Sunday, October 19, 2014

Matt's Favorite Horror Flicks; Part I

In a peculiar kind of way, the horror genre is sort of like the punk-rock of the movie world.  It began vaguely, on the outside edge of the medium, before crystalizing itself in the late 1970s.  Since then it has become an ever-growing umbrella genre, with a seemingly infinite amount of available methods of execution and niches to satisfy (or exploit).  It is a genre where anything goes.  There are no rules, and sometimes the more recklessly made, potentially offensive, and against-the-grain; the better a resulting product is.  There is an inherent aura of danger involved, and that is what makes them so damn much fun to experience.  

On that note, I decided to make this year's "Noisepaper Halloween Special" a series on my favorite films of the horror genre.  Not a particularly original concept, I know; but every movie included will be one that I hold strong feelings about that I have been dying (horror-themed pun unintended) to put into writing one way or another.  

This first installment features a trio of relatively old gems that seem to be lesser known among todays audience.  They have all aged incredibly well however, perhaps even reaching "timeless" status.  While not usually mentioned among the classics, as far as I'm concerned they are important landmarks in horror cinema.    


Re-Animator is a film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story originally written as a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  If that doesn't set the stage for this gruesomely entertaining thrill-ride, the satirical take on Psycho's theme music that plays over the opening credits will. 

As noted by Robert Ebert, the film seems to thrive on the balance between director Stuart Gordon's desire to make a good film, and his simultaneous acknowledgement that a film about a mad scientist bringing back the dead is unlikely to be considered "good".  As the film builds momentum off of this tension, it finds its stylistic groove in comic book-esque, out-of-control sci-fi weirdness.  I like to describe this movie as either the scariest funny movie ever made, or the funniest scary movie ever made.  Although it maintains its horror spirt throughout- propelled by perpetually building intensity and gore, the whole story is shaded with a psychotically morbid, pitch-black sense of humor.  

Jacob's Ladder

I'm a sucker for movies dealing with dreams and delusions; where the story and images are presented through an unreliable lens in such a way that anything can happen and the viewer is left questioning whether anything is "real" or just imagined.  I have found very few films that succeed in creating such a palpable atmosphere of unease the way that Jacob's Ladder does.  

Jacob's Ladder places its protagonist (and in turn its audience) in a world shrouded in perpetual fog, where normal characters act vaguely "off" and fleeting glimpses of demonic creatures are made.  The plot navigates a disorienting network of flashbacks as our hero tries to make sense of it all, before all hell (quite literally) inevitably breaks loose.  For much of its runtime we are kept right at the brink of sanity, just as overcome by the unpredictable mystery as our main character is.  There are a few well-placed jump scares thrown in to keep the momentum, but the real terror lies in the constant feeling that something unspeakably scary is just about to happen.  When it finally does boil over with the infamous "hospital scene", the result is one of the most undeniably brilliant sequences in all of horror, and some of the most indelible nightmare fuel to be be found anywhere.  


In the post-fascist Italy of the late 1970s, a subgenre of horror emerged that has come to be known as Giallo-Horror.  Such films traditionally focus on an outsider protagonist becoming witness to some type of gruesome crime, and as a result finding themselves involved in a story of delusion, diabolical authority figures, Hitchcockian suspense, and violent bloodletting.  Among the most highly regarded of such films is Dario Argento's 1977 classic Suspiria.

Much like Jacob's LadderSuspiria creates a surreal atmospheric setting; in this case experienced from the perspective of a young American ballerina attending a mysterious dance academy in Germany.  Unlike Jacob's Ladder, Suspiria relies not on shadows and glimpses of disturbing imagery, but bright, gory, in-your-face terror.  The death scenes play out like works of art, the disembowelment of the ballet students choreographed like a ballet itself, with the surrealistically vibrant blood serving as the main set piece.  Despite a lacking storyline, the film maintains tension not only via graphic kills, but the bizarre intricacies of the setting itself, and the disorienting camera angles in which it is seen.  Add in the terrifying soundtrack by Italian progressive rock band Goblin, and this film is a work of art unlike any other. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Movie HYPE: Jersey Boys

