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My Favorite Albums of All Time #10(ARCADE FIRE, SUBURBS)

Since early on, the Arcade Fire have been a band worth watching. They’ve managed to become a giant force in the music industry in just a few albums. All four albums are pretty great and interesting. Today though, we’re going to discuss my personal favorite, the critically acclaimed third album, “ The Suburbs.”

From the announcement of the album’s name and the slow leak of songs that were presented, you could tell this was going to be another lesson in how to craft an album that bridges the gap between indie rock and epic rock sing alongs. The Arcade Fire is so good at shaping an album into what they want to create at this point that It should be a crime. “The Suburbs” is no different. The first song, which also happens to be the title track, opens us up to a very realistic world. It’s a slow kind of Sunday song. The band has mentioned this album was created from trip that Win and wife Regine took all over the country, just driving around. The music is steady, and Win Butler’s use of piano here is the perfect undertone for the start of this album.

Listening to the opening track you can tell it’s very much a road record. There hasn’t been an album I’ve gotten in quite some time that’s as good for driving as this one. The winding opening of “The Suburbs” sets the stage for a driving record that is at times both peaceful and beautiful and dark and sinister. From there we treated to the hurried, dark opening of “Ready to Start.” I’ve always thought of the first song has a little teaser and an intro to the rest of the album, and the buildup and feel of the second song doesn’t do much to discourage that idea in my head. The great thing about this band is their ability to make songs that are at once pushing their sound in a new direction and reminding you of where they were previously. “Ready to Start” is easily recognized as an Arcade Fire song. At times in the music especially you get the vibe present throughout their Sophomore release “Neon Bible.” The whole song is quintessential Arcade Fire. This is also the second song in a perfect row of 5 great songs. Don’t get me wrong; the album is remarkable, but the first 5 songs are so impressively strong that it really builds the momentum and helps the rest of the album evolve and open eyes.

By “Modern Man” and “Rococo” you start the see the themes of the album building into one cohesive vision. I’ve mentioned this before, but the album to me is about the death of innocence. The struggles of this “Modern Man” are easy to relate to because we are all these people. You’re taught as a youngster growing up that everyone is special in their own way, but when we grow up we quickly realize that we’re not all special, and some of us are doomed for mediocrity. The band themselves are able to make music that is so thoughtful and powerful that you really at times forget that they weren’t always so prolific in the quality of output.

One of my favorite songs on the album is the feverish, and crazed “Empty Room.” From the violent violin opening to the immediate pace, this song is a rocker in a very unrocking way. Regine, finally allowing us to hear her voice on this recording, is frantically singing about the perils of growing up and the safety many of us have felt inside the four walls that make up our room. This is a clear example of the band making a lot of focused noise. At times you might think they’re losing control of the music, but not only is the music coming out of them so fast, they are mastering it and are growing in leaps and bounds as the thick, dense sounds exit their bodies. From then we’re immediately thrust into the Springsteen-esque “City of No Children.” The lyrics here are as good at telling a story as any other song on the album, and it’s a perfect entrance to the middle of the record, which is full of weight and meat.

This album came out three years after the previous record “Neon Bible.” Now, while the band did tour quite a bit for Bible, the growing success they were finding was instrumental in the band wanting to take some time away and grow as artists. You can absolutely tell the amount of structure and overall power that this band had gained during the down time between albums. Songs like “ Half Light 1 & 2” are place holders for the momentum, and they manage to marry the concepts on this album. On one hand you have the knowledge of knowing that your once youthful passion may have been misplaced because you didn’t know what the world actually had to offer, but on the other hand, at least you got to experience it. You’re likely a better person. Sometimes it’s a good thing to put your faith in things you aren’t sure about.

In doing these, I’ve tried very hard to give a detailed but less song oriented structure to the pieces, but when the album is this amazing, it’s hard not to discuss everything you’re hearing. That’s the power of this album. You can’t but help feel like you’re part of something when Win Butler is echoing his pain about things “have changed so much since I was a little child” in the finale of “Half Light II(Celebration). Trust me, this isn’t a wonderfully happy record, but the power and weight behind the words are just unifying and power in a very cathartic way.

The album then switches gears a bit and brings us to the one two sequence of “Suburban War” and the thick, heavy sounds of “Month of May.” “War” whirls down a slow, pretty path and again the pain is palpable in Butlers voice as well as the instruments of the other band members. One of my favorite parts of the entire album is the shifting of gears that occurs at the end of this track. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just a flood of sound and the vocals are as haunting and ethereal as you’ve ever heard in an Arcade Fire album. From then we’re abruptly thrust into the “Month Of May.” This has to be one of the best and more overtly aggressive songs in the bands whole catalog. When I first heard it I couldn’t belive it was the same band. It’s easily the closest this band has ever gotten to punk rock. The drums and guitar are so forceful and strong that you almost lose track of the general concept behind the song. But in the end it’s ok, because the song perfectly kicks ass and takes names in the way this band hadn’t done previously.

One of the best little tricks of the album is its reuse of lyrics. “Month of May” and “ Wasted Hours” are the best examples. “First they built the roads then the built the town” are both used and also used in different way. “Wasted Hours” has all the gorgeous tones of classic Arcade Fire. It might be the most open song on the album. When vocalist Butler wants to lay it on in an emotional way, he knows exactly what to do. This album has stayed so strong in my head because of this ability. It’s the perfect album for the moments when I think about my developmental years. Kids would drive around for hours, hoping confidently for a bright future. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes you wake up years later and it’s awash in a mist of troubles and failures. That for me is the concept behind the “Suburbs.”

“We Used to Wait” is a solid start to the last chapter of this album. The piano is great here, and although the tempo doesn’t really pick up until the conclusion, it’s a very good song that goes hand in hand with the tracks that both follow it and came before it. From here we venture back to the suburbs for the modern-day of the Sprawls. “Sprawls I(Flatland)” is a hauntingly painful song. It stinks of the failures we’ve discussed earlier. The pain behind Butlers voice here are the most clear they are the whole album. This leads us into what is quite possibly the strongest song the band has ever written. “Sprawls II(Mountains Beyond Mountains)”has a very retro 80′s vibe to it, and you can clearly hear the makings of styles that would become the basis for the next album. It’s a at times down beat but danceable song. Like the rest of the album, it contains moments of freedom and feeling invincible. Also contained are clear-cut downers about the realities of life outside of the “Suburbs.” Regine’s voice soars on the track, and it’s clear to see why it was such a joining song for the band. They’re all at their best here, and Regine especially hits it out of the park with her unique but beautiful singing.

The album closer is a slow reminder of where we began. “The Suburbs(Continued)” is a slow but appropriate down wind sound that wraps up the album. As a person who loves adventures and overwhelmingly positive experiences, the lyrics “If I could have it back, all the time that we Wasted, I’d only waste it again” speaks to the free spirit inside many of us that loves for the responsibilities and rewards that come with adulthood, but also yearns for the time when this were beautiful and everything worked out. For us, that was in “The Suburbs.”

Next time, we’re getting down number 9 in the countdown with the first album that taught me to love concept albums. This is in particular is an epic journey of a man who was tortured and held captive in the wall inside of his mind and his heart. Thanks for reading.

