That’s right, losers. Richard Marx lyrics. Now that song can be stuck in the heads of anyone old enough to remember it.
Anyway, last year’s ‘most excited’ list was remarkably hit or miss. This year’s probably will be as well. To keep that at least a bit more under control, I’m only going to do the first half of the year, with another list to come heading into July.
Also, as always, there will be great movies I just don’t know about yet, so if you see a glaring omission, holla at’cha boy.
First off, the movies I am undoubtedly excited about, to varying extremes.
1. Chronicle – February 3rd
Seattle. Super powers. Salisbury Steaks. Okay, so that last bit was just for alliteration. However, Seattle and supes is enough to get me excited, even if the found footage thing is a little (or a lot) old by now. Movies like the original [REC] show the medium does have life in the right hands. Let’s hope that’s the case here.
2. The Secret World of Arrietty –February 17th
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. That’s all that needs to be written. Case closed.
This is a music list, not a baseball list. Still, it is what we at RtM are calling the Prince Fielder list, formerly the Ryan Braun list.
For those who don’t know, Prince is a hefty man, and an amazing baseball player.
The young, soon to be former Milwaukee Brewer, hits homers like it’s easy. If he keeps up playing the way he’s started out, his place in Cooperstown is assured. However, if he suddenly started hitting .200 next season, we’d all wonder what the hell happened, and he’d never be in the Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter could retire tomorrow and be a first ballot HoFer. Prince Fielder is too early in his career for that.
The mere fact that this list was originally named for Ryan Braun, who is now suspect after having a positive PED test, only shows how precarious a young person’s potential can be.
These bands are like Prince Fielder. They’re amazing, and if they keep it up they’ll be in the Hall within another few albums. However, if they start teaming up with Nickelback and lil’ Wayne, and making shit music tomorrow, we’d all talk about how great these bands were in the past. They just don’t have the number of albums necessary for the Hall to be a lock.
The lists are here, folks. There are so many great albums this year that we need to split each one up into sections. Wee-ow, was there some good music in 2011.
This is our second year doing music lists, and the second with our very own RtM Hall of Fame. Since there was literally no thought put into the formation of our little musical cooperstown, there are a few weaknesses I’ve noticed. Such as, what about adding old bands, those of whom don’t release albums anymore? We aren’t fixing said problems this year, just thought I’d point them out.
Anyway, last year saw the induction of: The New Pornographers, The National, Spoon, Josh Ritter, and Menomena. We changed the criteria for picking HoF acts, so Menomena wouldn’t have made it in, but the Hall is sacred. Once you’re in, you’re in.
This year, there will be at least fourteen new additions into the Hall. That’s quite a few, but I assure you they are all deserving. Here are the first five!!
1. Kanye West
Scott: How is one man responsible for the best Hip Hop album of the year, two years in a row?!? That’s uncanny. And not like, the resemblance between that old man and my Aunt Petunia is uncanny… like, X-Men uncanny. Yup, Kanye West is a mutant, and his power is making remarkable albums. Jay-Z returns to form for the first time in forever, and Kanye continues building on the victory of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This album doesn’t have the epic, genre changing, staggering beauty of that album. What it does have is enough swagger and commentary on the black experience in America to be, hands down, the best Hip Hop album of the year. **Although, since writing this, I’ve heard The Roots new album, which immediately made this race a tie. Sorry to be indecisive like that, but that’s how I roll.**
Brian: Did you say “wee-ow”? Well, Imma ’bout to say it, too. Wee-ow!! “Watch the Throne” is good. GOOD. It does at least two things: reminds us that Jay-Z’s talent hasn’t completely left the building (a lot of us had written him off completely), and it places Kanye as the best producer/MC on the planet. Unless I am forgetting someone, who else combines this kind of producing talent with this kind of MC talent? Sure, there are better MCs out there, but, can any of them claim to also be the best producer in the genre? … sit down, Lil’ Wayne … just because Nicki Minaj said you’re the best rapper alive (http://youtu.be/M3Rno4fxCjw — you can skip ahead to 1:35 to hear the quote, but if you watch the whole thing: 1) sorry for the stupid bullshit skit at the beginning, and 2) connoissours will notice Tyler, the Creator as the award giver) doesn’t make it true. Put it this way: ‘Ye’s samples include everything from the late, great Otis Redding (on “Otis”, obviously) to some of the most recent and popular (in Europe) dubstep beats (as heard on “Who Gon Stop Me”). I love the variety. Also loved? The way ‘Ye and Jay hand the mic back and forth on most of these tracks. They play off of each other nicely. And you can tell they had fun making this album together. All I’m waiting for now is for someone to make a “Watch the Throne”/”Game of Thrones” mash-up video.
