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Track Marks is a regular feature on SportsAlcohol.com where a writer highlights a single a single song. Yes, we’re really calling it that.

Rest of the 1990s Track Marks: “Ruby Soho” by Rancid

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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

Starting next week, we’ll unveil our big list of the Best Songs of the 1990s. In the run-up to the reveal, we’re featuring some of our favorite songs that didn’t make the list through our regular Track Marks feature.

The 1990s was a good decade for taking punk music out of Berkeley, California and selling it to the mainstream kids across the country, all the way to the suburbs of New York (ahem). At the helm were two Armstrongs: Billie Joe of Green Day, and Tim of Rancid. For a while, it seemed like both bands were on the same trajectory: They were from the same neighborhood, signed to the same label (we’ll forget it’s the one that also discovered The Offspring), and both put out breakthrough albums in 1994. But, for whatever reason, Green Day hit first and rocketed to a level of fame that gets its songs onto best-of lists, while Rancid’s songs pick up a few bottom-of-the-list votes that don’t get it onto the final roster.

That’s not to take anything away from Green Day—I definitely had them high up on my final ballot—but, when you listen to “Ruby Soho,” you realize it’s not fair. It has all the makings of a tune that’s not just good for a punk track if you’re into that kind of thing, but a classic, love-it-forever type of song, including:

  1. Telling a sad story in an upbeat tempo. There’s yearning, there’s leaving, and Ruby is sad, but you can still pump your fist to it.
  2. It’s a song about music, and making music. He’s leaving because he’s a musician; he loves her, but he sees his name on a marquee and knows he can’t resist.
  3. The word “Ruby” in the title. As in Tuesday. Musicians from 1996 onward had to really think about naming an in-song character Ruby, since “Ruby Tuesday” and “Ruby Soho” set an almost impossible bar to meet.
  4. Random evocation of a New York City neighborhood. Even when it comes from Californians, it gives the song mystique. I don’t know much about Ruby Soho, but the name alone makes me think it’s something downtown, underground, cooler than I am, and a little worse for wear.
  5. Parts that you can split up when you sing in the car. Makes the song equally at home on road-trip mix tapes as it is on romantic mix tapes.

I won’t say that “Ruby Soho” never got its due; it’s on Rancid’s most popular album, …And Out Come the Wolves, and they played it on Saturday Night Live. It’s been covered by Vampire Weekend and Jimmy Cliff. But, as a suburban pre-teen looking to pretend like I was a California punk for two minutes at a time, I would’ve preferred meeting Ruby Soho and hanging out with musicians in the city than chilling with Green Day on their couch, doing whatever it is they were doing in “Longview.”

TRACK MARKS: “The Bleeding Heart Show” by the New Pornographers

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

Having your song used in commercials is a double-edged sword for artists. For many indie bands, I’m sure the royalties are welcome and hard to turn down, but it’s also the sort of thing that can follow an artist around for life (exhibits A, B, C, infinity: just about anyone who’s been featured in an Apple spot). A good pairing, though, can elevate something potentially mechanical and soulless to memorable, even transcendent. It helps, of course, if the song itself reaches those heights already. Such is the case with the New Pornographers’ anthem “The Bleeding Heart Show,” whose spangly hey-la hey-la chorus is best known for being prominently featured in a commercial for the for-profit educational center University of Phoenix, of all things. It’s also one of the most perfectly constructed pop songs of the past decade.

The album it comes from, Twin Cinema, was released a decade ago, and though the band has released many ear-wormy delights since then, “The Bleeding Heart Show” has become one of their signature songs. The New Pornographers are something of an indie supergroup, spearheaded by A.C. Newman trading vocals with Dan Bejar of Destroyer and the volcanically talented Neko Case, backed up by other journeymen and women. They’ve put out six records since first forming in 2003, and each one harnesses the alchemical joy of a group of good friends getting back together again. It’s like The Big Chill, except without the Boomer moping and everyone’s singing songs they wrote together instead of Motown classics.

