest compilation of poems and guitar tones, of life-sustaining melodies and God-affirming harmonies, with moments so miraculous they’ve rendered me unwieldy, released since the last time we all made such a list. I picked it, simply, because I adore it, because I played it and played it and played it all year, because it still sounds like the work of my favorite working band, because because because… just because. I love this album, everything about it. I love this band, everything about it. “The Valley” and Eisley, they speak to me, loudly, as loudly as I’m failing to speak to you here. Nothing I’ve written has signified anything. Eisley. “The Valley.” Blah blah blah. The last word: Celestial. I’ll leave it at celestial.

2. Adele – 21

I don’t care that this album captured the zeitgeist. I only care that it captured me. It’s the album I listened to at least the second most, possibly the most thanks to hearing it everywhere: my car, my home, my work computer… restaurants, malls, televised singing competitions… And yet, I never got sick of it. Ever. From the singles to the b-sides, from the rollicking to the sad, every song sounds, to my ears, like a classic, as close to the ideal, in my head, of a love song, as anything I’ve heard since January 1st. A woman scorned, who scorches the earth? Stunning. Lovely. Healing.

3. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

He sings. She sings. They sing together. These two people share one voice. Their eyes meet, yes, but their bodies cannot. They’re married to the music, and to people far offstage. She looks away. The crowd. The lights. He strums his guitar. His wedding ring gleams. Even when whispered, their wishes sound screamed, loud enough to rattle the voyeurs in the balcony, all of whom toss back their own deferred dreams. What if…? Are they…? Could I…? Why? The concert of the year, the speculation of a lifetime, an album that reveals, and conceals, so sweetly.

4. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

It’s probably becoming clear to you that I love women’s voices: their prettiness, their mystery, their more dynamic range. In St. Vincent, there’s also that feminine guitar: not in the sense that it’s weak (it can cut you), but rather in the sense that I’ll never understand it. It’s soft, then loud, then gorgeous, then vicious – a maelstrom of everything this male longs to hear. Annie Clark is my new guitar heroine.

5. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels

6. Miranda Lambert – Four the Record

The stories, the sass, the sweet, sweet badassery. I’d totally let them burn down my house, as long as they’d write me a song about it afterwards. These two albums (and everything else Miranda Lambert has ever done) are how I learned to stop worrying and love country bombshells. My dirty little secret is out. This music is too bright for me to hide it any longer.

7. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

Sure, they sound older. So do I. They’re still making music that matters to me, music that reminds me of youth and fun and laughter, music that makes me forget being mortal. Another favorite band of mine still sounds like itself: bratty guitars, brattier voices, the brattiest science that’s ever been dropped. I’m still fighting for the right to reminisce.

8. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

Language Arts: A

Pop Sensibility: B+

Folk/Rock/Indie Genre Deconstruction: A-

Speaking Directly to This English Major/Music Fan: A++

Teacher’s Comments: The Decemberists continued to excel on record and on stage this year, meeting if not exceeding my highest expectations. Their work, once again, was exemplary, despite or because of its newfound concision. Highest honors. Huzzah!

9. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

I agree with all the haters. Her persona, image, and even just her costumes are more interesting than her music. Her interviews are more provocative, and less cringe-worthy than her lyrics. Her biggest singles this year were derivative, if not dumb. But I agree with all the Little Monsters, too: The rest of the album is sexy and empowering. It might not inspire me to challenge the hegemony, but it does do its damnedest to make me not sit still. For my own pure pleasure, nothing beats it. Not even Britney, who, yes, I also listened to. Nor Avril, nor Katy, nor Robyn, nor Lykke Li… Nor anyone else who dares me to dance, or at least to think about leaving my seat.

10. My Morning Jacket – Circuital

A complex album for my simplest urges. For all those times when I just wanna rock.


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

The Baseball Project – Vol. 2: High and Inside

Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Cake – Showroom of Compassion

Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys

Feist – Metals

February 1, 2011

The Year in Tweets: Movies

Crazy Heart: Jeff Bridges abides as grizzled, fizzled, Dude-like country star. Story's not new, but natural performance is all-time great.

Shutter Island: Marty, Leo create, sustain tension. Edge-of-seat, mind-blowing thriller/horror/noir. Genre pic? (Sure.) Masterpiece? (Same.)

Alice in Wonderland: Typical Burton, atypical Alice. Too much fantasy, not enough riddles. Wonderland looks wonderful, tho.

She's... My League: Wish-fulfillment for men, unless they wish for character development. Too Maxim. Too middling. But Baruchel is likeable.

Green Zone: Political thriller more poly than thrilling. Damon/Greengrass try too much. Noble attempt at grownup entertainment.

Greenberg: Baumbach, Stiller make unlikeable protagonist likeable.

Hot Tub Time Machine: Actual film lives up to, but doesn't trancend, best title ever. Dumb fun for your Easter afternoon.

Ghost Writer: Somewhat slow, but wow. Just wow. Expertly scripted, edited, acted. Tension crescendos to perfect final shot. Masterpiece.

Kick-Ass: Splatter-heavy ode to better comic films (Spidey, Kill Bill, Watchmen). But cute lil Hit Girl totally slays.

Date Night: Rom-com, action flick, both, or none? Merely enjoyable when all of the above, hilarious when Fey/Carell are verbally sparring.

Runaways: Girls start band, cut LP, tour world. Sex & drugs & singer's ego. But Fanning & Stewart are incendiary cherry bombs.

Shrek 4: Cartoon It'sAWonderfulLife, as R'stiltskin steals Shrek's life (& the show). Re-told fairytale is sad, fun, but less magical.

Cyrus: Tomei radiates, Hill creeps out, Reilly exudes both calm & chaos. Film typifies indie quirk, sorely needed in summer of blah.

Toy Story 3: Not as much fun as 1 & 2, but deeper, more poignant, profound, almost perfect. For CGI toys, those things sure emote!

Inception: 2 nights of fitful sleep later, it's clear: film of the yr so far. A maze u want to get trapped in forever. Better than a dream.

Youth in Revolt: Cera plays self & antiself too. Mindless fun, but who's the audience? Also, Cera, try a new role.

Salt: The type of flick I hated in the 80s. Action-packed, but incoherent. Jolie's hot, in a vacant way. Trailer promised more intrigue.

Scott Pilgrim: Flashy mashup of comics, games, indie music, Cera-ness truly zings. By geeks 4 geeks.

Dinner for Schmucks: Lots of laughs, but too sweet to sting. Needs more meanness, less Hollywood schmaltz.

The Other Guys: Hot Fuzz did it first & better, but funny, if scattershot, buddy cop parody. Farrell's committed to idiocy, hilarity.

Get Low: Slow, understated, character- and story-driven showcase for great Duvall. Coulda been quirky; glad it wasn't. Shoulda been a play?

The Town: Affleck continues artistic redemption w/ gritty, tense, tightly wound heist film. Shootouts thrill; nun masks terrify.

Easy A: Easily the best teen comedy since Mean Girls. A for literary aspirations, Emma Stone's star-making moxie & LOLs f'realz.

Social Network: Overhyped. Not best film of yr. Girl-who-got-away motivation seems forced...

...but these are my only, admittedly minor, quibbles. Pitch-perfect writing, directing, acting, editing. Film flies by; hands grip armrest.

Inception: Still the movie of the year so far.

If I wasn't clear, The Social Network is a masterpiece. It isn't perfect, tho, just almost.

MacGruber: Severely flawed (failed?), w/ like 2 or 3 chuckles. Differs from other skit/films by being explosive. Satirizes... self?

Hereafter: Thoughtful, tender, poignant, but... 3 characters don't quite gel, despite/b/c coincidence. Praises 2 Eastwood, Damon 4 trying.

Marmaduke: Not worst film ever, but doesn't quite clear bar for CGI-talking-dog (w/ flat-human-"characters") comic adaptations.

GetHim2TheGreek: Brand rocks, but film falls flat. Too much improv, not enough comedy. Or music. Or memorable phrases for Diddy to bark.

It'sKindOfAFunnyStory: It's the kind of quirky indie comedy you've seen before. But it is funny, in small doses, w/ a sweet aftertaste.

Wall Street 2: Flashy, fun op-ed piece. You already know if you'll love it or hate it. Confession: I loved it.

When Oliver Stone wants to show you a domino effect, HE LITERALLY SHOWS DOMINOES FALLING. #subtle

HarryPotter7: Now that I've slept on it (briefly), best Harry Potter movie ever?

HarryPotter7: Truly, this film has it all. Hilarious, touching, scary, action-packed, w/ panoramic landscapes. Completely satisfying.

