Monthly Archives: April 2012

A few lines concerning the fallacy of the "latte millionaire theory"

You may have heard of the “latte millionaire” theory (the above image is not mine, by the way, but I do salute the brilliance of whoever originated it). I am writing to formally place on the record my opinion that there’s a major flaw with this theory.

The underlying notion has probably been expressed by many people many different ways, but the latte-centric formulation of it was made by a guy named David Bach in his book “The Automatic Millionaire”. The mathematical logic of it, as far as it goes, is impeccable. Let’s say you buy a $3 latte every workday. If, instead, you saved that daily three dollars, it would total $3 x 5 days a week x 52 weeks=$780 a year. Over 35 years, that would be $27,300, which is not too shabby. Now, if, on top of that, you invested your saved $780 a year in the stock market, and received an average 10% return a year, the amount you save each year compounds over 35 years, and by the end of the period you would have $211,399. By forgoing a frivolous expense that you hardly even notice on a daily basis, you’ve made yourself wealthy by retirement. There’s just one problem with this idea:

Under this formulation, you don’t get to have a latte for 35 years. Let’s say you start it when you’re 30. You won’t have a latte again until you’re 65!

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the wisdom of planning and saving for the future. I certainly understand  the idea of delaying immediate gratification for longer term gain. And yes, you could make your lattes at home and bring them, or have the office coffee. But part of the joy of life is splurging for an occasional latte, making a normal work day just a little bit frothier and more magical.

I also understand that the idea is not about latte and is, in a way, a metaphor. And that’s where my real objection lies. Yes, it’s a good idea to keep track of impulse and splurge spending, to not be doing it all the time. And granted, as it is a whole lot of us have not only not been saving, but have been buying things with borrowed money, hence our current collective economic dilemma. A pinch of the “latte millionaire” idea would be a good antidote to that.

But the larger idea of delaying gratification for decades, saving up not just our money but our experiences of joy for retirement, threatens to impoverish the decades in-between. And I wonder if this sense of joy poverty is in itself something that fuels our urge to splurge. Could more living for today, in a balanced, engaged way, actually lead to less urge to buy on credit and more saving for the future at the same time? Call me a dreamer…

Revisiting the 2000s: 20 albums (6-10)

Welcome to the next installment of my excavation of the 2000s, a musical “lost decade” for me. The Intro and Part I (with the first five albums) can be found here and here, but to briefly recap, I scrolled through a cross section of nine reputable and varied “best of the decade” lists, and compiled a list of those albums that got mentioned as “top 25” in at least three places. After eliminating ones I already had, or knew wouldn’t work for me (sorry, Radiohead, Strokes, Coldplay), I was left with 20 albums from 2000-2009 that I never got around to and (according to my sources) deserved a listen.

Part I covered the first five, highlighted in blue here. Today we’re doing the next five, in yellow. All reviews were written live upon listening to the album for the very first time. And with that, we’re off!  

Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (3)

Arcade Fire, “Funeral” (7)

Beck, “Sea Change” (5)

Daft Punk, “Discovery” (4)

D’Angelo, “Voodoo” (3)
Eminem, “Marshall Mathers LP” (3)

Interpol, “Turn on the Bright Lights” (4)

Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (6)

Kayne West, “Late Registration” (4)

LCD Soundystem, “Sound of Silver” (6)
Madvillian, “Madvilliany” (3)
MIA, “Arular” (3)
MIA, “Kala” (4)
Outkast, “Stankonia” (6)
Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (3)
Spoon, “Kill the Moonlight” (3)
Sufjan Stevens, “Illinois” (3)
The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (3)
TV on the Radio, “Return to Cookie Mountain” (3)
Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (8)