For the first time since 1988's Bird, Clint Eastwood is at the helm of a blockbuster music-themed biopic.  This time the subject is the legendary pop group Four Seasons, and their inimitable frontman Frankie Valli.  Set in 1960s New Jersey and New York, the film looks to put just as much focus on the birth of the famed "Jersey Sound", as well as the mob activity that impacted it.  The first trailer for Jersey Boys was released last week, and it is definitely something worth keeping an eye one.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Noisepaper Approved Movie: Beach Balls (1988)

Beach Balls is a classic 1960's "beach party" film, via unmistakable late 80's excess. That is to say that it is chock full of scattershot plot, cartoonish characters, gratuitous nudity and profanity, and above all just plain fun in the sun. Not to mention the hair-metal soundtrack courtesy of fictional band 'Severed Head in a Bag'. This is the last movie you would use as the subject of a film analysis essay, but it certainly is an exhibition of camp done right- consistently entertaining with the perfect level of self-awareness. Beach Balls is tough to beat if you're looking for some mindless, lighthearted, good times.

Beach Balls is available on Netflix NOW

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Album of the Week: Kid Rock - Devil Without a Cause

Kid Rock has since done a great job of creating and capitalizing on a caricature of himself-  but a decade before becoming everyone's favorite sellout rappin' redneck he burst onto the scene with an album that was undeniably groundbreaking.  For children of the 90s, this album simultaneously provided the most accessible initiation to heavy rock music as well as rap.  Perhaps it has since been filed into the "guilty pleasure" category; but upon revisitation, its better moments hold up surprisingly well.  

Devil Without a Cause was Kid Rock's last album to be labeled as hip-hop, but at its heart this thing is straight-up rock.  Courtesy of his backing 'Twisted Brown Trucker Band', Devil was a pioneering record in the late 90s rap/rock consolidation, and to this day stands out over its counterparts as a bright spot on the doomed genre.  The guitars here grind and squeal with the intensity of classic grunge and stoner metal, while the old-school drum sound makes for a unique yet fitting backbeat for the rapped verses.  

Which brings us to our centerpiece- Kid Rock's white-trash anthems, delivered aggressively with shameless self-awareness.  On this album he is still classifiable as a rapper, but makes no secrets of his country-fried values.  With Cowboy he predates many modern acts by seamlessly incorporating rap and hard rock into the now-familiar country music lyrical formula.  Even as he goes hard on the title track and I Am the Bullgod there is never any doubt that this guy is a proud redneck spitting strip-club ready jams with no fucks to be given.  Throughout the album you get the sense that he is on a collision course with fame, and he knows it.   Later in the album Only God Knows Why brings his country side to the forefront.  The unfortunate overuse of auto-tune has aged poorly to say the least, but beneath the dated production is a daring change of pace and hint of things to come; not to mention a great tune in general to bolster the album's lackluster second half.  

Kid Rock has, for better or worse, come a long way since this breakthrough album.  Like him or not, it is a testament to his talent as a musician that he has found ways to evolve and outlive his rap/rock and nu-metal counterparts.  Regardless of the act he has become, one can't deny that he has a knack for upbeat backcountry rock music, on display in its purest form on Devil Without a Cause.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Greatest Music Moments in Film; Part One

Almost Famous - Tiny Dancer (Elton John)

For my money, Cameron Crowe is the king of the soundtrack.  He was a passionate music fan and rock journalist long before he became a filmmaker, and all of his films seem to have the perfect song selections to accentuate their on-screen happenings.  Nowhere is that on better display than in his semi-autobiographical love letter to rock and roll, Almost Famous.  

The scene in question occurs when Russell Hammond, the guitar player of upstart band Stillwater, is reluctantly retrieved by the band's manager while in a post-acid stupor at a rural house party after unofficially quitting the band the night before.  Back on the bus, the eyes of his bandmates burn holes through a broken-down Russell as he sits quietly by himself.  The band's fate is in question until Tiny Dancer comes on over the radio, inspiring a cathartic group singalong.  By the time Russell finally joins in for the chorus, all has been forgiven and forgotten without any words needed to be said.  

Nowhere is a rock band better depicted as a family, although not always entirely functional, bound together by the music.  In the words of Miss Penny Lane- "Shhh, you are home". 

*Please excuse Spanish dialougue...shameless copyright loophole

The Deer Hunter - Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons)

The Deer Hunter is my favorite Vietnam War movie (if not war movie in general) because it doesn't focus on the war itself, but the effects it has on the young men involved and their lives going forward.  My favorite scene however, is one that paints a picture of their lives before being torn to shreds.  