S: Any argument you make for Radiohead being in a Hall of Fame will wind up being redundant. There’s simply nobody else like them. As I’ve said before, this album isn’t as brilliant as In Rainbows before it, but it’s still Radiohead, and their lesser work is better than 97% of everything else. Let’s hope there are still decades to come of the band who continues to reinvent their sound and yet still winds up being amazing all over again.
B: Radiohead. What more can be said? At the mere mention of the name, people achieve orgasm. While I agree with Scott that “In Rainbows” outshines “King of Limbs”, it is a HoF album, because they are a HoF band. They are in the territory where they could release an album of animal sounds with some synths and drums thrown in, and people would call it brilliant. And it wouldn’t be in that way that some naive chucker would hear or see art he doesn’t understand and say it’s brilliant. The album WOULD BE brilliant. Rarefied air.
3. Tom Waits
S: It’s hard to even begin writing about Tom Waits. He’s just too damned close to my heart to know how to articulate it to all of you. He’s a genius: a master storyteller, a trickster, a prophet, a joker, a preacher, and a liar. There’s no way to ever know where his act ends and he begins. His songs are filled with, and usually narrated by, a cast of characters that get under the skin and live there. Bad as Me is more of the same. It’s certainly not accessible, pop, radio music. That’s ok, because it’s brilliant, instead.
He’s one of my favorite storytellers. I’m not qualifying that within songwriting storytellers, just storytellers, period.
B: Thomas Alan Waits. I love Scott’s words about him so much. He is master story and character crafter. He’s HoF because of this, and many other facets of his music. As with most things, people want to copy and emulate the best. Despite what ScarJo has done to ruin Tom Waits for some, Mr. Waits continues to be praised and covered by his peers; to be honored for his genius. If I can compare him to Ron Burgundy: He is a God among mere mortals.
4. David Bazan
S: The voice of a generation of discontented evangelical young folks, Bazan was once the paragon of struggling faith. Now, having lost that faith, he continues to write deeply poignant songs. Strange Negotiations lacks the power of his last album, Curse Your Branches, which is the memoir of a man losing his ability to believe in God. That being said, Bazan is still doing what he does best: writing stories, some true, some not, that capture one’s heart and imagination alike. It almost feels at times like Strange Negotiations is an appendix to Curse Your Branches, instead of a stand-alone album. Yet, don’t get me wrong, I love Strange Negotiations more with every listen.
As for his HoF credentials, Bazan’s voice articulates the pain and vulnerability of his lyrics in a way that I find both haunting and oddly inspiring. Wearing his proverbial heart on his sleeve; his anger, frustration, humiliation, and angst are exposed for the world to see, yet his songwriting is so literate and intelligent that it keeps his work from ever moving into the realm of whiny, emo bullshit.
He is a no doubt Hall of Famer in my book.
B: What strikes me most about Bazan is his honesty. In the Pedro the Lion days, when he was more apt to write concept type records full of worldly characters, it was his honesty about people and the world that was so in your face and raw. He wasn’t afraid to tell the truth about the human condition, and this rock we inhabit, even when the truth was filled with murder, and affairs. Then, on “Curse Your Branches”, Bazan brought an honesty about himself and his struggles that was so disarming, you felt as though you were sitting at a bar with him throwing back shots of whiskey, while he poured himself out on the counter. It was powerful, and real, and raw … and as Scott said, not emo at all! His music is improving in every way, as well. His voice has improved from the Pedro days, and the man just knows how to craft a song.
5. Okkervil River
S: While formed in 1998, Okkervil River is perhaps earlier in their career than most acts being inducted into the hall. I still stand by their worth with all my heart. In large part, the band’s 2005 release Black Sheep Boy is, in my opinion, one of the finest albums released in the last decade. Thus, everything else the band does is just adding on to that achievement.
