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June 21, 2011

The Best of the Big Man

Filed under: Music — Steve Krupa @ 5:04 pm
When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half…” 

There is little doubt that Clarence Clemons made Bruce Sprinsteen’s music better.  Clemons’ sax funneled Springsteen’s exuberance, creating a unique rock and roll big band sound that was often imitated, particularly by bar bands up and down the Jersey shore, but never replicated.   

Clarence stands equal with the other of my favorite rock and roll saxophonists, the Texan, Bobby Keys, who defined himself on the great Rolling Stones albums of the late 60’s and early 70’s (recall the sax solo in Brown Sugar – that’s Bobby).  Clarence and Bobby growled through their instruments, preferring minimalist melodies focused on tone and emotion to the wild flourishes favored by their jazz counterparts.  For rock and roll and the blues, this sound worked.  It made the songs memorable, rhythmic and big.
My wife and I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s Live Box set on the way back to the city on Father’s Day Sunday night after we learned Clarence had passed.  I really don’t know how the E Street Band can continue without him.  His place on stage next to Bruce will seem so empty.  Clarence was both a player and a showman, akin to his Boss.
In remembrance I offer you my 5 favorite Clarence Clemons tracks, all defining moments in the Springsteen catalog.  You can probably dig them up for a listen on or download them from iTunes, if you don’t have them already.  They are well worth the $0.99.  Enjoy.
5.  Born to Run (on the album Born to Run)
4.  Rosalita (on the album The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle)    
3.  Spirit in the Night (on the album Greetings from Asbury Park New Jersey)
2.  Jungleland (on the album Born to Run)
1.  Drive All Night (on the album The River – Disc 2)

February 17, 2011

A Business Chart for Music Fans

With the Grammy’s behind us, I thought music fans might enjoy mulling over this chart, which came to my attention courtesy of Bob Lefsetz, a music industry blogger.  It falls into the “a picture is worth a thousand words” category.  

Revenue from digital music is growing, but not enough to make up for the decline in CD sales, which have fallen precipitously since the advent of digital music.  It looks like the music business should be in a state of emergency, yet new music is everywhere, from what I can tell.

 chart of the day, music industry 1973-2009, feb 2011

Lefsetz’ quote: 

“… the CD was the greatest invention in the history of recorded music”

And he is right, at least in the context of generating profits for the music industry.  Yet, while the gross margins on CD’s were massive, the margins on digital music should be even better.  Afterall the production and distribution costs on digital music are minimal.  Sure, the revenue of the music business is declining, but I wonder where the profits are headed.  Oddly, much of what I have read indicates that profits are headed down, under the theory that piracy of digital music continues to damage profitability.  While I am sure piracy has eaten away at music industry profits over the years, it is also true that modern technology has significantly reduced the production costs for making professionally recorded music.  To me it feels like there is more music, i.e., more artists and albums in a greater variety, than ever before.  If it is in fact the case that record labels cannot turn an outstanding profit under these conditions, the problem is more than likely poor management rather than piracy.

It also feels like music has transformed from a Superstar culture to a more journeyman profession.  We have a lot more music and many more acts, but fewer mega-acts and fewer stars.  And I think that’s okay.  It’s now inexpensive to make and distribute music, allowing anyone with creative impulse and ability to try to build an audience.  The barriers to entry are low, and it seems that a creative revolution should follow.  I definitely look forward to that.

I have posted on some interesting D-I-Y artists in the past, including Bon Iver, Animal Collective and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and as I find more new acts that make great music outside the power base of the music establishment, I will definitely bring them your way.

In the meantime, as an example of where music might be heading, keep an eye on the new Radiohead album, King of Limbs.  It is coming out on Saturday, in all sorts of formats, released by the band itself.

The King of Limbs

December 31, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #10 – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago – 2008

“I toured the light; so many foreign roads, for Emma, forever ago.”

Something like Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, or Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Master and Everyone, music that is both beautiful but somehow cool, simple but thoughtful, alone but seeking to connect, heartfelt but not overwhelming – that is Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.

“There’s a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
And he’s dangling my keys – he even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?”

It’s hard to tell if this record is entirely about loss, but it is certainly introspective and personal, the way we all get after a break-up.  She is in there throughout, sometimes aggressively in love and sometimes sinister and indifferent, poetic references that imply an otherworldly magic, left behind as dream remnants, pure feeling, a metaphor for the many things held close to the heart.