As a band, The New Pornographers seem incapable of making something without a hook. On paper “The Bleeding Heart Show” has a classic three-part structure, but that’s liberating for the song rather than limiting. It begins quietly with the plaintive chords of a lone piano. The drums kick in with Newman’s vocals, the lyrics somewhat nonsensical but seeming to detail the hazy morning after a rager, an impression reflected in the music, which sounds like it’s fumbling toward what it wants to be. But it moves swiftly after two verses into the bridge, the drums escalating as Newman and Case build in urgency and solidarity, joined by a melodica, the harmonica’s carnival cousin. Then Newman drops out and a chorus of “oohs” takes over, carrying us as the instruments begin locking together and surging forward, exploding into the “hey-la” finale. It’s a fist-pumping, chest-swelling blast of emotion, and for the next sixty seconds it seems the band may go on forever, backing up each epic moment in your life.

The New Pornographers play Prospect Park on Saturday, July 10th, for free, if you’re in the area.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Lights Out” by Angel Olsen

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

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

It took me awhile to get into Angel Olsen’s fantastic 2014 record Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This seems to be a pattern with me as I was late in discovering Waxahatchee last year, an artist who shares some surface DNA with Olsen. Both are lone females with shuddery but commanding voices and country-tinged compositions that seem to issue directly from the parts of the American South that rarely get visitors. To me, though, Olsen feels like the more risky, eccentric artist. Even after multiple listens to the album it’s impossible to predict from moment to moment what side of herself she’ll reveal next: brash and boot stomping, sinister and threatening, achy and longing. She could as easily back a bar fight as a slow dance.

“Lights Out” finds her in torch singer mode. It hits at the mid-point of the album and at first seems like something of a comedown before she’ll rev up again in the back half. It starts with a simple guitar line and drum beat, Olsen warbling to an indecisive lover, “If you don’t feel good about it then turn around. If you really mean it baby then stand your ground.” There’s resignation in her voice but also a whiff of impatience. Olsen has spent much of the record grappling with loneliness but she also knows indifference is no substitute for love. The song builds with each verse, adding texture and volume until it bursts open in a moment of fist pumping conviction: “No one’s gonna see your life through, there’s no way.” If Olsen’s voice sometimes sounds like a candle on the verge of going out, this is her as the fire about to consume the house. The torch she’s carrying turns out to be for herself.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Nothing But Trouble” by Phantogram

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

Full disclosure: I am in the tank for Phantogram. Even though they hail from Greenwich, NY my hometown of Saratoga Springs has claimed them as their own (same county). We don’t have much of a music scene to speak of, so we get excited every time a local act breaks out onto the national stage. It’s only happened a few times in my life.

I am also in the tank for high energy track ones. “Nothing But Trouble,” the leadoff song to Voices, Phantogram’s sophomore full-length, is maybe my favorite one of the year.

The beat shows the influence of their touring with a live band to great effect. The bass line uses their standard fuzzed-out synth sound, but it moves a little more than usual. The drums go beyond standard loops to include fills you don’t often hear in songs like these. While there’s a lot of growth in their songwriting, the lyrics feature psychedelic abstractions that would feel as comfortable in early Phantogram cuts like “Mouthful of Diamonds” as it would in a classic Guided By Voices tune.

As always, Sara Barthel’s vocals are an ethereal eye in the storm, but her partner in crime Josh Carter is in the spotlight a little more than usual (especially when they play this song live). His underutilized voice provides backing in the second half of the song and his guitar closes everything out with a rare solo. The way it breaks out of nowhere in a pretty dance heavy track, it’s almost Prince-like.

This all comes together in one song. If reductive, lazy critics are still calling Phantogram trip-hop, they should probably listen to “Nothing But Trouble” a few more times.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Blue Moon” by Beck

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

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

I know I’m in the minority on this but I like Beck most when he’s mopey. Sea Change was a very meaningful record to me in high school; to paraphrase Rob from High Fidelity, it takes a very particular kind of person to think they’ll be alone for the rest of their life at twenty-five, so it must take an extraordinarily neurotic one to worry about that at sixteen. But for whatever reason, I felt less lonely when I listened to “The Golden Age.” I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Beck, for all the gimmicky (and wonderful!) singles he released in the nineties, has a warm and inviting voice when he’s crooning. Morning Phase, his 2014 record, is full of that sound, and no song on that record more so than “Blue Moon.”

