Dolores O’Riordan: 1971 – 2018

The lead singer of The Cranberries, known for such songs as “Dreams”, “Zombie” and “Linger”, has been pronounced dead while in London for a recording session.  No other details have been released at this time.

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Top 50 songs of 2017: #s 20-1

20.  I Promise-  Radiohead

Favorite line:  “Even when the ship is wrecked/I promise/tie me to the rotten deck”

Released as part of the 20th Anniversary deluxe edition version of OK Computer, this is a very pretty song, but would not have fit at all on an album filled with weary-ness that computers were taking over our lives.

19.  Waiting on a Song-  Dan Auerbach

Favorite line:  “I’ve been thinking I’ve been humming/I’ve been picking I’ve been strumming”

As one half of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach steps out on his own with a blues-country album that features this ditty about struggling with writers block and features John Prine as guest vocalist/guitarist.

18.  No Plan-  David Bowie

Favorite line:  “All the things that are my life/My my moods, my beliefs, my desires, me alone”

Bowie’s last farewell song to the world is as graceful a letter as there has ever been from a public persona who wanted very much for his struggles to be private.

17.  You’ll Never Walk Alone (Rogers & Hammerstein cover)-  Dropkick Murphys

Favorite line:  “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart”

A song written for an old school musical and performed by a band best known for soccer-style chanting sing-a-longs?  That’s all you had to say…

16.  The One for Someone-  JC Brooks

Favorite line:  “you’re the one for someone/but I’m sorry it ain’t me”

From a solo album by the lead singer of the Uptown Sound, l was not expecting such a tender ballad from a soul singer, but this one was stuck in my head for a long time.

15.  Smile (f. Gloria Carter)-  Jay-Z

Favorite line:  “mama had four kids but she’s a lesbian/had to pretend so long she’s a thespian”

A song about being yourself, whether that means a rapper who creates without writing down his music, or his mother coming out as a lesbian after she was already a grandmother.

14.  Big Boys-  Chuck Berry

Favorite line:  “I was looking for joy/when I was a  little bitty boy”

The fact that, Chuck Berry, the father of modern rock and roll, didn’t get nominated for a Grammy for best Rock Song this year is a travesty in the name of music.

13.  Rained On-  Frightened Rabbit

Favorite line:  “And if I believe the radio/the levy is dry”

Picked almost purely for the line above, nonetheless a good song.

12.  Little Guys-  Slaid Cleaves

Favorite line:  “Each day there’s a little less I recognize in my hometown/It’s hard, watching the little guys going down”

A nice little track about a mom & pop shop trying to stay open in an a rapidly modernizing town.

11.  Play God-  Ani DiFranco

Favorite line:  “You don’t get to play God/I do”

A track about how nobody can tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her own body.

10.  Picture That-  Roger Waters

Favorite line: “Picture a shit house with no fucking drains/Picture a leader with no fucking brains”

A song that seethes with anger about the state of the world from one of the former artistic visionaries behind Pink Floyd.

9.  Dirty Dishes-  Becca Mancari

Favorite line:  “I can’t stand thinking about you/On the other hand, here I am”

A sun-drenched country song from a new artist.  NoiseTrade does me good again.

8.  Bro Country-  Brett Newski

Favorite line:  “Kurt Cobain’s a pussy/Taylor Swift is the man”

A country song with punk rock attitude.  All about the homogenization of the entirety of the music industry, as symbolized by modern country music and singing reality TV shows.

7.  Born Brown-  Hanni el Khatib

Favorite line:  “Mom came over in ’75 / Dad came over in ’77 / ’81 I came alive”

A nice little punk number a-la “Born this Way” from an Arab-American who had no choice but to represent himself as the way he was born.

6.  The North Korea Polka-  “Weird Al” Yankovic

Favorite line: “Were just a bunch of simple fidget-spinning goofy dorks/Who probably couldn’t find your country on a map”

What the North Korea – United States stand off situation needs right now is a polka song telling us all to chill out.  Props to John Oliver for getting this thing to come into being.

5.  America (West Side Story cover)-  Bill Murray, et al.

Favorite line:  “Puerto Rico is in America”

I never thought I’d see Bill Murray scheduled to perform at classical music halls, but it made me smile when I did.

4.  Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)-  Mac McCaughan

Favorite line:  “Okay, but this could be a great year if you’re rich/Or if you’re a racist craving an authoritarian hand/And the sun will shine on you if you hate women”

It was a very trying year, but sometimes we all need to be reminded that no matter how bad 2017 was setting up to be, at least Prince couldn’t die again…

3.  You Are the Problem Here-  First Aid Kit

Favorite line:  “When did you come to think refusal was sexy?/Can’t you see the tears in her eyes?/How did you ever think you had the right to/Put your entitled hands up her thighs?”