“Sold my cold knot
A heavy stone
Sold my red horse for a venture home
To vanish on the bow —
Settling slow”

There is a theory that she, at times, takes the form of a long-lost band.

“(Or so the story goes)”

Justin Vernon is Bon Iver (pronounced bone ee-vair).  Bon Iver was born in winter (a riff on “bon hiver” – French for good winter), a Wisconsin winter, spent in a hunting cabin after the disbanding of DeYarmond Edison, Vernon’s indie quartet.  They were all old friends.

“Go find another lover;
To bring a… to string along
With all your lies,
You’re still very lovable.

Justin’s thick falsetto can be icy cold, sometimes alone, oftentimes in overdub.

The instruments, resurrected from an icy thaw, unplayed for a time, wake-up slowly, appear without warning, and leave again, certain to be missed.

The music moves from thin to thick, from a limp to a rumble, changing subtly, like the ebb and flow of a cold winter wind.


Here’s Skinny Love:

Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer

I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in the moment this order’s tall

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
And in the morning I’ll be with you
But it will be a different kind
And I’ll be holding all the tickets
And you’ll be owning all the fines

Come on skinny love, what happened here?
Suckle on the hope in light brassieres
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Sullen load is full, so slow on the split

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
And now all your love is wasted
And then who the hell was I?
And I’m breaking at the britches
And at the end of all your lines

Who will love you?
Who will fight?
Who will fall far behind?

December 10, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #9 – Bob Dylan – “Love and Theft” – 2001

I am sure many expected old age to take Bob Dylan away, allowing him to rest on his laurels and continue his eternal tour, playing to those old and young that still obsess over his string of 1960/70’s epic albums, thinking, “it cannot and will not ever get any better than this,” a notion that were it not for the extraordinary nature of his recent output, just might have come true.

From 1962 through 1970 Zimmy released at least 10 bona fide, mesmerizing, five-star classics(1), albums that continue to affect the progress of folk, rock and pop music to this very day.  By 1970 Dylan was suddenly 29, with arguably the best work of his lifetime behind him.  For the next 27 or so years he continued, perhaps in an effort to keep busy, but more than likely in an effort to top his earlier work, creating multiple, deformed versions of his past-self, from recluse, to born-again Christian, to the leader of the Rolling Thunder Revue, his musical caravan, white pancake make-up included.  By continually changing with the times he did deliver the occasional, unexpected studio classic along the way(2), but, with the exception of the sequential Blood on the Tracks and Desire in 1975-76, he never came close to recreating the hot streak he achieved through his 20’s(3).  However, in 1997 he released Time Out of Mind, presenting us with his latest and potentially last character, the aging sage, narrator of the secret oddities of America’s underground history, embracing his gravelly, somewhat pitchy voice as a tool to unify near-spoken-word with history-defying-poetry – music included at no additional charge.

It turns out that Time Out of Mind was the precursor to an amazing decade of creative output – Bob in his 60’s is every bit as interesting as Bob in his 20’s.  He has stories to tell, and he’s read and experienced a lot in the last 30 years, providing him with a deep, obscure library of influences to draw (steal) from.  Time Out of Mind was the beginning of his recent winning streak, which was followed by “Love and Theft” (2001), Modern Times (2005), Together Through Life (2009), and yes, the covers record, Christmas in the Heart (2009).

While deep down I would love for this to be a review of Christmas in the Heart so I could introduce you to the creepy-old Uncle Bob, lurking in the corner, kids on his lap, bourbon bottle in his pocket, butchering Christmas carols with good cheer – the task at hand, I suppose, is to pick his best album of the decade – and that I will – with the caveat that they all stand up to the best work of Bob’s career, regardless of his then-age and predilections.  In fact, they all stand up to the very best of any genre of music released over the past decade.  Go figure – from the age of 56 through his up coming 70th birthday – Bob Dylan has equaled in quality his historic output from 36 years prior while remaining relevent as a contemporary artist, no doubt a once-again, near one-of-a-kind achievement.

“Love and Theft” came out on 9-11-2001, but I did not get my hands on a copy until at least six months later, and I did not start listening to it obsessively until years later, when I decided I liked Modern Times so much I wanted to compare it to “Love and Theft”In truth it was in the earlier part of this decade when Bob Dylan’s music really began to blow my mind again, but then it was the old stuff I was focused on.  I was working with several musicians as their artist manager and I was interested in what they were accomplishing lyrically and in turn they were inspiring me to dig more deeply into Dylan (thank you Jason Darling, Tara Angell, Kristin Hoffmann and Jesse Malin), so I began listening to everything Bob.  By 2005 I was ready for his contemporary stuff, the library being so large one has to sift through it patiently, and there they were, a modern trilogy, Time Out of Mind, “Love and Theft” and Modern Times, all shiny and new and ready for me.

