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April 16, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #3 “Youth and Young Manhood”

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Music — Steve Krupa @ 3:15 pm

3. Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood – 2003

I just can’t intellectualize this pick.  It’s no Kid A or Yankee Hotel FoxtrotIt’s not experimental at all.  I am sure it’s an influential rock record, but it certainly falls behind albums like The Strokes – This Is It and The White Stripes – Elephant (and probably White Blood Cells) on most professional critics lists of influential rock records of the decade.

I absolutely love filthy, dirty, southern white trash rock music (give me some Lynyrd Skynyrd or ZZ Top or the Stones’ Exile On Main Street) and this is it, the best of trailer-trash rock that I’ve heard in a long, long time. 

Do you want to see 4 dirtbags play southern rock?

Check out my boys in this live video of my favorite track on the album, Joe’s Head:

Don’t you just love the mustaches and the haircuts?

Here’s another, more spruced-up version of the band, still circa 2003, singing another tune from Youth… called Molly’s Chambers:

Gorgeous.  All this before Sex on Fire.

Notable(s):

KOL hails from Nashville, TN and is the “Followill” family band, consisting of brothers Caleb (Vocals/Guitar), Nathan (Drums) and Jared (Bass) and cousin Matthew Followill (Lead Guitar).

In 2003 when Youth and Young Manhood was released, Jared Followill (Bass) was just 16 years old, Jared, the drummer and the oldest member, was 23.

The band has evolved its sound considerably since Youth and Young Manhood and its follow-up, another white trash tour-de-force, Aha Shake Heartbreak (God, I love that name).  In 2006 KOL released Because the Times and in 2008 they released Only By the Night, two excellent albums produced with a cleaner more arena rock sound, and showcasing more melodic vocals from lead singer Caleb.

Here’s the video of KOL’s monster 2009 hit “Sex on Fire“.  I ask, where did these pretty boys come from?

My wife and I love KOL so much we used their song Use Somebody from Only By the Night as part of the wedding party introductions when we got married on Sept. 12, 2009.  We also stopped off to see KOL play at Nassau Coliseum (Uniondale, Long Island) on Sept. 14, 2009 on our way to our honeymoon in Montauk.

Use Somebody won this year’s Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Next week, at #4, it gets a little more serious as I begin to bring out the singer-songwriters and my rock and roll hero…

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April 9, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #2 “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Music — Steve Krupa @ 10:14 am

2. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – 2000

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

I remember being at Don Hill’s, a music bar in the West Village, sometime in 2001/02, waiting for Jesse Malin (a former Miles High Artist, among other things) to go on stage when he (Jesse) came up and said, “I have a problem, I can’t stop listening to this new album I just got.”

“Me too,” I said, “is it Yankee Hotel Foxtrot?”

Of course it was, and we both smiled and spent the next 15 minutes (and lots of time thereafter) talking about all the things we loved about the record.

Indeed YHF is one of those records that once you get it, you just can’t stop listening to it, and my bet is that Jesse, like me, listens to it more often than he can remember.

Wilco comes from a niche area of alternative music often dubbed Alternative country or Americana.  If you are a mainstream radio listener, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard much of their music.  But their founder Jeff Tweedy, and many of the musicians that have performed with Wilco over the past 16 years or so, are among the bona fide heroes of the indie music scene.

Tweedy began experimenting with his musical orchestrations with the 1999 Wilco release Summerteeth, moving away from country sounds toward more lush pop arrangements (or as one reviewer put it, replacing fiddles with violins), and making it, in the opinion of many, Wilco’s most tuneful and sonic album to date.

When they entered the studio in 2000 to make what ultimately became YHF, the pressure was on to create a truly commercial version of Wilco.  The band’s record label, Reprise, believed the mission was clear.  Tweedy and his bandmates holed up in a loft in Chicago and, in line with the initial vision, wrote a phenominal collection of acoustic guitar pop songs.  Through the recording process and, I believe, the influence of an active experimental prodcution scene, spawned in part by Radiohead’s Kid A, the band pulled each of these songs apart, adding experimental beats, riffs and structures, but maintaining the underlying melodies and poetry.  The outcome is a tuneful Kid A-esque Amercana record that’s highly original and listenable.

