This week, I was invited by the Information Leafblower to participate in a poll about the best bands in America. I could go on and on about how my criteria worked, but it would bore you, and anyway, everyone probably brought their own nuances. The Blower himself punished two bands for simply not playing a live date in DC. Harsh? Maybe. The little things make a big difference. But the little things are also boring to talk about.
For starters, go and see the list our collective blog-consciousness came up with, if only to privately register your shock, satisfaction, or disappointment.
Seen it? Good. Bet you didn't see that coming.
First off, I want to share my list with everyone. I was asked to provide comments. Those original comments are included. I've put some annotations in there between brackets [like this] that are fresh opinion, post-reveal. Just didn't want you to get my original thoughts confused with my thoughts since then. (And, not to worry, I still totally stand by my picks. Yeah, I love the other bloggers on the list, I visit most of those blogs regularly and respect their work, and they've all done this for a lot longer than me and have amassed great acclaim. So, I'm sure they'll take it in stride and with good humor when I simply say that, of course, and as usual, I am totally right and they have no fucking clue what they're talking about. That's how these things are supposed to work, after all.)
1. Green Day
Green Day may have some haters, but there can be no doubters. These guys are the most important American rock band as of this moment, and if you beg to differ--well, you're wrong. Hell, in the wide world, only U2 can plausibly claim to be a bigger band. Not bad for a trio of three-chord strummers from the Gilman Street scene. Considering most of America started listening to Green Day around the same time Kurt Cobain was taking the cheap way out--their ascendance means a lot to the kids who stuck with them, who needed rock heroes with talent and brains to stay in the world with them. Now, a year removed from the release of American Idiot, these guys are still embedding themselves in our cultural consciousness. But more importantly, they've branded themselves as a beacon of integrity.
[Let's get serious. We all know this to be true. The truth is, Green Day's last video is bigger and hotter and more important than everyone else on the list combined. Green Day is a brand-name band. They are EF Hutton--when they speak, motherfuckers listen, and the lion's share of motherfuckers paying heed to Green Day couldn't discern Sufjan Stevens from Shadoe Stevens. American Idiot took over the world because it wasn't just some snotty power chord polemic (Bush sucks ass! Bush sucks ass!), it was a deep and entrancing look at the State of the Union, of the life we lead today. It's closer to Plato's Republic than an Op Ivy CD. Also: "We Are The Champions" at Live 8--single greatest moment in rock in the year 2005. ]
2. The Hold Steady
I am absolute in my confidence that the collective blog-consciousness assembled here will put The Hold Steady into the top-ten. If we fail to do so, then we belong on the shitheap, pure and simple. The Hold Steady rammed an adrenaline shot into the heart of rock and roll with an absolutely peerless album in 2005. That album, Separation Sunday is the anti-Weezer. It is, for emo, an extinction-level event. It returns the glories of rock to the corner-bar boozers, the Chilton-heads, the Springsteen acolytes, and people who prefer their music to take precedence over trendoids and fashion icons. And some thought they didn't make music like this anymore.
[They had to make the list. They HAD to make the list. On Mars, they have to make whatever list the Martians are devising.]
3. Death Cab For Cutie
No, the new record wasn't all it could have been, but it hardly matters. Death Cab took a huge step forward with Transatlanticism, and if their momentum seems slower on Plans, these guys are making the necessary progress on the road. These guys are determined to be an important band, and they're going door-to-door gathering followers and playing some peerless, beautiful music.
[Charles Aaron wrote a longish article in SPIN two issues ago that's basically worthless to anyone who didn't read the book he fucking totally cribbed from, Our Band Could Be Your Life, until he gets to the end and juxtaposes Elliot Smith and Death Cab to ask, basically, "Why Death Cab?" Now THAT'S a good question. Ben Gibbard, after all, sings about following someone into the dark--Elliot Smith ended up leading the way (or not, depending what story you believe). At first, I thought, Aaron's right--Gibbard's never going out like that, I mean, look at the guy! Scrubbed, clean, approachable. He's got a bright future in sales if this music thing doesn't work out. Then I went to see them play that song, and it hit me: I'd been giving that tune short shrift. It's not suicide handbook. Not death loving or death wishing at all. At all. It's a song about a guy who is trying to comfort someone. Trying to tell someone that's dying that their life has been worthwhile, it's had meaning. That's the answer to Why Death Cab. They take on the big tasks--here's how you learn to love someone, here's how you learn to never abandon the people you care about, this is what words you use when all you have is words. That's tough stuff--and they don't make it look easy. And they relive that essential challenge onstage every night. Shit: Death Cab For Cutie is a courageous fucking band, when you think about it.]
