Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Flaming Lips - "Do You Realize??" (2002)

The Flaming Lips' 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was a watershed moment for my life as a fan of music. I've always known the Flaming Lips for their 90's one hit wonder "She Don't Use Jelly" and never new much of their prolific psych rock. With Yoshimi, they ushered in a new era of cool psych rock. It was poppy and futuristic as well as intricate and bizarre. Embedded on this album is one of the most straightforward and beautiful songs of the new millennium. The existential anthem "Do You Realize??" is a moving pop song that is transcendent and important to this generation. The songs beautiful chorus depicts perfectly the optimistic feeling of the music and definitely shows the power behind the message:

"And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round"

Amongst the goregous lyrics of "Do You Realize??" is equally beautiful orchestration. It's a sweeping anthem that is laden with strings and a beautfiully easy and strum-alongable chord progression making this song a peftect sing-a-long song of finding the beauty in life no matter how short it may be or how futile it may sound sometimes. Wayne Coyne hits the nail on the head on existential galactic wonderment. It's easy to question existence in the face of the universe, but it's beautiful to appreciate it and to understand that every moment is important. "Do You Realize??" is the new generations most uplifting track.

Up Next: Queens of the Stoneage enlist one of the greatest drummers of all time

Rock of Ages: Built to Spill - "Time Trap" (1999)

The end of the 90's as stated before was kind of weird. But luckily a lot of the music that was hidden under the surface or was popular amongst the indie community and college rock radio was still of stellar quality and was pointing towards the future of music. Built to Spill is an interesting indie rock band. They have all the qualities of what would be a perfect 70's rock band. Sprawling guitars, catchy hooks and fantastic poetic lyrics. It took time for me to hear of them even though by the point their magnum opus Keep it Like a Secret dropped in 1999, they were already well into their career. "Time Trap" is kind of the theme song to a new millennium looming. It opens with easily one of my favorite bass lines in all of modern rock music and slowly builds into this wafting surge of guitars. It's a haze of sound that washes over you and makes you force your pedal to the floor and as you hit 88 miles per hour at the peak of this sound, it cuts back and you are in a new place. The lyrics come in, the guitars hush up a bit and the rhythm section lays back only yo be posed for another all out assault on the senses. It's a truly riveting experience that Built to Spill create.

When "Time Trap" opens up again, we get this woozy, swooping guitar solo over a frenzied outro of bass and drums that slowly fades out to the end. It's a fade out that could just be an extended jam as the riff swoops and swirls and the beat kicks in large and fast. "Time Trap" is a song you never want to end so when it finally fades away, it's likely you will skip back and play it again. Luckily the rest of Keep it Like a Secret is fantastic so even if you want "Time Trap" to end, you will get treated to some of the best guitar rock around. Built to Spill continues to release solid records to this day and their new record is due out soon. I'm excited.

Up Next: The Flaming Lips write the most moving song of the new millennium

Rock of Ages: Pavement - "Carrot Rope" (1999)

Approaching the new millennium, the end of the 90s saw a strange turn for the worse in alt. rock. Post Grunge like Nickelback and Godsmack were taking over, bubblegum pop from Britney Spears and the copious amount of boy bands flooded the airwaves and nu-metal was stinking it up big time. Bands like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Weezer all changed into more bloated versions of themselves. It was a strange era. One of the eras most important bands, Pavement, was finishing their tour of duty as a band and breaking up. Just like the Refused in a way, they left us on a high note. Pavement's final album, Terror Twilight is now 10 years old and feels as contemporary as ever. It's indie rock at it's purest state and if anything, was a sign post to the churning underground rock movement that would soon be launched into the forefront with bands like The Shins, Arcade Fire and Death Cab for Cutie coming to popularity in the 00's. They left us with the classic "Carrot Rope", a lazy summers day of a song that gives nothing but sheer joy to the listener.

