December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Stalin wishes you nothing by gulags for this holiday.

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December 15, 2010

Relaunch

The goal is to relaunch and rebrand Stalin. Brainstorming is occurring.

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November 16, 2010

Back Tracking, Volume 4: Game Theory - "Erica's Word"

1985 was the greatest year in music history. For, in this year - on September 4th - your humble correspondent was born to change the sonic landscape forever.



In truth, 1985 was the year Pop Ate Itself. At least in the 1980's, '85 was the dissipation of the collective, underground energies born in the late 70's that had once stood a chance of wholesale mainstream acceptance. New Wave as a genre-tag ceased virtually overnight to exist; though long-subsumed into the New Romantic movement under the aegis of groups like Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark and ABC, the intellect and attention to songcraft practiced with various ironic detachment by such groups as The Cars, Blondie, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Wall of Voodoo, and beyond was washed from the public eye.

The pioneering spirit, sneering self-sufficiency, and political aims of the punk boomlet also died a sudden and gory death in 1985. The Clash, fractured by conflicts of personality, "cut the crap" and called it a day midway through the year [though Joe Strummer produced a final - awful - album under the band's name with Paul Simonon and saved the official breakup for calendar year 1986]. X, the torch-bearers of West Coast punk, hired metal producer Michael Wegener to helm their 1985 Album Ain't Love Grand, with mixed results; some tracks skew country, some skew metal, none breathe the fire that characterized the group's first four releases. The Ramones enjoyed one final burst of energy and put out Too Tough to Die, but would tip toward self-parody in its promotion and never regained the edge of their halcyon days.

Meanwhile, the hardcore movement grew ever more fractured; Black Flag's candle burned sharply toward its middle from both ends under the weight of Loose Nut / In My Head, their dual releases for the year - the band would be finished by 1986 - and under the weight of just a thousand lineup changes, while Minor Threat had been finished over a year and Bad Brains were in the first throes of writing i Against i, their masterpiece, but as such were yet an immature group. Oh, and D. Boon died in the fatal traffic accident that would finish The Minutemen.

To cap it all off, David Lee Roth quit Van Halen. The most adventurous of rock's established mainstream acts became Sammy Haggar's vehicle, and decidedly less adventurous for every subsequent release.

Now, what about pop? Well, "We Are the World" was recorded January 28, 1985. Phil Collins broke with Genesis and released No Jacket Required on January 25. The aforementioned OMD put out their slickest piece of electro-pop with Crush on June 17. Yeah, there was no getting into the charts if you were a left-of-center pop-rock group in 1985. Huey Lewis and The News had poisoned the well the year earlier with the monster success of Sports, which was a very janus-faced thing for an ex-nervy New Wave group to do; never mind that Newsman Sean Hopper was ELVIS COSTELLO'S ORIGINAL KEYBOARD PLAYER. Oh, and Elvis himself was captive of the production team of Langer and Winstanley, who had helmed what he retrospectively terms "the worst" album he and The Attractions ever made, 1984's Goodbye Cruel World.

So, what to do if you're a genius singer-songwriter with a thing for Sixties pop and you're still coming down from the giddy high of New Wave's peak? Well, if you're Game Theory's Scott Miller, you record your band's first two albums - Real Nighttime and Big Shot Chronicles - in the same year, and release "Erica's Word", your group's best single and probably the top power-pop song outside of "September Gurls", ever, in 1985. You man up. Pop is a fickle thing, and your timing couldn't be worse -- two years earlier and you're The Waitresses with better songs, two years later and The Replacements open for you on a big Twin/Tone tour and/or you're The Stone Roses. But you do it because, damn it, songs this good can't stay inside of you. And then you release easily the best visual description of L.A.'s Paisley Underground scene captured on film (though your band was, at best, a fringe part of it), and you bask for the four months between Winter Break and the end of Spring Semester 1986, because you have made college radio immeasurably better. And that was what you came here for.

Here it is, and here I bask.