Winter's Bone: Bleak tale of meth, murder & a dad's mysterious whereabouts in Missour-uh. "Wintry," as in "stark & chilling."

Secretariat: So the horse can type, what's the big deal?

Secretariat: Disney sports film doesn't surprise, but positively pleases. Lane is solid. Horses amaze.

"Every few years America gets the horse movie it deserves."

Due Date: Dudes being dudes across America. You've seen it before, but you'll laugh a few times. Zach G: overexposed?

Leap Year: Irish countryside is green & beautiful. Amy Adams is so cute she almost redeems unlikeable heroine. Nothing else to see here.

Iron Man 2: Sequelitis. More flash, more noise. (More cash, more toys.) Hell, even more damn Iron Men. Less excitement, less fun.

Unstoppable: Can't go wrong w/ a premise like that. Simple thrills. Simply thrilling.

C'mon the train. And ride it. (Choo choo.) #SongLyricsOrUnstoppableTagline

She's got a ticket to ride. And she don't care. #SongLyricsOrUnstoppableTagline

Runaway train never going back, wrong way on a one way track. #SongLyricsOrUnstoppableTagline

Love & Other Drugs: Fun sexy romp becomes deep romantic drama. Anne Hathaway's body of work here wows.

"Body of work," get it?

The Fighter: Knockout performances (esp. crackhead Bale) & strong sense of place redeem generic plot. Family hits harder than boxers.

Black Swan: Natalie Portman dances, obsesses, kisses a girl (& likes it), goes insane & gives performance of lifetime. Visceral. Essential.

127 Hours: As gripping as a rock on your arm in a cave. 1-man show makes the hours fly by. Even when Franco's stuck, he soars.

Saw the underwhelming Cars 2 trailer the other night. This is the least excited I've ever been about a new Pixar movie since, well, ever.

Tangled: Plucky princess, dashing (but dopey) petty thief/boyfriend, pretty pictures, fairy tale plot... Decent, but the magic is gone.

King's Speech. Brit historical drama about stutter king is straight up Oscar bait. It's also straight up entertaining. Brilliantly acted.

KidsAreAllRight: Overrated? Mature love story (w/ lesbians!) left me cold. Benning & Moore act... comfortably? Maybe I'll like when older.

Exit Through The Gift Shop: Real or a hoax, this film is fascinating. Watch it today, debate it tomorrow.

Country Strong: Music strong. Performances strong. Script weak.

Green Hornet: Uneasy mix of humor & action. Diverting as hell, but completely unsubstantial. I craved more of Gondry's whimsy.

Rewatched The Watchmen. The Comedian isn't that funny, ya know?

True Grit: Classic filmmaking from Coens? True. Gritty debut from Hailie? True. Completely engrossing, but not transcendent? Also true.

By request, I rank my favorite* Oscar best pic noms. *Not necessarily the best.

1-Inception 2-SocialNetwork 3-BlackSwan 4-ToyStory 5-TrueGrit 6-127 Hours 7-Winter'sBone 8-Fighter 9-King'sSpeech 10-KidsAreAllRight

December 22, 2010

My 11 Favorite Albums of 2010

I used to write hundreds and thousands of words, on music and myself and their Venn intersection, but now I just tweet to my tens or ones of followers. I’ve never stopped listening, I listen all the time, but these are the albums that made me want to speak. These are the albums whose chords struck a chord. This is the music that made me miss writing, the music that left me more awestruck than articulate. The music that deserves more than 140 characters.

1. Kaiser Cartel – Secret Transit

She sang into my ear like a lover. I fell.

2. Kate Miller-Heidke – Curiouser

The smart girl who’s wilder than anyone suspects (& also loves your favorite bands).

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A gryphon & a sexbot walk into a club…

4. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue

Top 5 desert-island rocker/author mixtapes. Go!

5. Taylor Swift – Speak Now

31 y.o. man seeks country/pop ingenue. Must love singing, journaling, avenging.

6. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Where the wild things rock out; Canadian beauty.

7. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

What: A party. Who: Everyone. When: Now. Why: Why not?

8. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

Concept album? Androids? Nope. Just love songs.

9. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh

Part two? Ankhs? Nope. More love songs.

10. Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

The diva’s throat catches. (His eyeshadow sparkles.) The notes plummet earthward, then ascend to greater mysteries.

11. The Roots – How I Got Over

“Matthew Webber’s Daily Commute: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

December 3, 2010

The Year in Tweets: Music

Here's most of what I listened to this year, in 140 characters or less...

Katie Herzig: Charming singer/songwriter cuts to the bone, aided by a cello. Nothing I haven't heard b4, which is probably why I luv it.

Roseanne Cash: Smoother than Daddy, but no less haunting.

Kate Miller-Heidke = Jill Sobule + Nellie McKay + Gwen Stefani. But totes herself. Totes original. Catchy, quirky, charming, etc.

The Sundays: Why didn't anyone mention them before? 90s alt rock band w/ femme lead singer? Just like Mazzy Star? Where have I been?

Tom Waits: Growly troubadour, barroom bard. Why o why did I wait so long?

Willie Nelson: Another American treasure worth finding.

Grizzly Bear: Another party to which I finally showed up, much too late to be fashionable. Pitchfork-tested, Matthew-approved.

Scar Jo/Pete Yorn: Almost as great as She & Him. Don't understand why hipsters ignored em. Scar Jo is husky, Yorn brings the pop. Harmony!

Carrie Underwood: So loud, so sassy... so awesome?

Country music: I guess I'm a fan now. Shit.

She & Him: More vintage radio gold. Zooey wows w/ voice, woos w/ library card liner notes.

Charlotte Gainsbourg: Chanteuse seduces in English & French. A bed of lush strings & room-quaking beats. (Best Beck album since...?)

Rolling Stones: I hereby take back everything bad I ever said about em. This band rocks. Who knew?

Gorillaz: D. Albarn throws world dance party. Snoop, Mos Def, Lou Reed show up. Even tho ur not cartoon, ur wanted on the dance floor.

Lady Gaga: Overexposed? Sure. Edgy? Not as much as she thinks. Catchy? As hell. That's why I care. Monster hooks + underrated vox = fanboy.

Plus her song Speechless is Elton John-esque. Already sounds like a classic 2 me. 4 better or worse, she's here 2 stay. (Sorry, h8ers.)

Ke$ha, on the other hand, is just awful. Grating voice, uninteresting persona, sophomoric songs.

Gang Starr: Essential hip-hop. RIP Guru.

Natalie Imbruglia: International pop tart's going stale continues. Pleasant voice, pleasant tunes, but dance jam lacks the sting of Torn.

Hole: I love it, I'm disappointed, it sounds too much like old stuff & not enough, Love creaks & still sounds fierce... I am not objective.

Hole: Thinking about it a lot, listening to it a lot less.

MarioMedina/Amps4Buddha: Best instrumental experimental metal artist I've ever heard.

Mad Titans: Best instrumental surf punk band I've ever heard.

STP: Instead of ripping off other bands, they're ripping off... STP. Plus Bowie, Aero & other classic rawkers.

STP: And yet, of course, it's growing on me. I figured it would. I'm a sucker. Those chords!

Hold Steady: I finally get it! Thanks to the slide guitar and @NicholasLHoneck 's persistence. Boozy, bluesy rock.

Court Yard Hounds: Dixie Chicks + bluegrass - Maines' mouth = more rustic, less rousing sound. Not backwoods, but back-porch country.

Kate Nash: Foul-mouth Brit chick betrays her past: doo-wop, riot grrl & even spoken word. Often thrilling, often WTF. More piano please.

MGMT: Trippier than ever, 60s psychedelia, kinda sorta indie pop.

Rufus Wainwright: Stripped-down songs sound painful to write, beautiful to listen to. But I kinda miss the ornamentation.

Erykah Badu: Eccentric genius grooves accessibly.

Eminem: Guess who's back? Spits hot fire. Hungry again. Simple beats & complex rhymes. No skits, accents, pop culture jokes. Purist rap.

Big Boi: Underrated 'kast-mate doesn't need Andre. (Does need an editor, esp. for skits.) Nowhere near Speakerboxxx, but good summer fun.

The Roots: Late nite TV hasn't dumbed em down. Somehow it's made em sharper, harder. Keepin it real w/out getting preachy. Rap album of yr.

hip-hop: Luv its essence (beats & poetry), hate its devolution (autotune, party rap, sexism, etc.). Gimme the golden age! Yes, I'm cranky.

Juniper Tar: Another fantastic opener. A fantastic local band.

Arcade Fire: Grandiose, yet intimate. (You know, for the kids.) Believe every word, every chord, even hype. Great 3rd album rumbles forward.