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My Favorite albums of all time #11(NINE INCH NAILS, YEAR ZERO)

Anyone that knows me well is very much aware of my nearly life long love of Trent Reznor and his work as Nine Inch Nails. From an early age, the music just spoke to me. I really can’t put into words how important it’s been in giving me an outlet for my creativity, as well as helping me through some of the worse times of my life. The album we’re discussing today is one of the lesser known albums. Many casual fans probably don’t think about this record too often, but when I heard it everything changed for me. I’d force my now-wife to exclusively listen to this album for months on end. There was something about the concept, the landscape of a world where things had gotten worse and worse, that reached out to my imagination and lead me to fall in love with this with thie complex and interesting idea.

The quality of the songs aren’t anything to shudder at either. This album finds it way onto the countdown at number 11. It’s one of two Reznor records that will be discussed here(You’ll find out about the other one in a few weeks). Anyway, I present my take on the Nine Inch Nails classic but sometimes overlooked “Year Zero.”

From the opening of the album, it’s almost as if NIN are on a mission for the rights of the free world. The album is set in a not-so-distant future where governments rule with an iron fist, and they are willing to do anything to crush the rebel alliances, if you will. Reznor’s concept for this came through long talks about the landscape of the world, should we keep going in the same direction we’re currently heading. “Beginning of the End,” the second track on the record comes to us with a drum beat very close to the Clash track “My Sharona.” The comparison is impossible to ignore, but it works very well. Reznor and company simply know what they’re doing production wise. Fan or not, you can’t deny the quality of the sound on any record he produces. “Year Zero” is no exception.

From the first listen of this record I was sucked in. I had a copy in my car, and my house, for months. I couldn’t let anything else enter my brain. My wife hated it. I think one of the reasons I gravitated to it so feverishly was because of the brilliant internet A.R.G. Campaign that went along with the promotion of the record. Clues were left at venues, found on streets, and websites with propaganda were rising up on random pages all over the net. Fans went full on crazy trying to unearth all the background to this “Year Zero” world, and I was most certainly one of the them. What can I say, it was a great time to be a NIN fan.

Listening to the record now, you can see how well thought out it all was. You picture yourself trying to figure out a way to get through the desolation while the cold, erratic beats and chants of “Survivalism” are echoing in your brain, and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.

Much of the album has a natural progression in regards to the world we’re witnessing. Songs like “Vessel” profoundly paint the picture of required obedience from the government, while others like “Me, I’m Not” blend sounds you might hear on “Prettty Hate Machine” with more refined and craftier production values. The beats on this record, especially on “Me, I’m Not” and “The Warning” are some of the best Reznor’s ever come up with.

This record has one of the most flamboyant, tongue in cheek songs in all of Reznor’s career. “Capitol G” hits you with strong electronically cold beats while the vocals reek of smugness in exactly the way it’s needed to convey the point of a government who clearly “don’t give a shit about the temperature of Guatemala” The character in this song has disdain for people under him, but power and money have filled him with evil. You get the impression as a listener that he is aware that the change has taken place inside of him, but frankly, he’s having too much fun being the ruler to give a shit. Throughout the song you can clearly see him trying to rationalize the change, and to let everyone know it could happen to them. It’s simultaneously one of the most powerful stories on the album while still managing to be a song that you isn’t mentioned nearly as often as it should.

Nine Inch Nails is a band very well-known for experimentation, and “Year Zero” is no exception. “My Violent Heart,” “Another Version of the Truth,” and “The Great Destroyer” all showcase things not really used in earlier records. “Heart” is deeply dark and disturbing, but the music really only gets chaotic during the choruses. But let me tell you, the choruses are damn heavy and aggressive. That’s the song with the most animosity for the world these characters are being forced to inhabit. The populace is about to land a strike against the established New World Order, and they’re willing to sacrifice anything to get the freedom they are owed. “The Great Destroyer,” track number thirteen on the record, has an amazing sound to it, and it been discussed that the beats used here inadvertently gave way to the current Dub Step craze. It’s an unfortunate comparison simply because Reznor has been pushing the boundaries of what you can do in electronically based music, and the dumbed down effect of most dub step tracks doesn’t hold a candle to anything he’s done under the banner of Nine Inch Nails.

One of the most terrifying songs on the record is “The Warning.” As seen on the cover art of the album, “The Warning” comes in the effect of a giant hand that “comes down from the sky.” Theories as to the origin of the hand are all over the theme of the album and the internet campaign. Some say it’s a literal hand that is meant to remind people who’s in charge,
while my favorite theory simply states the leaders of this world have drugged the population in order to make the world easier to control. The song is haunting, and intimidating in a slow, cold, gaze, type of way. Years ago, this record was planned to be the basis of an HBO show, but last I heard, it was likely not going to happen. It’s a damn shame too, because I would have loved to see the world they could have created.

So much of the albums flows concisely together, and all of it helps to serve the story and make you fear for the future. “The Greater Good” is a slow, ominous dance track full of subtle references to be being overtaken and unwilling to fight back. It’s always been a very kinky song to me. Power is sexy to people, and some people want to be part of that world, even if they’re the ones who are being violated slowly and thrillingly.

You might expect the album to start reaching a conclusion in the story, but that’s what brilliant about this concept album. The story isn’t one that will end until people decide to stand up for themselves. Most albums that tell a story have a clear end, but this is less of a linear story and more of a glimpse into the overall shape of the earth at this point. “The Greater Good” leads the listener to the perils of being in a world where the “Great Destroyer” will come to bring about carnage in the shape of an overthrown governmental body.

From there, we’re treated to a piece that has equal parts darkness and happiness. Well, not happiness, but a chance for a new beginning. “Another Version of the Truth” is probably the prettiest of the albums selections, and it has a certain amount of positivity that Reznor actually can do very well, but for some reason it doesn’t peek out too much. For me, this ranks with “The Fragile” track “La Mer” as one of the most instrumentally gorgeous, textural songs he’s ever recorded.

The last two tracks though, really nail home the over-reaching theme of the album. Perhaps the war has in fact ended. Track fifteen, “In This Twilight,” gives hope to the world that peace is coming on their terms. The visuals that accompanied this song on the subsequent tours also are breathtaking. The fires in the sky and the world is shown to us with the type of images you see during the opening of “Blade Runner,” and I’d be shocked if it wasn’t done on purpose. “Zero Sum,” which serves as the last images we’ll see of the world of “Year Zero,” is perhaps one of the best closing songs on any NIN record. For me, it’s an excellent closer and the emotion slowly pouring out in the track is impressive. Many of the vocals are on a lower scale, but you hear the pain in Reznor’s voice, and the music only serves to make the statements even more powerful. The theme in the song reminds us that we’re all just “Zero’s and One’s” to the powers that be. It’s a sad but ultimately true reminder that people who crave power seek powerful positions.

“Year Zero” was meant as a reminder of what could happen to this world we call home when we put our trust in corruption, lies, and power-hungry bodies that only have one interest. The album closes with Reznor screaming “shame on us” for the power we gave to these people. In closing, the album has had a great impact on me, and it’s an album that is full of warnings and breaches of trust among fellow humans, but also one that can serve to remind people that we are all capable of doing equally amazing and also horribly cruel things. You have to decide which side you want to be on.

