Monday, January 30, 2012

Honorable Mention Overlook

Here are 3 more bands that should have gone in my honorable mention. I've never seen any of them live so I glossed over them in my initial estimations, but they are terrific bands who will stand the test of time:

  • Arcade Fire
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Radiohead

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Best Bands of All Time - #1 Guided By Voices

#1 - Guided By Voices

The decision between #1 and #2 came down to longevity and live show. Guided By Voices has been kicking ass since the late '80s and are still going strong today, currently touring with the "classic" lineup from the mid '90s. Essentially, GBV is Robert Pollard and His Band of Fools, a rotating collection of rockers out of Dayton, Ohio. 

The Club is Open

Charismatic frontman Pollard is a semi-famously former school teach who is among the most prolific songwriters of all time. His stream of consciousness lyrics paired with the brilliant rock guitar shreddings of Mitch Mitchell and Doug Gillard carved out a unique niche of songwriting unequaled for both the unfinished feeling brevity of some songs and the entrancing rock hooks of others.

As an example, here's a recent version of grey-haired Pollard rocking harder than almost every popular or semi-popular twentysomething band of today:

I actually think its quite sad that today's youth aren't inspired by current events to pen the kind of anthems that my distraught generation came up with. But that rant is for another post.

From 1992-1997 GBV put out 7 albums, at least 5 of them brilliant. The albums stood out because they'd contain 20-30 songs, many clocking in at under 2 minutes (or even under 1 minute). These short songs lent a terrific textural quality to the album that made it so much more than just a collection 10 pop songs (and that's important to someone like me who believes an album should be considered a piece of art like a painting, sculpture or novel).

Pollard wears his Who influence on his sleeve and oftentimes channels Roger Daltrey when on stage, what with the microphone windmilling and high kicks. The live shows are Springsteen-like in their energy and duration and I have found them well worth traveling for.

Unique songwriting, many amazing albums, kickass live show, longevity. These are the things of which Greatest Bands of All Time are made.

The Deets
Best lyric:  I never asked for the truth / but you owe that to me "Game of Pricks" from Alien Lanes
Best lyrics (entire song):   Disarm the settlers / the new drunk drivers / have hoisted the flag / we are with you in your anger / proud brothers / we do not fret / the bus will get you there yet / to carry us to the lake / the club is open  "A Salty Salute" from Alien Lanes
If you had to buy just one album: Alien Lanes (though you couldn't go wrong with Bee Thousand or Mag Earwhig, either)
If you could buy just one song from iTunes: "Exit Flagger" off of Propeller.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Best Bands of All Time - #2 Uncle Tupelo

#2 - Uncle Tupelo

Uncle Tupelo was the first of these great bands that I really got into on the ground floor, just after their first album No Depression was released. I have a pretty vivid (though potentially wholly inaccurate) memory of Mikko bringing his vinyl copy over to my parents house one summer during college. I remember replaying the track "Whiskey Bottle" a few times on my bedroom turntable.

I think we'd already been introduced to the burgeoning alt-country scene via local college faves The Jayhawks and The Gear Daddies, but Uncle Tupelo took it to another level. The title track on their first record was a cover of an old Carter Family standard and they were the kind of band that best bridged that gap from 1930s Americana to 1990s indie rock.

Perhaps the most memorable Uncle Tupelo show I attended was July 25, 1992 at the Mower County Fairgrounds in Austin, MN. Also on that bill were Run Westy Run, The Jayhawks, The Gear Daddies and maybe Soul Asylum. It was a who's who of my favorite bands at the time, so the rain and mud didn't deter from my enjoyment of the show.

Here's a sample of some Uncle Tupelo where you can get a sense of their roots as well as their rock influences -- "The Long Cut" from their 4th and final album Anodyne, with Jeff Tweedy on vocals:

Uncle Tupelo had two terrific songwriters in Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, and their breakup after only 4 albums was due mostly to the personality conflict between the two. Of course the good thing of only making 4 records is that they are all brilliant, not a weak spot to be found. They haven't reunited and both went on to form successful bands on their own -- Son Volt and Wilco, respectively. Son Volt's Trace is timeless and is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

Here's "Whiskey Bottle" the song I was drawn to right away. It's off of their first album, No Depression, and features Jay Farrar on vocals singing one of my favorite lyrics of all time:
I can't forget the sound / cuz it's here to stay / the sound of people chasing money / and money getting away 

Their lyrics are awfully mature for a couple guys in their low 20s.

If Uncle Tupelo never gets back together, I think it'll be for the best. Their legend remains untarnished and I'd love to see it stay that way. 