Band of Horses: Chiming guitars, honeyed vox, lovely songs for a slow afternoon.

Kaiser Cartel: Boy/girl duo sings to me directly. After a month of heavy rotation, they're nowhere near finished revealing their secrets.

Kaiser Cartel: Who do they sound like? Swell Season + Mazzy Star. How does it feel? The rush of discovering a new fave band.

Lady Antebellum: Pleasant country pop, no more, no less.

Merle Haggard: As Haggard as his name implies, in spite/because of his age.

Christie DuPree: Eisley's lil sis sings equally ethereally. Only the production needs more maturation.

Band of Horses, Black Keys, Broken Bells: Great year for good (not great?) indie B bands. Keys: Blast it! Bells: Doesn't burn, but simmers.

Weezer: Lacks the emotional depth of first 2 & sugary superficiality of last 2. Maybe the haters r right now. Damn. Lotsa hooks, but why?

Stars, Grace Potter: 2 more good, if not great, women-fronted indie bands. This is what I listen to.

Janelle Monae: Space funk? Outkast for ladies? Jams & torch songs & other indescribables? Affirmative.

The National: Deep, dark indie rock. A better word: brooding. I shouldn't have been so skeptical.

Nick Hornby: After obsessing about music for yrs, the author tries writing it. I hope he doesn't quit his day job, but he totally could.

Ben Folds: Sounds like self, even w/ someone else's words. Sentiment, smarm & smarts combined. I expect he'll continue exceeding my hopes.

Jenny & Johnny: They're having fun now. I am too. A loose record, not a sloppy one. Garage-y & hook-y & other made-up-words-y.

KT Tunstall, Nellie McKay: Old faves return w/ new-ish sounds: dance-y (KT), vaudeville-y (Nellie). Yeah, I need some better adjectives.

Taylor Swift: can write a song about me anytime.

Taylor Swift: "Dear John": Dissing John Mayer while biting his style? Hilarious. Brilliant.

ODB + Radiohead = LOL. Girl Talk, you crazy!

Spacehog? Toadies? Girl Talk has impeccable taste in 90s 1-hit wonders. But where's the New Radicals?

Kanye West: Crazy good, or just crazy?

Kanye West: Most ambitious pop album of the yr. Best? I'm still making up my mind. Do I really need this much opulent arrogance?

Kanye West: Arrogant opulence?

My biggest problem w/ the Kanye West album will be trying to fit 1 of these 6-minute tracks on a mixtape.

Lissie: My emasculation continues. Another female singer who whispers in my ear. Another beautiful indie pop record.

Adam Lambert: A danceable Freddie Mercury? A harder-rocking Mika? Not that there's anything wrong with either.

June 10, 2010

100 Songs. 100 Words. Fourth 10.

John Mayer – No Such Thing

Hate the singer, love the song. Before John Mayer spoke to “Playboy,” I used to think he spoke for me. His songs, at the time, were sensitive but insightful, the kinds of songs I hoped to write, the kind of persona I hoped to project. (Remember, this was back when he used his mouth for singing.) Like Mayer, I wanted to defeat the real world, to not let its conformity choke my creativity, to shatter the doors at my 10-year reunion, 10 years wiser, cooler, sexier… until I gently opened those doors and remembered my classmates were really nice people.

Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

I read enough blogs to know what’s good: innovative, experimental, and inscrutable compositions that push the boundaries of music (art itself?) so far beyond the traditional verse-chorus-bridge structure (constriction?) of most multiplatinum pop songs (garbage?) that most brainwashed, spoon-fed, and bleating consumers (automatons?) will never hear them, let alone enjoy or buy them, thanks to a lifetime of conditioning by the recording industrial complex (the axis of evil?).

I also know what I actually like: songs so sticky I sing them for years, pretty (models?), poppy (bagels?), and perfect (models eating bagels?). This catchy little ditty is a masterpiece. Period.

Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

From frat boys to bikers, pop tarts to cowboys, everyone longs to be this bad. To shoot a man, to watch him die, to do this deed in Reno… the Man in Black in all of us is capable of anything, even though, for most of us, our only crime is tunelessness. To the crime of off-key hooting and hollering, the defendant pleads for you to join in. But wait! There’s more (to this ballad than murder)! Along with the thrill of vicarious bad-assery, there’s also the sting of vicarious remorse, the tragedy of train tracks rolling by without you.

Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day

-Why do you like gangsta rap so much?

Why not?

-Um, look at you. Clearly, you’ve never “used an AK.”

Can’t I just appreciate it? Can’t I just enjoy it as escapist entertainment?

-But it’s so offensive.

Not this song.

-Isn’t it an exception?

Maybe. But that only makes it even more exceptional. For one perfect day, in one perfect song, nothing bad happens, and all this cool stuff happens instead. His team wins. A blimp has his name on it. “Yo! MTV Raps” is on. Who wouldn’t want a day like that? Who wouldn’t want to hear this story?

Frank Sinatra – New York, New York

The goddamn Yankees won again. Indulgent, arrogant, rude, they won. Their moxie was contagious. And yet, the Midwesterner didn’t cheer. Instead, he watched the fans stream out, light-blind, star-struck, flying to the moon, feeling much happier than cheering could convey, bopping along to Frank’s benediction. He was there, in old New York, an intern at a magazine. He was writing. He was living. Closer than he’d ever been to really truly making it. He’d make it anywhere. Sinatra promised. His magic was less dangerous.

He didn’t know he’d peaked, plateaued. It isn’t the song’s fault he hasn’t made it back.

Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’

For most of my readers, like most of America, Journey’s importance isn’t debatable. There’s nothing cheesy about our devotion. When we’re down, they pick us up. When we’re listening, we’re singing and smiling. (Even the sad songs make us happy. Their ballads, yes, empower.) What more can you ask of a band? What more can music do for you? This song’s transcendence isn’t deniable. I believe – I’ll never stop – it’s more than merely a personal favorite. No, it’s one of the all-time best. (At closing time, we belt it out, straining to hit the highest notes.) We’re all streetlight people.

Jay-Z – 99 Problems

Lyrically, I can’t relate. My problems are innumerable. Musically, I count them out, the ways this song assails me:

1) The riff is heavier, more metallic, than any song ever I’ve heard that doesn’t mention Satan. Someone sold their soul for this, or had it stolen forcibly.

2) The cowbell rings out like a slaughterhouse phone. The cowbell tolls for thee.

3) The rhythm of those lyrics is relatable to everything: footsteps, heartbeats, gunshots, blood. One hand clapping. Fallen trees. (No one’s around to read these words.)

4) Problem 100: My words fall short. I’m not the poet Jay is.

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

I’m singing the same song over and over. Rather, I’m repeating the same old excuse. “Sure, it’s vile and hateful but…” …it’s only entertainment? …it voices my rage? …it’s no worse than a gangster film (and oftentimes it’s better)? Don’t hate tha playaz, hate tha game? White, suburban, comfy, I’m guilty, part of the problem that causes this music. Plus, I’m male, so I’m really The Man. “Sure, I can’t relate but…” …why not try? …why not pretend? …why not drop the critical pose? Knowing better (knowing nothing?), I crave this artwork in ways unexplainable. The beat kicks in and…

Aerosmith – Dream On

A funny thing happened after Nirvana. Instead of discovering that band’s favorite bands – all of them indie, or downright obscure – I happily “discovered” the world’s biggest bands. If classic-rock radio played it, I loved it. If I heard it all day, every day, even better. That just made it easier to memorize, better to blast while learning to drive. Now, I’ve mostly blocked out this rock block, except for those bands (and songs) that transcend it, the music of life and love (and dreams). How is a song so magical possible? How does a dream get a melody so scream-able?

Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back

Look, I’m a dork. I admit – no, embrace – it. Who else would write 10,000 words that perhaps 10 people read? Who else would waste 100 words on burger jokes (“I want ‘em real thick and juicy, so find that juicy double!”), unconvincing feminist rhetoric (“By dissing the whitewashed beauty standards in ‘Cosmo,’ this knight of the ‘round and big’ table figuratively and literally broadens our definition of acceptable femininity…”), and supposedly embarrassing revelations (“I know it, I rap it, I quote it, I love it!”) that 1,000 people already know? I just can’t help myself. I’m writing like an animal.