At his best Bob Dylan tells his stories through characters that often seem to possess his very sense of being.  One character that has always been around is the purveyor of American folk-lore, primarily influenced by ancient American music the likes of which is archived in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (AAFM), a six LP set released by Folkways Records in 1952 that archives the finest of underground folk music from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s – music that  explores the lives of con-men, rogues, gamblers, cheaters, gunfighters and the like, those who, despite the backdrop of the American Dream, spin their yarns knowing they have nothing to lose.  On “Love and Theft” Bob “borrows” their minds and perhaps some of their melodies, recasting new tales of weirdness and desperation along a line of contemporary poetry, the superiority of which requires forgiveness of his overt melodic theft – these are vivid stories inside of songs that you know you’ve heard before, but where?

“Love and Theft” sounds like it is playing on my grandmother’s old Victrola, scratchy and weary with age, capturing perfectly some of the best melodic and orchestral tricks from the old days, jumpy blues, slow-nasty blues, rockabilly, slow dance, country ballads, up through early Rock ‘n’ Roll a la Bill Halley and Buddy Holly, stuff that moves you out-of-body to a unique time and place.  The stories and the sounds evoke images of a dusty old home conservatory, occupied with an old music man, spending his day singing great old songs, soft light bleeding through the antique linen curtains.  “Love and Theft” feels old and new at the same time, so familiar, yet so oddly riveting, cheating time like nothing else of its day.

It turns out that Bob made a decade’s work of reminiscing and molding the old into something uniquely new.  First with his studio records (produced under his pseudonym, Jack Frost).  Second through his never-ending schedule of live shows, that serve as a platform for him to perform wholly new versions of his entire catalogue in the image of his newest character.  And third through the fascinating collection of radio programming he produced for XM titled Theme Time Radio Hour, where Bob spent an hour each week exploring his record collection for theme-driven gems (if interested, you can download all of the shows here).

From start to finish, “Love and Theft” captures the essence of Bob’s immense creative effort over the past decade and at times I think it might be my favorite Bob Dylan record, but more often my favorite Dylan record is the one I happen to be listening to at the time.  Nonetheless this is his gem of gems from this past decade, for sure.


The album’s title, “Love and Theft” is from Eric Lott’s book Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class.

Bob’s ability to adapt other art forms into his music has led to an occasional accusation of plagiarism, most recently from none other than Joni Mitchell.  In “Love and Theft” Bob not only borrows a few melodies, he also borrows phrases, most notably from Japanese author Junichi Saga in his book Confessions of a Yakuza. It’s an interesting subject and it’s handled well by Dylan historian Sean Wilentz in his article “Is Bob Dylan a Phony?”

This past decade was a busy period for not only Bob, but for his fans and critics, with numerous packages of Dylan reminiscence released, the most notable being Martin Scorsese’s awesome made-for-TV film No Direction Home and Todd Haynes’ odd interpretation of Dylan’s life through a group of fictional characters called I am Not There (Cate Blanchett was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of late sixties Bob).

It’s hard to find video of the “Love and Theft” tracks on youtube, but here’s a quick commercial for the album:


(1) Here are the 10: 1 – Bob Dylan (1962), 2 – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963), 3 – The Times They Are a Changin’ (1964), 4 – Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964), 5 – Bringing It All Back Home (1965), 6 – Highway 61 Revisited (1965), 7 – Blonde on Blonde (1966), 8 – John Wesley Harding (1967), 9 –Nashville Skyline (1969), and 10 – New Morning (1970).

(2) If you attempt to weed through the 20 some-odd Dylan studio releases from 1970 through 1997, consider these, which I regard as his best from that era, and are every bit as good as his sequential masterpieces from his early career: Blood on the Tracks (1975), The Basement Tapes (1975 – recorded in the late 1960s and in many ways a long ago precursor to themes explored in his more recent albums, “Love and Theft” included – see above), Desire (1976), Slow Train Comin’ (1979 – Bob talkin’ about Jesus), Infidels (1983), Empire Burlesque (1988), and Oh Mercy (1989 – his first collaboration with famed U2 producer Daniel Lanois, who also produced Time Out of Mind).

