2.10.2016

What The F*** Is Wrong With You??: The New Guy Reluctantly Reviews Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska"


What's crackin', Internet?  Let me take a moment to introduce myself.  I'm Scott, the new Assistant WebLog Content Creation Intern here at The Jeopardy of Contentment.  You may have read Chris' extremely flattering introduction here.  Although I appreciate his exuberant eloquence, it was all pretty much bullshit.  I'm just a guy who happens to own a couple CD's, played in a few local bands,  and lucked into writing a book series teaching junior-high-aged kids how to start a band.  (I mean seriously, when you're 13, starting a band is easy as fuck.  But they payed me more than I ever made actually playing in a band, so yeah, irony.)

Annnyyyyywwwaaayyyyy....so, writing on this blog will be a bit of a challenge for me.  Chris has forgotten more about music than I'll ever know, and Matt has forgotten more about music than Chris will ever know. (They are both pretty forgetful.  Which makes it easy to steal their change when the JoC office orders lunch and I'm sent to go get it. Thanks for the free Panini, suckers!)  Chris and Matt get deep into the new stuff.  Like three-knuckle deep-deep.  I swear to God that Matt hears about bands before they even form.  I'm more of a pop hook/melody/production appreciation guy, and  I'll listen to anything that Pandora or AppleMusic randomly plays.  Seriously.  I own Taylor Swift's "Fearless" on CD.  And The Revolting Cocks' "Linger Ficken Good".  Those two albums have no business being together on a shelf.  Yet, here they are. Proof!


So yeah, my stuff on this blog is gonna come from the mind of the guy that payed actual money for the CD's you see pictured above.  You remember earlier, when I said I'd listen to anything?  Well, that was kind of a lie.  I'm not really into sparse "guy/girl and guitar and sad bastard lyrics" stuff.  You know, the self-important musicians that think their four arpeggiated acoustic guitar chords and earnest lyrics about super important issues makes their album an important contribution to art.  That may be, Mr. Singer-Songwriter, but if I play that shit in the car, I'm going to fall asleep. And die. And I don't want your art to literally kill me.  Jesus!  Let someone play some drums!  Plug your guitar in!  Give me an interesting riff that I can hum to myself two days later and wonder where the fuck I heard it!
(Exception: Elliot Smith, because he makes me cry. In a good way. Don't judge me!) 

So imagine how pleased I was to hear that Chris had selected my first What The F*** Is Wrong With You? album review, and it was Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska".  Fuck.  
(Should I be typing "F***" instead of "fuck", since that's how it's represented in the post title?  Oh well.  I'm sure someone will edit me if that's a rule or something. )

Just to recap, if you're not familiar with the rules of this review series, I'll cut and paste the guidelines from Matt's last post, in which he cut and pasted from Chris' previous post: (side note: our adult intramural sports team should be called the "Control C, Control V's")

1. It's an album that has influenced or affected one of us in some personal, emotional or culturally significant manner.
2. It as impacted the work of others - either contemporaries or future artists, and that influence is generally acknowledged by listeners/critics worldwide. It doesn't need to be a huge seller, either, although that's fine, too.
3. The album doesn't  have to be unknown to the listener, as we would like to think that could be a difficult since we surely know a little about a lot out there, and the listener could even have listened to the album sometime before.
4. It can't  be something the listener has ever had on heavy rotation or has a strong sense of the individual songs on the album- the album may exist in their world but it's more of haze than something concrete.

I don't know much about this album, so let's just visit our friends over at Wikipedia. I'm sure they have verified facts to share.  They say:

Nebraska is the sixth studio album, and the first acoustic album by Bruce Springsteen. The album was released on September 30, 1982, by Columbia Records.
Sparsely-recorded on a cassette-tape Portastudio, the tracks on Nebraska were originally intended as demos of songs to be recorded with the E Street Band. However, Springsteen ultimately decided to release the demos himself. Nebraska remains one of the most highly regarded albums in his catalogue. The songs on Nebraska both deal with ordinary, blue collar characters who face a challenge or a turning point in their lives, but also outsiders, criminals and mass murderers, who have little hope for the future - or no future at all, as in the title track, where the main character is sentenced to death in the electric chair. Unlike his previous albums, very little salvation and grace is present within the songs. The album's uncompromising sound and mood, combined with its dark lyrical content has been described by a music critic as "one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label."[2]

When I read "one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label", you know what I think?  I think they meant "this was a piece of crap that had no chance of becoming an album, except that Bruce Fucking Springsteen wrote it.  So we kind of had to release it.  Dammit."
Maybe I'm being too hard on the album before even listening to it. That hardly seems fair, and I apologize.  So I'll just pop my pirated copy into the ol'  MP3-o-tronic machine, and give this a whirl.  Ready? Here goes.