Bookended by their normal lives as Pittsburgh steel mill workers and their experience with the abomination of war is this scene.  For this moment, we see these buddies; one of which soon-to-be married, cut loose as they cast the future aside to down some beers, shoot some pool, and drunkenly sing along to Frankie Valli.  The impact of this scene is undoubtedly magnified by the inevitability of the horrors to come, but seeing the characters laughing and shooting the shit together provides a great moment of "calm before the storm" surreality.  This is just an everyday bunch of blue collar guys doing their best to embrace life in the best way that they know how to in the face of impending devastation.  

Goodfellas - Layla (Eric Clapton ft. Duane Allman)

Mr. DeNiro must have a knack for musical moments, because he makes an equally effective yet entirely different appearance with this scene.  If the aforementioned Deer Hunter scene is the calm before the storm, the Layla scene in Goodfellas is the underlying calm DURING the storm.  After his perfectly executed Luthansa Heist, the paranoid ringleader Jimmy Conway begins to, in true mobster fashion, cut off all of his ties to the crime.  For "months after the robbery" the bodies of gangsters are found in such places as abandoned cars, dumpsters, and frozen solid in meat trucks.  Meanwhile Jimmy is ecstatic as the careers of him and his understudies skyrocket; one of which about to become an honorable 'made man'.    The piano coda of Layla amplifies the controlled mayhem of Jimmy and underling Henry Hill, while simultaneously foreshadowing the helpless despair of their inevitable downfall.  

Fight Club - Where is My Mind (Pixies)

"You met me at a very strange time in my life".  The matter-of-fact sentiment that closes the film resonates as an absurdly simple way to sum up the strange journey of the unnamed narrator.  As explosions light the sky and buildings crumble in the background our hero stands hand in hand with his lover/nemesis, and we are left as an audience unable to be sure just how much of it is real.  What we do know is that we're watching a man as he emerges from a major existential awakening and blissfully faces an unknown (at best) future.  The confusion and destruction of the final scene is brilliantly contrasted by the soothingly manic absurdism of The Pixies.  As our narrator and Marla stand watching the mayhem like fireworks we know that he no longer gives a damn where his mind is, and neither do we. 

Trainspotting - Perfect Day (Lou Reed)

With all due respect to Pulp Fiction, there is no better overdose scene than the one set to Perfect Day in Trainspotting.  After shooting up, Renton sinks (quite literally as far as he's concerned) straight down into the red carpet.  This initially seems to accentuate the euphoric sedation of the initial heroin rush, but as the shot lingers on it looks more and more like the view from the bottom of the grave.  Furthermore, it very effectively illustrates Renton's increasing detachment from the terrible reality.  He is completely oblivious as his all-too-experienced buddy drags him down the stars and leaves him in a taxi cab to be dropped in the parking lot of a hospital.  All the while Lou Reed drags about his 'Perfect Day'; with the vague sarcasm and disturbingly contradictory nature of the song taken to a whole new level as we watch the frightening events taking place as a direct result of Renton's tragic addiction.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Top Ten (Plus One) Albums for Springtime

Perhaps it's because here in Wisconsin it seems to last all but a week, but Spring was the hardest season for me to think of essential music for.  There really wasn't a go-to element that immediately came to mind; such as the sunny pop harmonies of summer or the stripped-down organics of autumn.  In a certain way, I feel like that ambiguity makes the selections for this list that much more genuine.  As I scourged through my music library I found album after album that belonged here, each for its own unique reasons.  Looking back there are some common elements that emerged, but when I set out to make this list I truly had no idea what I was looking for.  They all jumped out as soon as I came across them though, and it was because they all share a timeless, optimistic vibe; an energizing freshness that makes them perfect to listen to during the Spring awakening.  