"Carrot Rope" is a song that encapsulates a time for me. It was the transition from high school to college. The transition to kid to young adult. It's a song that bridged the era of my days as someone who just liked rock music to someone who loved it. It's a fairly simple song with the usual strange poetics of Stephen Malkmus driving the song. I equate this song to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" as it's a panacea for the broken hearted or just downright mopey person. It's guitar line is sunny and bright, it's easy to dance to rhythm keeps it moving and it's a perfect closer on an album that saw the end of a transcendent band. Usually when a band you love is done, you are left asking for more, but Terror Twilight is nothing short of a perfect finale to a band whose career took many creative turns and left us with five solid albums of perfectly crafted rock.

Up Next: Built to Spill finalize the 90's

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rock of Ages: Refused - "The Deadly Rhythm" (1998)

The Shape of Punk to Come is one of those all too important albums that exploded in the late 90's that really changed the way music would be made. Thanks to Refused, they were able to do something drastically different then the pop punk of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 could offer. To this day, I can't stand either Green Day or Blink 182. Although I'm not punk rock, as I've said before, I can smell bullshit pretty easily. Luckily for The Shape of Punk to Come, there is nothing but pure, unadulterated rocking. "The Deadly Rhythm" stands atop as my personal favorite track on a record popping with excellence. The song starts with a jazz music sample and quickly jumps into the ear splitting and earth shattering riff. Punctuated with extremely fast drums, the bone splitting guitar riff furies through. Just as furious are the lyrics which are highly against the political machine. A key lyric, and one of my favorites from the album, comes in this song: "We consume our lives like we are thankful, For what we are being forced into."

Somewhere near the halfway point, "The Deadly Rhythm" does something that I have never heard in a hardcore song before: the jazz breakdown. When you hear blistering guitar work and extreme ultra-violent drums, do you expect a bass fiddle solo with a jazzy drum beat, spacey guitars and spoken word? I didn't upon listening to it the first time, but lucky for me it came and surprised the shit out of me. That's what Refused does so well on The Shape of Punk to Come. They weren't afraid to bend the boundaries of what punk and hardcore music could do. Anything from spaced out interludes to the fantastic jazz breakdown on this track, anything seemed possible. Sadly for us, Refused were in fact "fucking dead" as one of their song titles states and ended on the highest note of their career. Luckily, they left us on a transcendent piece of rock music that will surely someday be revered more so than it is.

Up Next: Pavement's cure for the common frown

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rock of Ages: Foo Fighters - "Everlong" (1997)

For my dime, Foo Fighter's "Everlong" is the definitive song of my generation. Something about it just strikes a chord with the 90's and on. It's a fantastically furious rock track that roars back and forth and takes no prisoners. The Colour and The Shape is one of the best albums of the 90's as well. Less groundbreaking than some, but it's overall ability to rock hard and change tone over its 40 plus minutes is uncanny. It's the 90's Who's Next. Dave Grohl is far and away one of our generations finest rock songwriters and damn good front man to boot. Although he occasionally returns to the drum set, he still holds his own as a guitarist and vocalist. "Everlong" is a beautiful love song filled with images of loss and longing. Musically, it's a fever pitch of fast drumming, extreme riffing that builds during the choruses and explodes in the bridge. It's a perfect rock song and a perfect pop song.

What the Foos did with the 90's alt rock sound was turn away from the mopeiness of Grunge just enough that their music was far mor accesible without losing any of it's edge. The Colour and the Shape stands as a concept album of sorts about the arc that a relationshipt travels from start to finish. "Everlong" is that song pining for the love of the past that has moved on and wondering if "things could ever be this good again." Taylor Hawkins' drum performance on this record is one of the most outstanding of the history of rock music. It's extremely fast paced hi hat mixed with heavy hitting snare action is the concrete behind a stellar riff from Dave Grohl. It's a blistering song that is unescapeable at this point as one of the pantheon tracks of the 90's.

Did I mention the music video is amazing?