Next time, I’ll be talking about a band that went from the sadness of a funeral to the hopefulness you feel as a kid growing up in Suburbia in just three amazing albums. Thanks for reading!

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My Favorite Albums of all time #12(GORILLAZ, GORILLAZ)

In the winter of 2001, I purchased the self titled debut album from the “Gorillaz.” I was super enthusiastic about getting it, and based on how much I loved the lead single “Clint Eastwood,” I thought it would be amazing. Initially, I was wrong. Very wrong. I hated it. It made no sense to me, had no flow, and, in my opinion, it was a jumbled mess.

Months passed, and it sat on my shelf. I was completely over it and considered it a loss. Some time after that I was hanging with a good friend of mine. Hanging out, drinking, and chatting, the record was playing. Perhaps I had changed in the preceding months, but this album I once loathed had taken on a new life, and it spoke to me. From that point on, I couldn’t get enough. Every song was a completely different feeling, and they were all good. The album felt to me, and still does in a way that a really interesting house party is: Many different types of people and attitudes are there, but it still works and everyone has a good time. Today we discuss the legendary self titled debut album from the wildly imaginative and all over the map “Gorillaz.”

If you’re a fan of Blur, even in a loose way, you might have thought this would be somewhat in line with Albarns work with the band, but you’d be dead wrong. Even from the opening crispness of “Re-Hash” you get the feeling this isn’t like any album you’ve ever heard. Helping to push the boundaries of what was popular at the time is the intimidating cast of musicians Albarn got to make this record. From the list found on the website and various other pieces on the album, the recordings were done by Albarn, Dan the Automator on beats, Cass Brown, Jason Cox, Junior Dan, Ibrahim Ferrer( who sings on the exquisite “Latin Simone”), DelthaFunkyHomosapien(also known as Deltron3030), Miho Hatori on vocals, Kid Koala on dj stylings, and finally Tina Weymouth. That’s quite a bit of people, and it truly helps to make the album its own living, breathing entity. The other extremely important element in this band though, isn’t musical at all. It’s the visual side of things. This band after all, was billed as a cartoon band. A very serious, wonderous cartoon band, but a cartoon band one in the same. The person that brought this to life is Jamie Hewlett. The visual aspect also has members. 2D is responsible for vocals, while Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs and the ever interesting Noodle bring up the rear and make the sound what it needs to.

Getting back to the album though, by the fourth song you’re enveloped in a mesmerizing spectrum of sound and elements that go out of its way to open doors for the listener. “ New Genius (Brother)” has a little trip hop element to it, but it goes beyond the traditional trip hop elements. It’s a very spooky song, and like most of the other songs on the record, it sounds totally different from anything else.

The next song, “Clint Eastwood,” is of course the calling card the band used to announce themselves, and it’s still the best, most well-known song the band has released to date. The beat is insane, and the vocals featured by Del are spectacular to say the least. It’s been mentioned that at an early age Deltron’s mother gave him a book about how to write songs and rhymes, and when he wrote these verses he, in fact, used that book. Upon the song getting Gold record status, he gave his mom the award, and thanked her for the book. I have no proof that this is actually true, but it’s an amazing story and I felt it should be included. The song has a constant flow and a jamming quality to it that really makes the song feel whole.

The way the album flows while still managing to sound individual is just as wonderful and brilliant as the songs themselves. In the course of a few songs, we’re given immediate dirty notes(“Punk”), transported to a quiet field in the dead of night to watch the stars and feel small(“Sound Check (Gravity)”), then we find ourselves in an interstellar dance club dancing under blue lights and swerving to the grooves brought to us by “Double Bass.”

“Gravity” especially is a song of major atmospheric epicness. The production quality on the song is second to none, and the turntable effects really help to make the song a standout track on the record. Not enough can be said about the production really. Albarns, or 2D’s vocal as you might say, go hand in hand with the empty space feeling the song conjured up. Multiple times I’ve imagined listening to this song on a dark, but clear night with a million celestial bodies as my only companion. In my opinion that’s what this song was meant for. Long nights lost in the majesty of space and time.

“Rock the Bass,” the tenth number, opens up with a powerful horn entry that’s quickly joined by another, albeit different flavor in the funky spectrum. The song has all of the elements for a great house party, and yet again it’s made even better by Deltron. His verses here are better in my opinion than on the other contributions he makes on the record. That’s what is great about this album. Every song is wildly different, but none of them are sub par in any way. It’s more than likely the most wide-ranging, eclectic popular record to have major success in the 2000′s. There’s simply no other band that can bring this variation of style to one platform and excel at it continually. Another favorite of mine finds us next. The track is called “19-2000” and it’s the poppiest, jangely awesome song on the album. The beat is simple, but often times that’s the best approach. Things don’t have to be complicated to be amazing, and everything from the beat, to the chorus, to the perfect execution in the music video help to make this song one you aren’t likely to instantly forget. At the heart of the song though, it’s a purely fun, danceable track that is meant to inspire movement.

Now, since you’ve come this far, you might expect the last for songs to begin to tie in to the rest of the album. In a way, it does though. The way I mean is that all of these last four are as weird and independent as the rest of the record. “Latin Simone” is a heartbreaking ballad full of South American charm and even though I don’t actually know what the singer is saying, it seems clear that it’s a broken heart ballad, and the listener is channelled to a vast country side as the final phase of a doomed relationship comes to an end. From there, “Starshine” brings us a weird, “Twin Peaks”-esque vibe. I picture million of ants climbing mountains in search of the answer to life and gradually realizing the answer is only Chaos. It’s a simplistic, but gorgeously mixed song. On a good pair of headphones, you feel almost overtaken at times by the little touches you might otherwise miss.

Album closer “M1 A1” excellently opens up with a sample from the George A. Romero classic “Day of the Dead.” In the film, this man is searching through a city that has been abandoned after a zombie outbreak. The bass line in the song is growing angry under the sample serves as the perfect complement to the voice, but pretty soon we’re thrust into the actual song, and the bass line gives way to the fresh drums and crazy vocals and perhaps the loosest section of the whole album. If you’re going to make an album as weird and challenging as this one, this song is not only the natural choice for the closer, but it may very well be the only choice.

In the end, I’m thrilled I was exposed to the album again. You never know what things will change in your head, and what you may miss out on if you don’t try again. This album is one of the best examples of music that make me look outside of my normal box and try new things, and as you can see by the placement on this list, it’s one of the best thing’s I’ve ever heard.

Next week, we kick things off with an album that was as much inspired by a post apocalyptic world where citizens are scared as it by the ARG campaign that saw this industrial visionary try new things he’d never attempted before. Thanks for reading.

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My Favorite Albums of all time #13(GREEN DAY, AMERICAN IDIOT)

By this time in the band’s career, they had released multiple releases that reached a giant audience. From “Dookie” to “Warning,” Green Day kept the same themes in line and propelled themselves continually in the world of Punk Pop. Even now when you think about it “American Idiot” was a huge gamble. Many bands conceive of giant pieces of music under a singular banner or concept, but for a band that had nothing left to really prove, they took on the task to make an epic album that harkened back to the conceptual masterpieces in the vain of the Who, Pink Floyd, and others.

In this exercise, they not only succeeded with an album that has all the hooks you’d expect from this band, but they made an album that is easily their best known record to date. Today I talk about what I consider an overlooked masterpiece of popular music, “American Idiot” by Green Day.

