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Top 15 Albums of 2012

Well, here it is. A few days too late, I suppose. If you haven’t heard any of these albums, I highly recommend all of them.

15. Delicate Steve – A Positive Force

-Derek Trucks seen through the lens of instrumental neo-psychedelic guitar pop. Lots of licks, no hooks.

14. Clinic – Free Reign

-This time, these Irish chameleons deliver a bleak, dystopian realization of their own talents, and play less.

13. King Tuff – King Tuff

-Kyle Thomas’ second album packs a poppier, fuller punch than his debut; complete with T.Rex guitars!

12. Tame Impala – Lonerism

-Informed neo-psychedelia with faux-simplistic prog structures and indiscernable vocals. Animal Collective for rock fans.

11. Hospitality – Hospitality

-A charming 35 minutes of free love, jangly guitars, and ear-warming melodies. Here’s hoping they get weirder.

10. The Men – Open Your Heart

-Loud, at times seething, this varied trip through the canon of rock and roll is recommended for any esteemed fans of the genre that like to say “fuck yeah.”

9. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

-Good morning music; or good morning, music. Either way this pleasant freak-folk experiment starts off pretty and ends quickly. But the intricate guitar work and tasteful vocal deliveries throughout make repeated listens all the more rewarding.

8. Merchandise – Children of Desire

-I don’t doubt that by this time next year, this album will be my favorite of 2012. It’s a big and spooky monolith that is too colorful and vast to fully grasp at first.  Like a good relationship, this album takes a while to open itself up to you, although it could be the opposite. “Children of Desire” is beautiful and tragic and makes me happier every time I hear it. And I’m very excited for the years we will share together.

7. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

-My mom said this album sounds like “she’s just throwing up everything she has inside.” And as unappealing as that sounds, she was as spot on as that kind of simile can be. There’s something so primal and warm about this bare-bones piano rock that this short paragraph just won’t do. “Idler Wheel…” is a stunning and bewildering thing. Now go listen to it. Hold on, sometimes I feel like I am Fiona when I listen to it. Ok you can put it on now.

6. Lambchop – Mr. M

-I’ve loved this record for almost 10 months now, and can honestly say it’s because of how easy it is to listen to. It’s gentle in the way a Bill Callahan record is, but polished like a recent Dylan release. Impress your parents, play this audible southern hospitality at the next holiday get together. Weird that it’s this high, but “2B2” seriously gets me every time.

5. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

-The sheer musical complexity of this album is its own work of art. The exceptional drum/percussion sits so beautifully next to and on top of the subtle but intricate guitar and bass work, while the synths fire melodies like missiles out of the cosmic fortress that is built by this sound. With the dual vocal attack at full swing, Hot Chip throws every style their Steely Dan/EDM/Atari soundtrack leanings can allow and delivers a heart-pounding, praise worthy record that flexes more muscles than we all thought they had.

4. Royal Headache – Royal Headache

-There is always something to be said about an album that makes you wish you were a different age. I hear this throwback fuzz soul/garage punk album from Australia and strangely I’m almost always transported to my first car, blasting these 12 songs louder than ever. I’m 17, I’m obsessed with girls and partying;  and I’m young and naive. The true pleasure of that time was the naivety, the thought that girls and partying were the only thought. For me, this album captures that primitive nostalgia the best way possible, through a dusty rearview mirror.

3. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

-My goodness. What a fun and thrilling album this is. It’s a step in several right directions for the former Fleet Fox, Josh Tillman. If his onstage demeanor behind those drums wasn’t proof enough, Tillman is a funny, cultured guy with a damn good voice. This album makes all those characteristics seem easy to come by, and although some of the hangovers and identity crisises that pop up here aren’t exactly envious, the Californian adventures that cause those mishaps certainly are.

2. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

-Solo project? Supergroup? Collaboration? Whatever this new wave/classic rock hybrid is categorized as in the years to come, I won’t forget that for a good month and a half, it was all I listened to. From the spiky, electronic swirl of “the Salton Sea” to the rustic, campfire-ready hymn “Civilian Stripes,” this record holds onto a simple mission statement throughout: collaborations should never stick to a particular genre. Britt and Dan will certainly outlive Divine Fits, but this record will always serve as a snapshot for this point in their careers, where the basic pleasures of a creative partnership were sought after, tampered with, and perfected.

1. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

-Although there wasn’t much UK music on this year’s list, Her Majesty’s rock and roll acts have always held a special place in my heart. And that’s where I’ll begin with this album, my heart. Sometimes when I hear certain parts on “Sweet Heart”–parts that are so moving, so emotionally wrenching–I comedically tilt my head to the left, smile with no teeth, and place my hands over my heart the way I imagine a father responds after hearing that his first born daughter is going to be a mother. It’s an intrinsic, undeniably visceral feeling that is (if you couldn’t tell) incredibly hard to put into words. The emotional make up of this record is a well-rounded mix of love, sadness, loathing, empathy, and ultimately, joy. Can you think of a better summation of life’s most intense feelings? As usual, J. Spaceman and crew use their pioneered noise-gospel to hammer home these terms. But, the group has never sounded so simple, so grounded. “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light,” is so vast in its account of human nature that I won’t soon forget its power, or the affect it has had on me since April. How could I?

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What Death Does to Fans

“What were you doing when (insert important rock musician here) died?” Is a familiar question. Everybody likes to ask it, and everybody likes to answer it. It’s always fun to talk about sadness, especially in retrospect. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be in Central Park the night John Lennon died? Everyone crying in unison, singing “Strawberry Fields Forever” for hours on end, wouldn’t that have been fun? That kind of grand scale, forlorn adoration for a fallen hero is similar in action to when Kobe hits a game-winning jumper at home—EVERYONE cheers, except in Lennon’s case, everyone cried.  Sometimes it’s nice to experience sadness with others, for a change.

Whenever a musician dies, their fans almost always crave that kind of company. Taken prisoner by their sadness—or at least wanting to be—they are always in search of cellmates. The kind of people whom they see eye-to-eye with, the kind of person that says, “Yes, Saves the Day was the only thing that made sense to me when I was 14, too,” for example.

As we all know, there are varying degrees of fan hood; however, there’s really only one degree of sadness, so some overcompensate. If Chris Conley gets killed in a figurative plane crash, these overcompensators will also say out loud that his band was the only thing that made sense to them when they were 14, but it wasn’t. The overcompensation comes when people update their Facebook Statuses and Tweet their own eulogies and talk about what this means in the 21st century. When, in fact, the other guys, those guys that see eye-to-eye, are sitting at home spinning what they once thought to be the true voice of reason in the wretched world of adolescence—and maybe they still do. The latter is what every music fan secretly wants, their own personal December 8th. It’s hard to obtain, because you actually have to love the musician in question. Why do they want it? That’s easy, so that one day when someone asks, they can tell them in full detail about the night their favorite noise-rock guitarist died.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. Yesterday, Christopher Reimer, guitarist for the Canadian band Women, passed away in his sleep. This is shocking really, mainly because he was only 26 and the cause of his death is still unknown. The band’s relative obscurity didn’t seem to bother them—they put out two well-regarded guitar albums and played noisy 200 capacity shows all over North America for the better part of four years. What did bother Women, though, was Women. It seems they all hated each other, and one can kind of detect this in their music.

Numerous stories have been made of the bands well documented distaste for one another, including an on stage fist fight in Canada in 2010 that prompted an indefinite hiatus. However, after last night, it’s possible that Women is forever finished, as Reimer was purportedly an integral part, possibly be the most. I say purportedly because, with noise-rock it’s always hard to tell who is doing what, and, as an extension, what bands are important. Personally, I don’t think any band who bases their entire catalogue off ten seconds of a Sonic Youth tune can be considered ‘important’—that means you too, post-rock bands. I have been watching enough Youtube videos this morning to understand that Women’s music didn’t require as much talent as it required a sort of focused intensity, a fiery dissonance that obviously required a lot of rehearsal, and conceivably was just too hot to handle for the members of Women.

The band’s songs are rife with interplayed reverb-guitars, tension between the muddy drums and indiscernible vocals. Think early Pavement trying to cover “Marquee Moon.” That off-kilter crud is attractive to some. So it’s no doubt there are a lot of people mourning the mysterious death of the band’s fallen guitar god, this is obviously a testament to their fan hood, and I’ve already seen numerous Facebook posts about how chilling the passing of this young guitarist truly is. What I don’t know about though, are the thousands of die-hards, who haven’t taken to the ‘net to publish their blood-curdling eulogies, rather, spent their night soaking their cheeks to the distorted sound of four guys-turned-enemies duke it out with soaking reverb and insufficient drum sounds.