An anti-groping, anti-sexist song that came out before everybody was being accused of harassment.

2.  Pills-  St. Vincent

Favorite line:  “Pills to wake, pills to sleep/Pills, pills, pills every day of the week”

From one of the most vital “alternative” artists of the last 10 years came a track about how society has become so dependent upon pills to do everything.

1.  Witness (f. Mavis Staples)-  Benjamin Booker

Favorite line:  “See we thought that we saw that he had a gun/Thought that it looked like he started to run”

When a track features a chorus sung by a member of one of the great gospel singing families, AND is about the current state of African-Americans being shot in the streets by police officers at a much higher proportional rate than any other ethnicity, already I was paying attention.  Honestly, until the #2 track came out near the end of the year, nothing else released came even close to the impact I felt from this one.

Top 50 songs of 2017: #s 50-21

50.  Trust in me (Jungle Book cover)-  Belly

Honestly, I’m just happy Belly put out new music in 2017…

49.  Somebody’s Fetish-  The Magnetic Fields

In a sprawling album, this was the track i liked the most.

48.  Glorious-  Macklemore

Leaving behind Ryan Lewis for the first time since they won all those Grammys, this was a risk for Macklemore, but he did well.

47.  (No One Knows me) Like the Piano)= Sampha

This is such a soulful track about the piano from his childhood, I took to it immediately.

46.  Modern Act-  The Cloud Nothings

If for no other reason than for the line “whose ware is this/what god is that”.

45.  Back to Eden-  Shawnee Kilgore & Joss Whedon

When I heard Joss, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse & Firefly, was writing music, I had to make it mine.  Glad I did.

44.  Pride-  Kendrick Lamar

For all the hype surrounding DAMN, this album cut was the one that stood out to me most.

43.  Walk It Back-  The National

My favorite track from the new National record, and the first time one of their tracks has failed to crack my top 20.  Better luck next time guys.

42.  The Night David Bowie Died-  Lily Hiatt

An emotional track from the daughter of a country legend, detailing what she felt hearing the news that Ziggy Startudst had returned home…

41.  I Don’t Wanna Die in this Town-  Old 97’s

The best track from the followup to my favorite album of 2014.  Not bad, just less my thing.

40.  Small Hands, Small Heart-  Amanda Palmer

A scathing indictment of president cheetoh’s handling of Puerto Rico, whose citizens are American, after being slammed by two hurricanes.

39.  The Shadows-  Fantastic Negrito

One of two tracks on a re-release of his Grammy winning album.

38.  Little Again-  The Secret Sisters

A nice little song about wishing to be a child again.

37.  Not Anymore-  Nine Inch Nails

From the second of three planned EPs by industrial titans.  Still, their highlight of 2017 for me was performing at the Roadhouse on Twin Peaks.

36.  How We Met, Long Version-  Jens Lekman

When I first heard this song, I was curious where the tale was going, until they got to the part about borrowing a guitar.

35.  The Smug Little Supper Club-  Ted Leo

Lead singer of the Pharmacists writing a song that includes the fantastic line “and all the kiddies at the table sipping vinegar from flutes/you tell them it’s champagne and then you charge them to believe you”.

34.  Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan cover)-  Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

Two sisters lending a country croon to the late era Dylan masterpiece.

33.  It Hits When It Hits-  Craig Finn

Another good song from the lead singer of The Hold Steady.

32.  Smile (f. Phil Ade & Zyla Moon)-  Wale

A song attempting to be hopeful when “a possible bigot slash misogynist is ’bout to run the whole damn thing”.  Good early protest from the Trump era of American politics.

31.  Tartuffe-  Propaghandi

Oh my god, welcome back Propaghandi!  A good punk track about thinking and always being two steps ahead of everybody else.

30.  Crooked Way-  Propaganda

A good track from Christian rapper Propaganda.  Also about the current political climate.

29.  A Message to Shareholders/Kill Your Masters-  Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels wrote, recorded and released this album between the 2016 elections and Inauguration Day.  And they got de la on the mike…again…

28.  Leaving LA-  Father John Misty

The track may be about 10 minutes too long, but it’s a doozy.  Also features the line “if you want ecstasy or birth control/just run the tap until the water’s cold.”

27.  Lips that Bite-  Downtown Boys

A great new punk band that released my favorite punk album of the year on SubPop records.

26.  The Times They Are a-Changin’ back-  Billy Bragg

Released very early in 2017, it aptly encapsulates the 2017 political climate.

