Category Archives: Music

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: 1999 Albums – Ben Folds Five and Fountains of Wayne

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Like we said before: The SportsAlcohol.com podcast is doing a Fall 2019 mini-series about albums from 1999, short but impactful discussions about old but impactful albums from 20 years ago! In the latest installment, we tackled a nerdy, suburban double feature: The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five and Utopia Parkway by Fountains of Wayne. Join Rob, Marisa, Randy, and Jesse as we navigate our old teenage-ish selves who first heard these albums, and figure out why (or if) they mean much to us today.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: 1999 Albums – When the Pawn…

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Like we said before: The SportsAlcohol.com podcast is doing a Fall 2019 mini-series about albums from 1999, short but impactful discussions about old but impactful albums from 20 years ago! Next on the docket is Fiona Apple’s second album, popular and weirdly abbreviated as When the Pawn, an artistic breakthrough following her commercial breakthrough Tidal. Rob, Jesse, and Sara look back on Apple’s ’99 record, and how it informs the music she’s made since then. Join us as we ask three simple questions: what did this album mean to us at the time, what does it mean to us now, and is this the best album by the artist in question?

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: 1999 Albums – Emergency & I

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

The SportsAlcohol.com podcast is particularly good at two things, if we do say so ourselves: (1.) talking at length, particularly (2.) about the pop culture of 20 years ago. So our new mini-series about albums from 1999 is both in and out of our comfort zone: We’re producing some of our shortest episodes ever, but we’re adding to our popular talks about 1999 summer movies and 1999 pop with some (probably Will Smith-free) talks about individual albums that mean a lot to various members of the SportsAlcohol.com team. First up is one for the indie rockers, an album just about to turn 20, and a personal favorite of Rob, Randy, Jesse, and Marisa: the Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I. Join us as we ask three simple questions: what did this album mean to us at the time, what does it mean to us now, and is this the best album by the artist in question?

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Billboard Hits of 1999

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

The SportsAlcohol.com editorial core has kind of a thing for the ’90s. But sometimes just talking about the best of that decade isn’t enough; sometimes we need to travel back in time exactly 20 years and go through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the annual Billboard Hot 100. We did it for 1996, and in this anniversary year for 1999, we’re at it again! Shania Twain, Smash Mouth, Third Eye Blind, Brandy and/or Monica, N’Sync and/or Alabama (whoever they are)! They’re all here and you’ll never guess which ones Rob and/or Jesse and/or Marisa love and/or hate! You’ll have to listen to fin dout.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

DIRTY COMPUTER is our album of the year. Here’s why.

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

JESSE:
So generally we don’t cover the Grammys very much here on SportsAlcohol.com except for the occasional entreaty to Maybe Just Don’t. But the Grammys do provide an awkwardly timed opportunity to reflect on the best music of an awkwardly constructed eligibility period that we will simplify to just “2018” (although, real talk: did any of us love an album that came out in November or December of last year?). And as it happens, the general consensus choice for SportsAlcohol.com Album of the Year is, in fact, nominated for a Grammy! That would be Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, which is one of this year’s eight nominees for Album of the Year. Why are there eight this year instead of the usual five? Because otherwise there might not be room for the Post Malone album, of course! (Seriously though, I have no idea. Was 2019 the year that the Grammy Olds were finally like “hey, there’s a LOT of music out there? What with the Post Malone album, et cetera”? In the words of a diffident, opaque Lorne Michaels: Why now?)
Continue reading DIRTY COMPUTER is our album of the year. Here’s why.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “The Stove and the Toaster” by the Hold Steady

Jeremy Beck

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

Music purists of a certain age and disposition are currently frustrated with The Hold Steady, given that they’ve spent the past five years dribbling out a couple of songs at a time rather than holing up in the studio and releasing, you know, an album. But as desperate as I am to finally unwrap the band’s seventh LP and see what Holly and Charlemagne are up to, I can’t be too mad at The Hold Steady, not when they’re releasing songs as spectacular as “The Stove and the Toaster,” another of Craig Finn’s propulsive adventures in sleazy criminality. At just three-and-a-half minutes, it’s a remarkably dense song, packing in the usual torrent of verbiage and somehow still finding room for an epic guitar solo. Finn’s lyrics are as sharp and flavorful as ever, but it’s important not to overlook the band’s musical flourishes, like the sudden squalls of piano, or the horns that punctuate each line of the chorus, a sort of subliminal reminder that declares, “Hey folks, we aren’t just talk-singing poets; we’re a goddamn rock band.”

