LCD Soundsystem’s Finest Hour

If, well, pretty much every internet music news source (reliable or not) is to be believed, James Murphy is pulling the plug on his band, LCD Soundsystem, at the end of this year. Which is basically four weeks from right now. While I’ve read that Murphy may still continue doing music, it’s still a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, LCD Soundsystem released three pretty excellent albums, one of which contains one of the best songs of the 21st century so far – in other words, the world needs LCD Soundsystem’s music, or music very much like it. On the other hand, Murphy is disbanding LCD Soundsystem at the height of their powers. If he makes good on his promise, there will be no disappointing falloff in the quality of LCD albums and they will always be rightly remembered as an amazing early 21st century band that was better than all of their peers at making rock music dance-able and/or dance music rock-able, depending on where you’re coming from.

So I thought it might be nice to send James Murphy and friends off with a proper salute: I’ve compiled a list of some great LCD Soundsystem songs totaling sixty minutes of listening bliss. It’s LCD Soundsystem’s Finest Hour, in no particular order. Read on:

“Daft Punk is Playing At My House.” Any discussion of this band is apt to include this song, which opens LCD’s eponymous debut album. This might still be LCD Soundsystem’s biggest hit and, though it’s not their best song, it’s still fucking awesome. James Murphy might be the only white guy who can pull off the “ow-ow” that he so jubilantly yelps at the outset of this tune.

“No Love Lost.” This Joy Division cover appears on a split tour single LCD Soundsystem did with the Arcade Fire. I saw them for the first time on this tour. At the Hollywood Bowl. While you’re busy envying me (I also have a hot wife, if that stokes the fires of your jealousy), I just want to point out that this version of “No Love Lost” is why James Murphy is one of only two people who should be legally allowed to cover Joy Division (the other is Trent Reznor, which may seem kind of obvious. But Nine Inch Nails’ version of “Dead Souls” is badass).

“North American Scum.” The first single from Sound of Silver, “North American Scum” was the 2007 party anthem for people who felt like they had to apologize for the lameness of their nation when traveling abroad (so, “Americans”). In further testament to LCD’s awesomeness, the video for this song features an awesome magic laser fight on the fucking moon. What else do you need to know?

“All My Friends.” This is the song I was talking about earlier when I said LCD Soundsystem wrote one of the best songs of the 21st century so far. This song, also from Sound of Silver, is perfect pop and it makes a superb soundtrack to all your best memories, assuming, of course, that you have friends (sorry, Dick Cheney).

“Disco Infiltrator.” Murphy has always been able to get away with being a bit ridiculous in his songs, mostly because the music still sounds good.  Case in point: “Disco Infiltrator,” from LCD Soundsystem.

“You Wanted a Hit.” Murphy thumbs his nose at the record industry, his fans, and himself, taking us past the nine minute mark before we even know what’s hit us. LCD Soundsystem had a special gift for creating long songs that didn’t piss me off. This song, from this year’s This Is Happening, is easily the best nine minute track of the year. In fact, This Is Happening probably contains the only good nine minute songs of the year.

“Movement.” LCD Soundsystem does punk. “It’s a like a culture without the effort of all of the culture,” Murphy sneers before working himself up to a shout on “You’re pillaging and I’m tapped.” One of my favorite LCD tunes, from their first record.

“Someone Great.” James Murphy does his best 80s Bowie on this track from Sound of Silver, a great tune about loss and the passage of time. What we’re losing with the end of LCD Soundsystem is a band that seamlessly blurred the lines between pop, dance, and rock.

“All I Want.” Another This Is Happening cut, the one that apes the e-bowed guitar part from David Bowie’s “Heroes.” I read a snarky review of This Is Happening that mislabeled this as “slide guitar.” But it’s an e-bow, the same as was used on Bowie’s tune. To quote DOOM, “If you’re gonna hate/ might at least get your facts straight.” Anyway, the Bowie homage isn’t really the meat of the song; “All I Want” perfectly captures the contradictory behavior people can get up to in relationships. Murphy sings  about coming home to “the girl who has put up with all of your shit” and then sings, “All I want is your pity/ all I want/ is your bitter tears.” The song’s a bit of a cry for help, but it’s an awesome one.

“The Great Release” officially closes LCD Soundsystem (there’s a bonus disc with some other great tracks, including “Losing My Edge,” which some people would argue should be included in my little list here. It’s a good song and, if I were going over sixty minutes with this list, I would include it) and it’s a very slow building song that ambles toward a climax on the line, “Something dying/ will be a great release.” This song also happens to be, in my estimation, the most unabashedly beautiful song in the LCD Soundsystem canon. I’ve heard that, if you live a good life, as  you die and go toward the light or whatever, you hear “The Great Release.” That may not be true, but that’s what I heard.

