Playlist: Car Music 1

Today, we start a new series here at Essential Listening: looking at situational playlists.  One of my favorite hobbies is to organize music prior to a big trip.  Here is a look at a 10-song lineup that would be great for a quick 30-minute ride.

Car Music 1 (in order):

  1. “Pieces” by Dinosaur Jr. (from Farm)
  2. “This Boy” by Franz Ferdinand (You Could Have it So Much Better)
  3. “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear (Veckatimest)
  4. “Adventure” by Be Your Own Pet (Be Your Own Pet)
  5. “Wicked Gil” by Band of Horses (Everything All the Time)
  6. “Paper Thin Walls” by Modest Mouse (Moon & Antarctica)
  7. “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone” by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (Hearts of Oak)
  8. “Getchoo” by Weezer (Pinkerton)
  9. “Time Bomb” by Rancid (And Out Come the Wolves)
  10. “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” by The White Stripes (Elephant)

Car Music is a strange animal – it needs to be bright, loud and engaging, but without becoming too mental or distracting.  For me, this makes reflective jazz and classical pieces off-limits in a car.  Yet this list features some stuff from crafted, difficult albums.  What gives?

The key lies in the songs.  While they often fit the dynamics needed for their source, they also manage to stand out (even if only slightly).  Let’s take “Two Weeks.”  It certainly has the lush beauty offered by the rest of Veckatimest, noted in the soaring harmonious voices.  But the pulsing keyboards are the hook here, and they manage to carry throughout.  Volkswagen was wise to use this song in their ads: it is fun and interesting.

Some of these songs are here just for the guitar parts.  That’s typical of good car music (like Led Zeppelin).  “Pieces,” “Adventure,” “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone,” and “Time Bomb” are all fairly quick songs that have captivating guitar lines.  That’s useful on two levels.  The guitars are captivating, but also don’t require the concentration that complicated instrumentation would demand.  We’re so used to the guitar that these songs only need to seem slightly different to be fun.

Finally, it’s important to note that this list only features one song longer than five minutes.  Fortunately, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone” is not bogged down in self-serving musical slop.  Instead, the song manages to feel slick and the five minutes just slide by.

Essential Listening hopes to get back to a more regular schedule in the next month or so.  Summer is a better time for writing, and it’s always fun to discover new music on random road trips or while reading scientific papers.

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BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: 40-31

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Here starts my rundown of the best albums of this decade.  I hope you enjoy, and check back tomorrow for more of this list!

40. Ageatis Byrjun by Sigur Ros

It is simple to fall into this music.  You need only turn it on and let the multitude of sounds envelop you.  Oh yeah – that voice is also important.  It’s hard to overstate how original this album is.

39. Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio

There are many ideas and instruments here, but I always come back to those production values.  Each song sounds disturbed and claustrophobic, creating a great atmosphere.  Of course, having individually brilliant songs helps out, too.

38. White Blood Cells by The White Stripes

Wouldn’t it be great if all garage rock sounded like this?  You know, with the brilliant guitar playing, and the real personality and the insane hooks?  But I guess these traits are what keep us coming back to Jack and Meg White.  The first four songs are more than enough for any guitar fan to own this album.

37. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

I personally find Summerteeth to be a better product, but it’s hard to deny the fearless-experimenting-traditionalism of this album.  Everything seems like classic rock, but it’s tough to keep playing.  Sharp lyrics, some well-placed strings, and at least two super songs make this a great.

36. Farm by Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. seem straightforward, but they never sound predictable.  Scorching guitar lines and a strong sense of melody help their cause.  Perhaps being a middle-age white guy can’t stop innate talent from coming out.

35. Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend

So they’re kind of prissy and elitist or something.  Who cares?  Their music is pop gold, offering more charming moments than most people have throughout their whole high school life.  And guess what: they also manage to do so in the realm of minimalist construction.  Universally aimed (catchy pop), yet able to be digested through music criticism.  Nice combo.

34. Mr. Beast by Mogwai

I am not always quick to accept mostly non-singing (not including jazz) music in my life.  But here are this Scottish guys exploding with instrumental emotion, leaving me to pump my fist in support.  Dynamics are king here, as the band works with a wide range of sonic power.

33. Discovery by Daft Punk

The essential techno album of ever.  For those who find it difficult to latch onto cold electronics, please see “Digital Love.”  For those who like to dance, see “One More Time.”  For the rest of us, just break out “Harder Better Faster Stronger.”  And now you have the remainder of the album of beat-heavy, danceable music to go.  You’re welcome, and now addicted.

32. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of Montreal

At heart a disco album.  However, Hissing Fauna moves through that label and onto this list because of the psychotic examination/breakdown that flows through the album.  The centerpiece, “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” is an unexpected game-changer that radically alters all future plays of the entire album.

31. Maladroit by Weezer

Current-Weezer is just terrible.  We are talking about the makers of the three worst albums of this decade.  The “artists” who have spewed such junk as “Beverly Hills,” “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived,” and “Can’t Stop Partying.”