March 16, 2010

2003

I have a lot of great memories from 2003. Jenn and I had been dating since the previous year; she moved down to Oklahoma City to go to college which was inspired in no small part by her desire to be with me. We went to concerts, I played in a band (Google "Cessation Bustle" and see what happens), and lots of music came out that made 2003 feel like a great fucking year.

The Rapture came out with Echoes, but I still think it's overrated. The Strokes disappointed America with Room on Fire. Radiohead released Hail to the Thief, which while one of their weaker albums is still better than 95% of what's released. And for some fucking reason, everybody thought the Darkness was this awesome, ironic, kitschy band that was really a terribly cheesy piece of shit. Oh yeah, and that Iraq war thing was going down. Dude, if we could be fooled into thinking the Darkness's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" was a great song, then the Bush Administration convincing the country that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction was a sure thing. We had nobody to blame but ourselves.

There are some serious contenders for 2003's personal album of the year. Sufjan Stevens came flying out with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State. That thing was monumental. Find a mid 20 something who fancies themselves a music fan and ask them if they had that album. If they didn't, they're a phony. Speakerboxx/Love Below made white suburban kids feel they were that much closer to being urban. Cursive's The Ugly Organ came out and showed us that Domestica was a one off. It pains me to say that. The Ugly Organ was good, but it was no Domestica. Beulah's Yoko released a terrific break up album.

But it's been established I'm a fairly lame dork. I remember making out to The Postal Service's Give Up and the emotions attached to this album give it a checkmark for 2003. Yeah, the lyrics display trademark Gibbardisms, but Jimmy Tamborello's production and Ben Gibbard's singing make up for the occasional lyrical disaster. The Postal Service's Give Up was clearly about seven years ahead of it's time because that little poof from Minnesota, Owl City, has blown the hell up by basically taking Ben Gibbard's vocal styling and throwing it on his own similar electronic bleeps and bips that Tamborello did with the Postal Service. The Postal Service was saccharine sweet but the toothache was worth it.

March 6, 2010

2002

I know when you do one of these online blog things you're supposed to work at it and not wait nearly three months between posts. You lose readers; any momentum you had built up is squandered because life got in the way. Some people do this for a living. And if I were getting paid to share my opinions on music with a swath of the population who are probably just criticizing what I'm writing anyway, I'm sure I'd find the time to post daily. Jenn is the real music writer on this thing.

But I hate leaving the Oughts undone. I left 2002 unaccounted for, along with the remainder of the decade.

It's funny to look back on a year-end review from a month after the year's end. According to Spin's 2002 review, the album of the year was White Stripes then rereleased White Blood Cells. Looking back on it, nearly everyone agrees that 2002 was the year of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The thing about that is I thought it was shit. I couldn't listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for two years without wanting to kill my ears with a q-tip. This guy was rocking the hell out of Coheed and Cambria's debut Second Stage Turbine Blade and discussing the intricacies of Control by Pedro the Lion. I couldn't see the fuss about YHF... and hated the hell out of the "sell-out" On a Wire by the Get Up Kids.

So 2002 wasn't a fully fleshed out year of good musical decisions. But, living in Oklahoma City at the time, I think it was inevitable that I, and probably most everybody else listening to radio that wasn't Staind or Puddle of Mudd, was drawn in to the Flaming Lips's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It was and is a big, weird, fuzzy pop freakout, tripping balls on acid. The Soft Bulletin was a great album and lesser bands who gave a shit about things like "expectations" and "pressure" would have likely played things a bit more conservatively on the follow up, maybe doing more of the same, tightening up in spots but still being solid. The Flaming Lips I don't even think care if they really move any units or make their label money. So pressure was non-existent.
The Lips took electronics and combined it with their brand of pop-rock and found a way to add spirit to the music. Electronics usually get used to take the humanity out of the music (I'm looking at you, industrial). It's just all so sublime and understated without being minimalist. The lyrics are playful and absurd without being pretentious. The album as a whole set the bar even higher for the expectations heaped on the Flaming Lips, as well as for how fucking weird you have to be to get the hell out of Oklahoma City's convoluted, inbred music scene. Yep, I went there.