And then there are people like me, who never enjoyed the man’s music, had to look up his name when he died, but still are moved by his unexpected passing because it reminds them that their favorite living musicians can die at anytime. Maybe I’m just jealous though, because I haven’t had my December 8th yet. And last night, a lot of people who saw eye-to-eye on a now defunct band from Calgary did.

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Having been familiar with the work of Arcade Fire since their landmark debut “Funeral” in 2004, I have developed a close relationship with their music, as I’m sure now—after a Grammy and World’s Biggest Rock Band status—a lot of people have. And I’ve never once bitterly shunned their music away out of “I heard them first” jealousy the way I once did Blink-182 all those years ago.

Through all their popularity and success, I have stuck with Arcade Fire because their music is just so damn affecting. Every time the rocker in me wants to absorb and digest some serious rumble, I’ll throw on any number of songs off “Neon Bible.” Every time I want to get reminded of the self-conscious and obsessive teenager I once was I’ll throw on that debut, most likely the album’s centerpiece “Haiti.” The celestial drums and sleepy 12-string strums in this song always get me. In a French/English hybrid, leadwoman Régine Chassagne sings emotional verse after emotional verse about her homeland. But I barely know what she’s saying. It’s her soft melody and brooding timbre that carries the true emotion: that visceral, expressive kind one might get out of listening to the finger-work lyricism of Ravi Shankar, the kind that transcends language.

“Haiti,” with its breathy wave-crashing percussion, is a light number, fit for any number of occasions. It was the first song I listened to after my mom and I had to put down Ecru, a dog we had for the first 16 years of my life. When I was driving home after having just heard the girl of my dreams tell me she “loved me like a rock” for the first time, I put on “Haiti.” Because of the broad range of feeling I have with this song, every listen evokes a sort of emotional directness. And it goes like that for a lot of “Funeral.”

So when I was informed that my Reviewing the Arts course was going sit in on a radio show where we could watch Arcade Fire perform an intimate acoustic set, I was excited. The band has a knack for working their way into big, monumental moments in my life. When “Neon Bible” came out, I was about to graduate high school, and its grandiose, rocking anthems helped propel me toward a summer of wistful celebration and a bold sense of accomplishment. Nowadays, I don’t glorify Arcade Fire as much, I enjoyed their new album “The Suburbs,” but not in that nostalgic, hyperbolic kind of way. I like it for its mood and variety, but I’m not sure it’s going to help me through the death of my next dog. Nonetheless, the opportunity to see a band of this caliber in that kind of setting still spurred a thickening excitement in my spine.

When our instructor Jim Derogatis–whose radio show Sound Opinions was hosting Arcade Fire—informed us of this awesome opportunity, he also included a small bit about the world of rock and roll: “almost nothing ever goes according to plan.” And as it happened, thus was the case last Monday. When our class met in a conference room on the 3rd floor of WBEZ’s Navy Pier studio, the giddiness in my stomach almost manifested itself into sheer, schoolboy glee as we waited patiently for our cue to head into the studio. However, as we slowly ran out of things to cover—our final papers, Oscar Wilde, various tangents—my eagerness faded into a questioning weariness about that rock and roll unpredictability.  Are they even going to show up? Was I excited for nothing?

After an hour or so, my excitement/eagerness/worry turned into a boredom of the purest form. And when we were finally escorted by a sure-fire winner of the Jim Halpert look-a-like contest to the control room (not the studio, the band didn’t want to fit us), I wasn’t excited the way that obsessive teenager may have been, all those years ago.

Admittedly, it is precious of me to expect that the biggest band in the world would want to fit the fifteen of us into the studio while they rehearsed. And when I say “big,” I’m not just talking about album sales: these guys are actually big, Win and his brother Will are both about 6’5, the gangly red-headed multi-instrumentalist is around the same height, as are two of their sound guys (although their all black outfits and Intimidating Sound Guy demeanors made them seem a bit closer to seven feet). The girls, which there are three, are modest in height and judging from this performance, the most musically inclined. Two of them play violins, and the other, Regine, Win’s squeeze, was playing a grand piano; although I did see her play some mean drums at Lollapalooza last summer. The girls were great because they weren’t confined within the songs’ mechanics, the guys were sub-par because they were acting like mechanics, fastidiously tooling around until they got what they thought to be the perfect sound. Throughout the next hour and a half, our class watched the band rehearse two—count ‘em, TWO—songs, the generic “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and the pastoral “We Used to Wait.”

