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4 Stars Movies Music

Lou Reed, Antony, and Julian Schnabel Dance the Rock Minuet in the Concert Film Berlin

Lou Reed‘s 1973 album Berlin is a concept album relating the tale of a doomed woman named Caroline living in the eponymous city. The term “concept album,” then and now, invokes immediate condescension from fans and critics alike, calling to mind the progressive rock excesses of 1970s megabands The Who (Tommy and Quadrophenia), Genesis (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and Yes (Tales from Topographic Oceans). The poet and arty downtown Manhattanite Reed might have better served himself by referring to Berlin as something more fancy-sounding, perhaps a “song cycle.”

Reed’s previous album Transformer was a great commercial success, debuting the enduring hits “Satellite of Love”, “Perfect Day”, and “Walk on the Wild Side”. To follow it up with something like Berlin may have been loaded with artistic integrity, but was asking for trouble in terms of making a living. I recall reading that enough material was written and recorded for it to be a double-LP, but it was too much for a single LP, so the work was unsatisfactorily edited down to a single disc before release (I can’t find a source for this factoid online, but I believe it was related in the liner notes of his 1992 retrospective boxed set Between Thought and Expression). Produced by Bob Ezrin (whose concept album credentials also include Pink Floyd’s The Wall), it was a commercial disaster at the time. So, cursed from the beginning, the full studio version has apparently never been released.

Emmanuelle Seigner in Lou Reed's Berlin
Emmanuelle Seigner in Lou Reed’s Berlin

In retrospect, Reed now seems to have been compelled to flee from commercial success, or at the very least was bound and determined not to repeat himself. Reed’s other infamous commercial disaster Metal Machine Music was another deliberate provocation: even the most open minded musicologist might charitably characterize it as earsplitting noise. But Berlin is different, hated more for its intensity and subject matter than its sound. Several of the songs are lovely, but wow is the complete work depressing, full of anger, venom, resentment, death, despair, and guilt. The song “The Kids” is especially harrowing, ending with a tape of children wailing.

Lou Reed's Berlin
“Caroline says / While biting her lip / Life is meant to be more than this”

Over time, the album was eventually rediscovered. One of those reappraising Berlin was no less than artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. So it came to be, that 33 years after its release, Schnabel proposed to Reed that Berlin really ought to be a film. Schnabel is obviously attracted to artists dedicated to their work with utter conviction: revolutionary New York Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the eponymous biopic, the gay poet Reinaldo Arenas in Castro-era Cuba in Before Night Falls, and the paralyzed writer Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The Berlin DVD bonus features include a brief conversation with Reed and Schnabel on Elvis Costello’s show Spectacle, in which Schnabel describes his attraction to the cinema from the perspective of a painter: he reverently refers to the canvas-like movie screen as “The Rectangle.”

Something best appreciated by seeing Reed perform live is that he is a great guitarist. He’s also visibly in surprisingly good shape for a former junkie (sorry, but it’s true). Does he practice yoga? Reed in performance is supremely cool and detached, but some startlingly real emotion comes through in his vocal delivery; he spits out the lines “they took her children away” from the song “The Kids” with real venom.

Antony in Lou Reed's Berlin
Antony dances the rock minuet

Original guitarist Steve Hunter rejoined Reed for the Berlin tour, and can barely contain his pleasure, despite the grim subject matter. Bob Ezrin himself conducts with great enthusiasm, but oddly, he seems to be facing the drummer, away from the choir and woodwinds. One of my favorite bassists, Fernando Saunders, doesn’t really get to shine, but perhaps it was my sound system that couldn’t do him justice. Julian Schnabel’s daughter Lola directed film clips projected during the performance, starring Emmanuelle Seigner as Caroline.

So Reed finally got a chance to present Berlin live, as a whole piece. Now the once-denigrated work has become a world tour, a theatrical feature film, a live album, and a DVD. Reed is now considered a New York deity, not the erratic addict he was back in the day. His career is far from over and there’s plenty of time for more drama, but could this be his ultimate revenge?

