Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tom Szwech’s Best of 2007

Tom Szwech is the principal architect and sole proprietor of Bag of Songs, a freakishly good blog devoted to the rock and roll music that the kids like. You should visit his site. Every day. Forever. He shared his list of his favorite albums of aught-seven with us.

I listened to so many great records this year that even a list of 50 would shortchange something. The ones that really stuck with me and got played to most are the ones that ranked higher in the long run.

1. The Swimmers - Fighting Trees - far and away the one record I listened to most, in the rotation since January and still going strong. The perfect balance of catchy hooks,vocal harmonies and intelligent lyrics.

2. The Broken West - I Can't Go On I'll Go On - Jangly, smart, power pop. And it shows that they're musically well schooled, the last time I saw them live they threw in covers of Tegan And Sara, Yo La Tengo , and Buffalo Springfield.

3. Julie Doiron - Woke Myself Up - The best overlooked album of the year. Emotional, ragged and real with a sound that falls somewhere between fellow Canadians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Forget Feist you need this one.

4. The Clientele - God Save The Clientele Smooth like a Sunday morning pop, filled with sixties overtones but never sounding retro or dated.

5. Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation - What Wilco could've sounded like if they didn't sand the edges off. One of the best live shows I saw all year.

6. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter - One of the best new songwriters of a generation, Josh amped it up a bit on this one and created a classic.

7. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - Their first, Funeral, did nothing for me, but only one clunker (Black Wave) on this one kept it just shy of perfect. Embracing their Springsteen influences openly into their sound didn't hurt.

8. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver - James Murphy obviously honed his ear for what works during his time as a bouncer at Trenton's City Gardens all through the mid to late eighties and delivered an album that put all that knowledge together for something relevant right now.

9. Creeping Weeds - We Are All Part Of A Dream You're Having - One of Philly's most original sounding bands this manages to run the gamut from desolate spacey piano, to jagged edgy guitar rockers and all points in between, and it all works. And having seen them like 8 or 9 times this past year I can tell you they're an awesome live band as well.

10. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha - 12 solid midtempo pop songs filled hooks, violin, whistling and more, what else could you ask for. It plays really well as a whole, one of the best sequenced albums of the year, each song perfectly setting up the next, just like a great mix tape.

Art Hinshaw’s Best of 2007

As a law professor at Arizona State University, Art Hinshaw is all grown-up and respectable now. But way back when, he was in a band in the St. Louis music scene that spawned Uncle Tupelo (and, ultimately, Wilco and Son Volt). Here are nine albums that made the grade in the Valley of the Sun.

Thanks to the Teenage Kicks staff for asking for my top picks of 2007. Here they are in order:

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
M.I.A – Kala (the Clash sample on Paper Planes got me to listen)
Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Radiohead – In Rainbows
The New Pornographers – Challengers (down from their last, but still good)
Lucinda Williams – West (got goose bumps when she played the title track live)
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (not up to usual standards, but still good)
Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

I expect that most other submissions will be a list of ten, but I believe a year end list needs to consist of legitimately good cds worthy of such an elevated status. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ten worthy cds. It’s just that I’m not aware of any others, although I’m likely to discover them in 08 and play them tons. While two of my favorite bands released cds that have some great tunes on them, the White Stripes – Icky Thump and Wilco – Sky Blue Sky, I find them uneven to a point of distraction.

Daniel Rubin’s Best of 2007

Daniel Rubin is a scribe with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He once wrote about us for the paper, and called us “rockist.” We like him anyway. Here’s a list of his fave discs from the year gone by.

1. Radiohead, In Rainbows - good enough to pay for, which i did.
2. Bruce Springsteen, Magic - no disappearing act, here. channels tim o'brien, brian wilson and rufus wainwright.
3.Josh Ritter, Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter - came up with the best nick lowe song in years.
4. Bettye LaVette, Scene of the Crime - this one cuts deep
5.Wilco, Sky Blue Sky - for 'impossible germany' alone, makes the list. groovy flashback to future games and reelin in the years.
6. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black - the kind you don't take home to mother, even if she reads right to left.
7. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - ya, ya, ya, ya, ya,
8. Feist, The Reminder. almost forgot.
9. Dr. Dog, We All Belong: Lo-fi all-stars. Sound like they grew up in my record collection.
10. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible - keeps the car runnin'

Peter K's Best of 2007

As a result of growing up in western New York, Peter K has an appreciation for all things Buffalo, which may or may not explain his choice for album number ten. He reads Teenage Kicks and ridicules us in the comments, which seemed a good enough reason to invite him to participate in this project.

10. Buffalo Tom, Three Easy Pieces: A decade off didn’t hurt these guys a single bit. Three Easy Pieces is a great blend of melodic pop and garage rock, and is further proof that New West Records is one of today’s most vital and interesting labels.