11.  Green Day - Warning

In a certain way, Spring feels a little bit like the forgotten season.  Wedged between the harshness of winter and the excitement of summer, it can be difficult at the time to appreciate the transition.  In a similar context is Green Day's Warning.  By 2000 the band had clearly detached themselves and been disowned from their Gilman St origins, but they were still several years removed from their rebirth as punk-opera giants.  In the meantime they took advantage of the creative opening to make their most fearlessly original album.  While not at all ballad-oriented nor breakneck in pace, with Warning Billie Joe and company brought their outcast attitude to folksy, british invasion-style rock with unapologetic glee.  The lyrics focus on the random and monotonous blows of every day life, and rolling with them via buoyant acceptance.  Green Day still packs a punch with Castaway and the perennial concert-staple Minority, but it is the lighter moments that really elevate Warning.  The title track and Waiting thump along with rollicking, optimistic grooves, while Church on Sunday and Hold On offer a jangly, stripped down breeziness and Jackass comes directly out of The Kinks' playbook.  Overall this is the sound of a band that has weathered the shift from punk rock misfits to mainstream heroes, and emerged without giving any semblance of a damn.

10. Pearl Jam - Vs

Pearl Jam started to open up their sound with Vs, the followup to their breakthrough debut Ten.  The passion and intensity is still very much intact, but this time they "drop the Leash" and allow it to attack from whatever angle it may.  What makes Vs such a great Spring album is the way in which that angle often is one of aggressive redemption, rather than the claustrophobic darkness of Ten.   This is most apparent in hit singles Daughter and Rearviewmirror, but even the more straight-forward rockers like Animal and Glorified G have a spacious, confident aura.  In effect Vs feels very much like when the world seems to open up as the winter gloom finally gives way to the big thaw.  

9. George Harrison - All Things Must Pass

Drawing from his backlog of unused Beatles songs, George Harrison crafted by far the greatest post-Beatles offering of anyone in the group.  With the aid of Phil Spector's lush wall-of-sound production, Harrison put his deep spirituality on full display in the form of grand melodic arrangements and sweeping jam sessions.  His reflective and celebratory lyrics and expressive slide guitar are consistently on full display, particularly on standout tracks My Sweet Lord, What is Life, Beware of Darkness, and Awaiting on You All.  As a double album it does tend to drag along at times, but even at those times it falls right into line with the wavering weather of Spring.  

8. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes
debut record has a very particular aura to it, which in its best moments is akin to sitting in a bath of pure sunshine.  At its core are woodsy, understated folk songs, but the arrangements and mixes are so sprawling and dense that it is easy to get lost in the calmness of the soundscape.  Ragged Wood, with the opening lines "come down from the mountain you have been gone too long/Spring is upon us follow my ornate song" lends itself especially well to the world's re-awakening.  As the guitars and percussion gently ebb and flow beneath chanted gang vocals and drawn-out chamber-pop echoes it has a sound of familiarity or homecoming; as if Spring itself is welcoming you back with open arms after a long time away.  

7. Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Like the Spring season itself, Pavement seems to have some trouble making up their mind on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.  No two songs really sound alike, but they all share the same freewheeling, shambling vibe.  The album trades some of the explosive, fuzzy energy of its legendary predecessor Slanted and Enchanted for a more contemplative atmosphere.  Alternating jarringly between warm pop melodies and rainy-day drones, the individual songs are fractured and disjointed so as to almost sound like ice cracking and shifting as the earth thaws itself out beneath rays of melodic sunshine.  When the band settles into a groove it is just as cathartic and awakening as those first truly nice days of Spring, but they always seems to leave with loose ends as it disintegrates into those early-season rainstorms.

6. Grateful Dead - American Beauty

The Grateful Dead are a band that never quite grabbed me, but it is easy to see why they have had such a passionate legion of followers.  Legacy aside, their studio album American Beauty is just about perfect for that particular springtime feeling.  Opening track Box of Rain in particular is mellow and cheery almost to the point of annoyance, but fits the time of year perfectly.  It sounds like an afternoon nap, just enjoying the fresh sunshine or gentle rain for nothing more than what it is.  Friend of the Devil is my personal favorite from The Dead's catalog, weary yet upbeat and just begging for a campfire and a circle of good friends.  The rest of the album follows suit from there with a constant stream of laid-back folksy jams and euphoric harmonies, closing with Truckin', one of the all time classic road-ready anthems.  