The encore includes a special treat, a lovely version of “Rock Minuet” sung by Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) in his otherworldly voice. “Rock Minuet” was not from the original album, but a special request from Schnabel, who rightly felt it belonged. But it’s followed by a bummer: a desultory performance of the Velvet Underground standard “Sweet Jane”. It’s a letdown that after the emotionally intense proceedings, that Reed seems truly bored here and just walks through a song he’s probably performed hundreds if not thousands of times.

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3 Stars Movies Music

Sigur Rós Comes Home to Iceland in Heima

Dean DeBlois’ documentary film Heima (meaning “coming home” or “at home”) follows the band Sigur Rós on their summer 2006 tour of their home country Iceland. The tour consisted of mostly free, unannounced concerts, and with the band in three basic configurations spanning the continuum of the purely acoustic to the fully electric. The four core members Jónsi Birgisson, Georg Hólm, Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason perform several acoustic songs just for the camera. The extended band (including string ensemble Amiina) is also seen performing outdoors, fully Sigur Rósunplugged, at a concert protesting an environmentally destructive dam to be built by the Icelandic government. Finally, in contrast, we also see the full band in indoor concerts with dramatic lighting and video effects.

Sigur Rós Heima
Sigur Rós live in concert

Many Sigur Rós songs are sung in an invented language called Vonlenska (“Hopelandic”), adding to the universality and international appeal of their music. For the uninitiated, Sigur Rós are a key representative of the musical genre “post-rock,” which generally refers to highly evocative, cinematic, largely instrumental music sometimes compared to movie soundtrack composition. Other notable bands working in roughly the same idiom include Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Múm. In my opinion, you can trace the genre’s heritage back to the progressive rock of Yes and King Crimson.

Sigur Rós Heima
Sigur Rós live in concert

Interview clips and stunning landscape images punctuate the film, making it almost as much about Iceland itself as the band. The most incongruous clip is from the avant-garde band’s unlikely appearance on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. They discuss being unprepared for the business side of a career in music (lawyers, contracts, etc.), but understand that they have to think of the future.

The second disc of the two DVD set features full uninterrupted performances, but with no two songs played in sequence, let alone a full concert. The fragmentation of both the main documentary film and the supplementary features is mildly disappointing. However, the band has plans for a full concert film directed by Vincent Morisset.

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3 Stars Movies Music

There’s Nothing Pretty: Grant Gee’s Joy Division

Grant Gee’s documentary Joy Division covers the all-too-brief history of the eponymous post-punk band from Manchester. Joy Division was tragically short-lived, only completing two albums before lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980, but disproportionately influential. Their sound is all over the early U2 albums Boy and October, and Interpol has made a career of emulating Joy Division’s sound.

Gee sets the scene of late 1970s Manchester as a grimy hellhole in which “there’s nothing pretty.” The core members of the band are perversely inspired by a Sex Pistols concert (their review: “shite, a car crash”) to form their own band. Photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn took some of the most memorable portraits of the band. Used to Holland’s health care system, he was shocked to see such poverty in England. He describes Joy Division as undernourished and shivering in their thin coats.

Joy Division
Joy Division

Gee also interviews Peter Saville, the graphic designer that created the remarkably stark album sleeves that were almost as influential as the music itself. Tony Wilson (a colorful character who was the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s fantastic biopic 24 Hour Party People) was an early champion, in between his duties as host of the TV show “So It Goes” and Factory Records impresario. Curtis’ widow Deborah does not seem to have participated, but her side of the story appears in the excellent biopic Control, co-produced by her and directed by Corbijn.

Ian Curtis of Joy Division
Ian Curtis of Joy Division

Curtis is described as a regular lad who frequently bought flowers for his wife. In other words, the opposite of punk. But he’s also characterized as “bipolar,” moody and unpredictable even before his epilepsy manifested itself in frequent, dramatic grand mal seizures. His singular stage presence was marked by a peculiar form of dance inspired by his seizures (that he sometimes actually did experience on stage). The necessary drug treatments caused huge mood swings, further compromising his already unsteady mental health. Curtis continued his day job assisting disabled people for the Civil Service even as the band was taking off. In a heartbreaking bit of synchronicity, his classic song “She’s Lost Control” is about an epileptic girl he met though his work.