February 27, 2010

100 Songs. 100 Words. Third 10.

Elliott Smith – XO

One, two, three, the drumbeat counts. The chords cry out. The crowd breathes in. Ashtrays full and glasses empty. Buzzing neon, buzzing hearts. (In your story, this is true.) It’s a waltz, without a dance. It’s a prayer, without a god. The singer stands there, bathed in blue. Knuckles white and eyelids black. (In your dreams, he never dies.) The singer starts to whisper now. You cup your ears to understand: “I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow.” Songs, singers, love itself. (Infinity plus one.) Drumbeat, chords, the crowd fade out, counting down to zero.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Wicked Little Town

Hedwig gets it: We’re all alone. Male or female, gay or straight, transgendered or even fictional, we’re strange, confused, and incomplete, searching for our missing halves. We run away from little towns. We follow strangers’ promises. In cities, in the world, we find and lose: our halves, ourselves, our voices. We seldom dare expose our scars, to risk, to chance, to sunshine. Clothed, bewigged, made-up, we hide. Our words, our songs, are silenced. But Hedwig wants and needs and loves. She hopes and fears and chases. She dares to sing, to find her voice, to fill the sky with wishes.

Rufus Wainwright – 14th Street

Pop Quiz

4) This song is best classified as…

a) Tin Pan Alley pop/rock/opera.
b) a show tune for which you imagine the show.
c) a timeless standard no one’s heard.
d) a trick question. It’s unclassifiable.

5) The piano is…

a) rollicking.
b) ribald.
c) lost in a reverie.
d) shooting at your two left feet, commanding you to dance.

6) His voice, here and always, is…

a) dulcet.
b) decadent.
c) devil’s food cake.
d) purposefully left blank by the instructor. Just listen.

7) Tear this test into confetti and toss it. A ticker-tape parade for champion heartbreak.

Garth Brooks – The Dance

Pop Quiz

Essay Question

8) With its sentimental lyrics (the refrain, “I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance,” could easily fit in a card or on a bumper sticker), treacly piano (the outro is a goddamn never-ending story), and overall vibe of cornpone complacency (life sure sucks, but it’s also kinda wonderful, and gosh almighty that piano is purdy!), you’ve often dismissed this song as schlock (probably because it totally is). Why do you know all the words then, huh? Why do you let it breach your defenses? Can’t you just admit it works?

Don McLean – American Pie

A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile…

Music class. Car rides. Band practice. Prom. The days the music lived forever. And not so long ago, just this week, the history of rock ‘n’ roll, those syllables, that melody, this song that belongs to America, to anyone, hurtling through my ear canal and tumbling out my mouth. It still makes me smile, from headphone to headphone. Yes, it touches me deep inside. Yes, I believe in rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, I’m unoriginal, but aren’t we all? Haven’t I caught you singing?

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows

I wish I could sing this, and mean this, for someone, free of doubt and dissonance: How do I love thee? God only knows. The message is simple, sincere, and disarming, never sentimental, sappy, or dumb. It’s heartfelt, honest, and head over heels. It doesn’t need gimmicks (like I do) to grab you, mostly because of how gentle it is. The melody soars, the sleigh bells ring out, but the soft, plaintive voice is the star of the show. It’s naked and beautiful, true love embodied. I wish I had someone to harmonize with. God only knows where she is.

Jon Brion – Here We Go

For years, I’ve explained my aloneness away. For years, I’ve made excuses: I’m shy, I’m busy, I’m picky, I’m happy… I’m not bitter. I’m not lonely. I’m not lying. I’m not sad. When does quirky become eccentric? When does solitude become isolation? How can an artist get me completely, even though we’ve never met, when no one I’ve met in years has tried, or maybe I haven’t let them in? Alone or lonely, I play this song, a lullaby, a lozenge: “You gotta hope that there’s someone for you, as strange as you are.” My throat and heart unclench themselves…

Aimee Mann – Guys Like Me

…And then I play another song, and damn near choke on hopelessness. “Guys like me,” this woman sings, this woman who speaks both to and about me, are “numb,” “chilly,” and “absentee.” We can’t be trusted, we’ll let you down, we’ll be our own worst enemies. Somehow this woman understands. She feels and sings so deeply, so truly, the things I’m scared to even think, let alone write or share or give, she comforts me completely. Solitude? Solace? Strangeness? Strength? The spaces between are shrinking, screaming. I open my throat and find the strength to sing my lonely heart out.

Liz Phair – Why Can’t I?

The jilted bloggers nailed it: Indie princess sells her soul. Old woman rips off Avril Lavigne. That’s why, when the chorus hit, I recognized it instantly. The song felt mildly subversive, but sticky, a kiss-off song delivered with an open-mouthed kiss. A spoonful of power chords made the vitriol go down. What the bloggers didn’t know is how much it would hammer me, one woman saying what another would not (or maybe I was hearing what I couldn’t before): It’s over, really over, since she’s seeing someone else. (“The best part of breaking up!”) Jilted, I couldn’t breathe or speak.

2Pac and Dr. Dre – California Love

Pop Quiz


9) In high school, I denounced this song (and the entire rap genre) for its excessive violence, rampant misogyny, and unrepentant privileging of rhythm over melody, sampling over live instrumentation, and killing other people over killing oneself.

10) I didn’t know what “misogyny” meant, much less how to say it.

11) Meanwhile, I cited the lyrics of nonviolence advocate Axl Rose and feminist scholar David Lee Roth as poetry.

12) Jesus, I was fucking dumb.

13) Tupac wrote more meaningful songs, but this is the one that rattles my windows.

14) Inglewood always up to no good.

February 6, 2010

100 Songs. 100 Words. Second 10.

Blur – The Universal

I heard this song once and remembered it for years. The swell of the chorus, the sweetness of the melody, the lyrics so strange, so specific, so slippery, meaning the universe but also maybe nothing, other than the joy of music, sweet music, perfect for the soundtrack of the movie of my life. But 1995: No downloads. No money. All I could do was love it unrequitedly, waiting to hear it one more time. Finally, I found it, in 2003, a bootlegged cassette to rewind and play again, twice and thrice and hundreds of times. I didn’t love in vain.

The New Radicals – You Get What You Give

The artist and title are trivia answers, one more wonderful one-hit wonder. The song itself is a series of questions: What does the perfect pop song sound like? Can humans capture joy on tape? How many synonyms can Matthew Webber use to describe how this song makes him feel? (Effervescent, jubilant, ultraviolet, toothy…) Do words even matter when the music’s so… good? I’d give my fingers and larynx to have written this, as long as I could keep my ears, so I could enjoy its perfection again. (Buoyant, zippy, maniacal, darling…) Did the artist get as much as he gave?

Guns N’ Roses – November Rain

Sometimes rock stars understand. When art and ambition align in their heavens, when poems and pianos pour out of their hearts, when used-up illusions – delusions? – of grandeur trick them into thinking they know what we want, sometimes they give us the music we need. Especially if you’re young, and you think you’re in love, but your candle is out, and you can’t stand the rain, and you can’t stand November, it’s not a cliché. It’s new and specific and written for you. It’s epic, mythological, from time immemorial. And when that solo kicks your ass, you understand what love is.

Brandi Carlile – Fall Apart Again

Many lines glance, but this one’s a gut punch: “I think the world of myself, but the world doesn’t think much of me.” If, on paper, it doesn’t steal your breath, listen to it in her own breathless voice, choking on fear and swallowing pride. Listen to the other lines of friendship, falling, failing. Listen to me as I chronicle the damage, in 100-word reviews that nobody reads, in three-minute tunes that nobody hears, while slaving in an office reading other people’s words, flailing again and again. I used to think I’d beat the world, until it beat me bloody.

Fiona Apple – Shadowboxer

This is the sound I’ve chased ever since: Pounding piano, almost percussive. Sultry voice, her lips, my ears. Lyrics that catch in my throat when I sing them, line after line I’d love to have written – the imagery! the wordplay! the metaphors! the heartbreak! – but still love to hear in my home, in my car, especially from the stage with the singer almost bleeding… I stalk this sound in stores, on the Internet, especially when talking and sharing and stealing… What do I listen to? What do I like? What enraptures? What beguiles? No wrong answer, but this comes close.

The Notorious B.I.G. – Gimme the Loot

This song scares the shit out of me. It isn’t the topic, the stuff of gangsta fantasy. It isn’t the beat, so ominous, so menacing. Instead, it’s the glee with which Biggie narrates, the obvious pride in his murderous flow, the laughter that threatens to puncture the shell. It’s an epic poem of vengeance and vast ultraviolence, with Biggie making villainy vicarious and loveable. He raps in different voices from different points of view. He drops the all-time baddest boast: “Stepping to your wake with your blood on my shirt.” Truth or fiction, this story kills. I’m lucky I’m alive.

