Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Top Albums of 2007

Yes, here it is: the obligatory "Best Albums of the Year" list. I mention the EPs because those four are fantastic albums in their own right and are better in my mind than most of the LPs this year. Is that the way of the future? Or are those bands just on the verge of breaking out strong?
Also, as a special treat this year, enjoy the media player with a track or two from each of the albums listed below.

SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

1. Kaddisfly- Set Sail The Prarie: A clear winner in my book. These guys simply get music and get life. As with any "progressive" rock, you have to have a taste for the sound before you can dive deeper, but I highly encourage everyone to pick up this album and give it a chance. And if you needed any more reason to purchase it, a goodly chunk of the profits (trust me, they don't make much as is) is donated by the band to the Mr Holland's Opus Foundation, supporting music education in schools.

2. Against Me!- New Wave: Most accesible and yet deepest punk rock album to come out in quite a while. I'm not usually a fan of shouting every line, but these guys pull it off with grace. Their nonstop energy carries over to their live sets, too, which they play without pause for banter or tuning--just plain rock.

3. House of Fools- Live and Learn: I'm not really sure why more people aren't huge fans of these guys. They have some pop sensibilities coupled with a folk-rock feel and ripping guitar solos. What more can you ask from a few North Carolina dudes?

4. Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank: Modest Mouse is simply the best thing the major labels have going for them these days--despite "selling out," they continue to spew brilliance and reinvent themselves with every song, just like they have for a decade.

5. Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?: Man, these guys are out there. But man, do they ever pull off some beautiful songs. On this album, they embrace their own quirkiness to put personality into twelve delicious pop tracks.

6. Say Anything- In Defense of the Genre (sorry, no mp3s): I, like many folks, put this epic double-disc album as an early favorite for album of the year, simply based on 2004's ...Is A Real Boy. While Max Bemis and the gang may have fallen just shy of their target (thanks in large part to the relative inaccessibility of much of the album, which is long and works best when listened to straight through--not something a lot of people have time for), they did manage to create one of the most lyrically brilliant personal journeys in recent memory.

7. Iron & Wine- The Shepherd's Dog: I hadn't been an Iron & Wine fan until this album--I had left him to the swooning coeds who went ga-ga over his previous efforts. But WOW what a display of musicianship in every sense of the word. He definitely made a believer out of me.

8. Limbeck- Limbeck: With new drummer Jonny P in tow (formerly of Milwaukee favorites The Benjamins), Limbeck bounces back strong from a mediocre sophomore effort. This is what life on the road sounds like.

9. Sage Francis- Human The Death Dance: In his most personal album in recent memory, activist/rapper Sage Francis plays with many musical and lyrical concepts that hadn't seen light on his previous albums.

10. Anberlin- Cities: One of the most passionate rock bands around, these guys are poised for a serious breakout. Cities takes their force up yet another notch from Never Take Friendship Personal. Can their major-label debut match that?

11. Steel Train- Trampoline: A reinvented sound (much more upbeat and uptempo) brings these jam-band-turned-pop-rockers up a level, and hopefully people will take notice.

12. Radiohead- In Rainbows: Did you think I was gonna leave it off the list? Nah. This is definitely one of the best albums of the year, even looking beyond all the hype of the pay-what-you-want release. I'd put it higher, but as much as I respect Radiohead, I'm so rarely in the mood to listen to them that I just haven't spent the time with it.

13. Aesop Rock- None Shall Pass: Some absolutely fantastic tracks on this alt-rapper's latest effort. See especially "None Shall Pass," "Five Fingers," and "Coffee."

14. They Might Be Giants- The Else: Gotta show these veterans some love for their best effort since Factory Showroom. While it lacks a bit of the absurdist energy of their earliest stuff, John and John get back to what they do best: writing quirky pop songs laced with ingenious metaphors.

EPs (in no order--they're all too good to compare)

1. The Reign of Kindo- EP: This is what happens when a talented emo band loses its lead singer and decides to jam out for a while, only picking up a lead singer at the last minute. The result is an alt-jazz-jam EP that maintains the overall sound of This Day and Age but pushes their own musical boundaries into completely new waters.

2. Edison Glass- Let Go: Christian rock gone horribly right. While A Burn or A Shiver was a solid LP with 5 or 6 really worthwhile tracks, Let Go is a quick and gloriously appealing peak at what these guys have planned for the future--complex, catchy riffs coupled with a few extra Red Bulls. This is what you love to see: a band really taking what they do best to a new level.

3. Days Away- Ear Candy For the Headphone Trippers: Fueled By Ramen made a horrible mistake dropping these dudes, though there's no doubt they don't fit with the Fall Out Boys, Panic! at the Discos, and Gym Class Heroes that comprise that label. These jam-rockers have recouped incredibly well from their being dropped, and continue to play one of the most entrancing live shows around.