Grant Gee’s clear expertise is musical documentary. His 1998 film Meeting People is Easy famously captures Radiohead breaking through to mass popularity as their 1998 album OK Computer is universally declared the album of the year. The frank film shows emotionally fragile Thom Yorke almost physically recoiling from fame, but receiving wise counsel from mentor Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Gee also co-directed the excellent 2005 Gorillaz concert film Demon Days Live at the Manchester Opera House, better even than the studio album that preceded it. Both films have permanent spots on the DVD shelf.

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3 Stars Movies Music

Daniel Lanois Maximizes the Room in Here Is What Is

Daniel Lanois is a unique musician, as gifted a singer-songwriter in his own right as he is a collaborator and producer. I originally came to recognize his name after finding it listed in the credits of many key items in my music collection, including Peter Gabriel’s So and Us, U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, and Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind. His 1993 solo album For the Beauty of Wynona remains an all-time personal favorite.

The feature documentary Here Is What Is premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2007, directed by Lanois, Adam Samuels, and Adam Vollick. It captures the recording of the album of the same name, but also serves as a kind of retrospective and mission statement. Conversations between Lanois and early mentor (now equal) Brian Eno punctuate the film. Lanois states to Eno his intentions for the movie: to create a film about the beauty of music, not everything that surrounds it (which I took to mean hagiography, celebrity gossip, and the sometimes tedious behind-the-sceens documentation typical of the genre). Eno suggests that his film should try to show people that art often grows out of nothing, or from the simplest of seeds in the right situations, not from what outsiders might assume are the miraculous inspirations of allegedly brilliant or gifted artistes.

Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno in Here Is What Is
Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno recording their new ambient masterwork, “Music for Staircases”

Lanois is Canadian by birth, but has a special affinity for the American South, especially New Orleans. He credits New Orleans for the original sensual groove that formed the basis of rock music. Perhaps intended as a visual echo of this theory, the stunningly beautiful Carolina Cerisola often appears dancing in her scanties.

Lanois details his longtime, fruitful collaboration with drummer Brian Blade. Legendary keyboardist of The Band, Garth Hudson, also joins them in the studio for some truly awesome performances. One of my favorite sequences intercuts between “The Maker” performed by Lanois’ band live in studio, covered by Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, and Lanois’ band live on stage. Billy Bob Thornton, still friends from collaborating on the score to Sling Blade in 1996, drops in for a visit. We catch exciting glimpses of recording U2’s forthcoming album (since christened No Line on the Horizon, to be released in February 2009) with Eno and Steve Lillywhite.

Daniel Lanois in Here Is What Is
Which button dials down Bono’s ego?

Lanois names a primarily influence to be the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which he describes as a fairly straightforward rock trio but with ambitious, experimental production. He describes how he himself approaches production, in just one word: “feel.” He reportedly had a contentious relationship with Dylan in the studio, but the resultant albums are classics, and Dylan affirmed that “you can’t buy ‘feel.'” Another Lanois aphorism, “maximize the room,” means to make the most of what you have, rather than invite guest musicians or order up more equipment.

Here Is What Is features full performances of songs, which is especially welcome compared to two recent music documentaries recently screened by this blog: Low in Europe and You May Need a Murderer, which both shy away from actually showing Low perform. Here Is What Is‘s visuals are sometimes compromised with cheesy video effects. The film is at its best when simply following the hypnotic movements of Lanois’ hands on his pedal steel guitar.

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4 Stars Music

Low live at Mercury Lounge, New York – September 22, 2008

I hope I’m totally wrong, but I picked up on a few hints that this latest tour by Low might mark the end of the band. My half-baked evidence:

  1. Alan Sparhawk seems to be having success with new side project, the Retribution Gospel Choir.
  2. This tour is not in support of a new album release.
  3. The shows were marketed as “An Evening With Low,” lingo for shows with no opening acts. Pitchfork reported that Low would be playing extra-long sets.
  4. Sparhawk himself told the Mercury Lounge audience to settle in for a long night, and ominously said a “retrospective” show is like the proverbial “nail in the coffin.”
  5. Bassist Matt Livingston has left the band after a relatively short tenure, replaced by Steve Garrington.
  6. David Kleijwgt’s 2008 documentary You May Need a Murderer had a notably more frank and final tone compared to the 2004 Low in Europe. Could Low be preparing their legacy?
  7. I read later that on September 13, at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset, Sparhawk flung his guitar into the crowd. As seen in You May Need a Murderer, Sparkhawk has some issues with his mental health. Whether it was an act of rage or elation remains an object of debate online.

Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, and one of my favorite bands will continue on. Recent albums The Great Destroyer and Drums & Guns were both great leaps forward, and as a listener I see no reason why the band can’t keep evolving.

Some little anecdotes of the evening:

  1. The first half of the set was acoustic (albeit using an array of electronic devices), and Sparhawk switched to an electric guitar for the second half. Garrington used an upright acoustic bass throughout.
  2. Mimi Parker stated that the evening’s rendition of “Dragonfly” could have been called “Dragging-fly” Sparhawk agreed, admitting it was a “Extra Dragging-fly.”
  3. Low debuted a sequel to their classic Low Christmas EP: “Santa’s Coming Over,” soon to be released on vinyl and digitally. Its the first example of self-parody by Low that I’m aware of. The Low Christmas EP is actually somberly beautiful, but in “Santa is Coming” Sparhawk sings patently silly lyrics in full doom-and-gloom melodramatic slowcore style. Perhaps I should have filed this note in my list of “half-baked evidence” above…
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4 Stars Music

The Swell Season live at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, New York – September 17, 2008

Glen Hansard (of The Frames and The Commitments) and Markéta Irglová recorded an album together called The Swell Season, and now tour under the name. They fell in love while filming the excellent Once, and are now a couple.

Interestingly, they got their Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” out of the way right away, perhaps to avoid having the audience call it out as a request over and over throughout the evening. Personally, I felt Hansard goofed off a bit too much, even during serious songs like a new one I believe was called “Broke Down.”

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3 Stars Movies Music

Low get political in David Kleijwegt’s You May Need a Murderer

It may seem overkill for the so-called slowcore band Low to be the subject of another documentary feature film only a mere four years after Low in Europe, but it must be because they’re just so interesting. Filmmaker David Kleijwegt’s You May Need a Murderer could just as well be titled Low in America, as he speaks with founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker at home in Duluth, Minnesota, and on tour across America in support of the Drums & Guns album. The key characteristics of that record are what most inform the film: Sparhawk’s mood post-nervous breakdown, and Low’s most overtly expressed social and political commentary yet. Low had also just adopted a new bass player, Matt Livingston, after Zak Sally’s long tenure, but he does not participate (he’s only barely glimpsed, even in live onstage footage).

You May Need a Murderer is a much more satisfying film overall than Low in Europe. Whether by their own desire to open up or by Kleijwegt’s persuasive interview skills, Sparhawk and Parker are notably more candid and direct, especially on the topic of their faith. Which is exactly what one would single out as the most interesting thing about Low: Sparhawk and Parker are a married Mormon couple that that tithe a tenth of all their income to the church. I suppose Low might belong in that rare category of bands whose music is often characterized by religious beliefs, like the often overtly Christian U2, but would never be filed under “Inspirational” in record stores. Unlike U2’s joyous hymns and optimistic calls to activism, Low’s inspirations are considerably more dark and apocalyptic.

Low You May Need a Murderer

When Low gets political they do so with a vengeance. Sparhawk is in despair over America’s economy and politics, and has long believed that the world may reach a crisis point in his lifetime (he stops short of predicting it will actually “end”). Sparhawk’s genuine beliefs gives him the real authority to criticize George W. Bush’s claim to faith. The title song “You May Need a Murderer” is sung from the point of view of one who goes before his god and asks to be used as a warrior. It becomes clear that the speaker is in effect staring into a mirror, bringing his own baggage to an imaginary conversation, and justifying his own dark impulses. Sparhawk is, needless to say, talking about self-proclaimed men of faith like Bush and Tony Blair. The song is utterly terrifying, and raises the hairs on the back of my neck every time. It may be the ultimate statement on the topic, and does not compare favorably to the similarly-themed song by Bright Eyes, “When the President Talks to God.”

