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TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Lazerray” by TV on the Radio

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

TV on the Radio seem like super cool guys; are they secret sci-fi/fantasy nerds? What “Wolf Like Me” did for werewolves, TV on the Radio’s “Lazerray” does for lasers; the band clearly gets most amped when it’s singing about stuff that sounds like they’re free-associating off of the DuckTales opening credits. I feel like with all the talk about the tragic death of bassist Gerard Smith and Seeds being their attempt at a healing comeback, the driving ass-kickery of this song has been kinda slept on, even though it’s up there with “Wolf” and “Caffeinated Consciousness” as some of the most awesome stuff TV on the Radio has ever put recorded. It’s OK that the rest of Seeds doesn’t sound like this, because it’s quite beautiful, and how could anything really sound like this for a whole album? Those sweet horn accents that come in around the 2:15 mark sound all the sweeter because they come in there like it’s the only point where they might be able to get a word in edgewise. When I saw TV on the Radio over the summer, they were kicking ass throughout, but when “Wolf Like Me” came on, people lost their shit and started moshing like twenty rows back. I can’t imagine this won’t happen with “Lazerray” in the future, especially if solar flares can mosh.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Goshen ’97” by Strand of Oaks

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

Here’s how I heard about Strands of Oak and came to buy their newest album Heal:

1. A friend sent me a link to the song “Goshen ’97.”
2. I listened to the first thirty seconds of “Goshen ’97.”
3. I bought the album.

I’m not sure I’ve ever gone from literally never having heard of a band to buying their album that quickly. Such is the power of “Goshen ’97,” a song where the guy from Strand of Oaks sings about being a teenager, singing Smashing Pumpkins by himself, and futzing around with a tape machine. This sounds gently nostalgic on paper, whereas in the song it sounds approximately as triumphant as punching through a fucking volcano.

Due respect to the dude from Strand of Oaks, but the music video for this song is all wrong. One of the biggest opening stomps in any rock song I’ve heard in ages, and the video opens on an image of the dude sitting on his bed, smoking, mostly naked, and looking sad. Even when it cuts over to some roller-skaters, Mr. Oaks is still just sitting there like he’s fucking Sam Beam or something. I know the song goes, “I was lonely but I was having fun,” but the video seems like it only heard the first part. Eventually there’s some slow-mo thrashing, but no, I’m sorry, it’s not enough. This video does the worst thing any music video can do: it fails to capture exactly how I personally feel while listening to this song. For me, “Goshen ’97” is the sound of the exhilarating desperation of being alone. It’s just you, some guitars, and possibly the volcano you just punched through.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Water Fountain” by Tune Yards

This week, writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our individual best-album lists.

It doesn’t seem right that when I think about tUnEyArDs, I think about Chuck Klosterman. When the band’s previous album landed at first place in the Village Voice music poll in early 2012, Klosterman wrote one of his patented meta-think pieces that’s mostly about how Klosterman thinks everyone else thinks, and to a lesser extent is about how this album and tUnEyArDs (referred to hereafter as Tune Yards) may well be forgotten as a novelty within a few years — not because Klosterman thinks it should be, of course, but because he understands how people think and remains, as ever, deeply in touch with that understanding at all times. He knows the pitfalls of indie-rock acclaim, and is just concerned about whether Tune Yards can ever match (or monetize) this early success. (He strikes such a faux-populist pose that he loses his grasp of apparently non-populist activities such as counting or even estimating; he opens by explaining that Tune Yards’ victory will mean something to “maybe 10,000 people.” Though record sales are notoriously difficult to come by compared to movie box office figures, it appears that whokill, the Tune Yards album in question, sold about 40,000 copies, meaning Klosterman (a.) was pre-supposing that only about 25% of the people who bought the Tuneyards album knew who Tune Yards was or (b.) was pre-supposing that only 25% of Tune Yards fans have heard of the Village Voice or know what a music poll is or (c.) did not even try to find out how many copies whokill sold because doing research isn’t populist.)