9. The Mendoza Line, 30 Year Low: Ouch. Talk about your bad break-ups. 30 Year Low makes Rumors sound like Let’s Get It On. One listen to “31 Candles” makes it pretty clear that there will not be a Mendoza Line farewell tour. It’s a shame because this is an incredible album, sharp points and all, and the Mendoza Line was a great live act.

8. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky: This album succeeds despite Nels Cline’s incessant noodling. Look, Tweedy has always been about song structure. Even the chaos of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had structure. Cline kicks a hole in Tweedy’s structure and explores tangents that are at best inconsistent with the context of the song. Cline’s finest moments on Sky Blue Sky (i.e., Impossible Germany) work well because he shows the discipline to remain within the context of the song. I have to say though that Cline is practically invisible on my favorite Sky Blue Sky moments (i.e., You Are My Face).

7. Grand Champeen, Dial “T” For This: From Austin, Texas, Grand Champeen is the current torch bearer for the “get-drunk-play-loud-wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve” genre. Mixing the power pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick with the screaming harmonies of Soul Asylum, Grand Champeen has long been known as a great live band that doesn’t translate well in the recording studio. Dial “T” is as close as they’ve come to getting it right.

6. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away: I didn’t think Mercer could top Chutes Too Narrow. I’m not sure that he did with Wincing, but it’s a damn fine record. His arrangements have matured without becoming obtrusive or overbearing. Given the delicate nature of his songs, that’s some feat.

5. The Fratellis, Costello Music: My buddy Todd sent me a burn of this cd, and I listened to it without knowing anything about the band. Its propulsive exuberance (and butt-load of melodic hooks) sucked me in immediately. When I called to thank him, I was shocked when he said, “Pretty impressive first effort for three Scottish kids.” How the hell can there only be three people in that band? The album sounds like a full-blown party.

4. Joe Henry, Civilians: Every now and then I’ll hear a song that is so engrossing, I forget to breathe while listening to it. The song demands so much attention that the very act of taking a breath is too big a sacrifice. Civilians has about six songs that fit this description. The sad haunting piano of “God Only Knows,” the story of Willie Mays in “Our Song,” the burning torch of “I Will Write My Book” . . . . goddamn, I’m hyperventilating again.

3. Glossary, The Better Angels of Our Nature: I hate to use an overused cliché, but Glossary is the best damn band no one knows. Call it roots, heritage, alt-twang, new southern, whatever. Glossary does it well. Imagine X channeling Gram Parsons and singing a Flannery O’Connor novel. Beautiful harmony vocals, interwoven guitars, songs about drinking and religion and graveyards, and hope and rock and roll. Oh yes, it’s that good. Don’t believe me? Go to their website ( and download The Better Angels of our Nature for FREE. What have you got to lose?

2. Bruce Springsteen, Magic: Something has happened over the last decade that I don’t fully understand. Somehow, people have decided they are “too cool” to dig Bruce. Maybe it’s his politics? Maybe it’s because he’s old and married? I don’t know and I guess I don’t care. Magic is a great Bruce album. The songwriting is stellar, the arrangement is rich and full, and Brendan O’Brian does a first class job with the production. I’ll fly my dork flag high and proclaim it his best album since The River.

1. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: My aforementioned pal Todd and I have very similar taste in music. In fact, if he submits his top 10 to Teenage Kicks, it will look almost identical to mine. There is one glaring band where we differ however, and it’s Spoon. We’ve talked about it, I’ve sent him mixes, and I’ve even dragged him to shows. But he still hates Spoon. Until know, I couldn’t figure out why. But in a flash if inspiration the reason came to me. Listening to Spoon reminds me of the old Seinfeld joke about looking at cleavage. Jerry claims that cleavage should be observed in the same way one looks at an eclipse – glance at it, perceive its essence, and look away quickly. One must enjoy Spoon in a similar manner. Don’t bother listening too closely for literal meaning in either the words or music. One must take in the experience almost tangentially. My friend Todd, I’m afraid, doesn’t have the patience for this like of listening experience, whereas I’m able to enjoy a fleeting glance at a nice set of, err, songs. So anyway, this album kicks ass. I think it’s about a bad break-up, but I’m not entirely sure.

Dan DeLuca’s Best of 2007

Dan DeLuca is the pop music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he’s entirely too good for us. But he enjoys slumming, and he has listed his top ten albums of the year to share with you.

1.Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
2. Lily Allen, Alright, Still
3. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
4. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
5. Kanye West, Graduation
6. Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
7. Nick Lowe, At My Age
8. Various Artists, I'm Not There: Original Soundtrack
9. Common, Finding Forever
10. The White Stripes, Icky Thump

Todd Palmer’s Best of 2007

Todd Palmer loves rock and roll. Todd Palmer reads Teenage Kicks. Todd Palmer shares his favorite albums of the year.

