Something I heard about Age of Ultron that I liked was that Joss Whedon had done a great job putting the “hero” back in “super hero.” That’s referring to how the Avengers actually spent their time trying to save people, instead of just trying to stop bad guys. That’s what makes these characters great, right? They don’t just use their powers to do sweet stunts and beat people up, they make a positive difference in society. Well, don’t expect a lot of that type of thought this week on Pitching Tents, in which we come up with out own ideas for super hero movies. Hey, this is the hardest topic we’ve tackled yet, check it out.
At this point, there are a lot of Wilco albums, and as you may or may not recall, I have listened to all of them. And since I’d still say Wilco hasn’t ever put a bad album, when a new one comes out, it’s always more of a question of whether it falls into the category of a really good Wilco album or just a pretty good Wilco album. Because let’s face it, the idea of a great Wilco album hasn’t ever really seemed like a possibility since the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album that isn’t quite my absolute favorite album of the ’00s, but there could definitely be a case made for it. But what I think makes a great Wilco album or even a really good Wilco album all has to do with how this band manages to balance the two seemingly contradictory traits that have often defined them. This duality I’m talking about is the eternal struggle between Pretty/Pleasant Wilco and Weird Wilco.
The best Wilco albums, like the aforementioned Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as well as 1999’s Summerteeth, and even their last album, 2011’s really good The Whole Love, find the band seamlessly interweaving Pretty/Pleasant Wilco and Weird Wilco. The band’s latest, which was surprise-released a couple weeks ago seems to decidedly fall into the Weird Wilco side of the spectrum, considering it feels uncharacteristically tossed-off, due to it being released on a whim and the fact that it’s a 33 minute album called Star Wars with a friggin’ cat on the cover. Also, the album begins with perhaps the most abrasive song in Wilco’s catalogue, the 1 minute 16 second crunchfest that is “EKG”. It then eases into the somewhat Pretty/Pleasant track “More…”, before we then get another one of the heavier Wilco songs in existence with “Random Name Generator”, though the song’s fuzz is complemented quite nicely by Jeff Tweedy’s innate ability to craft a nice hook without making a big deal of it.
But the more I listen to Star Wars (yeah, I still haven’t quite gotten used to that album title), I’m finding that P/P Wilco is more than present throughout this album that might at first seem like a radical left turn. Slower ballads like “Taste The Ceiling” and “Where Do I Begin” feel a bit like Wilco songs I’ve heard before, which might sound like a criticism, but the way in which Jeff Tweedy writes songs that have such a familiar, classic-sounding sense of Americana is always welcome to me. And maybe that’s why Star Wars (yup, I’m just gonna say that that’s a bad album title) feels exactly like the kind of record a band of Wilco’s veteran stature should be making. It has lots of traces of the band we’ve been listening to for all these years, and yet I can’t say there’s ever quite been a Wilco album like it. They’ve always been a band who’ve leaned into perfectionism and complicated albums that tend to run a bit long (as evidenced by their sophomore album being a double LP released during the CD era). But here we get a Wilco that’s a bit looser and a bit more willing to indulge it’s stranger urges, and yet nonetheless has a kind of confidence in its songs that can only come from years of doing it. Ain’t nothing weird about that.
Favorite Tracks: “More…”, “Random Name Generator”, “Where Do I Begin”
I’m just getting over listening to KEXP’s awesomely thorough dissection of Paul’s Boutique that went on all day Friday, and in general have just been in a Beastie Boys mood lately. So I see no reason not to write about my absolute favorite song by this now-defunct band who somehow seem to grow more and more essential with each passing day. Also, I realize this piece turned into a long rambling ode to the Beasties as a whole more than just this one particular song, but I suppose that’s the kind of passion these guys tend to evoke.
Song: “Sure Shot” by Beastie Boys
Album: Ill Communication
Written By: Beastie Boys, DJ Hurricane, Mario Caldato, Jr., Jeremy Steig
Happy Sunday! Boy, it sure is hot. Bet you don’t want to do anything else tonight. True Detective? Too much work. You should just sit back, turns the lights off, grab a fan, and turn on your favorite podcast. Is it this? It it Pitching Tents? You don’t have to lie to me. Look, how many other podcasts would give you an episode Sunday evening? Yeah, maybe you want to reconsider.
Rape allegations probably aren’t the most fun reason to begin talking about, well, anything really. But The Runaways have been getting a bit of ink online lately due to Runaways bassist Jackie Fox claiming that in the late 70s, the band’s manager Kim Fowley drugged and raped her, which was supposedly witnessed by other members of the band. Though considering that fellow former-Runaways Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have both denied being aware of any such thing happening, it’s hard to say if there’s any truth to these allegations or if it was merely an emotional reaction to all this Bill Cosby heinousness. Regardless, these claims wouldn’t be hard to believe since the domineering Fowley was clearly a world-class creep (the fact that he was portrayed in a movie by Michael Shannon about says it all). So for that it stands as a testament to these ladies’ badassery that despite all this they were able to sound like such a potent rebuttal to 70s male rock chauvinism, and in the process very ahead of their time.