Up Next: Refused changes punk and hardcore forever

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rock Of Ages: Radiohead - "Climbing Up the Walls" (1997)

As is with most monolithic albums, it's hard picking singular songs from them. Radiohead's OK Computer is no different from the many other amazing albums that have come out in all of rock history. It's chock full of greatness. So choosing one was hard, but I guess it's more or less just one that points ahead more so than other songs for Radiohead. After finally seeing them live during their amazing In Rainbows tour, "Climbing Up the Walls" has climbed up to my personal favorite Radiohead song. Radiohead went from alt. rock upstarts to completely visionary artists in just a few years time. In 1997 when OK Computer landed, it was the first step toward the avante-garde that Radiohead would soon create in 2001 with Kid A. "Climbing Up the Walls" is the first song to point to this murky, synthy, ambient creep that would become a Radiohead staple. It's slow pulsing in and out blips of oozing sound marked with heavily saturated drum effects is more reminiscent of something Nine Inch Nails would produce, but coming from Radiohead it's utterly intriguing. Thom Yorke's vocals are so muddled in effects and sound, it sounds alien. It's a chilling experience that soon will erupt into a frenzied midsection.

As much as Radiohead was still steeped in guitars at this point, the overall production and eerie sound of "Climbing Up the Walls" takes organic instruments and totally melts them down into something else and when it cools off, it's a chilling, harrowing sound that evolves. The song comes late in the album and after plenty of other heart wrenching and gear churning songs like "Exit Music (For A Film)" or "Fitter, Happier"but the track still comes as a surprise. The swelling strings and other worldly sounds are something that just immediately captivates. A tell-tale sign of things to come, "Climbing Up the Walls" is a truly revolutionary track amidst many on an album that is definitive of our generation.

Up Next: Favorite song of the 90's goes to........ Foo Fighters

Rock of Ages: Wilco - "Misunderstood" (1996)

Wilco's "Misunderstood" is how I felt about the band when I first heard of them many moons ago. I heard the label alt country and immediately said "no thanks." If someone said "Neil Youngcore" I would have listened to them since Summerteeth dropped. Alas, I did my proper research and here I am, a bonafied Wilco fanatic. Their 1996 record Being There is a sprawling record of seemingly mismatched songs, but for me it's a work of genius. It may be a bit long, as most double LP's are, but there isn't a whole lot of filler. It get's started off perfectly with the decidedly moody and spacey "Misunderstood" which points to the future of the band. A few years down the line they would put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and many of the tracks have the same atmosphere and melancholy longing that this song had years before it. Every time I listen to the track, it's hard to overcome that the song is in fact from 1996.

Wilco is lucky enough to have one of this generations best songwriters. Jeff Tweedy weaves words beautifully. Poetic and sometimes a bit elusive, "Misunderstood" is a sort of homecoming and realizing things are completely different. It's that feeling you get when you don't even know yourself sometimes. It's a sad song indeed and a strange kick off to an album that the first half has some of the catchiest rock tracks you'll hear. Being There may not be the monolithic artistic achievement of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but it was a precursor to those experimental times.

Up Next: How can one chose a single song from Radiohead's OK Computer?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rock of Ages: Stereolab - "Cybele's Reverie" (1996)

I can't put my thumb on Stereolab. As this list progresses and bands are engaging new sounds, it becomes harder and harder to give bands a proper genre. The one thing since the birth of rock and roll that has plagued it is categorizing it. As it melds and morphs as an art form, it has become splintered into fragments of genres. Stereolab is just one of the many, but for all intents and purposes, they are a post rock band with more of a pop sensibility than others. The bands take on pop music is impressive. Synths swirl, strings accent and the vocals are blissfully sublime. Their 1996 album Emperor Tomato Ketchup is a triumphant work of beautiful pop music. It sounds retro and futuristic all at once. The whimsical song "Cybele's Reverie" is a dreamy-spacey pop song that sprawls and rollicks with the best of them. It has so many layers of sound it's really hard to break it down into it's significant parts.

