A Year In Music – 2007 P.I.E. Tournament (Round 1, Part 1)

In case you missed our introduction to the P.I.E. series and this tournament bracket, please see https://computernewspaper.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/2007-a-year-in-review-2/

 

ROUND 1 RESULTS – PART 1

                          Modest Mouse  We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
vs.        

St. Vincent  Marry Me

Loser:  Modest Mouse

Obituary:   Even in 2007, this album had several factors working against it, critically speaking. For one, the band had been together for 14 years and this was their fifth album in that span, and secondly, it was a follow-up to their Good News For People Who Love Bad News record that launched them to a new level of stardom, much because it had one of the best songs of the past decade, “Float On.”  Now, five years later, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank still remains their most recent album, giving little reason to believe that it was anything but a retirement party. Granted, the band still tours and as soon as a year ago claimed to be ‘in the studio with Big Boi,’ but this information confuses more than it excites.

None of these pessimistic projections should mar what was an admirable decade of artistic output, especially considering that their lead singer, Isaac Brock, cannot really sing for shit. So the question is:  Was Modest Mouse great? Suppose that a friend idly mentions that they’ve never heard of an artist– can you put together a mix CD (20 songs) of their catalog and feel confident that the mix will stay interesting for all 80 minutes?  If so, they are probably better than “good” and entering “great.”  Modest Mouse feels like the perfect example of this moderate stratum of quality.  20 songs is about right. And on their particular mix, you would definitely still grab some ditties from this particular 2007 record: hit single “Dashboard” for sure, then “Missed The Boat,” then “Fire It Up,” maybe even “Florida” or “Parting of the Sensory.”  All worthy contributions, they just happen to be submitted from an album that could not transcend the expectations set by its predecessor.

A silver lining to consider:  Modest Mouse may very well be a band that likes to maintain a certain standard of quality, in which case you can respect their descent if it was self-imposed. They may have been telling us something when they named it We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.

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     Menomena  Friend and Foe
vs.        

                                             Stars  In Our Bedroom After The War…


Loser:  Stars

Obituary:   Stars do what they do well, probably better than anyone else, and for that they deserve credit.  In the early 2000s, as we scrambled to distance ourselves from the sad-clown pageantry of a Chris Carrabba-n Emo, we found bands like Death Cab and Stars, which seemed to offer a happier compromise.  What seems clear now is that we weren’t yet ready to relinquish the dripping sentimentality or brazen dramatics of Emo, but rather the simplistic songwriting and suspect musicianship; we demanded a cleaner sound, and that’s what 2003’s Heart and 2004’s Set Yourself On Fire offered us.  Without delineating from the somber stuffing of bands like the Get Up Kids and Sunny Day Real Estate, Stars was able to incorporate synthesizers, loops, and (most significantly) harmonies, while retaining the naive accessibility of its predecessors.  The mistake Stars made with 2007’s In Our Bedroom After The War was failing to recognize a shift in expectation.  As we shied away from a suddenly self-aware vulnerability back into the safety of cynicism, we asked bands to adjust, which proved to be a difficult proposition for Stars.

In Our Bedroom After The War is not a bad album.  In fact, it’s pretty good.  “Midnight Coward” or “Bitches In Tokyo” could easily slide into Set Yourself On Fire, and rank among the best songs the band has ever released.  Stars continue to demonstrate a clever restraint with the arrangements on In Our Bedroom, but, after six years and three albums, it becomes impossible to swallow the frustrating melodrama of the male lead-singer, Torq (yeah, his name is torq).  When he sings sweetly about how badly he treats women, refers to cops as “pigs,” and laments about how he “beat a man just for standing there,” it sounds like he’s trying to compensate for lacking a traditional male potency.   It wafts between unconvincing to absurd, and it’s never necessary.  At first, we give a lot of leeway to front men as they try and squirm into the rock star costume, even if we suspect they may be full of shit (see Maroon 5), but without substance, eventually, quirky just becomes silly.

