Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Top Forty Bands In America--Reactions and my typical ill-informed opinions.

In the first place, let me say that it was a real privilege to be on this panel. I basically come in as the ILB's "Complete Nobody in the World of Music Blogging", so it was a treat for me to run with some of these big dogs for a day. That panel: Gorilla Vs. Bear, Largehearted Boy, Music for Robots, 5500, My Old Kentucky Blog, Catbirdseat, Central Village, Bradley's Almanac, Chromewaves, Byron Crawford, Catherine's Pita, Tuning Fork, Jason and Rajeev from One Louder, Brooklyn Vegan, Soviet Panda, Melody Nelson, Seeking Irony, Coolfer and Information Leafblower. Their awesome blogging, and copious knowledge, should be respected fully, even in spite of the fact that I am so devastatingly right about these things.

So, Sufjan Stevens wins this. He was part of my logjam. Gave him a lot of due consideration. I figured him to be on the list, but at #1? Not sure I buy that. It seems to me that that ubiquity within the blog community has a lot to do with this high ranking. He did, what--37 straight days in NYC or something? The Knicks'll do 42, but I don't think we should call off the NBA season and hand them the trophy, do you?

That said, the honor is accorded to a great guy and a real talent. The world should have taken notice of Stevens this year. Illinoise really kicked him to a new level. And, maybe, I just felt a lot more amenable to him. Illinoise impressed me--the songs made me take notice right away. First I noticed the craft. Then, I listened...I got fascinated, I got caught up not just in the stories, but the unique, loving way each song was just cradled in good music. Talent, deft touches, commitment. Suddenly I'm thinking this 50 States thing isn't a lark. Suddenly it's something I want to see him finish. The record just gives the listener a lot to glory in--it's generous, it's expansive. In the end, though, I think Stevens has a few mindblowers down the road to eclipse even this--so where does he go from the top spot? A little premature, but, know what--I like it just fine.

The National at #2? I really must have missed a dose of Kool-Aid.

Very glad The Hold Steady came in at 6, thus passing my one litmus test for the value of this entire enterprise. Green Day, frankly, belongs higher. And the only real argument against them simply being thought of as the single most important band the United States has--by a wide margin--is just personal proclivities and typical indier-than-thou, gotta-get-obscure-to-be-cool attitude. One commenter begs to consider Ted Leo alongside Green Day? I do not wish to impugn Mr. Leo--I'm a big fan, but let's go to the tape: Ted Leo's last record (2004's Shake the Sheets) was not as good as Hearts of Oak. He's talked this year of hanging it up, and his artistic high point of 2005 was covering Kelly Clarkson. Green Day:Ted Leo::Bloomberg:Ferrer. You come with "Ted Leo is the equal of Green Day" as your main topic of discussion, I can't even talk to you--that's not a conversation serious adults engage in, end of story.

The Decemberists, I must admit, I didn't give due consideration to, and I feel now that if I had, they almost certainly would have been part of my logjam, at the very least. Fiery Furnaces, though? Nuh-uh. Even as good as they can be, we are talking niche participant here. And what can I say about Animal Collective that I haven't already said--the winner of my Y'all Are Totally Kidding Yourself Award for the first half of the aughts. Grating, unlistenable, cutesy-pie dreck. Suckness.

I penalized Ryan Adams because, God, someone should. Jacksonville City Nights is so superior an album, it just exposes wholesale what a meandering record Cold Roses was. Similarly, Bright Eyes' Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is a fantastic album--fraught with 21st century worry, hunky electronic noise, and postmodern concern. But I'm Wide Awake It's Morning is just Points off. American Analog Set's latest album is the worst of their career--so damn lazy that it's tragic; 2005's soundtrack to going through the motions. The Juan McLean is just way too slight an offering to accord it that much merit--I'm frankly stunned to see it on the list.

I think it's clear that in many ways, I held back on naming some bands that I've really enjoyed because I just don't think the world at large has accorded them enough of that "heat" to really, honestly consider them to be one of the really great bands walking around. A lot of the other panelists didn't have this hang up: witness We Are Scientists. I got the record and I really fancy it--but I think they're more in line for, like, Best Week Ever than a place at the big kids table.