 5. Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory

As Seattle's pitch black "grunge" scene exploded throughout the States, the UK responded with a wave of bright, harmonious music that became known as Britpop.  Although at the time it was something of a genre (and even national) rivalry, the contrast now seems very symbolic of the awakening into spring. The breakthrough act of this movement was Oasis, and their pivotal album was (What's the Story) Morning GloryOasis echoed the garage-rock aesthetic of those Seattle Bands, but traded the angsty howls for clear British voices, and the gloomy distortion grind for bright, jangly interplay between guitars and piano, all framed by soaring, anthemic choruses.  Morning Glory especially is packed with classic songs- the undying fratboy staple Wonderwall, the crystal clear power-pop songcraft of Don't Look Back in Anger and Cast No Shadow, and the sprawling, sublime drone Champagne Supernova.  What they all have in common is that joyous, assuring feeling like the sun as it emerges from behind a cloud.  

4. Guided By Voices - Bee Thousand

When this album came out in June of 1994, it was a burst of sunshine in the form of the manic energy of aging hipsters.  By that time bandleader Robert Pollard and his crew of 30-something, beer swigging, rock 'n' roll enthusiast buddies had been making laundry room recorded music for years.  In the 90s burgeoning indie rock scene they finally found their audience with Bee Thousand, their greatest collection of songs to date.  There is a certain mysterious quality to the album- it was recorded entirely on consumer-level four-tracks, the songs are short and tinny sounding, the arrangements are a bit off-the-wall, and damn near all of the lyrics are just plain weird.  Above all though, these songs are CATCHY.   With 20 of them packed into around 36 minutes, none of them make more than a brief appearance, but the brevity of it puts even more emphasis on the spontaneous bursts of carefree energy.  Pollard presents his work from his perspective of an unabashed music fan, packing each tune with timeless hooks and rock tenets.  When thrown through the enigmatic filter of the lo-fi recording technique and surreal lyricism, it all has a way of sounding perpetually fresh and exciting. 

3. Tom Petty - Wildflowers

During the spring semester of 2009, and my last at Stevens Point, I used to love to walk out to the nearby Schmeeckle nature reserve.  I had known by that time that I wouldn't be returning to school there, and spent many afternoons by the lake contemplating my future.  My iPod always at hand, Tom Petty's Wildflowers is an album I often found myself listening to as I sat on those rocks watching the water.  I was as lost as I've ever been, but Wildflowers helped me turn it into something to embrace, and gave me a lust for life like few other records have.  Between heartfelt send-offs to loved ones and empowering anthems of self-reliance and chasing destiny, this album is an amazing account of a time of transition into the unknown.  On contemplative tracks Wildfowers and Time to Move On, as well as driving rockers You Don't Know How it Feels and You Wreck Me, The chiming guitars and sympathetic lyrics find ways to burst open the horizon and invite you to run towards it; armed with a clear mind and unshakable independence.  

2. The Strokes - Is This It

"Is this it?" is a question every one of us asks ourselves as soon as the freezing weather breaks and the end of winter's tunnel is in sight.  Although that isn't necessarily the intended context, it fits remarkably well with all of the pent-up energy displayed by The Strokes on their debut LP.  Throughout Is This It the band seems on the brink of explosion, but keeps it contained beneath smothered leads, droning rhythms, and a general detached cool.  The energy is still palpable however, and it mirrors that which is felt during the bi-polarity of spring when summer is still vaguely on the horizon.  Nowhere is the jolt of optimism more apparent than on near-perfect singles Someday and Last Nite

1. The Beatles - Abbey Road

I hate writing about The Beatles.  Don't get me wrong, I love the band as much as anyone else- but just like everyone else there is not a whole lot that I could say at this point that hasn't been better said already.  Abbey Road however, is an album that truly hits me.  At the time of its recording, it was well known that the band was on the outs with one-another.  Their legendary stint as the Fab Four had run its course, and The Beatles were all but over.  As such (along with the benefit of hindsight) the feeling of them admirably setting aside their differences for the sake of laying it all out there one last time is almost tangible throughout the entire record.  Although it is symbolic of the death of a band, the cleansing nature of Abbey Road fits incredibly well with the re-awakening of Spring.  