Upon starting the album, you quickly find yourself back in Green Day world. The immediate guitar, bass and drums don’t even build up. It simply starts. Say what you will about the path this band has taken at times, but they know what to do in terms of popular rock music. The lead single and title track, “Ameircan Idiot,” is one of the catchiest songs on the album, and is a perfect opening that compliments the rest of the record. The band was obviously upset about the state of the world and the current president (Bush references are scattered throughout), but this album proves that while the band had matured in terms of lyrical content and themes, they still were able to be pull you in and remind you where they came from.

This is also the album where they somehow managed to pull off two nine minute songs. The first, “Jesus of Subarbia” finds us at the second song. You get the impression from a listening stand point that the protagonist of the album is a jaded teen who, like many humans his age, are just trying to navigate the world through having mindless fun but also working out how to exist in this often cruel world. This is probably the closest Green Day will ever get to the always evolving paces you hear in Tool songs, but that’s totally ok. They aren’t the same type of band at all, but this song weaves and goes in multiple different directions before ending. The other long ass song, “ Homecoming,” finds us at almost the same part of the last half of the album. Coming right before the closing number, it explores similar themes, but by that point the story has taken a turn for the worse, and you find the narrator and main character in a rough place.

By this point in the band’s career, they had many, many radio hits. The list is pretty impressive if you look at. Here though, the manage to add multiple songs to that list. The first finds us in the form of “Holiday.” This is probably one of the top 5 songs on the record, and it’s quite possibly the closest in style to the bands earlier works, The story pauses a little bit here, but you still get the meaning behind it. Armstrong is chanting in the way that great leaders do, and he’s imploring everyone to wake up and join the cause that will benefit the whole world. It’s highly political song, and Green Day nail it out of the park. The song is followed by “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a song that is as melodramatic as the title suggests. I’ve always thought it worked so well because it’s from the point of view of a teenager struggling. A teenager would think in the way that the world is hopeless and nothing matters. The drums at the end of the track are spot on also. They add a much-needed epicness to the vulnerability prevalent throughout the song.

It’s at this point in the story where the main character ventures out in search of a place where he can find himself and figure out what works for him. Soon enough he meets the title character from the song “St. Jimmy.” Jimmy always struck me as a wild character who brings the best out of the people around him. The song is as immediate and chaotic as the description of the character himself. This is probably the song closest to early recordings from the band, although they’re much better musicians by this point in their career. Multiple other characters are presented in the second half of the album. “She’s A Rebel,” is pretty cute and dry, and you get what the person is about pretty much right away. She relates to the character in terms of freedom. She’s able to show him more of the world he wants to be in, and quickly they find themselves exploring the world together.

The tenth track of the album “Letterbomb,” begins with a lovely but wounded sounding voice ( band? courtesy of the always great Kathleen Hanna) coming through a pair of scratchy old headphones. From then the song takes a turn and the destruction is clear. War in a personal way is taking place. It’s been suggested that “Jesus of Subarbia” and “St. Jimmy” are the same person. Think of it in terms of “Fight Club.” The main character in this album is the Edward Norton narrator, and Jimmy is the Brad Pitt. This is the song where they’re clearly at odds, and this are coming to a head. Jimmy has been good for the main character, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

The next track, probably the best song on the whole album, is “Wake me up When September Ends.” This song is the album piece that works best in a non linear way. It gives to the story immensely, but it’s also able to easily stand on its own legs. It’s an incredibly powerful song, and for personal reasons it’s one of my favorite of the bands songs. The guitars are able to bring much-needed good vibes to the unfortunate events occurring through the vocals and lyrics. This is the point in the story where you get the impression that the main character knows that his body is the battle ground among two very different styles of life. Jesus and Jimmy are fighting for control of his soul, and he knows it. Jimmy has to go.

As the closing of the album reaches us, “Jesus of Suburbia” pulls the exact thing that the Norton character from “Fight Club” does. He takes the “life” of the entity slowly building in his subconscious. He kills “Jimmy.” This gives him the freedom to fully realize his potential, but in the process he loses something precious.

It’s my theory that the female character we’re introduced to in “Extraordinary Girl” is the same person that’s discussed in the final track “Whatsername.” The song itself is a proper conclusion musically to this album, but it ends in sadness. The now centered and steady main character is doing much better but important pieces are missing. Th lyrics are excellent at presenting you with the facts surrounding the story and explaining what happened after the departure of Jimmy. The lyrics “I made a point to burn all of the photographs” doesn’t meant that literally. “When Jimmy was destroyed, his parting gift to the main character was to eliminate all of the memories of the amazing, or “Extraordinary Girl” we meet earlier in the story. He deprives “Jesus of Suburbia” of the person he loves most. The girl has gone somewhere not close to the area the story is now in, and without those images and thoughts he has no hope of tracking his potential soul mate down.

That’s the magic in this album. Green Day as a band manage to create not only their best and most innovative album, but also an album that touched millions of people with their powerful themes of struggling and powerlessness. This album was the one that properly introduced a whole new generation to the capabilities of this often dismissed group, but reminded people from an older age demographic that guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool were still capable of kicking complete ass when they put their minds into a powerful, singular story line.

Next, I’ll be sharing how I went from hating an album by a bunch of animated creatures who loved changing the style on every song and who had a penchant for singing about the director of “Million Dollar Baby.” Thanks for reading.

Aside

My Favorite albums of all Time #14(WEEZER, PINKERTON)

Time is a funny thing. In the early 90′s Weezer came out with the classic “Blue Album.” A smash upon its release, these guys could have done anything they wanted for a follow-up to one of the best-selling rock albums the year of its release. In fact, they did do whatever they wanted, except it didn’t really turn out the way people had hoped.

At the time, the bands sophomore album “Pinkerton,” crashed and burned and Weezer went from being the next big thing to just another band that only had one good album in them. Like I said, time is funny, and often fickle. Along the way. something amazing starting to happen. People started to realize that this second album, wasn’t a flop at all. It was brilliant, emotional, very dark album in ways that it’s predecessor wasn’t, and since then it’s become known as one of, if not the best album the band has ever recorded. I present to you Weezer’s 1996 once vastly underrated second album, “Pinkerton.”

Almost from the opening of “Tired of Sex” you can tell this isn’t a happy pop rock record. The bass line is rough in ways it hadn’t been before, and the forlorn lyrics set you up for one of the most overlooked albums to come out at that time. I’d like to say I was one of the people who fell in love with this album when it came out, but I wouldn’t discover it until about 4 years later. It was late, but it was also perfect timing. At the time of the release I wasn’t really capable of understanding the depth of Cuomo’s pain, but years later, it spoke to me and only me.

The story goes that Rivers Cuomo had decided to attend Harvard after the massive success of the first album, and in the process of his studies, had fallen in love with a girl. He would never formally meet this girl, but for a romantic meeting the person isn’t really a requirement. Also helping with the somber, darkened tone of the album was the fact that Rivers’ was going through a painful procedure to add length to one of his legs so he could be on even ground. This was done by turning knobs that attached to bolts in his legs. Sounds like fun right?