The Carpenters – Superstar

Dear Karen,

Did anyone ever love you so much, their mouth so full of desperation? Did anyone ever call you “baby” – and “baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby” – so many times it scared you, yet soothed you, fearing your aloneness was perpetual, yet mutual? How could you sound so much like a woodwind – rich, symphonic, blustery, beautiful – and still sound like a human being – fragile, needy, defiant, contradictory? How can your voice – and you – seem so huggable? Surely someone sang for you, just as you sang for everyone else, just as you still sing out to me. Baby, baby, baby…

The Smiths – This Charming Man

Pop Quiz

1) The guitar lick is…

a) slinky.
b) jaunty.
c) boppable.
d) charming.

2) “Punctured bicycle, on a hillside, desolate” is…

a) an image so tangible, I want to reach out and touch it…
b) …and yet it remains just slightly out of reach, spinning like a movie reel.
c) a metaphor for loneliness. Duh.
d) the all-time best opening line. Don’t argue.

3) This song is about…

a) child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome.
b) a curbside pickup, not of trash.
c) the wit and wisdom of an older man, possibly ironic.
d) anything; whatever; you tell me.

Kermit the Frog – The Rainbow Connection

1) The music begins. The boy starts to dance. He doesn’t move his feet, but he sways in one spot. He shakes his knees, his hips, his butt. His parents record this, blackmail for later.

2) The man flips through his record collection, seeking a dog-eared, musty sleeve, the only album saved from his parents’ collection. He finds the familiar picture of a rainbow, wipes off the dust, and anticipates the magic: the needle, the crackle, the banjo, the frog. Gentle and dreamy, nostalgic yet now, the music overtakes him as it’s done for 30 years. Is he swaying? Maybe.

Salt-N-Pepa – Shoop

Clearly, these aren’t the all-time best songs. They’re merely my favorites, my personal bests. So, when I insist this is my best karaoke jam (“the cutest brother in here” doesn’t need the lyrics), my best wedding rap-along, and apparently one of the best ways to remind people of me when they hear it, all I’m asserting is, hey, I like it. Scratch that. I love it! It’s not a guilty pleasure; I don’t feel any guilt. It’s merely a pleasure. It’s fun. It’s catchy. When it’s on, I forget to be critical, cynical. I sometimes giggle. I always feel alive.

January 30, 2010

The Year in Tweets: Movies

Notorious: Hot raps, lukewarm film. Violence = bad = unearned epiphany. Biggie's music was more cinematic.

Taken: Preposterous, violent, not my kind of movie. Possibly rad if you like that kind of thing. Moral: Don't fuck with Liam. Kapow!

He's Just Not...: Not that inspired, but not that terrible. I'm just not the target audience. I left w/ a crush on Ginnifer G.

Watchmen: Whizbang porn for fan boys. Yes! Worse than the book, but duh. Still awesome.

I Love You Man: Dude, don't think, just go & laugh. I love you, Paul Rudd. I love you, Rush cameo.

Adventureland: Sweet, amusing, nostalgic, touching. A Michael Cera movie w/out Michael Cera. 80s pop songs steal the show.

Sunshine Cleaning: Not just quirky for quirky's sake. Gore-free scenes are hardest hitting. Amy Adams inspires a song!

Observe & Report: Laughs that catch in your throat. (Um, rape?) Humor so dark it's only sometimes humorous.

Informers: Pretty surface, rotten core. LA, the city of fallen angels. No redemption, just like the book. Killing my soul vicariously.

State of Play: Fat R. Crowe & cute R. McAdams fight the power & eulogize papers. Good-for-u thriller is thrilling but forgettable.

17 Again: I maybe saw this. It maybe warmed the heart of this 30-yr-old cynic. I don't hate Zac for being young; in fact, I maybe like him.

Being Bucky: Lightweight doc about being a mascot. No real story arc, but so what? It's fun.

Soloist: Yet another film about the power of music (w/ Foxx bringing the crazy). Somewhat predictable, but not completely powerless.

Star Trek: Flashy fun for this nonfan. Gateway to geekery. Glad I saw it.

Sugar: Not in the same ballpark as a common baseball flick. Not even in the same league. The players and story are realer, more poignant.

Up: Sepia section is saddest thing ever. Everything else is vibrant, breezy. Rises above most other cartoons, even other films.

Pixar: It's more like a great director than a studio. It's never let me down.

Angels & Demons: Bigger bombs, faster chases, slightly less over-explanatory blah-blah. In other words, better than Da Vinci, thank God.

The Hangover: Hilarious. (No need for more characters.)

Year One: So glad I didn't pay $ for this. Failed to meet even my lowest expectations. Jumbled plot + stilted acting + lame gags = comedy?

Public Enemies: Depp, Bale, fedoras, jazz... bullets whiz & rattattat... edge of seat & armrest grip... So why muck it up w/ lukewarm love?

500 Days of Summer: There's never been a movie more targeted to me. Zooey's adorable, Joe's all mopey, mixtapes R made, hearts R broken.

Away We Go: Targeted to me in 3-5 years. Subtle script, acting, cinematography. An intimate look at intimacy en route.

Whatever Works: Not this film. Woody hates ppl, characters, audience. Misanthropy trumps the few funny moments.

HP6: Grownup actors snog like kids. Funniest Potter film possibly, pal. Fans will luv it, nonfans might not. I'm a fan, so yes.

Bruno: Outrageous. But not as much as he thinks. See it for the wrestling, the velcro & the penis.

Beth Cooper: One crazy night w/ luvable Hayden! Another teen movie? LOL! Somewhat cliche & worse than book, but fun for any age.

Just finished The Lovely Bones. Lovely! Up next, The Road. Prepping to argue books v. movies.

Julie & Julia: Light & tasty dessert of a film. Makes me wanna blog like it's 2002.

Bandslam: Indie-ish film w/ 2 Disney princesses. Tonal problems, but fun nonetheless, w/ least believable Bowie plug ever.

Inglourious Basterds: Best film of '09 so far. At least 3rd best of Quentin's career. Glourious splatter, intrigue & revenge.

District 9: Alien ghetto = xenophobic metaphor. Thrilling, thought-provoking & strangely close to home.

Hurt Locker: Vicarious hurt. It's like you're at war. No agenda, just soldiers' grit.

Extract: Less than Office Space, more than other comedies. Absurd, realistic, LOL funny.

Ponyo: Slower & stranger than American toons. Beautiful images, fairytale sweetness, dreamy dreams of H20. Little Mermaid sans song, dance.

Jennifer's Body: Horror, humor & feminist subtext, not as profound as Hole song of title. But Megan is foxy, film is fun, esp. to analyze.

Bright Star: Costume drama more costume than drama. But pastel pastorale is pretty as a painting.

The Informant!: Best voiceover since Adaptation! Best ! since Oil! Funny thriller invents new genre! Fat Matt Damon: check!

Zombieland: Awesome! Totally awesome!!

Invention of Lying: & religion & advertising & relationships. Funny moments, truths abound, but film more honest discussing than watching.

Whip It: Best roller derby movie ever. 4-wheel fun for women (& men).

WTWTA: Still processing 3 days later. Emo, existential, scary, beautiful. Joy & rage, a journey home. Monsters wow, death talk frightens.

Capitalism: A Love Story: Michael Moore repeats himself.

A Serious Man: Coens get serious, grapple w/ God, reward the faith of serious film fans. See if you like the Coens, or film. O the ending!

Chariots of Fire: I luv running, I luv films. This running film? I hated it. Beautifully shot but pulls up lame. 2 much slo-mo. Much 2 slow.

The Box: Fascinating quandary ruined by Martians. & alternate worlds. & time travel. Or something. Spooky mood wins. Ur mind'll b blown.

Men Who Stare @ Goats: Intelligent romp re: US intelligence. If goats were harmed in making of film, goats didn't die in vain.

An Education: An education in storytelling (Nick Hornby) & acting (lovely Carey Mulligan). Young exuberance turns to wisdom. Entertaining.

Fantastic Mr Fox: Breezy! Handcrafted w/ care. Makes u wanna touch the screen, if not climb in & play. First fun W. Anderson pic. Fantastic!

This Is It: The king of behind-the-scenes concert docs. Loved last chance to watch Him dance.

Blind Side: Hollywood sentiment choked me up. Must b getting sappy in my old age. Family film my whole fam enjoyed.

Precious: Bleak, bleaker, bleakest. Ur bleeding heart will break. Intense, unforgettable, gritty, real. Is happy ending possible?

Amadeus: Mozart's passion, Salieri's obsession, both ring true today. Almost as timeless as soundtrk.

Avatar: Dances w/ Blacklight Poster. Borrowed plot, hack dialog but stunning, immersive, fluorescent visuals.

Me & Orson Welles: The guy who plays Welles steals each scene, but boyish Efron holds his own. Sometimes pretty boys grow up to be actors.