So that’s an hour’s worth of my favorite LCD Soundsystem tunes, although you’d be hard pressed to find bad tracks on any of their three albums. As I said before, LCD Soundsystem is stopping in their prime. If you have a minute on New Year’s Eve this year, maybe use it to raise your glass to James Murphy and his excellent band – I hope more than anything that, whatever he does next, Murphy tackles it with the humor and intelligence he brought to LCD Soundsystem. So long, Mr. Murphy, and thanks for all the fish the great music!

The Totally Not Brief History of Awesome American Music Pt. 7: Modern Times

Chances are, if you read Bollocks!, you are somewhat aware of American music history through the first part of the 21st century. And if you’re a ten-year-old reading this blog, well, you’ve learned some new words, haven’t you? Anyway, to conclude my less-brief-than-intended history of awesome American music, I’m just gonna sum up the decade in things I think are awesome.

And one thing I think is stupid. In the first part of the decade, Metallica got embroiled in a legal battle with Napster over the peer-to-peer sharing of Metallica’s catalogue of unintentionally hilarious songs about darkness, blackness, death, and so on. That doesn’t bother me one way or the other, but Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s shitty drummer, wrote an editorial for Newsweek in which he stated that Metallica didn’t make music for their fans. This comment has stuck in my craw for the better part of ten years because it smacks of the sort of fuck-you-I’ve-made-my-money ingratitude that deserves repeated face punchings. Ulrich basically said that Metallica doesn’t make music for the people who made them millionaires. Well, Lars, I’ve never really been of the opinion that your band made music at all. Fuck you, sir, and good day.

Wilco did two very awesome things in the last decade that are worth mentioning. First, they turned in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to Reprise, a record label owned by AOL/Time-Warner. The label didn’t hear a single on the album (“Heavy Metal Drummer”, motherfuckers! But also, why would you sign a band like Wilco if you want radio hits?) and rejected it. Wilco left the label and, after streaming the whole thing on their website (for free, Metallica. And they’re poorer than you!) and building some buzz around it, they got snapped up by Nonesuch records and here’s the punchline: Nonesuch is a subsidiary of AOL/Time-Warner. So the Warner Music Group fired and rehired Wilco and looked like complete idiots in the process. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released to well-deserved critical acclaim. The second awesome thing Wilco did this decade has to do with file-sharing. When they were set to release A Ghost is Born, a dude brazenly emailed Jeff Tweedy to make sure he’d downloaded the properly sequenced version of the album. In response to this, rather than getting all litigious, Wilco set up a link to Doctors Without Borders on their website, allowing people to assuage their piratey guilt by donating to charity. They ended up raising a shitload of money for Doctors Without Borders and also issued a statement about how they don’t just exist to make records but to – gasp! – play music for their fans. So to recap, Wilco is awesome and Metallica is pretty much wrong about everything.

The 21st century has been all about revivalism so far, for good and ill. Bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys have done a pretty good job of keeping the blues vital, even while idiots like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and John Mayer seek to destroy them. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have almost single-handedly attempted to rescue soul and R&B music from auto-tuning and over-production, doing for that genre pretty much the exact opposite of what Brian Setzer did for swing in the late 1990s (well, to swing. Rape is something you do to people, not for them). And my beloved Hold Steady have taken classic rock out of your alcoholic stepdad’s hands and put it in the hands of people who read books (some of which don’t even have pictures).

There’s even hope for punk music, Green Day notwithstanding. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, whose Brutalist Bricks may be their best album yet (and that’s saying something) is probably leading the charge, with fellow New Jersey-ites (New Jerseyians? Whatever) Titus Andronicus not far behind him. And the Thermals, who hail from my old stomping ground of Portland, Oregon, have been kicking ass for a few years now too. There’s also The Old Haunts, who should probably make another album now.

