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.
Some of you may remember my request to get a tattoo paid for by my friends and readers, (an idea I stole from my friend Kj). My desire is to celebrate the mark that’s been made on me internally in my writing by marking my skin externally.
I’m hoping that anyone who has enjoyed my writing in any form, or enjoyed any of the parts of me that corollate to story, might help me a tiny bit toward getting a tattoo. I’m moving back into writing every day again, and hopefully this will offer some encouragement. A few gave in the past, the last time I asked for donations, and for that I am remarkably grateful.
The tattoo should actually be pretty cheap. The idea for the tattoo is to put the words ‘Story’ and ‘teller’, one on top of the other, (although I’ve considered letting the word stand alone as it is normally, instead), on the inside of my left wrist, in a typewriter font of my choosing.
Here are some of the reasons I would be getting this particular tattoo.
1. It would be placed on my wrist, right where one would open his veins. Ernest Hemingway said: “There’s nothing to writing, just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This tattoo will help me remember that I need to be learning how to bleed into my work, that it really must cost me something, and that it really must come from my heart. There will be a direct line between my heart and the tattoo on my wrist reminding me of a major part of who I am.
2. Even if I never make money writing for a living, my ever-changing work stemming from trigger fiction as well as my time screwing around with this blog has confirmed to me that I still want to write stories for the rest of my life. Without even writing complete stories, yet, writing has opened up parts of me that I’ve really loved interacting with. I want to be a storyteller for the rest of my days, and this tattoo will make that impossible for me to forget. As I transition into revising and seeing what happens as these stories start to open themselves up only makes me more excited to see what comes next.
3. I don’t just want to be a storyteller in the writing sense. I want to be a person who listens to and tells stories well; the stories of my life, the stories of those around me, the stories of those with no voice. I want my vocation, in a myriad of ways, to be ‘Storyteller.’ Thus, tattooing it on my body forever.
I would really love it if you would contribute to this tattoo. If you’ve enjoyed any of the writing here, and at trigger fiction, or even if not, the tangible support would mean so much. Even if you can only donate a dollar toward the cause, that’s one dollar closer to my first tattoo. So far, I’ve raised $4 towards a tattoo, and the folks who donated towards that are awesome. That four bucks is waiting for company.
Clinical depression and a new full time job don’t make for lots of blogging, especially when there were a few hoops to jump through to get said blog up and running again. It’s not that I’ve been sad, depression doesn’t always manifest as sadness. No, I’ve been pretty tired lately folks. Deep down in my bones exhausted. However, there are several things that have me hopeful that blogging will be happening more often now.
One: I don’t work at Java Bean anymore, and everyone at my new job is really great. It’s basically the anti-Java Bean. I’ve already felt more appreciated at UW (where I work now) than I did in the entire cumulative time I worked at JB. Good management is an amazing thing.
Two: I should adjust to all the things I need to learn and master for the new job, get used to the new social settings, and not be quite so tired anymore, that’s already starting to happen after week two. That means blogging goodness is on its way.
Three: Did I mention I DON’T WORK AT JAVA BEAN ANYMORE?!!!!!!
Four: I also have a new theme I’m going to be trying to get working to make things look nice and sexy here at RtM, which will add even more inspiration to be here. Plus, the lists of 2011 are coming!
Anyway, that’s why I think I’ll be blogging more often, as I should be. Here are five things I’ve wanted to share with you all over the last few weeks while I haven’t been able to blog.
1. Florence + the Machine
I know I was late to this party, but I’m glad to be here just the same. I’ve been listening to Ceremonials non-stop for weeks. Florence Welch’s ability to craft epic melodies and layer them with this big, cinematic sound makes for a crazy fun listening experience. She’s so wonderful. Her music makes you want to sing and dance, but without sacrificing a desire for strong lyrics and emotional depth.
I already mentioned my clinical depression, which means it isn’t too far from my heart when her first single from Ceremonials includes the line, / and it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back / so shake him off / Well, I can’t imagine a better soundtrack for doing exactly that than Florence + The Machine.
2. Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin has, for some time, been one of those authors at the top of the list of those I should have read a long time ago. Her famous Earthsea novels have been on my radar as classic fantasy novels that I really needed to get around to checking out, and finally I am in the know. I read A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan this month, and boy am I looking forward to future experiences with Le Guin.
Her prose is a delight to read. It’s crisp, and bright, and clean. Her work is deeply moral, as I’ve read it so far, and is filled with a beauty that’s never weighed down by a sickly-sweet sentimentality. She’s one of the masters.
This film was beautiful in every way. I can’t wait to watch The Golden Age.
The sequel to Incarceron. This and the first book are YA novels about a dystopian future in which a sentient prison is created to be a paradise of rehabilitation, but ends up being anything but. Set both inside and outside the prison, the books are exciting and smart, and well worth a read.
A magic trick of a movie about the power of story and identity, and the wonder of film, performed as only a master magician like Scorcese could offer it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with movies all over again.