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.

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A Guest Review of Death Magnetic

Editor’s note: Given the previous animosity shown by Bollocks! towards Metallica, Chorpenning realized that he could not possibly give an objective review of Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic. So Chorpenning went to a strip club in North Hollywood and found Tad, the K-ROQ intern, to review the album for this site. Chorpenning will post a response to Tad’s review later; for now, Chorpenning is drunk and sitting in the corner, listening to London Calling at top volume and mumbling something about barbarian hordes taking over his website. We now turn Bollocks! over to Tad, the K-ROQ intern, to present his review of Metallica’s Death Magentic.

What up, bitches? My name is T-to-tha-A-to-tha-D, and I’m totally fucked up on vodka and Red Bull! I’d like to give a shout out to LA’s real rock alternative, 106.7 K-R0Q. And I’d like to shout a big “fuck you!” to Indie 103.1 – fuck you guys and your morning jackets! So check it out – I was totally eyeing up some tig ol’ bitties (editor’s note – Tad has asked that we not correct any of his spelling; he maintains that this would be “censorship.” Since Chorpenning is too drunk to mediate this dispute, we have reluctantly agreed not to correct Tad’s manifold spelling and grammatical errors) when this pointy-haired asshole in a Hold Steady t-shirt came up to me (did you know Hold Steady is a band? I never heard of ’em either. they probably suck) and mumbled something about how he has this blog where he talks about music and did I like Metallica? Well, I downed a Jager-blaster, tossed a few bucks at teh hottie on stage, and said, “Fuck yes! I fucking love Metallica. What’s it to ya, skinny fucker?”  Well, the asshole was all like, “Could you review their new album for my blog?” And I was all, “Yeah, I could do that.” I offered to throw in a review of the new Kid Rock album, but he vomited on my shoes. Indie fags can’t hold their booze, I guess.

So here I am. And let me tell ya, dudes ‘n’ bitches, Death Magnetic is the most metal of all metal albums. Ever. It’s a total return to form for Metallica. They got some guy to produce it, I don’t know who, but he’s a different guy. So the album sounds more like …And Justice for All than St. Anger. It starts off with this ass-pounding tune, “That Was Just Your Life,” which has, like, this heartbeat that starts it off (see, it symbolizes life – this is a totally deep album) and there’s some totally pussy guitar stuff before the loud guitars and Lars Ulrich (fuck John Bonham, fuck Keith Moon – Lars is the best drummer in human fucking history). James Hetfield is totally on point on this song, yelling something about “curse the day is long” or something. It got me thinking, though: the day is long. Man. Heavy.

After “That Was Just Your Life,” there’s “The End of the Line” which isn’t the end of the line – it’s only the second song on the album!!!1! But it’s totally heavy, it’s got this “Sad But True” vibe to it (Metallica was the best album ever and if you don’t think so, your a total pussy) and Kirk Hammett shreds the fuck out of those guitar licks. You know who I don’t miss at all? Jason Newsted. He wasn’t that good of a bassist (he’s probably doing something totally pussy right now) and this Robert Trujillo guy is so much better. He mostly stays out of the way of Kirk and Lars doing what they do best, which is rocking my fucking ass.

So the third song on here is “Broken, Beat & Scarred” which is my most favorite song on this album ’cause it’s all about how “what don’t kill ya/make ya more strong,” which is totally how I feel about life. That’s why I’m not afraid to do a little pre-funking before I hit the 24-Hour Fitness. Working out sober is for pussies and indie-fags. The song has this totally killer hook where James shouts, “We! Die! Hard!” It’s totally awesome and makes me want to watch Live Free or Die Hard again. That movie was tha shit.

Then there’s this soft intro (kinda pussy) before “The Day that Never Comes” (haha, “comes”), which isn’t as wimpy as it sounds at the beginning. The song’s totally about domestic violence, I think. So fuck you haters, Metallica cares about this shit. Don’t hit your chicks. It’s not cool, even in the mosh pit. “The Day that Never Comes” shows that Metallica not only totally gets domestic abuse, but they also still know how to write a kickass power ballad (a big “fuck you,” by the way, to all you haters who think that power ballads aren’t cool).

The album gets back to rocking with “All Nightmare Long,” which is like a sequel to “Enter Sandman” and that’s fucking awesome.  It’s followed by “Cyanide” which is about dyin’. You know, ’cause the album is “Death Magnetic,” so some of the songs have to be about dying. Whatever.

Next up is the highly anticipated “The Unforgiven 3.” Before the haters get to hating, I have it on good authority that “The Unforgiven” was always supposed to be a fucking trilogy (hello? like the Matrix?). So suck it. Irregardless of what the haters say, “The Unforgiven 3” is a totally kickass song on it’s own and really completes the story told in the first two songs. I know I was wondering what would happen after the end of  “The Unforgiven 2”.  Okay, total spoiler alert, though, for real: In “The Unforgiven 3”, it’s revealed that “it’s me I can’t forgive” – so the “Unforgiven” was him all along. I haven’t seen such a mindfucking twist since I rented The Village!

The next song is called “The Judas Kiss,” which is about how Judas kissed guys or something. I thought there weren’t any fags in The Bible, but I guess I could be wrong. It’s a pretty awesome song, though, even though it’s about a queer. Moving on. “The Judas Kiss” is followed by “Suicide & Redemption” which starts real quiet and then gets real loud, which is something Metallica has perfected. Its a total ten-minute metal instrumental that shows just how rad Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich are. Kirk is like the second coming of Joe Satriani and if you don’t know who Satriani is, I’m gonna find you and beat your ass.

Death Magnetic ends with “My Apocalypse,” which talks about… well, I don’t know. It’s too loud and awesome for me to make out too many words. But I think James says something about “death magnetic” in this one, so I think its like the title track or something. There’s a totally gnarly guitar solo in there and Lars is beating the shit out of his drums and then James screams something about “spit it out” (ha! maybe the song’s about blowjobs. I like blowjobs). And then there’s some more skullfucking music and James says stuff about seeing “the end.” And then the album ends. To say the least, Death Magnetic is the totally triumphant return of true metal gods. It might be their best album ever and I know it’s gonna top everyone’s year-end best album list, along with Chinese Democracy, which is coming out… uh… I don’t know when, but Axl should hurry up and put it out so that he can tour with Metallica. It’d be just like the old days, but ten times better. Tad out!