Wednesday, October 13, 2010

favorite albums: 1

well, here we are. number one. i won't beat around the bush, but i want to clear up a couple of things before you read about my favorite album of all time.

first, i didn't include any albums that i have not listened to before this year. that excluded any album released in 2010 plus a bunch of new favorites that i didn't hear before, like Funeral by Arcade Fire.

second, these are just my favorites. i don't think they're "the best" ever made. they're just the albums that i've liked the most over the years and still listen to.

third, there are plenty of albums i haven't listened to. i don't own any led zeppelin albums besides IV, which is great, so they didn't have many chances to make it despite being one of my favorite bands.

there are a few albums i've encountered over this look back that could have easily made the list and i want to acknowledge them. Futures by Jimmy Eat World, Squad Five-O by Squad Five-O, several albums by MxPx and Thrice, Ocean Avenue by Yellowcard, Silence by Blindside, Weezer (Blue Album) by Weezer, Dookie by Green Day, and Say It Like You Mean It by The Starting Line come to mind as albums that have been some of my favorites over the years but didn't quite make the cut.

without further ado, my number one.

1. Squad Five-O - Late News Breaking (2004) - My favorite album by my favorite band. Squad Five-O had a certain energy that only the Avett Brothers can rival. They were introduced to me, lightly, as a Christian band, but they were the first band that I realized could be just a band of Christians without the overt message. These guys danced along the lines of my faith in a way that I needed to see when I saw it. They played raw rock-and-roll, drank, smoked, cursed, and showed love to every fan they encountered. The twins, John and Jeff Fortson, had a certain attitude on stage that demanded attention. Jeff would swing the microphone and flip his hair around while his brother stood behind him playing bass with a cigarette in his mouth. Rumor has it they tossed a coin to determine who would be the lead singer.

Late News Breaking wasn't the first album I heard from them and it may not have even been the best (re: self titled), but it was the one that stuck with me for years. At a time when so many musicians were making anti-George Bush music, Jeff sings about life in America without stepping out and telling you his political stance. At concerts he'd announce that our political party didn't matter. They wrote songs about exploiting poor workers (Bye American), playing music for the money (Two Grand and a Lotta Hassle), and the war in Iraq (No Heroes).

Most of all, Late News Breaking was fun. I've had a smile on my face every time I've listened through this album. The lyrics are encouraging, the guitar riffs are fun, and the beats get you dancing. Jeff would demand dancing in the crowd at their shows. I saw this album played in the same set list 3 times in the course of a year because I loved it so much. This was one of the first albums I'd play straight through when I was learning drums. There's never a dull moment or a song that won't pick up your spirits.

In the most impactful song, "No Heroes", the lyrics sing about the war in Iraq. It's awful and we don't like it. Life is different for soldiers than it is for the rest of us. Whether you're for or against the war as a political move, we're all against war as something that happens in the world. Jeff sings about bombs going off, us not knowing and you not caring what goes on over there. It's a powerful song that brings to light the fact that the war is actually happening whether we really think about it or not.

As with the other albums at the top of this list, Late News Breaking is fantastic from top to bottom and can be recycled over and over. I always keep it in my car just in case. Jeff's voice gives me that rock-and-roll "I don't care" attitude. But it's not the negative, anti-authority type. It's the type that encourages you to enjoy every second. Why worry about making money, pleasing the man, or waiting for opportunity when every day is right in front of you. If there ever is a Squad Five-O reunion show, I'll be there. It'll make me feel good about everything.

Key tracks: No Heroes, Bye American, 2 Grand and a Lotta Hassle, Always Talkin' Never on the Run

Monday, October 11, 2010

favorite albums: 4-2

thanks for your continued readership. it's been a lot of fun to talk about these albums. i hope you give a couple of them a shot. there were a couple winners who got the #4 album on the nose, so kayla clear and tim hardie will both get a CD of their choice from the list! not many will be surprised about today's entries, but i think there will be surprises regarding overall ommissions. here are numbers 4, 3, and 2. be on the lookout for #1 at the end of the week!

4. Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003) - In Brand New's similar fashion to the transition into The Devil and God..., these Long Island emo kings took time to re-evaluate their music before releasing their 2003 masterpiece, Deja Entendu. I'm hard-pressed to encounter a friend into this style of music who does not attribute their love to this album. Jesse Lacey's voice is full of emotion and proves his belief in his lyrics. Deja is the epitome of the transition from teen angst into something deeper. His voice builds and drops, creating an epic ebb and flow, highlighted by the explosive borderline-screaming that comes out in some of the more powerful tracks (see: The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows).

Brand New made a name for themselves in the pop-punk genre with Your Favourite Weapon a couple of years before this release, but Deja put them on the map. If anyone has heard of Brand New, it has a lot to do with this release. I can remember walking through the halls of Pitt's buildings during my freshman year of college in 2003 listening to this album over and over and over. Every song hits a different heart string, from the low-key "The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot", into the more upbeat "Quiet Things...", and climaxing several times with certain vigor in songs like "Jaws Theme Swimming". Deja, top to bottom, is an album that can be recycled again and again without growing tiresome.

