Archive for December, 2009
Firstly, a housekeeping note. Several devoted readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun have expressed to me concern that I wouldn’t finish this list before the actual end of the decade. To which I respond, so what? Are the post–January 1st entries going to be less valid? Do you guys really look to Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun for timeliness and relevance? Come on, precious readers. It’s like you don’t even know me! I take the “Tim” out of “timeliness.”
5) Butch Walker, Letters (2004)
Hoo boy. This is the tough part of the countdown, dearest reader. The next four albums, honestly, I could have flipped a coin to determine the order. (How would that work, though? Would I have to seed the albums and have a four-team coin-flip tournament?) Anyway, Letters comes in in the five spot. This particular selection was doubly hard, since Butch Walker’s entire oeuvre (2002’s Left of Self Centered, Letters, 2006’s The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites, and last year’s Sycamore Meadows) is pure dynamite.
You might recall Butch Walker as the frontman for the late 90s pop-rock outfit Marvelous 3 (remember their one song, “Freak of the Week”?) The second semester of my freshman year, a couple upperclassman friends of mine invited me to a show at the House of Blues. (The one that used to be in Cambridge; it’s Tommy Doyle’s now. I continue to date myself in these posts, I’m realizing. Oh well!) The opening act was Brian Vander Ark (who sings for the Verve Pipe, and had a solo album of his own that, while not cracking DD&UFAOTD:AMIMIFE, was still pretty good), and the headliner was Butch Walker. He played a few Marvelous 3 tunes (including, if memory serves, “You’re So Yesterday,” which is just an excellent song), and some tracks from his debut solo album. And they were awesome. At that point, I became hooked.
The Zeroes have proven that Butch Walker is true music industry Renaissance man. He performs (I saw him live again a few months ago at the Paradise, and the man knows how to put on a show); he writes (in addition to his own songs, Walker has written many tunes for other artists, including SR-71’s hit “Right Now,” Bowling for Soup’s “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” and Avril Lavigne’s “My Happy Ending”); and he produces (Walker is one of the most sought-after producers in the biz, producing records for artists like Pete Yorn, Sevendust, the Donnas, Pink, Katy Perry, Weezer, and Dashboard Confessional). He does pop; he does rock; he does metal; he does emo; the man does it all!
So, Letters. You like heartfelt ballads? How about “Mixtape” (But you gave me the best mixtape I have. / And even all the bad songs ain’t so bad. / I just wish there was so much more than that. / About me and you)? Or “Promise” (What was I saying? / There I go playing / The game I know so well. / I’m talking about myself when it should be / You)? You like radio-friendly pop-rock? How about the intoxicating hook and delightful harmonies on “#1 Summer Jam.” You like withering breakup revenge anthems? How about the granddaddy of the withering breakup revenge anthem, (which I’ll link to here, because it was all that I could do to keep from making it my Signature Track) “Best Thing You Never Had.” (Longtime friends of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun will recall these lyrics from sundry away messages from assorted dark times in the life of your favorite blogger: “Like the toilet seat never got lifted / And I pissed on your confidence / When you weren’t around? How can that be? / Don’t turn this around. / You were the one / Who drove my ass right to the ground.”)
Signature Track: “Joan”
I’m going to defer to Mr. Walker here, since I have a good feeling that “Joan” is one of his favorite tracks from Letters. “Joan” is what my pal Reeves likes to refer to as an aural story, so I won’t go and spoil things by transcribing any lyrics. I love this song because it’s a textbook example of how passionate a lyricist and vocalist Butch Walker can be when he wants to. Just a top notch song. I recommend you listen to the whole thing.
# More of this, please. I have a good buddy who finds this sort of behavior reprehensible. I can’t get enough of it. Firstly, as a colleague of mine would say, “This isn’t the effing Pentagon.” It’s football; it’s entertainment. Chad Ochocinco is an entertainer. Secondly, it’s not like Ochocinco called Darrelle Revis a bad father; he didn’t call him a tax cheat; he didn’t insinuate that he was a lousy tipper. He engaged in a little banter about the kids’ game that they both play once a week for millions of dollars a year. If Darelle Revis can’t handle it (and I’m positive that he can), he should get into another line of work.