25.  Feelin’ Groovy (2017 update)-  Paul Simon & Stephen Colbert

How can you not love a line like “hello lamp post/nice to see ya/might be bombed by North Korea”.

24.  Ravens-  Mount Eerie

Mount Eerie pens an album about grieving over his wife, who had died of cancer.  How can one note feel for the guy.  This album deserves to be on every “best of 2017” list.

23.  Shelved-  The Mountain Goats

A sarcastic song about a record label trying to get an artist to change an album by telling them to make music outside of what they’re known for as a band.

22.  All American Made-  Margo Price

A good barn burner of a country track from one of the most vital country artists out there today.

21.  Creature Comfort-  Arcade Fire

For all the flaws of the new album, I couldn’t help getting this song stuck in my head for a good portion of the year.

Poor Richard’s Almanac writing…

Benjamin Fucking Franklin

Lin Manuel-Miranda recently released the first Hamiltondrop, an unused song for Benjamin Franklin from the Hamilton musical writing process.

Manuel-Miranda revealed that, if the song had been used, he wanted him to sing in the style of The Decemberists.  Then, when he wanted to put the song out, he asked THE DECEMBERISTS to record the song.

The result is hilarious and amazing.  I hope you all enjoy.

It was 20 years ago today…December 1997

Eminem:  The Slim Shady EP

The Slim Shady EP was the second release and first EP from Eminem.  It was also the origin of the Slim Shady persona.  His record label originally pressed 500 copies of the EP, and he sol around half of those at concerts and consignment music shops.  Two copies of the EP made an impact on his directional future.  One found its way to The Source hip-hop magazine, where he was subsequently listed as an “unsigned heatseaker”.  Another found its way to Jimmy Iovine, owner of Interscope records and friend of Dr. Dre.  Dr. Dre’s instructions upon hearing the EP were “find him…now”.

The Slim Shady features early versions of several songs that would later be re-recorded and re-released on the Slim Shady LP.  Perhaps the most famous of those tracks is “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”.

The track was one of the first songs written in the Slim Shady persona, a character who did things Eminem/Marhsall Mathers may not otherwise have done.  In other words, a persona untethered from emotions or conscience.  The track goes to great lengths to describe Eminem’s life situation where he was living in his mother’s house and had a young daughter, but was still fully committed to developing a career in rap music.  It contains real life examples from that point in his life, including washing dishes while his boss was complaining to him.

Additionally, he took aim at a trio of “white rappers” to include Everlast, Vanilla Ice and Milkbone.  All three wrote responses, but Eminem has never publicly responded to their rebuttals.

Another track which was re-released on the Slim Shady LP was “If I Had…”.  This is his version of the Barnaked Ladies track “If I had $1000000”.  Whereas the Barenaked Ladies track features a number of cheeky examples such as still buying Kraft macaroni & cheese, Eminem knew that if he had that amount of money, he would finally be able to be able to provide a decent life for his daughter.  He was also tired of knowing that his material was better than a lot of the songs filling up rap stations on the radio, but not getting airplay for his own music.  Honestly, this track could work in any format, excepting for the rapid fire rap line approach, but so many of these lines could work with any artist wanting more for themselves than they currently have.

The final track which Eminem later rerecorded was “Just the Two of Us”, which got retitled “97 Bonnie & Clyde” on the Slim Shady LP.  The track tells of a fantasy where Slim Shady has murdered his wife, the mother of his young child, and he takes the body in the trunk and his daughter in the back seat, to the beach so that he can dispose of the body.  With good reason, this track drew the ire of anti-domestic violence groups across the country, which Eminem rebutted that saying something, or having a fantasy doesn’t automatically translate to action on those words or thoughts.

Tori Amos would later record a cover of the song for her female-angled Strange Little Girls.  Her track took aim at the anger and violence of the track by speaking all of the lyrics in a hushed tone.

Eminem would go on to become on of the most popular rappers in the world.  HIs 2000 album, The Marshall Mathers LP was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year, losing out to Steely Dan of all artists.  He recently released Revival, an album which I have not yet heard.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…November 1997

Modest Mouse:  The Lonesome Crowded West

Arguably Modest Mouse’s most successful album, The Lonesome Crowded West was an independent release that garnered national attention following the hit single “Polar Opposites”.  It was perhaps the final throes of the 1990’s “Seattle Scene”.  Sure, bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes and to a lesser extent Tacocat have broken through since then, but in 1997, it seemed like Modest Mouse had the biggest hit of the fall/winter radio stations.  Astonishingly, though this band ranked high on several best of decade lists, Lonesome Crowded West has apparently only sold about 60,000 copies.