2007 was, in my opinion, a capital-G Great year for music. Hardly a week went by that I didn't hear something new that I loved and couldn't live without. Not to suck up, but Trip and Michael pointed me in the right direction a few times; I still remember pulling up TeenKicks at 9:30 on a Sunday morning and watching the Fratellis' "Chelsea Dagger" video. I immediately threw on my shoes and ran to Target to buy it (and found it for $9.99 which, also in my opinion, should be the government-mandated price for all single-disc CDs). I also saw some great shows this year including, most recently, a bang-up performance by America's next dead heart-throb: Dewey Cox. Walk Hard indeed. I know that Trip even got his elderly ass out to a show or two. I met him live and in person at a Two Cow Garage show near Philly on a steamy Friday night. Hey Teek: Best version of "Ohio" ever? And the "This Is American Music" mini-tour in the fall featuring Glossary, Grand Champeen, Two Cow Garage and The Drams may have been my favorite show ever. Anyway, thanks for appealing to my ego and letting me spout about my favorites. Maybe there will be something new for your readers.

10. Kanye West - Graduation I hate this guy; I'm sure that I couldn't stand to be in a room with him (if there was even enough room for me + him + his ego). You can't argue with the truth, though. The beats and lyrics are infectious, and the delivery and production are spectacular. Every one of his albums has been a gem and this one's no different.

9. John Doe - A Year In The Wilderness Doe's latest example of greatness. Lyrically adventurous and musically broad with solid production, this one stayed in the player for several weeks straight. "You are the lump in my throat, I am the ache in your heart."

8. White Stripes - Icky Thump I got this to pass the time on a car trip to Chicago with my family in July. I probably listened to it 4 or 5 times in a row, and finally figured it out. Before that, I never "got" the whole White Stripes thing. Late to the party, I know, but at least I showed up. It's a damn fine album, and I think Meg is a perfectly good drummer, thanks very much.

7. Fratellis - Costello Music Thanks TeenKicks. My whole family loves this disc. It cracks me up to hear my kids singing with a Scottish accent (spouting what I'm sure are Scottish expletives) in the back seat of the van.

6. Son Volt - The Search I really want to like Wilco better than Son Volt. Everything that I read tells me that I should. But I can't. I often have no idea what Jay Farrar is singing about, but even if I don't understand them, his lyrics move me. To me his voice is more like another instrument, and I love how he blends tone, inflection and turn of phrase with the music to really paint a sonic picture. "Methamphetamine" may be my song of the year.

5. Mendoza Line - 30 Year Low Top five is serious business. No album this year struck me with its passion more that this final, painful, garment-rending collection from an underappreciated little band that grabbed me at SXSW 2006. There's enough poison and angst in this CD to fuel a hundred divorces, and I, for one, am glad they got it in the recording and not at each other's throats. Try "31 Candles" on for size and see what it's like from her point of view. "31 candles don't a woman make, you know you never gave me nothin', always take take take." or how about "No you never met my mother, well so much for the better. But you'd say "Fuck me" if you saw her in a sweater." This album DELIVERS.

4. Two Cow Garage - III As my friend Pete calls them, 'my Cows' are commonly found at the top of my lists. They play straight rock with loud guitars and the songs are simple and straightforward. Live, they kick you in the gut and pound you in the head. III, however, shows a lot more diversity in its songs, including some ballads and acoustic numbers that show an improving range in their songwriting. "No Shame" and "Mediocre" are standouts, but there isn't a clunker on the whole album. And I love playing "The Great Gravitron Disaster" in the car, 'cause nothing beats the whole family screaming the chorus at the top of their lungs: "Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na-a, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na." A classic.

3. Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch I love the Truckers, so I was sad to see Isbell go, but if the first solo effort and subsequent tour stops are any indication, he'll be popping up on my best-of lists for a long time. Great slide guitar, a tight band and some great down-home lyrics combine for a diverse group of songs, sometimes rocking balls-out, sometimes emotional and introspective. "Dress Blues" may be the best anti-war song to spring from our current conflict and can make you long for January of 2009. "Grown" and "Brand New Kind of Actress" are rock songs that reward repeated listenings with surprisingly deep stories. See him live for the full effect.

2. Ike Reilly Assassination - We Belong To The Staggering Evening Again, thanks TeenKicks. Every track on here reeks of booze and bad intent, and I can't get enough. Earlier this year Teek sent me an Ike compilation. I shared it around the office and was promptly voted class president. "Broken Parakeet Blues" shines brightest here, with a lyrical tightness and acoustic sweetness that belies the fierceness of the subject matter. I own them all now, and Ike has bubbled up to the top of my "why won't he come to Nashville, dammit!" list. Maybe in '08.