  • De Novo Dahl--LOVE this band. Love their songs. Love their attitude. Love the fiery creative spirit I sense going on. The first time I listened to Cats and Kittens, I really got sucked in. Over the course of a double album, their songs range from broadly accessible to deeply weird. Real Sparklehorsey quality. Here's what's great about each of their songs--no matter what they are doing, they unfailingly have something interesting going on. You sense that these guys committed themselves to making sure there was always something in play that just reached out and grabbed the listener by the lapels. Great record.
  • Robbers on High Street: Knotty, romantic, hooky and hellacious. Tight rave-ups with some gorgeous pastorals thrown in. Really these guys are just getting started, though. And you can't, of course, rate them higher than Spoon--their singular influence.
  • We Versus The Shark: Math rock can, in fact, be a lot of loopy fun. In the bizarro universe, these guys are Franz Ferdinand.
  • John Vanderslice and Okkervil River: Made the list anyway, so good for them.
  • Martha Wainwright: Fantastic record--another Wainwright demonstrated unequivocal genetic talent in abundance, yet takes it somewhere else entirely.
  • Archer Prewitt: Doesn't feel right to take one of The Sea and Cake's parts and hold him aloft as one of the great bands in America, I guess. But Wilderness is just a fantastic album, painterly beauty and quietly passionate.

  • Brendan Benson: SHAME ON US for not getting Benson on the list. The panel's most glaring mistake. Benson's a tunesmith of the highest order, vital and versatile.
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Kelly Clarkson: Oh, I gave it a good, long thought. "Since U Been Gone" is the single of the year, hands down. Resonated in all corners of the music universe, and did so loudly. I'm especially partial to the Frank Black mash-up. Not just the song though--Clarkson's making the most cynical industry haters suspect that she might actually be interesting.
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Foo Fighters: The new record is not the new Led Zeppelin IV or whatever shit Grohl said it was going to be. He went out on a long limb and the buzz suffered. Lately, though, the Foos have been getting it on, and, let's face it--they are a HUGE band with a rabid following who play high-octane live shows.
  • Queens of the Stone Age: Perversely, I suppose, I think their new one is their best one.
  • Antony and the Johnsons: Are we allowed to consider him "American"? I guess we are. The Mercury blurred it too much for me, but he's got one of my favorite records out this year--just raw, uncompromising stuff.

  • The White Stripes: We can pat ourselves on the back for not putting them on. Absolutely right. Face it: they coasted and that's the goddamn truth. Get Behind Me Satan is phoned-in and extremely uneven. In 2005, these guys were the David Boston/Peerless Price of rock.
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: People will cry and complain that this is backlash, but come on. At their best, they aren't even close to being one of the nation's best 40 bands. I believe they could be, at some point in the future. The potential is there. But let's not shit ourselves. Their self-titled debut, when you take off the introduction and the brief instrumental filler, is basically an EP. An EP of songs these guys haven't learned to play live yet. Back off and wait.
  • Weezer: Damn straight. I feel like these guys are just taking advantage of me at this point.
  • Nada Surf: We're all behind these guys, but I'm afraid wishing doesn't make it so.
  • Say Hi to Your Plot to Blow Up CocoRosie At the Disco, Doveman*: Hype was duly penetrated.
  • Kevin Federline: Hey, as K-Fed himself said, we weren't ready. The panel actually all met a week before we submitted our lists to ILB to discuss whether we were ready. The consensus was: was we were not ready. Well, Largehearted Boy said he felt like he was almost ready, like, maybe if he got a lot of sleep and ate a balanced breakfast he could be ready. But in the end we were like, "No, let's just agree that we aren't yet ready." As Federline suggests, we basically agree that in all likelihood we will hate him until 2008, at which time the entire nation might well be held hostage to his rapacious, implacable sperm.
More fights and discussions to come, I'm sure. Leave a comment.


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kosmo vinyl said...

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