Playlist: 20 Songs For August 2013 (Via Spotify)

Spotify-Logo

The month of August: back to school, back to college football, back to Breaking Bad, and back to listening to some cool tunes. This month’s playlist includes two bands that have “deer” in their names, I finally watch Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, and I pay tribute to The Postal Service and J.J. Cale.

Here are 20 songs for August 2013.

Playlist: 15 Songs For August 2012 (Via Spotify) – Special Folk Edition!

This month has a special edition of 15 Songs via Spotify. All of August I was on a folk kick that I’m still on. This playlist is a mix of all the great folk songs, both old and new, that I’ve been playing all month (Yes, there will be Bob Dylan).

Here are my 15 songs for August 2012.

Playlist: 15 songs For May 2012 (Via Spotify)

Well I’m not too happy with not being able to post as much as I usually do, but nothing can stop me from giving ya’ll my 15 songs for May.

Here’s a little question for you. One of these 15 songs was voted the number one song of the 90s according to NME. Can you guess which one it is?

Here are my 15 songs for May 2012.

You’ve Never Heard Of…Wilco?

Today I am introducing a new kind of post: “You’ve Never Heard Of?”  This is dedicated to all the bands/artists that are well respected among artists and the music industry but may not be as well known among the general public. While “You Should Know” focuses on new and upcoming bands, “You’ve Never Heard Of?” will focus on credible and established bands that deserve some more acknowledgment.

To begin this new series, let’s talk about a little band from Chicago called Wilco…

Among music critics and among all your annoying hipster friends, Wilco’s name always gets mentioned for various reasons.  Their weird mix of Americana and experimental makes Wilco a hard band to pin down.  Are they the American Radiohead?  Is Jeff Tweedy trying to sound like Paul Westerberg backed up by Television covering Gram Parsons?  Hell, Wilco could pass for Krautrock on some songs.  What I’m trying to get at is that Wilco has never belonged to one genre, alienating fans but also attracting those who admire Wilco for trying to write pop songs in the weirdest way possible.  Through countless lineup changes and internal struggles, Wilco has made some of the best, though sometimes arduous, popular music for over a decade, and I’m about to give Wilco-newbies a little history lesson.

Let us start from the beginning.

Wilco began as alt-country band destined to further the legacy of Jeff Tweedy’s former band Uncle Tupelo, one of the seminal alt-country bands that helped popularized the genre.  At first that was exactly what Wilco was – a mix of Gram Parsons songwriting and punk attitude that sounded exactly like Uncle Tupelo.

A.M. was Wilco’s first release in 1995, and it underwhelmed Uncle Tupelo fans with music that was uncomfortably familiar.  The album has some great tunes (“Dash 7” especially), but fans of Uncle Tupelo enjoyed Trace more, the debut album from the other half of Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar.

Trace was the better album, but A.M. still enjoyed modest success, enough to keep Wilco going to make another alt-country record.  Except Wilco didn’t make another alt-country record…

A year after A.M., Being There was released, and fans were in for a curveball.  Two disc full of songs that literally went all over the place in style and volume, I can’t even call this an alt-country record – it could only be described as a Wilco record.  The twang was still there, but now it shared the space with heavy distortion, psychedelics, and complex pop songs.  For being a double-album, the music never seemed dragged on and each song feels right on the record.

The album was a hit and made Wilco a band to watch out for.  Jeff Tweedy knew he was onto something, so for the next record he would go further down the rabbit hole.  But before he did that, he took a little detour to Mermaid Avenue.

Mermaid Avenue was a special project started by Woody Guthrie’s daughter after Being There.  Young Guthrie had a box full of her father’s lyrics that she wanted to be recorded for a new generation to hear the famed folk singer in a whole new way.  The result was a collaboration between Wilco and British folk singer Billy Bragg, and what a collaboration it was.  Every song on the record is great, and it is a great introduction to Woody Guthrie.

This album was exceptional, but their next one would be even better.

Summerteeth was even weirder than Being There, but the songs are so catchy!  I would call this Tweedy’s Brian Wilson album, a mix of layered arrangements with deep and sometimes cynical lyrics.  A lot of this change had to do with the the larger involvement of fellow band member Jay Bennett, who pushed Tweedy to further his songwriting into uncharted territories.  The album’s beauty is striking, but hidden under those beautiful melodies are some eerie, sometimes disturbing images (“I dreamed about killing you again last night / and it felt alright to me” from “Via Chicago”).  This is not an easy record to get into, especially for those unfamiliar with Wilco, but like all great records it grows on you. Personally this is a top three Wilco album for me.  The whole album feels tight but the individual tracks stand out on their own.

The album was successful and now Wilco started to have more of a following.  However, what they would make next would be a game changer.

Wilco is still making great music, but it’s safe to say that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is THE Wilco album.  Just when things couldn’t get better, they did.  Jeff Tweedy and the gang created their own world, a world in which American aquarium drinkers (with minds filled with silvery stars) try to break our hearts while saluting ashes of American flags, all on top of falling in love with heavy metal drummers and telling Jesus not to cry.  Sounds strange doesn’t it?  It should, because this is by no means a conventional album.  This is not a pop record, and this sure as hell ain’t an alt-country record.  YHF is a scattered record that was made during a very scary period of American history, and all we were looking for was a little beauty, and music fans found it in this album.

So how did Wilco follow up a near-perfect record?  They made a perfect record.

While not as accessible as YHF, which itself is already a hard album to get into, many Wilco fans have dubbed A Ghost Is Born the band’s best album, which is hard to argue against.  The songs are longer and take more time, but the payoffs are worth it.  From the insane guitar work in “At Least That’s What You Said” to the acoustic buzzing of “Muzzle Of Bees”, the highlights of the album showcase Wilco at a creative peak.  For some people there is an uncomfortable amount of “noise” and a lack of “music”, and I would have to agree.  When I say this is perfect, I mean that every song fits wonderfully into each other and creates a true listening experience.

