December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Stalin wishes you nothing by gulags for this holiday.

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December 15, 2010

Relaunch

The goal is to relaunch and rebrand Stalin. Brainstorming is occurring.

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November 16, 2010

Back Tracking, Volume 4: Game Theory - "Erica's Word"

1985 was the greatest year in music history. For, in this year - on September 4th - your humble correspondent was born to change the sonic landscape forever.



In truth, 1985 was the year Pop Ate Itself. At least in the 1980's, '85 was the dissipation of the collective, underground energies born in the late 70's that had once stood a chance of wholesale mainstream acceptance. New Wave as a genre-tag ceased virtually overnight to exist; though long-subsumed into the New Romantic movement under the aegis of groups like Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark and ABC, the intellect and attention to songcraft practiced with various ironic detachment by such groups as The Cars, Blondie, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Wall of Voodoo, and beyond was washed from the public eye.

The pioneering spirit, sneering self-sufficiency, and political aims of the punk boomlet also died a sudden and gory death in 1985. The Clash, fractured by conflicts of personality, "cut the crap" and called it a day midway through the year [though Joe Strummer produced a final - awful - album under the band's name with Paul Simonon and saved the official breakup for calendar year 1986]. X, the torch-bearers of West Coast punk, hired metal producer Michael Wegener to helm their 1985 Album Ain't Love Grand, with mixed results; some tracks skew country, some skew metal, none breathe the fire that characterized the group's first four releases. The Ramones enjoyed one final burst of energy and put out Too Tough to Die, but would tip toward self-parody in its promotion and never regained the edge of their halcyon days.

Meanwhile, the hardcore movement grew ever more fractured; Black Flag's candle burned sharply toward its middle from both ends under the weight of Loose Nut / In My Head, their dual releases for the year - the band would be finished by 1986 - and under the weight of just a thousand lineup changes, while Minor Threat had been finished over a year and Bad Brains were in the first throes of writing i Against i, their masterpiece, but as such were yet an immature group. Oh, and D. Boon died in the fatal traffic accident that would finish The Minutemen.

To cap it all off, David Lee Roth quit Van Halen. The most adventurous of rock's established mainstream acts became Sammy Haggar's vehicle, and decidedly less adventurous for every subsequent release.

Now, what about pop? Well, "We Are the World" was recorded January 28, 1985. Phil Collins broke with Genesis and released No Jacket Required on January 25. The aforementioned OMD put out their slickest piece of electro-pop with Crush on June 17. Yeah, there was no getting into the charts if you were a left-of-center pop-rock group in 1985. Huey Lewis and The News had poisoned the well the year earlier with the monster success of Sports, which was a very janus-faced thing for an ex-nervy New Wave group to do; never mind that Newsman Sean Hopper was ELVIS COSTELLO'S ORIGINAL KEYBOARD PLAYER. Oh, and Elvis himself was captive of the production team of Langer and Winstanley, who had helmed what he retrospectively terms "the worst" album he and The Attractions ever made, 1984's Goodbye Cruel World.

So, what to do if you're a genius singer-songwriter with a thing for Sixties pop and you're still coming down from the giddy high of New Wave's peak? Well, if you're Game Theory's Scott Miller, you record your band's first two albums - Real Nighttime and Big Shot Chronicles - in the same year, and release "Erica's Word", your group's best single and probably the top power-pop song outside of "September Gurls", ever, in 1985. You man up. Pop is a fickle thing, and your timing couldn't be worse -- two years earlier and you're The Waitresses with better songs, two years later and The Replacements open for you on a big Twin/Tone tour and/or you're The Stone Roses. But you do it because, damn it, songs this good can't stay inside of you. And then you release easily the best visual description of L.A.'s Paisley Underground scene captured on film (though your band was, at best, a fringe part of it), and you bask for the four months between Winter Break and the end of Spring Semester 1986, because you have made college radio immeasurably better. And that was what you came here for.

Here it is, and here I bask.

March 16, 2010

2003

I have a lot of great memories from 2003. Jenn and I had been dating since the previous year; she moved down to Oklahoma City to go to college which was inspired in no small part by her desire to be with me. We went to concerts, I played in a band (Google "Cessation Bustle" and see what happens), and lots of music came out that made 2003 feel like a great fucking year.

The Rapture came out with Echoes, but I still think it's overrated. The Strokes disappointed America with Room on Fire. Radiohead released Hail to the Thief, which while one of their weaker albums is still better than 95% of what's released. And for some fucking reason, everybody thought the Darkness was this awesome, ironic, kitschy band that was really a terribly cheesy piece of shit. Oh yeah, and that Iraq war thing was going down. Dude, if we could be fooled into thinking the Darkness's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" was a great song, then the Bush Administration convincing the country that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction was a sure thing. We had nobody to blame but ourselves.

