Monday, December 29, 2008

The Immortals #95 - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Today I talk about my personal feelings regarding Lynyrd Skynyrd.


Fuck classic rock
Fuck 3 guitars
Fuck solos
Fuck that hat
Fuck saying fuck Neil Young
Fuck multiple bridges
Fuck back-up singing wives
Fuck pride
Fuck confederate flags
Fuck stupid spellings for stupid band names
Fuck reunion tours
Fuck plane crashes

I'll try to get it some day, I really will. In another life, I'll say that my 3 years in Arkansas were an elaborate field study of southern culture. I'll actually chart the estimated thousand times a month that Clearchannel stations play "Sweet Home Alabama" in a given month and publish colorful spreadsheets. I'll listen to more than the first 3 minutes of "Freebird" before getting sick of it and turning it off. I promise I'll try. But now, at the age of 26, I know that I've spent enough of my life peripherally engaged by Lynyrd Skynyrd to know that I've never been ready to give them a fair shake. And I'm still not now.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Neon Hustle's Totally Subjective and Woefully Incomplete Guide to the Best Music of 2008, Part 1

This is part 1 of an ongoing, year-end series from your buddies at NH.

Entries are presented in no particular order. Each author's parts were crafted independently of one another, and should pretty much never be taken as representative of an opinion/endorsement by the collective. Except when they are. But that'll probably be for totally different reasons anyway.

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

Let's call a spade a spade here, shall we? Emo generally sucks. Beyond the monotonic soundscape and whiny upper-middle class perspective lies a wasteland of lyrics so vast
ly insipid that Lou Pearlman has to be ROFLing in his prison cell.

With the bar set so low, then, it shouldn't be hard to make a "good" emo record, and The Midnight Organ Fight is certainly that. It's also one of the best albums of the year. It's caustic and funny and genuine -- you have to be legitimately scarred to write lines l
ike "You won't find love in a hole / It takes more than fucking someone / You don't know to keep warm". And the music itself is strikingly affecting alt-folk, not the same upbeat pop-punk tune we've heard scores of times from the likes of Panic! At the Disco or their unfortunate clone, My Chemical Romance.


Ezra Furman and the Harpoons - Inside the Human Body

There's something of a rarity that exists today, in a world about to see the release of the first 10 disc CD/Blu-Ray volley of the "Neil Young Archives" box sets and which welcomed the 8th (eighth!) installment of Dylan's long-running Bootleg series in 2008. That rare
thing to which I refer is the opposite of those retrospective-obsessed dinosaurs: the young, unestablished artist whose output isn't yet outpaced by their creative productivity. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but sometimes it can mean you've just been lucky enough to stumble in on a musician documenting the process of writing good songs and throwing them together to make an honest to goodness long-player. And if you're lucky and it turns out that his records don't suck, that's pretty sepcial, right?

Ezra Furman is still basically a kid, his Harpoons having been formed in 2006 after playing parties at Tufts, this year saw their 3rd album, Inside the Human Body released on Minty Fresh. Furman spends 45 minutes careening between imitations of influences and contemporaries alike, and at times you'll swear Furman's vocals are channeling Alec Ounsworth, Gordon Gano, Spencer Krug, and/or Robert Smith, even as his band plays in
die rock, folk-punk, or Modern Lovers-styled decosntructo-pop. You can call it amatuerish and derrivitive, or you can step back and wonder at how anybody writes a track as monolithic as "Take Off Your Sunglasses."


Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver's debut dropped in February, which means it's been talked about as a potential record of the year for so long that the "it's overrated" backlash has begun.

It's all flimshaw.

There's something timeless about a lot of the songs on For Emma, or maybe anachronistic. It's easy enough to imagine "Skinny Love" being sung around a campfire on the American frontier, or "The Wolves" being the keystone to a movie soundtrack 100 years from now. And in the here and now, there's an austere intimacy to each track that provides a nice antidote to the in-your-face spectacles that defined 2008.


David Byne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Old people would have you believe that Everything that Happens could never be as good as the first Byrne/Eno record, 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I know they are old people, because they probably care about the influence of samples and world music on types of borderline popular music that nobody actually listens to today.