1. Glossary - The Better Angels Of Our Nature Hometown favorites of mine, this is the album that I've kept going back to day after day. They released it for free on their website and are touring behind it for the foreseeable future. Old-time blues-rock, with a great new keyboard player, these songs are real workingman tunes. The pedal steel is a lot more prominent, Kelly's supporting vocals have been mixed more up-front, increasing the depth of the production and adding a ton of emotion to their performances. I've followed this group for a few years, and their growth as a band, as musicians and as songwriters only serves to highlight the amount of really great music that's out there beyond the radio and beyond the major labels. Get out to your local pub and support the bands that work hard every day so that they can live their dreams at night. I know it's late and you're tired and you have to go to work tomorrow, but it's always better to be sorry for the things that you've done rather than the things that you haven't done. Download this one today at

Scott McClatchy’s Best of 2007

Scott McClatchy is Trip’s little brother and a fine singer/musician/songwriter whose music has been featured here many times. Check out Scott’s handiwork here. Check out his favorite music of 2007 here:

Bruce Springsteen: "Magic" OK … I've heard all the talk about how this is Bruce's return to his 'glory period' (re: The River era). I aint buying it. I think it's a great step forward - and a step that will lead to some really interesting music further on up the road. Ya see, I've been along for the full ride. Yes, the glory years were great. But I loved those acoustic albums, too. I thought the Seeger Sessions stuff was a blast … and the reunion tour proved that there is no other band in the world that can deliver a show like the E Street Band. So along comes “Magic” - great songs, great arrangements and a full tilt E Street Band delivering the goods. “Radio Nowhere” literally kicked the crap out of every other song on the radio this year. “Devils Arcade” - “Last To Die” and the title track all capture the feeling of fear and frustration of living in America today. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” - “Living In The Future” … everything you hope for in a Springsteen record … it's all there.

John Fogerty - "Revival" Sure, I think “Creedence Song” is a little weak, but pull that from your iPod playlist, and go give this CD another listen. “Gunslinger” & “Broken Down Cowboy” are up there with some of his best work. And it's still fun to listen to this old man who's still traveling down the rock and roll road rip it up with tracks like “I Can't Take It No More”

Sarah Borges And The Broken Singles - "Diamonds In The Dark" Sometimes, I just want to have fun when I listen to music. Well, “Stop And Think It Over” is about as much fun as you can have in 3:01. Some strong songs played by a band that never lets her down.

Steve Earle: "Washington Square Serenade" Steve Earle moves to NYC, discovers a scene that died a few years ago and writes it's eulogy. With an imaginative mix of hip-hop, country and folk, the hardcore troubadour wears his ever-changing moods (and heart) on his sleeve.

I'm Not There: "Soundtrack" I'll admit it, I like “Tribute” CDs. And I like hearing artists interpret one of rock and rolls greatest songwriters. Richie Haven's “Tombstone Blues” and Jeff Tweedy's “Simple Twist Of Fate” are exactly what they should be, honest, heart felt readings that don't stray much from the originals. But Los Lobos bring the carnival to “Billy 1” and I just love the sound of John Doe's voice on “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.”

Kendel Carson: "Rearview Mirror Tears" On my 'Best of 2007' CD, I had Kendel's “I Like Trucks” - a song that was dismissed by almost everyone I played it for. I still love that song. But don't judge this great CD by one quirky song. This CD has great “Americana” songs played by folks who know what they're doing, with “Ribbons & Bows” being one of the best 'duet ballads' of the year.

Red Meat: "We Never Close" I first came across this band hearing their version of the great LeRoi Brothers classic, “Pretty Little Light Of Town” on the radio. Found the CD, and it went into heavy rotation. The band does have an identity crisis - the songs are all over the place - but it's a fun road map to follow. Also, the perfectly crafted “Thriftstore Cowgirl” was one of my top ten songs of the year.

Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: "Raising Sand" Do not let the up-tempo “Gone Gone Gone” fool you - this CD is a quiet reflection - a perfect Sunday Morning CD. Released as a “country” CD, these tracks owe more of a debt to the old school country blues than anything you'll hear these days on Nashville radio. T Bone Burnette's production is clear and perfect - letting the voices and the instruments do their thing. And, another great “duet ballad” of 2007: “Your Long Journey.”

Switchfoot: "Gravity" Loud guitars and big choruses … what more do you need to know? Till I heard the title track on a “Paste” sampler, I had never heard of these guys. I did a little research, found out they were 'California Christian emo rockers' - I have no idea what the hell that means, but the first review I read on 'Gravity' compared this CD to Franz Ferdinand and Mott The Hoople … I'm in!!!