TRACK 1:  The aptly titled "Nebraska"

0:00  Ok, we have some harmonica, with some mellow guitar behind it.  Holy shit.  Is this a Bob Dylan cover??  
0:31  The Boss' distinctive voice comes in.  Definitely not a Dylan cover.  If this was recorded on a Portastudio, then it was the nicest gold-plated flagship model of Portastudio ever. The production and the recording is really nice.  The guitar sounds amazing, Bruce's vocals are bare, and they sound incredible. The harmonica, oddly enough, sounds like a harmonica.  God damn it.  Now I want to scrap my recording rig and buy a Portastudio.
1:05   Isn't Springsteen from Jersey? What's with the southern twang?  I've been to Lincoln, Mr. Springsteen.  They do NOT talk like that there.  They talk about football. 
2:12  Well...that took a dark lyrical turn.  Apparently the narrator murdered everything in his path, and doesn't regret it.  The jury finds him guilty, so he gets the electric chair.  Kudos for the contrast between the pleasant melody and the "dark as Aunt Mavis' Coffee" lyrics.  (Note to self: check to see if they even have the death penalty in Nebraska)
3:11 Harmonica solo bridge!
3:38 "Why'd ya do it, Mister?  Why??"  "I'm just bad, that's why. Deuces!" (poses for electric chair selfie)
3:54  Harmonica outro!

Shit.  I didn't hate that nearly as much as I thought I would. I actually liked it. I'm going to have to go erase all that stuff I typed up above where I mocked this album before listening to it. I kind of feel like a jerk. I hope that the rest of the album is terrible, so I can justify my prejudice.

Song Verdict:  B

TRACK 2: Yes! I mean NO! It's a terrible honky tonk intro! Vindication! I must press "stop".

 I'm going to take a break, and listen to that title track again so that awful honky tonk doesn't ruin it.  Then I'm going to bed, where I will lie awake for hours and contemplate my actual appreciation for that title track.  What does this mean?  Am I a Springsteen fan now?  Are my beloved Riot Grrl albums going to mock me as a "corporate sell-out"?  Ugh. I hate Chris.

DAY 2
I had horrible dreams about Bruce Springsteen murdering people in Nebraska while driving a pink Cadillac. He got away with it, because he drove 800 miles without seeing a cop. Ok. Let's continue.


TRACK 2: "Atlantic City"

Wait!  Where's the honky-tonk intro?  Either that was a terrible dream, or the MP3-o-tronic was on "random play". Let's hope it's the former. I'd hate for that intro to rear its ugly head later.

0:00  The acoustic guitar takes the forefront on the opening, and Bruce starts singing immediately.  Thanks for putting the harmonica in your pocket, Bruce. I'm digging this one so far.  Lyrically, chicken men are getting blown up in Philly, and there's gonna be a "rumble".  I'm getting a social-awareness vibe here. And for some reason, I like it. "Everything dies baby, and that's a fact".  Was Springsteen in desperate need of a hug during the recording of this album?
0:30  Background vocals with heavy reverb. They make me sad. I'm sure that's the intent.
0:55  God damn it.  Four measures of harmonica.
1:03  Working man theme, getting a job, trying to save money. So Springsteen.
1:58  This bridge is amazing.  Mandolin in the background.  Nice touch.  The production is again amazing.  I really REALLY gotta get myself one of those Portastudios.
2:27  Slowing things down.  Tempo change?  Right on.  The ol' "repeat the chorus build up strip down" outro trick. Well played, Mr. Springsteen.  Well played.

I liked that one even more than the first one.  Despite the race-riot/gambling addiction mixed messages.  I can't believe it.  So far, this album is good.  Let's hope there are some real stinkers coming up.

Song Verdict: B+

Track 3: "Mansion on the Hill"

0:00 More harmonica!  Is this the title track again? It is eerily similar so far.
0:35 Edge of town? Factories? Unattainable mansions on the hill?  Please go on, Bruce.  Tell me more.
1:32  Uh oh.  His dad is taking him on a ride at night.  Given the previous lyrical content, there's no way this ends well for anyone.  
2:05  Harmonica solo bridge!
2:35 "Urban music playing".  What exactly is urban music in 1982?  Grandmaster Flash? The Sugarhill Gang? I don't think anyone working in a factory or a mill or in a cornfield in 1982 in the midwest listened to Grandmaster Flash.
3:36  Harmonica outro.  Come on! 

I think this song was the demo for the title track, before Bruce's bad day that caused him to write murder lyrics.  It's about poor people gazing longingly at the mansion on the hill?  Appreciate what you have, because that's all you'll ever get?  Ok.  

Song Verdict: D+ (I could have gone C- here, but I'm trying to justify my prejudiced ass-holery from earlier) 

Track 4: "Johnny 99"

0:00  There's a shrieking woman trapped in the trunk!
0:16  There it is. The auto plant closed. Ralph can't get a job.  
0:30  The honky-tonk guitar is getting some crescendo here.  Increased heartland fervor from The Boss.  
0:50  Johnny is drunk and waving his gun around! He's four five seconds from wildin'!  Sucker punched by an off-duty cop.  Game over, Son.  
1:30  Just when you thought it was taking a break for a track, the harmonica busts back in!
2:30  Time to feel sorry for Johnny 99.  He's losing his house.  Bruce predicts the housing crisis, 32 years early! Johnny 99 blames his crimes on poverty.  He says he's better off dead.  I think Johnny 99 is kind of a whining bitch. 
3:09.  Harmonica outro.  Again. 

