Saturday, October 29, 2011

All the Best

As I mentioned on this week's episode of CompCon, I recently sat down and compiled my list of the top 100 albums of the 1990s for a countdown feature on Popblerd. A total of 16 of us contributed their lists to the effort, which was then tabulated and ranked into the top 100; the countdown is currently into the 60s.

But I figured I'd share my top 100 here. Like my previous effort at a top 100 songs of all time list, this one took some time and I'm sure if I went back and looked at it, I would rearrange or add/subtract to it. But this is what I came up with at that particular point in time.

Nirvana's Nevermind was the top choice; both in terms of content and impact, it was massive. I don't need to go into it because the 20th anniversary just came and went and plenty of Internet bandwidth has been devoted to it.

Here's the rest of the list:

2. U2 - Achtung Baby

3. Radiohead - OK Computer

4. REM - Automatic for the People

5. Pearl Jam - Ten

6. Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted

7. Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen

8. The Tragically Hip - Fully Completely

9. Sloan - One Chord to Another

10. Pixies - Bossanova

11. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger

12. Matthew Sweet - Girlfriend

13. Nirvana - In Utero

14. Foo Fighters - s/t

15. Beck - Odelay

16. Alice in Chains - Dirt

17. Jeff Buckley - Grace

18. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

19. Frank Black - Teenager of the Year

20. Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque

21. Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual

22. Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

23. Fugazi - Repeater

24. Smashing Pumpkins - Gish

25. Neil Young - Ragged Glory

26. Pearl Jam - Vs.

27. Pixies - Trompe le Monde

28. Sonic Youth - Goo

29. PJ Harvey - To Bring You My Love

30. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

31. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

32. Queens of the Stone Age - s/t

33. The Pursuit of Happiness - One-Sided Story

34. Weezer - Blue Album

35. Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

36. Singles soundtrack

37. Wilco - Being There

38. Mudhoney - Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

39. Living Colour - Time's Up

40. Temple of the Dog - s/t

41. Rollins Band - The End of Silence

42. Helmet - Meantime

43. Sloan - Twice Removed

44. Radiohead - The Bends

45. Sugar - Copper Blue

46. Superchunk - Foolish

47. Dinosaur Jr. - Where You Been

48. Buffalo Tom - Let Me Come Over

49. Beck - Mellow Gold

50. Urge Overkill - Saturation

51. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange

52. Portishead - Dummy

53. Morphine - Cure for Pain

54. The Breeders - Last Splash

55. Soundgarden - Superunknown

56. Mother Love Bone - Apple

57. Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville

58. Sebadoh III

59. Green Day - Dookie

60. Guided by Voices - Alien Lanes

61. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me

62. Afghan Whigs - Black Love

63. Screaming Trees - Sweet Oblivion

64. Beastie Boys - Ill Communication

65. Drive Like Jehu - Yank Crime

66. Faith No More - Angel Dust

67. Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape

68. Built to Spill - Perfect from Now On

69. The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

70. Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

71. Elastica - s/t

72. Matthew Sweet - Altered Beast

73. Rage Against the Machine - s/t

74. Weezer - Pinkerton

75. Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

76. Rocket From the Crypt - Scream, Dracula, Scream

77. The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin

78. Chris Whitley - Din of Ecstasy

79. Bjork - Post

80. U2 - Zooropa

81. Wilco - Summerteeth

82. R.E.M. - Out of Time

83. D Generation - No Lunch

84. Cracker - s/t

85. The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall

86. The Tragically Hip - Road Apples

87. Ben Folds Five - Whatever and Ever Amen

88. Elvis Costello - Mighty Like a Rose

89. Fu Manchu - The Action is Go!

90. New Bomb Turks - Information Highway Revisited

91. The Nation of Ulysses - 13-Point Program to Destroy America

92. World Party - Goodbye Jumbo

93. Cornershop - When I Was Born for the 7th Time

94. The Posies - Frosting on the Beater

95. Sonic Youth - Dirty

96. Mudhoney - Piece of Cake

97. Frank Black and the Catholics - s/t

98. Buffalo Tom - Big Red Letter Day

99. Johnny Cash - American Recordings

100. Luscious Jackson - Natural Ingredients

Of course, there were many albums that just missed the list and I'm sure many that I overlooked. What would you put on your list? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Glow

Nothing cures what ails ya like a good rock show. In my case, I've been a little bummed about not being able to run for the last five weeks or so because of Achilles tendonitis, so I schlepped it down to Precinct in Somerville to check out The Hush Now, Soccer Mom and Chandeliers. As an added bonus, the show was presented by my pals Jay Breitling (and his Clicky Clicky multimedia empire) and Bryan Hamill (and his blog The Ash Gray Proclamation), so I got to hang out with them and drink beer.