But here lies Maladroit, a rightful heir to the legacy of 1990s Weezer.  Nerdy lyrics, big guitars, and catchy songs all fit the original Weezer mold.  But this album manages self-identity through a grungy style and a harder edge.  It’s too bad they never came back toward this…

Worst Music 2008: The Greatest Man that Ever Lived

Weezer Strikes Again

After covering so much that is positive in music from 2008, we now come to this – the worst that the year had to offer. The discovery is no longer so surprising; we again find Weezer responsible for the greatest lack of quality. But the surprise is that they’ve managed to top even themselves in crafting the worst song in their entire catalogue.

The Red Album: Lyrical Abomination

Before we proceed, I’d like to discuss the polished turd that is Weezer (The Red Album). I’ve tried to write a review for this, and I find the act very difficult. On the one hand, we see Weezer hit a pre-Green Album height with the witty and catchy “Pork and Beans.” This song alone would probably carry most albums to moderate critical approval – it’s a heavy hitter and well constructed.

But they managed to ruin everything. Every other song on the album is completely terrible. Particularly, the lyrics are cringe-worthy across the board, offering weak rhymes and terrible images. The whole thing seems lazy and half-assed (not even forced – just awful). There are so many examples of such weakness that it is difficult to articulate the entirety of what The Red Album offers.

“Troublemaker” is an immediate offender, where lazy couplets such as “books” rhymed with “crooks” try to convey some inspiration. I only see the use of a free rhyming website. Things only worsen when Cuomo states

“‘cuz I can’t work a job like any other slob / punching in and punching out and sucking up to Bob / Marrying a biotch having seven kids.”

Fortunately, you can’t hear the vocal inflection in such a textual form. Unfortunately, if you do (and please do not) listen to the song, a terrible discovery jumps right out – “biotch” is rhymed with “kids.” Do not ask how (something like kee-odds is pronounced), just run away.

“Heart Songs” only manages to show great insincerity with very weak lyrics. The entire catch is Cuomo referencing important songs that have guided him throughout his life (“heart” songs). Unfortunately, the turning point is a poorly structured reference to Nirvana’s breakthrough Nevermind. Simply, the effort put forth to keep the phrases a uniform syllabic length is obnoxious. Such change in cadence shows throws the listener askew and is extremely distracting. It’s really disheartening to remember that Weezer once put together tight songs like “Say It Ain’t So.”

As a final reference point, “Everybody Get Dangerous” has one of the simplest ways of offending – creating a stupid chorus. Yes, everything else is idiotic (the negation of cow-tipping because “I didn’t want the cow to feel sad” is especially groan-worthy), but the refrain stands tall and makes this one of the most moronic songs ever.

“Boo-yah”

Yeah. Seriously. I cannot make this up. The statement “Everybody get dangerous” is followed up with a “boo-yah.” Please make them stop.

The Worst Song of All Time

In the past, I may have described Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” as the worst song of all time. I assumed that no band could ever match the insane levels of pure suck that were displayed in that recording. Little did I know – Weezer would make everything even worse.

I just can’t begin to wrap my head around what they were thinking in even constructing this song. It starts at the point where we last saw Weezer work to achieve new points in “awful.” Yes, they’re rapping again, now with terrible lyrics about getting in someone’s underwear. But the song is full of 10-second outbursts of sound that gravitate around a central guitar riff that appears throughout. So the rapping ends.

And then you pray that it returns. Instead of improving, Rivers Cuomo uses falsetto. This sounds worse than even the lowest of American Idol rejects, and you cry out in pain.

The schizophrenia on display continues as Weezer jumps into a guitar pop that holds their patented sound from the past. But this is only momentary as synthetic sounds hop in and fill out the sound, segueing into another awful segment.

Here, Rivers Cuomo talks about being a “player.” And then it happens. He tell us:

“And bodies be all up on my behind.”

Ladies and gentlemen, it is over. We have lost the nerdy, introspective Weezer that once filled our ears with joy and wonder. It has been replaced by a commercialized, fame-seeking band that only moves toward greater sales.

I think that for our sakes, we should now describe “old” Weezer as the real version of the band. At present, this collaboration of people under the Weezer name is not creating music to match the legacy. It sucks.

Now we can only look forward to each Weezer release and wonder what terrible song they’ll create next. Our ears can only hope that they quit trying to outdo themselves every time.

Best Songs 2008: 8 – Pork and Beans

Weezer’s latest release was as yet another disappointment. The sorrow brought forth by The Red Album was not another unfathomable quality drop (praise god). Instead, it was the relation to the pre-release single. About two months before the proper album was unleashed, “Pork and Beans” hit the internet and the world found great hope as the song was record of modern Weezer in fine form. Of course, that sort of scenario is still not taken for granted (see: “The Greatest Man that Ever Lived”). But that we are able to glimpse a great pop song from the former pop-rock-gods show that there is goodness in this world.

The whole thing goes down like a blend between the charming humor of The Blue Album and the self-deprecating lyrics of Pinkerton. A relatively quick beat is accompanied by light guitar work as the song begins and Rivers Cuomo comments on his aged self. Lines about “Rogaine to put in my hair” have a slightly pathetic feel and a bit of laughter as we get to observe the man just beating himself up. Other comments about Timberland reaching the top of the chart seem to poke fun at the current status of the music industry, and further show the comedic Weezer that we’ve missed so much.

