Sunday, April 15, 2007

Five O' Diamonds: Favorite Album Openings

Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)

The drone lifting the lid on "Runnin' With The Devil" was only the first clue that the days of plodding and ragged Led Zeppelin and amateurish Grand Funk Railroad were fading. "Still holds up today" doesn't do the first four tracks justice: "Devil", "Eruption", "You Really Got Me" (a cover, true, but it's right in line with the band's nailing shut the coffin of their symbolic older brothers' more earthbound stylings), and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" (supposedly Edward Van Halen's expression of disdain for nouveau two-chord punk) represent a Big Bang-level of influence for guitarists, lead singers, and songwriters. But just about anybody can be moved by Van Halen on some level, and that's why it's first here.

Replacements, Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
It almost didn't make the list, my favorite complete album ever. There's nearly too few outright classics between the "oh shit, did they get good in a hurry" opening ("I.O.U.", "Alex Chilton", and I Don't Know") and the transcendent "Can't Hardly Wait" which survived its later use as the title for a Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle. Despite that small shortcoming, I keep returning to the immediacy of those first three songs, entranced by the combination of rough edges and sentiment, beginning with "I.O.U."s sentence of "ninety days in the electric chair", to the toll paid to travel on the same road as "Alex Chilton". Not letting up, they roll out the sneering and self-deprecating "I Don't Know" ("Are you making a fortune? (I don't know) Or don't you wanna tell?"). This CD reshuffled my musical deck, the one left behind by Van Halen.

Urge Overkill, Supersonic Storybook (1991)
That this CD made the cut is a testament to just how good the first four tracks are, because the rest of this half-classic drops off a cliff. The shambling, edge-of-dissembling grind of "The Kids Are Insane" gives way to the pulsing "Candidate" and the garage band rave-up "Blackie's Birthday" before unleashing the simmering masterpiece "Emmaline", a Hot Chocolate,[1] cover. Nash Kato's cries to the titular woman at the end will freeze your blood.

Soul Asylum, Hang Time (1988)

I don't know if being from Minneapolis (like the Replacements and Husker Du) forced Soul Asylum to be a better band or not, but Hang Time certainly holds its own with any of the other local heavyweights from the era, and in some instances surpasses. Dave Pirner's lead and Dan Murphy's growling backing vocals from the first salvo "Down On Up To Me" seem to be fighting and hugging at the same time, and the snaky riffs of "Little Too Clean" set up the more amiable "Sometime To Return" and weathered, knowing "Cartoon". This is a gem, and a hallmark of true chemistry in song.

The Hold Steady, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (2004)

The only CD on my initial list that could overcome the disadvantage of its relative youth. It's also got the longest "opening"; the first six tracks on Almost Killed Me swirl around me like the best bar band on Earth, flies on the wall at a meeting that ends in Anonymous. Possibly the most concentrated mass of great lyrics in all of recorded music, including name-dropping two members of both The Band and Journey in "The Swish"[2].

[1] Yes, that Hot Chocolate, the ones who gave us "You Sexy Thing" and "Every 1's A Winner".
[2] Don't question it, just find it and listen, acknowledge the greatness and move on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It Came From The Bottom of My CD's, Volume 1

Surgery - Shimmer
Atlantic Records 1994

One of the worst selling titles in Atlantic Records history, the major label debut (and swan song[1]) from NYC's Surgery is a near-permanent reminder that sometimes, a thing of beauty must be lie undiscovered and dormant for God knows how long. (I guess if they could've gone with a name like "The Sean McDonnell Blues Explosion", they might've fulfilled their major-label promise)

Riffs that Queens of the Stone Age would trade their famous friends for, taut and unforgiving grooves that Rage Against the Machine all bought houses and Ferraris from (courtesy of RATM's first producer GGGarth), all provided without losing any of the scuzz from their days at stalwart paincore label Amphetamine Reptile.

The only good thing about selling just 499,900 CD's short of gold is that this shiny racket can be found online for about 50 cents.

[1]Sadly, Surgery vocalist Sean McDonnell passed away early in 1995, from complications related to his asthma. Surgery probably would've broken up soon anyway, but I bet they'd be on the comeback trail by now.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

And Coming Soon: Hot Topicland!

