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…)
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
by William Carlos William
I remember first seeing this poem in high school and judging it as the worst piece of poetry ever written. It had no rhythm, no rhyme, and from what my adolescent mind could gather, no meaning. It didn’t help that my inept high school teacher didn’t have the sense to guide us toward a basic level of comprehension and appreciation. I ran into the poem once again in college, and the professor didn’t lend much help with understanding the poem either. Instead, he mocked the class, as he often did, saying over and over again, “Don’t you get why so much depends upon the wheel barrow?” He never did tell us the severe importance of that damn barrow.
A few weeks ago, I found myself facing the ghastly poem for the third time while perusing a book of poetry. Upon seeing it, I stopped and revisited William Carlos Williams words just for the sheer joy of stirring up bad memories. But on this third reading of the imagist poem, something happened. In a flash of clarity, it all made sense. I understood why so much depended on that wheelbarrow (a device that has been used by mankind as far back as Ancient Greece) and I realized that so much of the poem’s meaning depends upon the little details nestled within each word and line. The shape of the poem, the word sounds, the fragments of images, the compound words broken apart, the contrast of the red and white colors, all captured in that brief instant after rainfall – this one poem, illuminating the beauty of the moment.
As my understanding of this masterpiece emerged, I wished I could go back and explain it to my high school English teacher who only taught it because it was in the textbook. I wanted to revisit that college professor and reverse roles for a change. I realized that there is nothing more rewarding than when you finally break through and find the beauty in something that can both be found complex and simple at the same time.
I had this same feeling of illumination while listening to St. Vincent’s “Strange Mercy.” In the past, I never had much interest for Anne Erin Clark’s music project. The bits and pieces I’d heard seemed to be the same old ho-hum, run-of-the-mill songstress affair we’ve heard before. I didn’t quite get why the album “Actor” was so critically acclaimed.
This past year my ill-will toward the band all changed when I first saw their performance at the This Concert Could Be Your Life show, a 10-year celebration of Michael Azerad’s indie rock bible Our Concert Could Be Your Life. St. Vincent chose to play Big Black’s “Kerosene” and the result was extraordinary. Clark stepped onto the stage and ripped through a searing, caustic rendition of the classic song, transforming before my eyes from another Juliana Hatfield into an indie rock goddess worthy of sitting on the throne next to Steve Albini. This one performance changed everything, or at least I thought.
I of course responded to the performance by purchasing the lauded album “Actor,” expecting to find that it had that same vicious assault hidden amidst the balladry. Nope. It was exactly as I remembered. It wasn’t the girl I saw on the stage; it just couldn’t be. So reserved, so tame, so restrained. Where had that fiery beast gone? I wondered: did Steve Albini need to work his producer magic in order to release the fury on the next album?
I purchased “Strange Mercy,” hoping in my heart of hearts that Steve Albini answered my prayers and produced it (looking back, I’m glad he didn’t). Again, I was at first unimpressed with the album. It seemed to be a jumbled mess of strange synths and guitar squalls that never meshed with the tormented lyrics of Clark. Much like that red wheelbarrow, I just didn’t get the hype, and I didn’t know how this could be the same band that performed “Kerosene” only months earlier.
Then, a few days later, like Dorothy walking from black and white into Oz, I had my moment of clarity. Incredible. Simply incredible. The keyboards weren’t the mess I’d first assessed them as, rather a funky, Stevie Wonder era burst of adrenaline, taking songs of loneliness, uncertainty, and despair and making that agony somehow sexy. The guitars were not simply random bleeps, rather perfectly placed accents on the vivid, haunting stories found in Clark’s lyrics. Oh, and to simply say that the lyrics are all doom and gloom would be foolish. Her narratives take strange twists that can be either ironic or funny (or both) all the while furthering a message that digs deep into your soul/mind/heart and makes you question everything.
“Surgeon,” a cry for help or simply a song about sex? Or both?!:
Many of the songs feature a lush orchestration that rubs up roughly against the piercing guitars and keyboards, yet this dichotomy of sound adds an eerie element, conjuring up the melodies of the innocent 1950s amidst the chaos of video game like synth riffs and barking guitars.
The video for “Cruel” is probably my favorite of 2011:
Now I have a new problem: I can’t quit listening to “Strange Mercy”. Nothing else I contains the same adventurous spirit, the same open-hearted candor, the same experience of discovery within each listen. It’s like trying to follow-up a reading of “The Red Wheelbarrow” with “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” And where does the name St. Vincent come from? Coincidentally, the medical center where poet Dylan Thomas died. She’s been quoted as calling it “the place where poetry comes to die.” If so, she’s creating Poetry Zombies as we speak, one thought provoking song at a time.
Over Christmas, I met up with my friend SongsSuck for a few drinks, and our discussion got into books. He asked me to list my top 10 favorite books of all time. As I tried coming up with my list, one book kept popping into my head: This Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. At first, I resisted listing this title, trying to focus on the classics, but again and again the book kept creeping into my brain. I knew why. This one book had such a profound affect on me and my love for indie music, that I dare to say that this book could change your life. It did mine.
You can’t help but be changed by the stories of bands like Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, The Replacements, and Black Flag and how they were able create music that was original and honest without any money backing their efforts. To this day I reference moments from the book, whether it be the tumultuous relationship between Lou Barlow and J. Mascis or the untimely death of D. Boon. This book shows you music at its rawest form and gives you insight into the trials and tribulations these kids dealt with as they took their four-track garage rock and made it into something legendary. Our Band Could Be Your Life is the indie rock bible; no question about it.
Yesterday, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the book, a show was put on at the Bowery Room consisting of current indie bands covering bands from the book, just another testament to the staying power of the book. While I enjoyed the clips from the show I saw of Ted Leo, tUnE-yArDs, and Titus Andronicus, it was St. Vincent covering Big Black that blew me away. I’ve never gotten any St. Vincent and never had any desire. What I’ve heard has never really peaked my interest, but after seeing their take on Big Black, I’m all in.