Despite the reported influences of gospel and soul having been filtered through Byrne's hermit-like prickishness or Brian Eno's eventual and complete tanshumanist merge of consciousness into a downloadable iPhone application, Everything that Happens is good because it's made up of songs. Real, catchy, pretty songs, songs better than anything either has released in quite a while. And if it sometimes sounds like a lost hit from 1988, well, that's probably all for the better then, isn't it?


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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Immortals #96 - Martha and the Vandellas

Everything I wrote about Berry Gordy applies to Martha and the Vandellas too. Plus a few controversial claims which I will make after the jump.

They're ranked ahead of the Supremes on this list because, on average, any three members of the Vandellas were better singers than any three members in the Supremes' history.

The Vandellas had nearly half as many "hits", but they were all roughly 2.6 times better than most of those Supremes songs.

Martha and the Vandellas were more popular with black people at the time. Back then (as with today, but especially back then) that was important because rock and roll had only been stolen a couple of decades earlier. White peoples' taste wasn't that good in the early going (that's why we'll probably never catch up.)

Martha didn't leave Detroit.

Unlike most "pop" girl groups, when you listen to Martha and the Vandellas, you can feel your organs start burning inside your chest a little. Which is rad.

20th Century Masters: The Millenium Collection by Martha and the Vandellas

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Immortals #97 - Diana Ross and the Supremes

The significance of Diana Ross and the Supremes is not about Diana Ross. Everybody, from Rolling Stone to the Kennedy Center would have you believe that she is a special talent, and honestly, yeah, she could sing a little. But that's not why she matters (if she matters.) Neither is her relevance to anybody about Florence Ballard, or Cindy Birdsong, or Mary Wilson, or Holland, Dozier and Holland or the Funk Brothers or fucking anybody else save for one man. The significance of Diana Ross and the Supremes is that they were the crowing achievement of mister Berry Gordy Jr.

Pop music in the 1960s wasn't really driven by The Beatles and Dylan and Brian Wilson all pushing one another, though that's a nice way to romanticize everything. In fact, those artists influenced one another and many more artists to make music that was on the fringe of the furthest acceptable boundaries at the time for rock music. Smile is nice and all, but even had it been released when originally planned, it wasn't going to rival the sales of "She Loves You" 45s, nor would it be accepted as idealized gospel of the psychedelic brilliance of what is, in hindsight, a great and important time in our cultural history. Fuck that shit. The popular consciousness is represented first and foremost by what sold enough to qualify as truly "pop" music, and the man who made the most profitable, popular music on the planet for the better part of a decade was Berry Gordy with his Motown sound. Keep your pitiful sales of Revolver, to this day more people know twice as many Gordy Motown hits by heart as can even name a track other than "Yellow Submarine." Truth. Hendrix is the soundtrack to our revisionism. Gordy, Motown, and Diana Ross and the Supremes were the soundtrack to the entire country's trip to the grocery store.

Included in Gordy's genius was his coordination of talented people with interesting people. That's what differentiated him from the other most important producer of that era, Phil Spector. Spector made hits without personalities- name me the drummer who pounded the first kick, kick-kick, snare on "Be My Baby." Nobody can. Practically everybody who wrote/co-produced/played/sang on a Spector hit in that era was sublimated to one man's singular vision... and that vision was more or less of himself.

Gordy, on the other hand, made personalities into hits, taking a just-alright singer who was kind of an insufferable bitch and made her the name in front for an already successful group. He recognized what sold their records and gave her top-billing, growing both the person and the brand in the process. Maybe the greatest music marketer of all time, and he had an ear too. He made more hits than he could count. Any of them could represent the man. But on this list, he's represented by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The Best of Diana Ross and the Supremes by Diana Ross and the Supremes

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Invisible Men

To anybody who's reading this, yes, we still exist.

But Just Barely.

See, we have jobs. We have other projects. We have stressful and time-consuming pursuits of postgraduate degrees. And at the end of the day, Top Chef ain't gonna watch itself, you dig?

An idea for a new beginning for Neon Hustle has been floated around. Perhaps it will take, perhaps it won't. Either way, we're just as pop/culture-obsessive as ever. I'd recommend against removing NH from your feeds, as I have a feeling we'll come up with something eventually to intrude upon your minds once more.

Thanks for reading.

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