Tommy Womack: "There I Said It" Tommy is an acquired taste. Kind of like a mix between Jonathan Richman and Dave Alvin … but sounding absolutely nothing like either of them. Suffering from a musician's mid-life crisis (“I'm never gonna be a rock star … there I said”), Tommy pours out his heart on these tracks, and that can either be interpreted and “confessional” or a whinny assed complainer. Me? I'm siding with “confessional”

Bill Connelly’s Best of 2007

Our friend Bill Connelly of tried to list his ten favorite albums of the year for us. He succeeded (sort of).

Honorable Mention...
-- Feist, The Reminder: I have no idea why I like this album. It's quirky and strange, which means a year from now it will either be my #1 of 2007, or my #40...depending on how it grows on me.

-- Kanye West, Graduation: It's hard to consistently like Kanye West as a person (though I obviously feel for him right now after the loss of his mother), but each album of his gets a little more mature and well-rounded than the one before. While there's no one song as good as Late Registration's "Gone", there's a lot of good stuff here.

-- Arcade Fire, Neon Bible. I think this album's biggest flaw is that it came out a while ago, and I've begun taking it for granted.

-- Talib Kweli, Eardrum. A little too long, with a little too much filler, but nobody has more to say (and says it better) than Kweli.

-- The White Stripes, Icky Thump. I get tired of people worshipping everything Jack White does (though his cameo in Walk Hard gives me an entirely new appreciation of all things White), but I liked this album way more than I intended to. It's so unbelievably weird and listenable...and "Conquest" is one of the greatest covers I've ever heard.


10. Common, Finding Forever. After the overwhelming uniqueness of 2002's Electric Circus, Com's last two albums have felt underwhelming in the creativity department. But as far as lyrics and themes and hooks go, this is as good as anything he's done.

9. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Lifeline. This one has grown on me significantly from when I first heard it. It's far less spread out and intense than the typical BH&IC album, but there's a warmness to the songs and the sound, and I've warmed to it in the last couple of months.

8. Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight. This is by far the least lyrically-creative album Jenny Lewis has ever made, and maddening songs like "Smoke Detector" and "15" simultaneously make me gag and nod my head. But any album with "Silver Lining" on it is going to make my Top 10. What an unbelievable song.

7. Okkervil River, The Stage Names. One of my two best discoveries of the year. I got it on a whim, and it knocked me out. "Unless It's Kicks" is possibly my favorite pure rock song of the year.

6. Jay-Z, American Gangster. This album reminds me of all the reasons Jay-Z frustrates me so much. The self-professed greatest MC of all-time is mediocre at best when he has nothing to write about. But when he finds his inspiration (in this case, a Denzel Washington film), he knocks out every song.

5. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky. Like Ben Harper's album, this one disappointed me at first simply because my expectations were so high. But every time I listened to the album, a new song reached 5-star status on my iPod. "Side with the Seeds" has my favorite guitar solo of the year, and "On and On and On" breaks my heart.

4. Radiohead, In Rainbows. I'm penalizing this one simply because I haven't had as much time to soak it in as the others at the top of this list. In Rainbows doesn't crush me emotionally like OK Computer or The Bends did, and it's more thematically laid back than a lot of the Radiohead discography, but...the melodies are just so good. So, so good. This could end up a spot or two higher on my list once I've listened to it a few more times.

3. Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band, Magic. I just cannot figure out which Magic song is my favorite. Sometimes it's "You'll Be Coming Down", sometimes "Long Walk Home", sometimes "Radio Nowhere". It's comforting to know that your heroes can still wow you.

2. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Living with the Living. When I found out that I was going to Lollapalooza for the second straight year, I checked out the lineup and tried to figure out which Lolla bands were on eMusic (I had some downloads to kill before the trip to Chicago). Ted Leo & the Pharma showed up in the eMusic catalog, so I checked them out...I really liked what I heard in songs like "Who Do You Love?" and "CIA". After seeing them live, I listened to LWTL again and liked it infinitely more. I love bands that change your perceptions in 60 minutes or less.

1. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black. You don't know how much it irks me that I'm putting her at #1 (I don't enjoy celebrating people with so many self-induced issues), but...this is simply the best album of the year, and there's no way around it. It's derivative of the Ronettes and all those '60s R&B groups, but enough time has passed, I guess, to make this album sound fresh and exciting. And while her live performances are, to be kind, unsteady and unpredictable, this album--with the great Dap-Kings serving as backing band--caught lightning in a bottle.

Feel free to mock me as much as you so choose...

The Teenage Kicks Best of 2007 Extravaganza

We’re trying something new at Teenage Kicks. Normally, the opinions you read here are solely those of your two humble proprietors. But this year, we asked some of our friends and/or enemies to help us out by providing lists of their ten favorite albums of year. We’re going to roll each of those lists out over the next few days (some are still coming in), and then at the end, we’ll use a point system to come up with a master list of the top ten Teenage Kicks albums of the year. Yeah, we know, everybody does this. Humor us.