“Pinkerton” perfectly sets the mood for a lonely, cold winter up north, and in the end, it’s the ultimate depressing album. The reason it works so well also has to do with how polar opposite it is from the first album. In the way the “Blue Album” had tinges of sadness among light positively themed songs, “Pinkerton” has downright unsettling songs intermingled with the occasional more chipper passages. This doesn’t happen too often though.

“Why Bother?” has a particular downtrodden feel to it. I know for certain that I’ve felt the “fuck the world” vibe before, as thought it wasn’t worth it to even try. This song is that emotion. This is a band that doesn’t care, and they’re upset at the situation, and they intend to take it out on everyone paying attention. The next selection, “Across the Sea,” might be the most lovely song on the album. The piano beginning is sweet, and the lyrics on this track are some of the best on the whole collection of songs. We’re treated to a true story about a fan from Japan who was fascinated by the band, and over time Rivers’ becomes quite enamored with her, and this young ladies gift for loving the band is the love of the main songwriter and a song specifically about her. How cool would that be? But also, the song still presents the pain of wondering if the person you’re meant to be with is stranded on an island all the way across the world waiting for your hearts to be together.

If you’re hoping the second half of the record is a little lighter, you’re sadly mistaken. In fact, it’s probably worse. Back to back we’re treated to the chipper sounding but lyrically bitter “The Good Life,” which is then followed by the downright strange “El Scorcho.” “The Good Life” reeks of resentment. I imagine a man in his late 40′s who’s been burned multiple times by people in general, and he’s just trying to get his style back. The slow down and subsequent buildup on the song are also one of the best decisions the band made. They’re able to jump into a dreamy tune from a aggressive one, and the upward momentum is reminiscent of the “Blue Album” track “Only in Dreams.” To this day the song is one of my favorites on the album, and it should be yours too.

“El Scorcho” comes at us from left field, and it’s on of the few songs that is both catchy and isn’t wrist slitting depressing. Witnessing thousands of people sing this song is still one of the coolest things ever, and the funkiness of song makes it a good time for all.

When I first got this record, my life was vastly different. I was depressed about my state in life, and had no idea what to do about it. I was living at home, had no girlfriend, and no prospects for one. This album was my escape. I could relate perfectly to the angst presented here, and through time, and a growth of maturity, this album helped me to figure things out.

“Falling for You,” followed by “ Butterfly,” close the album, but it get’s worse before it get’s better. In fact it doesn’t get better. “Falling for You” is helpless in the same way that love can be. The band is playing like they have no idea how to continue, and of course, the person Rivers’ is falling for may or may not feel the same way. This is the appropriate time to discuss the guitars on this record. Brian Bell absolutely tears it down on multiple songs, and in some ways, it’s the glue that keeps the songs going. This band, while known for catchy songs, is also at times over looked in the department of playing ability. They all know what they’re doing, and they manage to bring upbeat shades to even the darkest of tracks.

Speaking of dark tracks, the album concludes with the horribly sad and powerful “Butterfly.” For me, and I’ve mentioned this before, “Butterfly” is a metaphor for things damaged or broken. You mean to do the right thing, but it’s difficult at times to know what that thing is. In this final track, Cuomo thinks he can hold onto beauty in his mason jar, but what he doesn’t understand is that beautiful things aren’t meant to be caged up, and if you cage them, they will “Wither all Away.” As the final verses of “I’m sorry” quietly creep into our ears, the album takes its final victim. The victim of course, being the fact that this is life changing album full of darkness and upset feelings is also one of the most underrated albums of all time.

“Pinkerton” is the antithesis of the joyful, fun “Blue Album,” but that’s why it works so well. These guys aren’t the same band they used to be, and that’s ok. Next time, we’ll be discussing an album from a bunch of San Francisco punks who brought their A game with this colossal, anthemic concept album. Thanks for reading!

Aside

My Favorite Albums of all Time #15(NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL, IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA)

Some albums just hit you the first time you listen to it. This record was one of those for me. Through listening and experiencing the force of this record, I came to understand that not only was this one of the best albums ever, but that something from the little Louisiana town of Ruston could have something that was worth anything at all. I present to you the magnum opus from Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

Even now, very few bands have the electric, buzzy song that these gentlemen perfected. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” is still maybe one of five albums in my life that I’ve been able to play back to back and not be bored. The big draw of course, is how Mangum’s anything but normal voice can draw you in, while other members(Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes) keep the off the wall sound blazing behind him.

From the opening notes of “The King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1 & 2,” you can feel the honesty behind Jeff’s voice. In modern music it simply wouldn’t work, but here it portrays a certain eerie, but comforting vibe. Some people can’t get into it, and that’s fine. Certain others though, not only get it, but are drawn to it. It’s easily one of the best, most signature voices I’ve ever heard. It’s been noted several times that the Arcade Fire were influenced greatly by this band, and you can tell at by both Mangum’s and Butlers distinct and honest voices. Butler’s voice in some points is very much an homage to that of Mangums.Arcade Fire even signed to the record label Merge because of their involvement with NMH. That how important Neutral Milk Hotel is to the indie rock scene. One of the current biggest names in music was greatly influenced by them.

By the third song, which happens to be the title track of the record, you’re completely engrossed in what is still a unique sound. What this album does is it manages to deliver us to an unhappy place. That place of course, is the world during the time of World War II, and more importantly to the world of Anne Frank, the little teenage girl who was trying to adjust to a time where she was told she wasn’t needed. In the Aeroplane isn’t really a gentle, loving album. It’s a sad reminder of the evils of man. Mangum has never said it out right, but in interviews and shows he has mentioned the albums core subject, which is why people think this is his letter to a beyond this world Frank, and how he wishes he could save her.

The urge to save her is especially obvious in a song called “Two-Headed Boy.” It’s an immediate song which focuses only on Mangum’s voice and his acoustic guitar. It’s one of the more bittersweet tracks on the record, and it’s near the end where you feel the worst about the events that inspired this album. Many of the songs here evoke a certain sadness that is punctuated by the pain in not only the music, but by the loneliness in Mangum’s voice. We’re then treated to a little something reminiscent of a funeral march, complete with slow drums and haunting, somber horns. As a person lucky enough to see this band perform live, this section truly gives the listener goose bumps.

Following that, the upbeat sounds of “Holland 1945” are presented to us. The upbeat nature only concerns the music though. This is probably the most obvious reference to Anne Frank. He’s desperately trying to free her and save her from the ugly world she was never supposed to witness. This is also probably one of their best known songs besides the title track. It’s my favorite for sure. The music just brings me back to a time that was more simple. It’s a beautiful song, but like much of this bands work, it has a dark undertone that is present if you choose to allow the lyrics and methods of storytelling to stay with you in your heart.

The next highlight of the album comes in the form of the long, but very much necessary “Oh Comely.” The opening vocals of this song are perhaps among my favorite lyrics from any band. This song is just insane, but in a good way. Mangum is able to bring more heart and soul than most full bands could. One of the major influences to this band was the never mentioned enough R.E.M., and you can tell in the way the song are not only structured, but the personal torment Jeff Mangum seems to be giving to these stories. Like I’ve mentioned before, some of the most therapeutic music is often the darkest, and when mentioning this album, it’s easy to see why. The band is giving us a piece of their bodies, and letting us experience things from their point of view. A musician, or artist in general can do no better than opening themselves up and letting the world peek in, even if just for a moment. For me, the most heart wrenching part of not only “Oh Comely,” but the whole album, comes after the hauntingly hum done by Mangum, where he laments about not being able to save her and her family in “Some sort of Time machine.” He goes into great descriptions here discussing bodies buried in a mass grave, next to the people who were tormented in the same way she was, and how fragile life can be.