Eminem, “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000, 3 votes)
Eminem is one of those people who I always enjoy when I run across their work, but have never actually gone the next step to getting an album. Until now, I guess. And already, after the opening PSA informing me that Slim Shady does not give a fuck what I think, and the dense menacing kick-off of “Kill You” I’m glad I did. It’s pretty great, how this rant is simultaneously frightening and yet frightened, in the character of Slim Shady and yet questioning that character, and then ending with “I’m just kidding.” Then “Stan”, which I was already familiar with, and remains one of the most chilling things ever committed to record (yes, in my mind, music is still committed to record). I mean damn, an artist writing a song in the voice of an obsessed fan who takes that artist’s violent imagery seriously, over a remixed bed of Dido. Dude, doesn’t do black music, doesn’t do white music, does fight music! In fact, the whole thing is full of the braggadocio, swagger and threat of hip-hop at its best, but full of an anxiety about the effect of that projection that is half genuine and half self-justification. Which is track seven, “The Way I Am” to a T. “The Real Slim Shady”, track eight, is bringing back one of my favorite Grammy memories, when he performed this as like, a hundred Eminem look-a-likes with microphones flooded the auditorium. One of the best moments to every happen in that mausoleum of musical mediocrity. “Remember Me”, track nine, even seems to be sampling horror movie voices, as if there wasn’t enough menace in its rant already. And on track eleven, “Marshall Mathers”, is the mask slipping, revealing the real guy behind Slim Shady, with all his insecurities? Or is it in itself a construction, a put on? Something that can even bring up these questions makes me happy. And the reason this track works, the whole album works, in fact, is because there’s clever musical mixing and vocal delivery behind it all, giving us a layer of entertaining to go along with the heavy and occasionally vile contents. I’m digging on “Drug Ballad” too, which is equal parts celebratory and cautionary on drugs. In other words, what an actual addict’s mind sounds like once the doubt has begun to creep in. And how am I not going to love a horror rap whose tag line is “Mentally ill from Amityville”? Ah, and now “B**** Please II” gives us the two sons of Dre together, Snoop and Eminem. Nice. Then “Kim”, a fantasy of kidnapping his ex in front of his baby daughter and driving her off to kill her that may be one of the most frightening things I’ve ever heard in popular music. Okay, by track seventeen the “suck my dick if you don’t like it” is getting a bit old. But I think it’s a testament to artistry that an hour+ of resentment and boasting doesn’t wear thin sooner. And the last track, “Criminal” dives right in to the am I serious/am I not, I’m a criminal/I’m just kidding. Overall, definitely a keeper.               

Interpol, “Turn On The Bright Lights” (2002, 4 votes)
(Full disclosure: on review, my iPod seems to have put these tracks on shuffle rather than playing the album in order. My apologies to readers, and Interpol, if this affected my ability to discern artistic intent.)

While I’ve been painstaking in not reading about these albums beforehand so as not to prejudice my reviews, I was aware of Interpol by general reputation. You know, Second Coming of Joy Division and all that. Which immediately begs the question: isn’t the First Coming enough? Nevertheless, I’ll try to deliver a fair assessment here. First off: “untitled”. Actually kind of soft and gauzy, doesn’t remind me of Joy Division as much as soft-boiled Coldplay. “Obstacle 1” isn’t bad, with some driving rock sound, and vocals that remind me of, of all things, the Killers. Also not sure of the significance of this, but this song is talking about what “She” did, whereas I think JD is usually more personal, talking about what “You” did to “Me”. Track three has more of the shimmery Coldplay B.S., but with a driving beat and the vocals hitting a peak of bitterness and resignation that pulls it out. Apparently, as the song would have it, “Stella was a Diver and she was always down”, man I really am digging this one. “Roland” is much more in Joy Division mode, so I see what people mean. But it also has a strong layer of, well I don’t know what else to call it- 2000s indie rock in its New Wave infatuation subset- sound to it. I wonder if this album was more like chicken or egg to that phenomenon? Given the 2002 release date, I’m betting on its being causal rather than following, and that alone is noteworthy. “NYC” is a better post-9/11 New York elegy than the Strokes, I think. Ah, and this is where the album title comes from too. Well, so far I can say I don’t hate it. It won’t get you listening as closely as the Beck, the best Hip-hop albums from this list, etc. But it doesn’t grate in mediocrity either. I think it might be like Daft Punk’s album- a good fit for a mood, and going down smoothly when you’re in that mood. I do want to know more about the 200 couches where we can sleep tonight in “PDA”. Another thing about this album that’s coming out strongly in “Say Hello To The Angels” is that, in contrast to the studied grimness of the lyrics and vocals, the music can be rather poppy and is informed by some of the bounciness of New Wave. New tag line: at its finest, there are moments on this album, like Leif Erickson” that are wonderfully disquieting. For the most part, though, it feels more deliberately produced and less emotionally genuine, and ends up in a kind of “nice background music that nobody could object to” Coldplay territory. In my developing rating nomenclature, I would call this a Good/Good-. And the fact that so many critics thought this was a superb album? Well, compared to the masses of dreck that they have to listen to, it surely is. But compared to the truly sterling?             

Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (2001, 6 votes)
Hip-hop is a particularly blank spot for me in the 2000s. I’m a big fan of the 1985-1995 “Golden Age”, but after that my knowledge drops off rapidly. And Jay-Z is a blank spot for me within 2000s hip-hop- I know the kids I was in rehab with at the end of 2006 loved him, but that’s about it. So I’m looking forward to this review increasing my knowledge, if nothing else. First impressions? You’ve gotta like an album that starts off thanking you for your purchase, which track one “The Ruler’s Back” does. Also nice use of musical sampling, what sounds like some soundtrack selections and a classic soul riff in there too. Seriously, track two “Takeover” is sampling the Doors? Love it! Nice strong beat too, almost reminds me of the metallic beats I so loved from 80s hip-hop a-la Run-DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J’s first album, etc. I can certainly hear Kanye West’s production influence here, and the things I really like about his first album I also like about this- clever use of sampling, variations of tempo and pacing that avoids the droning sound badly produced hip-hop can get in to, the braggadocio backed up by intelligent lyrics. “Girls, Girls, Girls” for example, is the kind of cock-boasting you might expect, but with such great soul-sampled hooks and funny twists of phrase that it gets away with it. This album definitely does the obsession with feuding with other big rap names and super-materialist trip that I don’t especially dig about East Coast rap, but it’s so far pretty free from gangster bullshit, which is nice. Oh, well it was until track six- “You Don’t Know”, which could be seen as critical commentary of inner city life, but is on the edge of celebrating it too. Damn do I love it musically, though! And Hola’ Hovito is getting points from me for the Hispanic call-outs. Track eight, “Heart of the City” is a beautiful thing to behold, too, at once existing in, and criticizing, the trash-talk between hip-hop artists. Track nine, “Never Change” is a nice mellow slow jam, and is also making realize that one thing I haven’t been for one second so far in this album is bored. Also, as I listen more closely, I’m realizing it’s a mellow slow groove about carrying guns and living a life of crime because, hey, I’ll never change. Hmmmm. Then “Song Cry” is a breakup song that understands how the woman wants out, while still calling her “the bitch”. Oh hip-hop… I don’t imagine he gets away with that with Beyonce these days. So far I’d say I’m 110% with this album in terms of music and production, and 75% with it in terms of lyrics and intention. That’s still 92.5% on average, so there you go. Certainly digging the Emminem guest appearance on “Renegade”. And then there’s the last track, “Blueprint”, where all the boasting and self-promotion just evaporates and is replaced by a heartfelt tribute to his family. Mighty fine way to finish.