The most surprising personal topic to come up is Sparhawk’s apparent nervous breakdown in 2005. We see Sparhawk appearing very anxious backstage before a show, but otherwise functional. But he describes himself as having been “clinically delusional” at the point of his breakdown, and while having nominally recovered, he also cops to being a drug addict. To him, the biggest conflict these two aspects of his life have is with his religion.


Must Read: The Speed of Silence review [update: no longer online]

Must Read: PopMatters review

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4 Stars Music

Laura Veirs live at Bowery Ballroom, New York

This blogger has been a big fan of the bespectacled, water-obsessed Laura Veirs ever since first discovering her infectious song “Galaxies” on the late & lamented MP3 blog Salon Audiofile in 2005. Why it was not a huge hit, featured in iPod or car commercials and embedded in the denouements of The O.C. or Gray’s Anatomy, I’ll never understand. Still, she’s evidently doing well for herself, for I’ve now seen her live three times in New York City, and each time she’s graduated to a larger venue.

Laura Veirs

This is the first time I’ve seen her perform solo, without her band The Saltbreakers (whom she lovingly refers to as The Bearded Men). Like seemingly every other singer/songwriter these days, she employs live looping technology (pioneered by Joseph Arthur and popularized by K.T. Tunstall) to become a one-woman band, accompanying herself with looped beats and bass lines all generated on a single acoustic guitar. The mood was great and she was well-received, and she later ranked New York City as the best audience of the tour.

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Music

26 Albums I’m Told I Should Remove From My Collection

Chalkills, the XTC fansite, wants to help you sift through the detritus of your music collection, pronto: One Hundred Albums You Should Remove from Your Collection Immediately (spotted on DGMLive).

I own (or once owned) a whopping 26% of these overrated (so they say) canonical classics! Hey, Chalkhills, what did I ever do to you? I love XTC (Apple Venus and Wasp Star being two of my all-time favorite albums, hands-down), so my tastes can’t be all bad, can they? But having read your list, I find that for every one of your selections that brings steam out of my ears, there’s another with which I have to begrudgingly agree.

So here’s my annotated list, including, for fun, the format in which I purchased each offending title and whether or not I eventually discarded it:


U2 The Joshua Tree

2. U2 – The Joshua Tree
20th Anniversary Edition boxed set
U2’s true masterpiece Achtung Baby was yet to come, but the complex depth of that record wouldn’t have been possible without the unironic earnestness of The Joshua Tree. And yes, maybe I’m a snob (not to mention old) for upgrading to the remastered anniversary edition, but just the other day I listened to the revived recording of “Mothers of the Disappeared” with my jaw literally hanging open and the proverbial chills running up and down my spine.


Nirvana Nevermind

3. Nirvana – Nevermind
cassette (discarded)
It was a gift, I swear. While I intellectually understand what the mass-market breakthrough of Nirvana did for music (basically, sparking a fresh explosion of so-called “alternative” music comparable to punk’s effect on a stagnant world of disco and stadium rock in the early 1970s), I always preferred the rock ‘n’ roll songcraft of Pearl Jam to the loud ‘n’ sloppy depression of Nirvana.


The Beatles Let it Be

5. The Beatles – Let It Be
cd, The “Naked” version
Any antipathy towards the Beatles seems a bit strange coming from an XTC fansite — surely Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are acolytes. Do I still have to discard Let It Be if I own the McCartney-approved “Naked” edition, as opposed to the original with Wall-of-Schmaltz orchestral overdubs by Phil Spector? Let it Be is not my favorite Beatles long-player (that would definitely be The White Album), and obviously one the lads tossed off at the tail end of their (actually quite brief) association. But how is that any different, really, from their early quickie LPs recorded in mere hours with the aid of amphetamines?


The Police Synchronicity

7. The Police – Synchronicity
cassette (discarded)
I agree with Chalkhills’ assessment that Synchronicity is a surprisingly dark album for a mainstream platinum hit, but I believe that’s exactly what makes it special. What other band, at the peak of their commercial success, released such a paranoid, neurotic album? OK, maybe Radiohead’s Kid A.