When Lonesome Crowded West was released, it came with two slightly different track listings, one for CD and one for the vinyl release.  With one exception, I’m going to be discussing the CD release, as that’s the one with which I am most familiar.

 

 

 

The album starts with the song “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”, nearly seven minutes or fast/slow tempo rapid fire lyrics that are coated in disapproval of the falsities of consumerism.  The title references these falsehoods by insinuating that the teeth are unnaturally clean, but throughout the songs are lines such as “buy some new friends” and “let’s all have another Orange Julius”.  You can listen to this song and get the sense that singer Isaac Brock is sick of the world at large, or you can listen to it and understand that he’s trying to find his way in the jungle of the American way of life.  Either way, the song totally works.

 

And already we are at the one track that is included on the vinyl release and not the cd release, edited for run time.  That track is the exquisite “Baby Blue Sedan”, a track which i did not know about until I began seriously collecting vinyl.  It’s like discovering a secret track in the pre-gap of your favorite album.  There are great examples of contradictory lines packed into this song, such as “dancing like a wooden Indian” and eunuchs shouting “please stud us out as fast as you can”.  Both portray a sense of futility, as does the pairing “and i’m lonesome when you’re around/and i miss you when you’re around”.  The song is so simple, yet says so much.  god how I love it.

 

 

Alright back to CD track listing.  Track five, “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child” posits that, had Jesus come to the planet in the 1990s, there would have been more concern against the people making millions on the internet while contributing nothing to society.  Later in the same verse, he states that “you should hide your kids while the dogs run wild”, referring to keeping the chaos out of view of your children and comparing people to a panicky animal.

 

 

 

 

Track seven, “Cowboy Dan” tells a fictitious story of an angry old cowboy who is so mad at the world that he wants to start a war. The chorus compares Cowboy Dan’s desires to that of somebody who, try as they might, can’t get their car to start.  By the time we get to the bridge, he’s “standing in the tall grass/doing nothing”.  Cowboy Dan comes to the realization that doing anything in the world is ultimately futile, as nature will outlast humans.

 

 

 

 

Finally, we get to the reason Modest Mouse went from an independent band on Seattle’s Up Records to signing to Epic Records for their next album.  The reason was “Polar Opposites”, a song that was popular among so many different cliques as to become ubiquitous.  Modest Mouse were heroes on the independent and alternative radio, but this song broke into the Top 40 stations, reaching the ears of football players and other “popular” people.  Alt/Indie people heard in it the disdain aimed at people who spend their days tinkering rather than producing, “popular” people heard in it a validation of their stereotypical love of muscle cars, when the exact opposite is the point that was attempting to be portrayed.

Modest Mouse have kept their independent and “weird” band vibe, with Epic Records allowing them to create without the bigwigs messing up the process.  As such, their 2000 album, The Moon & Antarctica saw their dense and personal lyrics reach a much wider audience.  Their singles now reach national “alternative” stations, rather than just those of the Pacific Northwest.

Bikini Kill reunites for NYC show

Last night at The Kitchen

A post shared by Jenn Pelly (@jennpelly) on

Bikini Kill reunited for one song, “For Tammy Rae” last night at The Kitchen in NYC for an event celebrating the release of a 33 1/3 series book about the first album by The Raincoats.

To date, this is the only footage I can find, but even at that, I’m super excited.  Bring on the new music, tour, anything you all want!

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…October 1997

The Flaming Lips:  Zaireeka

Zaireeka is a concept album released October 28, 1997.  The release came in the form of 4 CDs that were meant to be played simultaneously in order to get the whole musical experience.  That idea alone was enough to lead me to pass on this album the first time around.

The album, intended the whole time as an experimental release, contains such stereotypical-sounding Flaming Lips titles as “The Train Runs Over the Camel but is Derailed by the Gnat” and “How Will We Know (Futuristic Crescendos)”.

‘The Train…” sounds exactly like a song experiment is supposed to sound, dissonant instrumentality and multiple vocals without much in the way of lyrics.  It reminds me a lot of what would late be released on Embryonic or The Terror.

“How Will We Know”, while containing actual lyrics, also contains high and low frequencies that caused the album to have a warning that the frequencies may cause the listener to become disoriented.

The eccentricity of the release led to some events known as Parking Lot Experiments, where multiple stereos were set up in an attempt to play the album as a singular piece.  With the proliferation of music editing equipment on laptop computers, the album was eventually mixed into a single piece of work.

Additionally, the album was released as a 4 LP set for Record Store Day 2013. Flaming Lips continue to be a going concern in the music industry, drawing large crowds and playing several festivals.