Critics of players like Ochocinco and Terrelle Owens and similar blowhards sometimes argue about how these guys set a bad example, and that they show poor sportsmanship. I’m not going to address how sports figures shouldn’t be role models for anyone. And I’ll only briefly address how overrated the concept of sportsmanship is. Or, should I say, the concept that we should be looking to professional sports stars as examples of sportsmanship. (Which, I suppose, is related to the first point that I said I wasn’t going to address. Funny how that sort of thing happens.) The single-minded focus, egomania, and determination involved in reaching the pinnacle of athletic competition, in my eyes, disqualifies pro athletes from being any sort of examplars of what we’ve come to call “good sportsmanship.” I mean, think about how many wideouts Chad Ochocinco had to vanquish, at every level of his career, to get to the point where he’s the number one wide receiver for a playoff-bound team. The same goes for every pro athlete. They’ve undoubtedly had to do things that normal Joes like you or I would never even dream of attempting in order to get where they are; that’s why they’re pro athletes, and we’re normal Joes. All of this is to say, we expect them to be good sports, too? I think athletes should for sure receive positive attention when they display good sportsmanship; but we should come to expect trash-talking, boasting, and excessive celebration as something that comes with the territory, as opposed to something that we frown upon. This is just me talking, but I think as a consumer of professional sports and a patron on professional sports’ various advertisers, I’m owed a good show more than a bunch of juiced-up freaks trying to be good sports. Sportsmanship isn’t something that’s learned from watching dudes on TV: it’s learned on the actual field of play.
# Less of this, please. I’m not going to bury Mike Leach, since I’m sure there’s still a lot of investigating to do w/r/t Adam James’s allegations against him. I’m going to speak, via setting up a series of strawmen, to the larger story of how college athletes in general are mistreated by a system that makes hundreds of millions of dollars off their free labor, and how what they receive in return is less than a drop in the bucket. Now, I understand that some people might see big-time college athletics (we’ll focus on football) as sort of trade school for the professional ranks, so theoretically their big payday is just deferred a few years down the line, and the stuff they have to put up with in college is well worth it. Of course, the number of college football players who actually make it to the NFL, let alone have productive careers, is so self-evidently and intuitively infinitesimal that I won’t even bother linking to or even looking up the statistics. (How’s THAT for argument?) Another argument is that athletes are compensated via the education they receive, sometimes for free. It’s great that some kids who might not get the opportunity to receive a college education do so via their athletic skills. But how compromised does that education get when practices and games and training take athletes out of the classroom, or the threat of losing one’s scholarship if one doesn’t do what one’s coach says (like, say, get locked in a storage shed) hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of marginal players.
In any event, college kids playing varsity sports are most certainly not equivalent to pro athletes, no matter what anyone says about the quality of play at the upper echelons of competition or the absurdity of the modern-day idea of the “student-athlete.” If Wade Phillips wants to lock Tony Romo in a supply closet, well, great: they’re both grown men, being paid millions of dollars. Tony Romo isn’t a kid. Adam James is. Ivan Maisel, in the article above, wrote “whatever happened to wide receiver Adam James regarding his treatment for a concussion he suffered in practice two weeks ago, it is clear athletes are less likely than ever to stand for mistreatment in order to be team players.” I hope he’s right!
# And finally, give me a fucking break, Alabama.
6) Grasshopper Takeover, International Dance Marathon (2000)
This is another album that was passed along to me by an old friend who got it for free at a show. So, like, for the information of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s younger readers, yes, this was the way to find out about new music way back in the day. It sounds crazy just typing it, but it’s true.
I have a coworker who plays in a band called Huck. When you ask him to describe his band’s sound, he’ll sort of shrug and say something like “Fun rock. We just play happy music.” I think of that when I think about why I like Grasshopper Takeover. For almost eight years, International Dance Marathon has been my go-to in situations where I need a pick-me-up. It’s not exactly the most sophisticated or hard-hitting rock album out there, but it more than makes up for those shortcomings with foot-tapping melodies and feel-good lyrics. It’s gotta be, by far, the most positive album on this list.
I’d describe GTO as something like 311-lite. (An easy comparison; both bands are from Omaha, and I understand that they’re all pals.) The good folks at CDBaby.com tell me that if you like 311, the Foo Fighters, and Everclear, you might like GTO: that sounds about right! It’s interesting to see these lists of similar artists (Yahoo Music says GTO fans might like Unwritten Law, They Might Be Giants, Cake, and Better Than Ezra), because they’re all definitively 90s bands. This shouldn’t be surprising, of course, since International Dance Marathon is GTO’s third full length album and just barely made it into this decade, with its June 2000 release. I personally thought the 90s were a pretty good decade for alternative rock and power pop tunes. Sure, I’ve come to like (and love) new forms of rock music, and obviously bands like the Foo Fighters are still churning out records, but the fact is that as the days go by, new music like you find on International Dance Marathon becomes rarer. Will this be the last DD&UFAOTD:AMIMIFE with a 90s-style alt-pop album on it? This is me coming to grips with my own mortality, people!