Brothers: Natalie, Jake, Tobey love, mourn, go crazy. Trailer almost ruined it by giving away best scenes; other scenes are less intense.

Nine: Chicago dir. luvs him some fishnets. D. Day-Lewis luvs him some ladies, who luv him back in song. Sexy, stylish, but way disjointed.

It Happened 1 Night: Delightful dialog. Charming leads. Madcap but believable romance. Deserving Best Pic.

It Might Get Loud: It sure did. I could watch Page, White & Edge talk guitar for days.

Anvil: Not just real-life Spinal Tap. Music to discover. Characters to care about. Must see!

Up in the Air: Clooney radiates. His ladies glow. Script is breezy & cool (& warm). Oscar buzz is well deserved.

Road: Viggo carries the fire w/ grace. The boy's a revelation. Their glances say what words cannot. Loyal adaptation. Powerful film.

Dr. Parnassus: Imaginative, dreamy, completely original. Different Ledgers don't confuse. Ending is jumbled, but vision remains.

500 Days of Summer: 2nd viewing (of many, I'm sure): Wrenches my heart & makes me laugh. Kinda like my life itself.

Lovely Bones: Book 2 film, Sebold 2 Jackson, pretty prose 2 eye-popping images. Heavenly. Dreamy. Lovely. Critics r wrong to dismiss it.

Princess & Frog: Disney returns to classic animation. Likeable characters, tunes, moral. Kids in audience laughed & gasped. So did this kid.

Sherlock Holmes: Stylish, hip, action-packed. Downey & Law make dashing duo. Would've preferred more deduction, less brawling.

Paper Heart: Twee, cutesy, a bit too much. Likeable enough, but not quite loveable.

January 29, 2010

100 Songs. 100 Words. First 10.

Eisley – Golly Sandra

I know it’s clichéd, yet I say it all the time: “This song breaks my heart.” But this song, Jesus, it shatters that vessel, stopping my pulse and stealing my breath and grabbing and gripping and wringing me dead, shivers and toe taps and sighs and oh God. Something in the way the girls themselves sigh, the slide guitar cries, the drum is a heartbeat. Something in the lyrics, ineffable yet tangible, real and true and… mysterious? Magical? This is the reason I listen to music. This is the meaning I’ve always been seeking. This is it. I simply know.

Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You

The music swirls. The voice is a gale. The lyrics are a broadcast, a storm chaser’s dream – trailer parks, train tracks, motherless souls – told from a lovesick tornado’s perspective. She wants you, she loves you, she’ll show you how much, running and crashing and watching you sleep. A force of nature, a siren, a fury, the perfect storm of form and function – the perfect song, period, perfection itself – personifying love and destruction and storminess, the shelter I’m chasing, the brokenness I’ve found. Lost in its eye, my walls overturned, I haven’t come down since the first time I heard it.

Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye

I’ll never forget the first time I heard it: the starry-eyed sunrise, her scent on my skin, wanting to whistle but not knowing how, so cinematic it might not have happened, but isn’t it pretty to think so? It’s gorgeous. Savor the sweetness of every goodbye, the bitterness of every kiss, the taste and smell of every new hope: hi, hello, how are you, I love you. Another cliché: his angelic voice, winged and haloed and coated in gold. My own voice: earthy, torn and choked, but isn’t it pretty to sing along anyway? I believe it’s what God wants.

Nada Surf – Popular

1) Without this song, I’m not a musician. Senior year. Talent show. My first-ever band. I stood at the microphone, blinded by the spotlights, speaking or yelling the lyrics we’d rewritten, terror giving way to elation. We rocked!

2) Without this song, I’m not a failed novelist. Years out of high school, seeking inspiration, I tried to steal the themes of this wonderful hit – jocks and nerds and their guide to popularity – and almost got away with it, until I started meddling. I’m still in search of my one big hit, the thing I’ll be remembered for, that similar elation.

Nirvana – Come As You Are

I could and probably should write an essay about it: the song, the album, the band, the sound; my ears, my brain, my heart, my life. Everything I’ve ever heard and known and felt and lived. My generation, my cliché. Shredded eardrums, shredded throats. It’s all been said, it’s all been read, I’ll have to sing or scream it: Memoria. Memoria. Memoria. Memoria. This song is mine, it belongs to me, as much as any monster hit can ever belong to anyone. It won’t burn out, or fade away. A hundred times a hundred words would still not be enough.

Stone Temple Pilots – Interstate Love Song

“Leaving,” they sing. I hear it too often. Yesterday, Sunday, full steam ahead. Train rides, train wrecks, blazing horizons. Lies, promises, no reply. Left behind, I watch and wave. Exhausted, derailed, departed. Terminal. Seldom my fault, because I’m the hero. (An odyssey through my music collection.) It’s also true I’m seldom the leaver, watching them shrink, then finally disappear. (This narrator is seldom unreliable.) This song helps me lose that map, bound for opportunity, possibly glory. Vicariously, I travel south, wanting, like always, to whistle along. Wherever I am when I hear it, I’ve arrived. Whenever that happens, I’m happy.

Tori Amos – God

“God, sometimes You just don’t come through.” I didn’t write that, but I’ve sung it and believed it. I’ve questioned and doubted and possibly blasphemed, shunning Your mercy and grace and love, seeking my redemption in humanity instead. I’ve idolized artists. In them, I’ve put my faith. In music, blessed music, I’ve found the sublime, by far my favorite gift from You, except for life itself. A song like this, a sound like this – pounding piano, impassioned cries, wisdom, understanding, transcendence, soul – it proves You sometimes answer prayers. Sometimes You do come through, loud and clear. Forgive me for forgetting.

Billy Joel – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

In just eight minutes, a lifetime unfolds: Brenda and Eddie, “the popular steadies,” from dating to divorce, from hope to nostalgia, from everyday acquaintances to old friends forgotten. A story to be told over bottles of wine, a cautionary tale for everyone listening, a requiem for innocence, a singalong concerto… A work of flash fiction posing as a pop tune, there’s even a narrator, a frame tale, a saxophone... Even as a kid, I cared about these characters. Now I want a sequel, or some gossip of my own. Consider these reviews my story so far, a melody I’ve memorized.

Young MC – Bust a Move

Dances, weddings, karaoke. Plus, my cover, acoustically arranged, sung and strummed so sweetly, unironically, often introduced as the best song, like, ever, the dopest in the history of dopeness, or history. Just because it’s laughable doesn’t mean it’s false. Revisionist personal history? True. Apologizing always, ardently, apoplectically: “He raps way faster than anyone remembers. The beat is influential. He taught me ‘libido…’” No one doubts my dumb devotion; everyone knows how deeply it’s felt: “I heard ‘Bust a Move’ and thought of you.” “I made ‘Bust a Move’ your ringtone.” “Your ‘Bust a Move’ cover is the greatest thing ever…”

Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby

Alright stop, collaborate, and listen
I am back with an age-old affection
This song grabs a hold of me tightly
Memorized lyrics daily and nightly
Will I ever stop? Yo, I don’t know
Turn off the song? I say no!
To the extreme I’m rocking out like a vandal
Liking the song in perpetual scandal
Dance, blush, my speakers still boom
Killing my brain like a poisonous pop tune
Deadly? Well, it’s got a dope melody
No, not the best, but my favoritest felony
Love it or leave it, you better not wait
Better hit four-eyes before I press play

January 13, 2010

My Favorite 10 Albums of 2009

Here it is, the groove, slightly transformed, just a bit of a break from the norm, just a little something to break the monotony... of all those lists with Animal Collective at number one. These are the albums I felt the most fervently, adored the most ardently, and redundantly verbed the most alliteratively adverbally. They had me at "hello," they completed me, etc. (They were not a dress, they were an Audrey Hepburn movie. Like dogs and bees, these albums could smell fear.) They caused the most shivers and singalongs and arguments; they made me quote artworks which were years, or decades, old. Perhaps not the best but indubitably my favorites, these are the albums I couldn't stop playing. These are the albums I'm sure I never will. Stop, that is. Like this neverending paragraph. These are the albums which inspired sound and fury, and caused me to signify nothing but love.

1) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
2) The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
3) Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
4) Miranda Lambert - Revolution
5) Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
6) Regina Spektor - Far
7) Florence & The Machine - Lungs
8) Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
9) Weezer - Raditude
10) Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted to Sin

In 2009, in short, in summation, what kind of music does Matthew Webber like? Sirens, concept albums, token rappers and country singers, bands I liked when I was a kid, Tori Amos, and artists who have been inspired by Tori Amos.

The Year in Tweets: Music

Since none of you (approximately) are on Twitter, here are my 140-character reviews of all the music I listened to this year.

Lily Allen: Songbird grows up, gets poppier, sells out? The sass remains the same, so no. Topics: Boys, surreal life, Dubya.