If this works, maybe we’ll do a full-fledged readers poll next year. Consider yourself warned.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Coming Soon to an Internet Near You

. . . the Teenage Kicks Best of 2007 Spectacular, complete with guest stars (some of whom even have some credentials). Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nick Hornby blogs

This came as news to me, but the acclaimed author of High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch (among others) has been blogging sporadically for the past several months. In his latest entry, he lists his favorite songs of the year, and as I suspected, he seems like a Teenage Kicks kind of guy. In fact, people often tell me I remind them of Hornby, minus the English accent and blinding gift for words.

Monday, December 24, 2007

...Be Children For Awhile

My little brother just discovered rock and roll... and his reading of this Steve Earle gem is just about perfect for any occasion, but absolutely perfect for this occasion.

Merry Christmas Michael, Sherri, Grace, Evan, Sean, Eirann, Nick, Ian and Luca.

Once upon a time in a far off land
Wise men saw a sign and set out aross the sand
Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night
Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light
They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west
Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles
And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away
Or guide a weary world into the light of day
And nothing but a child could help erase these miles
So once again we all can be children for awhile

Now all around the world, in every little town
Everyday is heard a precious little sound
And every mother kind and every father proud
Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed

Scott McClatchy - Nothing But A Child

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Nina, on Martha, on J.J. and Goodman . . .

Billy Squier and the original MTV gang wish you the merriest of Christmases.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Teenage Kicks Exclusive: Scott McClatchy

For all the guys who say "I love you" through mix tapes, we bring you a song you can't find anywhere else. Here's Scott McClatchy, one of our favorites, who may or may not be related to one of the proprietors of this site.

Scott McClatchy, "Pat and Joanne"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Have a Glammy, Hairy Christmas

Slade, "Merry Christmas Everybody"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Welcome to Trip's Nightmare

Rolling Stone lists the fifty best songs over seven minutes long. All things considered, not a bad list, but I bet the list of fifty best songs under three minutes would kick its ass.

Six days and counting . . .

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Discography of Geography

In that last post about the terrific new book on The Replacements, I neglected to mention the following quote from Craig Finn, frontman and principal songwriter of the Teenage Kicks house band, The Hold Steady:

Hootenanny has “Run It,” which [references] Lyndale and Garfield [avenues in South Minneapolis], and I knew those streets and I was blown away that there was a rock band in my hometown.

There are plenty of reasons to love The Replacements. The fact that they gave Finn license to write songs incorporating the streets of Minneapolis is yet another.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Words I Thought I Brought I Left Behind

The Replacements – All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History, by Jim Walsh

It’s hard for me to articulate my feelings about The Replacements, in part because they make so little sense. There was a time, in the late 1980s, when the ‘Mats meant everything to me. I had loved rock and roll my whole life, but I had never been so immersed in a band. It wasn’t hero worship. It was something much more intimate. I felt like they knew me, and I knew them, and that I could see something of myself reflected in Paul Westerberg’s unspeakably glorious songs. Westerberg was possessed of many gifts: a knack for melody, an abundance of rock and roll spirit, a natural and devastating ease with language. But more than anything, he had the gift of empathy. Paul could make you feel his pain, and make you believe that he felt yours. More than that, he could blur the line between his feelings and yours to the point that there was no real distinction to be made.

The connection was all the more remarkable because we really were nothing alike. Both of us were Midwesterners, born in the 1960s, but the similarities ended there. Westerberg was a city kid; I was from a series of tiny towns. He was a chronic screw-up who barely finished high school; I was an achiever on my way to law school. He was a substance-gobbling maniac; other than enjoying the occasional beer, I was a straight arrow. Still, when he sang “the ones who love us least/are the ones we’ll die to please,” he seemed like the brother I never had.

Despite the connection I felt to the band, I never really wanted to know them. They had a reputation for being drunk, petty, dismissive, and belligerent. I once stood about five feet away from Tommy Stinson, the band’s bassist, in a nearly empty bar. But I declined the chance to introduce myself. It seemed a risk not worth taking.

The band has been gone nearly twenty years now, but rock journalist Jim Walsh, who was there from the beginning, explores their incandescent decade together in his excellent new book The Replacements – All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History. The portrait that emerges is one of a band you couldn’t know even if you wanted to, a group as elusive as they were brilliant.