After A Ghost Is Born Tweedy went to rehab and became sober.  The question of an artist’s creativity after becoming sober is a bullshit question, but there is no doubt that Wilco’s music chilled out after Tweedy got clean.

Nothing seems to divide Wilco fans more than Sky Blue Sky – either you hate it or you love it.  I love this album because it was the first Wilco album I ever heard, and it got me into the band.  It is one of their most accessible albums, even if it’s their least exciting.  The best thing about Sky Blue Sky is guitarist Niles Cline, whose solo on album highlight “Impossible Germany” is one of my favorite guitar solos.

Even from the album title, you can tell Wilco The Album  is a very tongue and cheek album.  Much of the album sounds generic, and its best moments don’t stack up to their past albums.  This was Tweedy’s first album completely sober, so some undeserved backlash came upon the band.  Still, there are hidden gems on here, “Country Disappeared” and “Wilco (The Song)” are both excellent.

Last year’s The Whole Love was a huge relief for Wilco fans at this point in their career.  The band sounded like they were actually trying again, and the songs sounded weird and poppy again!  Both the album opener and closer are experimental and over seven minutes long, but everything in between will remind fans of the poppy days of Being There.  A very appealing album from Wilco hitting their stride.

So there you go – you’ve now heard of Wilco.

So as you can tell from the band’s history, Wilco is one of the few popular bands that truly has evolved.  This is one of America’s most beloved bands, and you need at least one Wilco album in your collection.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of Wilco songs I recommend to anyone who isn’t familiar with the band.  It’s a mix of songs that I consider essential for any listener to know and also more appealing songs for those who aren’t used to what Wilco has to offer.  Enjoy!

Music Journal: April Recap – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Turns 10 And Woody Guthrie Turns 100

Oh yeah, and the Lollapalooza 2012 lineup was announced….nothing big.

Happy 10th Birthday Yankee Hotel Foxtrot!

Ten years ago in April, Wilco’s seminal 4th album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released after a long battle against their record label that wouldn’t release the damn thing.  It’s a great story (click here to see a brief summary), but the real reason we’re celebrating  is because the music has aged very well.  This is one of my favorite albums that I highly recommend to anyone.

 

Happy 100th Birthday Woody Guthrie!

April held another special birthday, which also had something to do with Wilco.  Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 this April, and if you don’t know who he is, he’s (arguably) the most influential American folk musician ever.  His influence on musicians such as a young Bob Dylan was crazy, and he wrote “This Land Is Your Land”, a song that has been seriously debated to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” as America’s national anthem.

Now back in the late 90s Wilco and British folk singer Billy Bragg collaborated on Mermaid Avenue, a tribute album in a sense that took old Guthrie lyrics and updated the music to reintroduce the folk singer to a new generation.  In April, to celebrate Woody’s birthday, the entire Mermaid Avenue sessions were released, with the original albums and new material.  This is a terrific collection and a high recommendation for anyone who wants to get into folk music.

 

Lollapalooza 2012 Lineup Announced

Lollapalooza, one of America’s most commercially successful music festivals, announced its lineup for this year.  The three day festival will happen in Chicago August 3-5.  Click here to see the full lineup and click here to see my reaction to this year’s lineup.

 

Album Of The Month: Jack White – Blunderbuss

One of rock & roll’s most dependable figures finally released his first solo album, and it doesn’t disappoint.  White dabbles in different genres which he puts together coherently, yet everything is grounded in rock & roll tradition.  The album successfully both pumps you up and slows you down.

 

Song I Listened To The Most This Month: M. Ward – “Clean Slate”

M. Ward has always been one of those artist I knew I would probably like but did not know what album to start with.  I think now I’ve finally found that album.  A Wasteland Companion, which was also released this April, is a very appealing introduction to the indie-folkie.  The album opener “Clean Slate” is a magic slow jam of a song, and has been on repeat all month.

Top Lists: My Favorite Guitar Solos

What makes a great guitar solo?  Is it how fast or flashy it is, or how slow and soulful it is?  Does it sound like a voice that you could sing to, telling its own story?  Does it start small but then crescendos into a colossal showcase of talent and emotion?  Solos are great for different reasons, but the one thing all great solos have is soul.  The following solos are my favorites, and they’re each here for different reasons.  These aren’t necessarily the best solos I’ve ever heard, but each solo here has soul and shows what can happen when an talented guitarist is in harmony with his instrument.

The Beatles – “Something” (Guitar Player: George Harrison)

 

Jimi Hendrix & The Band Of Gypsys – “Machine Gun” (Guitar Player: Jimi Hendrix)

 

Wilco – “Impossible Germany” (Guitar Player: Niles Cline)

 

John Mayer – “Covered In Rain” (Guitar Player: John Mayer)

 

Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker” (Guitar Player: Jimmy Page)

 

Prince – “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” (Guitar Player: Prince)

 

Steely Dan – “Kid Charlemagne” (Guitar Player: Larry Carlton)

 

Sublime – “Santeria” (Guitar Player: Brad Nowell)

 

The White Stripes – “Ball And Biscuit” (Guitar Player: Jack White)

 

Pink Floyd – “Money” (Guitar Player: David Gilmour)

 

Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Midnight in Harlem” (Guitar Player: Derek Trucks)

 

Dire Straits – “Sultans of Swing” (Guitar Player: Mark Knopfler)

 

Were there any that I miss? Comment below or hit me up on twitter @HeadfoneNation

And before you say anything, Yes, “Stairway to Heaven” was denied from this list.  Sorry Wayne.