4. Ben Karis-Nix- We Are Giants Now: At the low cost of free, this is far and away the deal of the century. After the disbandment of Jupiter Sunrise earlier this year, Ben has ventured out on his own. Please please please do yourself a favor and go to and download the tracks (and maybe even buy yourself a poster or shirt or something).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The best things in life aren't things to a fugitive

As I sat a week or two ago in a small church in suburban Dallas, listening to a Japanese virtuoso flying over notes on a Stradivarius, I could help but think how lucky I've been in my life. Not only that, but all of the things I've been priviledged enough to experience have been through the generosity of others. A few short highlights of my fortune, just in the past year or two:
  • Played Augusta National (every golfer's dream), and a handful of other Top 100 courses
  • Traveled Scandanavia
  • Got to be on stage (and back stage) at Warped Tour, watching a sea of people screaming lyrics back at the bands on stage
  • Visited (at least) 13 different states in one year
  • Sat 5th row at an NHL game
  • Graduated from a top 10 liberal arts college

And the list goes on. Now, as I work to make TechJam 2007 a success, I find myself dependent on other people more than ever--but not for physical generosity; rather, for their stories and brains. In many ways, I think that's even more valuable. What we can learn from people and their experiences can often trump what experiences they can give us--not only do we get the lessons of the experience, but we learn more about that person as well. In that sense, I'm extremely excited to hear from the wide variety of folks participating in the forum--to facilitate their telling of their own tales, and subsequently creating an amalgam of ideas from those diverse experiences and opinions with an eye towards the future.

I can't offer them much in return, other than the opportunity to hear each other's tales and ideas and grow themselves from that. If I ever do have the opportunity to offer more (the forum's purpose is to create a concept for the future of music that will benefit both artists and listeners), however, I absolutely will do so. In the meantime, I can only ask that you check out some of their music, and if you like it, please support them in any way you can:

Ben Karis-Nix:

Feable Weiner:



Manchester Orchestra:


Monday, November 5, 2007

If God is Love, then does that make John Lennon Jesus? (or, Worshiping cheese colored underwater vessels)

To say that The Beatles' Yellow Submarine deeply affected me would be a profound understatement. Walking into Blockbuster that overcast Saturday, I would have never guessed a few hours later I would not only be supremely happy, but also living with a new view of life, and whatever might be beyond life.

At that point in time, my friends and I were still in deep mourning for our good friend Jay Chitty's death, Jared and I fretted over job prospects (or lack thereof) while Spencer and Scags nervously awaited responses from med schools, and I was strongly considering quitting the golf team.

Spencer had been telling us about the glory of Yellow Submarine for months, unable (or unwanting) to quite give an idea of the plot: "You guys just have to see it." I snubbed him, thinking "I'm over the oldies stage of my life, thanks." Little did I know I was in for a revelation.

I'll give you all the same treatment Spencer gave me (trust me, go see it), but suffice it to say that the moral of the story is "All You Need Is Love."

That got me thinking--isn't it rather amazing how ubiquitous the term "love" is, and yet there isn't really a solid definition (although my personal favorite is "a neurochemical con job"). Isn't that awfully similar to God? I mean, traditionally almost everyone believes in God (of one kind or another), yet there are no certain definitions of this greater being.

Then I started to think, well, what do people really want out of this God character? A trip to heaven? Well perhaps that's it, but for how many people and what percentage of the time are they thinking in those terms? How many prayers are simply "Please God, just let me into heaven"?

Instead, people turn to God in times of need or want or hardship (note that the poorest have also traditionally been the most religious). What they seek from him is a little help (as a friend would) and unconditional love. Well, would that be much different if it were just unconditional love returned? I know that would help me through almost any hard times.

I also find in my experience that people who worship God often put their faith more into other people, too. But really, in both cases they're just seeking love. They deeply believe it exists, so they try to find it on earth as well (not to say the rest of us don't, just in different ways and to a lesser extent). They treat love as devine when they can't find it in another being.

The Bible even goes so far as to say that "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). Does that not end the argument right there? Oh, perhaps they don't quite mean that literally...

Yet, they need absolutes in their lives, and if they can't find them immediately on earth, they need to believe there is an absolute beyond life. I believe the more absolutes you accept, the more obstacles you put between yourself and others. I've recently had multiple jewish friends dumped by significant others because the parents didn't want their children marrying people who were inevitably going to hell.

In my mind, there are so many different definitions of the afterlife throughout time, there is nothing certain enough to stop me from deriving pleasure from this life--which, interestingly enough, comes from love, be it friendly, marital, or material.

Now, this is not to say there isn't a God. I am not so atheistic to deny his (or her) existence, but if he or she does, I think people significantly misrepresent his or her role in their everyday lives. I'd also like to think that if this God is so great and loving, why can't he accept me for who I am? Why must I grovel to win his affection? Can't he be everyone's homie? And how could (and why would) he create a world where some people believe in him and others don't?

I think there was a lot to be said for the counterculture movement of the late 60s. Idealistically, they had it right--all you need is love. Unfortunately, they let that thought consume them and failed to do much productively (other than artistically).

After watching Yellow Submarine, my roommates and I, who were already very close, became inseparable. You would rarely catch one of us without another, and you'd rarely catch two of us without smiles on our faces. We love each other deeply, and we aren't afraid to say so and put faith in that love. Yet we still got our shit done. Jared and I are gainfully empoyed in our fields of choice, and Spencer and Scags are very happily working in research labs.

Am I so cracked out to adopt this theory? As our Finnish friend Eija posited on a trip to Estonia, "What do you all think is at the end of the universe? I think sand. Prove me wrong." Well? Have at it...