I can't say which is more irrelevant at this point, Sister Hazel or the Hard Rock Cafe. According to this article, it looks like it's a tie.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

My Dog Is A Born Entertainer. Or A Horribly Misdiagnosed Autistic.

Our miniature pinscher Petey is the "middle child" in the house, sandwiched between two very cliquish chihuahuas. Since we brought Chihuahua #2 (Orlando Loco, who's a blog entry unto himself) into the house, Petey's already idiosyncratic behavior has added several nuttier layers.

The wife will pick him up and cradle him for some one-on-one attention. His response, delivered via canine body-language, is to compress himself into this misshapen black beanbag with ears. He looks like an obese bat.

But he saves the real eccentricity for when she places him gently back onto the floor. At this point, an outsider would probably think he's chasing his tail. But, given the fact that he has only a pinscher-y stub in that location, a stub that he's always had, what he's really doing is checking to see that his entire rear region is still there and intact.

Petey's next move is to scratch at the backdoor until you address his need to go outside and open that door. Only, he's got no interest in going outside to pee or whatever. Instead he will only cock his head, looking at you like you've loosened the top on the salt shaker of his universe. And then he waits until we're not looking and pees all over the front of our kitchen trash can.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

My Life, Starring Someone Skinnier and Cooler.

I won't bore you with much background: this was a survey the mighty Jason Hurt posted called the Soundtrack to Your Life, one of those "put your iPod/MP3 player on shuffle and write down what song plays for each section" of said soundtrack. His turned out pretty well, so I tried my hand at it.

Opening Credits:
Ok Go - Let it Rain (both the opening/closing credits sound like they were picked by an honest-to-god, focus-group worshipping movie producer. Peppy, though.)

Waking Up:
Catherine Wheel-Mad Dog (I can make this work--it slurs along much like I do from 7-10 am)

First Day At School:
Sonic Youth-Cinderella's Big Score (If I started school at age 30 maybe. And I went to Greyhound Elementary School. And the first bell rang at 10:30 at night.)

Falling In Love:
Solomon Grundy - Gone ("We will be together, we will be forever" all set to a Molly Ringwald/Pretty In Pink new wave beat. I'll totally take it.)

Fight Song:

Afghan Whigs - Crime Scene Pt. 1 (Stick it to my enemies, tonight.)

Breaking Up:
Eagles of Death Metal - I Want You So Hard (My friends broke us up, apparently)

Playing Cowboys & Indians in the Woods:
Lifter Puller - The Flex and the Buff Result (Fucking bizarre. We both ended up with songs about unsavory, big city grown-up stuff that comes directly before some real commandment-breaking. Mine is about a loan shark, and some threatened arson and murder. I guess "cowboys and indians" is just a big metaphor for drugs and murder these days. Fucking kids ruin everything.)

Nash Kato - Octoroon (much like my prom, vaguely about Laetitia Casta and making little sense otherwise.)


Swearing at Motorists - Lost Your Wig (one scene too early)

Mental Breakdown:
Foo Fighters - Tired of You (Good title. Not much to do with my breakdown. I guess my soundtrack was just bummed out by Lost Your Wig.)

Nels Cline Singers - Suspended Head (An instrumental. Dead on, in that it goes in a couple of different directions in just 4 minutes.)

Archers of Loaf-Ethel Merman (I'd like to think I turned out just like Ethel Merman, don't you?)

Getting Back Together:
The Hives - Knock Knock (Yee-ikes! I wonder if SHE knows we're back together.)

Mark Lanegan - Wish You Well (Sweet fucking christ. My filmed wedding contains a live-action Corpse Bride ripoff. Damn, I was hoping my movie'd be a little more original and not so cookie cutter.)

Birth of Child:
Patton Oswalt - 80's Metal (same comedy record as you. Guess what? Our kid's gay! Squibbidy Flabbidy Doo! Thank you, Night Ranger!)

Final Battle:
Mastodon - Seabeast (My final battle is apparently with Moby Dick. And it involves volume and grunting.)