What do nice girls do after getting every major rock critic in the world to spend a decade jizzing their pants over you? How about start all over again? Sleater-Kinney gutsily fuck with their formula, reconfiguring their high-energy punk formula into category five cock-rock skronk and end up making a statement that's just as powerful as when they first came on the scene. Mad props for not coasting.
[Wish I had seen them live this year. My wife says I would have jizzed all over the 930 club.]
5. Kanye West
West's already reinvigorated hip-hop by tirelessly looking for new sounds, sources and ideas to throw into his tracks. The results on record make him a titan in the music world. But the proof of his heat is self-evident when you consider the fact that he went on live TV to excoriate the President and nobody even attempted to knock him off the block. Kanye came out more beloved than ever, appearances and sponsorships intact. Dan Rather wishes he were that untouchable.
These guys just deserve to be thought of as an American classic. So smart, so eminently listenable. Britt Daniel's wit seems to flow outward into the music, where lyrical turns of phrase are matched by equally satisfying musical ones. Gimme Fiction is a record that manages to trade on the past brilliance of records like Girls Can Tell while at the same time being something else entirely--a funky, jet-black record that might be the sexiest thing you'll listen to all year.
[And yet, from time to time, I have the hardest time convincing people to listen to these cats. There's something about them that turns people off while simultaneously turning people on. Can't put my finger on it.]
7. Kings of Leon
Calling these guys the "Southern Strokes" was probably meant to be complimentary but feels more like a write-off, especially after the release of Aha Shake Heartbreak, which finds the band in expert control of some elemental rock power. They match revelry with regret, power with vulnerability--you get the feeling that the world is open to these guys.
[Look. You gotta give Aha Shake Heartbreak a try!]
Kicking Television is going to refresh a lot of the attention Wilco's garnered for their last two records--both bold, risk-taking ventures that stood out amid a world of neo-retro play-it-safers. Despite the space between the release of A Ghost Is Born and today, Wilco remains on this list because of the kids out there forming bands who are still working on getting their head around what Tweedy and his gang have wrought. We'll be feeling it five years from now, when the bands that fed their game with Wilco are at the forefront of the next great American rock movement.
[If we consider only the rubric "What should a rock band sound like?" Wilco is the only band America has that's been willing to match Radiohead's ambition--and I think Wilco can carry things a lot farther than Radiohead can. One thing's for sure--in the battle between Tweedy and Farrar, Tweedy wins. Which isn't to say I don't love Jay--but you can sense Jay has tried to be as reaching as Wilco in some later albums, and he's ended up looking embarrassing.]
9. The Mountain Goats
With all the free-floating anxiety in the world, fucking nice normal people up, it's important to have someone out there laying himself bare about fears and joys, past and present, as if to jump down in the whole with the rest of us and offer up an escape route, Leo McGarry-steez. John Darnielle transforms household objects into talismans and spins gold out of stolen moments, showing his scars and in a plain-spoken way, soothing the jangled nerves of his listeners.
[Darnielle finally closed the deal with me this year, and how could he fail with Sunset Tree? His songwriting is fantastic--sketches of life that snap with holodeck color and brilliance.]
10. The Pixies
Boomed back into prominence with a reunion tour that had their old-guard uniting with a younger generation of rock fans, all cheering as one. Right now, the Pixies have a grip on an insane amount of recharged potential energy--it's like they?re holding a backpack full of lightning bolts. Do they go back out preaching the old gospel? Do they head back into the studio to write a new one? Some might say that the hottest thing in the world is that, ultimately, they may just decide to walk away. They've made their case, after all.
[Admittedly, the Pixies were an outside-the-box stopgap to provide a quick and dirty way to cut through a logjam, Gordian Knot-steez. They were the only one of my ten picks that didn't make the final list. But it's not such a joke as you might think. These guys could, right now, start over at square one--and do so without the dues-paying or the growing pains. That's an amazing opportunity they've been afforded! And they come back with fans' blessings--we're not talking about the Rolling Stones coming around again milking it. That's pretty damn hot.]
I'll give some reaction to the final list of forty later on. Plus I'll let you know about the bands I wrestled with, the bands I wish were hot enough to be considered, the bands I'm glad didn't make it, and why. I'll be basing my reasoning on the three golden rules: 1) I'm right, 2) they're wrong, and 3) suck it. Suck it hard.
[Picture of Corin Tucker by A Nameless Yeast]