This year’s I Am Very Far is immensely listenable. One music writer, Jim Scott, says “I Am Very Far makes a strong case for Sheff to be considered one of the very best writers in music today.” I’d have to agree. That songwriting, combined with dynamic musicianship and strong production, not to mention Will Sheff’s unique vocals, make for yet another Okkervil River release that finds itself in my five favorite albums of the year.
“I Am Very Far” is a tight, paradoxical album. It feels focused and taut, yet chaotic and experimental. Sheff and Co. have put together a collection of songs that, in many ways, is a departure from previous albums. For one, this was Will Sheff’s first time producing an Okkervil River album. Sheff’s willingness to follow his creative energy as producer and lead singer and songwriter of the band led to new methods in the studio:
the band experimented with various recording methods in each session, including fastforwarding and rewinding a cassette tape and then doubling the noises on electric guitar, tearing off strips of duct tape for percussion, singing while strolling around the room, and hurling file-cabinets across the studio. Some songs had input from a vast number of session musicians playing in the same room (‘Rider’, ‘We Need a Myth’), the latter of which opens with the strumming of 45 classical guitars.
Yet, for all these apparent differences, this is still very much an Okkervil River album. Sheff’s vocals constantly remind us of that. Furthermore, as Scott mentioned, the album is really easy to listen to, and terribly catchy, cementing Okkervil River as a RtM HoF band.
/ He opens his eyes, falls in love at first with the girl in the doorway /
/ What beautiful lines and how full of life /
/ After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to /
/ He holds back a sigh, as she touches his arm /
/ She dusts off the bed, where ’til now he’s been sleeping /
/ And under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart /
/ Under scarab and bone starts back to it’s beating /
/ She carries him home in a beautiful boat /
/ He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage /
/ He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed /
/ And one day his lips answer her in her own language /
/ The days quickly pass he loves making her laugh /
/ The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches /
/ She asks, “Are you cursed?” He says, “I think that I’m cured” /
/ Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes /
/ In New York he is laid in a glass covered case /
/ He pretends he is dead, people crowd round to see him /
/ But each night she comes round and the two wander down /
/ The hall of the tomb that she calls a museum /
/ Often he stops to rest, but then less and less /
/ Then it’s her that looks tired, staying up asking questions /
/ He learns how to read from the papers that she /
/ Is writing about him and he makes corrections /
/ It’s his face on her book more and more come to look /
/ Families from Iowa, upper west siders /
/ Then one day it’s too much he decides to get up /
/ And as chaos ensues he walks outside to find her /
/ She’s using a cane and her face looks too pale /
/ But she’s happy to see him as they walk he supports her /
/ She asks, “Are you cursed?” but his answer’s obscured /
/ In a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters /
/ Such reanimation the two tour the nation /
/ He gets out of limos he meets other women /
/ He speaks of her fondly their nights in the museum /
/ But she’s just one more rag, now he’s dragging behind him /
/ She stops going out she just lies there in bed /
/ In hotels in whatever towns they are speaking /
/ Then her face starts to set and her hands start to fold /
/ And one day the dried fig of her heart stops it’s beating /
/ Long ago in the ship she asked, “Why pyramids?” /
/ He said, “Think of them as an immense invitation” /
/ She asked, “Are you cursed?” He said, “I think that I’m cured” /
/ Then he kissed her and hoped that she’d forget that question /
I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a few months. I like all the various themed posts I do here at RtM, and while some have fallen into disrepair and need to be revived, I wanted to add a new one called ‘My Favorite…’ Basically, I’ll write about my favorite something or other. Examples: My favorite song about stalking. My favorite song about universalism. My favorite movie where the ghosts are the good guys… etc. Maybe sometimes the lists will be a five things combo instead, like, my five favorite songs about gorillas who don’t like bananas.
The first one, since the time one misses the Hudson Valley most is definitely in the autumn, is my favorite song about the area I come from.
There are lots of songs about NYC, but very few about the dozens of smaller cities and bedroom communities in the first city’s shadow.
“Poughkeepsie”, by Over The Rhine, is a notably beautiful exception. It could also be in the running for my favorite song about suicide, but that list is too long because people have written some beautiful songs about suicide, which is sad. At least in this song she never kills herself, but finds hope looking out over the beauty of the Hudson River. Oops, spoilers!