January 25, 2013

Yo La Tengo by the minutes

In lieu of a write-up of last night's magnificent Yo La Tengo concert, I decided to create a basic overview of the YLT catalog, which I have been filling out and listening to last couple months. Generally I prefer to listen to and argue about music in the context of albums rather than individual tracks. YLT is not an exception to this rule. Still, having already had a brief back-and-forth over my, uh, controversial pick for best favorite YLT album on Facebook, I thought I would come at their career from a slightly different angle.

I have broken into six discrete categories based on song duration. Within each category, I have chosen a "Best" track and one that I "Would Most Like to See Performed"--henceforth "WMLtSP." Although I recognize the thin ice upon which I tread--my YLT discography remains incomplete--I do not apologize. Argue about my mistakes, ignorance, and perhaps regrettable proclivity for sappy love songs in the comments, please.

Although a fairly small pool, these tracks have a distinctive feel versus the 2-3 minute tracks. 

Best: "Return to Hot Chicken"*
WMLtSP: "Attack on Love"

*"Superstar-Watcher" close behind.

YLT are geniuses of the sub-three-minute pop song. Narrowing these down was brutal, so I have taken the liberty of adding an Honorable Mentions list--along with a couple of footnoted caveats.

Best: "One PM Again"*
WMLtSP: "Outsmartener"**
Honorable Mentions: "The River of Water," "Stockholm Syndrome," "A Worrying Thing"

*I might actually prefer "The Whole of the Law," but chose to disqualify it as a cover. And I haven't listened to "Well You Better" from the new album enough, but it could make some noise.
**The version on the Today is the Day EP. Note that they performed "Nothing to Hide" last night, and it was epic, so even thought I would love to see them perform it again live, I'd now prefer "Outsmartener." 

The slightly more filled out radio-play category.

Best: "Sugarcube"*
WMLtSP: "Watch Out for Me Ronnie"**

*"By the Time it Gets Dark" incredibly close behind.
**They performed "Sugarcube" last night, epically, as well as "Black Flowers."  I liked but was somewhat skeptical of the latter until last night's mesmerizing version (Ira bum-ba-bum-ing in place of horns, James singing "You can dip your brain in joy..."). Additionally, they performed "Little Honda" with a brain-melting, ten-minute wall of sound inserted in the middle--which my father, who attended and loved the show, referred to as "Mars invades" (refer to the >8 WMLtSP footnote below).

This one is even harder to parse than 2-3--my three favorite YLT tracks fall into this category--hence the return of the Honorable Mentions.

Best: "From a Motel 6"*
WMLtSP: "Drug Test"**
Honorable Mentions: "Sudden Organ,"*** "Magnet," "Pablo and Andrea," "All Your Secrets," "You Can Have it All," "I'll Be Around"

*So this is also the song I WMLtSP--it's probably my all-time favorite YLT track--but I decided to make room for others.
**They performed "Our Way to Fall"--my second-favorite YLT track--and although I did not cry as promised in a recent Facebook status, I was definitively in touch with, you know, my emotions and things. Also, their "Mr. Tough" performance was pure, old-fashioned-dance-party fun.
***My third-favorite YLT track.

Once you push a song past five minutes, you are beyond the standard radio-play pop song. These distinctive creatures are often fuzzy, distorted, even sinister tracks. I love them.

Best: "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)"*
WMLtSP: "I Heard You Looking"**

*This is also the song I WMLtSP, but, again, made some room.
**"I Was the Fool Beside You For Too Long" close behind. They performed "Ohm" twice last night--once as their stripped-down, acoustic opener. In that context it was, frankly, a bit of a letdown. They brought it out again later, and Ira turned it into a shredding guitar showcase--not a letdown. They also transformed "Before We Run" from a contemplative, horn-driven, sentimental piece into an anthemic rager centered on Ira's blistering guitar work. The last, say, 7 minutes of the song may have been the best moment ("moment") last night. I genuinely think they could have gone on for 20 more minutes, and I would have remained in transfixed awe. And if I were a better person, I would have followed through on my other recent promise. A better me would have grabbed the shoulder of that nice, dignified gentlemen beside me and slugged him square in his amiable face.

The consciousness-altering, simmering mess--another YLT specialty.

Best:"The Story of Yo La Tango"*
Would Most Like to See Performed: "Blue Line Swinger"**

*"Pass the Hatchet I Think I'm Goodkind"is a close second--meaning that the bookends to I Am Not Afraid... own this category. I also have to give "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" a nod as likely the most overlooked. There's also a remix of "Autumn Sweater" by one Kevin Shields floating around out there that is pretty great.
**Songs that they transform into marathons in concert but that are shorter on the albums don't count. I've already noted the three tracks they did that with--spectacularly--last night ("Ohm," "Little Honda," and "Before We Run").

January 19, 2013

52 McGs: The best obituaries of Robert McG. Thomas Jr.

In writing the obituary of a weather expert, he wrote that there was "no well-established meteorological career path to follow." The same might be said about writing obituaries.

