Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Summer Jam 2008 Pt. 3 - A Sort of Off Topic Post About Weezer

Undeniably, summer jams are songs. Not to deny the existance of albums that function as long form summer musical entertainment, but it's rare that there is overlap between an album that functions well as a summer album and a song that qualifies as a true summer jam. You aren't gonna find me pumping an L.F.O. LP but that in no way detracts from the greatness of "Summer Girls". Paul's Boutique is an excellent summer driving record - I would venture that it is the best, but that's a discussion for another day - but if you take any one track from the album and try to sell it as a summer jam you won't have too much success.

Albums like Paul's Boutique don't come along all that often. While it's my contention that you can't have an American summer without a summer jam, you can certainly go from June to September without a new summer album. The classics are always there to prop you up if you feel the need to play an album all the way through for some reason, but the real crux of the matter is that you shouldn't feel that need. Summer is about the single and a summer album is a happy coincidence that's becoming more and more obsolete.

Still, in what was shaping up to be sort of a lame year for summer jams, I was holding out hope that we'd see a great summer album in 2008. There seemed to be at least a couple of releases that had potential to blow up in this manner. (The main other one I'm not mentioning in this post was R.E.M.'s Accelerate mainly because of the summery theme and awesomeness of the "Supernatural Superserious", even though it came out in like February.)

I generally think I'm pretty worldly, hard to fool. But Weezer still gets me every time. When the release date for The Red Album was set at June 3rd I honestly thought that this could be a great summer record. "Pork and Beans", even acknowledging its flaws, is a pretty great song, and, I think, the best single they've released since "Island In the Sun". (Which isn't to say "best song".) I'll admit that part of that statement is wishful thinking, because I really wanted to see Weezer be around for summer 2008. Sadly, there are only really 2 good songs on The Red Album, and they're both right at the beginning, which means there's really not much reason to listen to the whole album. In fact, the rest of the album is kind of terrible, and, to make matters worse, neither of the good songs, the aformentioned "Pork and Beans" and "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" function that well as summer jams.

I wouldn't say, though, that Weezer has let me down here. With the two songs mentioned above, they've proved more than they've proved since they came back from the dead on The Green Album, which proved only that they could still produce a record and get it released. Maladroit proved they could still produce a record with songs that didn't sound exactly alike, and Make Believe proved that the band was still very much a work in progress. What The Red Album proves is that the band is still weird, something that is more relavant in the wake of Rivers's demos comp Alone surfaced.

Some people have remarked about Weezer's seeming obsession with doing whatever they need to do to get at the heart of America's youth. Given Rivers's love for KISS and the fact that KISS's entire career was built on cultivating an image that would appeal a large teenage audience this isn't much of a stretch. What people forget, though, is that KISS were straight fucking businessmen from the beginning and that Rivers was one of the guys they were singing for - a weird, alienated, American male that needed desperately to feel like he was normal. (There's a part in Fargo Rock City that handles this aspect of KISS pretty well.) River's is weird, has always been weird, and, no matter how many times he writes the same song in pursuit of pop music perfection (which doesn't exist the way he thinks it does), he'll always be weird. On at least two songs, The Red Album proves that the weird side of Rivers, the side that has been responsible for 90% of Weezer's greatness throughout the years, is still alive and kicking. No summer jam, but so what.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Best Albums Since the Year I Was Born

Let's debate the merits of listicles later. Here we have an honest depiction of my current favorite albums from each year since my birth. Let it be known that I have ommitted from this list any albums that I have not, at one point in my life, listened to frequently.

  • 1983: R.E.M. - Murmur

  • 1984: Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense

  • 1985: Husker Du - New Day Rising

  • 1986: The Smiths - The Queen is Dead

  • 1987: Prince - Sign of the Times

  • 1988: Journey - Greatest Hits

  • 1989: The Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique

  • 1990: They Might Be Giants - Flood?

  • 1991: Massive Attack - Blue Lines

  • 1992: Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine?