Other people have taken apart his reasoning more succinctly and intelligently than I can. But you know what’s even better proof than intelligent rebuttals of Klosterman’s stupid points? “Water Fountain,” by Tune Yards, maybe the most immediate song I heard in 2014. The rest of Nikki Nack is plenty good, too, but “Water Fountain” rollicks in a way unlike so much on the indie-rock landscape. It starts with the simplicity of a folk song (it even references a traditional tune called “Old Molly Hare”) but makes a beautiful tangle of chant, metaphor, and allusion as the drums keep clanging and a surprising number of verses accumulate. Anytime a song sounds like Graceland, Talking Heads, Bjork, and Busta Rhymes in equal measure, I’m probably going to get on board, and stay on board for a long while. If Chuck Klosterman and his imagined isn’t there with me, well, I can be thankful for small favors.

Paint’s Peeling: At a Rilo Kiley Show in 2003

Some of your beloved writers are going to see Jenny Lewis tonight. She will probably play Rilo Kiley songs. I first saw Rilo Kiley in 2003. This is a made-up story about other people seeing Rilo Kiley for the first time in 2003.

I’ve heard they cry at Bright Eyes shows. Not just from Emily. I did some research on the internet. It’s kind of embarrassing but I didn’t realize people my age didn’t really use newsgroups for this stuff anymore. The Bright Eyes newsgroup is mostly a bunch of assholes making pretty good points about how Bright Eyes sucks, and I don’t really have a problem with that except it seems like kind of a weird theme for the Bright Eyes newsgroup, and also makes me think, fuck me, is this how I sound on the Star Wars groups? So it makes sense that you have to hunting around LiveJournal and the Saddle Creek message boards and, for as long as your eyes can take it, MySpace to find a bunch of people – let’s be honest, mostly girls – crying their virtual tears over Conor Oberst and his stupid one-man band and haircut.

I don’t know if Rilo Kiley people are going to be the same as Bright Eyes people. I would think they’d be as different as Rilo Kiley sounds from Bright Eyes, which to me is pretty different, but apparently they have a lot of fans in common so maybe I’m the weird one. Anyway, research can’t hurt. I want to know what those internet-type people are like even if I’m not going to be one of them. Some of them sound okay.

I chatted with this one guy on AIM. He gave me the idea of what this Rilo Kiley show would be like. I mean, I’ve been to shows; I know what that’s like. I know the difference between hardcore bands playing the back room at the pool hall and the assholes from the seventies and eighties and today who play at Kalamazoo or Ann Arbor. But I don’t know: somehow the Saddle Creek bands seem different, like they’ll change the shapes of the rooms by entering them and bringing in whatever. The AIM guy backed that up, actually. He said it’s like nothing else although at that point I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what “it” was and I didn’t really want to ask.
Continue reading Paint’s Peeling: At a Rilo Kiley Show in 2003

Throwback Thursday: Halloween Edition

It’s the Thursday before Halloween, so it seems like a perfect time for the good people of to indulge in some Throwback Thursday nonsense. This may sound strange, but sometimes you don’t get the full picture of our writers just from their bio pictures. Herewith, pictures and stories of Halloween costumes past.
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The Ten Best Weezer Songs of the Past Decade

Weezer is the Star Wars prequels of rock and roll: objects of loathing born from young love, recipients of vitriol presumed to be deserved and, beyond the affection of a few die hard nutcases, universal. This is hyperbolic, of course: a rock band “no one” likes can no more survive for decades than a movie series “everyone” hates can gross $300 million domestic every time out. But it’s inarguable that Weezer has, like the Star Wars prequels I so enjoy, disappointed a lot of people, and unlike Attack of the Clones, I would not give any of Weezer’s albums of the past decade three and a half stars out of four for the sheer enjoyability of the good stuff.