The Deets
If you could buy just one album: Start with their first one, No Depression, but get 'em all, there's only 4 of 'em.
Album that I listen to the most 15 years later: March 16-20, 1992.
Best lyric: "I can't forget the sound / cuz it's here to stay / the sound of people chasing money / and money getting away" from "Whiskey Bottle"
Best song that rocks to buy right now on iTunes: "Chickamauga" off of Anodyne
Best country song to buy right now on iTunes: "Moonshiner" off of March 16-20, 1992.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Best Bands of All Time - #3 Arcwelder

#3 - Arcwelder

Ahh, Arcwelder! A melodic, bombastic, wall of sound.

I think I first saw Arcwelder opening up for Soul Asylum in about 1991 at First Ave. and they've consistently been a favorite of mine ever since. I say "consistently" because they're still playing a couple shows a year and I just saw them over Christmas at the Turf Club in St. Paul.

Arcwelder was always the band that I wanted to become because they managed their terrific rock band while still holding down normal jobs. When I started playing in a band at age 29 I had a good job and wasn't prepared to sacrifice everything for the incessant touring required to make it professionally. Brothers Bill and Rob Graber (lead and bass guitar) always had a decent career and were still able to create phenomenal rock music, whilst only touring occasionally.

Here's an example, the instrumental "Cranberry Sauce":

Arcwelder grew up in that time before ubiquitous movie cameras and simple film software. Their early lo-fi videos are definitely of that time when indie rock bands had low budgets and homemade videos. This is "All Mixed Together" off of their 4th album, Xerxes:

A couple years ago a buddy and I flew from Minneapolis to Portland just to see Arcwelder. They're that kind of band that those now rare shows are essential.

The Deets
If you could buy just one album: Pull
Best lyric: Sing a little pop song / and everybody loves you (from "Remember to Forget")
Best iTunes track featuring singing drummer Scott Macdonald to sample: "What Did You Call It That For"
Best quote from 1990 press release announcing changing of band's name from "tiltawhirl": "It is the chance of the public associating 'tiltawhirl', the band, with 'Tilt-a-Whirl', the ride, that Sellner wishes to avoid. That is why the band's suggestions for new names such as 'Tilt', 'Tilted World', and 'Tiltagirl' were nixed by Sellner".

Long live Arcwelder!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Best Bands of All Time - #4 Run Westy Run

As mentioned in the previous post, this is going to be a Top Four list because no one other act really stands out for me as much as these.

#4 - Run Westy Run

I first got introduced to the Westies through my college roommate, Mikko. It was junior year of college ('90-'91) and Mikko had picked up a copy of Green Cat Island, the only RWR release still available aside from eBay and used record bins. I think Mikko saw them open up for Soul Asylum and that album (on compact disc!) was played regularly at high volume in our dorm room, much to the chagrin of roommate Kevin. I probably didn't entirely get it at first, either, but boy did it grow on me.

In the early '90s Soul Asylum ruled the roost in Minneapolis and the Westies were every bit their live show equal, if not superior. Alas, this type of guitar rock seems to be on hiatus.

Here's an example of their live show, this clip from First Ave. in Mpls. circa 1990:


Goddamn. I'm not sure what words I can add to that video. Here's a Rule of Rock: if your singer isn't going to play a guitar, he better have some serious moves. Kirk Johnson was one of the best.

Mikko and I went and saw them as many times as possible until their demise around 1996. They'd graduated from the 7th St. Entry by the time I got into them, but I saw them a number of times at First Ave, The Uptown and maybe the 400 Bar, plus a few outdoor festival shows. As I sit here and listen to their albums while writing this, I'm asking myself why they aren't #1 on the list. And they could be. These top four are pretty interchangeable in order. Scouring the available YouTube videos transports me back to those days of flannel when Block E downtown Mpls was a parking lot where we'd leave our coats in the car and walk across the street in frigid winter temps to see the rock shows.

Alas, the Westies only put out three formal albums, one EP and a few singles. They were a little into the drugs at the time and that shortened the band's career. I'm fortunate enough to have the albums on vinyl and they're not easy to find in any other medium. The first two albums, Hardly Not Even (1986) and Run Westy Run (1988) and the EP Cockroach Park (1992) aren't even available for download.

Guitarist Kraig Johnson went on to play with Golden Smog and the Jayhawks, and some of the guys re-formed a few years later as the groovy, funky Iffy, a fantastic band in their own right.