Reprise (read: evil, stupid record label), did not see the album that way at all, going as far as to say that they believed the record would kill Wilco’s career, refusing to release it and instead selling the record back to the band for $50,000 as part of dropping them from the label’s artist roster.

In an odd twist of fate, Wilco first self-released the record digitally over the Internet, and then released it physically through Nonesuch Records, a division of Warner Bros Records, the parent company of Reprise (meaning Warner Bros actually paid for the record twice).  The album went on to become a fan favorite, selling over 400,000 copies.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is number 2 on the list of my favorite albums of the decade because I believe it is simply the most innovative record by a categorized alt-country band that I have ever heard.  It’s catchy, poetic, experimental and memorable.  It launched Wilco’s leader, Jeff Tweedy, into a decade where he felt challenged to try to top it, and, although I believe he never did quite top it, Wilco released 4 other fantastic records this past decade that get regular play in the Krupa household (namely:  A Ghost is Born -2004 – Grammy Award Winner:  Best Alternative Music Album, Kicking Televsion: Live in Chicago – 2005, Sky Blue Sky – 2007 – Grammy nomination:  Best Rock Album and Wilco (the Album) – 2009 -Grammy nomination:  Best Americana Album).

Favorite Track(s):  My favorite track is the opener, “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” because I love the drum beat, the lyrics and the piano riff, but all of the tracks are pretty awesome.  My wife, along with Jeff Tweedy’s son (see video below), loves the more tuneful “Heavy Metal Drummer.”

 Notable(s):

The indie film I am Trying to Break Your Heart captures the entire drama surrounding the production and eventual release of YHF, including Tweedy’s conflicts with Reprise and the ascension of the tension between Jeff Tweedy and bandmate Jay Bennett that eventually led to Jay’s exit from the band.

Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy’s primary collaborator on YHF died on May 24, 2009, at the age of 45, apparently from an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl.  Jay struggled to build a successful solo career in the years following his release from Wilco.

Being There – 1996, Wilco’s other masterpiece of the 1990s demonstrates the essensnse of the Americana sound.  The 1990s is an era some believe to be the band’s best, where lush, catchy, poetic music dominates and production and rhythmic experimentation dwells in the background.

Jeff Tweedy along with Jay Farrar were the original partners/founders of the punk/country band Uncle Tupelo, which disbanded around 1993.  My favorite Uncle Tupelo album, titled simply March 16-20, 1992, and produced by REM’s guitarist Peter Buck , demonstrates the transition from Uncle Tupelo’s punk/country hybrid to the more atmospheric and poetic sound Tweaty ultimately adopted when he left and formed Wilco.  For those interested in exploring Uncle Tupelo, I recommend this album and the 89/93 Anthology collection.  Also, Jay Farrar, known for his outstanding vocal skills, went on to form his own band Son Volt.

As with all great bands, there is a case against Wilco, usually presented by music journalists that believe the band is just not alternative enough.  This piece, titled “What’s So Great About Wilco?,” captures this sentement, for those interested.

I was an investor and board member of my friend Marc Geiger‘s Internet music company ARTISTdirect from 1998 through around 2003.  At the time Wilco lost it’s deal with Reprise Marc advised the ARTISTdirect board to sign Wilco and release the record.  Unfortunately Wilco selected Nonesuch as its new label, but I credit him for knowing a great indie record when he heard it.  Just another one of those “I told you so” moments, so common in the music industry and in investing.

For those interested in a more pure form of alt-country music, this past decade belonged to one Lucinda Williams.  Lucinda released three very special records, World Without Tears, West and Essense, the latter being my favorite of the three.  Also look for alt-country hero Ryan Adams later as this list develops (kudos for those that guess which of his albums makes the list).