"Cybele's Reverie" is the kind of song that sticks with you. Although multi-layered, it's so catchy that anyone will be able to bop along with it. Although it is sung in French, lyrically it's about the whimsy and innocence of youth and where we go once we've done everything. Although it's sort of sad to think about, the innocence and beauty of our youth is still something worth reflecting on. The music hits these notes perfectly. Lætitia Sadier vocals emote this whimsy perfectly making the track a beautiful peice of pop music mastery. Stereolab has had a great career for an indie band and Emperor Tomato Ketchup deserves its recognition as one of the best albums of the 90's. It's a genre bender in the best way possible.

Up Next: Wilco's back in your old neighborhood

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rock of Ages: Stone Temple Pilots - "Silvergun Superman" (1994)

By 1994, grunge saw a huge turn for the worse when Kurt Cobain took his own life. It was a sad day that I remember greatly. Music would never be the same. Although some think it would take a turn for the worse, some bands took off into new directions. Although Stone Temple Pilots first record Core can be seen as a purely grunge record, their second album Purple has a much more distinct sound and vibe to it that sets it aside from that early grunge period. Their sound evolved into a more bluesy, glammed out version of their earlier grunge sound. Although the riffs are still heavy on Purple, the songs still come around as a step ahead of their debut. The epic rocker "Silvergun Superman" was never a radio hit, but it is the standout track of STP's career. It's a fantastic slow jam that builds into a seeringly fantastic guitar solo, easily one of the best from the 1990's. Dan DeLeo is a fantastic guitarist and one that deserves credit. Not only on this song, but on many more.

Scott Weiland's lyrics, which could either be a song about his drug addiction or even his drugged out alter ego. Here is my tip off lyric for that:
"Rolling back the days
With my friend I love to play
The little one
Superman with silver gun"
It's almost like it's his version of "Happiness is a Warm Gun" but instead of trippy constantly changing music around it, it's one searingly ferocious riff. The musical quality of this track swells forth at the end which ends in a clatter much like that of a drugged out frenzy. FOr some reason, STP always got the shaft by many as the weird step son of Pearl Jam and many people wrote off their genius, but something abotu STP always seemed way more honest and just straight up more rocking. They left us a legacy of 5 killer albums, although their latter career was less a treasure trove and more of diamonds mixed in the rough. Not every STP track can be as powerful as "Silvergun Superman."

Up Next: Stereolab's dreamy soundscape

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rock of Ages: Jeff Buckley - "Lover, You Should've Come Over" (1994)

Jeff Buckley is a legend. A strange one at that. The man only had one official album, the extraordinary Grace before he tragically died. It's chock full of sounds the resemble so many great classic artists but in a sound that is truly only Jeff Buckley's. It's a visionary album taking influences from artists from Big Star to Led Zeppelin to Nina Simone. This hodge-podge mixture of classic guitar riffs, power pop sensibilities and baroque/jazz style vocals makes it a gem. So many tracks to chose from, but alas one gets the spot. The sweeping love ballad "Lover, You Should've Come Over" is easily one of the most powerful emotionally charged love songs ever written. It's heart wrenching vocals, slow build to a musical delight during the bridge and gentle but powerful guitar line is beyond words.

Jeff Buckley's power comes mostly from his voice, although their is no denying his ability to play guitar. For proof of that, check out the live album Live at Sin-e. Where "Lover You Should've Come Over" takes full effect in it's emotionality is when it reaches the bridge. Lyrically, it has some of the most beautiful moments with lines like "A kingdom for a kiss upon my shoulder." It swells and intensifies as Buckley's voice strains and the music sweeps to it's highest heights. The heartache felt in this song is magnificent as well as the sheer power of love that oozes from it's melodies. It's a beautiful work of art by an extraordinary man who we lost all too soon.

Up Next: Stone Templ Pilots power epic

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rock of Ages: Nine Inch Nails - "Closer" (1994)

It's fitting we get to Nine Inch Nails as they embark on their "final tour." Sure, many bands have said farewell, but for some reason deep down inside, I feel like Trent Reznor might just be telling the truth. Regardless, there is no denying the impact that Nine Inch Nails has had on music. Their 1994 magnum opus, The Downward Spiral, is a fitfully difficult album. It's filled with heart wrenching songs and ear splitting riffs and other worldly sounds. In a generation defining song, "Closer" rocked the world of alt rock radio in the early 90's. Even with it's extremely explicit subject manner, it was one of the most popular and well played songs of the generation. To boot, it had an amazing music video done by phenomenal video director Mark Romanek. It's a landmark recording and a visual masterpiece that adds to the harrowing sound of the track.