Do you know what's better than this song?
Johnny 99 should be almost 20 times better than me, but he's not.

Song Verdict: D+

Track 5: "Highway Patrolman"

0:00  Nice guitar sound.  Again, Bruce's vocals sound raw and amazing.  Despite him using them to give what amounts to a Match.com profile of a law enforcement officer.
0:45  The cop has a bad seed brother!  He's up to no good! But the cop looks the other way, because nepotism. 
1:17  I'll be honest. I like this chorus. I don't want to, but I do. There's some weird sharing of some girl named Maria going on, which seems odd. 
2:00  Bad Seed brother joins the army in 1965. The cop starts a farm and marries the brother's girlfriend. There's no way this ends up good for anyone.
2:40  The harmonica has been relegated to the background on this track, and production-wise, it's effective and haunting.  
3:18  Here it comes. The bad news phone call. The brother's up to no good again.
4:36  Car chase! Action! Uh oh! Sounds like the bad seed brother had a Thelma and Louise moment, or he escaped to Canada.  It's not clear.

Song Verdict:   C  (it's a D song saved by a B chorus)

Track 6:  "State Trooper"  

0:00 I'm really liking this dark intro.  Muted guitar, and hushed vocals. The vocals have some noticeable delay and reverb on them, which is a change from the previous tracks, but it sounds amazing. I really REALLY gotta get one of those Portastudios.
1:32  Apparently this song is about not wanting to get pulled over? And State Troopers get to marry hot chicks? Either way, this song is awesome so far.
2:25  Bruce Springsteen inexplicably shouts and it scares me. It's the sonic equivalent of one of those seemingly tranquil videos you watch on the internet and at the end the scary monster jumps out and screams and you shit yourself.  I mean, I personally didn't shit myself, but I have a friend who did.  A friend from Canada.
3:00 more shouting! This song cures hiccups.

I would love to hear what this song would have evolved into if it had ever graduated from "demo" state.  Wow.  Bonus points for keeping the harmonica in your pocket, Bruce.

Song Verdict:  A   

Track 7: "Used Cars"

0:00  More sparse guitar, background harmonica, bare vocals.  Just like most of the other songs on the album.
1:10  Is that a fucking xylophone??
1:22  "Brand new used car" is an excellent lyric.
1:45  Blue collar working man middle class family blah blah
2:33  The harmonica, not content to stay in the back, runs to the front of the stage.  Or pushes it's fader up on the mixing deck.  I'm starting to suspect that the harmonica is the diva in this band.

Meh.  Meh minus.

Song Verdict:  C  I neither loved or hated this song.  If this song was a restaurant, it would be Chilli's.


Track 8: "Open All Night"

0:00 Aaaaaannndddd the horrible honky-tonk intro finally crashes the sad bastard party.  Seriously, this song is like that jock in high school that gets all hooped up on whippets and red bull and then he crashes the serious goth party the drama kids are having.  "Shut up, Chet!  We're trying to listen to Morrisey here! Your unfocused energy is ruining our choreographed crying!"
0:15  What. The. Fuck.  Is this just a rip-off of "Greased Lightning"?  Mr. Springsteen, please stop vocally masturbating about your car.  
1:31  What?  What are you saying??  Why are the vocals suddenly incomprehensible?  The production on this track sounds exactly like it was recorded on a Portastudio.  I no longer wish to purchase one.
2:58  Chris owes me three minutes of my life back.

Song Verdict:  F-

Track 9: "My Father's House"

0:00 No way this track can be as bad as the last one.  It's trying to, but it's not quite there.  We have the now familiar acoustic guitar with the fairly subdued vocals taking the forefront.  A bit reverb on the vocal track.  It's not as effective here as the dry vocals would have been.  
0:30  Ok, I'm getting a serious gospel vibe here.  Maybe it's the "daaaarrrrrrkneesss falls" vocal roll.  Very un-Springsteen, so bonus points are awarded.
1:30  I like the lyrical theme.  It's a scared kid running home through the woods at night, terrified of the boogie man/devil behind him, running to the comfort of his father's house.  This is much more interesting than the factory worker trying to buy a big house, or getting all murderous on some folks in Lincoln.
2:15  Diva Harmonica pops up for a few measures, just to be a dick and try to ruin this interesting song.
3:30  Ok, sadness.  Bruce Springsteen was sad as fuck in 1982.  The song tells a story, and (SPOILER ALERT!) it doesn't end well.  

I liked this one a lot.  Maybe it got a boost by the utter disdain I felt for the previous track.  