Next – my third favorite album of the decade is the ultimate in contemporary southern-fried white trash rock…

April 2, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – #1: “Kid A”

Filed under: Casual Fridays,Music — Steve Krupa @ 10:01 am

So what is a healthcare venture capitalist doing posting a list of his favorite albums?

Well, if the Pope can do it, why not me?

As some of you know I spent much of the past decade as a partner/investor in an artist management business, Miles High Artists, with one of my best friends (and a great artist in her own right) Diane Gentile.  Diane was the music industry insider of the partnership.  I was just a music fan and businessman that sought to add some value to the careers of up and coming artists.  Over the course of the decade I was involved in the making, recording and/or marketing of 10 studio albums, all of which I am extremely proud of.  Diane and I successfully secured record contracts for five artists and all of the artists we worked with continue to actively write, record and perform music today.  It was a great experience, and some of the artists remain among my best friends.

So, as you might imagine, I listen to a lot of music, and I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my 10 favorite albums of the decade.  Now the list ultimately stretched to over 60 albums, and almost all of the 60 will be referred to in my notes related to the top 10.

The top 10 were chosen from the longer list because not only do I absolutely love them, but I believe they influenced a lot of the music of the decade.

As I have a lot to say about each of these albums, I am releasing the list one at a time as part of “Casual Fridays,” starting today with number 1.

1. Radiohead – Kid A – 2000

Kid A

I was three years old when the Beatles released Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, coming to them as a pre-teen and well after the initial shock and awe.  Despite decades of listening to new music it was not until Kid A’s release that I experienced the incredible energy of hearing something that felt so different and yet so immediately great.  Kid A opened my ears to a whole new way of listening to music and, in retrospect, influenced an entire decade of new music exploration.

In this past decade Radiohead reinvigorated and re-commercialized progressive rock music through the release of three masterpieces, Kid A being the first.  I could easily place the other two (masterpieces that is, the other release of the decade, Hail to the Thief, was not, in my opinion as strong an effort), Amnesiac or In Rainbows, in the number one spot (personally, I listen to Amnesiac more than the others).

Kid A makes my top 10 because it came first, and as such it deserves special recognition for shepherding new production techniques, beats and electronics into alternative rock music and for creating the openings in our ears necessary to accept the experimentation of bands like Animal Collective, The Dirty Projectors and even Wilco.

Kid A is number 1 on my list because I believe it is the most influential rock album of the last decade.

Favorite Track:  “Optimistic” – because “the best you can is good enough” (maybe).

Notable(s):

OK Computer and The Bends, Radiohead’s masterpieces of the 1990s provide ample competition in answer to the question: what is Radiohead’s greatest album?  (And yes people ask this question often).

“Pyramid Song,” the second track on Amnesiac, released one year after Kid A, might be Radiohead’s coolest song.  I remember hearing (seeing) them play it live and leaving the show with a complete absence of self-confidence.  Along with its haunting piano riff, the track baffles musicians determined to decode it’s time signature, which Wikipedia posts as 16/8 (which is like 4/4, the most common time signature in rock, nonetheless, the beat is confusing and unique, check it out below).

Icelandic band Sigur Ros is clearly a major influence on Radiohead, both on Thom York’s vocal style and the Greenwood brother’s orchestrations.  Sigur Ros has released two outstanding albums, namely Ágætis Byrjun in 1999 and “( )” in 2002.

Radiohead’s guitar player, Jonny Greenwood, wrote the soundtrack to the Paul Thomas Anderson film, There Will Be Blood, by far the most interesting movie soundtrack I have heard in a long time, and maybe my favorite movie of the decade (another list perhaps?).

Other notable prog-rock records of the decade include: Porcupine Tree – In Abstentia, Tool – Lateralus, Muse – Black Holes and Revelations and The Standard – August.

Next post – number 2 – is an album by one of my favorite Alt-country bands…

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