The Future of the Left, Pitchfork, and Fair Fights

Well, first there was this, which I found a little disappointing and a lot unsurprising. But then there was this, which is everything Andy Falkous says it is in the pre-script (“lame, self-serving, and immature”) but is also spot-fucking-on and hilarious.

What we’re talking about today, if you have not been able to guess, is the best album of 2012 so far (and probably the whole year): The Plot Against Common Sense, by one of my favorite current bands, Future of the Left. There’s not much for me to say about the album itself; I was predisposed to love it and, true to form, I love it. I love it more every time I hear it. I love it on a level somewhat approaching my affection for London Calling and if you’ve read this blog at all over the last four years, you know I do not make that statement lightly (an odd aside: a classmate of mine at the School of Social Work once opined that it was “boring” to say that London Calling is your favorite album. At the time, I didn’t know what to say to that because London Calling is genuinely my favorite album. I kinda get where he was coming from – there are like five or six records that people always say are their favorite and that can get tedious. But if saying London Calling is my favorite album is boring, I’m boring. I never claimed to be otherwise).

So rather than repeating myself by counting the ways in which I love The Plot Against Common Sense or the Future of the Left in general, I thought I’d spend some time discussing Ian Cohen’s Pitchfork review, which I found kind of fascinating. I wholeheartedly disagree with Cohen about this album (and most albums) but, hard as this is to admit, I can muster a little empathy for the guy. Like Cohen, I vomit my opinion about music onto the internet, which can sometimes provoke a barrage of mean-spirited and often misspelled comments. It’s the price of doing business (a business for which Cohen is paid and I am not, a fact which somewhat mitigates my sympathy for that particular devil) and it’s fine, but it can get a little exhausting because it only rarely happens that several people provide you feedback because they also loved a record that you love. And by “only rarely,” I mean “never.”

But Cohen, apart from misunderstanding the meanings of several Future of the Left songs (point of needless pride: I had thought since first hearing it that “Polymers are Forever” was about oceanic pollution and, according to Mr. Falkous, I was generally correct in thinking so. Yay me), made a couple of statements in his review that I would have found funny if they weren’t so irritating. First, there is the assertion that Andy Falkous is engaging in “unfair fights” against various targets. Setting aside the fact that it is totally fair (and necessary) to take aim at Trustafarians (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late for the Riots”), I’m curious as to why Ian Cohen thinks Falkous should pick fair fights.

There is a brilliant instructor at Portland State University who, leading a workshop on anti-oppressive practice (that’s “AOP” to those of us in the all-powerful social work/industrial complex), pointed out that many young students, when they start to learn about ways to combat oppression and injustice, approach these issues with a hammer when they should be using tweezers. I wrote this down at the time because I recognize my own tendency to use a hammer when I should be more subtle, but I took the note like so: “When doing AOP, don’t use a hammer when you should use tweezers. When writing punk songs, by all means, use the fucking hammer!” Now, I’m not entirely sure Andy Falkous and his bandmates view themselves as a punk band, but it is my humble opinion that they embody that spirit better than pretty much every other band going right now (if you suggest to me, dear readers, that Blink-182 is a punk band, I will find you. And I will hurt you).

The point here is that Andy Falkous has no business picking fair fights, much less a duty. Hell, “Common People” isn’t fair and it was, according to the corporate-slick writers at Pitchfork, the second-best song of the 1990s (they were wrong about that, by the way: “Common People,” for my money, is far and away the best song of the 1990s). And, just like Future of the Left, I don’t want Pulp to be “fair.” I want them to use a hammer while I’m out there doing my job with the fucking tweezers! Jarvis Cocker, dog bless him, is still being wonderfully unfair and if he ever stops, I’ll probably stop listening to him. But it’s not like Future of the Left was all that fair prior to The Plot Against Common Sense. How fair is the suggestion that we “reimagine God as just a mental illness” (“The Hope That House Built,” from Travels with Myself and Another)? How fair is “Fuck the Countryside Alliance” from Curses? If you want “fair” songs, listen to John Mayer or Jack Johnson or any of those other hack white guys who can write you a thousand songs about how everything is going to be all right. But don’t bring your concept of fairness to my Future of the Left albums; I like them just the way they are.

The second thing Cohen did to piss me off was start a sentence with the following assertion: “It’s a shame Falkous is playing to the cheap seats on The Plot Against Common Sense.” Fuck you, Ian! Not everyone gets the VIP access at Coachella, you classist dickhole. Some of us can only afford the cheap seats (and, more often, many of us can’t even afford that so we listen to our favorite records at home or with friends, wondering what it would be like to have the same access to music that so-called indie luminaries like the good folks at Pitchfork enjoy) and your implication that music needs to be dumbed down for our (apparently) limited comprehension is equal parts smug and ignorant.

I read Cohen’s review before I heard The Plot Against Common Sense (there’s that ease-of-access thing again. I couldn’t quite snag an advanced copy from up here in my “cheap seat”) and my first thought was, “I will probably adore this album.” And here I am, adoring it.


Getting Washed Off, Washed Over and Washed Away with Washed Out

Washed Out
Within and Without
2011 Sub Pop
by Justin

I’d considered making the sentence “Within and Without is great music, go buy the record.” the entirety of my review, akin to a literary mic-drop, preferably followed by a slow clap, however I suppose that leaves out most of the exposition that’s compulsory in actually writing a record review. So, here’s the subtext of that statement in as many words as it takes to meet my strictly imposed and brutally enforced word quota.

There seems to me a small trend happening in “great music” that involves the creator moving back to a place of familiarity and solitude without the specific intent to make said great music. Just as the now legendary exodus of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to the wilderness of Wisconsin gave rise to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene moved back to peach country in rural Georgia to live with his folks and in a few short months managed to put together two EPs worth of above-par synthpop. There’s something to be said for escaping whatever rut or routine you’re in and returning to a place where you can find your center and while some may take that time to catch up on reading or video games there are those that see hidden parts of themselves uncovered for the first time in years. And I’m not necessarily talking about the tendency to spend solitude sans pants. I digress…

While these EPs served to propel Greene into the limelight they have only a passing resemblance to the modernized production and mellowed grooves of “Within and Without”. Understand that’s not meant to diminish the quality of Washed Out’s early recordings, just an observation. Indeed, “Within and Without” carries some of the same subtle throwback flavors as the EPs “Life of Leisure” and the rare, cassette only “High Times”, but has been lovingly scrubbed and shined to great effect. With that glimmer comes a change in mood and focus from twitchy and self-aware to expansive and warm.

Plainly spoken this is a record of arrival and renewal, like the designer taking the stacks of sketches and refining it to its ultimate idea. The elastic echoes of the opening track “Eyes Be Closed” make it obvious from the start that this album is mean to occupy a larger space, that it’s meant to invoke images of the topography of clouds as you soar above them, of the thin, biting air of high mountain vistas. Tracks like the upbeat “Amor Fati” and the understated title track “Within and Without” recall the warmth and patience of Ulrich Schnauss while maintaining some of the urgency and persistence of Deerhunter and Toro Y Moi. There’s still a fair bit of the vintage 80’s synthpop that made up the foundation on “Echoes” and the sensual bump of “You and I”, which is possibly the most layered and sonically arresting moment on the album. Guest vocalist Caroline Polachek of Chairlift lends her drowsy siren song and breathy whispers which add an extra dose of animalism and carnal gravity that the rest of the album may lack.

Overall, for an artist that’s really just appearing “Within and Without” is a phenomenal accomplishment considering it was rooted in creativity inspired partly by boredom.

Molecular Musicology: Tame Impala


tame impala


The music of Tame Impala hearkens back to a time long before any of the band’s members were even born. No doubt fermented in the tie-dyed casks of hours spend in Dad’s den or rifling through their high school band teacher’s old LPs, Tame Impala crafts a particularly faithful recreation of the late 1960’s fuzzy psychedelia with just enough forethought to eschew any winks to the modern age. In fact, the production is careful to toss in many of the colorful imperfections that many would argue died with the advent of Pro Tools and Auto-Tune; the mix gets muddy from time to time and the listener must slog through the sloppy soup of crunchy guitars, phasers, reverb, and hissing cymbals to root out exactly what instrument is doing what. This is not a detraction, however, as the effect is engaging and enjoyable, especially on a decent set of cans. Singer Kevin Parker lends another layer of retro-authenticity to the sound with his uncanny vocal mimic of latter-day John Lennon, which is a comparison I’m certain he’s sick of hearing by now.  Further Beatles nostalgia can be found on tracks like “Solitude is Bliss” in which the dry, skipping snare and tumbling drum breaks may have been pulled straight from “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the two-track blend of “Jeremy’s Storm” and “Expectation” recall a more mellow, more groovy take on Led Zeppelin’s “Achilles’ Last Stand”. Toss in the throbbing hot-house distortion of The Kinks on “The Bold Arrow of Time” and you’ve got a fairly comprehensive classic rock tribute that is not just fun for the kids but probably something you could get your dad to listen to with minimal coercion.

Doubt Has Its Benefits (Limp Bizkit, “Gold Cobra”)

Limp Bizkit
Gold Cobra
2011 Flip/Interscope
by Justin

No, this isn't painted on the side of a van.... yet.

The idiom “benefit of the doubt” is generally understood to mean that you believe something because you have no reason not to. At least that’s what it used to mean as lately there’s been a growing aversion to the whole “have no reason not to” part of the arrangement. Used to be that one would either reference personal experiences or accept facts offered in evidence to assert whether or not their original doubt would receive benefits. In other words, if you can prove something to be correct or incorrect, then there is no longer doubt. However one look at the way our society behaves in regard to conspiracy, scandal or science shows that even facts can’t overrule the idiocy of the “anything is possible” position. Obama’s birth certificate? Proven. Yet there are still birthers. 9/11? Tragic but not a U.S. born conspiracy. Yet some still insist on the plausibility of a grand plan orchestrated by a cabal of omnipotent world leaders. Fucking SCIENCE, literally the explanation of the mechanics of the universe as understood by repeated observation and tests and endless corroborating evidence.  Widely accepted by mankind and interweaved into every aspect of existence. Yet there are still states that think the mythology of the ancient Hebrews should be taught as EQUALLY FACTUAL to evolution. Lindsay Lohan could stumble out of a bar at 7am stinking of vodka and holding an open can of Coors and tell paparazzi with a straight face that she’s never had a drop of booze in her life and there would be someone who would defend that by saying “well, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.” That’s not how that phrase works. You’re doing it wrong.

So, what the fuck does this have to do with Limp Bizkit’s new record “Gold Cobra”? Well I have to imagine that the creation of this record had to contain no less than a dozen unfortunate uses of the phrase “let’s give him the benefit of the doubt”. I imagine a producer and a label marketing guy sitting in a dark booth watching through the glass as Fred Durst and Co. do it all again for the Nookie in the studio. Their conversation goes something like this:

“But no one likes Nu-metal anymore.”
“Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“But Limp Bizkit hasn’t had an original musical idea in 15 years”
“Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“But he’s doing EXACTLY the same music he did in 1999, culture has moved on, this is no longer relevant music and people are going to hate it!”
“Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“But he’s doing a song called AUTOTUNAGE which is Rap-Metal with T-Pain levels of Autotune and is preceded by a skit of Fred talking into the vocoder like a 10 year old boy talking through a box fan!”
“Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”

You see? When facts and rational thinking are no longer valid arguments anything can be given license to exist simply based by continuing its doubt benefits. At some point Fred Durst, against all perceived better judgment, began to work on a new Limp Bizkit album. No amount of persuasion would nudge him from the path he was set to, and it was easy to stay on that path because he’s been running up and down it since before many of us old codgers finished high school. Where his former peers have evolved, re-tooled, expanded or simply vanished, Durst insists on sticking his fingers in his ears and pulling down his backwards red cap and refusing to admit that he’s overshot his window of relevance by a decade.

But you know what the worst part about all this is? I’m WRONG. Yes! Despite everything I’ve written above being “correct” I will be proven wrong but the benefit of the doubt. This record will sell a lot of copies. Limp Bizkit will tour. They’ll be back on the radio again and probably have 2 singles. In the same way Wikipedia is magically changed to reflect certain stupid politicians ignorant gaffes, so too will the music charts reflect an altered reality in which Limp Bizkit has a hit record in 2011, thirteen years after their heyday and 6 years after their last album.