Signature Track: “Forever Young”
The pick for signature track here is sort of a toss-up. I’m a big fan of literally every track, but there’s definitely a Big Three: “Esta Vida,” “Sailing,” and the track you’re listening to up there, “Forever Young.” (You guessed it, precious reader: this song was the only one I could find a decent Youtube video of.) “Forever Young” does the trick, though, in terms of encapsulating GTO’s sound: the shifts in tempo, the hooky melodies, the upbeat lyrics. (You know, like, “First rule says you’ve got to believe in who you are. / Second asks you to believe anything is possible. / Third, get up and do it, boy you’ll be a star. / My roots are constellations, guiding me home.) I gotta tell ya, there’s not a whole left to say. This is a list of my favorite albums, and there’s no writing a list like that without including the album that’s given me warm fuzzies since 2002.
7) Fall Out Boy, Take This to Your Grave (2003)
So Fall Out Boy is a pretty big band nowadays. So much so that they have a greatest hits album.(?) I mean, I’ll buy it. (The idea, not the actual album. I have all those songs already.) It’s just weird to have a band that you’ve been following for a while to not only put out a greatest hits album, but for said album to include tracks from an album that came out just six years ago.
Oh well. All of this is inconsequential. What does matter is that before Pete Wentz was opening bars that played host to Real World casts, Fall Out Boy put out a lil album called Take This to Your Grave, a venomous, spite-filled, heartfelt emo punk tour de force that, quite frankly, the band has yet to replicate. The band’s second studio album, it has more polish than their debut, Fall Out Boy’s Evening Out with Your Girlfriend, and more fire in the belly than their subsequent records.
There’s an urgency of genuine emotion on this album, and you know how I feel about that sort of thing. To this day, I still re-use the chorus to “Dead on Arrival” in everyday conversation: “This is Side One. / Flip me over. / I know I’m not your favorite record. / The songs you grow to like never stick at first.” (To say nothing of the delightful wordplay in the first verse: “This conversation’s been dead on a / Rivalry goes so deep / Between me and this loss of sleep over you.”) Ditto for “Homesick at Spacecamp”: “My smile’s an open wound without you / And my hands are tied to pages inked to bring you back.”
Why I like Fall Out Boy, and this album in particular, is they manage to get away with saying things that I could never bring myself to say as a songwriter. (And I’ve tried my hand at the songwriting thing. What, you’ve never heard of Wait for Summer? North Jersey Emocore since 2005?) I wrote a story a few years ago about Craig Finn, the lead singer for the band the Hold Steady. Finn said, w/r/t songwriting, that he oftentimes invents characters and scenarios to write songs about. “No one thinks Quentin Tarantino kills people. The characters are a way for me to remove myself from [the songs] in some way, to tell a story that has a cinematic quality or a good story arc without people saying, ‘He’s crazy.’ Especially my mom.” This sounds brilliant on paper, but in practice it’s extremely difficult to pull off. The reason I’ve only written like, two and three-quarters songs is that there’s only so much compelling stuff that I can cull from my autobiography. I’m just a crummy inventor, as it were. And even when there is good stuff to write about, I’m often too timid to commit it to paper, let alone song.
All of this is to say, I’m not sure if the guys in Fall Out Boy practice Craig Finn’s technique, or if they’ve all just been fucked over really bad and don’t give a shit who knows, but hoo boy, are there some potent lines on this album. Just look at the track listing. You’ve got “Sending Postcards from a Plane Crash (Wish You Were Here).” You’ve got “Reinventing the Wheel to Run Myself Over.” And then you’ve got our signature track.
Signature track: “Tell that Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today”
Hopefully my Irish American readers can get over the title of this one (it apparently comes from the movie Rushmore.) This particular video includes lyrics, which should drive the point home that this is an intense song. Like, the chorus: “Let’s play this game called ‘When You Catch Fire.’ / I wouldn’t piss to put you out.” Or, hell, the opening line: “Light that smoke, that one for giving up on me. / One just ’cause they’ll kill you sooner than my expectations.” There’s a strain of pop punk that’s moroseful and whiny, there’s a strain of pop punk that’s mushy, and there’s a strain of pop punk that’s just downright nasty. “Tell That Mick” is the archetypal example of that final strain.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I condone lighting people on fire, or wishing them to be in a horrible car accident, or anything like that. Maybe Pete Wentz does. Or maybe he’s just capable of imagining a situation where he feels that way. Either way, I’ve always been impressed with the courage it takes to write songs that really let loose with intense emotion, whether it be sorrow or longing or rage. I know for a fact that I’m not capable of opening up that much, or even making up a persona capable of opening up that much.
Merry Christmas, treasured readers. If you’re reading this blog, it’s painfully apparent to all with eyes to see that you’ve been good boys and girls this year, so I won’t even bother asking if Santa treated you well. Of course he did!
Hopefully you’re all enjoying the day with your families and gifts and Christmas hams and whatnot. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. There are presently thousands of American soldiers, either in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, or stationed elsewhere overseas, who can’t enjoy the holidays with their families. This isn’t a guilt trip, obviously, just a call for all of us to reflect on how blessed we are, and if that’s your type of thing, maybe offer up some words to the close and holy darkness for our soldiers and their families.