But if there is a path to follow, it may be the one taken by Robert McG. Thomas Jr.: equal parts police beat, society news, and sports reporter and, perhaps most importantly a veteran rewrite man.

His best obits make up, "52 McGs.," the first book I've finished reading in 2013.

This week, like every other week, I've had obituaries on my mind, which set the backdrop for a climactic Saturday morning plowing through the back half of this collection. I'd been thinking about the Margalit Fox obituary for Dear Abby, and also the scrips and scraps I've turned up in my newspaper, including one man whose obit included his nickname: "Possum."

But the craft of Thomas's writing, and his deadpan delivery, may have no match. Obviously, I recommend the book, and here are a few favorite passages:

Mary Bancroft, spy
If Mary Bancroft had not existed, a hack novelist would surely have invented her, or tried.
 Anton Rosenberg, a hipster ideal
... the Greenwich Village hipster ideal of 1950's cool to such a laid-back degree and with such determined detachment that he never amounted to much of anything...
 Toots Barger, queen of the game duckpins
... leading to have duckpins named the Maryland state sport. The campaign failed, perhaps because legislators felt duckpins was just too odd to be the state sport, especially when Maryland already had an official sport: jousting.
Marshall Berger, linguist
A specialist in dialect geography, or dialectology, as it is known in linguistics, he was a dialectologist's dialectologist, a man with such a keen ear for the subtle variations of speech patterns that after listening for a few moments he could often tell a speaker's ethnic background, the neighborhood where he had grown up and his level of education.
Minnesota Fats, pool hustler
He certainly looked like a Minnesota Fats, or at least some Fats. At 5 feet and 10 inches, Mr. Wanderone had weighed as much as 300 pounds. ... Curiously, after he became Minnesota Fats, his new persona led to an actual job, something he had studiously avoided.
Wikipedia: Robert McG. Thomas Jr.

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January 4, 2013

Poop Splash Epiphany

 This is why science is good.  This video just changed my life.

January 2, 2013

MWM Holiday Special

A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.

  X-Mas songs by Jack Hittinger on Grooveshark

For this week's edition, we polled the SadBears on our favorite "nontraditional" holiday songs. (We are, after all, nontraditional students here.) We all figured we'd heard enough "regular" Christmas music (looking at you, Bing Crosby) that we should give readers a taste of some other stuff we like too. Here's what we came up with:

JACK: Julian Casablancas, "I Wish It Was Christmas Today"
The Band, "Christmas Must Be Tonight"
Ravonettes, "Christmas Song"

A mix of new and old. The Casablancas song is mostly a stand-in for the original SNL version of the song, which is one of the most legitimately uplifting ans honest Christmas songs ever written. I also crack up just thinking about Tracy Morgan dancing whenever I hear this.

The second is one of my dad's favorites by one of his favorite bands, so it's always one I kinda liked even though it is kind of cheesy.

The last one is nothing special, but the Ravonettes are really good at making recycled ideas just sound cool. That's what this does.

TONY: Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn"
Alabama Sacred Mountain Top Singers, "Sherburne"

If you ask Katie, she'd describe me as the Grinch when it comes to holiday traditions and Christmas music. It's true. Yet when Jack sent this prompt, I knew immediately that I needed to share two non-traditional Christmas albums, and representative songs from each.

First, I think the "Where Will You Be on Christmas Day?" album came out partway through college, and it collects some really odd and catchy Christmas roots music. I think of these ditties often, including my mix selection: "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn," by the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers. As a second pick, check out "Sherburne" by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers. This album would also be a good introduction to roots music, if you haven't dabbled much.

Second, of more recent vintage, is "An East Nashville Christmas," which just came out this year as a Nashville musicians' fundraiser for the homeless. It's really diverse and extremely listenable (whatever that means). You can stream some samples here: http://eastnashvillechristmas.com/  

CHASE: The Hives and Cindy Lauper, "Christmas Duel"

I've never been huge into holiday music, and my taste really runs the spectrum depending on mood. A solid rendition of "Carol of the Bells" (probably my favorite traditional holiday song) will impress me one day, and then the next I might listen to Mariah Carey (no shame). But if I'm being honest, I've been avoiding holiday music this year.

MARK: Sufjan Stevens, "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!

Sufjan Stevens makes up 90% of my Advent/Christmas music diet every year. My consistent favorites each year are "Once in Royal David's City" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This year, though, I was particularly drawn to the above track, "Put the Lights on the Tree," and "Holy Holy Holy."

ECON: The Royal Guardsmen, "Snoopy's Christmas"  

OATESS: Tom Waits, "New Years' Eve"

EDIT: For some reason this Tom Waits song was on Grooveshark, briefly, but then taken down. Or else I'm crazy and it was never on Grooveshark in the first place. Regardless, listen here because it's a good song.

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