This might have been my last time seeing The Used, but I doubt it. I always end up back there, don’t I? The half of the band that cares is so compelling that it’s easy to forget that the other half doesn’t. Also, the Starland Ballroom is a fucking fire trap, but I fully appreciate the work of the horde of security guards that were seriously on top of the action.
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells: Before Jack White dedicated himself full-time to being weird and the Stripes became a noise band (honestly, you guys, Meg’s getting worse), they were America’s finest crafters of epic rock. And this is their magnum opus. It’s ambitious, and it succeeds. Half of the songs (“Fell In Love With a Girl,” “Hotel Yorba,” i.e. the singles) are fast, jangly, skittery, written for two minutes of breathless hyperactivity. The others rise and fall, with multiple bridges, vamps and breaks. In my head, “The Union Forever“, a brilliant song built entirely of Citizen Kane quotes, is seven minutes long. It must be, be cause there are three distinct movements. In reality, it’s three minutes long. That is baffling. And brilliant!
The Used, Lies for the Liars: I don’t like “dirty” rock. I don’t like any music where it looks like the participants are in need of a bath. And I certainly don’t want to see any of that live. But then, after a probably random turn of events, Lies for the Liars ended up on my desk. There aren’t words to adequately describe the controlled, intense power of this album. It feels like the band is just barely able to control the power in their instruments, but under all that screaming and snarling, there’s brutal, heartfelt lyrics, and some of the catchiest tunes of the decade. You have to give The Used a shot just because they’re fearless. They’ll throw a trumpet break into a song, they’ll randomly bust out a dance track, because what harm is there in trying?
Empires, Howl: I was going to prevaricate and spin some bull about how the changing tide of the music industry demands that I include a self-published album, but we’re friends here. Howl just fucking rules. And it rules double because the band made it themselves and distributed it for free online. In a decade where most new bands are either fifteen years old or have never held a real job, Empires are extremely talented boys who are wage slaves like the rest of us. And because of that, they appreciate the effort that fans go to to support them. But it’s easy to support them because they’re actually good. Howl is loud and fierce, sometimes punishing, sometimes uplifting. It doesn’t take the weird chances that we expect self-published music to take (He’s a crazy outlaw who doesn’t want a record deal? He probably plays the euphonium and sings about Merriwether Lewis!), but it proves definitively that MOR doesn’t have to be bad. Half of this album could be used in car commercials and the uplifting endings of teen movies, and I would love every minute of that. They’re like OneRepublic, only they don’t suck! And it’s free, so you have no excuse for not trying it.
Interpol, Antics: Interpol is an extremely refined band. Their first major release, the excellent Turn On the Bright Lights, sounds rough, but artfully so. It was crafted to sound like it wasn’t crafted at all. It was the Rolling Stones of 2009 posing as the Rolling Stones of 1969. It still sounds phenomenal, their ability with hooks and lyrics and patterns already apparent. But when you saw them live in their sharp suits, you had to know that the grittiness just wasn’t them. And then they put out Antics. Antics is all of that musical silver highly polished. This album gleams. It’s major label music, tight, well-constructed. That makes the craftsmanship stand out. The album has an arc, building and receding, and with lyrics so indelible you could tattoo them on your arm. This was the sound of the moment with the kids of the Lower East Side got 9-5 jobs, bought apartments and switched from cheap Pabst to$10 cocktails. This was the moment when Interpol taught us that you could be classy and still be cool.
We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor: The 00s were largely about concept albums, genre- and band-defining works that lived or died on the merit of their vision. With Love is the opposite. It’s an album of singles, without a skipper in the bunch.
Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American: Back when I was 20 and unexpectedly back in San Francisco for 8 months, I discovered both indie music and indie rock club Popscene. It was named for a Blur song. I thought that was fantastically clever. I raved about The White Stripes. But I drove to school every day listening to Bleed American. It wasn’t hipster cool like everything else I loved. It was mainstream alt-rock, the stuff that was playing on the radio back in the dull midwestern towns I’d escaped, but it was so good. I felt on the edge of tears every time I heard “Hear You Me”, and one night at Popscene, when I heard the opening of “A Praise Chorus“, a music lover’s anthem to music, I yelled “This is my song!” and danced my heart out. This album hits every emotion the way that American rock sometimes can. There’s a song on there for every mood, and they’re all excellent.