Not long after I got there, the Hush Now guys showed up. Hung out with Noel Kelly, the band's frontman, for a while; he's a cool guy. Also on the agenda was the U.S., and possibly worldwide, premiere of the new Johnny Foreigner album, Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. There were only a handful of folks in the club at the time, but we dug it. Full of the whisper-to-a-scream dynamics that JF specialize in. Jay also had a bunch of three-song samplers to give away, seeing as he is THE expert on the band in the New World.



It was an educational night for me because I wasn't familiar with the any of the bands (Cooling Tower was a late addition to the bill, but I took off before they hit the stage because it was already 12:15 or so). Chandeliers is a trio from Allston Rock City that was pretty technically proficient and played a sharp set of indie-prog rock.

The show was billed as a homecoming of sorts for The Hush Now, which was wrapping up a 17-show East Coast tour (and provided a tour diary on the Clicky Clicky) and had just played the CMJ fest in NYC the night before. The five-piece was crammed in on the tiny stage area (basically a corner of the back bar), but they sounded tight as they played a set of mostly new material (seven of the nine songs were from the band's excellent Memos album). Kelly's voice was in good shape as the band effortlessly jumped from pop ("Arkansas") to rockers ("Clouds") to piano-driven slow songs ("Sitting on a Slow Clock") to dance music ("The Glow").

Soccer Mom is another local act that left an indelible mark. The band pummeled the crowded club with a Sonic Youth-esque wall of sound that sounded very good indeed. The band only has a 7-inch out now, but I'll definitely be watching for more music from them.

Rock shows are always a blast, but it's nice to occasionally see the great local bands that Boston has to offer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 198: Guest List

This week on the podcast, I talk about our incessant need to make lists. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Driving to a rock show
- We love lists
- Best-of lists spur on debate
- Just contributed to best albums of '90s list on Popblerd
- More lists at Dan Paquette's Music Obsession on Facebook
- Top 100 songs of all-time was a tough list to compile
- Putting lists together is fun, just to see the different choices
- Plenty of pop culture lists
- My top 20 songs
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Johnny Foreigner - (Don't) Show Us Your Fangs
The Hush Now - ArkansasLinkSoccer Mom - High on Dad
The King Khan Experience - I Got Love

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Johnny Foreigner song is on the band's forthcoming album Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything on Alcopop. Download the song for free at Bandcamp.

The Hush Now song is on the band's self-released album Memos. Find out more and download the entire album for free at Bandcamp.

The Soccer Mom song is on the band's self-titled 7-inch. You can download the song for free at the Soccer Mom website.

The King Khan Experience song is on the EP Scion A/V Presents the King Khan Experience. Download the song for free at Pitchfork.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Breaking Bad

An artist creates art and then puts it out there for the whole world to judge. It has to be incredibly difficult to spend hours/days/months/years working on something, only to have some obnoxious critic rip it to shreds. All that duly noted, the new collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, Lulu, is astoundingly awful.

Sure, I was skeptical of the pairing before I even heard a note. And this is from a fan of both Reed and Metallica. I revere Lou's work with the Velvet Underground and his solo material right through the late '80s/early '90s; his album New York was a gritty and enjoyable celebration of the grit and grime of 1989 NYC. A standout track and minor FM hit was "Dirty Boulevard":



And I love early Metallica up to 1991's self-titled (aka The Black Album) release, when they hit it massively big and started a downhill slide in the '90s as they attempted a stylistic shift from thrash metal to a heavier version of alt-rock. But Metallica seemed to be moving back to the heavy fast shit with 2008's Death Magnetic, which echoed the sound of classic ass-kickers like "Master of Puppets":



Still, it just seemed like a weird pairing. The roots of Lulu lie in Metallica's unexpected team-up with Reed at the Rock Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009. Metallica was inducted and celebrated by performing with different vocalists including Reed, Ray Davies and Ozzy Osbourne. It didn't bowl me over, but I thought Metallica backing Reed on "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat" was decent enough:



thBut I had a feeling this would suck. So when the first preview of the Loutallica album came out with a streaming embed of "The View," I admit I had low expectations. It could have been the advance press that spelled out the concept of the album, which, according to the Guardian adapts "the story of Lulu, a turbulent morality tale told across two plays--Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die B├╝chse der Pandora (Pandora's Box) written by the German expressionist playwright Frank Wedekind at the turn of the 20th century." Pretentious much? Still, I like pompous stuff like Rush's 2112, so maybe this would be good in its own way.