Perhaps we at The Computer Newspaper are being too dramatic.  Nothing really changed with In Our Bedroom After The War, which is the problem.  It seems as if only the really special bands are able to do something on their fourth album that we didn’t expect, and the only real way that this album is unsuccessful is by failing to surprise us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JTWKR6qZHY

“It’s the sound of the wind on the beach in western England when you’re fifteen, and you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, and you don’t know what it’s like to be an adult. No one captures that sound, no one captures that feeling and sound like Paddy McAloon does…” I can’t imagine anyone else has tried to capture that sound.

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David Dondero  Simple Love
vs.        

Aesop Rock  None Shall Pass


Loser:  David Dondero

Obituary:  As we compiled a list of the 32 most relevant albums of 2007, we did our best to try and remain as unbiased as possible (evidenced by the omission of a posthumously released Elliott Smith album and the addition of a truly shitty Maroon 5 album), but this one might have slipped through the cracks.  At least we had the good sense not to push him through the first round.

More people should be listening to David Dondero.  For nearly fifteen years ago he’s been driving around the country (in a car, not a bus or even a van) singing well-crafted songs to small crowds at small clubs.  There’s something romantic about the idea of the modern-day troubadour (a term we’re sure he hates), logging thousands of miles each year, sleeping in his car and singing songs that you might expect to hear as the highlight of an open-mic night (though he might claim there’s nothing romantic about being poor).  His songs aren’t overly ambitious, which is to say he doesn’t try and create something that isn’t there.  For the most part, he plays bouncing blues riffs on a beat-up electric, with roaming vocal patterns and clever lyrics.  His songs are self-contained and nearly always come to some sort of resolution by the end.  It seems obvious that David Dondero keeps making music because there’s nothing else he’d consider doing.  Even though he’s not from your town (unless you’re from Duluth, Minnesota), he seems to create that illusion.

Simple Love isn’t Dondero’s best album (an honor reserved for 2003’s, The Transient), but it’s close.  His voice and song-structures are consistently clever, but what sets him apart from other blues-inspired singer-songwriters are his lyrics, and more exactly, how his lyrics seem to demand attention without sounding dramatic or grandiose.  In the opening track, “Prince William Sound,”when he says “If I return, just to find that I’m dead to you, can my ghost climb in bed with you?  I’ll posses your boyfriend’s body, then you’ll be making love to me,” it sounds like he’s making an actual proposition.  Many of the songs on Simple Love sound similar and are often about similar things, but they always feel genuine and don’t seem to suffer in their resemblance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie1vkOlK8xc David Dondero slept in his car the night before this Tiny Desk concert

Strangely, he’s has become a bit of a casualty to the strength of his own influence.  From an early age Conor Oberst has cited Dondero as one of his biggest influences, and it shows.  Oberst once said that “it was hearing David Dondero’s voice that made me comfortable with mine,” which makes sense because their voices share a similar quality and what is often a presumably unintentional tremolo.  Once Bright Eyes began to blow up, Oberst used his clout to advocate for musicians that he felt deserved more attention – bands like Now It’s Overhead and Neva Dinova and singers like Simon Joyner and David Dondero.  He was featured on The Transient and even released two Dondero albums on his fledgling label, Team Love.  Though this certainly extended the reach of Dondero’s music, it also created a link between Oberst and Dondero that allowed people to dismiss him as an Oberst doppelganger, which is a discredit to an artist that has carefully crafted a unique and consistent sound.  It’s easy to find David Dondero’s influence in Conor Oberst’s discography, but what is more interesting is considering the influences that created Dondero’s sound.

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The Shins   Wincing The Night Away
vs.        