(3) All told I am recommending 17 studio albums from the period of 1962 through 1997, almost too much of anything!, yet amazing through and through, and as if that weren’t enough, the entire Bootleg Series, now numbered up to 9, most of which are multiple CD collections, is fantastic, bringing the total number of Bob Dylan albums worthy of devoted attention, including the four from this past decade, to 31!

November 19, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #8 – Arcade Fire – Funeral – 2004

FAD (Casual Fridays) is back with the goal of discussing its final three albums (8, 9, 10) before the New Year (and don’t expect Bob Dylan’s X-mas album to finish the list, b/t/w).

Arcade Fire is one of two super-indie bands hailing, in part at least, from Canada, the other being Broken Social Scene, a band best known for spawning the solo career of Feist (yes the one-two-three-four-tell-me-that-you-love-me-more hot-crumbly voice from past iPod commercial fame).  Unfortunately commercial success is not the unifying element between Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire, massiveness is, as in sound and sometimes members; as in, how to make Indie-music fill every square inch of your brain, as in, there is no way this is a small club band.  Both are super-cool, particularly when they play small clubs, when you can walk from the bar into the live room and feel your hair blow back, like the sedentary audiophile of old Maxell cassette-tape fame.

Indie bands with a big sound demand massive, unforgettable songs, like take-me-to-the-Jersey-shore-for-a-big-enough-hook-I-can’t-forget, big sounds that fill your ears for hours, days even, after their final note.  It’s in this area (unforgettable songs) where Arcade Fire broke away from their indie brethren, delivering song after song to near perfection on their first big time studio effort, Funeral, an exploration of orchestral pop music played up against the lyrically weird awkwardness of being young and confused by the behavior of supposed adult role models.

With Funeral Arcade Fire began their exit from the club scene, probably for good, now using their big sound for evil by filling large arenas (I saw them early this summer at MSG), but no worries, even those shows are about as good as live indie rock can get.

What often distinguishes much of the indie music scene is its unique definition of musicianship.  Unlike some of the older school rock, where musicians dominated their instruments, a la Jimmy Page over his Gibson Les Paul, many indie musicians like to mix it up, interchanging instruments throughout a live performance, a trick captured by Arcade Fire from the wake of bands like Yo La Tengo, You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and yes, even, Radiohead.  It is a trip to watch the lovely chanteuse Régine Chassagne switch from accordion, to xylophone, to keyboards, to banging it out wildly on the drums, all while delivering haunting backing vocals to the bombastic wails of husband Win Butler, himself a multi-instrumentalist.  Of course, as most musicians will admit, it is one thing to play many instruments, it’s another to master them, and within Arcade Fire’s music you get the feel that they have not so much mastered their instruments, but rather rhythm and orchestration.  This music thrives on beat and ambience as a backdrop to very catchy melodies and songs that are not necessarily structured in a way we would expect, but that are long-lasting nonetheless.  There are few bands that walk the edge between innovative and catchy successfully, but with Funeral, Arcade Fire  does this about as well as any.  It’s memorable, it’s musical and it’s fun, especially if you can remember what it was like to be a simultaneously confused and idealistic teenager.


The band is a family affair (like another favorite Kings of Leon). Régine Chassagne (the true Canadian in the band) is married to Win Butler (a Texan), with Win’s brother William included on backing vocals and instruments.

Funeral is the beginning of a run of three great records from the band, the second being Neon Bible and third, the Suburbs, was released this year and is definitely in the running for my favorite album of 2010.

Here’s a video of my favorite track from Funeral, Wake Up, from back in the band’s early days, six years or so ago, when they were shaking up the clubs.  Stay with it – the last minute and a half offers a nice surprise and illustrates one of Arcade Fire’s pop tricks… I love it!

Somethin’ filled up
my heart with nothin’,
someone told me not to cry.

But now that I’m older,
my heart’s colder,
and I can see that it’s a lie.

Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.

If the children don’t grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to

I guess we’ll just have to adjust.

With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’ to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’
With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am, go-go, where I am

You’d better look out below

July 16, 2010

Strung Out in Heaven

My last Casual Fridays post featured my favorite neo-psychedelic artist of the last decade, Animal Collective, coming in at number 7 in my Favorite Albums of the Decade list (FAD) with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.   That put me more than halfway through the list, with Number 8 on its way – soon – once I get through a recent distraction.