Death Scene:
David Cross - Even Though I Am In The Closet, That Won't Prevent Me From Getting Cheap Laughs At The Expense of Homosexuals (This is turning out surprisingly accurate-I have always imagined I'd shuffle off the mortal coil during a David Cross show where he riffs on about something and titles it something completely different. Eerie.)

Funeral Song:
The Hold Steady-Citrus ("Hey whiskey, hey ginger, I come to you with rigid fingers" Take that, Moby Dick! This might actually be playing at my funeral, right after Brown Sugar and just before Rock For Light.)

End Credits:
Ted Leo - Since You Been Gone (I swear I'm not making this up. Some producer would go directly to this on purpose. The Kelly Clarkson original would've been pretty dope, too.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fountains of Why?

I managed what the kids called a "record store" throughout the 90's. My CD buying habit was colossal, and my thirst for information just as extreme. When operating at peak efficiency, I was buying a ton of CD's every month and reading just about every magazine I could (this is before the internet phased out everything good). Allegedly, this was all a job-related pursuit, but I did get a warm charge from my command of such a knowledgebase.

But I left that job in May 1999. And by Halloween of that year, my knowledge of CD's, their release dates, or what was hip had withered. I could no sooner quote a month's worth of release dates than I could a chronological list of American Vice-Presidents.

So when I stumbled across the news that one of my favorite bands (Fountains of Wayne) was putting out a new album on that very day, I was happy but not surprised that I didn't know it was coming. I returned home a little excited, fired up the iTunes Store online, and went right to my planned purchase. I don't know what spurred me to give a listen to the samples of each song, but I'm sorta glad I did. I wound up not buying Traffic and Weather.

Again, I'm a huge FOW enthusiast--I own all their previous releases and even bought Robbie Fulks' brilliant Fountains of Wayne Hotline single (mostly because Fulks has the good sense to produce a faithful homage at the same time he's skewering the band's airtight pop construction). But for some reason those newly released samples, while unmistakably the same band that's thrilled me in the past, didn't give me a reason to make room in my brain and my hard drive and my iPod for the full length tunes. It's one thing to put out a nice slice of More of the Same, but this sounded like Fountains of Wayne had spent a couple of months working with that fictitous Hotline. It certainly wasn't emphasizing the "new" in "new release". My affection toward their music wouldn't grow or shrink from this new collection of songs.

Now I just feel odd about the whole experience. I was caught unaware that a band I love was putting out a new CD, and now I'm almost bummed out that it sounded so unimportant and unnecessary. I wonder how long I'm going to hold out before breaking down and getting it, if I ever do.

Yeah, But Good Luck Pulling For The Twins This Year.

I don't get many chances to combine my love of sports with my love of music (particularly this genius band), so imagine how psyched I am to hear the Hold Steady performing Take Me Out To The Ballgame...

Maybe they can get Joe Mauer to return the favor with an acapella "Your Little Hoodrat Friend".

Monday, April 02, 2007

Guitar Hero II, Music Appreciation 0.

This conversation could have actually happened, or could actually be happening, right now:

Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" broadcasts through an iPod.

Dude I: I can play that.

Tim: You can? I didn't even know you played an instrument.

Dude I: Well, on Guitar Hero II. I can play it on the "Hard level.

That's like me saying, "I can throw a football seventy yards in the air. Well, on Madden 2007, I can."

What could have been a nice little gateway for the ADHD set to learn about some classic music, like Cheap Trick's Surrender, or Kiss' Strutter, or the above-mentioned Girlfriend, instead just becomes incidental background flotsam in a brightly colored typing contest.

You might think my venom is misplaced. You might think I'm covering some latent frustration at not being very skilled at the game. You'd be wrong.
After playing a round or two at a kid's birthday party (I'm skipping over the ridiculousness of a video game totally sucking the adults right out of the poor kid's celebration), I acquitted myself well enough. The players who were Really Into It, though... yeesh. In the Guitar Hero world, Dick Dale's Misirlou was just another big Donkey Kong to topple. Not only did they have no idea what they were listening to, their ignorance actually cemented my notion that knowing or appreciating the song actually hurts you in the game.

It's a game based on music for people who don't care about music, or don't even particularly like music.

Add this "marvel" to my list of Things I Wish Accidentally Gave People Syphilis.