Neko Case: Personified tornadoes, animals, heartbreak. Torch songs as enveloping as burnt electric blankets. Favorite for 2009's No. 1.

U2: Typically massive, but newly, bravely intimate. They sound like bands that sound like U2. Bono still makes Jesus weep.

Decemberists: Huzzah! Old-timey folk-rock by lit geeks for lit geeks. Best concept disc since Mechanical Animals. Murder ballads slay.

Adele: Another white Brit chick appropriates soul. Sweeter than Wino, better than Duffy.

Ray LaMontagne: Gritty yet smooth, warm & inviting, the sound of the last of ur favorite cup of coffee. Plus, u can actually hear the wood.

Fleet Foxes: Backwoods beards sing songs of beauty. Perfect background for computer-based job.

Taylor Swift: Sugary sweet & adorable, sure. But also insightful beyond her years. I'll proselytize for her to all u country haters.

Vampire Weekend: Sounds like stuff that white ppl like: sweaters, libraries, boarding school singalongs. Neither as good nor as bad as…

…you’ve read.

Baseball Project: Anyone heard this? Indie all-stars dream of Mays, curse T. Williams & thank Curt Flood. Humming fastballs. Catchy. Jangly.

Ditty Bops: 3 albums in, they're cute as ever. 2 pretty voices, prettier songs, a barnful of pretty old-timey instruments. Sweetness.

Eminem: Dope beats, dope rhymes, but somewhat disappointing. I'm almost as sick of Shady as he is.

Ben Folds acappella: Strictly for diehards & acappella enablers. Do I love it? Duh.

Green Day: Same ambition & pop/punk hooks. American Idiot II pretty much. Rawk!

Tori Amos: Crystalline, magical, sounds like the 90s. A record w/ grooves (but few standout songs). The muse is back, if she ever left.

Pearl Jam: Legendary up to & including No Code. Snooze-inducing afterwards. What happened to the riffs? To the reverb on Eddie's vox?

Thriller: As amazing as ever. R.I.P.

Regina Spektor: Cute, quirky - but not too much. She's too good for marginalization, at least for guys (me!) in luv w/ chick pianists.

Kings of Leon: Kings of classic-sounding rock. Not yet classic, but on the road to same. Arena ambitions - what's wrong w/ that?

Wilco: Good, but great? Consistently consistent.

Early Neko Case albums: They keep getting older, but her amazing voice stays the same. A lil bit country-er, but u know what? That's fine.

Mos Def: Call it a comeback. Bob your head in bangin' contemplation.

Q-Tip: Call it a comeback. Hearkens back to late-Tribe spirit.

Meth & Red: Blah-ckout 2. Is misogyny still funny?

Abbey Road: Still my favorite album, artistic creation, human achievement ever.

Per every music mag ever, (old artist's new album) is their best since (old artist's last good album).

Having said that, Blueprint 3 is clearly Jay-Z's best since The Black Album.

Bjork live album: Makes me wish I was rich enough to see her. Makes me wish I lived in Iceland. Makes me wish she still wrote pop tunes.

Marilyn Manson albums: He keeps making em, I keep buying em. Songs sound relevant (scary, good), even if he's not.

And by "buying em," of course, I mean, "checking em out of the library and burning em."

Brandi Carlile: As raw & heartfelt as always, but... melodies aren't as head-sticking yet.

Miranda Lambert: Country spitfire cleans up nicely, remains authentic, gun-toting, crazy. Country for ppl for who don't think they like it.

A Fine Frenzy: Too adult-contempo for most of my friends, but perfectly poppy for me. Chick, piano, melody, etc.

Monsters of Folk: Pro: Monsters of harmony. Con: Monsters of writing better tunes on their own than in a supergroup.

Swell Season: Real-life loss of chemistry hurts. After few listens, songs start to grow. Sadly, not as majestic as Once.

Nellie McKay sings Doris Day: New chanteuse sings old one's tunes. Funny, jazzy, loungey, smooth. Hopefully more new Nellie tunes soon.

Florence + the Machine: Big-voiced Brit makes epic pop. Lungs indeed. Debut of the year. (Again, I'm the target audience tho.)

Muse: Pretentious. Over the top. But kinda awesome.

Weezer: Far from Pinkerton, but pure pop pleasure.

John Mayer: Some would call his blues/pop bland, but this guy calls it bloody good. Guy's got chops & songcraft skillz.

Norah Jones: Lil bit funky & not just for her. New songs swing where old ones smoldered.

Paramore: Pop songs packaged as teenage angst? I am totally cool w/ this.

Jill Sobule: No less quirky in her old age. No less melodic or deserving of audience. Rustic sound is new for her. Tunes are fun as usual.

St Vincent, The Bird & The Bee, Bat for Lashes: The kind of CDs I always buy & love. Songs that burrow in2 my brain. Written by women 4 me?

December 23, 2008

My Favorite 11 Albums of 2008

Hotly anticipated by perhaps two of you, here's my list of the eleven albums I listened to, recommended, argued about, and just plain enjoyed the most this year. As I say every year, they're not necessarily the best in an objective and critical sense, which is something I used to value more highly. Instead, they're only the best for me: subjective, personal me, Matthew Webber.

From rock to rap to (gasp!) pop/country, this is the stuff I loved, unashamedly. The stuff I played again and again, when no one I wanted to impress was around.

In short, these albums are simply my favorites. I love them.

My Favorite 11 Albums of 2008
or, Eleven More Nails in My Hipster Coffin

1. Aimee Mann, "...Smilers"
2. The Roots, "Rising Down"
3. Guns N' Roses, "Chinese Democracy"
4. Taylor Swift, "Fearless"
5. Ben Folds, "Way to Normal"
6. Death Cab For Cutie, "Narrow Stairs"
7. Coldplay, "Viva La Vida"
8. Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue"
9. She & Him, "Volume One"
10. Kate Nash, "Made of Bricks"
11. Girl Talk, "Feed the Animals"

December 20, 2008

Albums of the Years

All you music fans should do this...

I took a break from rearranging my list of the year's top ten albums (my album of the year is revealed below!) to compile another list I keep seeing all over the Internet, a list of my favorite albums from every year I've been alive. Like all music lists, this one was fun to make, but much more difficult than I imagined. I actually had to do research!

Here's the list, with commentary afterwards.

The list:

1979: Pink Floyd, "The Wall"
1980: Van Halen, "Women and Children First"
1981: Van Halen, "Fair Warning"
1982: Michael Jackson, "Thriller"
1983: U2, "War"
1984: Prince, "Purple Rain"
1985: Tears for Fears, "Songs From the Big Chair"
1986: Run-D.M.C, "Raising Hell"
1987: Guns N' Roses, "Appetite for Destruction"
1988: N.W.A., "Straight Outta Compton"
1989: Beastie Boys, "Paul's Boutique"
1990: Public Enemy, "Fear of a Black Planet"
1991: Nirvana, "Nevermind"
1992: Tori Amos, "Little Earthquakes"
1993: Smashing Pumpkins, "Siamese Dream"
1994: Jeff Buckley, "Grace"
1995: Blur, "The Great Escape"
1996: Fiona Apple, "Tidal"
1997: Radiohead, "OK Computer"
1998: Elliott Smith, "XO"
1999: Fiona Apple, "When the Pawn..."
2000: Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP"
2001: Ben Folds, "Rockin' the Suburbs"
2002: Beck, "Sea Change"
2003: Rufus Wainwright, "Want One"
2004: Nellie McKay, "Get Away From Me"
2005: Eisley, "Room Noises"
2006: Dixie Chicks, "Taking the Long Way"
2007: "Once" Soundtrack
2008: Aimee Mann, "...Smilers"


1) I actually lived through "The Wall"? Rad.

2) No surprise. The early '80s are a musical wasteland for me. Not only did I fail to mention a single album from 1980-83 in my Albums. 100 Words. project, I literally had to search Wikipedia to remember what albums came out in those years. Although I wouldn't mind listening to my final choices of Van Halen, more Van Halen, the black Michael Jackson, and U2 on my deserted (but somehow electrical) island, I'd much rather listen to the suitcase full of albums from 1991 that I was required to leave behind.

3) Wow. 1987 was easy.

4) I wish I listened to '80s rap in the '80s, instead of the silence (because I didn't listen to the radio) followed by the Paula Abdul (because I did) that I actually listened to. When I discovered groups like Run-D.M.C., N.W.A., and Public Enemy in college, I realized how many gaping holes there were (and still are) in my music library, despite my claims of listening to everything...

