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There is a moment right after the first chorus in “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace” from which the song can go anywhere.  Two piano chords wobble on a tightrope, back and forth, and one can’t help but wonder if perhaps the song is just going to end at that point, the soft heartbeat of percussion pulsing more weakly until it goes unheard, succumbing to the implacable fade.  This is the world in flux – lives waxing in and out of their parallels, possible futures vying for dominance.  Think about how rare it is these days to be genuinely surprised by a song, to sit with bated breath as you wonder where the music is going to take you.

Think about how rare it is for a song to imitate life so exquisitely that it hurts.

What I am trying to delineate here is why I feel bothered when people say something like, “The Mountain Goats are still great, but nothing compares to Darnielle’s output pre-2005.”  I can’t count the number of posts I’ve read saying something similar to that.  The phrasings may change a little from person to person, but the general idea is that Darnielle made better music when The Mountain Goats consisted mostly of one or two people.  Of course, any Darnielle – old or new – is good Darnielle, so my annoyance can never be too great.  But his output from 2006-2012 is one of the greatest musical runs ever, and some…

Time marches on.  Happy Holidays, everybody.

25. Bob Dylan – Tempest

“Duquesne Whistle” is the best song of 2012 that I laughed at upon first listen.  The opening bars sound like some fogeyish variety-hour bullshit, but then the snare kicks in and the song picks up with two-chord electric guitar accents, and it’s clear that Bob is continuing his streak of post-millennial knockout albums.  He could never sing, so his shot voice isn’t an issue, and his lyrics carry as much weight as they ever have:  “It’s soon after midnight, and my day has just begun.”  Just a gorgeous album.

24. High On Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

Middle-aged fat guys making metal sound like the grizzled warrior that it is.

23. Glen Hansard – Rhythm And Repose

This album isn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but that’s alright.  It basically means that it isn’t as good as both Swell Season albums, but those albums didn’t have “High Hope” or “The Storm, It’s Coming” either, so all is forgiven.

22. Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

Pig Destroyer:  putting every wannabe macabre “poet” to shame since 1997.

21. Swans – The Seer

I don’t see the classic album that everyone else does, but it’s impossible to deny that this album is a huge musical achievement.

20. Taylor Swift – Red

Another Taylor Swift album, another few months of neckbeards and…

I first attended The Fest in 2011, and I’ve since wondered about what that weekend means, if anything.  It is billed, rightfully so, as the largest punk festival in the country, but there were only a marginal number of big names and they all, for the most part, had the shortened timeslots that plague such events (one has to wonder why Warped Tour still draws a crowd year after year, offering outdoor stages, mediocre sound quality, the blazing temperatures of summer, and 20 minute sets).  Granted, bands like Magrudergrind and Comadre are well-served by short sets, and an hour certainly seems enough for your Hot Water Musics and Against Me!s.

Much of The Fest’s appeal seems to lie in the possibility of what might happen rather than what is actually scheduled to.  “Secret shows” always produce heavy rumors passed around with all the fervor of notes in school.  One hears that Comadre is playing an At the Drive-In cover show in a warehouse 30 minutes outside of town (didn’t happen), and that Alternative Press is hosting their own mini-festival of bands playing cover shows, such as Bomb the Music Industry! covering The Weakerthans (happened).  Not everyone is in the mood to be excited about these things at two in the morning after a long and sweaty night of shows.  But there are people with boundless zeal who are constantly energetic to see something they may never get to see again.  It is, even in a state of exhaustion, a little…

I go back and forth on whether time passes too slowly or too quickly, but either way, I’m surprised every year when it’s time to make another list.  It’s always nice to go back and revisit albums that came out earlier in the year; the memories they evoke are a nice gauge of how good or bad the year was.  Merry Christmas to everyone on Sputnik, and I hope you all have positive memories when you make your own lists.

25. Childish Gambino – Camp

Community has become one of my favorite television shows ever, and that’s the only reason that I listened to this album. I didn’t listen to Watch the Throne or Goblin or undun or really any other hip-hop album that came out this year. I just haven’t really been in the mood. But I’m glad that I listened to Camp, because it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. It’s catchy but that’s not really it. A lot of people have criticized Donald Glover for his lyrics, and I’m certainly willing to concede that some of them are pretty bad, but this is probably the album that made me listen most attentively this year. By the end of my first listen, I really felt like I’d been on a journey, like I’d gotten to know Glover a little bit. There’s a lot of confusion on Camp – most of the record…

Let me start off by saying that I’ve been listening to Iron Maiden all day, so my ratings and descriptions might be more venom-filled than they were in the last entry because I had to pause Powerslave to do this. Also, am I the last person to notice that on the cover to Powerslave, the stairs lead right into Eddie’s crotch?

