Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My Month of Entertainment - June 2007


Tip Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever, Filip Bondy
Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, J.C. Bradbury
Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, Glenn Greenwald


The Cooler


Blue Scholars, The Long March EP
Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming
Bokoor Band, Bokoor Beats
Elk City, New Believers
Flaming Lips, Hear It Is
Flaming Lips, Hit to Death in the Future Head
Funkadelic, America Eats Its Young
Gorillaz, Demon Days
Ike Reilly Assassination, We Belong to the Staggering Evening
Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib), Champion Sound
John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
K'naan, The Dusty Foot Philosopher
Mission of Burma, ONoffON
My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves
Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full
Queens of the Stone Age, Era Vulgaris
The Smiths,
TV On the Radio, Live Session (iTunes Exclusive)
Treddin' On Thin Ice
Various Artists, Frochot Music Sampler: MALI
Various Artists, The Now Sound Redesigned

Everywhere I looked, June was My Month of Redemption! Old faces, new names, hip hop, and Oklahoma City redeemed themselves to me, I redeemed myself to the God of Music Nerds, and The Butterfly and I redeemed ourselves in the eyes of Netflix. Let’s take a closer look!

My Music Nerd Redemption!

I righted some old wrongs in my own music collection in June, and not a moment too soon. It’s hard to admit that I didn’t already own Plastic Ono Band, Slow Train Coming, Demon Days, It Still Moves, or anything by The Smiths, but here I am, admitting it to you now, throwing myself at the mercy of the court.

I finally got around to reading Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music this month (after purchasing it in February). Really interesting (and nerdy) read. There were interesting chapters on everything from Leadbelly and Jimmie Rodgers to The Monkees to Moby, but the chapter with the most impact on me was the one on John Lennon. Needless to say, any discussion of John Lennon and authenticity is probably going to focus on Plastic Ono Band. It’s funny—sometimes when I know there’s an album I should have bought 10 years ago, it makes it harder to suck it up and go ahead and buy it. I didn’t buy OK Computer until last year. I knew I’d love it (and boy, did I), but I guess buying it would acknowledge that I didn’t own it yet, and you can only pull the “I lost my copy” or “My roommate owned it, so I didn’t need to” excuse so many times (I think I lost my rights to those excuses after using them on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and the Led Zeppelin catalog a couple years ago).

Anyway, it was time to suck it up and acknowledge that I really needed Plastic Ono Band in my catalog. I expected it to be a decent listen, but not an amazing one—I think I’m scarred by the entire post-Beatles McCartney catalog—but I would put this one right up against All Things Must Pass as the best solo album from a Beatle. I think I like All Things better (I think that makes me pretty weird, actually), but it’s to find too much fault in Plastic Ono. A great album. It’s painfully, emotionally raw in parts—duh—but that’s obviously one of the things that make it great. Another thing that makes it great to me is that...well, it’s not just pain and acoustic guitar. Songs like “Well Well Well” and “I Found Out” are a nice balance to the agony of “Mother” and well-known now-standards like “Power to the People” and “Working Class Hero”.

Alright, next up on the “You call yourself a nerd, and you didn’t own this album???” list is...Slow Train Coming. The first of Dylan's three "Christian conversion" albums. When I felt like filling in my Dylan collection over the last couple years, I always looked past this one. Now, in my defense, I already had copies of “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “I Believe in You” on my iPod, so that’s one of the reason I hadn’t ever gotten around to buying this album—the general uncomfortability of being preached at being the other one. But it really is a strong album. Aside from the two classics listed above, “When He Returns” is unbelievable, and even some of the more preachy songs—“When You Gonna Wake Up” and “Precious Angel”, for example, are quite well-done.

Next up? The Smiths. I guess I’ve just read too many Modest Mouse articles and Johnny Marr interviews in the last few months—it was time to take the plunge. It was just a bit disorienting to me to know that The Smiths were one of the most influential bands of the early- and mid-‘80s (it seems if you were in your late-teens or early-20s in 1985 and didn’t worship U2, you lived and died by The Smiths. And while I knew of the major Smiths tunes—“Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man”, to name a couple—I couldn’t hum a single line of any of them. So now that I’ve listened to all of their major singles, I must say...I’m not all that impressed.

But their music could just be handicapped by their era. I mean, nothing sounds more aged than music from the early- and mid-‘80s. There’s no bass, no groove, too many artifical just sounds awful. Music from the early- and mid-‘70s sounds much newer and fresher. I wish all the major albums from the Smiths era could be remixed and remastered with today’s techniques. Could we snap to that please?

Speaking of today’s techniques, I also righted a couple of more recent wrongs by picking up MMJ’s It Still Moves and The Gorillaz’ Demon Days. MMJ is probably quite a rewarding band to have followed over the years—I wouldn’t know...I didn’t get into them until last year. They made a short leap between 1999’s The Tennessee Fire and 2001’s At Dawn, a giant leap between At Dawn and 2003’s It Still Moves, and a quantum leap between Moves and 2005’s amazing Z. I really can’t wait to see what they come up with next, and in the meantime I’m just glad I’ve finally completed the MMJ puzzle.

As for Demon Days, at long last I convinced myself to get it when The Butterfly decided she must immediately own “Feel Good Inc.” It’s embarassing to me that I haven’t gotten into the Gorillaz more; I bitch and moan that not enough bands are attempting to fuse together hip hop, rock, and other genres, and then I don’t pay enough heed to those that do. This album’s good. It’s not amazing, but it still made me feel stupid for letting it sit out there for 2-3 years before giving it a shot. And when these songs fail, they fail in creative—not formulaic—ways. I respect the songs I don’t really enjoy.