Maroon 5   It Won’t Be Soon Before Long


Loser:  Maroon 5

Obituary:  Maroon 5, or Adam Levine & 4 Other Douche Bags, is still very famous. They performed on Saturday Night Live just three months ago and are mainstays at The Grammy Awards, which, all editorializing of those institutions aside, definitely means something. Now, depending on your age group and interest in finding new music, to you that could mean that they do actually inhabit a harmless pocket in the always-nauseating world of mainstream pop/rock, or it means that they are just a reliable punchline.

The latter attitude is extremely tempting, and most of that is because Maroon 5 is completely inseparable from Adam Levine, the instrument-less frontman. Due to his good looks, tender voice, and constant cameos in popular culture (guest spot on Kanye’s “Heard ‘Em Say” and ‘Iran So Far’ SNL Digital Short), Levine continues to stay relevant, and in a remarkably effortless manner at that. He’s that kid in Rock Star School that’s just coasting, who gets outs of detention every day by manipulatively whispering to his female teacher, “I don’t miiiiind spending everydayyy, standing on your corner in the pouring raiiiin…”

Fatal Flaws of Levine: it is not clear what demographic of listeners could identify with him. Excluding women, whom we are sure he has no trouble getting, we are left with a population of competitive males, who require one of two conditions for male celebrity adoration:

1.  Male Celebrity Is Just Cooler Than Me, It’s Fine  (e.g. athletes, most actors, rappers)
a.k.a.  The Gosling

2.  Male Celebrity Can Be Identified With  (e.g. indie-rock musicians, comedians)

Levine falls short of The Gosling because if for nothing else, you have never seen a guy, in public, argue with another guy about how much he respects ‘that Maroon 5 lead singer.’ It’s probably happened at some point in history, but you personally have never seen it happen. Guaranteed. And the reason why is simple, but important:  you would be perceived as ‘soft,’ or at the very least, unjustifiably risking that response.

The second category is far more inclusive, but if you’re a guy like Levine, the longer you stick around in popular culture for reasons other than merit, the more likely it is that you will lose all creditability as a human being worth relating to. For example, Levine is now a prominent part of the NBC reality-show singing competition, The Voice, with Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo.  In fact (!), the worthless Aguilera also contributes to Maroon 5’s newest hit single, “Moves Like Jagger,” a song title worth analyzing because it references another singer who is as iconic as the band he leads, and because there is a delusional component to making that comparison– Mick Jagger can actually pull of ‘The Gosling’ while Adam Levine just thinks that he is.

Furthermore, there has to be some sort of self-awareness on your part or your band’s, that stops a record label’s idea like this in its tracks:  “Yeah, Adam, you should just have sex with beautiful women in all of your music videos.”  A very quick and entertaining search of YouTube yields the following results:

“This Love,”  the most pornographic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_CqMFKak1c
“She Will Be Loved,” taking a more emotional and sensual angle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIjVuRTm-dc&ob=av2n
“Misery”  the newest and truest, within the first 15 seconds, a hottie licks his face in between sung, arrogant ‘oh yeah’s  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6g6g2mvItp4

It is tough for anyone to recover from that level of gumption.

Mercifully, the actual music that he and the rest of Maroon 5 make does not warrant nearly the same level of dissection as Levine himself.  Songs About Jane, their debut album in 2004 was legitimately impressive–hard to argue with four significant songs in “Harder To Breathe,” “This Love,” “She Will Be Loved,” and “Sunday Morning.” We see again and again how popular an artist can become with just one great song, but rarely do we see a coming-out party like Maroon 5’s, even if this accomplishment is tainted by the circumstantial fact that in 2004, music consumption still somewhat functioned according to the traditional radio-television model;  you could not really avoid Maroon 5’s catchy tunes if you wanted to.