When I first heard that the book would be presented as an oral history – snippets of interviews and previous writings edited and arranged by the author without a conventional narrative – my first thought was that it’s a lazy way to write a book (though I enjoyed the similarly-structured Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain). But it turns out that it was the perfect format to tell the tale of a band of contradictions – confident and insecure, ambitious and self-sabotaging – that was impossible to pin down during their time together. This isn’t a fact-by-fact recitation. It is often not revealed when or why things happened, which is appropriate; through their alcoholic haze, the Replacements probably couldn’t recall the when and the why themselves. Instead, Walsh recounts the impressions, sometimes contradictory, of people who knew the band along the way. Though Westerberg’s and Stinson’s voices are heard through archival interviews (they declined to give new ones), the story is mostly told through the eyes of others, those who saw the ‘Mats at their heart-stopping best and jaw-dropping worst.

The star witness is Peter Jesperson, the record store owner turned record biz exec who managed and recorded Paul, Tommy, Tommy’s brother Bob (lead guitar) and Chris Mars (drums) from the get-go, when Tommy was just thirteen years old and the others barely pushing twenty. Jesperson and others were floored the moment they first saw the scruffy south Minneapolis kids play. “They were playing the Longhorn [a local bar] one night,” says Jay Walsh, the author’s brother. “They were so ******* good I was plastered up against a wall watching them. Within ten seconds, I knew they were the best band in town.” The ‘Mats quick ascendance from nothing to something sparked jealousy from Twin Cities contemporaries Hüsker Dü, and fueled a rivalry between the groups. Hüsker Dü’s drummer/singer Grant Hart recalls that Bob Mould, the Dü’s guitarist/vocalist “was intimidated by Twin/Tone [Jesperson’s record label] liking them. There just seemed to be this all-or-nothing thing: We were going to get ****** by Twin/Tone because of the existence of this band.”

There are also tales of disastrous shows marked by incoherence and indifference, the nights they might start thirty songs but drunkenly fail to finish any of them, or sets chock full of songs by Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper and the DeFranco Family, but not one by the Replacements. Scott McCaughey, leader of the Young Fresh Fellows, tells of a night in Providence when his band watched the ‘Mats play from right in front of the stage. “After about an hour,” he says, “as it became apparent that the band was reaching the point of complete incapability, Paul suddenly announced, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Young Fresh Fellows!’ Instruments were abandoned, and we clambered onstage and claimed them. I was amazed at the volume and sheer monumental rock sound when I hit an A-chord through Paul’s Marshall. We staggered into some medley of our song ‘Big House’ and Mott the Hoople’s ‘Walkin’ with a Mountain’ and god knows what else. After about ten minutes we gave up, too. At that point I think the perplexed crowd readied itself for the Replacements’ triumphant return to the stage. There wasn’t a chance in hell that was going to happen.”

Notwithstanding the band’s constant courting of disaster, they were able to make the major-label leap, thanks largely to their final indie effort, 1984’s monumental Let It Be, a classic of the form. Too often, though, the bigger stage only allowed the band to derail its career in grander ways, from tanking a tour in support of Tom Petty, to getting themselves permanently uninvited from playing on Saturday Night Live, to their unconventional approach to radio interviews:

DJ: Why do you write songs?
Westerberg: I do it to make Tommy and Chris look bad. [pause] No, I do it because I’m gay.
DJ: What can you tell us about the new single, “The Ledge”?
Westerberg: Well, it’s in E minor, and – if you’re following along at home – E minor, C major seventh, D suspended with a B seven turnaround.

The book’s emotional core, though, is in the long slow fade of Bob Stinson, the Replacements’ founding guitarist, a scorching, instinctive player as famous for his outfits (a tutu, a garbage bag, large-print dresses) as his axe-slinging. The book is vague at best about why he was kicked out of the group in 1986. It is understood that his abuse of drink and drugs was the reason, but it’s not clear how that made him any different than anyone else in the band. Bob is presented as credulous and naïve, a good-hearted goof who loved people, the guitar, and getting high, though not always in that order. Once fired, it’s plain to see his fate coming, which makes his death in 1995 all the more tragic. It plays out in slow motion, heartbreaking and inevitable.

In many ways, Bob’s departure started the band’s decline. But if the book has any shortcoming, it’s in failing to capture how sensational the Replacements could still be in their later years, when Slim Dunlap replaced the elder Stinson on guitar (though one of the book’s warmest moments deals with Emily Dunlap, Slim’s daughter, reacting to the change in personnel: “It’s never a good thing when your dad joins your favorite band,” Slim says. “That should not happen.”). They never again hit the towering heights, but they also rarely explored the withering depths. Good shows outnumbered bad as the 1990s came.