The last three songs showcase the same somber, fearful emotions of the previous songs. “Ghost” might be the song with the most funk on the album, but its still an eye-opening, slightly anthemic piece of music. The drums and instant kick in the song are it’s best features, and in it’s in this song where it seems to cement the Anne Frank theory. By writing this album and memorializing her life, she will never die, and people will always be aware of the tragedy that took not only her life, but millions of others. “[Untitled Track]” follows, and while it has no lyrics, it more than makes up in they way it kicks total ass. It might be the dirtiest track on the whole album. From the opening strums, it builds and builds to a confrontation of guitar, drums, and what sounds very much like bagpipes. The horns also make themselves known in the battle for control of sound.

As the album concludes though, we’re treated to the slow burn of the perfectly positioned “ Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2.” The opening always reminds me of a weird Polanski film. I imagine a shot of a over head light spinning under the force of a ceiling fan and the camera going in circular motions blurring the scene. The scene then comes into focus at the same time as Mangums voice clearly shows up. The track has long held a beautiful, alternative form of a nursery rhyme. Mangum is quietly serenading us as we drift to a wonderful world where everything is as it should be. After all, he even says “In my Dreams You’re Alive.” That pure love and happiness. Lyrically, this is likely the most interesting song. The band is just awesome at imagery, and on this, the last track of the album, they make sure you won’t ever forget it.

This album has been a staple in my life for many years, and each time I step into the suit of the album, it’s spot and placement in my heart grows a little bit more. In retrospect, I’m glad I found it so long after it came out. If it had found me in ’98, I likely would have hated it and would have avoided it forever, but it found me at the right time, and has brought me tons of happiness.

Next week we’ll be discussing an album that is extremely dark, and was dismissed early on because it wasn’t “Blue” like the previous record, but an album that has come to be known as the bands great work. Thanks for reading.

Aside

My Favorite Albums of all Time #16(PORTISHEAD, DUMMY)

Portishead has always been a pretty interesting band. They blur lines left and right, and combine genre’s that you wouldn’t automatically think would work. So far though, the band has been less than prolific in the amount of output we’ve seen. Three studio albums, one live album, and a few one-off single are all we’ve seen over the bands twenty year career. Having said that though, with a band like this, you can’t really fault them for taking their time to correctly present their vision, when the ultimate vision ends up being so thoughtful, solid, and beautiful. Today, we’re talking about their first album, the modern masterpiece known as “Dummy”

Let me first say that in a world full of unoriginal bands with no impressive ideas, Portishead manages to sit atop a mountain with a few other vastly important bands that are still making music that is years ahead of anything the mainstream audience might ever experience. I mention that because their first album “Dummy” is the album that started the upward mobility. Released in August of 1994, it’s hardly a typical album that would have come out at that time of year. It’s not a summertime, warm record at all. From the opening of “Mysterons” you get the harsh, but often calculated ambiance that the band (vocalist Beth Gibbons, and multi instrumentalists Geoff Barlow and Adrian Utley) have created for us. An interesting tidbit about the band, before the recording of this album the band only consisted of Gibbons & Barlow, but after working so well with Utley, he was brought on to be the third member, and that’s still the core lineup that the band uses today.

If you think about the music of the times, a few things come to mind. One, does this album sound even remotely close to any of the modern more well-known music being released at that time? Of course not, but that’s why unknown bands are sometimes the best. They can survive and create without the restrictions of big level record companies, and in this case, it helps to cement a great bands legacy. The second thought that occurred to me was what other now regarded classic alternative albums had come out that year. Nine Inch Nails “The Downward Spiral,” Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” and Tori Amos’ “Under the Pink” all were released in the same year. With all of those great albums, I’d be surprised if that didn’t help “Dummy” to get a little bit more attention than it would have gotten had it been released during a time where the thirst for “alternative” music wasn’t at an all time high.

One of the best things about this band is the skill they have to combine sounds and textures. Gibbons voice is reminiscent of a cabaret singer, quietly vocalizing in a dark, smoky red-lit bar at two in the morning. The sultry, painful voice, combined with the precise use of a drum machine and synthesizer make the overall sound of the band impressive. It’s especially obvious on tracks like “It Could be Sweet,” and the track that follows it “Wandering Star.” Having purchased this album on vinyl, it’s really the way it was meant to be heard. The album on its own has a very warm quality to it, but on record it’s even more undeniable. The wobbly but correct beats on “Wandering Star” are probably one of the most electric beats on the whole album. The album has so many layers to it that it’s hard to focus on one at a time, but that’s what’s great bands do. They add layers that might not work on their own, but together, it’s radiant and glorious. Most great bands are good at this gentle art, and Portishead is among those great activators of sound.

One of the cinematic, epic songs on the whole album is “ It’s a Fire.” The symphonic beginning quickly dissolves and gives way to the quiet of a piano behind Beth’s voice, until the other beats slowly bleed through, forcing you to acknowledge them. Her voice here is one of the more lovely parts of the whole album, and it’s also one of the few parts where you get a hint of positivity.

Even with a hint of optimism, that’s not implying this is a happy record. One of the saddest and most beautiful songs on the albums, “Roads” is the perfect foundation for the rest of the band’s work. It’s not only the best song on the album, but it’s my favorite song by the band (It was number one on my list of Portishead songs about a year ago). The song speaks to the listener from a solitary, desperate place. I can relate to this position of the speaker so much because sometimes in life you feel like you’re alone, and without a net to save you. The imagery set forth here is unbelievably powerful, and the music does just as much for the overall feel of the song than the vocals do, if not more. If it were up to me, this song would be put in a time capsule for the future children of earth to find two thousand years from now, if we even last that long. The song both begins and ends with a warm fuzz of a beat coming in and out. I’m not sure what instrument is being used to bring it to fruition, but it works wonderfully to propel the song to its ultimate apex.

From the first time I was ever exposed to this album when I first heard the single “Sour Times,” to the years working my way through this collection of songs, so many of them have spoken to me in a personal, life-affirming way. Even songs that have a sinister undertone like “Biscuit” still work even twenty years after the album was released. That’s how you can tell a band knows what they’re doing. The music has only intensified in the time since it was unleashed.

Album closer, and overall great song “Glory Box” is one of the better reminders of this. Like much of the rest of the album, “Glory Box” presents with imagery that is both epic and mythological, while juxtaposing a quiet burlesque feel that is both haunting and a throw back to the times of the roaring twenties. Tell me you can’t see that in this world? Gibbons voice is perhaps at it’s best on this track, and the emotion pouring out of her is at the same time defiant and dependent on whoever she is talking to. It’s the perfect song to conclude this monster of an album, and it helps to permanently cement the bands status.

When the third album, “Third” came out, it was evocative of everything they had done previously, and it still worked. They had taken the basic idea experimented with on “Dummy” and had refined it and made it new and fresh. That’s what this band does. They evolve and change but they remain uniquely brilliant. Eventually they’ll make a fourth proper studio record, and when they do, I have no doubt it will be as important and interesting as the other three albums currently making up their discography.