But Finn’s storytelling will always be the heart of The Hold Steady, the way he weaves tales of extraordinary specificity—geographic, personal, architectural—and spins them into music. “The Stove and the Toaster” is so teeming with detail and suspense, it could practically double as an episode of Breaking Bad, and not just because of the southwestern locations. The premise is simple: Finn wants to rip off some drug dealers, and his girlfriend has inside info that will allow them to pull off the perfect heist. (In some characteristically piquant Hold Steady minutiae, the stash is in the stove, the cash is in the toaster.) The problem is that they’re in over their heads; their marks are “earpiece dudes in a fortified fortress / A wholesale crew that does pretty big business.” This makes their fates a foregone conclusion—“We came to the kitchen and we knew it was over / I didn’t see any stove, no sign of the toaster”—but it also makes their recklessness oddly tragic. Finn just wanted to show his girl a good time, but he never stood a chance. Only a songwriting pro could conjure such a clueless amateur.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “Mistake” by Middle Kids

Jeremy Beck

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

As lousy as 2018 may have been for America, it was quite the year for Australia, or at least for Australian three-pieces. Not only did Camp Cope deliver a blistering sophomore album, but the little-known outfit Middle Kids arrived onto the scene with Lost Friends, a ferociously catchy debut full of taut, intricately composed bangers. There’s nothing especially revolutionary about this trio’s music; they write straightforward songs that bounce from verses to choruses and back. But art doesn’t need to be original to be great, and “Mistake,” the record’s second single, weaponizes your familiarity against you. You think you’ve heard it before, and all of a sudden you’re tapping your foot, banging your head, and belting out its refrain at the top of your lungs.

Naturally, the pet trick of lead singer Hannah Joy is an oldie but a goodie: She loves to draw out single syllables for seconds at a time, right from the “Ooooh darling” that opens the song. Joy’s lyrics aren’t fancy—she repeatedly rhymes “back” with “back”—but they’re evocative, efficiently revealing a woman crippled by confusion regret (“Thought I was healthy but I’m choking / It must be catching up, my smoking”); she also drops in some sly bits of Swiftian pronoun-switching. But the sound is the key here, the way the drums and guitars seem perfectly unified, propelling Joy forward as she pushes toward each electric chorus. The band knows exactly when to crescendo and when to downshift, resulting in a song that snakes and curls before finally erupting with euphoria. It’s perfectly constructed, yet it doesn’t feel engineered or excessively polished. It’s a hell of a thing: Musicians have been banging on drums and strumming on guitars for decades, and without altering any of that basic technique, Middle Kids have somehow produced something fresh and exciting. Maybe it’s telling that the word “mistake” never actually appears in “Mistake”. On multiple levels, it’s nowhere to be found.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “Nobody” by Mitski

Sara

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

It’s a tough time for romantics. Nobody (heh, heh) understood that better in 2018 than Mitski, who put out a concept album on the possibilities and pitfalls of commitment called Be the Cowboy, a slippery piece of work that never quite plays its whole hand and is all the better for it. Prior to this single, it wasn’t immediately obvious that Mitski was at all interested in producing dance music, but this is a beat that even depressed people can dance to. The lyrics mention a love planet “destroyed by global warming,” just in case you were still wondering where millennial concerns truly lie.

There’s a chilliness and distance to “Nobody” that embodies our current state of courtship at its best and worst. “I don’t want your pity/I just want somebody near me,” Mitski sing-speaks at one point, and there’s perhaps no better encapsulation of the ennui that many young people feel these days, when communication is at everyone’s fingertips but connection remains just out of reach. Mitski’s delivery has a certain vulnerability to it, but there’s also the sense that this is just another shield. She’s singing to a void, after all. Perhaps the future of club music is songs you can dance to alone. In that case, Mitski has a long career ahead of her. Not that there was any doubt about that.

Grammy Week Track Marks: “How to Socialize & Make Friends” by Camp Cope

Sara

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

The Grammys are happening this Sunday, and in celebration (?!), a few SportsAlcohol.com folks will be offering up some words about some of our favorite songs of 2018.

There was no shortage of songs by fed-up women in 2018. From Courtney Barnett co-opting a famous Margaret Atwood platitude for the chorus of “Nameless, Faceless” to Soccer Mommy’s opening salvo of “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog,” badass ladies were not afraid to put their anger front and center. And with good reason. Credibly accused sex offenders are now serving both the highest office in the country and on the most respected court of law. It was a good year to be furious. But of all the female kiss-offs that came out last year, Camp Cope’s under-the-radar “How to Socialize & Make Friends” might be my favorite.