Song Verdict:  B+


Track 10:  "Reason to Believe"

0:00  Diva Harmonica kicks things off.  
0:30  We have a honky tonk guitar threatening to come out!  It's back there, Bruce is doing his best to hold it back!  
1:30  What is that backing instrument?  A harpsichord?  I like this song and have no idea why.  Maybe I've just been pummeled into submission for the last 10 tracks.  
2:03  I think Springsteen just lit a cigarette.  IN. THE. VOCAL. BOOTH.  On the microphone.  That is awesome!  Even more awesome is that the engineer/producer didn't edit that out.  Yes.  That makes the song even more amazing.  You win, anonymous sound engineer!
3:20  What the hell?  Hopeful lyrics?  Come on Bruce!  Did the album test poorly with focus groups, so you threw in a happier ending?  It's ok. Your lighter click and subsequent inhale on the vocal mic gives you license to do whatever the fuck you want.  Carry on.

I liked this one.  Because music.  I think The Boss finally got that hug he'd been longing for.

Song Verdict: A

FINAL VERDICT: B

This wasn't nearly as awful as I'd anticipated.  I have a newfound appreciation for Bruce Springsteen's lyrical prowess.  That dude can turn a phrase.  I also learned a few things about myself:

1) I don't hate drum-free music as much as I thought I did.
2) I really fucking hate the harmonica.

(Politically Correct Disclaimer)  I can see how a lot of people would enjoy this album, and I can see how it was a turning point for Springsteen's career.  If he can release a demo tape, and it gets hailed as a "classic", then he must be doing something right.  It's easy to connect the dots from "Nebraska" to "Born in the USA", which I listened to quite a bit when I was a kid.  Because it was all over the radio.     I couldn't escape it.  They both have that blue-collar working-man vibe.  "Nebraska" is like "Born in the USA"'s sad little brother, who is equally talented, yet disproportionately more pessimistic.  Plus, his drummer quit.  I'm glad Chris suggested this album for me to review (despite my repeated vitriol towards him). I can't say that it'll be on my heavy rotation list any time soon, but I feel that I've filled a gaping hole in my musical knowledge.  At the very least I can pull this knowledge out at parties to impress people.  "Hey, have you heard Springsteen's "Nebraska"?  It's sooooo dark!  You gonna eat the last of that spinach dip? Thanks!"

So far, I think Matt, Chris, and I have all given our assigned albums a "B" grade.  Maybe we should rename this series "What The B Is Wrong With You?"  The three of us have widely differing musical tastes, so it will be interesting to see how long after this review it takes for them to fire me.

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom! 

-Scott









  

1.29.2016

New Song/Video: Whitney - 'No Woman'

A new band that I'm really excited about hearing more stuff from in 2016 in Chicago's Whitney. The band is made up from former members of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns and their sound has been described as "country/soul". Whatever you want to call it their new track, 'No Woman', is really beautiful and has been on repeat in my house all week. The band has music prepped for later in 2016 from the Secret Canadian label and when there is more news on that front, I'll try and post it here. In the meantime check out the video for 'No Woman'.



-Matt

1.27.2016

JoC Welcomes New Contributor Scott Witmer



The Jeopardy of Contentment is proud to introduce our newest contributor, Scott Witmer.

After passing a rigorous interview process of knowing the two people who write for this blog, Scott was welcomed with open arms.

Scott brings a great wealth of musical knowledge and enthusiasm. Not only is he a consumer of music, Scott also provides perspective as a songwriter, as a producer and recording engineer, and as a published music author. 

Yes, he actually was paid for writing. And now he writes for us! Man, that's a lot of pressure...

We look forward to his upcoming posts, and he'll be kicking off with the third entry in our "What the F*** is Wrong with You?" series.

-Chris

Stream New Album From Your Friend: Gumption

Lawrence's very own Taryn Miller, who records under the name Your Friend, is getting set to release her first full length album on Domino Records this Friday. Until then she's put the album up on her Soundcloud page so we can all stream it for the next few days. She's definitely the most talented local musician I can recall in a very long time and her fanbase nationally should continue to grow with her new album, Gumption.

Stream the album below.

You also have the chance to check out her album release show tomorrow night at Liberty Hall in Lawrence.

Finally, her video for the track 'Tame One' off her outstanding Jekyll/Hyde EP can be seen below. If you've spent any time in Lawrence there are a lot of recognizable spots throughout the video.
 


-Matt

1.26.2016

What The F*** Is Wrong With You?: The Kinks

I started writing this blog post over a week ago and then, like the reason this blog took on a long hiatus, life happened. Multiple sick kids and trips to urgent care along with a crazy busy week at work put this on the back burner. However, with things settling down I'm ready to dig into my first album review that Chris has recommended.

Just to review the rules from Chris's first blog post in this series:

1. It's an album that has influenced or affected one of us in some personal, emotional or culturally significant manner.
2. It as impacted the work of others - either contemporaries or future artists, and that influence is generally acknowledged by listeners/critics worldwide. It doesn't need to a huge seller, either, although that's fine, too.
3. The album doesn't  have to be unknown to the listener, as we would like to think that could be a difficult since we surely know a little about a lot out there, and the listener could even have listened to the album sometime before.
4. It can't  be something the listener has ever had on heavy rotation or has a strong sense of the individual songs on the album- the album may exist in their world but it's more of haze than something concrete.