Also unlike Star Wars, which had three-year gaps (at least in terms of movies) for opinions to percolate (and, I think, sometimes nervously reverse themselves into scorn), Weezer has absorbed these negative reactions via not scarcity, but abundance. The band came back in 2001 after nearly five years of inactivity, and they haven’t been away for so long since. Though their 2005 nadir Make Believe was bookended by three-year breaks, they’ve also had major productivity spurts, most notably in the 2008-2010 period where they released three studio albums and one cast-off collection in less than four years.

Conventional wisdom says these records mostly just upped the ante on how bad Weezer could let down its dwindling fanbase, and true that none of these records or what I’d call “good,” though a few flirt with “pretty good” or “OK.” But as the band prepares to release its umpteenth for-real-this-time return to form, Everything Will Be Alright in the End (out tomorrow), it’s worth noting that the past decade of Weezer has not yielded nonstop dross. In fact, there are some pretty great Weezer songs adrift in the seas of mediocrity, waiting for attentive, non-angry listeners to rescue them. This is what I intend to do here. I’m limiting this to a list of the Ten Best Weezer Songs of the Past Decade and, as such, not including their post-comeback records, 2001’s Green Album or 2002’s Maladroit — because those albums are, as a whole, good. Not great like the first two, but good enough to listen to without much skipping – really, the best halves of Green and Maladroit could combine to form a record nearly as good as Blue or Pinkerton. And the songs that follow, well, they could probably form a record nearly as good as that one. Maybe some of the poptimism afforded derivative Top 40 songs might (in a Weezer-friendly rockist fashion) be applied to your old pals from ’94.
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The SportsAlcohol Podcast: Sunday Morning Quaterbacking Saturday Night Live

Many staffers and contributors are united in their hardcore Saturday Night Live fandom. The show, somewhat erratic even in its best years, has gone through some transitional pains over the last year or two, as beloved cast members have departed, new cast members have stepped in, and others have been let go. Season 40 began with yet more cast tinkering, especially around Weekend Update. Marisa, Jesse, Nathaniel, and Michael discussed the season premiere immediately after it aired, touching upon favorite cast members, the new guys, Chris Pratt’s hosting skills, Arianda Grande and the state of Saturday Night Live music booking in general, dream hosts for the upcoming season, and plenty more. We’ll be checking back in with Saturday Night Live periodically during the season, and offering plenty of more hot takes timed to its 40th anniversary season.

We are up to four different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:
You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
We are also finally on iTunes!
You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here.
As always, if you are very lazy, like Kristen Wiig recurring character lazy, you can just listen in the player below.

Photo credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

TRACK MARKS: “The Queen’s Nose” by Slow Club

I have a weird relationship with good singing. My official stance is that it’s unnecessary. When American Idol became the biggest TV show in the country and a few of its winners or runners-up became big (or at least medium-sized) stars, I was confused: didn’t we all sort of agree around 1960 or so that technically impressive singing was, if not entirely outmoded, at least somewhat limiting? Obviously there were exceptions like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, but in the American Idol universe, there was mainly Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, and this wasn’t the world of pop music that I recognized. Maybe it was because when I was growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who listened to Mariah or Whitney, beyond the occasional parent — and not even cool parents, parents who seemed sort of at a loss for how to respond to the question mark of new music made after 1975 or so.

So generally, yes: I pledge my allegiance to Bob Dylan and the wonderful range of voices who are allowed to sing rock-and-roll type songs. Trilling and melisma and whatever else fall far behind the idiosyncrasy of the voice, the smartness of the songwriting, the catchiness of the melody — almost anything but Broadway-style singing quality.