"Closer" sports a very dirty and gritty drum beat that adds different layers of rhythm as the song progresses. The main bassy synth line haunts me to this day with its creepy blooping in and out sound. As far as 90's singers, Trent Reznor brings some of the most intriguing and emotional vocals to the stage. As the song moves along and gets more intense, Reznor's vocals grow and swoop with emotion and urgency. The Downward Spiral is filled with similar songs and has a mood all it's own. Some people say grunge killed the 80's generation of blind optimism, but it's really Nine Inch Nails. There is nothing more the antethisis of the decadance of the era that proceeded it than their work. It's a dirty strange symbiotic sound of new wave crunched into these hardcore and harsh beats and sounds. That's what gives "Closer" such power.

Up Next: Jeff Buckley... nuff said

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Lemonheads - "The Great Big No" (1993)

Evan Dando of The Lemonheads wrote some of the catchiest and simplest rock songs of the 90's. His career as an alt rock God was riddled with classic radio hits like "It's A Shame About Ray" and "Into Your Arms." These songs are sometimes more melancholic, but still are always fun. He mixes his dark, drug addled alter ego in well with this sunshiny pop feel. On his 1993 album Come On Feel The Lemonheads, he attacked a lot of these dark issues head on and with countless memorable riffs and harmonies. Album opener "The Great Big No" is the perfect starter for this kit. It's a jaded song about moving on and trying to figure it out, but do we ever fully move on? Evan Dando is kind of a precursor to the emo phenomenon. With catchy hooks and mopey, sad lyrics encased in fast tempo rock, it's definitely a tell tale sign of what was to come.

Come On Feel The Lemonheads is a perfect piece of power pop mastery. "The Great Big No" packs a catchy riff and lyrics that make you want to sing along to as well as a beat that keeps things going. Although the music of The Lemonheads is sunny and bright, the truth was that Evan Dando hid deep down inside the lyrics his inner stuggles. His drug addiction led to a stop to his genius creativity in the late 90s and early 00's. His music is all at once a time capsule of the 90's and an everlasting anthem of youthful confusion ladeled in amazing power chords that demand you listen to them whilst driving to the shore or blasting when you need to dance to some good rock and roll. Luckily for us as well that Dando is back with The Lemonheads. The 2006 self titled record rules and a new album of new material is due soon. Long live the 90s!

Up Next: Nine Inch Nails redefines and destroys industrial music all at once

Rock of Ages: Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Soul to Squeeze" (1993)

Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of my generations foremost important bands. Blending funk music, hard rock and hip hop, they are an amalgam group of party boys who wrote some of the eras most memorable anthems and rockers. Written and recorded during the fruitful sessions that birthed their '91 hit album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, "Soul to Squeeze" did not see release until 1993, where it was released as a single for the film Coneheads. That's right. Coneheads. Weird, yes. But it also happens to be a fantastic song. Why it wasn't used on BSSM is beyond my knowledge, but alas it was finally given a shot and it worked out pretty well. It's easily the bands most heartbreakingly beautiful ballad. Anthony Keidas lyrics finally shine past the oversexual freak that his prior works usually sounded like. It is a song about loss, especially the loss of Keidas' longtime friend and original RHCP member Hilal Slovak.