The Artist: The Kinks
The Album: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
The Listener: Matt
The Presenter: Chris


I'm going to lose some portion of my music nerd membership card, but I honestly don't know much about The Kinks beyond their really famous tracks. I know they are a band composed of two British brothers (Ray and Dave Davies) who don't get along very well but somehow aren't Oasis? Chris definitely has a type when it comes to bands, especially bands composed of two fighting brothers. Bonus points if they're from the UK (sorry Black Crowes).

Track 1: 'The Village Green Preservation Society'

I actually know this song. It's a good one, it's got a nice groove to it. You know how sometimes you can't tell that a band is from the UK because their accents are hidden by their singing voice? Well, that's not an issue with for Ray Davies, he sounds super British. I'm not a huge lyric guy but from one listen I can tell this song is clearly about Disney character and various jams and jellies. Grade: B+

Track 2: 'Do You Remember Walter'

The first five seconds of this song sound like the last part of 'A Day In The Life'. Is that on purpose? The music on this song again is top notch, it's impossible to not bob your head to these first couple of tracks. Grade: B-

Track 3: 'Picture Book'

There is no doubt in my mind that these guys can write the hell out of a pop song. The melodies are really fantastic. The lyrics aren't very deep, but that's okay because if they were it wouldn't fit with the bouncy feel of the music. Looking through old pictures is something just about everyone can identify with. Grade: A-

Track 4: 'Johnny Thunder'

I've heard this one before...I read this track was said to have influenced Pete Townsend and I think it shows through on some of the earlier records from The Who. The album I picked for Chris had mostly 6-8 minutes tracks while almost all of the tracks on this album are under three minutes. It's hard to get all my thoughts down without the next track starting. Grade: B

Track 5 - 'Last of the Steam Powered Trains'

Just when I write about all of the songs being under three minutes, the only song that exceeds four minutes starts. The addition of harmonica and a really good bluesy guitar riff make this one of the more interesting songs so far. If you beefed this song up a little bit it could verge on hard-rock and I certainly dig that. I also really enjoyed the middle where the tempo sped up, it makes me wish the beginning of this album rocked a little more because clearly this band has it in them to do so. Grade: A

Track 6: 'Big Sky'

My first impressions of this album was that it was going to be cutesy brit-pop, but then the last track and this one comes on and blows away my expectations. That guitar riff in 'Big Sky' once again shows that this a rock band at heart that writes catchy pop tunes. Clearly not a one-note album by any means. I'm not a giant fan of talk-singing unless it's Craig Finn or Eddie Argos, but it still doesn't ruin this song for me. Grade: B+

Track 7: 'Sitting By the Riverside'

This song didn't do a whole lot for me...especially following the more rocking two tracks that preceded this one. Grade: C

Track 8: 'Animal Farm'

Something about this track seems much more lush than a lot of the rest the album up to this point. There is definitely a silliness in much of the lyrics and I don't mean that as a criticism by any means, the music albums demands whimsy. Grade: B

Track 9: 'Village Green'

Goddamn these guys are super British. Is this the first track with orchestration behind it? I can't remember any before this. This also seems like the kind of track that is in a Wes Anderson movie. If it hasn't been used already, it should be. Grade B-

Track 10: 'Starstruck'

This is another track that didn't really stand out much to me. It's not bad by any means, it's nice filler in between more interesting songs is all. Grade: C

Track 11: 'Phenomenal Cat'

I'm not great at reading into song meanings, but I'm able to decipher that this song is about a feline that was especially noteworthy. I get an early Pink Floyd vibe from this song....it's definitely the most psychedelic track so far and the sped up vocals are really creepy. The song kind of sticks out like a sore thumb though. Grade C+

Track 12: 'All of My Friends Were There'

The first thirty second of this track made me think it was another throw-away but I really enjoyed the chorus. Grade: B-

Track 13: 'Wicked Annabella'

Oh man, I really dig this songs instantly. It starts out with a nice drumbeat and distorted guitar riff. I really enjoy the feel of these tracks, especially next to some of the lighter stuff. I knew I recognized this song from a nice cover version done by one of my favorites: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. This song is great. Grade: A-

Track 14: 'Monica'

Although this song doesn't have an edge to it like some of my other favorites, the whole calypso thing is new and I enjoy hearing them step out of their pop comfort zone. I find the album the most interesting when they're doing things I don't expect. Grade: B

Track 15: 'People Take Picture of Each Other'

I'm usually a big fan of closing tracks but this song didn't really stand out much for me. I like the addition of piano and it's another track with a good groove to it. I also like a well placed chorus of a few "La La La's" but other than that I wanted more out of this song. Grade: C

Overall Grade: B

I just realized I gave this album the same grade Chris gave Disintegration. Kind of boring, huh? We need some music hot takes and controversy at some point I suppose, but what do you expect when we're picking "classic" albums for each other to review. Even though Chris and I have strong music tastes that can vary greatly at times, I also think both of us can appreciate good music, even if it's not a genre or style that we're huge fans of.