The albums first side features some of silent troubadour George Harrison's greatest contributions to the Beatles catalog.  Something makes a strong case for the Beatles' greatest song, with fluid guitar leads weaving though around ethereal lyrical lines and a bridge section that soars like few others.  Later on is another great Harrison track- a little tune called Here Comes the Sun- which to this day is THE definitive springtime anthem.  It is so ubiquitous of the season that I could just as easily have made this list ten album's worth of this song on repeat.  Meanwhile on side one are Paul McCartney's soulful vocal showcase Oh Darling! and  the rolling thunderstorm of showstopping blues workout I Want You (She's so Heavy).  Even oddball track Maxwell's Silver Hammer and good ol' Ringo's surreal Octopus's Garden fits the strange feeling transitioning away from winter, when everything is sloppy and wet and, well, a little bit weird. 

Already great to this point, Abbey Road shifts into a new gear for side two.  Often considered an unofficial medley, each song blends into the next and reoccurring elements pop up on many occasions.  With perfect execution and just some damn good songs, the album's closing 20 minutes are pure musical bliss.  As a listener one is guided seamlessly through glowing tranquility (Sun King, Golden Slumbers), lighthearted ruminations on odd personal troubles (You Never Give Me Your Money, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window), and the curious tales of volatile characters Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam.  All together it feels like a bittersweet roller-coaster on some sort of collision course- not unlike The Beatles themselves at the time.  It all culminates as the cathartic gang vocals in Carry That Weight ramp up and finally thrust us into the cathartic farewell of The End.  All four members give their goodbyes in the form of explosive solos before dropping out to deliver their final message in unison - John Lennon's most immortal verse "And in the end the love you take, is equal to the love that you make".  

Happy Spring everyone, and be sure to LIKE the Noisepaper Facebook Page for quick updates and new articles!

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Favorite Fall Albums [Part Two]

Halloween has come and gone, fall color is well past its peak, and we no longer have daylight savings time to stave off the early nights.  The transitional period is behind us, and we are now in the depths of Autumn; Winter is beginning to make it's impending arrival known and Summer has faded into a distant memory.  

I'm not sure if there are necessarily any inherent differences in this batch of fall albums compared to the first edition, compiled almost two months ago.  I will say that the swift progression of the season gives a more subdued, introspective flavor to the earthy, organic sound that albums from both lists share.  Whether it is the more prominent dreariness in the seasonal context, or an increased withdrawal in the music itself, these are the ten albums that I feel are most fitting for (late) fall.    


1.Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

I would be hard pressed to find any other album that comes this close to literally sounding like fall.  The sparse arrangements, with the lazily echoing drums and windy, ringing electric guitar strumming, seem to be crafted for the sole purpose of transporting the listener to a park bench with a steaming cup of coffee as brown leaves whirl about on the hollow wind.  And just as that coffee brings warm appreciation to the heart, so does the sublime voice of Neko Case.  For as great as the album is as a whole, it is crafted entirely around the warm, ethereal glow of her crooning.  

2. Patti Smith - Horses

Patti Smith the "post-Beat" poet probably could have been just as influential as Patti Smith the musician, but when framed by the raw, simple guitar grooves heard on Horses, her impact rises to transcendental heights.  Her anarchic free-verse wordplay drones through and dances around the improvisational garage rock song structures, and at the perfect moments erupts into cathartic hooks.  The hypnotic vocal meandering on Birdland and Land put the listener in a beatnik heaven in the darkened corner of a smoke-filled club, until the band bursts in, burning the world to ashes of proto-punk fury.  

3. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

The album opens with breathy schoolyard taunts echoing over a droning guitar progression, but upon awakening to a Teenage Riot you are thrust headfirst into a sprawling land of experimental song structures, strange alternate tunings, bursts of sheer noise, and detached surrealist lyricism.  No matter how far Daydream Nation takes you into the unknown however, it always keeps its roots in sublime artistic expression.  The album is an odd, challenging, and occasionally even threatening journey, but at the end proves to be a brilliant marriage of indie rock and avant art.

4. Television - Marquee Moon

Gotham City was once described by Batman creator Dennis O'Neil as "Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November".  That happens to be exactly where I envision Marquee Moon taking place.  The tense, nervy garage rock is the soundtrack to distant flashes of lightning behind the looming skyscrapers, as smoke bellows out of grates in the wet street and shady figures maneuver in and out of the shadows.  

