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200. Kaiser Chiefs: Off With Their Heads (2008)

Off With Their Heads, the new album from Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs, finds the band moving forward by looking backward. I occasion my 200th review by doing the same.

By now there's no doubt that the digital revolution has drastically changed the music business. And though album is not dead yet, it's clearly on life support, and has been for awhile. This bugged me enough that I felt the need to defend the albumon this blog. Nearly 4 years later I don't know that I can completely stand by my own words. I'm more and more convinced that the album is a casualty of the digital revolution, killed by a buyer's ability to pick and choose songs.

Some perspective might help. It is tough for me to say this, but I think I'm ready to admit that the album is not the primary way people experience music. It never has been, despite the best efforts of critics and and diehard obsessives like myself. No, the single is king. Downloading didn't cause that, it only made it more appar…

2008: Top Ten

Nada Surf: Lucky

With 3 winning albums in as many tries, Nada Surf continue to be one of the most surprising bands to come out of the mid-'90s. Lucky is a winner from beginning to end. Though it contains many radio-ready tunes, my favorite is Ice on the Wing (any song that mentions the Sopwith Camel wins my heart).






Kid Dakota: A Winner's Shadow

Though I adore Darren Jackson's work in The Hopefuls, I was never a fan of his Kid Dakota persona until this album came along. It spent a solid 6 weeks on repeat in my car. Favorites include Chutes + Ladders, Transfusion, Stars, and Puffy Jackets.






Sloan: Parallel Play

"Sloan are one of the few bands that might not be capable of making a bad album."

Read the rest of the review.






Jeremy Messersmith: The Silver City

Dan Wilson produced this collection of shimmery folk-pop. It's a concept album of sorts about finding magic in the mundane. My favorites are the middle three songs The Commuter, Miracles, and Love You To Pieces. T…

2008: Best of the Rest

This Year's Musical Pet Peeve
Conversing during concerts

Unlisted bonus tracks could win this category every year, as long as artists keep doing them, but I've already railed on that topic.

Instead, I turn my ire toward people who get into loud, long, involved discussions with their friends at concerts while they are standing in close proximity to me.

Steps on soap box.

I understand that maybe you agreed to go to this concert just to have something to do and you may only know one or two songs by the artist. I also understand that alcohol removes some of your self-awareness. I understand that you like to talk to your friends. But, please, consider others who paid their ticket price plus an additional 40% of the face value in Ticketmaster fees to HEAR THE MUSIC, not your conversation. If you want to talk to your friend and drink and hear music at the same time, save yourself some money and go to a bar with a jukebox. The ultimate lesson is one you can apply to all aspects of your lif…

Rock Bottom: The Rolling Stones

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

198. Dan Wilson: Free Life (2007)

All things reconsidered:

It's nearly time to unveil my top ten favorite albums of 2008, and as I ponder on those choices, I think back to lists of years past. It's a good idea to revisit these every so often, because my musical tastes can be mercurial. I almost always find a few omissions and errors. Maybe something I loved at the time just didn't hold up. Maybe an album that didn't hook me at first ingratiated itself and become a favorite.

It's definitely the latter case with Semisonic singer/songwriter Dan Wilson's first album, Free Life. You'd think an album full of love songs by a sensitive, intelligent performer would have gotten to me right away, but Free Life took its time. It happened bit by bit. I'd find myself seeking out the album specifically amidst the 1,800 other CDs in my collection. I'd catch myself humming or singing bits of this song or that one.

In retrospect, it makes sense. Wilson is not the kind of artist who's going to dazzle…

Rock Bottom: Billy Joel

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.

T…

5 Years: A Brief But Indulgent History

When taken in whole, my life has basically been an endless series of obsessions supplanting obsessions. Some last briefly and are overtaken, left behind. But others soldier on, sometimes toiling quietly in the background, sometimes stepping to the fore. On November 1, 2003, I took two of those ever-present obsessions - writing and music - and married them. And it's been domestic bliss ever since.

I had two inspirations. One was friends who constantly asked me for my thoughts on new albums and artists. The other was Richard, whose foray into blogging (Highway 290 Revisited) showed me a forum I could use.

I had hoped, by this anniversary, to reach review #200, but I'm currently stalled at 196, so we'll save that celebration for later. Instead, I offer a brief, link-riddled series of reflections, recollections, and revelations:

The Name:
At first I called the blog Till My Head Falls Off, after the They Might Be Giants song and my opinion column in the Augustana Observer. I quic…

Yes We Did!

A Change Is Gonna Come
by Sam Cooke

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I've been running ever since
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die
Cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movies and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me don't hang around
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knocking me
Back down on my knees

Ohhhhhhhhh.....

There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Born to Run

Music has crept into the 2008 election in interesting ways, with some curious song choices at John McCain rallies (I heard one report of Danger Zone being played; I think maybe it was chosen because it's from Top Gun, which features a character called Maverick, but if you're suggesting to your supporters that you'll take them "right into the danger zone" I don't think that's a message you want to convey). I don't know about Kenny Loggins, but many artists have taken exception to their songs at being used at McCain/Palin rallies, feeling that it indicates some level of endorsement.

Barack Obama has unabashed love from many artists, including the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom are doing concerts in his honor. On one hand the notion is laughable, as evidenced by this Onion article. But I can't blame the artists for doing these benefits. Everyone wants to feel like they're contributing.
That's why I feel I need to say so…

Rock Bottom: Elton John

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question.…

Rock Bottom: XTC

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the AllMusic Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artist in question. …

193. Ben Folds: Way to Normal (2008)

All hail the King of the Break-Up Song.

Many have vied for the throne, but all are pretenders when compared to Ben Folds. On his 1995 debut, Alice Childress and The Last Polka worked their regretful way into our hearts. 1996's Whatever and Ever Amen stepped it up a notch, with Fair, Selfless, Cold, and Composed, Smoke, Evaporated, and Song for the Dumped each addressing broken relationships in their own unique ways. 1999's The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner gave us the grandeur of Mess and Don't Change Your Plans. Folds only gave us Gone on his first solo effort, Rockin' the Suburbs, instead focusing on character pieces and love songs. He came back with a vengeance on 2005's Songs for Silverman: Landed, Give Judy My Notice, Trusted, You To Thank, and Time all explored the fineries of romantic failure.

Anyone can write a lot of songs on the same subject, but Folds' genius is a gift for devastating detail that makes you feel like he has lived every mome…

Rock Bottom: James Taylor

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted three sources, the AllMusic Guide and Rolling Stone (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective*). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not always agree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides or remix compilations, 2) live albums, 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member, and 4) forays into a different genres (i.e. classical).

*A note about Amazon.com. I consider this the fan perspective, because most people who choose to review albums on this site are adoring fans of the artis…