Kanye West, “Late Registration” (2005, 4 votes)
Given how much I loved, loved, motherfuckin’ LOVED “The College Dropout”, I’m expecting to get along well with this album. And indeed, I’m loving the lead-in “Wake Up Mr. West” with the blow-hard Professor/Dean type from the skit going immediately into the explosive beat of “Heard ‘Em Say”, which then fades into a slow R&B grove with keyboard sounds tinkling in the background. Also nice to hear on “Touch The Sky” the standard hip-hop “I made it/I’m on top of the world” trope delivered with heavy helpings of gratitude and wonder. And a good time party vibe! And then “Gold Digger”, which I knew, but didn’t know was on this album. Nice little misogynist ditty. Or is it? That’s the beauty of delivering a criticism of women behaving badly- is that pro or anti-woman? Both at the same time? And if it comes with this groovy a beat, how can you not bop your head along to it? As with his last album, the mix of braggadocio and vulnerable self-revelation, smooth flow, unapologetically intelligent wordplay and clever musical remixing of everything in the soul tool-bag just works. Boy do I miss this Kanye, versus the arrogant braggart we have now. Damn, “Crack Music” is like gangster rap turned inside out, drawing all the connections between the street drugs and the social and political setting that puts them there, and touting music as the community’s counter-attack. Then “Roses”, a heartfelt song about his grandmother in the hospital that rolls up into a scathing attack of the social-economic setting of unequal healthcare, and comes back down into the personal pain again. Seriously, hardly anybody in the last decade in any musical genre was able to tell lyrical stories that tackle as many issues, personal and political, while still ringing true. I’m proud that he’s my cousin. I mean, we haven’t traced out the family tree yet, I’ve always just assumed based on the name. And “Addiction”, damn. He gets it, that pursuing money, girls and weed is all about the same thing. And then mixing “Diamonds Are Forever” into a song about Blood Diamonds from Sierra Leone and linking that back to urban bling and his own complicity. They should have just named the whole decade after him. Also, it’s kind of nice to see him take out a whole track “Hey Mama” to talk about how much he loves his mother. I mean, who gets away with that? Hip-hop and Country, those are the only genres you can do that in. I’m really liking the “broke Fraternity” skit running between tracks too. Okay, nearing the end now, track 19 of 21. About the only thing critical I can say about this album is that it lacks some of the truly soaring moments of his debut, like “Jesus Walks” and “Never Let Me Down”. But considering that it’s not uncommon for a sophomore album to suck ass, saying that this one isn’t quite as awesome as its predecessor, well, that still puts him ahead of, oh, I don’t know- MOST EVERYTHING ELSE THAT CAME OUT THAT DECADE.

LCD Soundsystem, “Sound of SIlver” (2007, 6 votes)
In my mind, one of the biggest sins any song can commit is a slow start. Sometimes, if you’re engaged in some very atmospheric arty Pink Floyd or Deathcab for Cutie type-shit, I’ll allow it. But otherwise no. For Electronica, which already threatens to be boring by its very nature, this is a double-sin. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that track one on this album, “Get Innocuous!” is off to a very fine start. Immediately set in with the beat, developed some Bowiesque vocals later on, and is ending with a background refrain and break that reminds me of early 80s hip-hop. And some honest to goodness laser sound effects toward the end. So far, these cats are earning their reputation as the Electronica outfit that a rock fan can still love. Track two, “Time to Get Away” is starting with some nice fat 80s beats, and is kind of reminding me of a lost Prince song circa “1999”. Now on to “North American Scum”, which wins my sympathies on title alone. Ha, the whole thing is them trying to convince us they’re North American, not English. Love it! Not least of which because, in form and refrain, this is a rock song, handclaps and all. They’ve got the early 80s synthesizers out for track four “Someone Great”, and bless their furry souls for it. This really could be something lost in time from the American half of synth-pop New Wave, say maybe Missing Persons. Made it to track five now, “All My Friends” which is, gosh darn it all, a rock song as well. With a beat you can dance to! Halfway in now, I’d have to say the big difference between this and our earlier Electronica entry from Daft Punk is that this is more emotionally affecting. There are songs, like this one, that really evoke a mood (nostalgic regret and longing for the pre-mistake phase of a relationship gone bad, in this case) and get you interested in them lyrically. Not all of them (track six, “Us Versus Them” for instance, is having fun experimenting with cross-breeding 60s psychedelic garage rock and New Wave alienation, but isn’t doing anything personal), but more than Daft Punk, which was really like feel good party music, with clever twists, but no real attempt at depth. Oh geez, and the next track, “Watch The Tapes” could be like an artifact from the era when punk collapsed into synthesizer New Wave, kind of Gang of Fouresque with a dash of Wire. “Sound of Silver” (track eight I mean, eponymous with the album), in between early 80s beats and metallic handclaps, seems to be encouraging us to remember how vivid our emotions were as teenagers. Interesting… Okay, final thoughts as we hit the last track. This is definitely a cut above Daft Punk in terms of substance (while being no less fun and inventive), but I feel it’s not going for something real and true often enough, or showing enough cohesiveness as an album, to quite get to the league of the Arcade Fires, Becks, Emminems, Jay-Zs, etc of the list so far. Got to say though, ending with “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”, a downbeat, somehow earnest while being tongue in cheek, paen to a city not quite as dirty and interesting as it used to be, is pretty fucking awesome.       