I started really paying attention to hip-hop in the last few years, even going back and listening to the old school stuff I’ve mentioned previously. Sage Francis was good when he was with Non-Prophets, and he should go back to that. Atmosphere might be the most bang for your hip-hop buck right now, as their last two albums have been nothing short of stellar. And since we’re talking about Minnesotans, you should know about Brother Ali as well. But if you want your hip-hop shit on the level of Coltrane, consider DOOM (formerly MF Doom) the hip-hop version of Interstellar Space. DOOM’s work is of a consistently higher quality than, well, pretty much everyone else’s. The dude even sampled a Bukowski poem on his last record. Of course, there are a couple of hip-hop producers of note, the two big ones being Madlib and Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse, of course, rose to fame by making the Gray Album, a mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. Jay-Z got his panties in a twist over it and the album was litigated into its grave. Hey, Jay-Z: what the fuck do you expect people to do when you release an a cappella version of your album? Do you really think people like your voice that much? Asshole. Anyway, Danger Mouse went on to form half of Gnarls Barkley, produce an awesome Black Keys record, and cocreate Dark Night of the Soul with Sparklehorse (the late, totally underrated Mark Linkous).

I want to wrap up by talking about some women who I think are vital to American music right now…

I could have mentioned Ani DiFranco in the 1990s section, but she’s been going strong in the last decade as well, standing out as one of the most fiercely independent artists in American music right now. Dudes who can shed their ego enough to actually listen to her work will find that she writes very compelling songs and is one of the most unique acoustic guitarists I’ve ever heard.

Neko Case, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, is a goddess. End of story. If you’ve read this blog at all and don’t own Middle Cyclone, I don’t really understand your priorities. It’s like you’re striving to make your life less awesome.

I am secure enough in my whatever to admit that I like Alicia Keys, but I will like her a lot better when she fires her current producers, gets a lot more jaded, and becomes our next Aretha Franklin. I’m thinking this could happen by about 2030 (I know what I said about making predictions, but I reserve the right to contradict myself).

Bettye LaVette has been one of  the best-kept secrets in American music, and that’s really too bad. As a younger woman, she toured with Otis Redding. Later, she did a stint on Broadway with Cab Calloway. Her first full-length album, Child of the Seventies was inexplicably shelved by Atlantic records until 2000, when Gilles Petard released it as Souvenirs on his Art and Soul label. Eventually, LaVette was picked up by Anti-, the label that puts out Neko Case and Tom Waits records (that’s one helluva roster) and released I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise in 2005. Since then, she’s enjoyed some renewed and deserved interest. I’ll be reviewing her album of British songs later this year.

So that’s pretty much everything I could think of to tell you about awesome American music. I know I missed some stuff and I know I deliberately skipped some stuff, but so be it. I’m compiling a page of essential American tracks that should be up soon, so you can look for that if you want. In the meantime, though, don’t be a musical xenophobe. There’s amazing music all over the world and you’ll probably like some of it if you give it a shot. Some time in the future, I’ll get back to regular reviews, but I’m getting married in 30 days and that’s gonna have an effect on the ol’ updating schedule. We’ll be in touch.

My Favorite Songs of 2009

Well, it’s the end of the year. Pitchfork has counted down their bazillion favorite songs and billion favorite albums of the year, Rolling Stone has done the same, and nobody’s got it right yet, have they? And nobody will, will they? No, you’re better off making your own list. You have the exact same authority as Pitchfork, you just have fewer people who believe it. I, for one, am not going to let that stop me.

However, I’m not going to count down my favorite songs of 2009 – I’m going to mention them at random and you can, from my remarks, try to quantify them if you wish. I’m going to use a lot of random bold type to make this shit seem more important, too. Let’s get arbitrary:

I really love “Watching the Planets” by the Flaming Lips. It’s a great way to close an album like Embryonic, largely because it sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear at a nudist rave. It has lots to admire – lines about “killing the ego” and “burning the Bible.” I’m pretty sure I could only love it more if Wayne Coyne sang it while gargling Guinness.

“Watching the Planets” features background vocals by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who opened their It’s Blitz! album with the stellar (and catchy as fuck) “Zero,” a song which helpfully suggests that you get your leather on. Granted, “Zero” loses some of its luster when someone asks you to explain the lyrics, but the vibe is strong with this one.

I don’t know where to begin loving Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone, but I guess I’ll start with its lead single, “People Got a Lotta Nerve.” It’s not my favorite song on that (amazing) album, but it does get stuck in my head all the time. The chorus is a catchy little “no shit, Sherlock” for folks who think that animals exist to be cute. “I’m a man eater/ but still you’re surprised when I eat ya” could also function (I suppose) on the level of a predatory woman, but I’m choosing to ignore that in favor of the more explicit animal imagery offered in the song.

Here’s another song I love: “Done” by Built to Spill. One of my favorite things about it is that its most indelible feature is that subtle wah-wah lick that introduces and then meanders through the song. It gives me chills every time I hear it and it reminds me of Doug Martsch’s absolute authority on the guitar.