The three-piece all-female band hails from Australia, which is obvious from the moment lead singer Georgia Maq opens her mouth. She has a delightfully insouciant delivery, tossing off the lyrics’ tangled storyline like she’s telling it to commiserating friends in a bar. While there are more overtly political numbers on the album “How to Socialize” hails from, there’s something more pervasive about this song’s depiction of the power imbalance that’s often at play in romantic heterosexual relationships. Maq alludes at various points to a key left for her, a man who routinely sleeps next to his wife, and how often women bear the emotional baggage of men without expectation of much in return. While a lot of this feels recognizable for women navigating the modern dating scene, there’s something immensely freeing in Maq’s vision of riding her bike “with no handlebars,” a return to the simplicity of girlhood that has the pull of a siren song. Once she gets to the repeated line “I can see myself living without you” she could be talking about a single man or all of them, and that’s the kind of spitefully independent spirit I want to take with me into 2019.

Sorry, Pop Fans: ‘A Star Is Born’ Thinks Ally’s ‘Why Did You Do That?’ Is Bad

Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

I feel like I have to correct the record on something. Ever since A Star Is Born came out, there’s been a lot of analysis about the soundtrack, especially one song on it in particular: “Why Did You Do That?”

“Why Did You Do That?” is the song that a post-fame, pop-repackaged Ally performs on Saturday Night Live. A sampling of its lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? You’re makin’ all my thoughts obscene.” Later, Jack derides her for these words.

The analysis I’ve seen around the song usually takes the form of two questions: 1) Is “Why Did You Do That” a bad song outside of the universe of the movie? 2) Within the world of the movie, does the movie believe it’s a bad song, or is it just Jack who doesn’t like it? The first question can’t have one definitive response. Either that type of music works for you, or it doesn’t and that’s fine.

But the second question has a concrete answer, and yet the conclusion I arrived at isn’t really the one drawn unanimously, much to my confusion. But  A Star Is Born really, truly thinks that “Why Did You Do That?” is bad. My proof:

It’s So Different From Ally’s Other Songs

Ally is so talented that Jackson can’t help but be taken in by her. He falls in love with her through her songwriting. But “Why Did You Do That?” sounds nothing like the tunes that kick-started their romance. Before her big pop-career launch, even the catchier songs she wrote, like “Look What I Found” (which I personally like a lot better than “Why Did You Do That?”), come rooted in a much more singer/songwritery place. If we’re supposed to believe in the transformative power of Ally and Jack’s love, and they express that feeling through music, how are we supposed to see the change in her sound as anything but a betrayal of that love?

She Refuses the Dancers

Okay, artists evolve. Things change. If you believe A Star Is Born is about Jackson’s desire to manage Ally’s artistic work and stifle her creativity, I think that’s a truly cynical reading of the movie, but you can read his dismissal of “Why Did You Do That?” through that lens. But my big question to you: Why did she refuse to have backup dancers at her first performance? 

The answer is she turned the dancers away because that’s not how she sees herself as an artist. This, to me, is the biggest clue into what Ally thinks of her pop image. If those songs truly came from her developing sense of self, she  would’ve embraced the dancers at her debut and in her SNL performance. Instead, she said she didn’t think she needed them.

And Jack had nothing to do with that. She doesn’t get rid of them because she’s afraid Jack won’t like it. It’s because, in her heart, she knows she’s a songwriter and  not a pop product.

Diane Warren Co-Wrote It

Actually, this probably runs counter to my point. Warren has written some of the most successful songs ever.

Jackson Hates It

This is where we veer into a bit of subjectivity: If the hero of our romantic story says mean things about the song, does that look bad for him, or for the song? This time, I think it’s both. His criticisms come at a point in the movie where it’s clear he’s on a downslide, and could potentially take Ally down with him. But he’s also heralded by the movie as a musical genius, and he knows what he’s talking about.

For what it’s worth, I think this is a departure from the other versions of A Star Is Born. (The biggest departure after changing her name from Esther Blodgett, which I’m gutted they did. Esther 4-Eva!) You’re supposed to think Judy Garland is an acting tour de force. You’re supposed to think Barbra Streisand is a consummate performer. I don’t think you’re supposed to think Janet Gaynor is untalented. James Mason, Kris Kristofferson, and Fredric March never impugn Esther’s talent. I kind of like that Bradley Cooper does.

You Only Get a Sideways Glance at It

When Ally does perform “Why Did You Do That?” on Saturday Night Live — with dancers — the performance isn’t really the focus of the scene. It’s something happening in the background. If A Star Is Born was really behind this evolution in Ally’s career, and really thought the audience should consider it an unambiguously good song,  it would’ve had a moment as powerful as “The Shallow.”

There is no moment for “Why Did You Do That?” The movie doesn’t want you to consider it a triumph. Whether you do or not is up to you, but the movie’s thoughts on it are pretty clear to me.