The song feels in many ways like a continuation of “The Golden Age.” They share a similar rhythm, which lacks the urgency of his more aggressive singles but is buoyed by a dreamy tempo that’s perfect for driving at night with the top down. “Blue Moon” has more playful instrumentation, with the main theme provided by a plinking charango and a swell of soulful “ooh-ooh’s” carrying along the chorus. I could listen to the jumpy clavinet progression near the end for hours. It’s so lush and swoony that you’d be forgiven for ignoring the lyrics, which invert the Rodgers and Hart classic of the same name from a singer finding solace in the skies above into a naked plea to the people who surround him. “Don’t leave me on my own,” Beck entreats, and by the time the song is over we’re sorry to go. While the rest of the album plays in a pleasant earthy register it’s with this song that it truly hits the stratosphere.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Backseat Shake Off (Kendrick Lamar vs Taylor Swift)” by The Hood Internet

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

I know what you’re thinking, reader: “Rob, a mashup was one of your favorite songs of 2014?! There are less embarrassing ways to relive your college years.”

Fret not, reader. I have so many great reasons to include The Hood Internet’s latest.

I wanted an excuse to post this video.


“Backseat Shakeoff” was released at the tail end of the media’s coverage of the  mutual admiration society between Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. This appeals to a very particular demographic AND I AM PART OF IT. I wish I had something more insightful to add beyond “I think it’s cool that Taylor Swift is into Kendrick Lamar and vice versa” on this point, but  I’m not sure what to add on this point.

Just Enough T-Swift

 


Maybe Jesse and I are just clueless old men who just don’t get the success of Taylor Swift’s march towards world domination, but we’re totally the type of dudes who love great pop music to the degree people question our sexual orientation. I’m serious. Jesse and I did a radio show during summers in college and we’d throw in some Mandy Moore and Atomic Kitty in between the de rigueur Guided By Voices and Built To Spill. We would sometimes get phone calls full of homosexual slurs.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I really like the idea of Taylor Swift transitioning from country to pop superstardom, but the tunes don’t always grab me. “Shake It Off”, the lead single from her latest album, is a mixed a bag. The Hood Internet take the good parts for their mashup by just using the beat, the first verse, and one chorus. The pseudo-rap, spoken word breakdown and troubling music video get left on the cutting room floor.

Kendrick Freaking Lamar

I was late to the party on Kendrick Lamar, but I am here now. While it works well in the context of the full album, “Backseat Freestyle” is (to me) one of the less interesting songs on his breakout good kid, m.A.A.d city. I know it’s one of the clear singles from that record, but it lacks the nuance and insight of Kendrick at his finest. That being said, “Backseat Freestyle” is the obvious choice to mash up with “Shake It Off”. While most of Kenrick’s songs could be described as downbeat, this isn’t one of them.

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

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.

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

This week, SportsAlcohol.com 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.

you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys you guys

The above is an excerpt of my internal monologue when I found out Sleater-Kinney was finally reuniting. A lot of my recent writing and podcasting on the site have confirmed my worst fears that my tastes a little too grounded in my college years.  I might overrate what I listened to at the turn of the century, but you can never take the greatness of Sleater-Kinney away from me.