I mostly haven’t gotten into the new Cribs record, but the opening track, “We Were Aborted”, is pretty badass. There’s another tune toward the end that’s right good as well, but the rest of the album fails to live up to the promise of the opener.

I’ve heard that YACHT is far less than awesome live, which is a shame. I enjoyed See Mystery Lights quite a bit, and my party playlist for the foreseeable future will feature “Psychic City.LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy saw YACHT’s potential and signed them to his label. I’m hoping the follow-up to See Mystery Lights sounds more like “Psychic City” and less like the lazier “Don’t Fight the Darkness.”

YACHT, being an Oregon band, stands in some great musical company: the Thermals released a phenomenal album this year (that’s two in a row for them – 2006’s The Body, the Blood, the Machine is indescribably awesome) and “I Called Out Your Name” was a loving spoonful of pop from that album. The Shaky Hands waxed spiritual on Let It Die, an album that (happily) got stuck in my CD player for about half a month. Its title track is still one of my favorite things to wake up to. The Decemberists, one of Oregon’s most famous bands, made a fairly inevitable record that was basically a rock opera. As such, it didn’t crank out the hit singles; however, “The Rake’s Song” is a sinister delight.

The Thermals give me hope for the future of punkish music, and so does the Future of the Left. Travels with Myself and Another is aggressive, abrasive, and hilarious. Andy Falkous spends most of the album hitting home-runs, but he’s at his best on “The Hope that House Built”, where he tells us “don’t despair/ life is just a dream” before suggesting we “re-imagine God as just a mental illness.” In the end, everybody wins.

While we’re being sacrilegious, I should mention that “I Would Rather Sacrifice You” by the Minus 5 is one of my favorite songs of the year. “I will die a Christian soldier/ if I ever die at all,” sings Scott McCaughey, after admitting to spreading the gospel with his gun. It’s all done up as country/bluegrass number with excellent harmonies and a sing-along lilt. The overall effect borders on complete fucking genius.

I might lose some street cred for this but, uneven as their album is, the Avett Brothers’ “I and Love and You” really is a beautiful song. The album never regains the heights it reaches on its title track, though I’ve heard their older stuff is better (I’ll probably discuss I and Love and You at greater length later).

Jim James rescued the Masters of Folk album from the depths of tedium this year, infusing his tracks with an almost effortless beauty. “His Master’s Voice” is James at his best and it was probably a smart choice to close the album with it – it gives you the impression that you’ve just heard something special. In the case of the closing track, you have; in the case of the album, you haven’t. Still, Jim James is definitely on the list of people whom I will gladly buy a beer should our paths ever cross.

Speaking of uncommonly beautiful songs, Yo La Tengo’s “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven” certainly qualifies. Gripe about the length all you want, but I could tolerate it at an hour or longer. It captures every one of Yo La Tengo’s strengths, it builds to a lovely climax, and the harmonies are superb.

My love of “More Stars” notwithstanding, brevity is typically the soul of pop music. I’m not sure any band understood that better this year than Metric, whose Fantasies album is a meager but meaty ten tracks. My favorite is “Front Row,” which strikes me as exactly the sort of song I should be hearing everywhere instead of that fucking “Poker Face” song. Can someone get to work on this for me?

Perhaps the best question asked in music this year was “Oh Mommy/ what’s  a Sex Pistol?” The Manic Street Preachers asked it on “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”, one of several excellently named tracks on Journal for Plague Lovers. I hadn’t listened to the Manic Street Preachers before this year, but I’m quite keen to check out more of their stuff.

“Smoke” by Lucero.

And “Natural Disaster” by Andrew Bird.

Let’s end on a sad note, can we? I spent the better part of Christmas morning scouring the internet for news of Vic Chesnutt’s condition (he died Friday after being in a coma for several hours) and listening to his music on Lala. That’s where I discovered At the Cut and “Flirted with You All My Life,” a song wherein Chesnutt contemplates death and his many run-ins with it (he was rendered paraplegic in a car accident when he was 18 and had apparently attempted suicide at least once before succeeding), finally deciding that he’s “not ready.” The song would be heartbreaking even if Chesnutt hadn’t just died, but his death makes it all the more poignant. He’s the second great songwriter I discovered because of his death, Chris Whitley being the first. I’m trying to track down a fistful of Chesnutt’s albums as we speak and will report on my findings later.