Speaking of 70s male rock chauvinism, it may come as a surprise that despite being lumped in with the burgeoning punk movement of the time, the band whose sound I’m reminded of most when I listen to The Runaways is probably the least feminist and least punk band I could possibly think of — KISS. Seriously, just listen to the chugging simplicity of the guitar riffs on songs like “Day Or Night” or “Thunder” and tell me that it doesn’t sound a lot like KISS, except if KISS was composed entirely of teenage girls that weren’t privy to take shit off of anyone. So basically I’m saying that The Runaways sound like KISS if they were the exact opposite of KISS. Also, it probably says something that a lot of the instrumentation here by The Runaways (who were all around 16 or 17-years-old at the time) is a hell of a lot tighter than that of those stadium-packing buffoons in white make-up.
And even though a lot of the songs on this debut sound a bit too glammy and mid-tempo to qualify as first generation punk, the don’t-give-a-fuckery of this band does more than enough to make them feel like an embodiment of these radical ideals that were going on at the time. The album’s most well-known track “Cherry Bomb” in particular has that feeling of “the world is bullshit and I’m gonna fuck things up”, even if it has that slight adorableness of being sung from the perspective of a teen lashing out at her parents. But more than anything, this album just rawks. Every song on here has some badass guitar riff or shout-along chorus going for it, and whether this is the first feminist hard rock record ever made, I can’t really say I feel qualified to answer that. But The Runaways certainly feels like the first of its kind, and combine that with the way it oozes a youthful abandon that could only be forged by a bunch of unstoppably brash young musicians, it’s a record you just can’t keep down and won’t keep down.
Favorite Tracks: “Cherry Bomb”, “Thunder”, “American Nights”
A lot of times, things don’t work out. Relationships don’t work out, showbiz dreams don’t work out, hell, even a well-intentioned movie site staffed by some of the best pop culture writers around doesn’t work out. These first two items are what informs a lot of Tobias Jesso Jr.’s wonderfully plaintive debut Goon, which I realize came out over three months ago, but I’ve been getting into so hard lately that I have a hard time not writing about it. And it isn’t just Jesso’s sadsackery that makes his songs so good, since there are plenty of singer-songwriters out there churning out depressing ballads that have no real reason to be listened to by human ears. Because despite their melancholy, Jesso’s songs on the other hand have the kind of intuitive melodicism of the Nilsson/McCartney variety, and for that there’s a kind of warmth and comfort that they offer by reveling in the fact that, yeah, life kinda sucks sometimes, but just hang in there and things’ll work out alright.
Jesso’s songs are also so good that you by no means need to know the somewhat talked-about backstory behind this album’s moderate success, though I personally have a hard time not taking it into account. You see, Jesso moved from his native Vancouver while in his mid-20’s to the dizzying metropolitan funhouse of dreams and disappointment known as Los Angeles. Then after several years of trying to make it as a pop songwriter/studio guitarist, he moved back to Vancouver after his girlfriend dumped him, and took up piano as he started writing the songs that would eventually appear on Goon. As you might imagine, being a fellow Northwest-born creative-type myself who couldn’t cut it in Lipstick City, I have an even harder time not connecting with Jesso’s songs with all of this floating around in my head when I listen to them. Also, because of this I think I can say with some authority that I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that captures the hopelessness of failing in L.A. quite as succinctly as the heartbreaking “Hollywood”, which more or less serves as the album’s centerpiece.
Again, Jesso’s backstory isn’t remotely necessary to enjoying this album, since Goon‘s barebones approach to the piano ballad certainly evokes a lot of the great LA-based singer-songwriters of the 70s, but ultimately feels pretty timeless. Still, there is something reassuring about hearing of this underdog’s success, though it’s always a bit hard to gauge the “success” of a guy like Jesso who falls squarely in between the mainstream and indie music camps. But all I know for sure is that tickets to his upcoming show at Seattle’s Neptune theater in three months are already sold out, which means I won’t be seeing him live anytime soon, though I’m nonetheless happy that he’s already gotten enough notoriety to fill what is a pretty big venue for someone who only has one (admittedly great) album to his name.
Favorite Tracks: “How Could You Babe”, “Can We Still Be Friends”, “Hollywood”
That’s right, ladies and gents. We’ve finally made it to the half way point of The People’s Albums. And sure, it’s taken almost two years and many hours of listening to not-that-great albums, but we’ve had some laughs as well as a few Kenny G-induced tears, and I just hope the top 25 will go a little bit faster (though I’m not holding my breath on that one). But for now, let’s praise Jah and take a look at Legend, a.k.a. that one Bob Marley album you’ve probably heard.
Artist: Bob Marley & The Wailers
Release Date: May 8, 1984
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 13.6 million