Stay tuned for albums 11-16…      

Book Review: Paranormal State

Paranormal State  (Ryan Buell and Stefan Petrucha, A&E/It Books, 2010, 372 pp.)
I just finished reading the book pictured above, but I have not yet identified the apparition that appears in the photograph. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed it! As a fan of the show (and the whole 2000s paranormal research TV bumper-crop- Ghosthunters, Destination Truth, Fact or Faked, et al), I was already well-disposed going in. But being as the whole thing could have easily gone in a cheesy or sensationalistic direction, it was a special pleasure to find it both down to earth and balanced. It’s hard to know with a co-written work how much of Ryan’s voice actually comes through, but it certainly feels like the guy that you see on the show- shy, humble, and as interested in helping his clients as he is in exploring the unknown. It’s also nice to see his skepticism in play- being leery of psychics and mediums unless they bring compelling information, talking about the uncertainties of interpreting evidence from the equipment, and pushing himself and his clients to look for alternative explanations instead of just assuming everything that goes bump in the night is genuinely paranormal. It’s also nice to see that, while he’s very up-front about how his Catholic faith informs his interpretation of cases, he’s not at all doctrinaire about what’s behind the phenomenon he encounters, and discusses multiple possibilities of what “the unknown” might be. The book largely consists of the behind-the-scenes story of the series being accepted by A&E and the filming of the episodes from the first season. It’s definitely interesting to see how several days of preparation and 48 hours of investigation get turned in to a half hour episode, and all the complexities that get “smoothed out” in the storyline as aired. As a paranormal geek and a film-production geek, I really enjoyed that perspective. Along the way, there are some nice side articles on the history of paranormal investigation, topics in research (including psychological phenomenon that are often mistaken for being paranormal), and interviews with the team. My favorite parts, though, were the insights into who Ryan is and why he does what he does. If I have anything resembling a “criticism”, it’s that I’d like to have seen even more of that. As it is, if you’d like a book on the paranormal from a believer’s perspective that still makes room for skepticism, with a conversational tone and a great big heart, I’d recommend Paranormal State

And so it ends…and begins! (First Question: How weak is Romney?)

As you may have heard, Rick Santorum dropped out of the race yesterday (or, technically, suspended his campaign). With Newt Gingrich already having fired his entire staff and outlined a plan of relying on social media going forward, that’s pretty much that. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. (Sorry Ron Paul, but facts is facts.) And so it’s over. But also beginning!

With the general election campaign de facto beginning today (with 208 days, aka 7 months to go, saints preserve us all) I’d like to muse about what kind of shape the primary campaign leaves Romney in vis-a-vis the general election. I think a couple of visual aids are instructive in this regard. First of all, let’s look at Romney’s trajectory getting here versus the previous Republican nominee, John McCain (charts courtesy of RealClear Politics):

What’s immediately visually apparent is that Romney’s had a heck of a harder time getting there than McCain did. McCain lagged until just before voting started in January, and then shot ahead and pretty much never looked back. Romney, in contrast, repeatedly had and then lost a lead, took a month longer to get to presumptive nominee status, and even as of the point of wrapping the whole thing up, has never been above 40% in national polls. Against, it should be noted, a far weaker field than McCain faced.

County-by-county results tell a similar story (maps courtesy of Wikipedia):

What is immediately apparent is that Romney 2012, excepting Virginia, where incompetence kept everyone else off the ballot, only wins certain kinds of counties. Namely, New England and Western (both areas he did well in 2008) and urban. There are many states where he won (like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio & Wisconsin) by virtue of taking the urban centers, while Santorum took almost all of the rural counties. Compare this to McCain, who, aside from some obvious weakness in the South (though he still did better, county by county, than Romney 2012), tended to sweep entire states when he won them. 

Why does this matter? McCain, so far, has been the most weakly supported Republican nominee of the modern era within the party:

While Romney’s total will no doubt climb from here, he’s currently trending much lower than McCain did in 2008, which was itself much lower than any other Republican nominee. In fact, so far Romney’s near the bottom for any nominee from either party. The party, any party, of course, supports their nominee. But enthusiasm matters. The only candidates who have gone in to the general election and won with less than 50% internal support were Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, who were both heading in to elections a challenger would be heavily favored to win (worsening economy, scandal or discredit of existing administration, outgoing party had been in power for 8 years, etc.).