This album overall is really enjoyable. I found a few of the songs very pedestrian and I'd be curious to listen to the original twelve tracklist the album was originally released with. I find this album most interesting when the band was doing things I didn't expect them to do. I do find it fascinating that this is usually regarded as the bands greatest album, but it doesn't have a single song that most non-Kinks fans would know. I think this was a great pick by Chris and I look forward to coming up with his next album to review.

-Matt

1.21.2016

RIP Glenn Frey, whom Matt thought was spelled "Glenn Fry"....

The creator of this blog, who possesses by far the deepest wealth of musical knowledge for someone not actively paid to possess said knowledge in the first place, thought Glenn Frey was spelled "Glenn Fry".

That being said, in honor of his passing, I am sharing a couple of song requests by Matt and one from myself. Neither of us were particularly Eagles fans, although we (and I suppose I am speaking on Matt's behalf) appreciate what they are to the landscape of music and their singular talents. Additionally, Frey had a pretty significant relevance to the pop culture landscape of the 80s, so for myself, there's a mourning of that time passing.

All that aside, I'm pretty sure we may not even have bothered writing anything, but it brings to light something: We are hitting a time where an entire generation of artists- my parent's generation-  are starting to pass on, and it's a generation that was part of a time in music that can never happen again.

Labels, A&R reps. press junkets, "new" discoveries that an entire nation finds out about together via music press or actual album releases, mystery, myth, mystique, "mansions on the hill"- all of those images and fantasies that drove kids so often to be in bands in the first place- we'll never see again that which occurred with such regularity almost five decades prior.

In fifteen years we may not even see artists- at least the traditional rock band/artists- who can pursue music as a full-time career, who may only be able to tour regionally, and whose music we can only download every few months when they record a couple of songs in the evenings during a 50-hour work week (an "album", as we know it even today, would seem pointless). The true rock stars might have been figuratively dead for a while, but they are literally dying in front of us today.

Finally, this tribute to Frey is not only a remembrance of a time that has passed, and an acknowledgement of what is to come- not just for those rockers we grew up with and those bands we grow with now- but also for those that actually raised us. Because now, when we hear about some artist's death, that age is no longer one that seems so far away or unfamiliar. It's an age I see every day when I see my mom and dad.


Glenn Frey - Smuggler`s Blues Video (1985) from MTVClassic1 on Vimeo.







-Chris

1.11.2016

David Bowie, Remembered




The quote Matt provided in the previous post sums up all we need to remember about our time with David Bowie. We have never before, or ever can again, experience what he was: a shapeshifting artist who could take on as many pop and music personas as he did, and yet those personas never overshadowed his artistry and immense talent. Rather than be any more depressed about it (for today, at least), here are some quick list and thoughts:

My Top Five Bowie Albums


1. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust- The first one I listened to. My dad had the album.

2. Diamond Dogs- FYI, Glam Bowie was my favorite Bowie.

3. Aladdin Sane- Glam Bowie is my favorite Bowie.

4. Hunky Dory- I was thinking about Low, but I just haven't listened to it as much.

5. A New Day- In light of his death, this album stands out more as a testament to an artist who never stopped creating, and after four decades of music, could still put something out there that is completely him.

Least Favorite Recording


We know Bowie had a sense of humor. Ricky Gervais had shared an email he had with Bowie, twelve years ago, wishing him a happy birthday:

 "“57???? Isn’t it about time you got a proper job? -Ricky Gervais, 42, Comedian.” 

He replied: “I have a proper job. David Bowie, 57, Rock God.”

With that in mind, we have to poke some fun at him for this:

"Dancing in the Streets"





But to Bowie's credit, I think he knew what he was doing and it all fell in line with some cultivated plan that made sense in the mid-80s. Jagger might just have wanted to get in bed with him? I don't know. Since, "Start Me Up", Jagger's been a dork.

Favorite Bowie Recording


"Rebel Rebel"


Maybe my all-time favorite guitar riff.




Favorite Bowie Film Role


The Prestige

He certainly could have done more films if he had wanted to, although his listing is pretty lengthy for someone who was never a full- time actor. Jareth the Goblin King is his defining role (and I wish he just stayed dressed that way through the 80s and in "Dancing in the Streets"), but if I had to pick something other than that, I'd go with his small role as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. He plays the character as someone who (of course) knows of things not in the normal realm of the world and who works on level of intelligence none comprehend. He's not someone who plays with morality because morality is irrelevant to his science and his world view.

Also, Bowie was Pontius Pilate in Last Temptation of Christ, so I bet his dinner tonight up above with The Big Guy had some good conversation.




Favorite Bowie Homage


Velvet Goldmine

I suppose The Man Who Fell to Earth would make more sense. But the music and costumes are awesome, and it looks great,and that's all I need for a "Bowie" film. Jump to  4:00 for when Brian Eno kicks off the opening credits with "Needle in the Camel's Eye".



Velvet Goldmine (Dir. Todd Haynes, 1998) -- opening from CAJ on Vimeo.





Runner Up: "Bowie's in Space"


Good-bye, Mr Bowie. I'll let Commander Chris Hadfield play you off...





-Chris

RIP David Bowie

I don't really have a ton of words to say right now except we lost one of the truly original creative forces in music. There has never been anyone like David Bowie and there never will be.