I often consume music through serial obsessions which have certainly served as a filter for putting together my FAD list, a recollection of all the new records and artists I could not get enough of at some point during the last decade.  I also get re-obsessed with older music, often in regular cycles.  There’s a yearly all-out Beatles orgy.  I remember listening to nothing but Bob Dylan for about three months after seeing Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan fetish film I’m Not There, a pass I repeated recently after reading Greil Marcus’ Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.

File:Album Cover Strung Out In Heaven.jpgThe absence of a FAD post in previous weeks is a result of just such a re-binge.  I have been Strung Out in Heaven, if you will, with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), a band I suspect many of you have not heard, but one I really want you to hear.

It all started about five weeks ago, on June 5, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

This was not the first time…

Indie Music – a technical definition – from Wikipedia  – “a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels and an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach (DIY) to recording and publishing.”

Indie Music – a working definition – music most people have never heard made by artists most people have never heard of.

Indie Music – a reality – often great music made by artists that fail to achieve mainstream notoriety during the most active portion of their careers, either because of their avant-garde nature or because of a deep flaw in their actions or temperament that leaves them incompatible with the uncompromising workings of scaled commerce, a/k/a the music business.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre is Indie Music, complies with each of these definitions, and is a complete mess, in some ways a real massacre, of itself.  It’s an Indie band for life, featuring throughout its history over 40 different musicians, most leaving the band as a result of impossible differences, or a violent exchange, or both, with BJM’s founder, the sole constant over the band’s history, and apparently a complete and utter psychopath, Anton Newcombe.

There is always wonder surrounding a BJM live show.  Will Anton blow-up on stage, resulting in a completely ridiculous gig, probably cut short by his and the band’s inability to resume peacefully, or will the band be tight and musical.  In either case it is entertaining, but if you are lucky enough to see a show where all goes well, as I was on June 5, you’re likely to see and hear some of the best 60’s-influenced psychedelic-pop music in the world.  The band is really that good, particularly its catalogue of music created from the Mid-1990’s through around 2004.

It turns out there’s a lot in a name if there is enough thought put into it, and Anton is a purposeful and revealing namer of his band, its songs and its albums.  The name Brian Jonestown Massacre tells us a lot about the sound, a wacky tribute to: (i) one Brian Jones, the long-dead founder of the Rolling Stones and one of rock’s first multi-instrumentalists, (ii) cultism, (iii) violence and (iv) hypnotics.  Not surprisingly, Anton, an American from California, is: (1) a devoted anglophile, (2) a lover of late-sixties-early-seventies trip music, a la Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Jones-era Stones, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, (3) a shoegazer (think My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain), (4) underground, and (5) obsessed with the sound of 1960’s guitars underneath the beat of maracas and tambourines.  BJM picks up these classic sounds and movements, revitalizing them in a contemporary context, combining candor, abstraction, irony, love, and, oh, some damn catchy hooks.

This band should have been ample competition for Oasis and Blur in the 1990s, but even as messed up as both those Brit-rock 90’s favorites were, BJM had them beat.  BJM just could not be counted on; they were a bad investment, blowing every opportunity for mainstream exposure.  Today they exist primarily as an influence on many current, highly successful revivalist bands like the White Stripes, the Black Keys and the Strokes.  They still play to small clubs and ballroom audiences that learned of them primarily through indie rags and their starring role in the 2004 award-winning documentary  DIG!, a terrific film that presents the absurdity, comedy, violence and occasional genius of Newcombe and his ever-changing band of followers over a seven-year period where they regress from leaders of the Indie Music scene to also-rans to their major-label-neo-psychedelic contemporaries The Dandy Warhols.

Despite all of its flaws BJM is not lazy.  Anton is an obsessive worker and a super-prolific songwriter with a discography that includes at least 19 available EP/LPs made mostly by the band themselves.  Most BJM’s records are of the DIY variety, made on low budgets and pretty much anywhere the band could find recording equipment.  From 1993-2004 the songwriting quality is outstanding and consistent, but some of the recordings are not.  The one major label record (for TVT Records in 1998) is the herein referenced Strung Out in Heaven, a higher budget affair and the perfect entry point for BJM newbies.  If you like the Beatles, the Byrds, the Animals, the Velvet Underground and/or early Rolling Stones, I believe you will adore this album.  If that’s not enough, and for me it wasn’t, try Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request followed by a greatest hit compilation of sorts, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland.  The good news is that if you get hooked, and you might, there is plenty more great material to explore.



Dig! is a fantastic film – check out the trailer below – see it.