Brand New have a way with expressing emotions through words, guitars, and drums. This album is a perfect example of a windstorm of emotions settled into one beautiful mess. I believe the anticipation of a new album is a result of what the band has given you in the past. Brand New's releases since Deja have been the most anticipated of my life because Deja set the stage.

Key Tracks: The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows, Jaws Theme Swimming, Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades

3. The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (2007) - There are albums in your life that come along and change your perspective on music, performance, and life in general. A lot of times you know when it's happening, but in the case of Emotionalism I had no idea when it was happening. My friend Andy asked for me to burn him a copy of this album when we had it at WPTS a few weeks before its official release. He got his copy, but I didn't pay much attention despite how excited he was about its release. I burned myself a copy, but didn't listen for a few weeks. I remember the first time I listened straight through the album. I was walking to visit my sister and new nephew, Joshua, in Magee Women's Hospital in Oakland. At the time, I focused a lot of my attention on drums and electric instruments, so it took a while for this Americana sensation to sink in.

Once I let these boys from Concord, NC, sink in, it was all over. I watched videos when friends would send them to me and listen to tracks that people suggested, but it wasn't until a fateful trip to Kent, OH, that I was hooked. Seeing songs from this album played in front of me blew my mind more than I thought acoustic instruments ever could. The upbeat songs stood out at first (Will You Return?, Paranoia in Bb Major, Pretty Girl from Chile), but once I walked around with the music in my ears for a few weeks the others started to emerge. "The Ballad of Love and Hate", "The Weight of Lies", and "I Would Be Sad" have some of the most impactful lyrics you'll encounter.

The live show is what ropes people into the intrigue of the Avett Brothers, but the lyrics are what give the Avetts the layers to their music that keep people around for good. They sing about pretty girls they've encountered, running towards or away from something , and being honest and proud of who you are. The lyrics are encouraging, like in "I Would Be Sad" when the narrator is speaking with his father about a girl who has rejected him, or when the narrator sings about asking for a helping hand in "Shame". Scott and Seth sing about what we know, which is just a bunch of stuff that we need reminders for.

Key tracks: Paranoia in Bb Major, The Ballad of Love and Hate, Shame

2. Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American/Self-Titled (2001) - Great albums are acknowledged as great when we still listen to them, talk about them, and want to hear them live years after the album's release. I hate to say that I wasn't aware of Jimmy Eat World before this album, but upon hearing the title track on the radio and speaking with friends from Blade Runners about these Phoenix boys, I needed to know more. "The Middle" was released, I saw JEW at Metropol, and the rest is history. Clarity is the classic JEW release, but, like Deja Entendu for Brand New, Bleed American put JEW on the map. "The Middle" was the biggest hit in rock music in 2002 and their awkward and confusing band name became a household utterance.

Like any other album I'll put at the top of a "favorites" list, Bleed American is one that is fantastic top-to-bottom, features a good bit of diversity throughout, and can be enjoyed over and over without growing old. At a concert of theirs in Pittsburgh in 2007, 10 of the 11 songs from this album were played. Even the hardcore pretentious fans of Clarity, the release prior to BA, can acknowledge the greatness of their 2001 release. Jimmy grabs you with some catchy, upbeat, guitar-drive tracks (BA, A Praise Chorus, The Middle) before slipping into three of their most critically acclaimed tracks (Your House, Sweetness, Hear You Me). The album finishes with a few creative tracks that escape the standard pop song structure, including an incredible closer, typical of JEW (My Sundown).

Jimmy Eat World's ability to write songs that are catchy, creative, and memorable combined with their energy and deliberate instrumentation, have come to put together incredible albums. Their live show is intense and elicit emotions from first riff to final fade. The combination of songs on Bleed American is about as close to perfect as I've seen.

Key tracks: A Praise Chorus, Bleed American, Hear You Me

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

favorite albums: 7-5

the albums on this portion of the list are all curious. they all feature bands with eccentric lead singers who sing songs of conflict and resolution. if you were to listen to them in a row (7, 6, 5), you would hear stories of despair and hurt, finished up with comfort and hope. maybe we should try it sometime.

7. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) - Originally this album was intended to be a concept album about a boat crew that dies in every song. That didn't pan out, but this album by Modest Mouse, which usually plays second or third fiddle to the two prior releases, is my favorite from these Seattle boys. Unlike the ebb and flow of "Good News...", We Were Dead pumps out hit after hit of intense, yet catchy, tunes.

Is there anything that stands out about this album compared to others? Maybe nothing obvious. The simple fact is that this album is consistently enjoyable and somehow finds its way into my car CD player more than almost any other album. The guitar work is deliberate and complex. The drum beats are intricate and, at times, involve two sets (see the video below). Brock grabbed the public's attention with Good News, then came back with an in-your-face follow-up without any apologies attached.