"If you're ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie."










-Matt

Beach Slang Will Save Your Life

One of my favorite things about music is how it can instantly transport you to a certain place and time. An even cooler feeling is when a band or song that you're just hearing can still transport you to the past. When Japandroids second album, Celebration Rock (which is still one of my favorite albums of the past 10 years), came out it reminded me of something I would have blasted in my car with the windows down on a summer night during high school. It just had that kind of feeling to it. Now when I listen to that album, even though it only came out a few years ago, it makes me think of high school.

Another band that gives me that exact same feeling is Philadelphia's Beach Slang. Fronted by Alex James, no band in recent memory has been able to capture the recklessness, angst and emotion of being young like they have. They first hit my radar in 2014 when they put out a couple of fantastic EPs in Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street and Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? In the eight songs contained on those two EPs I found my new saviors of rock and roll.

I'll just let Alex James' own words to describe their sound:
“I’ve broken it down to what I believe to be a pretty descriptive three-point formula. I pretend I’m scoring a John Hughes film then I ask myself, ‘How would Bukowski write the lyrics?’ Then I ask, ‘What kind of chords and melody would Paul Westerberg [of The Replacements] put behind that?’ So that’s what I’m aiming for. I probably fall well short of that but that’s the aim, the bullseye.”
The band has been steadily gaining hype leading up to the 2015 release of their first full-length album, The Things We Do to Find the People Who Feel Like Us. I'm not sure if it will garner them the fame they deserve but it's cool to see an actual rock and roll band get buzzed about.

The band played in Lawrence last November to a tiny crowd so hopefully they'll come back through again to a bigger reception. Check out the video of 'Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas' below.


Beach Slang Website

-Matt

1.07.2016

What the F*** Is Wrong with You?: A Collaborative Series

As Jeopardy of Contentment begins...again, Matt and I had a brief conversation about how to go through with restarting the blog. Since we can't dedicate the same amount of time to posts as we did in the past (Matt can't and I didn't in the first place), we thought it might be fun to kick-start 2016 with collaborative posts.

The first collaboration we'll take a shot at is what I am calling What the F*** is Wrong with You? This idea popped up the other day when I realized that while I listen to music almost all day at work, I don't really absorb it, and I worry how many great moments I might be missing out on. The title comes from the reaction you have when someone you know has not listened to an album you feel is crucial to their listening experience, and they are therefore an idiot.

1. Person A has Person B listen to an album Person A deems as being seminal  or important in some capacity to the music landscape. 
2. Person B writes a track-by-track review of the album. They'll grade each song and then throw down a final album grade. Currently this is based on the one listen-through only.
3. Person B will have Person A run through the same experience. 


The rules are pretty open to interpretation. The album needs to meet any of the criteria below:

1. It's an album that has influenced or affected one of us in some personal, emotional or culturally significant manner, 
2. It as impacted the work of others - either contemporaries or future artists, and that influence is generally acknowledged by listeners/critics worldwide. It doesn't need to a huge seller, either, although that's fine, too.
3. The album doesn't  have to be unknown to the listener, as we would like to think that could be a difficult since we surely know a little about a lot out there, and the listener could even have listened to the album sometime before. 
4. It can't  be something the listener has ever had on heavy rotation or has a strong sense of the individual songs on the album- the album may exist in their world but it's more of haze than something concrete. So, if Matt suggested Springsteen's Born to Run (that's the title  right?), that would qualify for me. However, Tame Impala's Lonerism, an album we can all agree is better than Currents, would not, since I have listened to it semi-regularly over the last three years.

So, first album!




The Artist: The Cure
The Album: Disintegration
The Listener: Chris
The Presenter: Matt


Track 1: Plainsong

I like the wind chime/keyboard/guitar at the beginning- has kind of a Chariots  of Fire to the introduction, and it's a pretty fade-in with all those melding together. I also like opening tracks that sound like opening tracks- it should be a rule that all Track 1s have some sort of instrumental lead in, ideally over 30 seconds, and repetitive/building in nature. This one is the entire song, so that's probably already a win. When the vocals started quietly in the back, I figured it was leading into actual verses, but I liked how they faded away.  Grade: B+

Track 2: Pictures of You

Yeah, I knew this one a bit. It makes me think of a prom dance at a school I didn't attend, with lots of silvery glitter and sparkles. I always dug Porl Thompson's guitar tone- you always knew it was a Cure song, or maybe a Smiths? Definitely goes on about 2 minutes longer than it needs to, but it's a song that says "Here's a good single! For that prom you mentioned in the second sentence!" The lyrics do read a bit like the stereotype college kid who LOVES Byron. Grade: B

Track 3: Closedown

That's two compound made-up words in the first three tracks, plus long musical intros. The fact I read that Robert Smith went into hallucinogenics during these sessions is not surprising. I dig the musical structure of the songs so far- the bass has a nice groove, and things are soft but present. Given Smith's lyrics so far (in this case, one verse), that's probably a good thing. He's a bit of a sad bastard, and this is generally filler. Grade: C+

Track 4: Lovesong

Really? I honestly didn't think about this when I wrote the last track. Three fake compounds in four tracks? OK. Fine.

