Before I get into all the fun that is South By Southwest, I wanted to first take a moment to express my sympathy for those who were injured and lost their lives during Wednesday night’s festivities. My two friends actually witnessed the horrific event, and if I hadn’t gone for a quick restroom break before leaving Cheer Up Charlie’s, we could have been out there when the drunken asshole selfishly plowed through a barricaded street. I’m not sure if the media conveyed the amazing speed and efficiency executed by the medics, volunteers, and police that evening. By the time I emerged to meet up with my friends, only minutes after the atrocity, all 25 of the victims were already receiving assistance, often from groups of three to five people, administering CPR and helping to bandage wounds.
With SXSW growing more and more each year, the streets feel more chaotic and dangerous than ever, but the quickness and professionalism displayed by everyone that night assured me that both SXSW and the city of Austin are prepared for literally anything. While this event certainly put a damper on the week, there were still a lot of highlights to look back on. Here are some of the best and worst moments from the week…
As I came to my conclusive final ordering of albums, I couldn’t help but feel like my list differed from the norm. You’ll find familiar faces like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, but many of the albums that ended up surfacing near the top are absent from all the major lists I’ve perused in the past few weeks. Does this mean I’m out of touch or that I’ve become such an outsider that I can’t connect with the mainstream? I hope not. Those albums you find on this list that you’ve never seen included on other lists are not my attempt at being different, rather, they are albums that fell through the cracks by the major outlets and deserve a listen from anyone who still appreciates “the album” as a work of art. The BDWPS.com mission statement of “guiding you down the path less traveled” is truer than ever in 2013.
I always have difficulty when coming up with these lists because there are often albums I’ve enjoyed that I’m forced to leave out. When I had the current mid-year list down to 25, I thought about bucking my yearly tradition of 20 and upping it to 25. Then, I recollected a long forgotten high school memory. During my junior year, our basketball coach had a decision along the same lines – with 10 returning seniors and a strong incoming Junior class of 10 quality players, he had to make cuts in order to meet the roster limit of 15. Instead of manning up and just cutting some of the old players or telling some Juniors to take a year off, he let the extra five Juniors (one of them being me) stay on the team as kind of a practice team. This would turn out horribly with our group of five often feeling outcast and forgotten, and by seasons end, we’d named ourselves The Bullheads (because in Iowa, a catfish isn’t considered a keeper). I decided that, yes, there are some great albums on the outside looking in this year, but at the same time, including them would water down my already loaded list. 2013 is off to a great start musically, and here are my “Top 20 Favorite Albums” so far (no bullheads included: i.e. Daft Punk).
And then there were 20. For those that have followed BDWPS.com all year (all two of you), you may see some entries on albums that look very familiar. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I decided to save myself time by simply copy and pasting my thoughts on the album from months past. I hope this isn’t disappointing, but I am only one man and this hobby of mine can be a lot of work. Whatever way I can cut corners I will.
If you’ve had trouble playing the audio to the first 30 tracks posted, hopefully they will be more accessible now that I’ve updated the format of my blogs. Yes, I’m an idiot and just realized you can post excerpts leading to a page that is devoted solely to the one blog entry. I think you’ll find some pretty amazing songs in my top 30, and my hope is that someone out there discovers a song that will have the same affect on them that they’ve had on me. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays! (Top 40 Albums coming next week…)
During SXSW this past spring, my friend Sewer asked me if I like Tom Petty. This question caught me off guard for two reasons:
1. Sewer was my punk rock compass growing up, and the idea of him liking Tom Petty seemed alien to me.
2. I’d never considered Tom Petty as a legitimately respected artist.
I mulled the question over: Do I like Tom Petty? I don’t dislike him and his merry band of Heartbreakers (side note: worst back-up band name ever). My mom played albums like “Full Moon Fever” and “Into the Great Wide Open” in the car when I was a kid, and I never protested. Now that I think about it, Petty’s “Refugee” was my favorite song on Alvin and the Chipmunk’s “Chipmunk Punk” album (an album completely devoid of anything that resembled punk – Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and Queen?!).
Sewer’s question got me thinking. Petty is obviously a talented songwriter with hits like “Running Down a Dream” and “Free Fallin” under his belt, but does he belong in the same pantheon as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan? At the time of my conversation with Sewer, I didn’t think so, but recent albums have me questioning my petty treatment of Petty.
It all started with Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring for My Halo.” My obsession with this album has been well documented here at BDWPS. I’d heard Petty comparisons with Kurt Vile, yet I didn’t put much merit to them beyond the jangly guitars and vocal stylings. Petty’s lyrics have never delved into the morose terrain that is the region Vile traverses for over 45 minutes on “Halo.” Maybe that’s all Petty’s music is missing? Sure he can write catchy melodies like Neil Young and tell entertaining tales like Springsteen, but none of it means anything if it doesn’t have the same soul and honesty behind it. Am I going to far to lump Petty in with the rest of the music making machine?
Last week my indifference to Petty was challenged again upon first listen to The War On Drugs “Slave Ambient.” Not coincidentally, The War On Drugs happen to be Kurt Vile’s former band. Without Vile, the Philadelphia outfit doesn’t sound like it misses their frontman much (more than I can imagine The Heartbreakers could say for themselves). The absence of Vile is difficult to discern thanks to Adam Granduciel’s ability to pick up the reigns. Both these 2011 albums feature that distinct Petty sound, which ironically, I never found to be distinct before now. Yet there it is, the steadfast drum beats, the anthemic rock guitars, and of course, the crooning style that Tom Petty stole from Bob Dylan years ago. And maybe therein lies the true influence; legend has it that Vile and Graduciel met at a party a decade ago and hit it off due to their shared love of, not Petty, but Dylan. The entire driving force behind The War On Drugs was to create a modern interpretation of “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Acolytes of Dylan still keeping his influence alive on “Blackwater” (no relation to the Doobie Brothers):
If taking Dylan’s harmonica, narrative lyrics, and nasal vocals then adding a wall of reverb and krautrock synths results in something that sounds like Tom Petty, than I suppose the comparisons are merited. On the surface every song on “Slave Ambient” has that oh so familiar rock n’ roll pop song demeanor, but the lyrics and the wall of synthesizer drone constantly takes each song into a cozy, lush direction that is somehow, always unexpected. It sneaks up on you; enveloping you in a mist of disorienting proggy atmosphere. It sounds like such a simple pairing, yet I can’t think of another artist who has so masterfully taken these two unique colors and mixed them so subtly.
Krautrock, meet Dylan. Dylan, meet Krautrock- “Your Love Is Calling My Name”:
In the end, I suppose critics are either giving Petty too much credit by calling him an influence on these guys, or maybe they haven’t given Petty enough credit over the years due simply to his ability to make one hit song after another. Whatever the case, I have to admit that I’m in love with “Slave Ambient,” an album that sounds eerily like something Tom Petty would have done 3o years ago if he had the creative fortitude to venture into darker territories, and of course, if he had just a smidgen of soul.