I was way too optimistic. The album, available for streaming in its entirety now, is much worse than I could have imagined. Reed in his inimitable speak-singing style atonally recites Lulu-inspired lines ("spermless like a girl," "would you top me off while I deepen my curtsy") while Metallica thrashes away in the background, James Hetfield tossing in the occasionally signature growl every so often. And when Reed does try to sing, his vocals make the first week rejects on "American Idol" sound like Sinatra.

Metallica brings the generic metal bluster but not much else. It doesn't help matters that the songs drag on forever, with two clocking in at over 8 minutes, two over 11 minutes and the album closer, "Junior Dad," timed at 19:29. Apparently nobody wanted to tell these guys when to stop.

It's all very artsy and lofty in concept, but this pastiche of spoken word and crunch just doesn't work together. The Rollins Band pulled off this sort of thing much more effectively 20 years ago, combining scarily batshit spoken word ("I'VE GOT DIAMONDS IN MY EYEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!") with skull-crushing rock:



I admire the willingness of Reed and Metallica to try something outside their respective comfort zones, but somebody should have stepped in at some point and pulled the plug on this thing. Just because you can collaborate doesn't always mean you should.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 197: Let's Get Lost

Part 3 of my conversation with special guests Jay Breitling and Ric Dube as we discuss bands that don't know when to call it quits. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Dube plays good music on his podcast, More Lost Time

- Remember when John Travolta was in Squeeze?

- Breitling disses NYC

- We explain the Odd Future-Steve Albini beef

- Albini rises above our premise

- Trashing The Eagles

- Everybody's got their so-called guilty pleasure

- In praise of non-formatted FM radio

- Defending the J. Geils Band reunion

- Dube pitches a movie

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Male Bonding - Bones
Telekinesis - Please Ask for Help
The Gossip - Standing in the Way of Control
Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Male Bonding song is on the band's album Endless Now on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The Telekinesis song is on the band's album 12 Desperate Straight Lines on Merge Records. Download the song for free from the Merge Records 2011 Sampler at Amazon.

The Gossip song is on the album Standing in the Way of Control on Kill Rock Stars. Download the song for free from the Kill Rock Stars 20 Year Anniversary Sampler at Amazon.

The Sleater-Kinney song is on the album Dig Me Out on Kill Rock Stars. Download the song for free from the Kill Rock Stars 20 Year Anniversary Sampler at Amazon.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Moving Pictures

It's an oft-repeated, and not incorrect, refrain among older music fans these days that MTV doesn't play videos anymore.

Those of us who were young music fans in the '80s spent countless hours watching artists mouth the words to their biggest hits in rock videos. Then MTV hit on the idea of original programming: Game shows, talk shows and eventually reality shows like "The Real World" and "Road Rules" gradually took over the airwaves on MTV and its sister station VH1. Starting in the 2000s, you had to tune in overnight or during odd hours to catch a video.

For artists, it was no longer imperative to make videos. Much like radio airplay, unless you're an established and popular artist, your videos would never get played. Then something funny happened: high-speed Internet access made it possible to watch videos on demand whenever you wanted and on a phone, laptop or tablet. Thanks to YouTube, you can watch just about any video ever made as well as live clips of your favorite band on their current tour.

Enter indie rock acts like Stephen Malkmus, Ted Leo and the New Pornographers, who are revered among their small niche of hipster fans but relatively unknown to the pop world at large. Radio airplay even on so-called alternative stations is scarce, so these acts are getting more creative to get the word out about new releases: Using social media platforms to build up buzz, but also teaming up with folks from the alternative comedy world to make videos. The latest example is Malkmus' new video "Senator," directed by Scott Jacobson of The Daily Show and starring Jack Black as a coke-snorting, cattle prod-wielding senator and Gary Cole as his hype man:



Malkmus and his band the Jicks are featured briefly, but the attention is on the antics of Black and his cohorts. The clip mainly goes for laughs but features a fairly shocking last scene.

Malkmus' Matador Records labelmate Ted Leo and the Pharmacists had a similarly funny effort produced for Leo's "Bottled In Cork," directed by WFMU's Tom Sharpling and featuring comic Paul F. Tompkins as a Broadway producer who talks Leo into writing a Broadway musical. A clear parody of Green Day's "American Idiot" show, the video also features John Hodgman as a theater critic:



Sharpling has become a go-to director for funny indie rock videos. He also directed this clip of The New Pornographers' "Moves" that starred The Daily Show's Hodgman and Wyatt Cenac, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader of SNL, Horatio Sanz and Donald Glover, among others:



And he directed Titus Andronicus' "No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future":



Sharpling's latest videos include a clip for The Ettes' "Excuse," starring Patton Oswalt, and The Stepkids' "Legend in My Own Mind" with Cenac.

