December 13, 2009

Hatin' on the Decade

Like my better half, I too, am guilty of missing some of the more supposed important bench marks that have marked the past decade. At the awkward age of 15 and living in the suburbs, I wasn't as privvy to the extremely outlandish and definitive moments, but...I also, was sadly somewhat apathetic. At 15 it was more important to me who else was listening to the music I should've been listening to, which meant Blink 182. And for me, Blink 182's gig was up by the time I hit 15-16 and the whole naked wannabe frat boy pop punk just wasn't cutting it for me anymore.

A local independent record store had opened up not too far away from me and the thought of trading in CD's I didn't want anymore for newer CD's that I might not have been able to afford on my allowance alone was appealing to me. I gathered up my finest pop-punk and old boy band (and to me there was only one boy band, and that was N'Sync) CD's and took them to the record store. While perusing the selections, both new and used, I remembered what one of my local "musical heroes" had said about a few different "indie" albums. I was intrigued and, lucky for me, there was an indie section for me to choose from. While somewhat limited, my puny CD trade-in store credit allowed me to purchase 3 CD's. I remembered hearing Radiohead and thinking it was a bit "weird", so I, again, kept thinking of what my musical hero was talking about and walked out with 'The Moon and Antarctica' by Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie's 'We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes', and...

Domestica - Cursive
I wasn't really aware of the term "concept album" and now, 10 years later, I pretty much loathe the idea of concept albums. But, at 15...I also wasn't fully aware of how much this album would shape my musical tastes and change the way I listened to music.

Initially the album in general was a bit too abrasive for me, but a few tracks (specifically "Shallow Means, Deep Ends", "A Red So Deep" and "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst") were easy for me to wrap my ears around. Because of those songs I kept the album on repeat almost constantly. I felt as though with every listen I picked up something I hadn't before, I caught a telling lyric I'd missed the last time or I'd find a piece to the story and put the puzzle together bit by bit.

Say what you will about Tim Kasher's voice or the simplistic drumming on the album, but this concept album didn't need it; this album was done with style and grace. While in 2000, I couldn't personally grasp what it was like to go through an ugly divorce, but I was old enough to know what heartbreak was and how it felt. As a child I could listen to a song two or three times and have the lyrics memorized, but it didn't really mean much because I just knew the words; I never really put much thought into the meaning of the words. This album practically forced me to put thought into what I was singing along to. Kasher's downright sincerity brought music (and lyrics) to a new peak for me, not to mention the seizing emotion and inflection with which he sang.

As I continued to reserve this album in my rotation, I learned that music was more than just liking the way the vocals sound, or a catchy little hook here or there. The album attuned my ears to how things fit together and flow, which, may be in part to the record being a concept album or because it was a "story" for an adult (even a kind of young adult). The crunchy guitars and resonating bass that went along with the angst-ridden wails and whispers were music, not just sounds and words. The dynamics of this album cultivated my ears and my brain.

This album not only fostered my love for this type of music and aided in my personal musical education, but I have many vivid memories related with this album. The album eventually became my anthem for the year and I constantly felt like I could relate to every word spoken on the album. Emo? Maybe, but this album, to be ever-so cliche, got me through some rough times. I went through some physical abuse and general crappy ol' days and while this may not be the most inspriational and uplifiting album it certainly helped make me feel like I was human and had a place in the world.

Honorable Mentions:
The Moon and Antarctica - Modest Mouse
We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes - Death Cab for Cutie
Fevers and Mirrors - Bright Eyes
No Kill No Beep Beep - Q and Not U
The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of - Starlight Mints
False Cathedrals - Elliott
Trying to Figure Each Other Out - Brandtson

Stalin Retrospekticus: '01

2001 was the year I made a lot of expensive, terrible decisions, lost a bunch of weight, and started my senior year of high school.