Where this entrance leads, nobody knows. Except for Eddie. He knows.

I enjoyed doing the first part a lot because I don’t often feel nostalgic. By no means was my childhood hard, but they weren’t exactly halcyon days that I reminisce about either. My childhood and teen years are just sort of hunkered down in the background of my mind, only making themselves known on very rare occasions. So it was pleasantly surprising that I felt the urge to revisit some of the songs and videos that got me into music, even though some of them weren’t all that great. It’s nice to be reminded of more innocent times, especially because we can so often be blinded by all the musical knowledge we’ve accrued over the years. We weren’t always like this, and songs like these will always be there to remind us of that.

Story Of The Year – “Anthem Of Our Dying Day”

It was a toss-up between this song and “Until The Day I Die,” but this song won out because it definitely brought back more memories (although I can…

I discovered music television when I was around 13 years old. As I’ve stated in numerous reviews where I incessantly talk about myself (Atavanhalen has dubbed the past few Sputnik years “The ‘Me’ Generation”), I didn’t have a very distinct notion of what music television even was for the majority of my childhood. But one day I was at a friend’s house and he turned on MTV2, and my life was forever changed by shitty music. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I really loved some of the things I saw on television, but not surprising. I didn’t know anything else existed. Tonight however, I was struck by nostalgia and I traveled to Youtube to revisit some of those songs, and some of them hold up reasonably well. Of course, some of them are just fucking shit.  And oh my god the fucking videos.

Three Days Grace – “I Hate Everything About You”

One distinct memory that I have involving this song contains a bit of early-era elitism from me.  I told my older brother that the radio sucked, and he responded by turning on the local rock station.  This is the song that was playing, prompting him to say, “See?  One of the BEST SONGS EVER.  The radio doesn’t suck, idiot.”  And I didn’t argue because at the time, I agreed that Three Days Grace had written one of the BEST SONGS EVER.  It was a simpler time.  Back then, every song I heard had the potential…

Major/Minor is Beggars with a purpose, and that purpose is to kick ass. “Anthology” hits harder than any Thrice song in the last five years. I’m continually impressed with Dustin’s vocal performance, not just in this song but the album as a whole. He’s never exactly sounded bored on past albums, but the lack of harsh vocals has definitely given that impression at times. But he’s so impassioned on Major/Minor that it’s almost unbelievable, and this song is the best example of that. Plus the riffs are amazing.

This has been floating around the Internet for a little while now (and I play it in turntable almost daily) but nothing’s really been posted on Sputnik about it yet. Lana Del Rey doesn’t have an album out yet but she’s working on one and it’s going to be awesome. Check it out.

A major similarity can be drawn between the works of Cormac McCarthy and the relationship between Dan Barrett’s Giles Corey book and album. Cormac McCarthy has always been a good enough writer that it was never really necessary for him to do anything different, but as the years wore on his books became a bit more streamlined and easier to read, as if the dross of pretension was smelted away leaving pithy wisdom and a fine sense of humor. His earlier novels plumbed deep into the human psyche and extracted dark things while his later works – starting with the Border Trilogy – are mostly about the good in people. Even No Country For Old Men, whose most memorable character is a representation of pure evil, is more about goodness and honesty than anything else. Someone like Anton Chigurh only serves to make the goodness more apparent. When you read his later works, you realize that that was his theme all along, no matter how he approached it. You could put his later works and his earlier works side by side and try to contrast them but eventually you’d have to just put them all together.

The release of Dan Barrett’s book and album is similar, the obvious and key difference being that they are inherently the same work presented in two ways. Attempts to separate them to decide which is more effective are ultimately pointless, as they are most effective when combined. The album is a…

All faces.

Times have been tough lately.

I’m 64 years old now, and there just isn’t the same demand for wildlife paintings and woodcuts as there was when I was 25.  Income has been scarce and I’ve had some close calls with paying the bills.  Many times these past few months have I considered hanging myself in the garage, but I can’t work up the courage, so I sit and paint pathetic, morbid little pictures depicting death and suffering.  My daughter thinks I might actually be able to make more money selling those than my wildlife pictures but they are too private for anything like that.  They strike me as being a bit too modern, which goes against the principles I’ve always stood for with my paintings.  I started painting wildlife scenes because they are essentially timeless; a picture of two ducks swimming in a pond could be set in 1915 or 2013 without being explicitly modern or old.  I pledge allegiance to no period in time.  The only concession I’ve made to the modern age was hiring someone to make a website advertising my work.  My daughter posted the link all over the Internet, and there was a small spike in business for a little while, but eventually things settled back into a rut.