I don’t particularly like the album version of “We Used to Wait,” but that’s mainly for its whiny Luddite politics. However, the first run through the band had of it on Monday was exceptional. As Win told his small army to “lay back” and “relax” “’’cuz it’s acoustic,” they all followed suit. What resulted was clean and deliberate. Each of the three guitars chimed independently, Regine’s piano was calm and subtle, the two violins swirled in and out of harmony and counterpoint, and the drums added sparse, memorable accents. All this had me not listening to the lyrics from the get-go, but judging from my history with this band, that’s usually a good thing. And, to top it all off, in the song’s clamoring coda, when Win’s whininess was at its most desperate, the flourishing violin tornado overshadowed any and all doubt of this song’s integrity in my book—Win can whine all he wants, just as long as it goes with music this forthright and compelling.

It was moments like this that brought my excitement back, but after they played the song four more times, my cynicism returned. It was beautiful and kind of Jim to invite us to his radio show, and my complaints don’t have anything to do with the way our class was treated within the Sound Opinions domain. It was the rock star attitude that plagued last Monday, and although I’m graduating from college soon, I’m not so sure “We Used to Wait” will propel me toward any sense of accomplishment in the coming months. But maybe the next girl I love will really like that song, and maybe after she’s gone, I’ll look back at our time together, and smile when I think about all those flourishing violins. Because that’s just the way music goes.

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Talking Heads’ first four albums signify a world of sonic possibility. From 1977 to 1980, the band jumped from continent to continent, genre to genre, looking for sounds and styles to appropriate into their nervously timbered art-rock. This was due in large part to lead man David Byrne and his seemingly unquenchable thirst for musical discovery. The rhythm section of ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison, and the rhythmic love birds Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz did not go unnoticed though. Together they synthesized the utter weirdness of their awkward leadman within a framework of atypical beats and sonic angularity.

Their debut album “Talking Heads: 77” has a tense and multi-directional mood about it. The songs’ unconventional structures and rampant key changes suggest the Heads’ allegiance to bands like Yes and early Pink Floyd. But their anthemic energy and starving-artist New Yorkism places them more so in line with their C.B.G.B. comrades the Ramones and Patti Smith. Aside from the album’s funky opener “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” –in which the hip-swerving percussion and buoyant groove signify the rhythm section’s love for James Brown and Al Green—none of the aforementioned influences on “Talking Heads: 77” are that easy to point out. The songs are so weird, so shamelessly detached from the bulk of their musical contemporaries and predecessors that one can only point out influences based on ideals, rather than sonics.

Ironically, this scattershot unpredictability also plagues parts of the album. When it shines, David Byrne’s compulsive oddities—his twitchy guitar, his jarring yelps—sound natural above the varied rhythms; on “No Compassion” and “Happy Day,” however, these disparities seem to cause confusion amongst the band. Along with another lackluster tune, the inconsiderate “Tentative Decisions,” this imperfect quirkiness rarely transcends the nervous direction like “Psycho Killer” and “Pulled up” do. And for skeptics, complaints about the overall weirdness of Talking Heads usually overshadow any semblance of respect for the consistent tautness of Weymouth’s bubble bass and Frantz’s fat-back drums.  Luckily, the Heads’ meeting with studio mastermind Brian Eno in the fall of 1977 provided a direction in which all of the Heads’ eccentricities could flourish in an ever-developing musical form.

Those familiar enough with the synthesizers and clamoring percussion that Eno was so well-known for in the mid-70’s can identify right away what he brings to the Heads’ sophomore LP “More Songs About Buildings and Food.”  In the urgent “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” the leap and howl of Byrne’s vocal is grounded by a similarly leaping conga that dashes competitively in between the verses. In “With Our Love,” the synthesized eeriness that harnesses the frantic, ticky-tack guitars perfectly articulates this new direction. In this sense, Eno “caught” the Heads at a very important time.

After their debut, the band could have opted for a route of rigid new wave theatrics, choosing to focus on those quirky nerves much like their often-but-falsely compared to new wave contemporaries Devo. Instead, Eno’s presence forged a new musical trajectory for the Heads, in which rhythm and sonic expressionism would be the focal points, while still letting the quirk and nerve exist in a complimentary sort of way. This musical compartmentalization was possible in part because of the Heads’ open-mindedness, but also because of Eno’s strength as a studio innovator.