  • 1993: Yo La Tengo - Painful

  • 1994: Weezer - The Selftitled Blue Album

  • 1995: Tricky - Maxinquaye

  • 1996: DJ Shadow - Endtroducing

  • 1997: Radiohead - OK Computer

  • 1998: Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children

  • 1999: The Dismemberment Plan - Emergency & I

  • 2000: Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun (released in Europe in 1999...)

  • 2001: Microphones - The Glow Pt. 2

  • 2002: Mclusky - Do Dallas

  • 2003: Lightning Bolt - Wonderful Rainbow

  • 2004: Zazen Boys II

  • 2005: Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree

  • 2006: The Knife - Silent Shout

  • 2007: Future of the Left - Curses

  • 2008: Islands - Arm's Way / Robyn - Robyn
Obviously the two real standouts here are 1990 and 1992, which I now realize are somehow total dead spots on my radar. There exist, to my knowledge, no albums made during those years that I can definitively say that I really like. Sure, when I was in high school Flood and Rage Against the Machine were on all the time, and I still listen to them now and again. They're good records, but there's no way they would enter this conversation if they weren't released in those years. I guess I'd better step up my early 90's game.

Not like the late 80's were much better. If Journey's Greatest Hits looks like a stretch, it is. Not because I don't love the album, but it totally bales me out of another 1992 situation.

Notable snubs - The Hold Steady, Cornershop - who unfortunately can't compete with Radiohead in '97, The Notwist, and - the more I look at this list the more obvious it becomes - anyone who isn't a white male. A good start to a summer soul search.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Summer Jam 2008 Pt. 2 - Belated Honors

I like to think that I take a while to digest music, and that's why I'm often hideously behind the times. The truth might be closer to laziness, prudishness, or a totally unhelpful sense of obligation. But I like to think that when I get into a song it so possesses me that I'm unable to process any other new music while it's still got me in its grasp. Unfortunately, there are at least two songs that pretty much entirely disprove my this theory.

I no doubt heard "Paper Planes" at some point last summer. Everyone was all up on Kala last summer, including some close friends, and it would be a stretch to say I effectively avoided it. Though that isn't to say I didn't try! I hated, still hate, and probably will always hate M.I.A. She is not really very good at anything, and I don't find her brand of party music, if that's what it is, particularly fun either. She's easy to write about, easy to sing along with, I suppose, and those are things that in my capacities as a writer and sinalonger I can get on board with, but god Damn is she annoying. And, until "Paper Planes" she hadn't released anything that anyone would ever really want to listen to as far as I could tell.

Which should explain a few things: first, why I never really bothered to listen to "Paper Planes" when it came out and second, why I was as floored as I was when I finally did. "Paper Planes", as much as I hate to admit it, deserved to be mentioned in the discussion of summer jams for 2007.

And this really comes out of left field. I still don't understand it. How does a singer this bad, working with the same mediocre production team she's worked with on all of the other songs she's released that I hated, come up with something so universally amazing? It's got that simple brilliance that makes you think it was probably cowritten by an 8 year old. And that, I guess, is what a lot people see in M.I.A. all the time, whereas she comes off to me more like a kind of pathetic 28 year old trying to pretend like she's still got that 8 year old in her in all the good ways. In that sense, though, I can see the continuum from her usual style to "Paper Planes".

What's harder to understand is where all the trash went. Everything other than "Paper Planes" that M.I.A. has done sounds not only like it's trying too hard to be simple, spontaneous and "fresh", but also like it desperately needs to sound like it's coming off the street when the opposite is so plainly true. It's always been highly manicured music full of affectation and artifice, but with the image of speaking through some sort of international gutter-prole lexicon. And then "Paper Planes" just sounds like a great, very original, song. Somehow all the baggage M.I.A. has built up around her falls away and it's just the song. I use this baggage as the excuse for why it's taken me so long to get on the bandwagon.

But, I don't have that excuse in regards to Soulja Boy. I have no beef with him, and I heartily support pretty much everything he's ever done in his entire life, with the possible exception of robocopping that ho. I would've probably been on this song's jock last summer, except I somehow didn't hear this song until like September last year. That's it. I don't think anything needs to be said about this song that hasn't already been said, other than that I'd really like to see Soulja Boy play Jay-Z one on one to end the DeShawn Stevenson LeBron James feud once and for all (cause I still refuse to except that the Wizards lost that series).