There are some serious contenders for 2003's personal album of the year. Sufjan Stevens came flying out with Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State. That thing was monumental. Find a mid 20 something who fancies themselves a music fan and ask them if they had that album. If they didn't, they're a phony. Speakerboxx/Love Below made white suburban kids feel they were that much closer to being urban. Cursive's The Ugly Organ came out and showed us that Domestica was a one off. It pains me to say that. The Ugly Organ was good, but it was no Domestica. Beulah's Yoko released a terrific break up album.

But it's been established I'm a fairly lame dork. I remember making out to The Postal Service's Give Up and the emotions attached to this album give it a checkmark for 2003. Yeah, the lyrics display trademark Gibbardisms, but Jimmy Tamborello's production and Ben Gibbard's singing make up for the occasional lyrical disaster. The Postal Service's Give Up was clearly about seven years ahead of it's time because that little poof from Minnesota, Owl City, has blown the hell up by basically taking Ben Gibbard's vocal styling and throwing it on his own similar electronic bleeps and bips that Tamborello did with the Postal Service. The Postal Service was saccharine sweet but the toothache was worth it.

March 6, 2010

2002

I know when you do one of these online blog things you're supposed to work at it and not wait nearly three months between posts. You lose readers; any momentum you had built up is squandered because life got in the way. Some people do this for a living. And if I were getting paid to share my opinions on music with a swath of the population who are probably just criticizing what I'm writing anyway, I'm sure I'd find the time to post daily. Jenn is the real music writer on this thing.

But I hate leaving the Oughts undone. I left 2002 unaccounted for, along with the remainder of the decade.

It's funny to look back on a year-end review from a month after the year's end. According to Spin's 2002 review, the album of the year was White Stripes then rereleased White Blood Cells. Looking back on it, nearly everyone agrees that 2002 was the year of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

The thing about that is I thought it was shit. I couldn't listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for two years without wanting to kill my ears with a q-tip. This guy was rocking the hell out of Coheed and Cambria's debut Second Stage Turbine Blade and discussing the intricacies of Control by Pedro the Lion. I couldn't see the fuss about YHF... and hated the hell out of the "sell-out" On a Wire by the Get Up Kids.

So 2002 wasn't a fully fleshed out year of good musical decisions. But, living in Oklahoma City at the time, I think it was inevitable that I, and probably most everybody else listening to radio that wasn't Staind or Puddle of Mudd, was drawn in to the Flaming Lips's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It was and is a big, weird, fuzzy pop freakout, tripping balls on acid. The Soft Bulletin was a great album and lesser bands who gave a shit about things like "expectations" and "pressure" would have likely played things a bit more conservatively on the follow up, maybe doing more of the same, tightening up in spots but still being solid. The Flaming Lips I don't even think care if they really move any units or make their label money. So pressure was non-existent.
The Lips took electronics and combined it with their brand of pop-rock and found a way to add spirit to the music. Electronics usually get used to take the humanity out of the music (I'm looking at you, industrial). It's just all so sublime and understated without being minimalist. The lyrics are playful and absurd without being pretentious. The album as a whole set the bar even higher for the expectations heaped on the Flaming Lips, as well as for how fucking weird you have to be to get the hell out of Oklahoma City's convoluted, inbred music scene. Yep, I went there.

December 13, 2009

Hatin' on the Decade

Like my better half, I too, am guilty of missing some of the more supposed important bench marks that have marked the past decade. At the awkward age of 15 and living in the suburbs, I wasn't as privvy to the extremely outlandish and definitive moments, but...I also, was sadly somewhat apathetic. At 15 it was more important to me who else was listening to the music I should've been listening to, which meant Blink 182. And for me, Blink 182's gig was up by the time I hit 15-16 and the whole naked wannabe frat boy pop punk just wasn't cutting it for me anymore.

A local independent record store had opened up not too far away from me and the thought of trading in CD's I didn't want anymore for newer CD's that I might not have been able to afford on my allowance alone was appealing to me. I gathered up my finest pop-punk and old boy band (and to me there was only one boy band, and that was N'Sync) CD's and took them to the record store. While perusing the selections, both new and used, I remembered what one of my local "musical heroes" had said about a few different "indie" albums. I was intrigued and, lucky for me, there was an indie section for me to choose from. While somewhat limited, my puny CD trade-in store credit allowed me to purchase 3 CD's. I remembered hearing Radiohead and thinking it was a bit "weird", so I, again, kept thinking of what my musical hero was talking about and walked out with 'The Moon and Antarctica' by Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie's 'We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes', and...

Domestica - Cursive
I wasn't really aware of the term "concept album" and now, 10 years later, I pretty much loathe the idea of concept albums. But, at 15...I also wasn't fully aware of how much this album would shape my musical tastes and change the way I listened to music.