Next time, we’ll be discussing a band from a quiet town in Louisiana who journey in an Aeroplane and wrote a brilliant album full of soul and Anne Frank references. Thanks for reading.

Aside

My Favorite Albums of all time #17(NIRVANA, UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK)

 
By now we all know the story. Kurt Cobain, an extremely talented musician with a history drug abuse and a painful stomach ulcer, took his own life in his family’s home. Shortly before the singers death however, Nirvana finally agreed to perform on this program. In many ways though, and in my opinion, it’s easily the best, most redefined set ever to appear as an “Unplugged.” Nirvana was always destined to be one of the most important bands of the decade, but the fact that they were able to transform and present their music in a way that people hadn’t heard before, and that it was the last big thing they did before his death, makes this unplugged session super amazing, and ultimately the best in the whole series. My number 17 favorite album of all time, Nirvana, Unplugged in New York.

They start the set with two medium-sized hits, “About a Girl,” and “Come as you Are.” When you look back at the choices of songs, and how rare they all are, it’s a shock that MTV even allowed them to perform that set list. No where did we see “Smell Like Teen Spirit,” or “Heart Shaped Box.” Instead, they did the smart thing and picked the songs that best went with the format of the show. “Come as you Are,” probably the best known song at the time on the set list, goes so well with the format of the program that it’s easy to like this version over the “Nevermind” recording.

As my wife always points out, I’m really fucking old(I’m only 32), so of course I was in my teen angst phase when this released to the world. It always resonated with me so much. It’s has a real ethereal, choral component to it, and it’s the closest an “Unplugged” ever came to chamber music for the masses. Everything works well here. From the transition of the songs, to the incredible honesty portrayed, to the way the drums had suddenly changed and Grohl had found a way to bring finesse to a group of songs that were normally anything but.

It’s also worth noting just how good the covers on this record are. Listening to it now, you can tell they really thought hard about what songs would be showcased, and all of them fit perfectly like a glove. The set list, at 14 songs, is nearly half covers. That’s what is still so great about the Nirvana legacy. They didn’t give a fuck. And they weren’t even well-known covers for the most part. Aside from the blisteringly brilliant version of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” all the other songs were by lesser known acts like the Meat Puppets (who performed three songs with the band during the show), Leadbelly, and the Vaselines. This is also the show that Lori Goldston and Pat Smear brought what they had been doing on the recent In Utero tour to a televised audience. And let me tell you, the added texture and sound from those two help tremendously.

“The Man Who Sold the World,” and the presentation here, make the song an unreal cover, but the context of what we now know happened mere months after that put it in a different, more sorrowful place. The song is amazing, and for my money, it’s one of the better covers of all time, and easily the best cover on the album.

Looking back though, these songs are deeply depressing and worrisome. So many of them represent sadness, and general contempt for humanity, at least from my point of view. Nirvana, and Cobain as an artist in general, weren’t really known for happy uplifting songs, but even so, the songs on the record are all super depressing in one way or another. However, that’s not to say the songs don’t shine through. “Dumb,” “Polly,” “On A Plain,” and the tense, cold imagery of “Something in the Way” make the middle section of the performance its most emotionally charged among the original content the band chose to present here, and it’s also these songs where you feel like the band starts really getting a groove for the show. Unlike every other performance in the “Unplugged” canon, the 14 song set was performed in a single take. I remember hearing that Neil Young’s performance was recorded over many hours, with Young doing songs multiple times. Here though, they gradually chip away at the list of songs, and on “Something in the Way,” everything really starts to work to their benefit. Something, possibly the saddest song in all of Nirvana’s catalog, showcases the uncertainty in Cobain’s emotions, and brings to the forefront the many emotions he must have been going through at the time. He was clearly a troubled man, and the band was on the brink of ending(although not in the way we all suspected), and he was also going through heavy heroin withdrawals during the taping of the show, which makes it even more incredible that this came out so beautiful and poetic.

This is where it get’s really interesting though. At the time they were on tour with the Meat Puppets. A band with modest success in the 90′s but a band that never really caught on in a big way. The band chose to bring the band up for three songs, and even though I have still never heard the original versions of these songs, the versions here are quite good. “Plateau,” which has a killer groove for a guitar part, was also a personal choice Cobain wanted to play. He knew that the high pitch of the vocals didn’t lend themselves to his vocal style, but he wanted to perform it for that exact reason. Even near the end of his career, and life, he wanted to push himself to try something out of his comfort zone, and for the better, it works.

Of the two other Meat Puppet songs, “Lake of Fire” is the better song, and it’s always been one of my more popular tracks on the record. “Oh Me” is the other one. “Lake of Fire” has some of the best visuals when it comes to lyrics, and it’s quite an epic song about struggling for the good of all humanity. At this point also, seven people have all been on stage collaborating, which was also a first as far as I know for any Unplugged show.

The record then gets super real and honest with the last two tracks. Number thirteen on the album, “All Apologies,” completely blows the original version out of the water, and is easily the best song on the whole fucking thing. It was always a great song, but in this light it transforms to a slow burn up until the chorus hits and the sunlight presents itself in a beautiful, but ominous haze. The only downside of the album is that it’s 14 songs. In the end though, it’s a solid choice of songs, and in the end I’d rather have 14 great songs than 20 songs or more where you only gravitate to a few, so yeah.

The ending song, the tragic, and emotional conclusion to this album, “Where did you Sleep Last Night,” brings all the pain and honestly to a somewhat uncomfortable ending, but for this band, and where they were at the time, it’s sadly appropriate. The power in the cords, and the overall instrumentation are second to none, and as we navigate down the road of the song, the screaming on Cobain’s part really makes the song resonate in an ultimately powerful way. It’s a brilliant end, but also a sad reminder that this was the last time we were to ever hear this extremely important band play a set of music, and that the set was easily one of the most valuable in their whole career as the band known as Nirvana.

 

Aside

My Favorite albums of all time #18(INTERPOL, TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS)

Why did this album have such a strong effect on me? For the most part, up until that point, I hadn’t really given what I thought of as “indie rock” much of chance. For me, it was a fresh thought coming into my head after liking mostly heavier music for a considerable period of time. I discovered this album in my early twenties, and it just spoke to me. While Interpol may share certain characteristics with older bands in this vein, from the opening glimmers of “Untitled,” I was aware that this was a new, dark but plentiful world I could dive into, and perhaps expand my horizons.

While the guitars and bass follow the same familiar vibe of old school post-rock structures, the vocals, exquisitely carved out by the sullen yet immediate Paul Banks, keep the desperate tunes going. The opening song is delicate and timely, as if someone is drifting along aimless streets. I’ve always said this is the perfect album for lonely streets, and if you’ve ever taken in the quiet night-time, consider doing it again with this album as your companion. It’s really something. While the first song is a surprise slow burner that most bands wouldn’t pick to open their debut album, the second song (Obstacle 1) kicks like a gun and introduces you to an album that excels at being both fast paced and slowly captivating.

The third track, “NYC,” introduces us to the overwhelming feeling of the album, which is that its somber vision is of a world forgotten. By forgotten, I simply mean the hollowness of an empty city. This is not a bad thing in any way, shape, or form, unless you get robbed. Try not to get robbed. The sound created by Banks, bassist Carlos D, guitarist Kessler and drummer Fogarino have so many layers and interesting quirks going on, you wonder how the band doesn’t get lost in it all. During the experience of the album however, you get the sense that this is all part of the plan to suck you into an absolute monster of an album.

Many times in my life, I’ve gone for midnight bike rides and have had this album as my only company as I venture into the quiet, unsure darkness of a city currently asleep. When you have an album this good-by your side, this is the only companion you need. “Turn on the Bright Lights” simply isn’t an album meant to be played before the sun goes down. Songs like “Say Hello to the Angels” clearly show you how easy it is for this band to switch gears again and bring you an upbeat piece (Even if the lyrics are very much unpleasant). Upbeat music mixing simultaneously with dark lyrics is not a simple thing to do, but Interpol manages to do with ease. While we’re the on topic of music, maybe a mention of the lyrics is in order. Let’s for a moment talk about the significance, and absurdity of the lyrics. Now, when I say absurd I don’t in any way mean to portray them as dumb or lackluster. The lyrics are very much all over the place. Often times they can be quite weird, and venture back and forth from linear story telling to nonsensical words put together to move the song along. Not many bands are capable on doing this, but Interpol has continued to be experts at this.

Song titles on the album are equally interesting. “Stella was a Diver and she’s always down,” is both funny and sad at the same time. The song, and the lyrics, however, are nothing if not dark and leering. For me the song is the tale of a girl lost in her own world, unable to swim up to reality. Plainly you can hear the pain in Banks’ voice, calling out for his long-lost love, wherever she may be. One gets the feeling that Stella feels as though this world is not for her, which is heartbreaking because Stella’s love was the only thing keeping the narrators heart in the positive shade of the world.

Roland” will likely continue to be one of my favorite songs the band has ever done. I always picture Daniel Day Lewis marching down the street in “Gangs of New York.” In the film, he was, in fact, a butcher and had the skill of knife work, both in a professional manner and a social, dangerous manner. Now the song is immediate, and lines like “He always had the time to speak to me, I liked him for it,” remind me of the gratefulness I felt towards adults who were willing to give up a few minutes of their time for the purpose of inquiring about a child’s vast imagination in a closed off world.

Many times, an albums first half is the most undeniable and enjoyable, but with this album, the flow of songs creates a perfect transition from start to finish. “ The New” starts out as a lovely song, but eventually descends into a darkness that is as scary as it is unnerving. This song belongs in “Jacob’s Ladder,” a film with so many different twists and turns you might feel as though the band was recording a proper score to accompany it.

Leif Erikson” washes over you and reminds you clearly what this band does best: Lush, textured music with an eerie enough voice to accompany it. One last time, this album creates the unique feeling and perspective of being in alone in a city of millions. Most people don’t take the time to see from that angle, but to me, a certified night owl, it’s important to see the world as it is at all times, and to always keep in mind that just because you may stop for a break, the world will keeping going, and existing.

This album has been one of my favorite since I first got a hold of it, and like all of the remaining records on our countdown, it’s a portrait of a certain time in my life, and experiencing the album again gives me insight unknown at the time of my first journey to “Turn on the Bright Lights.”

Next time, we’ll discuss my Number 17th favorite album of all time. It’s an album of songs people had heard before, but never in this way, and in my opinion the MTV Unplugged session that made all other bow to it.

Aside

My favorite albums of all time, #19(THE AVALANCHES, SINCE I LEFT YOU)

Back when MTV still played videos(I think this may have been the very last one), I was lucky enough to witness first hand the spell binding and wildly strange video for “Frontier Psychiatrist.” At that point, it was a near certainty that I was going to purchase this album the next day. We’re talking an album so amazingly solid, even 14 years after it was unleashed on the world, that this band hasn’t had to do or release anything in that subsequent span of time. That album, of course, is the Avalanches’ “Since I Left You.”

The next day, I was sitting in my car with a close friend being taken on a ride to exotic places where things never went wrong, and the sun was always warm on your skin. The opening of the title track is a mash of beautiful images, even if the song doesn’t have the cheeriest name. To try going song by song and talking about each individual song on this album is completely useless, since the whole album is presented to the listener in one constant flow of music. Upon first listen you may be expecting something to change or “happen,” but the joy in “Since I Left You” isn’t in what comes after the track. For all intents and purposes, this is an album with the spirit of an all night lovely dance party. The beat of the record never stops full on. Listening to it in all of it’s majesty, there’s a certain effect it takes on you. The members of this band truly did create a once in a lifetime album, which is unfortunate, for the very reason that we’re likely never getting a second album. I don’t even know how the electronic community would even feel about this album. Sure, good music is good music, but this album doesn’t currently fit in the framework of what is thought of as viable in the genre.

So this is the part where I contradict myself and discuss one song in particular. Among the albums various sways of leisure and love, “Two Hearts in ¾ Time” stands out among my favorite. I imagine a never ending pool, full of smoky haze and falling sun, drifting without a care in the world, as all of my friends joke and frolic in the crystal clear blue water that only wants your company. The brilliance of the record also lies in the sampling. So many fucking samples are used that it puts Girl Talk to shame. Just for the record, Girl Talk likely wouldn’t exist if these guys hadn’t arrived first and used literally thousands of samples from all over time and made this masterpiece of a record. Halfway through the record, “A Different Feeling” erupts like fireworks in the sky and brightens things up even more than they were previously. These songs just aren’t meant to be listened to while doing anything that’s not fun and awesome. It’s a fun record, plain and simple. No wonder we still haven’t got a second record. This record makes it impossible to ever meet the hype. If I were them, I’d just play shows based on my legacy among music lover circles, and if I had to make an album, i’d just go in a complete opposite direction and make either a very quiet depressing album, or something in the metal realm. Neither of those things seems like an option.
One of best transitions on the albums kick off the second half. “Electricity” is almost what you’d expect from a song with such a name. Much like the formation of lightning, it grows and grows until your left bobbing your heading and swaying your body, enveloped in the great vibes the song has given you as a gift. We’re immediately told to slow down and think about our world when the song morphs into “Tonight May Have to Last me all my Life.” This is a slow, trancy ballad set in the 1920′s, with a gorgeous woman asking you to stay here and share this night with her, forever.

Obviously the most known, and best song overall on the whole album finds it way to us in the form of the classic “Frontier Psychiatrist.” This song is still probably one of the most triumphant things I’ve ever heard. The horns, the samples, and the wacky nature of the song leave you wanting so much more, and the vocals escaping from the background keep it going. This is the masterstroke of the album, and once you get to it, there’s no going back. For my money, it’s easily one of the best electronic, danceable songs of the last twenty years.

The next five tracks, the ones that conclude the album, keep going on in the same wild, unpredictable path we’ve ventured on throughout this whole album. The album closer, “Extra Kings,” is a colorful, lo-fi sparkly highlight on an album full of low-fi sparkly tracks. As the music fades out, just try to remember the world you’ve seen, and how things will never be the same “Since I Left You.” I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the world of the Avalanches, and hopefully someday we get a second glimpse.

Next time on our countdown, we’ll be talking about old sounds fixed up, and why the album is a perfect way to spend a night out in the darkness, hoping the bright lights might find us.