So here's some historical revisionism for you: I propose to enter "Crank That" and "Paper Planes" for consideration as summer jams for 2007.

Or, again you can see the original video here thanks to disabled embedding.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Summer Jam 2008 Pt. 1 - That Keyboard Sound

I think it was April when Usher's "Love in This Club" came out. Immediately, I had the same feeling I had gotten when I heard "Umbrella" for the first time last May. Here we have the obvious front runners for the crown of summer jam for their respective years, but released prematurely into the relatively lukewarm waters of Spring. "Umbrella" grew slowly, as it was able to, having been recorded by Rihanna - a vaguely odd not very famous not very good singer - until it was the most ubiquitous thing this side of "Hey Ya." Usher, unfortunately, being the ever famous celebrity he is, was not able to watch his track flourish in such a fashion.

Which is a shame. This song is damned close to perfect for at least a certain type of summer jam. Pretty much anyone could've performed it, which is important for things like this. I'm pretty sure someone extremely distinctive, like R. Kelly would never be able to pull of this type of summer jam, in the pure jam sense of the term. With this beat, and this melody, someone just needs to sing it and I credit Usher for doing just that, without trying to add any sort of fireworks. That bridge is fucking priceless, too. Can you think of another song where Usher's voice is this multitracked? I'm convinced after hearing this song that Usher would've made a heck of a backup singer for like Alicia Keys or something if his solo career hadn't ever taken off.

Jeezy, for his part, is fucking terrible, which is pretty much exactly what's called for. A guest verse on a pop hip hop track either needs to be great, putting a track over the edge, like Ludacris does on "Oh", or it needs to be so forgettable that you stop noticing that it's happening. Listening to "Oh", you wait for Luda with bated breath, you're silent while he's going, and then when he's done you say "oh shit he killed it" even if you've heard it a hundred times before. With "Love in This Club" you take a break during Jeezy's verse from thinking about how great the track is to take a drink, or say something unrelated. When even Jeezy's adlibs aren't compelling you gotta give him credit for not trying.

And as far as not trying goes, that's perfectly fine with this track. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for that keyboard sound, but it's put to such great use here. And by that keyboard sound I mean both the tremoloey one and the euro style pad, or preferably both of them together. Other than those keyboard sounds, nothing else is going on here, and that's as it should be. The drum sounds act like they were directly ripped from a CD called "Generic Hip Hop in the 21st Century" and, as per usual actually, they sound perfectly fine. To reiterate: it's that keyboard sound.

It makes me sad that I feel a little behind the times pumping this in 90 degree heat, but if Usher's entry came a little early this year, we've still got "Haterz Everywhere" by B.O.B. - which is pretty much the same song, except with more rapping, better rapping, and it's about haterz instead of having sex in public. I first overheard this pumping during a kickball game at sunset in Greenpoint and it was kind of perfect. And why?

Long story short, it has that keyboard sound. Plus there's a version with Rich Boy, who deserves a certified summer jam in his pocket.

The most surprising and pleasant thing here is how good B.O.B.'s verse is. Like actually pretty good! Which somehow doesn't make it any less stupid, and that's an accomplishment in my book. You can listen to it or not, but when you do it doesn't sound dumb.

I've seen the term "trance-hop" thrown around in reference to this track, and as far as i can tell that ought to at least tangentially apply to the Usher track too, since they're pretty damn close to being the same song. But, "trance-hop", as it turns out, is a pretty dumb term. These producers, Polow the Don on "Love in This Club" and some other guy on "Haterz Everywhere", are using trancey keyboard sounds, but they aren't even necessarily "trance" sounds, and there's certainly nothing like trance music going on in these tracks. These are hip hop beats with a little euro feel thrown over them, and to me the synths suggest house just as much as they suggest trance. Not to get too nitpicky, but lets not call this a movement or a genre or anything. Let's call it two badass summer jams for 2008, neither of which will be the summer jam of 2008.

Or go here to see the real video which you unfortuantely can't embed.

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