This is probably the one song I am most familiar with at the drop of the hat, other than "Friday I'm in Love", which I hate and was the reason I never listened to this band in the first place. Fun fact: A band I was in was going to cover this for the drummer's high school reunion, which then 
called to cancel as we were traveling to Iowa City. Screw you, Iowa. This song has a great hook and I love the solo, Smith's vocals are much more focused on this one. Grade: A

Track 5: Last Dance

Starting to see a pattern here- opening with a guitar lead-in and some synths that builds to a more full-bodied verse. I have a hard time focusing on lyrics that don't really have rhythm to them, or even some sense of rhyme scheme. I can't recall what was sung as well and eventually I tune out the singer and listen to instruments more. This song is pretty, but doesn't stick with me in anyway. Grade: C

Track 6: Lullaby

He likes the "L" words for his song titles, too!

I definitely dig it more when there's something driving the lyrics- some solid idea or story or theme, so the boogeyman/death figure in this gets my attention, and Smith's penchant for the darker lyrics doesn't seem as silly in those scenarios. But, I am imagining Peter Parker in a costume with red and white stripe legs, which is distracting to the story. This song still has a meandering quality to it- same riff repeated over, Smith comes in for a bit, then back to some music for a bit. Then, back to the drugs? Grade: B-

Track 7: Fascination Street

The Cure like kicking it off with the bass line- which is cool and gives the songs some opening, dancey punch. The phaser on the guitar is sweet since I loved the phaser when I played, so props to Porl again.I do think you're starting to see a lot of repetition in how these songs are put together, so there's a little bit of a bleed-together between the tracks. But again, Smith seems to have a real visual idea in his mind when we wrote the lyrics, so this stands out quite a bit. Also, a surprise! After he sings the first verse and chorus and it cuts to the instrumental again, he comes back and sings some more! Grade: B+

Track 8: Prayers for Rain

Smith seems more like a poet than a songwriter. I get an idea that he writes music to fit around what he's written in his notebook. I continue to lose some focus at times due to the repetition of the music and the randomness of the lyrics and WHEN he comes in with the singing. This would be a bitch to do karaoke to, or maybe it'd be easy to fake- you could come in whenever and no one would notice. That low organ synth is pretty sweet and gives it a nice sweep. Grade: C+

Track 9: The Same Deep Water as You

Now we have a rain theme going on, and water. Kind of reminds me of mid-period Live. Oh man, this is over nine minutes? I can probably tune out for the first two, last three, and still get the whole song. I feel this is about suicide, perhaps by drowning? FYI, I will be pulling up lyrics to read along- that's how bad I am at hearing and absorbing lyrics (regardless of the artist). Also, I totally called my track time prediction! I did like the last minute or so of the outro. I wish that the band would jam out a little harder at times. They definitely seem to hold back, at least on this album. Grade: B

Track 10: Disintegration 

Title track! Boy, I feel like this has gone away a bit, at least for rock bands, Bring it back, ideally as the first track so everyone knows they got the right album. Is it too cheesy now? Like, when movies have characters say the title of the movie in the dialogue? Whew, this is over eight minutes, too. Two songs back-to-back over 16 minutes is tough. Robert need to layoff the 'shrooms, a bit. Is it intentional to take over 90 seconds to start singing- to let the music breathe first?  It is definitely a trait of this album. Smith deals out confessionals- it has to be hard to put this stuff out there if you in any way are sincere about what you're singing about, and I get his appeal for the demographic he's linked too. This one he seems to be throwing a bit more passion into his words. This seems like a closer when playing  live.  Grade: B-

Track 11: Homesick

 The clean guitar really stands out with the piano, and I like the change of pace. Even the drums seems to be more acoustic. I don't think this album was overproduced, but the spare sound is nice. The band certainly has time to jam in those openings. Well, basically the whole song. Smith seems to have wandered into the recording booth towards the end. The "do-dos" are a bit silly. Grade: B-

Track 12: Untitled

If the track has a title, it can't untitled, can it?

It's a pretty sounding tune (as they all have been), although at this point I find myself recognizing a pattern more than anything else. the outro is nice, and fitting to the end of the album, although "Disintegration" may have been a better closer. "I'll never lose this pain, never dream of you again" certainly sums up the album. Grade: B

Overall Grade: B

Disintegration is very pretty and well-made album, but it blends to the background for me, like it should be part of the soundtrack in a relationship movie. Smith at times doesn't seem present in many of the songs and floats in and out at will, which many times serves the song well, but others it feels like he's disappearing and floating away, which may very well be his point. The Cure are a good band that one probably needs to get into at a younger age to form a strong connection to. My weakness as lyric-man probably caused me to miss out on some powerful lines, but Smith writes the way I imagined he would based on his reputation.

Hope you all enjoyed the first in the series, and a great suggestion by Matt. Curious what you all think of Disintegration, especially if it was a album you took in as a teenager, and perhaps how you might view it now.

-Chris