As a ballad, "Soul to Squeeze" still fills in the slower tempo with plenty of great guitar hooks and classic Flea bass antics. John Frusciante's guitar is melancholy and reflective as it woos its way through the track. When the breakdown comes, the song explodes into a more usual Chili Peppers rocker, then slows down again. Lest we forget Anthony Keidas' scat breakdown! Something to be said about that mans strange vocalizing. I love it. This song his vocals go from beautiful and meaningful to zany and frantic scatting and back again. It's somethign I always loved about the track. When "Soul to Squeeze" finally became a single, Frusciante left the band and the Peppers were in a period of transition. Although One Hot Minute is a fantastic album, Frusciante's beautiful guitar solos were missing> Luckily he came back to the band during the late 90's and their career has been since great. "Soul to Squeeze" is a song written by a band who had lost a lot to drugs and other things and luckily for them, they were able to stay intact through turbelent times. We also got a beautiful ballad out of it.

Up Next: The Lemonheads contemplative song of moving on

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rock of Ages: Nirvana - "Heart Shaped Box" (1993)

Love 'em or leave 'em, no list of songs is going to be without Nirvana. I personally love them, so it's no big deal, but when a band explodes like Nirvana did, it's easy to find naysayers. Nevermind was a tour de force record but we are looking at the stellar follow-up In Utero for our entrance into the Rock of Ages lexicon of tracks. '93 showed new direction for Nirvana. In Utero, produced by Steve Albini, took a turn for the grittier. It dropped the polished sheen of Nevermind and was much rawer, although not as raw as their amazing debut, Bleach. The main single off of the album, "Heart Shaped Box" has always been my favorite tracks of the 90's. The track as we know it is not produced by Albini, but still fits well within the sound of the record. It's got a catchy hook with an awesome chorus and a lot of emotion behind it. Many speculations go into the meaning of the lyrics, but I always thought it was Cobain's statement to the press.

Kurt Cobain always wore his disdain with the media on his sleeve and "Heart Shaped Box" definitely shows how he wanted to retreat from the limelight. It's pounding beat, care of Dave Grohl, surges in and out and picks up heavy during the amazing chorus. Krist Novoselic's bass groove on this track is the main backbone for the song pulsating in waves throughout the song. Cobain's vocals and guitar are very grainy and harsh sounding as if he is being restrained. There is something beautiful and dark about this song. It's definitely one of Nirvana's fienst tunes. As history would go to show, Cobain's struggles with fame and his own inner demons would come to a sad ending with his untimely suicide in early 1994, but a legacy of great songs and influence have held on. Nirvana still sounds as relevant and current today as it has 15 years ago.

Up Next: Red Hot Chili Peppers beast song... from the Coneheads soundtrack?

Rock of Ages: Teenage Fanclub - "The Concept" (1991)

Power Pop, as stated before, is that throwback sound to the 60's groups like The Byrds, The Kinks and of course, The Beatles. Power Pop started with bands like Bad Finger and Big Star, who in the early 70's tried to keep the flag of pop infused power chords alive. Not as successful at it, they still made some of the best music of that era. It wouldn't be until the alt rock revolution of the 90's until Power Pop would find it's best audience. Bands like Teenage Fanclub raised this flag high, especially on their 1991 album Bandwagonesque which is a sprawling power pop masterpiece. It kicks off with the 6 minute power pop anthem "The Concept." The track has all the trappings of a great pop song. A catchy hook that runs through the verse chorus structure and your lazy but emotional vocal delivery that is quinessential for the 90's.

"The Concept" rocks out for a while and then turns into this sleepy outro filled with excellent guitar soloing and dreamy "ahhs" that coo and woo in and out until it finally slips into a deep sleep. It's a beautiful way to start Bandwagonesque and a fantastic song to listen to on a summers day drive. The power that Teenage Fanclub has with their music is that it's all bright and sunny sounding, but there is still that undercurrent in all their songs of some melancholy floating above it all. It's a dreamy song and it's power pop roots are blatantly obvious. This would help pave the landscape of the 90's just as much as grunge did for alt rock radio. Bands like Built to Spill, Weezer, The Lemonheads and more would come along and blend right in next to a band like Teenage Fanclub. Some of those bands saw more success, but Bandwagonesque was voted best album of 1991 by Spin Magazine, beating out the more popular Nevermind for the top spot. It's a testament of the time and a fantastic record with a great song in "The Concept."

Up Next: Nirvana, a 90's staple