In 2007, the year of our focus, and four years after that strong 2003 debut, Maroon 5 finally releases its second album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.  Someone should have told them that the inevitable ‘sophomore slump’ evaluation only becomes more stringent the longer you wait, and also maybe that the album’s title is not a brilliant paradox. The first single, “Makes Me Wonder,” was huge, and should have been: this new song sounded sleeker, like they took their old pop recipe and dressed it in black leather.  You can have worse problems than being influenced by, and rightfully compared to, Prince or Michael Jackson in terms of vocal patterns and funk sound. The song “Can’t Stop” off this album is another example of a Maroon 5 trying for a more futuristic sound, and also that they were going to try and make another “This Love” happen, even though those hits do not just grow from trees, especially not on trees rooted in a ditch of complacency and sudden fame.

Now, it is 2012, and no matter what kind of “you know, it’s not as good as Songs About Jane but it’s still okay” conclusions we reached five years ago, their absence over the following few years (again) did not make our hearts grow any fonder.  In reality, Adam Levine is just a personality in pop culture who won’t go away, and now, the band has a new single and a new album they are heavily-promoting in a drastically-different musical landscape.  Interviews suggest this may be their last album as a band, which means we will undoubtedly never be done with Levine, even if that just means some Christmas album that comes out in 2016.

It is easy now to see their 2007 album as an ominous harbinger, but even when things were going incredibly well for them musically, Maroon 5 seemed to exist as a confection, the classic Guilty Pleasure.  What It Won’t Be Soon Before Long proved was that the pleasure of listening to them was no longer worth the guilt.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Silversun Pickups  Carnavas
vs.        

Iron & Wine  The Shepherd’s Dog


Loser:  Silversun Pickups

Obituary:  We, at The Computer Newspaper, have been waiting for five years since the release of Carnavas for someone to make a comparison to The Smashing Pumpkins.  It seems like somebody would have come out and said that this band is a real reach around- back to the 90s.  Are we the only ones who think that Brian Aubert and his hamster whisper, power chords, and predictable distortion swells are a bit Corgian?  Similarly, how come no one is talking about this Jeremy Lin guy?

We’re happy to give Silversun Pickups a pass for sounding like The Smashing Pumpkins, but that doesn’t save the album.  “Lazy Eye” is a great song, and along with M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” and Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.,” it was amongst the most recognizable songs of 2007.  In a lot of ways, “Lazy Eye” embodies everything Silversun Pickups has to offer– it just turns out, that was probably enough.  The rest of the album relies on the same format (quiet/louder/quiet/very loud) without maintaining the momentum of the riff in “Lazy Eye.” Ultimately, it’s harder to be Michael Jordan than Kobe Bryant (who couldn’t have existed without the template that Jordan left), and Silversun Pickups remind us more of the Billy Corgan that made us roll our eyes in 2010’s Teargarden by Kaleidoscope than the Billy Corgan that (we sometime forget) wrote Siamese Dream and Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Andrew Bird  Armchair Apocrypha
vs.

Amy Winehouse  Back In Black


Loser:  Andrew Bird

Obituary:   It is really hard to imagine somebody not respecting Andrew Bird’s skill-set.  His sound, his voice, his lyrics– none of it may interest you, but Bird is one of the few personalities in music that appear to control every aspect of their sound.  Like fellow Midwesterner Sufjan Stevens–he is from Chicago, Sufjan from Detroit–Bird probably corrects interviewers when they use the word ‘song’ rather than ‘composition.’

With ample reason.  Bird started as just the guy who could shreddd the violin, a gimmick easily conducive to a healthy career in indie rock, but soon he reached deeper into the bag, pulling out the guitar, the glockenspiel, and the drums, not to mention Bird’s distinction as a prodigal whistler.  One of the better songs off this particular album is “Imitosis,” a microcosm of this layered sound.  Unfortunately, when he is performing live, science prevents him from playing several different instruments at once.  Instead, Bird plays a few bars of each and then uses the pedals in front of him to manage these perpetual loops.  Here is “Imitosis,” which settles into a sexy groove after just a minute of Bird’s process. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EjaVr20cIg&feature=related

As he added more traditional rock elements, his sound became fuller and more accessible. The success of Armchair Apocrypha reflects that. Listen to “Plasticities” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-rDyHSc0QU …. a minute in, the song starts its build-up to a kicking, shamelessly-joyous hook. The chorus to this song has been belted from The Computer Newspaper’s car window more than a few hundred times.