So anyway, I feel much better about myself now that I’ve righted these wrongs. Let’s see who else was able to right themselves in my eyes...

Macca Redemption!

I’ll say it: I haven’t enjoyed much of the post-Beatles Paul McCartney era. Solo just hasn’t done it for me. I was working part-time at Barnes & Noble when his last album came out, and though some songs were really pretty decent, it was an in-store play, and I got seriously sick of hearing them pretty quickly. But now I don’t work at B&N anymore, and I’m able to turn Macca off when I don’t want to listen to him. That’s key. In moderation, Memory Almost Full is actually pretty good. It’s uneven—the weak songs like “Nod Your Head” and “Feet in the Clouds” are bad in the ways that all bad McCartney songs are bad—but Memory Almost Full goes in a lot of creative directions. “Only Mama Knows” and “House of Wax” are great, and “Dance Tonight” has the added benefit of annoying the crap out of The Butterfly every time that iTunes commercial comes on...which makes me enjoy it in a very immature way. This won’t crack my Top 5 Albums of 2007 list, but it’s going to end up ranking a lot higher than I figured it would.

Hip Hop Redemption!

I’ve complained all year about the lack of recent quality hip hop, and June finally saw that ship slowly righted. First came The Dusty Foot Philosopher, last year’s debut album rapper K’naan. K’naan was raised in Somalia until he was 13, when he (according to his Amazon bio) left “on what turned out to be the last commercial flight ever to do so, amidst a crumbling society and the end to this day of any form of central government.” You think of what he probably saw in Somalia, and you realize that half (okay, probably 90%) of the rapper who try to act ‘hard’ because of what they’ve seen and done...well, they really aren’t hard at all. Though he does drop a few good lines regarding that upbringing (“If I have to talk about home and get descriptive/I would make 50 Cent look like Limp Bizkit”), he doesn’t go far into detail. His attitude basically seems to be “Trust me, it was bad, but let’s move on.” K’Naan has an acquired-taste kind of voice, and his rhymes are hit and miss, but I was looking for creativity and experimentation in hip hop, and this mix of hip hop style and African beats fits the bill nicely.

Next up is London’s Wiley, whose Treddin’ on Thin Ice has been one of the toughest albums I’ve ever attempted to actually review/evaluate. The underground London ‘grime’ sound is unique and creative—and Wiley is probably one of the two best at it, along with Dizzee Rascal—but it’s not always immediate and listenable. It takes a few listens, but I think I’m going to get into this one. I’m not sure by any means, but I’m optimistic.

Of course, neither of these albums are 2007 releases, so for the most part my Top Albums of ’07 list is devoid of hip hop. But I think I might have found the group to invade the list: Blue Scholars. I posted a video clip of theirs last weekend. I started in June with their Long March EP that was released in February. Now that I’ve digested that, I’m moving on to their June release, Bayani. It’s been a while since I heard this sort of clarity and story-telling ability, and when that’s mixed with strong (if not all that creative) beats, good things happen. If I’m optimistic about Wiley, I’m giddy about Blue Scholars.

Oklahoma City Redemption!

A year ago, when my parents moved back to Oklahoma City, I discovered an old music store on 36th and Western called Rainbow Records (which I mentioned here)...and it was closed by the next time I visitied OKC. Well I drove by 36th and Western when I was in town a couple weeks ago, and a new store had opened up, called Guestroom Records. I walked out with cheap copies of Slow Train Coming, Singles, OnoffON, It Still Moves, and The Now Sound Redesigned, a neat, $2 electronica/hip hop cd from 2005. Good store. I have a reason to go back to OKC now...other than, you know, visiting berlin niebuhr’s dog, of course.

Sports Books Redemption!

Okay, sports books didn’t need redeeming in my book, but I guess it bears mentioning that I bought two of them this month. This week’s Tuesday Pirates Rant™ suggests that I really don’t care much about baseball at the moment, but The Baseball Economist is exactly the kind of book I’ll want to read when Dave Littlefield is fired and I’m interested in baseball once again. Meanwhile, I was very much into the NBA draft (as my posts on a non-NBA blog would suggest) this year, and the 1984 draft is the most talked-about of all-time. I’m starting Tip Off tonight, and I’m looking forward to it.

Netflix Redemption!

This hasn’t happened yet, but I was just going to mention that, now that we have officially cranked through every episode of the first five seasons of Smallville (The Butterfly’s anniversary present), we’re open to actually watching movies again. The only Netflix rental we watched this month was The Cooler, and...I really really liked it. William H. Macy absolutely makes this movie all by himself, but Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin, and Ron Livingston are fantastic as well. Good stuff.

More Good Music!

I will also mention the following things:
  • Queens of the Stone Age and the Ike Reilly Assassination both put out fantastic hard rock albums recently. They should both probably make the Top Albums list the next time I feel like cranking one of those out (and considering how many google hits we’ve gotten from that, I should probably crank another one out soon).

  • America Eats Its Young is probably the weakest Funkadelic album I’ve bought to date, but it’s got its moments.

  • I like Hear It Is (the Flaming Lips’ first album) more than 1992’s Hit to Death in the Future Head, but I’ve also come to grips with the fact that none of their albums are going to come anywhere near their latest three. I do love that you can hear that great Lips guitar sound even back on their first album. It’s hard to come up a distinct guitar sound.

  • I read Glenn Greenwald’s first book over a two-day period last summer when I went to DC for a conference. I plan on cranking out his latest when I go back to DC next week.
Until next month...

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