5) ...kinda like when I discovered the Dixie Chicks and country music, a genre which I'm still getting to know. You can mock me if you want -- but I'd much rather you actually recommend stuff to me. Statements like "I listen to everything... except country" sound uninformed, prejudiced, and just plain dumb to me now -- even though I said that for years. Does anyone remember when I said the same thing about rap back in 1993? We all saw how that turned out.

6) I love the '90s. Blah blah blah.

7) I swear I didn't cheat and cherry pick my all-time favorite artists (non-Beatles category). But most of them are here, from the Smashing Pumpkins to the Beastie Boys to Tori Amos. (Congratulations to two-time honoree Fiona Apple. My condolences to zero-time honoree Stone Temple Pilots.) So, while this list is far from perfect, it's a great introduction to the artists and music I love -- and to me.

8) Your turn!

December 6, 2008

Song Sketches: Guns N' Roses

Welcome to the Jungle

This is how a life begins: Screams and blood and a miracle, supposedly.

As if the pain will go away, as if our dreams aren’t fictional.

This is how a nightmare sounds.

This is how it feels to live.

This is not a music review.

Don’t Cry

She tells him goodbye. He hangs up the phone. He closes the door to his room.

He’s alone.

He replays the call, and the sweetest month before it. Clumsy kisses, furtive hands, the meteoric crash of his heart to the floor. Over and over and over... It’s over. Thirty days in fourteen years. A lifetime left to mourn the loss.

Find the tape. Rewind it. Listen.

Rewind it. Listen.

Rewind it. Sing.

He sits, he remembers, he cries to himself, like no one else has ever cried. No one else can understand, since no one else has ever loved. No one else has ever lost. No one else? It’s what he wants.

He doesn’t understand himself.

Forgive, forget, move on? He’ll try. First, this song, these chords, that voice: “I still love you.” Ha! A lie. “There’s a heaven above you.” Doubt it. “Don’t you cry-y-y tonight.” Too late.

Over and over and over, he listens.

Lifetimes later, notes stay held.

Someone, maybe, understands.

Someone, somewhere, loves him. Maybe.

November Rain

Rainy-day metaphors, calendar rhymes, the sugary sweetness of wedding-cake frosting.

Orchestral bombast. Choir-girl pomp. Not one solo, but two, both epic.

High-school poetry set to music. The single most grandiose rock single ever.

Walking riders. Changing hearts.

Holding a candle in spite of the rain.

Everybody needs some time alone.

Everybody needs... just everybody needs.

The wedding won’t happen, but this is the song.

That’s how much it means to me.

It’s something like faith: Unprovable. Ineffable.

Something to avoid if you see me with a pamphlet.


Expecting a singer to understand is dumber than the singer.

Waiting for him for seventeen years is something close to lunacy.

I’d whistle along, if I knew how to do it.

This is how the music feels.

Rocket Queen

This is how an album should end: not with a bang, but the whimper of a woman, singing a duet of ecstacy, depravity.

As soft and loud, as pretty and ugly, as frank and totally full of shit as every human being.

Give it a spin, and see if you hear it.

Or listen to those songs of yours that move you to aphasia.

January 13, 2008

My Top 11 Albums of 2007

Plot Synopsis

Tired of seeing a certain kind of list – the very same albums, described the same way, year after year in different publications – our critic sits down to craft something special, or at least something different than a Metacritic rundown.

Thus, this unconventional, and probably crazy, format.

Not that I hate consensus – I don’t – but these are the albums I listened to the most, the ones that meant the most to me, whether or not they’re the quote/unquote best. I long ago decided I wouldn’t write objectively, considering that’s not how we interact with music.

Some of these albums you’ve probably heard – or read all about on another year-end list – so here they are again in their universal glory. The others, like Eisley, perhaps you’ll seek out, just because they’re really good, and maybe even different.

All of these albums mattered to me. Telling you why seems equally important.


My apartment, the office, and especially my car, and anywhere else I listened to music.

Cast of Characters

1. Once Soundtrack

A busker wearing his scruff on his sleeve. A stranger with a voice of gold. They meet just once, and everyone knows, their music is better together, forever. Picture them, hear them, as your most romantic self, perhaps at a time when you weren’t afraid to sing, and maybe you’ll discover the music in yourself. Meet them once; you won’t forget. The truest art they’ll ever create, the most real magic they’ll ever make, their music is simple, heartfelt, timeless – and still not crushed by the weight of such hyperbole. It helps if you yourself play guitar, or if you’ve ever been in love. The guy wears sweaters. The girl wears a scarf. Both of them walk with grim determination, but also with the bounce of hope in their step. Voices carry; chords are struck. Once is not, is never, enough.

2. Rufus Wainwright - Release the Stars

Ebullient, joyous, glorious, fey. Baroque, operatic, phantasmagoric, happy. A genius unbound from commercial expectations, he’s free to compose and perform his own fate, vamping on stage like the diva he is; twinkling, in his suit of mirrors, as if he were a star, as if he were the brightest light his music helps you reach. His honeyed voice engenders doubt – perhaps you want to be him, yes? The spotlight shines. You make a wish. He sings as if he’ll grant it.

3. Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

The girl next door you want to corrupt. The girl gone bad you want to hug. L.A. lady, blue jean baby... dancing in some smoky bar where indie kids grow up. Charming, flirting, teasing, seducing, she still sounds sweet and sorta surprised, the way her voice attracts attention, the way the men behind her play. She knows she can get whatever she wants, whatever that means, whatever the sound, cooing or purring or belting it out – so what does she want? A band? A boyfriend? A chance to make, and shake, some money? She sells herself, but she does it with conviction. Which only makes you want her more.

4. Eisley - Combinations

The house band of idealized youth. The very kids you wish you’d been. Cute, precocious, potentially unlimited, they’re growing up quickly before your ears. Amazing, astonishing, aspiring to greatness, they play as if their dreams are timed, as if they know how fast youth fades. It’s humbling, too, how nice they sound, how talented they clearly are, how lyrically wistful despite their youth – and oh, you condescend to them, and oh, you sell them short, just because you’re way too old and no one plays your songs. They’re not a band of young adults, they’re just an awesome band. That’s all. They’re not the former whiz kids yet. They’re living in their moment, now. They’re people you wish you could hear all the time, as happy as they make you feel.

5. Brandi Carlile – The Story

Country, folk, acoustic rock? She tries to write the truth she’s learned. No one knows how fierce she is. Until she opens her mouth to sing. Until she makes you listen.

6. Kanye West – Graduation

The guy who knows how good he is... at popping everyone’s expectations. A blend of spaceman, mall rat, and B-boy, he stomps to the beat of a different scratched record. A guy you sorta want to punch. But that would only stop the party.

7. Common – Finding Forever

Kanye’s older, wiser brother. Knows the importance of being earnest. Drops bon mots like a black Oscar Wilde. Consciously (?) rocks the conscious tag. Sounding smooth is what he does. Jealous, perhaps, but he hides it well. This dude brings the peace and love.

8. Lily Allen - Alright, Still

The kind of girl you shouldn’t fear, a girl with maybe more problems than you, the least of which is a penchant for reggae. Dancing, drinking, getting dumped, she’s an adorable sloppy mess. Picture her sloshed and stumbling, but hot, enough to where you’ll take her home, as long as she keeps that cute British accent. Plus, she tells a wicked joke. And it’s not like she’s Amy Winehouse or anything. She’s actually nicer than all of this sounds. But yes, spending time with her requires some finesse, a certain concentration to her brash yet pretty voice. Make her amusing, she’s one of the girls. Make her mean, you hate that chick. The line between charm and smarm is thin. To get it, you have to listen again, exposing the cracks beneath the veneer, the doubts beneath the bad-ass facade. Listen again, you kinda relate. Even if you’re not a chick.

9. Tori Amos – American Doll Posse

Quoted from the text: “I am an M.I.L.F., don’t you forget.” Albeit incomplete and lacking in context, it remains one option for playing this character. Feminist texts and wigs aren’t included; her sharpest tunes in years sure are.

10. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

You already know how this band’s supposed to sound, either from hearing them or from reading about them everywhere. And yet, the sheer size of their sound still surprises. Outfit them in military garb and nontraditional instruments. Give them memorable slogans for choruses. Listen, watch, enjoy. Repeat.

11. Fall Out Boy – Infinity on High

OK, you definitely want to punch them. One of these dudes is proficient in makeup; the others are better at selling catchy choruses. Remember the screaming, 12-year-old extras – and maybe yourself, if you’re not afraid to sing. Disregard the fact that you’re almost twenty-nine, a generation older than most of their fans. Surprise yourself by giving them a chance, and then by how often you play their little screeds. But only if you’re open to that kind of thing, and if your wrists are still intact.