Now, I’m not predicting a blowout based on this. My gut feeling is that Obama has gone from having a 50/50 chance 6 months ago to being something more like a 60/40 or 70/30 now. In other words, he’s more likely than not to win. But it will never seem assured, it’s going to be close the whole way. In very close elections, as this one has all indications of being, even a marginal comparative lack of enthusiasm can be damaging. And Romney appears to have a pretty major internal lack of enthusiasm heading in.

Revisiting The 2000s: 20 Albums (First Five)

If you’ve already read Part I where I explain my madcap project of searching for and reviewing the best 20 albums I may have missed in the first decade of the 2000s, then let’s get going! An explanation of how the reviews were written, and the first five albums, are below. 

If you missed the intro, go and read it, and then come back.  

Okay, ready now?

Part IV: Review Rules

My friend Matt thinks one of the best things I ever wrote was a 12-pack fueled 12-album review. That may be, or that may not be. It gets a little long, and is too gonzo for publication in the world as we know it, but you can judge its merits for yourself by reading it here. What I think he liked about it was its spontaneity and unpolished aspects. Which, when you think about it, fits music as a visceral, immediate medium. More than books, more than movies (which you often ponder afterwards), music is something we appreciate (or not) in the moment. So, while I’ll leave the beer out these days, I am going to write the reviews real-time as I listen to each album for the first time. Except for corrections of misspelling and gross grammatical error, everything you see is spontaneous first thought.   
Part V: The Albums (first five albums)

Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (2009, 3 votes)
Hmmm. Don’t get me wrong, I do have anexperimental bone in my body. But I usually prefer my music to be a little less sound-effect produced and tape loopy. Which is not to say that I have no room for distortion- there are places where I really like it, but those places tend to be where the distortion is informed by an underlying sense of Rock song conventions (cf. the Raveonettes, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth). So far this reminds me of the start of a Pink Floyd song that then doesn’t get past the start. Like being stuck in the first 10 seconds of “Us and Them”. Track two, “My Girls” is rather like track one “In The Flowers” in all the ways I didn’t totally care for track one. The weird thing is, I like some equally messy-sounding groups. No Age and Times New Viking come to mind. I think I like it better there because it’s produced by guitar over-drive, versus overlaid studio computer tricks. It comes by the noise more honestly. Track two is growing on me though… Oh, track three, “Also Frightened” is winning me over through jungle sounds in the background, despite the continued presence of annoying bell-ringing sounds. You do have to like a song where the refrain is “are you also frightened?”. See now, “Summertime Clothes” (track four) just teased me by starting off with a sound that almost was real crunching guitars, but devolved into a sample repeat loop. I actually like the lyrics, and don’t mind their obscurity and the difficulty of reaching them through the sound, or rather I wouldn’t, if the sound itself weren’t bugging me. What can I say? Less is more! In Beatles terms, I’m more of a “Helter Skelter” or “Yer Blues” than a “Revolution Number Nine” or “Day In the Life”. Whatcha gonna do? This reminds me of how much I loved the Shins on “Chutes Too Narrow” and how turned off I was when the next album got studio-experimental. I feel like these guys could put out a great album too with something less “cleverly” produced. Track Seven, “Guys Eyes” is making the best case so far for being worth a second listen, I think mostly because it’s added in a background beat that gives the whole collage something to hang on. Track eight “Taste” seems to be doing something similar, and with a Beach Boys twist, but it has a few too many distracting “airplane in takeoff” sound effects in the background. Is it a bad sign that my first thought on reaching track nine is, “Another fourteen minutes of this? Ugggh.”? P.S., that’s a bad sign in itself. Average track length of almost 5 minutes is rarely justified for anyone. Ah, reading about them now on AMG and Wikipedia, which I didn’t want to do beforehand to influence my review. And you know, if I had, I would have expected something like what I’m getting- a smart, not uninteresting, musical art project. Which certainly has its place, but is just not my cup of tea. Next!           
Arcade Fire, “Funeral” (2004, 7 votes)