There’s an understanding in the entertainment industry that the dumbest person in the room’s opinion is equally valuable to the opinion of experts in the field. This spills out into almost all facets of life now as politicians will defiantly assert that they “do not believe” in climate change as though it’s a ballot that will be voted upon, or when a religious leader claims that homosexuality is nothing more than a bad habit that can be “cured”. Just listen in on any coffee shop discussion about religion, politics, sports or celebrities and you’ll see a table full of average, regular, salt-of-the-earth idiots transform into wise, learned scholars with complex opinions and years of experience to back up the claim that “Obama isn’t doing anything to fix the economy.” or “That Octomom should have her kids taken away from her.” We’ll see the same lazy approach to thought applied to “Gold Cobra”; people will come up with reasons why it’s good, they’ll hear the album out of context from present day reality and think it’s supposed to be here. They’ll assume, like is typical with most mainstream entertainment, that the very fact that it got made and they’re aware of it defines it as good. If it were bad it wouldn’t be on the radio, right? If it were bad they wouldn’t have let him make the record in the first place, right? If it were bad, would so many people say they like it?

You know, I’m really not sure anymore, but I guess I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.


Tapes ‘n Tapes, Hipster Hate, and Special Pitchfork Dispensation

Like a lot of people, I rather enjoyed The Loon, which was the first Tapes ‘n Tapes album. Also like a lot of people, I didn’t much care for the follow-up, Walk It Off. If that makes me a hipster in your book, the only thing I can say to that is, “Fuck you. I like what I like.” (Seriously, though, can we just stop 1) calling people hipsters and 2) hating hipsters on the internet already? Honestly, why did anyone give a fuck about so-called hipsters in the first place? They’re just people liking stuff and doing stuff that you don’t like. Lots of people like and do stuff I don’t like, but I don’t divide them into groups so I can sort my would-be enemies. Who has that kind of time?)


So Tapes ‘n Tapes stand accused, with Outside (an album that was released on my birthday this year), of brazenly trying to go back to the well from whence they pulled The Loon. According to every review of Outside that I have read – positive and negative – Tapes ‘n Tapes are trying to forget Walk It Off and push the reset button with this new record. The Pitchfork review (I’m sure they think it’s witty) even opens with the line, “You’re forgiven for forgetting Tapes ‘n Tapes.” There are two things that piss me off about that line. First, I don’t need special dispensation from Pitchfork for anything, thanks. But the second thing that pisses me off about that line is that it is sadly correct. I have forgotten Tapes ‘n Tapes. Though I liked The Loon, I haven’t listened to it in years.

As far as pushing the reset button goes, Outside sounds a lot more like The Loon than Walk It Off, but it doesn’t strike me that Tapes ‘n Tapes are making some cynical attempt to delete their second album from their musical history. I think it’s more likely that the band wanted to take a simpler approach to Outside and take their time to make a good record on their own terms. Sure, Outside smacks a little of “back to the drawing board” but that inclination makes sense after an album as messy as Walk It Off (and let’s face it, folks: after the critical jizz bath that greeted The Loon, Tapes ‘n Tapes never really stood a chance of delivering a second album that met expectations).

So the fifteen dollar question: is Outside good? Will it once again make Tapes ‘n Tapes a prototypical “blog band”, whatever the fuck that means? (I had never encountered that phrase before reading reviews of this album and I hope to never encounter it again. Using phrases like “blog band” is a good way to get labeled a hipster and be showered in scorn. In that case, you’d deserve it.) According to the band’s Wikipedia page, “it wasn’t until The Loon received a favorable review from Pitchfork Media…that the band started to find success.” I guess Pitchfork staffers are writing Wikipedia pages now, huh? Anyway, Pitchfork has pulled a Pontius Pilate on Tapes ‘n Tapes and washed their hands of that band entirely (take heart, Tapes ‘n Tapes – you are not the first band to get the Pitchfork Verbal Hump & Dump™ and you will most definitely not be the last band to get it either), so if they need Pitchfork’s blessing to once again be catapulted into the hearts and minds of the Indie Internet Intelligentsia, I guess they’re boned. But I’ve read plenty of reviews of Outside and I think Pitchfork’s is by far the harshest.

If I sound like I’m picking on Pitchfork, it’s because I am (it’s part of our mission here at Bollocks! to take the piss out of Pitchfork. It’s in the charter). But look: if Pitchfork is a little smug in their approach (and they are), they are not wholly inaccurate in their assertion that Tapes ‘n Tapes is a bit nondescript as a band. A lot of Outside sounds like a lot of stuff that has come out since The Loon. Though I certainly don’t think “One in the World” is a shameless attempt at ripping off Vampire Weekend (though they say it takes a thief to catch one), people are going to associate that sound with the more popular band. And, whether you like their sound or not, Vampire Weekend has a sound and I still feel like Tapes ‘n Tapes only kinda sorta has one. The faster, looser, jangly numbers are still the best, but the two longest songs on Outside – “Nightfall” and “Hidee Ho” – definitely feel like the longest, which is always gonna get you in trouble. I can understand the desire to be genreless (my hatred of genre is well-documented on Bollocks!, and I consider it a subdivision of my hatred of useless labels used to categorize people and things for the convenience of the close-minded and intellectually lazy), but “being difficult to distinguish from most other bands” is not the same as being genreless.