In 1975, after having created several albums in the arty glam-rock mood of his previous band Roxy Music, Eno recorded the textural “Another Green World.” Experimenting with ambient tones and surreal synthesizers, Eno opted for a calmer and more layered approach. He pushed African rhythms against gated reverb backbeats, and synthesized the various obscurities of everyday life in an alarmingly beautiful array of choruses and wave-crashing aural fantasies. In one song, “Over Fire Island,” he channeled the syncopated tap-tap rhythms of “In a Silent Way” while dropping ambient, droning keyboard figures that fell in and out of the accented time. The distinction of sonic exploration in this song—and for most of “Another Green World”—is clear-eyed and accessible. In this way, Eno continued in the style of Miles Davis’ genre shattering bravado, but took it in an entirely new pop direction.

After “Another Green World,” Eno worked with David Bowie and John Cale, opting to focus his approach more so on the production side of things. This eventually led to groundbreaking material for both artists. Towards the late ‘70s, Eno had championed the artist/producer balance that is now apparent in the careers of Daniel Lanois and Pharell Williams, but at this time was rather unprecedented. This dynamic provided Eno a unique perspective: to be able to assist in not only the technical side of the music, but also helping to quell that directional uncertainty that happens so often in an artistic process. And for a burgeoning young band that could be equally accepted in a punk club or an art gallery, Talking Heads seemed a perfect fit for Eno’s collaborative mindset.

The most blatant development from “Talking Heads: 77” to “More Songs about Buildings and Food” is the appropriation of funk sounds within the music. And this is not all because of Eno: the dancing rhythms and high-pitched guitars of “Love Comes to Town” foreshadowed this departure way before the band ever came in contact with him. In the upbeat and tense “Found a Job,” as Byrne criticizes his generation’s apathetic knack for “wasting precious time,” the sinuous groove of alternating bass lines and tight drums provide consistency and power, while the rhythmic punchiness of Byrne’s vocal and guitar provide a blustering attitude. If you ask any funk fan what gets them about James Brown or George Clinton in two words or less, “groove” and “attitude” will no doubt come up. In the relatively extensive coda in “Stay Hungry,” Byrne’s splashing right-hand rhythm is again the centerpiece, only this time the groove is accented by a swooping onset of patchwork synthesizers—courtesy of you-know-who.

Where the Eno effect is most apparent though, is the manner in which he highlights the Heads’ strengths while they play this homogenized funk. The way he splits the rubber band bass and chiming guitar between the speakers on the jam at the end of “I’m Not in Love,” or when “Warning Sign” starts, the swooshing languidness of the drums create that trance-like sensation of being underwater. These rhythmic dynamics at times overshadowed the expressionistic components, yet, on the Heads’ 1979 follow-up “Fear of Music,” the established rhythms remained second to the album’s expressive sonic identity.

To contradict this point right off the bat, the album begins with the polyrhythmic chant “I Zimbra.” Based off a poem by Dadaist Hugo Ball, this song was the first sign of African rhythms that would come to define parts of the Heads’ later career. In the context of “Fear of Music,” though, “I Zimbra” is a one-off dash whose only other resemblance on the album are the accenting djembe and congas in “Life During Wartime.” What still provides continuity though are those funky guitar strums, apparent again, only this time complimented by an onslaught of synthesized horns.

The tension that defined much of their debut is apparent in some of the album’s rowdier songs, too. The quick, cattle driving pace of “Animals” and the sing-songy nature of “Paper” could have been suitable in an opening set for the Ramones. However, the introspective apartment search “Cities,” with its stark high-hat and snare combo and disco-ball directness could have easily been featured on “Soultrain.” But, on the aforementioned “Wartime,” when Byrne says, “This ain’t no Disco..This ain’t no C.B.G.B,” he’s not just referring to the song’s no-nonsense attitude. With “Fear of Music”—an album title that is as appropriate as ever—the Heads’ celebrated an array of different genres, but also made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of being categorized within any one style.