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” started slower and more studioey than I usually care for (see the entire above entry, for example) but by the time it really kicks in, you realize that the slow start has been building up power. It earns the “woo oh hoo” chorus it ends up with. Nice kick-off of drums and guitars on track two “Neighborhood #2 (Laika), such that once the arty extra instruments arrive, they’re welcome. I’m also liking the “recorded in a steel drum” sound of the vocals. There’s something about the album so far that feels like struggling to remember a dream. It’s there, you know it’s full of power and meaning, but it’s just slightly out of reach. In a good way. Oh wow, loving how the otherwise suspiciously artily named “Une Annee Sans Lumiere” moves from a dreamy sound with nostalgic early 60s instrumental rock touches to a driving rock finish. And these guys know enough about sequencing to give the next song a driving rock start for the segue. My head is bobbing of its own accord, and that’s always a good sign. Whereas Animal Collective’s Indie Rock was the 95% indie, 5% rock version, this is a good solid 50-50. Or at least 60-40. Me likes! Ah, track five, “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” knows that after you’ve pumped it up two songs in a row, you need to slow it down. Which it’s doing with a song that feels like slow surges of emotion. And track six, “Crown of Love”, now takes that feeling and transmutes it into a more straightforwardly earnest, pleading song. You know what I’m realizing? This is an honest to God album! Like one where the songs belong together and belong in the order they’re in, building on each other and taking the listener somewhere. You know what else I’m realizing? It takes me far less space to talk about something I’m liking than something I’m hoping to like and failing. Here I’m approaching track 8 and thinking, “Oh no! Don’t end in three more songs.” Also nice to hear a female vocalist on some of these tracks. I’ve always felt that groups that have both male and female vocalists are worth their weight in iridium (and, my end of album reading reveals this is a husband and wife team, and an album inspired by the passing of important people in their lives- no wonder it surges with genuine emotionality!). This album is everything indie rock should be at its best- smart, arty, conversant with Rock’s ways and means, and not afraid to produce a song that gets your foot tapping. An immediate “yes” for going in to permanent rotation in my 2000s playlist!
Beck, “Sea Change” (2002, 5 votes)

Well, it’s starting off with something that sounds like a sad cowboy song, and that’s always good in my book. I’ve tried to avoid reading anything about these albums beforehand so as not to prejudice my reviews, but I did know that he wrote this while going through a breakup of a long-term relationship. That’s what this first song, “The Golden Age” sounds like, in a weary early 70s country rock kind of way. If I ran across this at random, it would not even cross my mind that it’s Beck, but then again being a musical chameleon is pretty much his stock in trade. And sure enough, the second song “Paper Tiger” has the same weary and worn feeling that I remember from my own divorce, but in a completely different musical setting. This one has a beat, Beatlesque string section effects, etc. In emotional tone though, it seems to hang together perfectly with the song before it, and that can be quite a fine way to build an album. Leastways, I’m still listening. Hmmm, and now track three “Guess I’m Doing Fine” is back to the country sound of the first. And really, even given a synthesizer effect here and there, so damn authentic sounding. Seriously, it brings to mind Gram Parsons, and “Wild Horses”. Track four is named “Lonesome Tears”, which certainly would have you expecting another country song, but this one is back to the Beatlesque instrument swirls. Also maybe a little Pink Floydy. And aching, tired and gorgeous. It sounds like lost love. Oh hey, track five, “Lost Cause” I know you! And had no idea you were by Beck. This one is kind of like synth-folk. I realized I’m writing a lot about the music here, but the lyrics are quite worth the time as well, straightforward without being trite, and sounding like they’ve earned their world-weariness. I also like how the music is getting more mixed up as we go along. Overall, strongly in an acoustic, country-tinged vein, but with classic rock studio production accents, and things that feel like 80s pop all dropped into some kind of wonderful blender and mixed together. You know how a lot of stuff on the radio sounds like it’s trying and has its heart in the right place, but ends up sounding like ass? If it succeeded at what it was trying to do and didn’t sound like ass, it might sound like this. Oh, I really like the way track ten, “Sunday Sun” falls apart into a harsh tangle of feedback at the end. And then song eleven “Little One” positively surges with emotion musically, which is an almost chilling counterpoint to the gruff exhausted vocals. Every song on here sounds like looking straight into someone’s naked heart. I’m fully on board with everyone who describes this as a masterpiece.
Daft Punk, “Discovery” (2001, 4 votes)