I probably forgot a lot of songs, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less. The list of my favorite albums of the year will be more ordered; here are some albums that definitely won’t be on that list:

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

U2, No Line On the Horizon (this was number fucking one on Rolling Stone’s list this year. Do you need further proof that 1) Rolling Stone is completely useless and 2) year-end lists are bullshit?)

Girls, Album

And so on.

See Mystery Lights and Orgy Taxonomists

yacht-cover1

Ah, Oregon. Land from whence I came, land to which I’ll one day return. Land now known for LeGarrette Blount punchin’ a dude at the Boise State game. Oregon really is a lot classier than that, I promise (Bob Packwood, Tonya Harding, Everclear, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, and Bill Sizemore notwithstanding). Bruce Campbell has a summer home there! Also, there’s great music in the Beaver State  (I’ve mentioned this before) and I’m apparently not the only one who thinks so. James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, you really should listen to LCD Soundsystem. At least give “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”, “North American Scum,” and “All My Friends” a chance. Oh, and “Disco Infiltrator”, “The Great Release,” and “Get Innocuous.” Oh hell, just get both their albums. It’s only 18 tracks.) apparently dug YACHT’s “Summer Song” (they recorded it as an homage to his LCD-ness) so much that he signed them right up to his DFA label. He can do that because he’s James Murphy. Who the fuck are you?

The reason I mention LCD Soundsystem a lot on this here blog of mine is because they do something almost no one I can think of does: they make electronic music that doesn’t send me flying into a homicidal rage. In fact, they make electronic music that kicks ass. That has to be a fluke, right? (No, because Massive Attack and The Beta Band also used to do it.)

Apparently not (I don’t pay attention to my own excessive parenthetical statements). You see, this YACHT album, See Mystery Lights, is pretty great. And it’s definitely of the electronic persuasion. I definitely begrudge them the all-caps name (although maybe I shouldn’t; DOOM does this and his music is unbelievably rad. Your favorite rapper probably doesn’t sample Bukowski poems) and “I’m in Love with a Ripper” is kind of a big turd of a song (not everyone will agree with me there, but the annoying vocal effects are too much for my limited electronic tastes), but the rest of the album ranges from good to fucking awesome, and it starts firmly in the latter category with “Ring the Bell” and “The Afterlife,” two songs that ought to be on the playlist at the hedonistic orgy (is there some other kind of orgy?) that I expect to follow my funeral (if any of you out there live longer than I do, and someone probably will, you must know that any worthy celebration of my life will require epic quantities of  the following:  great beer, great music, and great sex. Probably also video games and swears).

YACHT is pretty much Astoria-born Jona Bechtolt who, in addition to making great music, joins The Goonies as one of only two culturally relevant things to ever emerge from Astoria (their high school mascot is, I shit you not, is the Fighting Fisherman. I’m pretty sure my first alcoholic step-dad could have run onto the field at any given game and been mistaken for this mascot). Bechtolt’s partner in crime on See Mystery Lights is Claire L. Evans, who delivers great vocal turns on “The Afterlife” and “Psychic City,” the catchiest song I’ve heard in a long-ass time. The rest of the band might well be a drum-machine and a laptop. You might think I’m dissing YACHT here, but I’m really not; they do a lot with their lappy & drumputer. A lot more than a lot of really shitty bands out there.

See Mystery Lights is far from perfect; it’s really only 8 tracks with two alternate takes of other songs stuck on the end (the “party mix” of “I’m in Love with a Ripper” is actually superior to the original version, in my opinion. But just barely), which makes it as long as Modest Mouse’s dead-awesome No One’s First and You’re Next EP. That, however, is about par for the course on DFA – LCD Soundsystem has yet to release an album longer than nine tracks. See Mystery Lights has one other minor flaw: “It’s Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want” is about three minutes too long. I forgive YACHT for this, however, because it’s still pretty awesome (especially the “It’s Boring” part). And the gems on See Mystery Lights outweigh its flaws by one million shiny tons.  This style of music may be a bit outside of some people’s comfort zone (hell, it’s out of mine), but it’s the kind of album you’ll hear in the background at a party (or an orgy of the hedonistic or non-hedonistic variety) and start nodding your head. And then you’ll run over to the host of the party/orgy (aren’t orgies a kind of party? And if not, shouldn’t they be? I need an orgy taxonomist, forthwith!) and demand to know what that great music is. And the host will be James Murphy and he’ll tell you it’s this band he just signed called YACHT. And then you’ll wake up. The dream will fade, but See Mystery Lights will still be awesome and James Murphy will still be an all-high musical badass.