On the record sleeve, Eno’s production credit is labeled as “treatments.” To some, this may just sound like a more poetic way of referring to his overall production output; however, this term actually refers to the manner in which he would manipulate sounds after the band had recorded takes. This nob-twisting, dial-turning technique is apparent in the album closer “Drugs,” where the ambient guitar is warped and unnerving, sounding more like a gust of wind than the same instrument that punches and kicks its way through other parts of the album. Even on “Cities,” where that punchiness is clear, Eno’s sonic engine revs roar voraciously between the verses, complimenting the song’s get-up-and-do-it mentality almost as much as Weymouth’s bubbly bass does on “Found a Job.” In these songs especially, Eno’s expression underpins the spookiness and urgency. And although his actual instrumental output on “Fear of Music” is particularly less than the percussive and keyboard elements he added to “More Songs about Buildings and Food,” Eno’s treatments have a recognizable timing and timbre to them and take on a collaborative “Fifth-head” mentality amongst much of the frenzied grit that defines this album.

The string of the Heads’ first three albums at this point represents a rapid evolution. And what is most impressive is the amount of time in which it took them. In just two years, the Heads transformed their dynamic from that of angular minimalism to peppy funk to all-encompassing pastiche. And no one else sounded like them—it was too hard. Who else would dare mix styles as dissimilar as punk and funk? Or ambient and disco? Certainly, the Gang of Fours and Blondies of the world incorporated elements of this overt genre-melding, but none had the forthright committal, the brooding determination to remain creative and transcendent as much as the Heads did. And on 1980’s “Remain in Light,” the Heads synthesized this determination in a startling array of rhythmic charm.

The first three songs place the album’s emphasis on back on the groove. The blip and glitch of “Born under Punches” pushes dance and endurance amongst a repetitive groove of mish-mashed drums and chubby bass. As these elements pop back and forth, one can almost see Byrne’s gawky frame gyrating as he approaches the mic. “Take a look at these hands!” He shouts, but by this time you’re not listening to the words. Even if they could mean a world of good for you and your viewpoint, the groove is too infectious and all you wanna do is dance. This impulse holds true for the next two numbers too, although the seemingly identical rhythmic pace of “The Great Curve” and “Crosseyed and Painless” does start to wear you out a little. But that’s what cocaine is for, right? It was the 80s, you know.

The polyrhythmic territory the Heads’ explored on “I Zimbra” returns on nearly every track on “Remain in Light.” At Eno’s implore, the Heads’ experimented with various African hand drums. They had used the djembe and conga before, but not to this extent; the further implementation of thumb pianos, talking drums, and bongos fully signified a rhythmic shift for the band. This way, the Heads could toy with the bare-bones groove of each song; swinging it here, double-timing it there, exploring the roots of rhythm far before Paul Simon even thought about going to Graceland.

This looseness is displayed thoroughly in the layered “Houses in Motion,” where the onslaught of wood blocks and djembes run wild above Frantz’s bass drum, hi-hat minimalism. In “Listening Wind,” as Byrne’s dramatic portrayal of a young terrorist reaches toward a specific middle-eastern temper, the rippling groove of bongos and shakers underpin him the way a life raft would while floating on the Nile at dusk. This vocal and rhythmic continuity is so expressive and exact, that any complaints about the song’s lack of a traditional drum kit are firmly overshadowed by a frightened sense of humanism. And, the thought that terrorists are people too—which is as alarming now as it probably was in 1980—only speaks to the explicit longevity of this music.

Much like on “More Songs about Buildings and Food,” Eno’s studio tactics on “Remain in Light” highlight points of excitement within the songs, exhibiting the Heads’ talents, rather than manipulating them. On “Punches,” as one David Byrne is hollering compulsively about being a “Government Man,” a chorus of about three-to-four more David Byrnes hang over him singing calmly “All I want is to breath.” The juxtaposition of both mood and delivery within these voices is captured perfectly by Eno’s tasteful mix, and even though the dancing listener doesn’t care much what Byrne is yelling or crooning about, it’s nice to know that Eno did.

His synthesized voice has a recurring similarity throughout several songs on the album’s second side. On “Once in a Lifetime,” the repetitive swirl that sparkles and chimes above the song’s boom-boom-bounce movements is ringing and memorable. And on “Seen and Not Seen,” as the click-and-loop snare-snaps foreshadow an entire generation of hip hop beats, Eno’s tingling snowfall of synths ring like that same swirl, adding a distinct continuity below Byrne’s gentle hum.

The synth and percussion on “Remain in Light” typify the Eno effect perhaps more so than any of the Heads’ previous forays do. But, where his effect is most felt is within the band’s full-on hybridization of sounds foreign and familiar to the traditional rock and roll landscape.  Again, this refreshing mix was not entirely due to Eno’s presence, but it was under his guidance that the band’s creative leaps and bounds were harnessed.