Lou Reed Transformer

8. Lou Reed – Transformer
vinyl
Agreed. “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love” are both masterpieces, but I couldn’t name a single other song from the album. Am I redeemed by owning the vinyl edition? It must be said that it earns extra Cool Points for being produced by David Bowie, but the back cover photograph of Lou with the boner in his tight jeans is just plain gross.


Miles Davis Bitches Brew

9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Complete Bitches Brew Sessions boxed set
Yes, I am that poseur that owns the Complete Sessions boxed set. I have to very, very strongly object to Chalkhills’ dismissal here (and I do I detect a strong anti-jazz bias?). Miles changed music forever when he plugged in to rock, fusion, and funk. Trying to pretend Bitches Brew never happened is as fruitless as still complaining about Bob Dylan going rock (or country, or Christian, etc…) or The Sex Pistols giving the world the finger. The difference is that it still sounds fresh and new.


Led Zeppelin Physical Grafitti

12. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
vinyl
I love me some Zeppelin, but I have to agree that Physical Graffiti isn’t a keeper. It is, however, better than its follow-up Presence (but that’s not saying much).


Beck Midnight Vultures

19. Beck – Midnite Vultures
cd (sold)
Agreed. I listened to it once, and then sold it as quickly as I could. Blech!


Derek and the Dominos Layla

21. Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
cd (sold)
I could not agree more: two brilliant songs in “Layla” and “Little Wing,” padded out with a forgettable batch of filler. Legend has it the substance-abusing Clapton literally does not recall recording the album.


The Who Tommy

22. The Who – Tommy
vinyl (triple gatefold with lyric booklet)
I don’t disagree that Tommy is loaded down with a lot of silliness and filler, but hey, it’s a rock opera, and the first one at that. What do you expect?


U2 Zooropa

26. U2 – Zooropa
cd
I firmly, absolutely disagree. Zooropa may be a product of its time (the cut ‘n’ paste postmodern media overloaded 1990s), but it includes some of U2’s all-time best songs, including the title track and Stay (Faraway So Close). The multilayered production by Flood and Brian Eno may make the songs “sound weird,” but it also rewards a lifetime of repeat listens.


The Flaming Lips Soft Bulletin

32. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
cd
I regrettably agree. Give me Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots any day, but I just can’t get into this one.


The Dave Brubeck Quartet Take Five

34. Dave Brubeck – Time Out
cd
Blaspheme! Blaspheme! Again with the jazz hate! I was not aware anybody disliked this album. What’s wrong with you? If you had included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on your list, I think I would have had an aneurism.


Wilco Being There

39. Wilco – Being There
cd (sold)
Like the rest of the world, I loved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so I sought out some older Wilco albums. And I suspect like most of those people, I got rid of them.


The Police Zenyatta Mondatta

42. The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
cd
Disagree! Zenyatta Mondatta is my favorite Police album. Granted, “De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da” is the epitome of pop silliness (except for maybe “Louie Louie” and R.E.M.’s “Stand”), but the rest of the album is full of classic reggae-inflected new wave pop.


Jane's Addiction Nothing's Shocking

44. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
cd
As Perry Farrell himself once sang, “Stop!” Jane’s Addiction’s debut studio album Nothing’s Shocking is a fantastic batch of songs. Perry Farrell’s wild persona and Dave Navarro’s famously louche lifestyle got all the press, but my god, haven’t you listened to the rhythm section? Jane’s Addiction proved that prog could live without shame in a new world after Led Zeppelin, and they got even better in their next album Ritual De Lo Habitual (before self-destructing, alas).


Cocteau Twins Heaven or Las Vegas

50. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
cd
I don’t have a really strong opinion about it, but I enjoy listening to it from time to time. I didn’t even know it was especially popular. Sorry, jeez.


Radiohead I Might Be Wrong

51. Radiohead – I Might be Wrong
cd
It’s a fair statement that most live albums begin life as contractual obligations. But what actually does bother me more about I Might Be Wrong is that it’s basically an EP sold at LP prices. That said, the performances are strong, and prove that the weird, arty music on Kid A and Amnesiac can and really do come to life on stage.