Whoever this drfostersmith is, he’s got some great footage of the new BJM line up on youtube.  Here’s one of my favorites, Anemone, from the BJM album Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request, a two chord hypnotic that my wife plays along with at home on her lefty guitar.  This version was performed during BJM’s recent 2010 tour, featuring Anton’s reunion with founding member Matt Hollywood.  Check out all those gorgeous 60’s guitars.  How many are there?  Too many to count, man!

I – I think I know how I feel
cause I – I only play it for-real
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
flying over my head
you’re landing all over town

you – you know that I try
try to tell you the truth
oh baby don’t make me lie
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
now I’m missing you more
cause baby you’re not around
now that you’re not around
I – I want to know how it feels
cause I – I only play act for-real
you should be picking me up
instead your dragging me down
I could be giving you love
but you’re not around
now that you’re not around
now that you’re not around
glad that you’re not around
If your curious about BJM’s personality, check out this interview with “Anton the Vessel,” which speaks for itself.

June 4, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – # 7 – Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective is special.

And weird.

And maybe psychedelic.

Or maybe folk, like avant-garde folk, sort of like experimental art music, sometimes it sounds like rock, often times you can dance to it, the vocals almost always remind me of The Beach Boys, the song structures and the lyrics, however, do not.

It is a “collective” (not a band, really), because they are not always ALL together.  They like to have other projects, creative outlets, the freedom to play and experiment without one another, and the freedom to come and go as they please.  Over the past decade, the collective, in whole or in part, including solo stuff, has released over 13 albums.

Each of the collective has an alias:

Sometimes they wear masks and pretend they are animals, or other things.

Each is from Maryland (Merriweather Post Pavilion – the album name, see above – is also a famed music venue located in the woods between Baltimore and DC – I think Hendrix and Janis Joplin played there once).

Each knew the other as kids, transplanted separately to NYC and formed the collective in 2000-ish in a loft on Prince Street (a few blocks from my place, b/t/w).

Not ALL live in New York any more, only 2.

Each is now in their 30’s.

The collective is a deep part and a major influencer of a very vibrant, US-based alternative (rock/folk) music scene, much of which is housed in NYC, and Brooklyn in particular (primary neighborhoods:  Williamsburg, Ft. Greene, Red Hook, D.U.M.B.O.).  This scene features tons of bands/collectives, many growing in popularity, slow and steady.  If you are young and you are NOT into hip-hop, classic rock or American Idol-esque pop, this might be your scene.  You also might be a hipster.

It is often hard to tell what instruments the collective plays.  I know there are bass and drum sounds.  My friend Jason thinks they play computers.  I think they do, sometimes, sometimes I know I hear guitars though.  To me, their signature sound is in the vocals, they are gorgeous, and most of the time they are not computers.

Up and to the release of Merriweather it was a challenge for me to recommend the collective.  Its greatness was not obvious, and for some it still may not be obvious, in the same way Kid A can baffle even the most sincere music fan.  Nonetheless, I think it’s time.  It’s music for the patient, the hungry, the anti-pop, those with ears craving something new.  It’s also damn catchy and beautiful.

The lyrical themes of Merriweather center around love, loss and family, which I don’t think is weird at all, and doesn’t feel very hipster, does it?

Here’s my introduction to the band and the record, a tune called My Girls.


There isn’t much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I don’t care for fancy things
Or to take part in the vicious race
But to provide for mine who ask
I will, with heart, on my father’s grave

I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things
Like our social stats
I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls

May 28, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #6 – Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker – 2000


“Up here in the city [it] feels like things are closing in
The sunset ‘s just my light bulb burning out
I miss KENTUCKY and I miss my family
All the sweetest winds they blow across the south

Oh my sweet Carolina
What compels me to go
Oh my sweet disposition
May you one day carry me home”

In my most recent post in this series I talked about Beck’s Sea Change, a break-up record felt at first listen, a super-sad extravaganza that came as a wonderful surprise, especially considering its source.  I was used to Beck being great musically, ironic lyrically, and weird generally, but rarely authentically sad.

Ryan Adams, on the other hand, is always sad about something, usually girls, break-up records being his forte.  Where does all of this sadness come from?  Have you ever spent any time in a small southern town like Ryan’s hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina?  These are places where sadness reins, a fundamental part of the environment, hanging there inside the thick, hot, humid air.  These are also places drenched with quiet, where the slightest sounds feel amplified, an approaching car moving along a gravel road (Lucinda), the crickets and the bullfrogs calling from the trees in the dark, a lone acoustic guitar from off in the distance, cutting its way through the last rays of sunset.