The Deets
If you could only buy just one album:  Cockroach Park 
Best iTunes track to sample: "Johnny John"
Best lyric: And if I could have it / any way I'd surely take it / the bad guy way (from "Bad Guys" off of Run Westy Run)
Best song nobody knows: "Marcel" off the Squealer Presents...Shuffle This compilation. 88 seconds of absolute beauty.
Best quote about them from press kit accompanying Cockroach Park vinyl: "some sort of sick psycho-killer machine fueled by hard rock fast times and a smoke screen of stories where fact is inseparable from rumor" -- CREEM, September 1988

Here's to hoping there's a reunion somewhere down the line. I'd do whatever it takes to be there.

Favorite Bands of All Time - Honorable Mention

A few years ago I documented on here my Top 5 Albums of all time and now I'm going to do the same with bands (or musical acts, let's say, as I'm not discriminating against solo performers). What does it mean to be a favorite of all time? What does it take to stretch into the upper echelon of LoToMojo's admiration?

First, it needs to be a band that I was able to experience during their heyday, both live and on record. I could say the Ramones or Husker Du were my favorite band of all time, but I never saw them live and wasn't able to experience the true magic of their existence in their times. Each of the top bands I've identified I have seen live at least several times at different venues (mostly intimate, small rock clubs). We gain a far greater appreciation when we can relate to an artist in the context of their times, as well as when they prove they have staying power by producing music that also transcends their times.

So second is staying power. For 20 years I've been diligently digging and digging to find good music, for quality music is not delivered through commercial radio (they care about making money, not supporting quality artists). I'm not interested in flashes in the pan or bands who put out only one great album or a couple hit songs. The bands I've selected were both cutting edge in their time and carried a lasting artistry.

Third, they had to bring the rock and deliver those moments of pure listening elation, both live and on record. One thing all my top bands have in common is that I was introduced to them in my 20s, a time when I was most impressionable to music and art. They hit me where it counts, and because they have staying power they still elicit those same feelings in me. I recently realized that the combination of a little alcohol and some great music brings me some of my greatest joys. It just takes me to another level emotionally that I rarely reach.

Honorable Mention
The phenomenal bands that didn't quite make the cut

  • Alejandro Escovedo - brilliant musician but I've only seen him a couple times (including a Top 5 show of all time, that for another post) and his albums aren't quite as consistently deep as I'd like.
  • Buffalo Tom - kickass indie rock band, but I think I was a couple years behind the curve on them and I only saw them live once.
  • Calexico - very close to making the cut, but I've only seen them live once and that was at an outdoor festival so it doesn't really count. Still need to travel to Tucson and see them in their element.
  • Cows - groundbreaking noise rock band with amazing live show, but I don't really listen to their albums much anymore.
  • Golden Smog - Mpls supergroup that provided many phenomenal live moments, but it's not really a serious effort so hard to bestow the golden ring upon them.
  • Husker Du - extremely influential band but I never saw 'em live. I wasn't hip enough in high school.
  • Johnny Cash - saw him live once and he's obviously a legend, but fails in the "fitting into my era" rule.
  • Joy Division - I came to Joy Division very late when my band was asked to play a tribute show. I gained an appreciation for their genius but they'd broken up before I knew they existed.
  • Neil Young - perhaps my #1 guitar hero of all time (another post) and a man with unequaled staying power.
  • Old 97s - they turned too poppy for me but their early alt-country stuff is still terrific.
  • Pavement - I was a little behind the curve and missed their sweet spot, though they hold up very well over the years. 
  • The Replacements - again, I wasn't hip enough in high school to get into the local legends. 
  • Soul Asylum - if I was a few years older or cooler in high school they'd have made the cut. But let's quit all this dwelling on dorky high school LoToMojo.
  • Superchunk - the very definition of "indie rock".
  • Supersuckers - a little too schticky, but I've now seen them live in 6 different cities (and not because I was following them, but because they're always on the road) and they're the self-proclaimed World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band.
  • The Pogues - brilliant Celtic punk, but I think the only time I saw them live it may have been Shane MacGowan and the Popes.
  • Whiskeytown - great, early alt-country act and another candidate for Top 5 show of all time
  • Wilco - I pretty much gave up on seeing them live after they graduated from 1st Ave to theaters, but they continue to crank out great songs, if not consistently deep albums.
  • Yo La Tengo - hey Tad: remember that awesome late night down-and-back road trip to see Yo La in Ames?
That's it for the honorable mention.

Next postings to count down the best of the best and, as you'll see, there are actually 4 that distinguish themselves by standing out from the rest. The fifth never clearly emerged from the above list so that's why at one time or another you could have heard me say any of the above bands were "a top 5 band of all time".