Statistics confirm that Bird’s 2009 follow-up album Noble Beast was the better seller, but it was Armchair Apocrypha that garnered Bird wider attention, the late-night talk show appearances, the NPR concerts; it set the table for any future success.  More importantly, because nobody else really does what Andrew Bird does, the album has not lost any of its unique freshness.

It’s just a shame that he drew Winehouse in the first round.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Josh Ritter  The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
vs.

Now That’s What I Call Music!  Volume 23


Loser:  Now That’s What I Call Music!

Obituary:  As the exclamation mark in the title of these compilations suggest, the Now series is excited.  And why wouldn’t they be?  Back in 1983, as the rest of the music industry fumbled around with their cryptex, the people at Virgin Records cracked the code. Here’s what they discovered:

  • It’s boring to listen to an album where one artist sings the whole time.
  • An album with twelve songs on it is boring.
  • Songs that haven’t reached the Billboard Top Ten are boring.
  • Songs that you haven’t heard before are boring.
  • Re-issuing tracks they already have the rights to = additional revenue ($+$=$$).

Here’s the thing: other record companies were already releasing compilation albums comprised of their top selling singles.  The real breakthrough at Virgin came when they decided to include an additional CD, which allowed them to add more songs and avoid shortening the length of each track.  Eureka!  Fast-forward thirty years and the Now That’s What I Call Music! franchise has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.  To offer some perspective, Bob Dylan’s entire collection is estimated to have sold about 70 million copies worldwide.  In 2007, Now That’s What I call Music Volume 23 sold 337,000 copies in it’s opening week and has been certified double platinum.

So what does the success of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series tell us?  Well, for starters, people were apparently still buying CDs in 2007 (they still are by the way, Now Volume 39 sold 110,000 in its first week).  It also tells us that the Cheesecake Factory model of production works as long as your target audience is indecisive, distracted, and delighted by what is familiar (which we are).

*At the Cheesecake Factory, they offer as many different types of mediocre food as possible rather than learning how to do one thing well.  Apparently, we choose quantity over quality.  Surprised?  If you feel like Chinese food, your mom feels like pizza, and your swimming coach is in the mood for a burrito, the Cheesecake Factory has you covered.  It all tastes good covered in ranch!  And you can wash it all down with an 8 oz slab of snicker doodle sour cream cheesecake.*

After nearly thirty years, the Now series has us figured out, though it really doesn’t seem as if that’s all that difficult.  The songs they choose are short, most of them are in Billboard’s top 100, they’re nearly all upbeat, the ballads go in the middle so we have time to recover, and they eliminate the few seconds between each song so we don’t get bored.  If there’s a country song, it goes at the end.  If a song has explicit lyrics, they use the edited radio version (Walmart insisted).  Simple.

The Computer Newspaper is fascinated by the success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series and is showing great restraint by limiting this segment to 500 words.  Unfortunately for Now Volume 23, for the sake of this tournament, our interest in the CDs has little to do with the music it includes (this one features Nickelback, Chingy, and Kenny Chesney).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqU9-0uuGAU — The Official Video (whatever reader can make it longer than The Computer Newspaper’s 89 seconds on this video gets a free paper copy of this edition.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Feist  The Reminder
vs.

M.I.A.  Kala

Loser:  M.I.A.

