Category Archives: Music

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

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

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

Marisa
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.

Revisiting the ’00s Week+

Marisa
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

As we said in our podcast, we broke out our Von Dutch trucker hats and our Juicy Couture track suits to revisit the ’00s.

WE RANKED THE 101 BEST SONGS OF THE ’00s!
You can read the results here: 101-61, 60-21, and the top 20.

Have gripes about the list? So did we, and we argued about them crankily on our songs of the ’00s podcast, as is our wont.

We complained about our favorite songs that didn’t make the list, too, and stumped for our outliers.

Ben threw in a pitch for 69 Love Songs as the best album of the ’00s, even though it came out in the ’90s.

Rob found the worst song of the ’00s.

Jesse did his own countdown of the best songs of the Fiery Furnaces, a band that only existed in the ’00s.

And Tim cataloged the sad ladies of the ’00s, complete with DIY infographic (i.e. our favorite kind of infographic).

Start whipping your votes for the ’10s now!

The Best Songs of the 2000s: The Outliers

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.

No one who votes on a best-of list is ever completely, 100% satisfied with the results, and few group lists are as idiosyncratic as the individual ballots that come together to form a consensus (no matter how weird that consensus is). With that in mind, we wanted to give the participants in our recent Best Songs of the 2000s poll to defend their orphan choices—the songs that not only didn’t make our list, but only received a single vote from a single participant. In most cases, the artist in question didn’t make our list at all (the last two profiled here are an exception); in several cases, the artist in question didn’t receive any other votes! (Sorry, Aaliyah, Dntel, and Junior Senior!) Whatever the circumstances, here are a bunch of our writers back for a curtain call, to explain how and why they departed so completely from the crowd.
Continue reading The Best Songs of the 2000s: The Outliers

The Best Album of the 2000s Came Out in 1999

Ben

Ben self-identifies as a Slytherin, so it makes sense that he is a business school graduate. He really liked the movie Margin Call, so that makes him SportsAlcohol.com's de facto business correspondent. By business correspondent, we mean the expert in movies and television about business (we don't care about the strength of the dollar or whatever).

The best album of the 2000s was released in 1999, and it was 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields. This is not the first time this happened. The best album of the 1980s was London Calling, and it was released in 1979. Both albums perfectly pivot the previous decade and anticipate the best music in the one that would follow.

69 Love Songs capped a decade when the alternative went mainstream and became commodified. Alternative rock went from a subcultural scene in the movie Singles, but became the punchline in the early ’00s movie Rock Star. Indie labels got bought by big labels as part of a portfolio play. And, everything was being drowned out by the manufactured pop industry (c.f., Britney Spears, N’Sync). Pop would continue like that throughout the next decade — and even up to now.

So, what is the bellwether for a time like this? An album that points to fact that love songs are an industry with a formula and just a flavor of genre. At a time when the Music Genome Project was trying to prove that all songs come from a defined set of characteristics, Stephen Merritt and his bandmates of morose musicians set upon a concept album of all love songs of all different genres. And, sure, not every song is a gem, but every song is necessary — every song anticipates what a pop / rock love song could be, and reminds us that this is all artifice. The chords are going through the motions, the tunes are genre archetypes, and the lyrics are well-worn.

Those 69 Love Songs anticipate so many of the songs that wound up on the list that we chose, and so, to that end, I present 25-plus of the 69 Love Songs that could be swapped with those that wound up on the list of best songs of the ’00s.
Continue reading The Best Album of the 2000s Came Out in 1999

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Best Songs of the 2000s, Discussed

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.

If there’s one thing we at SportsAlcohol.com love just as much as making a big, unwieldy song list, it’s talking (and griping!) about our big, unwieldy song list, so of course after we ranked the 101 best songs of the 2000s, a bunch of us got together to talk about the results. Listen to Marisa, Craig, Sara, Ben, and Jesse badmouth each other’s choices, bicker about LCD Soundsystem and Bruce Springsteen, and talk about a bunch of music we all love in a wide-ranging, sometimes contentious, but surprisingly concise discussion. And that’s not all! A little later, Marisa and Jesse decided to talk to SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Rob about his arduous list-making process, resulting in even more insult into our weird, nerdy, music-loving minds! This Best Songs of the 2000s double feature is not to be missed. Plus, it has much better sound quality than our ’90s episode!

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