Electronica is, for the most part, not my bag. That being said, I do like the way track one, “One More Time” jumps into it full-speed ahead. No slow weird intros, bizarre sound effects, just beat, beat, beat- go! I do like some kinds of hip-hop and dance music, and this first song is clearly in that vein, rather than droning Rave sound, so maybe that’s it. It reminds me of the best of 90s and 2000s dance music, and, looking at the release date, probably heavily influenced the later. Ah see, track two, “Aerodynamic” did have the slow start and weird sound effect bell tolling. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long, and gets in to some pretty decent synthesizer faux guitar later in the song. I also like the fact that there are lyrics here in most songs, as in track three “Digital Love”. Are they the most profound lyrics ever? No, but they’re energetic and fun, and buoyed by a sound that often adopts the structure and pacing of rock music. I’m reminded of Fischerspooner and LCD Soundsystem, though of course I have my causality backwards in both cases in terms of whose sound influenced who. In track four, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, I’m again picking up on something I’ve heard throughout, a strong strain of 80s hip-hop and early 80s soul a-la Rick James, Earth, Wind & Fire, etc. Take that, mix with some of the sensibility of rock, and you’re going to get an Electronica I can stand behind. So much so, I’m almost willing to suspend my natural suspicion of their being French. Don’t get me wrong, they turn out fine literature and film, but their music is usually a little too cutesy for me. Although it’s returning with the slow chords and heartbeat sound effect on track five, “Nightvisions”. A little too ambient for me, I’ll probably drop it from my final iTunes mix for this album. Especially since, see how nicely it perks up again on the next track, “Superheroes”? You know, despite the dig I just couldn’t help above, one of the sad things about the 2000s in American music (and the 90s too, for that matter) is how black and white popular music were so separate. This album has a sound that brings elements of both together, and I wonder if it takes someone from the outside, like a European, to do that these days? Track 11, “Veridis Quo” may also be a little too long, low key and vocal-free for me, but otherwise I am quite enjoying this so far. Oh, especially the penultimate track, “Face to Face”. They even keep the last track, ten minute-long “Too Long” entertaining enough that I can forgive the joke. This kind of album is never going to get to me on the same level that Arcade Fire or Beck’s albums from this list do, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, either. Musically speaking. There’s a mood that it fits, and it really fits that mood well!  
D’Angelo, “Voodoo” (2000, 3 votes)

Track one “Playa Playa” starts off with some banging, mumbled voices and finger-snapping that feels like it goes on a little too long before finding a beat. When it does, there’s some nice funk guitar, and vocals that bring to mind the early 80s a-la Prince, Rick James, Earth Wind & Fire. Still a little wandery, though. Not sure if I’m buying it. It’s also going on way too long given that it’s basically a slow-jam with repetitive lyrics bordering on the nonexistent. Song two, “Devil’s Pie” starts off more hip-hop musically, and there are lyrics, even if they’re delivered is such a low-key monotone cadence that it’s kind of like the Hootie & the Blowfish of soul. There are some moments that lift above this, but not many. Track three, “Left and Right” I’d keep, it’s reminding me of the best of 70s and early 80s funk and soul, and has enough musical and vocal variability to save it from the vague blah fate of the other two. Track four “The Line” is back to the slow-jam blah, though. The next track, “Send It On” actually appears to be putting my cat to sleep. Oh, but I’m liking track six, “Chicken Grease” in a Moby sampling and remixing a funk classic kind of way. And then track seven, “One Mo’gin” puts it back to sleep. About halfway through now, and already waiting for this album to end. I’m having the opposite of my experience with Daft Punk- that was generally with the groove it was in, a few tracks I’d drop. This is generally not in the groove, a few tracks I’d keep. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not at all terrible in the way that a lot of 2000s radio is terrible. It’s just not my cup of tea. This is certainly something people of good will could disagree about. And I definitely hear, and appreciate, the influences- 70s funk, early Prince, early 80s slow jams, even the neo-psychedelic side of Motown. But that just makes me want to go listen to those sources, rather than this derivation.

Okay, that’s it for now. Tune in next time for albums 6-10…