I also promised my friend Sam that I would pass along this request while you guys are still drunk on holiday cheer and good will. She works for Americorps for like, sweatshop wages, and is in charge of recruiting volunteers for the Phipps Volunteer Tutor Project. So if you live in NYC, and you’re interested in helping out some underprivileged kids, I’d advise you to check out that link. And also, merry Christmas!
I’ve never done the whole “using wi-fi on a bus” thing until right this second. It’s sort of cool, I suppose. On the one hand, the connection is wicked slow. But on the other, my ass is usually doing zero miles per hour while I sit on it and go through my Google Reader, but now I’m blazing down 84 at like 70. It’s interesting to think about for about three seconds.
8 ) Straylight Run, Straylight Run (2004)
Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. Straylight Run is a band formed by former members of Taking Back Sunday, frontman John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper. If you’re familiar with TBS, you’ll realize that these two bands couldn’t sound more dissimilar, and that’s a huge part of Straylight’s allure. Here, you’ve got a guy in John Nolan capable of screaming his larynx out on Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, but then weaving soft, soulful melodies on Straylight Run’s opening track, “The Perfect Ending.” Nolan isn’t the greatest technical vocalist, but the range that he can bring to a track more than makes up for it.
But then again, the fact that he isn’t the smoothest vocalist is another part of the allure. Nolan’s presentation, as a singer and a lyricist, reeks of earnestness. Take the album’s single, “Existentialism on Prom Night.” In a typical pop punk band, you’d hear lyrics like “Sing like you think no one’s listening” and you’d roll your eyes. But in Nolan’s hands, delivered with passion in front of pianos and violins instead of screeching guitars, the words have a sincerity that would have been unavailable to him in a band like TBS. Then there’s my favorite track on the album, “The Tension and the Terror.” From the sensuous lyrics that start the track (All the boys, voices cracking. / Oh, the moaning half tones. / Come summertime, we’re all the same age here. / All the tension and the terror, / Thin-limbed gorgeous green eyes smiling, / And I’m going straight to hell) to the confession that ends it (A look, a laugh, a smile, a second / Passes by and I regret it. / Words just aren’t right. / Sometimes I just can’t explain / All the ways you devastate me. / Always on my mind), the words aren’t sung as much as it would have been impossible for them to not burst forth out of the song. Maybe you don’t hear it that way, but I do.
And let’s not forget the beautiful Michelle DeRosa nee Nolan on background vocals (not to mention the lead on “Toolsheds and Hot Tubs” and “Now It’s Done”). Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun understand how I feel about girls who can rock. For the uninitiated, I’ll put it simply: they’re the best! There’s really not a ton of ways to eff up a song with the addition of female accompaniment, and Michelle really smooths out her brother’s rough edges.
Signature track: “Your Name Here (Sunrise Highway)”
I admitted up above that “The Tension and the Terror” is my favorite track on this album, but that’s inconsequential at this point. This album is important because of “Your Name Here.” The song is a follow-up to this Taking Back Sunday song, which in turn is a response to this Brand New song. I won’t go into the details of the East Coast/West Coast style feud that marked those bands’ early days, suffice it to say that at a time in my life when I actually WAS emo instead of just being an emo fan, “Your Name Here” helped me to realize that no matter what the conflict is, it’s important to reconcile with the people closest to you if you’ve been driven apart. You just can’t take grudges to the grave.
And then there’s the matter of the chorus: “Go east on Sunrise Highway. / Turn left on Carmans Avenue. / Go right at the first stoplight / And I’ll be outside, waiting for you.” The lyrics are meant to be directions, from John to his estranged pal Jesse, to John’s house on Long Island, ostensibly so they can peace things up. Of course, you can’t put driving directions in a song without diehard fans actually following them, which is what myself, my pal Caitlin, and my buddy Joe, Official Bandmate of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun, did one July afternoon. Here’s a picture of me, driving east on Sunrise Highway.
Now, of course, unless you’re crazy, you wouldn’t put the EXACT directions to your house in a song that, who knows, could become a number 1 hit. So there’s really no such thing as “Carmans Avenue,” but there is a Carmans Road in Massapequa. And you can’t actually turn left onto it; rather, you’ve got to make a U-turn and then turn right. And at that point, if you go right at the first stop light, you’re really only hooking back up with Sunrise Highway. Here’s a photograph of your hero, this blog’s protagonist, me, at the final destination of the chorus to “Your Name Here.”
So, you know, did we learn anything? Is there some sort of didactic moral to this sad tale of a wasted afternoon? Absolutely not. Except, every time I go to a Straylight Run show and this song gets played, I get to nudge the dude next to me and say “Hey, I did that!” Ah, memories.
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