  • I remember predicting to my friend that Jimmy Eat World were going to get massive with the release of their next album. Bleed American took JEW to heights that they probably wouldn't have predicted for themselves... which, unfortunately, involved changing their album title after a bunch of Saudis flew some planes into the World Trade Center in New York.
  • It was also the year that America realized Weezer died in a tragic plane accident in 1997 and that Capitol Records dressed four impostors up as Weezer and released the Green Album.
  • It was the year Radiohead released Amnesiac, which, despite being solid, wasn't really on my radar in 2001. I was more excited for the As I Lay Dying debut, Beneath the Encasing of Ashes and the new Saves the Day LP, Stay What You Are.
  • Converge released Jane Doe and wasn't on my radar at all. I would have been all over that had I known ANYTHING. But yet I knew about Bane's Give Blood. What the hell, man?
  • Death Cab for Cutie released The Photo Album. Indie kids all got boners, despite how much they decry Death Cab for "selling-out."
  • Thursday released Full Collapse and we can all point to them as one of the propagators of the screaming/nasal singing over post-hardcore music. The Dismemberment Plan released Change and I didn't even know.
  • White kids in tight jeans were inspired to dance thanks to a little album by Daft Punk called Discovery.

    But at the time, I was all over Further Seems Forever's The Moon is Down. What can I say? I was a Tooth and Nail fanboy for the longest time because of the ridiculous youth group background I crawled out from under. And Strongarm, a highly influential Christian metalcore, was one of my favorite bands. Four former members of Strongarm made up Further Seems Forever, so when I heard they had a new band I was immediately excited.
    That album helped me tremendously during my summer of expensive, terrible decisions. In short, I kind of spent the bulk of my summer in upstate New York trying to hook up with a girl. I mean, naturally, that kind of thing goes south in a hurry, with the whole thing being based on false pretenses and religious confusion. So an emotionally overcharged band releases their debut album before the worst summer of my life? Tailor made.
    The actual album is quite good. You have to forgive them, though. Chris fucking Carrabba singing over a band who helped propel screamo bullshit into Hot Topics everywhere. But the actual substance of the tracks, with incredibly tight musicians performing intricate post hardcore arrangements with above average lyrics, are something to behold. Steve Kleisath, drummer for Shai Hulud AND Strongarm (!!), is behind the kit performing what easily had to have been some of "emo's" most intricate, technical drumming. Sure, the twin guitar thing has been ground to death but come on, if it's done well it's done well.
    It's not the best album of 2001 by any stretch, but it's my emotional favorite of 2001.

  • December 9, 2009

    Stalin Decade Retrospektacus

    Everybody is taking looks at the previous decade, be it music, books, or cinema. If you're anything like me, you haven't listened to, read, or watched half of the things that are supposedly the bench marks of ten years worth of art.

    So I wanted to do something different: what if I look year by year and discuss an album that meant the most to me? Not what I think was great in retrospect. That's too easy.I can look back now and say that, for 2000, Kid A was definitely the album of the year to me. But at the time? I could not have cared less for what Radiohead was doing. Year 2000 me didn't care that OutKast were doing some completely left-field, insane stuff in hip-hop with Stankonia. Year 2000 me was all emo and shit, being sad about being fat and, in spite of my life/health-crippling obesity, still managing to have two girlfriends in that calender year. Being emo and all, 2000 me was broke up with both times (you haven't been broke up with until you hear the other person in the relationship feels God doesn't want them to date.)

    So this is basically a "best of album of each year that I listened to at the time that I probably still (sometimes secretly) listen to now."

    So I'm going to kick this off.


    In 2000, I was 16 going on 17. I was also incredibly sheltered, but my exposure to music was no longer exclusively limited to the realm of Christian music and music that didn't swear too much. Enter Elliott's brilliant False Cathedrals, which neither swears nor offends delicate evangelical parents. Calling Elliott emo is completely disingenuous. There was a second or third wave going on of guys who had been in hardcore bands putting the macho, bullshit posturing behind them and just let it all out... with restraint. This kind of "let it out in moderation!" really appealed to the obese kid who didn't feel like heavily rocking the boat but still had emotions that were just as valid as anybody else's.

    So what of the album? The production is high and mostly holds up nearly ten years later. The artwork is so well done, so high quality that I'm probably getting the album cover art tattooed on me. My friend described "Drive on to Me" (track 4) as the "coulda been" relationship song of 2000. The drumming is some of the best of the post-hardcore genre. It's as if a bunch of guys listened to Sunny Day, then listened to Radiohead and said "Let's see what we can do here." It's nearly impossible for me to express in words how much this album meant to my personal development. If Revelation Records hadn't put this album out, I don't know what album I would have made out with my eventual wife to, or listened to when I was down and felt better. It might sound now like what you've heard before, but that's no fault of Elliott's False Cathedrals.