Big Star: #1 Record (1972)

Big Star
#1 Record
Ardent/Stax; 1972

My Rating: 100/100

Just what can be said about this record that hasn’t already been said, especially in the last few weeks? It’s brilliant, no doubt. And while it was legendarily ignored upon its initial release, it has since become the universally recognized stepping off point for all things power pop. You don’t need me to tell you any of that. All I can really say is that for every year that my youth fades into the rearview mirror, this record gets a little sadder and a little sweeter, all at the same time. With the record’s two chief songwriters having since departed for Indias all their own, even the sunny, powerhouse optimism of lines like “You give me life/And that’s right” come off as bittersweet at best. Over the years, I’ve come to love the song “When My Baby’s Beside Me” most of all, but there is no denying the overpowering nostalgia of “Thirteen”, a song so fragrant and pacifying you’ll feel like you’re slowly slipping into a Downy commercial. God, can any other song make a grown man cry? Whenever I hear it, I visualize all of my childhood friends, bridging the gap between innocence and experience, naive and childish, without a clue and all the better for it. Who wouldn’t want to capture that era forever? Chilton did it in that single song, but the full set of twelve manages to grab all the other angles as well. As I close this review, I’m struck by my utter inability to communicate all that this album means to me. I’d rather just let it speak for itself…

Once I walked a lonely road
Had no one to share my love
But then you came and showed the way
And now I hope you’re here to stay...”

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Feel (5/5)
2. The Ballad of El Goodo (5/5)
3. In the Street (5/5)
4. Thirteen (5/5)
5. Don’t Lie to Me (5/5)
6. The India Song (5/5)
7. When My Baby’s Beside Me (5/5)
8. My Life Is Right (5/5)
9. Give Me Another Chance (5/5)
10. Try Again (5/5)
11. Watch the Sunrise (5/5)
12. ST 100/6 (5/5)

Tracks of the Decade: “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky

“First Breath After Coma”
by Explosions in the Sky
from THE EARTH IS NOT A COLD DEAD PLACE (2003)

Instrumental post-rock was nothing new when Explosions in the Sky hit the scene in the last years of the 20th Century. Bands like Tortoise and Tarentel were only two acts in a sea of literary-minded illiterate indies, and Midland, Texas was not the hub of the scene by any means. Yet somehow, through what could perhaps be termed a series of fortunate events, Explosions found themselves the forerunners of the post-rock movement with the release of their third full-length in 2003, especially after they helmed the soundtrack to the masterful film adaption of H.G. Bissiner’s Friday Night Lights. “First Breath After Coma” finds the band at their most anthemic and narrative, building layer upon layer from a steady, chiming guitar into a furious wall of sound. The listener only need close his eyes in order to visualize a slow awakening to consciousness, culminating in a full-on adrenaline surge right around 3:30. And while we may commonly associate the bands’ music with football at this point, the stark and wide-swinging melodicism of the track’s first four minutes evokes artillery shells falling on heroic soldiers rather than pigskins falling into the arms of over-padded high school kids. Musically, the tri-guitar attack leaves nothing to be desired, but it’s Chris Hrasky’s steady beat that martials the song’s elegaic emotion and masterfully choreographs the rhythmic fireworks. All in all, “First Breath After Coma” was a clear indication of the band taking their game to the next level, and to this day it still ranks as their crowning achievement. As the enormous wall of distorted guitar feedback slowly advances over the last minute of the track, you’ll find yourself marvelling at the 9 minute instrumental POP song you’ve just heard. Did they really just pull that off?

Second Story Man: Screaming Secrets (2010)

Second Story Man
Screaming Secrets
Noise Pollution; 2010

My Rating: 69/100

Tragically under-recognized Louisville band delivers a solid third full-length…

Having grown up in Louisville, I’m astonished to say that while I have known of Second Story Man for years now, their third long player SCREAMING SECRETS is my first full length exposure to the band. I’m not really sure why. As a 90’s scene kid, I was a fan of the members’ work in bands like Itch House and The Flats, but for whatever reason, Second Story Man have managed to hover just below the national radar for 12 years now. While they have toured occasionally with the likes of Shipping News and Sebadoh, they have otherwise contented themselves with churning out apparently masterful noise pop records whenever the mood strikes them. So unfortunately, I can’t really speak to Second Story Man’s growth as a band, but I can attest to the fact that this is a marvelous record that will most likely go tragically under-recognized. SECRETS succeeds by finding a Beatles-esque middle way between the ultra-dynamic river city indie of hometown greats like Slint and Rodan and the scrappy indie pop of early 90’s Chapel Hill bands like Superchunk and Polvo. While opener “The Want Within the Need” and A-side closer “Traffic Jams” attest that the band can rock at full-power, I find myself continually drawn to the lilting and lush “Quietly” and the pastoral acousti-pop of “Suicide Dream.” Elsewhere, the dissonance of “Flies” recalls Murray Street-era Sonic Youth, and “The Mav” best exemplifies the band’s powerful dual vocal approach. Given the overall quality of SCREAMING SECRETS, I’ll definitely search out the band’s back catalog. Having grown into this record over the last few months, I can entusiastically say that it’s high time the world get to know Second Story Man.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)


Tracks:

1. The Want Within the Need (4.5/5)
2. Clocks (4.5/5)
3. OompaLoompa (4/5)
4. Quietly (5/5)
5. Traffic Jams (4/5)
6. Flies (3.5/5)
7. The Mav (4/5)
8. Floor Falls Out (3/5)
9. Suicide Dream (4.5/5)
10. Bottom Line (3.5/5)

START WITH: Quietly, The Mav, The Want Within the Need

Coming soon…

I’ve had a nice and necessary little hiatus, but I plan to return to daily posting next week. Here’s what you can expect in the next month or so…

– Album/EP Reviews of the latest from Vampire Weekend, Real Estate, Second Story Man, Pearl Harbor, Follow the Train, and many, many more
– Track Reviews continuing where I left off with my Top Tracks of the Decade
– Miscellaneous music commentary (of course)

I’m planning on branching out in some creative ways in the months to come, so make sure you stay tuned!

In the meantime, enjoy a tune from Real Estate, one of my favorite new bands…