This notion of creative advancement holds true throughout the varied sonic identities of “More Songs about Buildings and Food,” “Fear of Music,” and “Remain in Light.” And in 2000, when asked about his time spent with Talking Heads, Eno’s somewhat abstract response was the perfect summary to their beautiful musical partnership: “It was like looking out to the world and saying, ‘What a fantastic place we live in. Let’s celebrate it.’”

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Accepting your own shortcomings can often be thought of as a form of pessimism, but in Bored to Death—an HBO series based on the day-to-day toils of a sheepish author turned clumsy private eye—this idea is conversely celebrated as a merit of being self-aware. Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is a recently single white wino struggling to pen his second novel. Bored and directionless, he takes to the Craiglist classifieds to advertise his newfound investigative ambition. Throughout each episode, aspects of Jonathan’s social and vocational peculiarities are detailed in a healthy balance of sprightly humor and poignant sentiment.

“The Case of the Missing Screenplay” (season one, episode three) opens with Jonathan and his boss, the wealthy magazine editor George Christopher (Ted Danson), drinking martinis at a nameless high society gathering. George tells Jonathan of his new friend Jim Jarmusch, the film auteur (who later appears as himself, a nice advancement for the show’s burgeoning art cred). In their meeting, George learned that Jarmusch, known for his dark films, is a fan of Jonathan’s similarly dark first novel and is interested in working with him on a new screenplay. The next night George introduces the two. “I loved your novel… You must really suffer from a terrifying clarity of your vision,” says Jarmusch.

“Thank you, I do suffer, thank you,” Jonathan meagerly replies. After an awkward exchange, Jarmusch hands Jonathan the script he’s been working on and tells him to call the following day with some editing ideas. This is a big opportunity for Jonathan, and, while riding the wave of being cool-by-association, he is approached by a dangerously young party girl who invites him back to her house on this shallow principle: “You know Jim Jarmusch?”

In an uneasy hoopla of a make-out scene, Jonathan quickly learns this girl is 16 years old and that the dark room they’re smooching in is actually her psychiatrist father’s office. And as the father barges in, Jonathan has no choice but to run, leaving his dignity and the script behind. A sort of circumstantial hilarity ensues as Jonathan enlists his embarrassingly sophomoric private eye skills to recover the script, eventually returning to the scene of the crime as a patient.

As a main character, Jonathan’s fermented immaturity is amusing. He is 30, but, his lack of foresight and prioritization—in this episode, especially—makes him seem about half his age, rendering him even younger than the femme who so easily seduced him.  He remains afloat, however, because of the comfort he has with his limitations. His coy avenues as a writer, as a private eye, and as a charmer fully showcase aspects of a life not yet fully realized. And from there, the show’s thesis is alluded to by the party girl’s psychiatrist father in this cynical retort: “Lives don’t change. We simply become more comfortable with our core misery. Which is a form of happiness.”

Although sometimes disguised in pessimism, Bored to Death’s politics are typically hopeful, and should appeal to those that believe in the power of self-awareness, where misery is just as interchangeable as happiness.

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On the surface, Cameron Crowe’s semi-memoir “Almost Famous” (2000) is an intriguing work. An ambitious teenage rock writer gets hired by one of the most influential magazines of the 1970s to go on the road and cover one of his favorite bands? Who wouldn’t want to watch this movie? Even if you’re not a rock fan, the film still has enough universal appeal (in the boiler-plate storytelling and the exceptional cast, mostly) to be enjoyed by anyone who has ever cared passionately about a famous person. But, unfortunately, the film rarely stretches further than that surface appeal. Too often it tells much more than it shows, and the viewer is left to discern the plotline through a barrage of needless rock and roll trivia and tacky dialogue.

Our ambitious young protagonist is William Miller (Patrick Fugit), an academically advanced 15 year-old about to graduate high school. William got turned onto Rock and Roll by his freethinking older sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel), who, in spite of their obsessive mother Elaine (Frances McDormand), left home at 18 and bequeathed all of her classic records to her younger brother. “Listen to ‘Tommy’ with a candle burning, you’ll see your entire future,” she says, I can’t believe I was the only one who thought that was a joke. Maybe it wasn’t.

William supposedly writes all the time and is—supposedly—a fan of early 70s heavy hitters Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Supposed these characteristics are because we only hear William talk about music once or twice throughout the film; and although it’d be boring watch him write, more depth into the obvious talent of this young careerist would be nice. Too often William’s mind is focused on typical teenage worry: unattainable love, acceptance, and his mother. These fears make him relatable, but ultimately far too normal for a character of his caliber to be taken seriously.

Naturally, William’s favorite rock critic is the outlandish editor of Creem magazine, Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Between editor’s notes and a chance meeting, the two strike up a friendship based on the mutual admission of being uncool. Bangs admires William’s charm and determination, and William adheres to Bangs’ sage insight into the rock world.

Bangs instructs William to go see the Allman Brothers/Zeppelin/Eagles amalgam Stillwater and write a review of their show for Creem. And before William (or the viewer) knows it, he’s been hired by the even bigger Rolling Stone magazine to join Stillwater on the road and write a feature story on them. Along the way, nearly every predictable excess of the rock and roll lifestyle is detailed to perfection. And not to give too much away, it ends exactly how you’d imagine it to.

Crowe’s petty perfection in this film is notorious. From the tasteless photoshopping of the iconic “Live at the Fillmore East” album cover to the $100,000 he spent on sync rights for a Steely Dan TV appearance playing in the background while William (or young Cameron) loses his virginity, it’s clear that Crowe cared much more about the aesthetic accuracies of this film than he did its narrative qualities. And although he insists that “Reelin’ in the Years” really was playing, a lot less money could have been spent on developing the nuances of a nervous first time to make the scene’s nostalgia real for the viewer, rather than the director.

Although “Almost Famous”’ flaws are a detriment to the film’s overall believability, it somehow still retains enough lure necessary for a keen and affecting coming of age tale. As previously stated, the beauty of this film lies entirely in its universality, and it’s possible the points that bother an obsessive rock fan might not mean much to a rational movie goer anyway.  So go see it.

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Instant gratification has been helping rock and roll fans stay alive and well for more than half a century now. The electrifying impact of acts ranging from Elvis to The Ramones fully embodied this heavily sought after musical ideal, and although it’s evolved, the concept has remained. The key has always been a strong rhythmic bottom and a terse, combative top. It is the competitive struggle between guitars and voices that create this combat, and when the groove is there, the results are compelling. Whiney complaints have been made about how this isn’t rock and roll’s most identifiable trait anymore, but there are certainly enough acts out there fit to carry this coveted torch of immediacy.

The Strokes are one of these acts. Operating on a level that fully understands the strength and combat ideal, the band offers a fresh—if not entirely original—blend of simplicity and charm. The guitars are raw, the drums are fast, and their attitude is that of determined intensity.

The band’s debut album “Is This It” is a clear-eyed microcosm of early 20s life in New York City. Upbeat tales of partying and sexual frustration round out the subject matter, leaving nothing unanswered.  Julian Casablancas sings these simple songs with an air of privileged brattiness, balancing apathy and rage in a gritty sing-speech fashion. The taut guitars of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi frantically bounce off one another, while the bottom of Nicko Fraiture on bass and Fab Moretti on drums is, well, strong.

Every song has a sort of focused ambition about it, and they rarely lose sight of their absolute meaning.  In the self-explanatory “Barely Legal,” the point is made when Casablancas says, “I wanna steal your innocence,” but starts with the first line: “I didn’t take no short cuts/I spent the money that I saved up.”  In the lethargic drawl of title track, he loosely lets some girl know that he “just lied to get to [her] apartment.” Sexual appetite isn’t exactly rare at Casablancas’ age, but it is within the offhand expression of this desire that he so clearly gets his points across.

This forthrightness is apparent in the music too: the short, succinct guitar solos in “The Modern Age” and “Last Nite” could be twice their length and still have a resounding impact, but aren’t because that would miss the point. The tension and release of “New York City Cops” is especially exciting; taking a pop music elemental, the band rollicks through an agitated minor verse that is eerie and unsettling, only to resolve it with a cathartic sing-along chorus that—if you really want to dig deep—recalls Johnny Rotten as much as it recalls Ice Cube.

Although it’s been made clear, it should be reiterated that the Strokes are an old-fashioned rock and roll band. This means their ideals are congruent enough for you to catch on about halfway through the album, but also that the songs are thrilling enough to make you keep them on compulsive repeat for days on end.  For rock and roll fans, it’s not a matter of whether or not they’ll enjoy “Is This It,” but rather how quickly this music will speak to them. It took me about 45 seconds.

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