5. The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers, along with Exile on Main Street, is probably the mighty Rolling Stones at their absolute weariest.  In 1971, The Stones had already become the stuff of legend.  Their reckless barroom swagger, controversial subject matter, drug-fueled hedonism, and general contempt for authority was and still is the very embodiment of rock and roll.  Such legacy doesn't come without a price however, and by the time Sticky Fingers came out the band's personal troubles were catching up to them.  This is the sound of the world's greatest rock band running on fumes, worn out from their own lust for life.  As a testament to their power of musical expression, the dark moodiness of Sticky Fingers is exactly what makes it great.  Shamelessly decadent rockers are counterpointed with druggy, strung-out ballads and anachronistic country.  The album is dense and murky throughout, as instruments blend into each other to create the mood of the whole. 

The Stones more than paid their dues to the demons of rock and roll by the time this album came out.  Although they lived to tell about it, they found themselves at a turning point to figure out where to go next.  In this way, Sticky Fingers is eerily similar to the experience of Summer's magic fading closer into the dreariness of Winter as the world catches up to us once again.

6. Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff

As far as I'm concerned, Superfuzz Bigmuff (technically a combination of Mudhoney's early Sub/Pop EPs and Singles, but today considered an LP for all intents and purposes) is the pinnacle of the Seattle "grunge" scene in its purest form.  This is a collection of songs that all deliver massive melodic riffs with the intensity and destructiveness of punk music, while condensing punk's relentless energy and anger into a half-speed, down-tuned sea of distorted slop.  Meanwhile the attitude of vocalist Mark Arm is practically tangible as he delivers the snarky, debasing lyrics with aggressive sarcasm, his howls often drifting into and resurfacing from the underlying murk.  

7. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

Like fall itself, I can't think of many better ways to describe Band of Horses than "a breath of fresh air".  Throughout the album the drums are beautifully compressed and splashy, the guitars chime and swirl, and the vocals echo with reverb as they stretch over the aural landscape.  The result is a dense, vaguely Spector-like wall of sound, which the wide, airy mix molds into one long gust of brisk fall wind.  Meanwhile the delivery and melodicism, which alternates between tranquil meditative country and explosive anthems to the majesty of the natural world, finds a comfortable balance somewhere between Beach Boys whimsy and Neil Young's woodsy naturalism.  

8. Dinosaur Jr - You're Living All Over Me

The debut album from indie legends (and Neil Young disciples) Dinosaur Jr offers an interesting blend of Neil's rustic, backwoods authenticity and fractured indie songcraft, the downbeat grime later heard in grunge, avant noise, and old school guitar shredding mixed with hints of psychedelia.  Perhaps more than anything though, it is known as the album that brought lead guitar back to indie music.  While the mumbled vocals and intentionally sloppy overall sound led to the band's reputation as "slacker" icons, frontman J Mascis certainly had/has the guitar chops to compete with anyone.  Of course his leads are delivered with an incredibly distinct recklessness and a near-violent lack of giving a shit; which makes the album that much more representative of the season. 

9. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

As an artist, there is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a successful collaboration between styles that initially seem conflicting.  James Mercer is the indie icon that crafted dreamy, heartfelt pop music with The ShinsDanger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) is the prolific, primarily electronic producer/DJ.  The result is Broken Bells, a seamless melding of organic instrumentation with electronic beats and loops; indie-pop songcraft with technically ambitious production.  Songs like The High Road and The Ghost Inside make the two elements almost indistinguishable from each other, while others like Sailing to Nowhere and Mongrel Heart play on the relationship between the familiar and the intimidating.   All said and told, it just lends itself to the ominous underlying mystery of autumn.  

10. The Highwaymen - Highwayman

Willie Nelson.  Waylon Jennings.  Kris Kristofferson.  Johnny Cash.  Does any more really need to be said?  Probably not, but I'm gonna say it anyway.  It would have been easy for those four to have made a "successful" album full of cookie-cutter songs and fueled by name recognition.  Instead they crafted a ten-piece of songs so transcendental that it could only have been pulled off by a group of legends.  Songs like Desperadoes Waiting for a Train and We're All in Your Corner seemingly unite the group into one omnipresent force of outlaw spirit, while The Last Cowboy Song and The Twentieth Century is Over celebrates their impeccable longevity among the disintegration of their mythical outlaw ethos.  Of course it is all framed by the opening track Highwayman, a cathartic ode to the past and future of their immortal, unstoppable renegade legacy.  

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