Obituary:   The curse of having one song far better than the rest of your catalog.  M.I.A. stormed onto the U.S. music scene in 2007 on the shoulders of the single “Paper Planes,” an infectious, swagger-laden hit that united every demographic. Oddly, if you take the hook of that song, where M.I.A. fires handguns and ‘ca-ching’s cash registers to complement the ‘all I wanna do is….. and take your moneyyyy’ lyric, and give it to a black rapper and you would have the typical hip-hop PR nightmare overnight.  But put the sound effects of an armed robbery with an amicable British girl’s vocals, and you get irreverence, you get the kind of outlaw anthem that every culture reveres. Make no mistake, “Paper Planes” is one of the most universally appealing songs you will ever hear, let alone the past decade.  And, well, kudos to M.I.A. for that accomplishment.  To make a song that that many people adore, that will forever get you and everyone else around you excited, is not a feat seen every year.

Incidentally, it also lays the groundwork for an artist to become a One-Hit Wonder, which five years later, is starting to look apt. Kala, not to bear bad news, is kind of boring. Beyond its big hit, “Jimmy” is a song that has a distinct charm, “Boyz” is another single supposedly, but if you listen to the album in its entirety now, the eclecticism somehow just feels too frenetic, a little exhausting, and her vocals seem lazy. At the time, it was not just “Paper Planes” receiving the rave reviews; the album Kala was on every year-end list, even voted as ‘Album of the Year’ by Rolling Stone and Blender. Because of her Sri Lankan descent, her fascination with using percussion instruments and musical styles from India, Africa, etc., the world rejoiced in Kala’s multi-culturalism, in the lyrical allusions to political violence, genocide, immigration.  Remember, this is 2007, which in terms of technology, is decades away.  Facebook, Skype, smart phones, these ubiqituous beacons of interconnectedness are still in their developmental stage.  Globalization had become en vogue and critics latched onto M.I.A. for the soundtrack.

Looking over the litany of accolades this album received, well, it’s no wonder The Computer Newspaper is trying hard to attribute its monumental success to a once-in-a-lifetime song and the fact that globalization needed a poster child. Because other than those factors, we are kind of speechless that M.I.A. still seems to possess some form of carte blanche in popular culture.

(Speaking of the M.I.A. narrative, off-stage specifically, there is not a lot to add regarding the Super Bowl Halftime show from a few weeks ago, only that she successfully managed to add a new layer to her legacy with just a simple middle finger to the cameras during Madonna’s set.  The world was abuzz with delight and horror, sensationalizing a (relatively) tame gesture by calling it a disgusting ‘stunt.’  Unrelated tidbit: M.I.A. is 36 years old).

We do not want to completely undermine M.I.A. as a personality worth commending, when in fact, she has kept herself busy as a visual artist, in various philanthropic efforts, in establishing a label (one that signed Sleigh Bells)… she was even nominated for an Oscar for ‘Best Song’ in Slumdog Millionaire.  But she is just far too well-decorated to not be taken down a notch. Rolling Stone named her one of the top 8 of the 2000s. Esquire named her one of one the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st century, Time magazine did the same in their top 100.  Her Wikipedia page references again and again her status as a “globally-affirmed”  trailblazer and trendsetter in fashion, not to mention being the very first world music pop icon.

Look, all evidence suggests that she is a smart, creative dynamo, and also deserves recognition for her tireless activism. Her heart seems to always be in the right place, she even turned down People magazine when they asked her to be included in their annual 50 ‘Most Beautiful People’ issue– respect, girl!

It is, however, a fallacious notion that she is adept at making enthralling music. And now, you can finally enjoy yourself  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sei-eEjy4g .

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3 thoughts on “A Year In Music – 2007 P.I.E. Tournament (Round 1, Part 1)

  1. Pingback: 2007: A Year In Review | The Computer Newspaper

  2. This was awesome. Now I get why you sport aficionados like those bracket thingies!

    I love how smartly written this was, and makes me want to hole up for a week and relive 2007. I am super intimidated by how much TCN knows about music. I’ll admit, my favorite parts are when you tear down Mr. Levine, the Now That’s series, and of course The Cheesecake Factory.

    I’m looking forward to Round 2. And if somebody beats Spoon, I’m gonna be pissed.

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