In fact, the best I ever saw them (the best I ever saw anyone) was in the days when they were falling apart for good. It was January 1991. Chris Mars had just departed, leaving only two original members, and it was clear that the ride was coming to an end. The first Iraq war was ongoing, and I was feeling unsettled with my country at war for the first time in real memory (Vietnam was only vague recollection for me). The foursome (including temporary drummer Steve Foley) hit the stage at the American Theater in St. Louis and played a ferocious, mesmerizing set that closed with their first single, “I’m in Trouble,” ending it where it began. Nothing about it was political, but given the context, it somehow seemed even more poignant, and became a long-treasured memory. That is, until seventeen years later when I got to page 159 and read this Westerberg quote from late 1990: “The war in Kuwait or a zit on my cheek? Which worries me more? You know, my ******’ cheek! My hair or global warming? It’s like, yeah – that **** is all bad, but I’m not gonna talk about something I don’t know about.”

The Replacements. Gone nearly two decades, and still screwing it up for the rest of us.

Friday, December 07, 2007

No Two Alike

Listen to this while you read.

I wish I’d had a camera. The season’s first snow fell on Kansas City yesterday, and a small militia of children (including my daughter, nearly seven, and son, just shy of four) and I gathered on the gentle slope of a neighbor’s backyard, a vast, lightly wooded expanse that serves as the hub of an oblong wheel of a dozen or more homes. Just past dusk the winter sky turned a milky purple-white, and the glow of Christmas trees in nearly every window settled upon us. The night was still as a reflecting pool, the mercury barely below freezing. Few things are perfect, but this night was.

As the kids, sleds in hand, lined up for takeoff at the top of the hill, I stood at the bottom, the Catcher of the Small Fry, positioned to prevent them from hurtling through the pin oaks and into the shallow ravine. They came, one after another. Solo flights. Tandem missions. Sleds linked together into long trains of pleasure riders. There were no cries, no complaints, and no casualties. Just the very essence of childhood joy, the kind that instantly transports you back three decades.

It’s the sort of thing I didn’t understand before I had kids, something with which I would never bore childless friends. But this is the good stuff, better than any experience you could buy, and the kind of thing you’d miss if you didn’t occasionally force yourself to stop and smell the frozen noses.

As they floated down on their sliding saucers, some were intense thrill-seekers. Some were bundles of giggles and smiles, crash-landing, brushing themselves off, and flying back up the hill almost as fast as they’d come down. Each kid was a snowflake, shimmering and perfect, no two alike.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Let This Boy Shout, Let This Boy Scream

"Going Underground" by The Jam is one the few dozen songs in existence that at one time or another (like right now) could lay claim as the greatest song ever written. I've heard this song 500 times and when it popped up on my itunes tonight the opening guitar salvo quickly shook me out of my basketball funk (my Hawks laid an egg tonight at home and got smoked by well-coached, fun to watch Holy Cross squad).

Why Paul Weller and The Jam couldn't crack the American market is a great mystery. Listen to this song and tell me there's a better way to spend three minutes.

As an added bonus here's an incredible Bowie meets T. Rex doing the E Street Shuffle version of "Going Underground". This song should be uncoverable but somehow Buffalo Tom makes it simmer and smolder and it becomes a declaration of purpose as opposed to Weller's furious statement of barely contained post-adolescent anti-war fury.

The Jam - "Going Underground"

Buffalo Tom - "Going Underground"

Sometimes rock and roll can absolutely take your breath away.

Men out of time

We don’t aspire to cool around here. It’s too taxing, and we’re not part of the right demo, anyway. Too old, too married, too many kids, too concerned about college basketball, too little attention given to cutting-edge footwear. Mostly, though, we’re just too indifferent to status, which, come to think of it, may be an indicator that we are, in fact, cool. Well, maybe Trip is cool. Me, I sold out to the man and started hawking t-shirts online, permanently and eternally disqualifying me from cool consideration.

I digress. To the extent I ever was cool, it was for about five minutes in the 1990s, which, coincidentally, is the name of the band I recently saw open for Art Brut and The Hold Steady. 1990s, that is. If I were cool, instead of them just being a band whose name was familiar from something I read somewhere, I would have known that their roots go back to Yummy Fur, the same band that gave birth to Franz Ferdinand, and I would have owned their album in its proper stateside release form, plus a handsome armload of imports and b-sides. Instead, they were just the band playing to a mostly empty house when I eased into the funky/musty main room. But as I watched the jagged three-piece with the thick Scottish brogues play, a couple of light bulbs went on. One said “these guys remind me of the Fratellis” (and if living in the great middle west does anything, it gives you license to think that all Scottish trios sound alike). The other said “these songs are good.”

So I picked up the album. And those songs are good. There’s nothing profound going on; it’s all sugar-high, a spike of good feeling that lasts for three minutes and then fades away (speaking of the Fratellis . . .). But I like my candy now and then, and these stomping, spiky hooks (which on disc suggest Primal Scream more than the aforementioned Frats), tickle my taste buds even if they fail to nourish my soul. Have a listen.

Listen to "You Made Me Like It" buy Cookies iTunes Amazon