March 30, 2007

Hello, My Name Is Jared and I Have Opinions

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Hi, I’m Jared. I’ve been writing articles for the Daily Sun for a while and I was obnoxious and opinionated enough to get a column all my own. I thought that since this was my first column I ought to put all the proverbial cards on the table and start things off right with a proper introduction. We’ll begin with a brief musical autobiography: I was raised largely, though not exclusively, on the Beatles, Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw. By the age of three I was more familiar with Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic than my parents were, going so far as to inform them about which song followed “Night By Night” (for inquiring minds, it was “Any Major Dude”).

I believe that while all artistic endeavors ought to be appreciated as such, there is often an obvious and necessary distinction to be made between what is good and what is not good. Not all music is created equal, and there are some unfortunate people who can’t tell the wheat from the chaff. While I believe that dismissing music because of it’s genre is silly — though that’s a column for another time -— I think that there are many cases in which you can objectively state that one artist is better than another (case in point: Bob Dylan > Jimmy Buffet) Also, I’m not so sure that you can’t compare apples and oranges. They’re both round, about the same size, and delicious. However, I do think that comparing apples and grapefruits is insanity.

In my defense, I don’t listen to music so I can feel superior to other, less-informed and cultured people. That may be a perk but it’s not the motivation. I love music, and if sometimes I get a little authoritative, my only defense is that it takes a certain amount of ego to believe not only that you can, but in fact must write a column foisting your musical tastes onto the general populace — I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was an exception in that regard.

Let’s talk albums. In my opinion, an album is more than a bunch of songs thrown together indiscriminately. It’s defined by a cohesiveness that runs through every song. The idea of a unified album is rare in the iTunes age, when singles are often the only draw and iPods are littered with one-song artists. There are some CDs, however, that by necessity must be taken collectively; individually the songs are not as good as they are when they come together to form a greater whole. What follows is an informal list of some of my personal favorite albums from the last five (or so) years. They contain music I love and — I say this modestly— if you have any sort of aspirations towards cultural literacy, you ought to know them too.

Here, I’m going to deliberately take a contrary stance as a sort of public service. Now for the first half of the list. It’s not in any particular order as I believe each of these albums is equally worthwhile. All that’s left to say is: enjoy.

1. My Aim Is True — Elvis Costello
Granted this album isn’t recent or anywhere near recent. In fact, it’s 30 years old. But, in my defense, it sounds like it could have been made today. And it may be the best debut album ever made. It’s got one top-notch song after another and rocks and rollicks from beginning to end. This is real pop music with lyrics that almost no one else can even come close to. After listening to this album you will do two things. The first will be to listen to it again and the second will be to find more Elvis Costello records. I recommend King of America, Blood and Chocolate, Spike, Imperial Bedroom and Armed Forces.

2. Revolutionary, Volume 2 — Immortal Technique
Moving on from the punk-pop of Mr. Costello, we jump genres to rap. Most of this list is going to lean away from rap (since that’s one area in which my tastes are fairly pedestrian). However, anyone who can throw out a line like “my metaphors are dirty like herpes, but harder to catch” is alright by me. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for a good simile. If you like rap but don’t know that much about it, some other recommendations are Black Star, Clipse and Jedi Mind Tricks.

3. I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning — Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst seems to have been deputized as the designated Dylan figure for this decade (points for alliteration!) since before it began. But popular consensus doesn’t invalidate this record. Whatever hype may have preceded it was met and more. Whenever Mojo Magazine interviews someone they ask what his or her Sunday morning record is. If I actually was awake before 2 p.m. on Sunday. this would be mine.

4. Trouble — Ray LaMontagne
This is a quiet album, but don’t mistake that calm and simplicity for a lack of depth. LaMontagne combines elements of Van Morrison, The Band and The Rolling Stones into something wholly his own. From the first song to the last there is not a weak moment in the entire album. I can’t get these songs out of my head and whenever I start humming one to myself I want to hear the whole album all over again.

5. Boys and Girls In America — The Hold Steady
If Bruce Springsteen was in a punk band it might sound a little like this. This album sounds like it was fueled by drugs and booze and the lyrics reflect that. The Hold Steady manage the neat trick of playing loud and melodically at the same time. I can’t decide whether it’s arena rock for the punk-rock set or punk-rock for the arena rock crowd. I’m leaning toward the former, but either way, I still love it.