Tori Amos Under the Pink

54. Tori Amos – Under the Pink
cd (sold)
I loved Tori’s official solo debut Little Earthquakes, but I suspect my sensitive teenager self may have been crushing on the cute & quirky redhead at the piano.


Arrested Development

55. Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of…
cd (sold)
“…non-threatening rap-lite for sensitive white liberals who want to “keep it real” and experience hip-hop safely.” Zing! Busted.


Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon

64. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
30th Anniversary SACD
Again, blaspheme! Yes, enough copies of Dark Side of the Moon exist on this planet to form their own continent, but don’t you think there is a reason for that? Mere momentum alone can’t be enough to explain its appeal. If you want to single out one Pink Floyd album for being overrated and overpurchased, please allow me to direct you to The Wall, which unlike most other Floyd albums, appeals to sullen immature teenagers but does not grow in sophistication as they do.


Sarah McLachlan Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

65. Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing
cds (still on my shelf but I really ought to sell them)
Ouch! You got me here. I once liked both of these, but quickly fell out of love with them. I maintain there are some decent songs underneath the slick adult contemporary overproduction.


U2 War

69. U2 – War
vinyl
U2 charts no less than three times on this haters list, rivaling the Beatles and the entire genre of jazz for raising Chalkhills’ bile. I suggest revisiting “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and tell me if the drums don’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.


R.E.M. Out of Time

80. R.E.M. – Out of Time
cd
OK, maybe it’s not their best, and it is especially disappointing for having come right after the legendary, essential album Green. But “Shiny Happy People” is maybe the best 3/4-time pop song ever, and the whole second half is superb.


Grateful Dead Reckoning

83. Grateful Dead – any album
Reckoning (lp) & Infrared Roses (cd)
Yep, I picked up a secondhand vinyl copy of Reckoning for pennies and it’s pretty loose and rambling, even for the Dead. But I do dig the crazy electronic jams on Infrared Roses, man.


Sting Ten Summoner's Tales

90. Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
cd (sold)
I’ll cop to liking “Fields of Gold” back in the day. Oh god, did I just admit that out loud on the internet?


There, done. Finally, I just want to say that yes, I do have a sense of humor and I get the point of Chalkhill’s rant. Responding to their List of Hate was just an excuse for me to scribble out a few words about some of the dustiest old artifacts from my music collection. Thanks!

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3 Stars Movies Music

Sebastian Schrade’s tour documentary Low in Europe

I came late to appreciating Low, but they have since become one of my favorite bands. I was vaguely aware that trainspotting music critics had christened a genre to categorize bands like Low: slowcore, the distinguishing characteristics of which being playing very quietly and slowly. An overgeneralization, it turns out, but it never hurts to be famous for something unique. “Venus,” a free promotional MP3 from their expansive compilation box set A Lifetime of Temporary Relief given away on Amazon.com, lived in rotation on my iPod for some time, and finally convinced me to buy the 2005 album The Great Destroyer. I first saw them live in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool in 2006, supporting Iron & Wine (whom I like well enough, but if you ask me it should have been the other way around). Even in direct sunlight, their music is beautiful and engrossingly enigmatic.

Director Sebastian Schrade’s documentary Low in Europe was filmed on their 2002-2003 tour of Europe, before they wrote and recorded my two favorite albums of theirs: The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns. It’s part concert film and part documentary, but not enough of each. There are no complete musical performances included, and although the principals are all intelligent and interesting, the fact is the interviews are sometimes a little less than gripping.

Low in Europe

The band first expresses their ambivalence about operating within the commercial music industry. They address their reputation for slow tempos and low volume with good humor; in their early days, they played really slow, in the fuck-you avant-garde spirit but not the loud ‘n’ sloppy letter of punk, to antagonize and challenge the audience. Their contrary nature extends to their personal lives: principal members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, practicing Mormons and a longtime married couple, tour with their children and view it as a simplified and focused way of life. This came as something of a surprise to me, who feels perhaps he had a heretofore undiscovered prejudice that Mormons couldn’t be rock stars.

The heavily-documented Low can be further investigated on the three documentary shorts included with the A Lifetime of Temporary Relief boxed set, and on the forthcoming You May Need a Murderer, a new doc coming out June 3.

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