This sad, slow, sparse feel of the rural south is the mood that is beautifully captured on Heartbreaker, with the primary tools of southern folk music, acoustic guitar and trampled-on voice.  The opening track, a misleading, fun-sounding, Elvis-like romp announces the subject, To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High), and stands along with the fight-riddled Shakedown on 9th Street (I was just gonna hit him but I’m gonna kill him now) as the two up tempo rockers on the album.  As terriffic as these two tunes are, the heart of the set sits in the sparse, country folk of songs like My Winding Wheel, Oh My Sweet Carolina, In My Time of Need and the underground hit of sacraficial-heartbreak-to-the-max, Come Pick Me Up.

This album stands up nicely against classics like Neil Young’s Harvest and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and it is on my list primarily because it I listen to it so much.  It’s permanently in my car, and I break it out regularly for long drives.  Adams followed it up with the almost as good, but maybe a little bit too long, Gold in 2001, beginning an incredibly prolific decade constituting 10 full-length studio releases.  I own and listen to them all, but Heartbreaker remains my favorite, an excellent starting point for anyone interested in Adams and folk-country-rock music at its best.


My favorite track on the album is Oh My Sweet Carolina, a harmonious love song featuring Emmylou Harris on backing vocals.  Here’s a really super sad version of the song with just Ryan and his acoustic guitar.

During my Miles High Artists days I got the chance to spend some time with Ryan.  He is very close friends with Jesse Malin and produced Jesse’s 2003 release The Fine Art of Self Destruction, which is a great record in and of itself.  Ryan plays guitar on the record and other releases by Jesse including The Heat and Glitter in the Gutter.

Ryan’s band, Whiskeytown, was a peer to and competitor with Uncle Tupelo (Jeff Tweedy’s band prior to Wilco) and there exists and underlying rivalry between Ryan and Jeff for tops in the Alt-Country genre.  My favorite Whiskeytown album is Strangers Almanac (1997), with standout tracks Inn Town and Everything I Do.

Ryan’s solo discography from this past decade is massive, averaging about 1 release per year, and spanning a number of genres, including an all out rock album (titled Rock ‘n Roll).  Recently he has been sharing the bill with his touring band the Cardinals.  The double disc set Cold Roses, by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, shows off Ryan’s Jerry Garcia-esque guitar chops and Grateful Dead song writting influences, affects that have been working their way into the longer, generally terrific jams featured in his live shows.

Next we move away from the songwriters for a while and back to the bands, including couple of hipster transplants to the now very active alternative music scene in Brooklyn (and New York City)…

April 30, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #5 – Beck – Sea Change

5.  Beck – Sea Change – 2002 

 Breaking up with someone just isn’t fun(ny), especially if you’re still in love. 

So is the case with Mr. Post-Modern wise-ass, Beck, who apparently had a hard time conjuring up anything to laugh about in 2000, after ending a nearly 10 year relationship with designer Leigh Limon.  The result, Sea Change, might be the second best break-up record ever made (after, of  course, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, see my great break-up albums list below).  

Reportedly Beck wrote all twelve of the songs for Sea Change in one week after the break-up, songs that express an entirely different side of one of the great, but difficult to characterize, artists of the last two decades.  Go back and listen to Beck’s work of the 1990’s (namely: Mellow Gold, Mutations, Odelay and Midnite Vultures).  Beck is very much the vocal actor, taking on an accent and tone for the part he is playing, be it brit-hipster (The New Pollution), the country bumpkin (Cancelled Check) or, in its most extreme, the neo-Prince impersonation throughout much of Midnight Vultures, his preceeding, slamming 1999 party-satire record. 

Beck Hansen and Leigh Limon Photograph

Beck and Leigh Limon

Beck’s character in Sea Change might actually be himself, and so I imagine we’re experiencing his creative sound, the voice he starts with as he writes, and man is this character in a bad way. 

Sea Change is produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead:  Kid A, et al, Paul McCartney:  Chaos and Creation in the Backyard), and no doubt part of the album’s appeal is its sound.  Most tracks start off with acoustic guitar and sad vocal, front and center, with all sorts of ear candy atmospherics surrounding the singer, orchestral strings and effected guitars enter and exit as if tiptoeing into and out of the songs, creating mood and intensity, but never overwhelming the simplicity and sadness of the music.  Beck, with 3 chords and the truth, creates a hipster Hank Williams, visiting from the Lower East Side.  He is sitting in the corner of your living room, playing for therapy, and hoping for direction out of his funk, a new girl, a shoulder to cry on. 