Initially the album in general was a bit too abrasive for me, but a few tracks (specifically "Shallow Means, Deep Ends", "A Red So Deep" and "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst") were easy for me to wrap my ears around. Because of those songs I kept the album on repeat almost constantly. I felt as though with every listen I picked up something I hadn't before, I caught a telling lyric I'd missed the last time or I'd find a piece to the story and put the puzzle together bit by bit.

Say what you will about Tim Kasher's voice or the simplistic drumming on the album, but this concept album didn't need it; this album was done with style and grace. While in 2000, I couldn't personally grasp what it was like to go through an ugly divorce, but I was old enough to know what heartbreak was and how it felt. As a child I could listen to a song two or three times and have the lyrics memorized, but it didn't really mean much because I just knew the words; I never really put much thought into the meaning of the words. This album practically forced me to put thought into what I was singing along to. Kasher's downright sincerity brought music (and lyrics) to a new peak for me, not to mention the seizing emotion and inflection with which he sang.

As I continued to reserve this album in my rotation, I learned that music was more than just liking the way the vocals sound, or a catchy little hook here or there. The album attuned my ears to how things fit together and flow, which, may be in part to the record being a concept album or because it was a "story" for an adult (even a kind of young adult). The crunchy guitars and resonating bass that went along with the angst-ridden wails and whispers were music, not just sounds and words. The dynamics of this album cultivated my ears and my brain.

This album not only fostered my love for this type of music and aided in my personal musical education, but I have many vivid memories related with this album. The album eventually became my anthem for the year and I constantly felt like I could relate to every word spoken on the album. Emo? Maybe, but this album, to be ever-so cliche, got me through some rough times. I went through some physical abuse and general crappy ol' days and while this may not be the most inspriational and uplifiting album it certainly helped make me feel like I was human and had a place in the world.



Honorable Mentions:
The Moon and Antarctica - Modest Mouse
We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes - Death Cab for Cutie
Fevers and Mirrors - Bright Eyes
No Kill No Beep Beep - Q and Not U
The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of - Starlight Mints
False Cathedrals - Elliott
Trying to Figure Each Other Out - Brandtson

Stalin Retrospekticus: '01

2001 was the year I made a lot of expensive, terrible decisions, lost a bunch of weight, and started my senior year of high school.

  • I remember predicting to my friend that Jimmy Eat World were going to get massive with the release of their next album. Bleed American took JEW to heights that they probably wouldn't have predicted for themselves... which, unfortunately, involved changing their album title after a bunch of Saudis flew some planes into the World Trade Center in New York.
  • It was also the year that America realized Weezer died in a tragic plane accident in 1997 and that Capitol Records dressed four impostors up as Weezer and released the Green Album.
  • It was the year Radiohead released Amnesiac, which, despite being solid, wasn't really on my radar in 2001. I was more excited for the As I Lay Dying debut, Beneath the Encasing of Ashes and the new Saves the Day LP, Stay What You Are.
  • Converge released Jane Doe and wasn't on my radar at all. I would have been all over that had I known ANYTHING. But yet I knew about Bane's Give Blood. What the hell, man?
  • Death Cab for Cutie released The Photo Album. Indie kids all got boners, despite how much they decry Death Cab for "selling-out."
  • Thursday released Full Collapse and we can all point to them as one of the propagators of the screaming/nasal singing over post-hardcore music. The Dismemberment Plan released Change and I didn't even know.
  • White kids in tight jeans were inspired to dance thanks to a little album by Daft Punk called Discovery.

    But at the time, I was all over Further Seems Forever's The Moon is Down. What can I say? I was a Tooth and Nail fanboy for the longest time because of the ridiculous youth group background I crawled out from under. And Strongarm, a highly influential Christian metalcore, was one of my favorite bands. Four former members of Strongarm made up Further Seems Forever, so when I heard they had a new band I was immediately excited.
    That album helped me tremendously during my summer of expensive, terrible decisions. In short, I kind of spent the bulk of my summer in upstate New York trying to hook up with a girl. I mean, naturally, that kind of thing goes south in a hurry, with the whole thing being based on false pretenses and religious confusion. So an emotionally overcharged band releases their debut album before the worst summer of my life? Tailor made.
    The actual album is quite good. You have to forgive them, though. Chris fucking Carrabba singing over a band who helped propel screamo bullshit into Hot Topics everywhere. But the actual substance of the tracks, with incredibly tight musicians performing intricate post hardcore arrangements with above average lyrics, are something to behold. Steve Kleisath, drummer for Shai Hulud AND Strongarm (!!), is behind the kit performing what easily had to have been some of "emo's" most intricate, technical drumming. Sure, the twin guitar thing has been ground to death but come on, if it's done well it's done well.
    It's not the best album of 2001 by any stretch, but it's my emotional favorite of 2001.