So imagine my surprise when a young man by the name of Chris Brown sent me an email asking me to paint the cover to his new album.  I had never heard of him before and immediately…

It’s difficult to get a handle on Frank Turner’s solo career.

He’s released three full-length albums (and is about to release a fourth), but even right after Love, Ire & Song came out, he was a folk hero, an emotional icon with all the requisite traits:  honesty, longing, anger, and an acoustic guitar.  This was all with good reason.  Although his solo career blossomed in the wake of post-hardcore band Million Dead’s demise, he was more than your typical ideological punk singer turned folk artist right from the start.  His songs didn’t feel like acoustic versions of Million Dead songs, and even when he recorded the occasional cover of a Million Dead song, such as “Smiling At Strangers On Trains,” he was able to turn them into completely different works.  He was so good that many of the people who started listening to him after Love, Ire & Song didn’t even realize that he was the same skinny kid from Million Dead.

However, his endeavors as of late haven’t received the acclaim that his earlier works did.  Most recently, his Rock & Roll EP received criticism and even whispers that Turner was running out of ideas and becoming lazy with his songwriting.  Judging the EP critically is difficult because it’s hard to tell whether he really was trying his hardest or if the songs were written with the sole intent of serving the theme of “rock ‘n’ roll.”  The latter would seem to be the case, judging by the aesthetics…

When I was fourteen, Muse became my favorite band. Considering what I’d been listening to before I heard them, they were actually a fairly sophisticated choice. I was finally starting to move beyond the realm of bands like Good Charlotte, Senses Fail, and New Found Glory (which I had moved on to from Christian music). I had been taking piano lessons for about five years, and I had grown to hate the instrument, mostly because I hated my teacher. So I was impressed with a band like Muse, who could write songs in which the piano sounded like something wholly different from the object of my distaste. They were playing the kind of music that I had always wanted to learn in my lessons but never did.  It wasn’t necessarily difficult to play (barring the solo in “Butterflies And Hurricanes,” which floored me when my fourteen year old ears heard it), but it was certainly memorable, and as someone who wanted to forget all about the piano, that impressed me to no end.

Looking back, I find myself much more ashamed of loving them as much as I did than I am of loving a band like Good Charlotte, because Muse are now the worst band ever.

When Muse first started getting a lot of attention, there were a lot of Radiohead comparisons, which sent die-hard Radiohead fans into a tizzy because of Muse’s supposed unworthiness of the honor. That’s true, of course – Radiohead are a far superior band…

Identity is simultaneously everything and nothing in pop music: artists are constantly criticized for borrowing ideas and being carbon copies of someone else, but they also seem to try very hard to show that they are individuals. Most of the time though, their attempts are ill-conceived and often prove their detractors right. Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” springs to mind. After Back To Basics scrubbed Aguilera’s image squeaky clean, the logical step for a typical pop star would be to try to “do something different,” which in this case turned out to be an exact mirror image of the start of Aguilera’s career. Years ago she went from the innocent yet innuendo filled “Genie In A Bottle” (the girl next door laying fully clothed on a beach) to “Dirrty” (hookers engaging in sweaty wrestling matches; probably the first thing a lot of young boys masturbated to). Back To Basics saw her emulating the singers of the 40s and 50s, which means she wore white dresses and curled her hair and put on a lot of bright red lipstick, and four years later, the video for “Not Myself Tonight” featured Aguilera wearing a bunch of different S&M outfits. So really, “Not Myself Tonight” should have been titled “Myself Eight Years Ago.”

It’s hard to defend pop music when such faux pas are so commonplace. Even though Christina Aguilera is generally one of the better pop stars, you have to fault her for things like that when even fucking Ke$ha is doing…

I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas in any physical sense; I don’t buy presents for anyone and I don’t expect to receive any. We don’t decorate our house or get a Christmas tree anymore. Christmas is more of an obligation than anything at this point, and while that does depress me a little, it’s not a big deal. However, I’ll be damned if the Christmas season doesn’t weasel its way inside me every year. I wouldn’t call it holiday cheer – I’m a cynic at heart and Christmas is no different – but there is a certain pervading joyfulness underneath everything I do, humming away electrically to the tune of whatever Christmas song is stuck in my head or playing over some loudspeaker in a store.

My favorite Christmas songs utilize minor chords, and none do it better than “O Holy Night,” which has always stood head and shoulders above other Christmas songs for me. When I think of Christmas and winter, the first image that pops unbidden into my head is not one of snow or multicolored lights or wrapping paper. It is a very black night in which you can see every star in the sky, and there is profound silence all around. It captures both the beauty and stillness of winter but also those ominous qualities – the cold, the loneliness. The chord progression of “O Holy Night” embodies these things for me. Nothing explodes into glorious abandon quite like the chorus, but it’s so uncertain, teetering…

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