So we can call Tapes ‘n Tapes a “work in progress” and give them a Pitchfork 5.5, but how helpful is that? It’s not helpful. So I wanna help Tapes ‘n Tapes if I can and, like all pretentious blowhards, I believe I can.

Firstly, looking toward the development of a distinctive sound, Tapes ‘n Tapes might turn Josh Grier’s vocals loose a little more frequently. He has a great growl to his voice that I think has been underused since The Loon (it also helps “Nightfall” end better than it starts) and I think he could really pick up the ball that Caleb Followill seemed to willfully drop right after Aha Shake Heartbreak.

Second, I think both Walk It Off and Outside are still too clean from a production standpoint. This band will be better when Grier is yowling and the music is a little less polished. Not every band can pull off the calculatedly sloppy thing, but we’ve already heard Tapes ‘n Tapes do it and I firmly believe they can do it again. Sooner is better on this one, guys.

Finally, perhaps most important of all, I think Tapes ‘n Tapes needs to stop giving a fuck what people think about them. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that The Loon’s greatest triumph was that, though it was fairly unoriginal (even in the context of a young century where Green Day stumbles from badly aping the Clash to worsely aping the Who and My Chemical Romance labors under the delusion that they’re somehow not an emo band), the songs came too fast and felt too free for a listener to get too serious about them. I think that’s because Tapes ‘n Tapes didn’t worry too much about what people would think of The Loon. It was, well, loony (how else do you explain a hit single in which a guy screams, “I’ll be your badger”?). Walk It Off was supposed to be their Big Indie Rock coming out party and it ended up being frightfully dull. So now we have timid, awkward Outside, an auditory adolescence which is certainly listenable but nowhere near as much fun as the form to which it is supposed to be a return.

My Ten(ish) Favorite Albums of 2010

Well, I can’t fight the tide of year-end best-of lists forever, but I can try to have fun with it. What follows is a rambling, shambling list of my ten-ish favorite albums (I say “ten-ish” because there’s a tie at number ten and a three-way tie for my second favorite album of the year) and, in the interest of defying tradition while still being stuck with it, I’m doing it “count-up” style, starting with my first favorite and ending with my 10th(ish) favorite. It’s Monday, and I figure we can handle it without the suspense.

1. The National, High VioletIf you’ve read Bollocks! over the last two weeks, you already know this is my favorite album of 2010. There’s not much more to say about it – the National have set the bar incredibly high for whatever they do next and this album still gives me chills.

2. Tie: LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening; The Screaming Females, Castle Talk; The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever. I know the so-called pros will frown on my refusal to make a distinction between these three albums. “Surely,” they will scoff, “you can’t love all three of these albums exactly the same amount.” “Yes I can,” I will reply, “and don’t call me Shirley.” (Rest in peace, Leslie Nielsen. You are forgiven for Dracula: Dead and Loving It). LCD Soundsystem made a dance/pop/rock/electronic masterpiece with This is Happening. It’s a smart, catchy album, and it’s got some of the finest songs James Murphy’s ever written. The Screaming Females, over their last two records really, have injected some much needed vitality into modern rock music. Castle Talk is probably the best straight-up rock album released this year and, in case you haven’t noticed, everyone here at Bollocks! likes Castle Talk almost as much as we like food. As for the Hold Steady, well, Heaven is Whenever is another in a long line of profoundly awesome albums from my favorite band. More than their previous releases, Heaven is Whenever sends me running for their references – different songs make me want to listen to Jim Carroll or Hüsker Dü and then come back to the Hold Steady. I know some people saw Heaven is Whenever as a step down for the Hold Steady, and they’re entitled to that opinion as long as they don’t try to peddle that bullshit ’round here.

3. The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. What you have to realize about this list is that the separation of affection I have for these albums is minuscule. 2010 was like Christmas all year long for me, with new albums dropping almost monthly that had me wishing that I could just stay home for a week straight and listen to music. The Suburbs is goddamn gorgeous, substantive, and exactly what I’ve come to expect from the Arcade Fire.