Unlike Blood on the Tracks, where Dylan tells many of his stories of heartbreak through the voices of angry third-party characters, Beck’s break-up record is pure first person.  He is singing to us, but he desperately wants her to hear it, almost as if he imagines mailing her the record and having her come running back into his arms days later asking forgiveness. 

It looks like it might have taken heartbreak to create the best set of songs Beck has ever written.  Sea Change is an addicting monologue on the frustrations of lost love and sadness that I believe will stand the test of time as his true masterpiece. 


My favorite Sea Change track:  “Lost Cause” – check out video below. 

10 Great Break-up Albums 

  1. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks – 1975
  2. Beck – Sea Change – 2002
  3. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – 1977
  4. Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love – 1987
  5. The Cure – Disintegration – 1989
  6. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker – 2000
  7. Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – 1970
  8. Lucinda Williams – Essence – 2001
  9. Kristin Hoffmann – Divided Heart – 2002
  10. Jason Darling – Monster (unreleased) – 2009

April 23, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #4 – The Rising

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Music — Steve Krupa @ 2:00 pm

4. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band- The Rising – 2002

“I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky”

Like the characters in Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, every New Yorker has a 9/11 story.

At 8:46 AM when AA Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower, I was at breakfast with a group of business associates at The Coffee Shop, on the corner of 16th St. and University, around the block from my apartment, and just 2 miles from the World Trade Center.  By the time the attack caught our attention, we were standing by the bar watching live TV as UA Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9:03 AM.  I remember walking out into the street and staring up at the burning towers that were clearly visible above the stunted skylines of Greenwich Village and SOHO, as groups of people fled the site in panic, up Broadway and through Union Square’s small park.  At 9:59 AM, I watched the South Tower fall to the ground, looking in wonder at the remaining tower and the enormous billow of ruble and dust, and trying to understand how it all could have happened.  I know I never expected to live through anything like that, and the experience, and its aftermath, come to mind daily.


“The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire”

Records indicate that over 2,600 people died in New York in 9/11, over 411 were rescue workers from FDNY (343), NYPD (23), PAPD (37) and local hospitals.  Cantor Fitzgerald, a New York-based investment bank, lost 658 employees, one of them the older brother of a very good friend of mine. She was living in CA.  I got a call from her the night of 9/11, upset that they couldn’t find him.  He had called his mother after the plane hit and told her they were going to try to get out, but Cantor’s offices were on the  top floor, above where the plane hit, and the stairwells were blocked off.  He was too young (31), leaving a wife and new-born son.

Most people pass in private, mourned by their family and friends.  The victims of 9/11 passed as part of a national tragedy and an unprecedented act of terror.  They are mourned often, by a nation annually and by their families continuously as terrorism remains rooted in the fabric of our lives.


“We’ll let blood build a bridge over mountains draped in stars
I’ll meet you on the ridge between these worlds apart
We’ve got this moment now to live then it’s all just dust and dark
Let’s let love give what it gives”

Like many New Yorkers (and New Jerseyans), I’ve actually met Bruce Springsteen, a few times in fact.  The first time was at a Grammy Awards after-party in 2003 (The Rising won the Grammy that year for Best Rock Album).  I was there with a few friends who, knowing that Bruce was a hero of mine since high school, refused to leave until I said hello.  Bruce noticed me leaning around a huge bodyguard and came over without prompting and put out his hands.  I remember telling him how important The Rising was to me, how it got out so much of the emotion of the 9/11 experience, how hard we all worked to move on.  I remember his double fisted grip around my hand, and his response, “that’s why I do it.  That’s why I love music.”


“Now there’s tears on the pillow darling where we slept
and you took my heart when you left
without your sweet kiss my soul is lost, my friend
Now tell me how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins”

Today my office is two blocks from Ground Zero.  I can see clearly the progress on One World Trade Center out my window on the 51st floor.  It’s expected to be complete sometime in 2013.  It’s designed to be a symbol of our will and determination, and our commitment to freedom.

1 World Trade Center in fall 2009

1 World Trade Center in fall 2009


I spent the last week listening to The Rising again and again.  It’s a great record at any time, but coming out in the aftermath of 9/11 makes it even more vital.  It feels like America and its tales of heartbreak and loss, and its never-ending search for possibility and hope.  It’s a beginning and a remembering, something we all needed back then, and today, from time to time.
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