As much as I've always enjoyed straightahead performance videos, these funny mini-movies are a lot of fun. And they bring back fond memories of DaveTV:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fat City

There's no rule etched in stone that says rock stars have to be skinny. There are plenty of folks who have succeeded in popular music who were on the large side: Van Morrison, Solomon Burke, the Conner brothers from the Screaming Trees, Leslie West, Aretha Franklin, the Fat Boys (duh), Heavy D, Black Francis, Meat Loaf, John Popper of Blues Traveler, the list goes on and on. If you can deliver the goods, who cares if you've had a few good meals beforehand?

Nevertheless, it's always somewhat shocking to see once-skinny stars chunk out. Probably most infamously, it happened to Elvis Presley in his latter years, but it also happened to folks like Ann Wilson of Heart, Stevie Nicks, and Mike Reno of Loverboy (see below), to name a few.




And now, it appears that Guns n' Roses singer/last man standing Axl Rose has gotten a bit on the large side, prompting plenty of "Fat Axl" jokes on the InterWebs. Of course, what's more of a joke is how long he spent working on that crappy Chinese Democracy album (13+ years). Dude could weigh 400 pounds for all I care as long as he recorded something close to Appetite for Destruction again. But the revolving lineups, sporadic and erratic concerts and seemingly endless tinkering have turned Rose into something of a laughingstock. Of course, he's always got the next album for redemption...so we'll look for that in 2021.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 196: Gouge Away

Part 2 of my conversation with special guests Jay Breitling and Ric Dube as we discuss bands that don't know when to call it quits. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Dube: Stevie Wonder definitely recorded a lot of dreck after brilliant stretch

- The decline of Clapton is legendary

- Dube defends the early output of Jet

- The current state of music criticism

- Dube romanticizes The White Stripes

- Can current bands afford to hang around too long?

- We don't know the hippity hop

- "Three guys who don't know about anything."

- Yo La Tengo opened for The National?

- Gauging New Hampshire's interest in indie rock

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Wild Flag - Romance
Electric Flower - Four16
Animal Man - Do You Feed
PS I Love You - Subdivisions

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Wild Flag song is on the band's self-titled album on Merge. Download the song for free at Chromewaves.

The Electric Flower song is on the band's self-titled EP on Narnack Records. Download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The Animal Man song is on the EP David's Town, a companion to Fucked Up's album David Comes to Life on Matador Records. Find out more and download the song for free at Pitchfork.

The PS I Love You song is on the album Figure It Out on Paper Bag Records. Find out more and download the song at Rolling Stone.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cold as Ice


I'm not sure why, but this year I'm particularly glad that hockey is back. I'm happy every October for the return of the NHL (and college hockey), but this season I'm really fired up.


It's not that my beloved Leafs are going to tear up the league or anything, but they should be better than last year and might just sneak into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 (and they started the year off right by shutting out the Habs last night 2-0).

I got back on the ice myself last week for the first time in five months, so that added to the excitement. And I've started co-writing a column for Popblerd about the NHL. My half of the season preview covers the NHL's difficult offseason and looks at the Eastern Conference.

And tomorrow night, I'm going to see my alma mater, UNH, take on Boston University. Coinciding with all this hockey fever will be temperatures in the 80s for the next four days (according to the forecasts, anyway). Perfect.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 195: Hit It and Quit It

Part 1 of my conversation with special guests Jay Breitling and Ric Dube as we discuss bands that don't know when to call it quits. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").





Show notes:
- Dube goes on a rant about R.E.M.'s breakup
- Bands that have worn out their welcome
- Breitling: Does Van Hagar count?
- Breaking down the suckiosity of SuperHeavy
- The Stones and the Who should have stopped decades ago
- Dube: The Who as traveling circus act
- Kumar: U2 keeps on keeping on
- Bands as corporations
- Breitling: Rolling Stone specializes in "celebrity maintenance" journalism
- Kumar defends Rush
- Using outside songwriters is a bad sign
- Cheap Trick has come full circle
- Journey's new relevance
- Dube: Journey should just play "Don't Stop Believin'" in concert
- Bands that quit at their peak: The Jam, Husker Du, Replacements, Stone Roses, Smiths
- Elvis Costello keeps reissuing his catalog
- Mission of Burma went away, came back and are better than ever
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Wilco - Whole Love
Tommy Stinson - Meant to Be
Real Estate -Green Aisles
Dum Dum Girls - Bedroom Eyes

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Wilco song is on the album The Whole Love on Anti/Epitaph. Find out more at and download the song for free at Amazon.

The Tommy Stinson song is on the album One Man Mutiny on Done to Death Music. Find out more at and download the song for free at Amazon.

The Real Estate song is on the album Days on Domino Recordings. Find out more and download the song for free at Stereogum.

The Dum Dum Girls song is on the album Only in Dreams on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free at .

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.