Key tracks: Dashboard, Spitting Venom, Fire It Up

6. Brand New - The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me (2006) - There simply has not been a more anticipated release in my life. Brand New had disappeared after touring for a while post-Deja Entendu release. Their web site was barren. There were no signs of life or things to come. Then in January of 2006, nine demos hit the internet without warning or desire from the band. The demos were odd, rough, and confusing. The music was darker. The lyrics were increasingly complex. Brand New's direction was accidentally released to the world.

November of the same year found the release of this masterpiece. The songs are intense. Listening to the album almost makes you scared. A couple songs have long intros (Limousine, Degausser) and there aren't as many singles as before. Although, I do remember listening to the first track, Sowing Season, over and over in Andy Armstrong's SUV that autumn. It's all I wanted to hear. Brand New had roped me in with an album that allowed for a lot of interpretation, mainly because Jesse Lacey isn't one to tell people what he's thinking in a straightforward manner.

Key tracks: Sowing Season (Yeah), Jesus, You Won't Know

5. mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister (2006) - Aaron Weiss is the most intriguing man in music. The lead singer of mewithoutYou puts together the most eccentric, confusing, and entertaining performance in music. He flails around stage, singing/speaking with plenty of emotion and a limited amount of focus. The band behind him, though, is what makes the music complete. The music is intricate and diverse. On Brother, Sister, mewithoutYou puts together an album filled with incredible drums, entertaining guitar and bass riffs, and plenty of extra bells, horns, and accordion. The lyrics are mystifying. They explore the connection between God, man, and the world. Weiss seems to have a better grasp on the world around him than any of us.

The band is captivated by their music on stage, but it's hard not to be captivated along with them. The album builds and drops throughout. The first track, "Messes of Men", is a prime opener that starts with some recited words by Weiss and blasts into an intense verse that keeps you swaying and sets up the rest of the album. The three "...Spider" songs tell the story of a spider that is born, grows, and dies, much like our own existence. Each song hits on different characteristics of our existence in this world, finishing with the track that has been a finisher for many of their shows since, "In a Sweater Poorly Knit". Give it a shot, it may be the most interesting thing you listen to all year.

Key tracks: Messes of Men, C-Minor, O Porcupine

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a letter to my friends and family

dear friends,

today was a day i'd never wish for anyone to experience. we said goodbye to a good friend far earlier than we expected. caleb was a friend to many and the life of the party. his smile, his humor, his athleticism, and his heart will be missed. it did not feel real until we were gathered in the church this morning and he was not sitting there with us.

i regret to say i hadn't kept in touch with caleb much since college ended. but instead of regretting the things i cannot change, i'll be encouraged and encourage you all to maintain connections and say hello to those friends who may have moved to the back of your phonebook. these days we have are precious and the opportunities we have may pass by long before we expect them to.

my blogging started as a result of seeing a young man lose his life. that co-worker gave me the motivation i needed to get my life moving and to take advantage of every minute i have. i've written about these ideas over and over, but i can't stress enough how precious life can be.

but instead of talk about how we all should quit our jobs and move to portland, i want to say thank you. thank you to all of my friends. thank you to the friends i've seen this week and thank you to the friends i haven't seen in years. you all have shaped me into the person i've become. all the good times, all the bad times, all the times that never happened; these things have created who i am. i believe in God putting us all where we need to be when we need to be there, and i believe my interactions with you have been put in place by a greater power.

so thanks for being who you are. thanks to the people i've played music with. thanks to the people i've made videos with. thanks to the people i've shared coffee or beer with. thanks to the guys who kicked me when i was down. thanks to the guys who lended a hand instead. thanks to the people who tried to pressure me into things i didn't want to do. thanks to the people who eventually made those mistakes with me. thanks to the girls who dated me. thanks to the girls who refused to. thanks to the teachers, pastors, and supervisors who led me. thanks to the students who followed me. thanks to the people who have made me laugh. thanks to the people who have made me cry. thanks to the people who have made beautiful music for me to listen to. thanks to the people who have listened to my music. thanks to anyone who let me copy their homework in high school.

thanks for the rides, the parties, the study sessions, the poker games, the pick-up games, the dates, the maybe-dates, the concerts, the late nights, the early mornings, the mid-afternoons, the boy meets worlds, the monday night footballs, the high-fives, the kicks in the groin, the road trips, the long walks, the law and order marathons, the important talks, the irrational behavior, the guitar lessons, the arguments, for talking me out of a lot of bad ideas, and for letting me have a drum kit in the house.

anyone who knows me well knows that i value my friendships. i just want to make sure that you all know how much you mean to me. and i'm not talking about my "readers", but i'm talking about my family and friends. thanks for making me who i am and loving me for the man i've become.