4. Menomena, Mines. This album is candy for your ears. Much is made of Menomena’s songwriting and recording techniques, but none of that is as important as the fact that Mines is stuffed to the gills with soaring melodies and lush harmonies. It’s Menomena’s best album so far and I hope you run out and get it as soon as you finish reading this.

5. The New Pornographers, Together. Some of my friends look at me funny when they ask what pop artists I like and I say, “The New Pornographers.” This is usually because they’ve never heard of the New Pornos and labor under the  popular delusion that “pop” is short for “popular.” I know a lot of people think that, but I’m referring to pop as the kind of rock music made popular by the Beatles. You know, big choruses, catchy melodies. Listen to Together and tell me you don’t hear some of the best pop music of 2010. And then I’ll tell you that I would very much like to donate to whatever telethon helps people like you.

6. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks. Ted Leo is a bit of an unsung hero of rock music. He plays the guitar like a motherfucker, creates stylistically diverse music with a punk spirit, and even puts in the work to keep ticket prices down (as much as possible) for his fans. The Brutalist Bricks is a pretty relentless record – that is, it’s pretty and relentless, sometimes in the same track (album closer “Last Days” comes to mind). And the band brings just as much thunder on the stage as they do in the studio. The show Leo & the Pharmacists played in Los Angeles last spring was one of the most satisfying concerts I’ve ever attended.

7. The Mynabirds, What We Lose in the Fire, We Gain in the Flood. Laura Burhenn is an incredibly powerful singer, and she doesn’t need any goddamn auto-tune to deliver a melody that’ll put some fire in your blood. What We Lose in the Fire is nothing new musically, but it’s played with the deep faith of someone who as been baptized in the river of the music they’re mimicking. The album starts with a stunner (the somewhat paradoxically titled “What We Gained in the Fire”) and is littered with musical treasures throughout. Listen to the this record.

8. The Corin Tucker Band, 1,000 Years. I had read somewhere, long before it came out, that Corin Tucker’s first post-Sleater-Kinney album was inspired by her marriage and two kids. Given my feelings about such music, my Trepidation Meter was pegged over in the red until I heard 1,000 Years, which is actually just a very lovely rock album with some nice melodies and some really kickass moments. Tucker’s voice is still in the same great shape it was in on The Woods and her return to making music was one of the best things about a very rewarding year in music.

9. Wolf Parade, Expo 86. Wolf Parade channeled 80s David Bowie (the Dan Boeckner-led “Yulia” is “Space Oddity” with a Russian historical flavor) and their own personal weirdness to craft the best 1980s album of 2010. I hate to use the word “accessible” when discussing music, but Expo 86 probably was a breath of fresh air to people who were a bit put off by At Mount Zoomer (I don’t count myself in that group). Either way you slice it, songs like “Caveosapien” and “Ghost Pressure” help make Expo 86 an album that I couldn’t leave alone for long this year.

10. Tie: The Manic Street Preacher, Postcards from a Young Man; Roky Erickson and Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil. Both of these albums ended up tied for my tenth favorite in the last two weeks. In preparing for all this year-end nonsense, I tried to go back through all of the albums I really enjoyed throughout the year, and these two have done nothing but grow on me. Sure, Postcards from a Young Man is a bit overstuffed in places, but “All We Make is Entertainment” might be the best song the Manic Street Preachers have ever written (it’s definitely one of my favorite songs of 2010) and the rest of the album is pretty great too. James Dean Bradfield is an underrated rock vocalist and he proves it on every Manic Street Preachers album. As for legendary loony Roky Erickson, I spent the better part of this past holiday weekend rediscovering True Love Cast Out All Evil, and that album is really fucking beautiful. Like Postcards, it’s got some dodgy moments but those are far outweighed by moments of transcendent musical awesomeness. “True Love Cast Out All Evil” might be the best title track of the year.

There are lots of great albums that didn’t make this list. I still love them, but 2010 was an amazingly satisfying year for music (at least for me it was) and the albums discussed above are the ones from this year that I return to time and time again. We’re almost done with the year-in-review stuff, but I have found what is definitely the worst album of 2010 and I might need two days to tell you about it. Until then, some unsolicited advice: listen to music more than you talk, write, or read about it. Namaste!

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.