But this song is all about the hooks, and those hooks are the choruses. While the rest of the song seems to float along in a relatively relaxed fashion, the choruses literally explode out and grab your ears. The crunchy guitars, pounding drums and great singing reflect all of the best qualities Weezer displayed in their glorious 1990s music. Even the defiant main line, “I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans” is classic Weezer; it’s a step toward individuality with a universally understood phrase.

Really, the whole song just shines with excellent production and it is clear that nothing extraneous has been left to dampen the mood. Plus, the video is simply hilarious and worth every moment of watching. It’s just too bad that the rest of The Red Album is so awful. Is it so much to ask for worthwhile lyrics in more than just one song per album?

Review: Make Believe by Weezer

Weezer created two of the greatest albums of the 1990s. This fact is something to talk about, especially given some of the excellent music to result from the decade. Both the debut Weezer and the sophomore release Pinkerton showed the band’s amazing sense of melody and excellent wordplay

In their debut album, Weezer demonstrated that a perfect pop album needn’t be mindless nonsense to feed to the ignorant masses. Instead, clever lyrics, great guitars and absolutely catchy songs propelled the album to greatness. Nearly every song could have been a single, and each was full of more hooks than can possibly be imagined. There were no weak links, no false steps, and no annoying songs that you might skip to get to a better one. The whole album was full of highlights and simply shimmered with excellence. Certainly, some songs were more popular, but these weren’t any better or worse than the non-singles – they were all amazing.

Pinkerton followed by leaving the immediately enjoyable pop sensibility of Weezer. Instead of joyful songs with bright guitar solos, the band took a turn for the dark and personal. More difficult compositions and densely layered sounds made this album difficult to approach but infinitely excellent to love. Deep emotional turmoil was the highlight as frontman Rivers Cuomo expelled many personal demons and revealed an insecure individual behind the microphone. Powerful and memorable songs carried Pinkerton into the ears of its followers and validated Weezer’s excellence.

Sadly, Weezer’s excellence has been entirely invalidated. With song after horrible song, we must now look at the absolute mess that is Make Believe.

The experience begins with the worst song of Weezer’s career (and perhaps the worst song in years). “Beverly Hills” attempts some terrible combination of rap and rock and plummets into some chasm between the two. Not even the guitars can save this junk, as a terrible shot at a wah-wah solo (think Frampton but awful) just confirms the terror.

Initially, “Perfect Situation” seems to redeem the band, but it is merely the effect of following the low point on an album – everything seems better in comparison. Yet as soon as Rivers begins to talk, your mouth will move to a wince. Pathetic wordplay drives this song as it tries to find a groove. The music is nice enough (something to move your leg to as you listen), but the tortured soul of Pinkerton now sounds like a pathetic creep here.

No further hope is found in the third, fourth or fifth songs as childish lyrics ruin any hope of extracting joy from potentially decent melodies. Pathetic examples include “All these problems on my mind make it hard for me to think,” or “I don’t want to be a chump/You think I’m a fascist pig” or “Hold me/Take me with you cause I’m lonely.” Nothing sounds real and Rivers is just pathetic.

Yet as if “lower” could not seem to be achieved, the band tries again with “We Are All On Drugs.” The terrible melody can’t even work as counterpoint here – the whole song is awful. The constant repeat of the verse “on drugs” becomes grating within the first few seconds (and the song lasts a full three minutes and 30 seconds). Try as the guitar solo might, nothing works to even improve this song to “embarrassing.” It is just terrible and should be skipped without even a single listen.

More songs follow the format seen in earlier mediocre material on the album until “My Best Friend” appears. This is seemingly the only “good” song on the entire record. With an upbeat tempo matching the generally happy lyrics, the song seems to fit itself. However, weak lyrics erode the song and leave an unsatisfying taste in the ears. However, the song still manages to be okay. Perhaps the whiny Rivers should have stuck to this jubilant tone when writing the rest of the Make Believe.

Unfortunately for determined listeners, two of the worst tracks are saved for the end. “Freak Me Out” is very different from the rest of the album with its laid-back, new-wave feel. However, downright stupid phrases manage to ruin this potentially interesting song.

Finally, as if to simply kick you in the ears for trying to extract something good from the album, “Haunt You Every Day” finishes Make Believe on another low point. By beginning the song with “I don’t feel the joy/I don’t feel the pain,” fear immediately overtakes the listener. This forced and unfortunate lyric translates as expected from the album – into a terrible song with inferior musicality and idiotic phrasing.

With only one potentially redeeming song on the entire album, Make Believe is a complete failure of popular music. Where the past Weezer would have worked to create catchy music, this version of the band tries to force interesting songs, only to find repeated junk. By starting with such a piece of crap as “Beverly Hills,” Make Believe never stands a chance and only manages to get more annoying over time. Don’t buy, listen to, download, or even look at this album. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever listened to.

RATING: 0.0/10