And yet: sometimes, when I’m not expecting it, big vocals really hit me. The marathon of key changes that close Beyonce’s “Love On Top,” for example, much more a technical feat than a songwriting one. Or take Slow Club’s “The Queen’s Nose,” a track off their recent record Complete Surrender. It has a lot going for it, but then, so do most Slow Club songs. The group’s core members, Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson from Sheffield, UK, work together beautifully as a duo: they trade off songwriting and vocals, drifting apart for some tunes and snapping back together for others. But there’s something especially massive about “The Queen’s Nose” that I never could have expected from listening to the sweet strains of “When I Go,” the first song off their debut.

Maybe it’s that exact progression that makes it so thrilling: Slow Club started off as a strummy, excitable folk-pop act and each progressive album has moved further away from that while retaining their generally clean, earnest, often-rueful songwriting style. The song itself progresses, too. It starts with simple, slowdance-y guitar-playing and a plaintive if soulful vocal from Rebecca. Horns kick in, and the vocal gets a little louder, but it’s two minutes in before Rebecca is holler-singing with the horns swelling in the background, and the song keeps strategically dropping out instruments before sliding them back in. It’s halfway done before you realize it’s becoming a girl-group-style torcher, and the final build to Rebecca’s climactic, almost Broadway-level cry of “I can’t go on/living these songs,” with horns and guitar blasting behind her voice like fireworks, is an unlikely candidate for my favorite minute of music this year.

When the band performed “The Queen’s Nose” this week at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, they didn’t have those glorious horns at their disposal. But they did have Rebecca Taylor, and she confirmed — all night but especially during this song — that she sometimes is, as Karen O sang, bigger than the sound. I don’t mean to discount Slow Club’s collective acumen as musicians (both Rebecca and Charles play multiple instruments). In fact, Taylor uses her voice as an instrument, and just like you don’t want your guitar constantly squalling with feedback or engaged in elaborate fingerpicking, you (by which I mean I) don’t want your big-voiced singers using every opportunity to vocalize with precision. On Complete Surrender, “The Queen’s Nose” is preceded by the aching balladry of “Number One” and the girl-group-at-the-disco title track. Live, it was followed by a rollicking “Our Most Brilliant Friends.” Everything made everything sound better.

Belle & Sebastian List: Outcasts Edition

Last week, we celebrated the art of Belle & Sebastian through a big list of their 25 best songs. Come Monday morning, we are celebrating the science (such as it is) of Belle & Sebastian list-making (and also some more art) with a quick post about the list’s outliers, quirks, and murky methodology. Apologies to songs as if they’re humans will abound.


Two songs got muscled out of the Top 25 at more or less the last possible minute. With a final list submission that included a late-breaking surge of support for “Dress Up in You,” both “We Rule the School” and “You Don’t Send Me” got bounced off. We even had a blurb for “You Don’t Send Me” prepared by our panelist Jeff, which I will add as an honorary number 26 right now:

26. You Don’t Send Me

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003
My kids like to play air horns to this song in the car. It’s pretty hilarious. – Jeff Prisco

As for “We Rule the School,” well, this Tigermilk track is the only track that Sara voted for that didn’t make it on the list (more on that in a moment). Sara has pledged her love for this song regardless of its inability to give her the perfect 15.
Continue reading Belle & Sebastian List: Outcasts Edition

The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List

It is not an anniversary or an occasion, at least not directly. None of Belle & Sebastian’s seminal albums turn a particularly interesting age in 2014, and though it sounds like their new record is pretty much complete, it doesn’t seem like it will see release before 2015. But as Stuart Murdoch’s first film God Help the Girl hits theaters over the next couple of months and the band branches out to other projects, as large bands often do, it seemed like as good a time as any to take stock of this Belle & Sebastian business. After less than two decades together, the group has put out seven albums, another three albums’ worth of singles and such, and given us a whole lot of hours of ways to feel happy and sad, sometimes at the same time. So happy 18th birthday, If You’re Feeling Sinister! Have a great 11th, Dear Catastrophe Waitress! Has it been four years already, Write about Love? Let’s get listing.
Continue reading The Top 25 Belle & Sebastian Songs List