The best thing about Sleater-Kinney releasing “Bury Our Friends” as their first comeback single is I don’t have to say you had to be there, man. Everything that was and is superlative about the band can be found in this song:

  • Corin Tucker’s voice. FYI, hating Corin Tucker’s voice is the new hating Bob Dylan’s voice: you can do it, but you are making a cliched observation and contributing nothing. Why don’t you just do a Borat impression instead? Also, I happen to think you are wrong. Corin Tucker’s voice is huge and soaring and one of a kind.
  • Carrie Brownstein’s guitar work. I don’t know what kind of world we’re coming too when she is known more for her sketch comedy work than her tasty licks.
  • Janet Weiss. How do you describe sexism to people who don’t think it exists? Have them consider Janet Weiss’ resume and the fact that she’s rarely mentioned the conversation of the greatest/most influential/most dependable drummers of all time. She is just a monster. She doesn’t play a lot of fills or solos; she just lays down a tight beat with authority. Janet Weiss is so great sometimes you fail to notice her.
  • The interplay between all the above. If crusty old rock critics actually listened to how this band gave one another space to do their thing, a kind word would never again be written about the ‘sophistication’ of The Police.
  • All of this happens in a tight 3:20, reminicent of their classic mid period, circa Dig Me Out.
  • The sound, though, has the hugeness of their last album, the epic, Zeppelin-inspiried  The Woods. All the noise of overmodulation in service of the song, it’s hard to recognize this a three piece without a keyboard player or even a bassist.
  • The verses are everything great about their lyrics: personal yet universal, relatable yet inscrutable.
  • The chorus has the proud defiance of the  protest songs of their post-9/11 album One Beat.
  • Miranda July on the video!

Seriously, what more do you people want in a rock song?

TRACK MARKS: “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads

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

A smattering of applause that builds then subsides for a lone voice to say, “Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play.” This is the beginning of the Talking Heads’ legendary live album Stop Making Sense which was released in the US thirty years ago this week. The theatrical version, culled from three shows in support of their album Speaking in Tongues and filmed by Jonathan Demme, is one of the greatest concert films ever made, capturing a band at the height of their creative powers, playing with an inviting energy that few films like it have been able to match. Repertory screenings still end with people dancing in the aisles and you don’t hear about that happening with The Last Waltz (all apologies to Rick Danko enthusiasts). One of the most delightfully subversive bands of the new wave movement, Talking Heads’ greatest trick might have been opening with a version of one of their biggest hits that withholds many of the elements that made it a radio staple, and a classic scary song.

On the single of “Psycho Killer” the menace is overt — opening with an ominous bass line that sounds like hurried footsteps down a dark alley, joined by a matching drumbeat stalking after it, building to a brain-rattling guitar line threatening to overtake it. By the time David Byrne begins singing about being tense and nervous it’s almost superfluous. Talking Heads has always had an interest in the disconnect between mind and body, a divide embodied in their music which juxtaposes anxious lyrics with deceptively funky compositions. But this is the band’s most clear missive from a deranged psyche. The opening lyrics present a warning to “run away” but the French bridge, which translates roughly to “What I did that evening/What she said that evening,” suggest a man who’s already indulged his monstrous tendencies. And this isn’t even the band’s most disturbing song. (I’d give that distinction to “Memories Can’t Wait” which sounds like the agonizing approach of a leveling storm cloud, or “Born Under Punches” with its squawking instruments and eerie, desperate lyrics [Take a look at these hands!]).

The live version of “Psycho Killer” eschews recreating the bristling intensity of the single, opting instead for a stripped down intimacy that has its own electric charge. Byrne is the only performer onstage, his guitar backed by a pre-recorded Roland TR-808 drum machine played on a boom box. Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison will all join later, each one appearing with each successive song. But for the moment it’s just Byrne and the audience, and his solo rendition takes on a confessional tone, an admission of his dominance of the band that would later bring the other members to blows. Many years later, following the band’s acrimonious breakup, Weymouth characterized Byrne as “a man incapable of returning friendship,” and you can hear in his post-chorus yelps a straining to connect. He does, of course; the band would not be one of the most influential of their era if he didn’t. There is something magnetic in a performer willing to delve into the darkest parts of humanity and come out the other side to tell of the nightmare. When it’s a nightmare you can dance to, you have a masterpiece.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4prFmbjZ7M

TRACK MARKS: “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz

Gripes
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

You know that Seinfeld episode where Elaine get annoyed because the guy she’s dating zones out whenever he hears “Desperado?” I’m that guy, but with a different song. It comes on, I get in a mood, and I just feel better.

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Continue reading TRACK MARKS: “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz