Monday, December 21, 2009

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Country Music

When I realized Wilco's "Summerteeth" album came up as Country on iTunes, I almost had a heart attack. Heresy! Certainly no album that I had listened to countless times was Country in disguise. It was as if broken-down pickup trucks, countless bottles of Jim Beam and throngs of buxom blondes in denim jackets were hiding behind the captivating melodies of my favorite songs.

But I really liked the album. Hence my dire, internal struggle.

Up to that point, I had associated Country music with what I heard when I flipped past Moose 96 on the radio. It all sounded the same (inconceivably drippy), and I came to assume that all Country music was worthy of detesting.

If Wilco was considered country, either Apple's system of musical classification was faulty or I would have to attempt to be a little more open-minded about particular genres.

My biggest mistake in this Country music debacle was with what I classified in the genre. As it turns out, Bluegrass is Country's father - far more traditional, upright and wise. He's also pretty disappointed in how sappy and flavorless his son turned out. Bluegrass leans heavily on fiddle, banjo and mandolin, whereas Country tends to rely solely on a guitar. Now you know.

Although I'd pick bluegrass every time, it's still impossible to completely write off country. It represents a huge historical element of American music history. You can't say no to a genre that claims Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Like any genre, this one has its ups and its downs, its classic can't-say-no artists and it's embarrassing cookie-cutter talking (or singing) heads. And, like any genre, the crappy stuff is played on the radio.

Even after serious investigation and a new musical outlook, I still think it's fair to separate "Pop Country" from the rest of the genre. (You're cute, Taylor Swift, but it doesn't work for me.) I will also assert that iTunes does not know its folk from its country from its bluegrass.

But it's okay. I'll take another round through "Via Chicago." You can call it what you like.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rhythms and Rhymes of 2009

I've started an annual tradition this year of making a mix of songs that came out in the last year that I really liked. In general, the popular music of the year was kind of terrible (remember this? Or this?), but there were some redeeming tunes (Am I right?) along the way. A lot of really good and interesting stuff got overlooked, but with the nature of the music industry it's hard to catch everything.
Here's a list of the songs on my 2009 mix:

Monsters of Folk: Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)

The members of Monsters of Folk certainly weren't thinking modesty when naming the band. This supergroup is made up of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, solo performer M. Ward, and Mike Mogis, who's appeared with bands like Bright Eyes and The Faint. Monsters of Folk is one of my favorite of the modern freak-folk genre and I can't wait to hear more of it.

Phish: Backwards Down The Number Line

Phish is back! I've always preferred live music, so most of the stuff this band has produced has treated me well in the past. Joy is a studio album, so it's not quite up to snuff as far as their other releases go. I just couldn't resist adding a song considering they've been apart and not recording for so long.

Paolo Nutini: Coming Up Easy

Of all the pop singer/songwriters out there, Paolo has got to be
my favorite. His style is sweet and genuine, and any of his songs makes for a good, uplifting listen. Maybe it's the charming Scottish accent, but it certainly doesn't take long to fall for Paolo.

Mason Jennings: Pittsburgh

Nobody writes lyrics like Mason Jennings does, and "Pittsburgh" is a testament to his talent. He describes various traumatic adolescent experiences with phenomenal imagery and tangible emotion. "Blood of Man" is a fantastic album, and I would recommend to almost anybody. It's definitely one of my favorite albums this year.

If you could spend your life with a big group of hippie friends driving around the country and playing music, would you do it? These guys are living the dream. The band, headed by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, released its first album, "Up From Below," this year. Every song on the album is guaranteed to make you grin like a fool, and I can't wait for more.

Weezer: Let It All Hang Out

Say what you will, but Weezer's one of my all-time favorite bands. And although I wasn't thrilled with Raditude, this song is reminiscent of their older albums. It's just goofy enough, and you can't say it isn't catchy.
I'll stand by this band forever, Weezy or not.

Wolfmother: New Moon Rising

I just got into the Australian trio Wolfmother this year, and it's refreshing to hear a modern, sturdy rock band. The vocals and guitar wail on "New Moon Rising," and the whole album is really well-done. I'd love to hear this band live.

The Flaming Lips: The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

Another good psychedelic rock song from a really talented group. "Embryonic" has nothing on Yoshimi, but it's still a good album. There's a great video of the band in the studio at NPR's Morning Becomes Eclectic.

All of my music-snob friends have messed themselves over Them Crooked Vultures. I'm getting to that point, but still working on it. The band, another supergroup, is made up of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The album is exactly what you'd expect (fantastic) and they're already working on a second.

Telekinesis: Coast of Carolina

This is by far my favorite song of 2009. It gets better every time I listen to it, and trust me, I listen to it a lot. The song describes the confusion of a big city, and the thirst for open spaces. You can taste how much frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner yearns to be on that coast. Listen to this one, and then listen to it again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ukulele Boy!

This one is fast on its way to viral video fame, but I wanted to make sure that nobody was missing out.

I can't wait to see what happens to this kid in the
future. Clearly, he's got cool parents who hopefully won't let him get caught up with anyone from

Hold out, young ukulele virtuoso!
You're worth more than that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo in an accident

On Monday, the Weezer tour bus was in an accident. Rivers Cuomo is still in the hospital, and his daughter and her nurse have suffered minor injuries. Check their blog for updates, and as a get-well-soon gift to Cuomo, buy a Wuggie!