Wilco – Jesus, Etc

Jesus Etc

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It is a rarity for a song to capture the zeitgeist in a meaningful manner. On the patriotic side, the songs can sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. On the rebel alliance side, the sounds can also sound forced and full of propaganda jingles. It takes a perfect storm of outside forces to produce a song that captures an era or event. Jesus, Etc by Wilco was recorded in early 2001, released in early 2002. Written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, it uses evocative lyrical imagery married to country-ish musical backing. It is one of the more straightforward songs from the experimental tour de force, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Tweedy’s opening world-weary sigh “Jesus, don’t cry / You can rely on me honey” comes straight out of conversations couples have each and every day. The melodic string laden hook pulsates throughout the song, making it instantly memorable. Veering on the “glass is half empty” world view, Tweedy continues “You were right about the stars / Each one is a setting sun”. A pessimist’s way of imploring the listener to embrace the now? Possibly. The post 9/11 world was full of misguided nationalism, but it also left an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. Sadness permeated the air. Considering this song was written PRE 9/11 but released POST 9/11, the next verses are just a bit eerie “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad sad songs / Voices whine / Skyscrapers are scraping together”. Metaphors for conflict in a relationship and the sadness that ensues. Tweedy resolves everything with a bit of a non resolution “Our love is all of God’s money / Everyone is a burning sun”. Another brilliant way of imploring us to embrace the now. The ancient Epicureans famously believed in the philosophy of  “Eat, drink, be merry – for tomorrow we may die”. In the post 9/11 world, Wilco captured that essence in a way that made the world take notice. I believe that is a philosophy worth embracing no matter what our religious beliefs are. Make each moment count.

The Cornelius Crane – Soul in the Lightning

Soul in the Lightning

The Cornelius Crane – Manchester, England’s answer to American alt-country – have released over an album’s worth of quality material over the last 2 years or so. Instead of delivering 12 songs on the traditional long player, the band have delivered 3 songs here, 4 songs there. I think this approach has worked out well for the band – quality song after quality song, with a 6 to 9 month wait for a new batch instead of the traditional 18 months to 2 years wait between full length albums. Steve, Dan, Mark, & friends have never even delivered a mediocre song, so it is no surprise that the new EP Soul in the Lightning is a bona fide masterpiece.

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Live – The Turn

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The summer of 1995 represented my 1st taste of adult freedom. High school in the rear view mirror and higher education still in the future, it truly felt like there were endless possibilities. My best friend and I ventured out to Hershey, PA to catch what was being billed as a homecoming concert for one of the biggest bands in the world at that time – Live. An unlikely success story, Live rode the perfect wave of talent, hard work, and timing in the early to mid 90′s. The band’s 1991 debut Mental Jewelry is still one of my favorite records of all time – bass heavy indie rock drenched in mystic lyricism that sought answers to the meaning of life. Throwing Copper arrived 3 years later and took about a year to become a #1 hit, eventually selling over 10 million copies. The music had a more aggressive slant, perfectly timed to revel in the post Grunge rock revolution. The concert I saw in mid 1995 seemed to be the pinnacle of the band’s success – yet, they still managed to throw a Guided By Voices cover into their set list – a nod to their indie roots. 1997′s Secret Samadhi and 1999′s The Distance to Here continued the classic Live sound before the band essentially became a vehicle for the aspirations of lead singer Ed Kowalczyk.

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James Brown – Down and Out in New York City

JBdownandoutinNYC

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

In 1973 James Brown provided the score for the blaxploitation film Black Caesar. The single released from this soundtrack was Down and Out In New York City - my favorite James Brown song of all time. What I love about the song is that it has a deep soul foundation, but also displays the hardcore funk that Brown was enamored with in the early 70′s. The melody is positively infectious and the grooves make you want to get up and dance. Vocally, this is one of the best performances that Jams Brown ever delivered. The verses delivered right around the 1 minute mark bleed with passion “So you try hard or you die hard / No one really gives a good damn / You try hard and you die hard / Nobody gives a damn”. Around this time period is when James Brown started calling himself “The Godfather of Soul”. The single charted at #13 on the R&B charts and #50 on the Pop charts. The 7″ included the stunning soul lament, Mama’s Dead. Truly, an extraordinary release from James Brown at what can arguably be considered the peak of his creative powers.

The Sound – I Can’t Escape Myself

The Sound

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The Sound are another one of those bands that should have become a household name alongside the likes of U2, Joy Division, and Echo & the Bunnymen. Formed from the ashes of The Outsiders, The Sound veered towards a somewhat darker trajectory. Adrian Borland’s vocals still bore traces of the punk delivery he’d laid down over the 2 LP’s with The Outsiders, but there was a heaviness that hadn’t been present on those earlier records. At this juncture, the band featured Graham Bailey on bass (also in The Outsiders and Second Layer), Mike Dudley on drums, and Benita Marshall on keyboard. Leaving punk behind for much darker pastures, the band delivered a masterpiece with the 1st full length. It has to be said – there is a sadness lingering whilst listening to many of the songs that Adrian Borland wrote – he would commit suicide in April of 1999. I Can’t Escape Myself is the opening track on 1980′s Jeopardy and is a perfect distillation of everything that made The Sound one of the best groups of all time. Emotive vocals, eerie synths, a propulsive bass line, slightly raw drums – this is a perfect song. The lyrics can only be described as unsettling – “so many feelings / pent-up in here / left alone, I’m with / the one i most fear…./ I, I can’t / escape myself”. Chilling, haunting, beautiful. Not everything Adrian Borland recorded was as bleak, so if you like this song I’d collect everything by The Sound, work back to The Outsiders, add the electronic based side project Second Layer, then move on to his solo records and the White Rose Transmission project. Adrian Borland was truly a musical genius, and the world needs more people like him.

The Lost Patrol – Chasing Shadows

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It’s been about 18 months since we last heard from New York City’s The Lost Patrol. 2013′s Driven was a masterful record, indebted to 80′s post-punk with a side of noir. It was one of my favorite records of 2013 and I was curious about how the band would follow it up. In 2014 the band still features Mollie Israel on vocals alongside multi-instrumentalists Stephen Masucci and Michael Williams. New to the band is Tony Mann on drums, who lends the new tunes a rawer feel in comparison to previous records. The record is a “grower” in the classic sense of the term – each spin reveals a new layer of beauty. It is the strongest offering by The Lost Patrol to date and pushes the band forward whilst retaining everything that has made them great thus far.

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Helmet – Unsung

Helmet_unsung

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The summer of 1992 found me at an odd juncture – trying to find my place in this world as a disillusioned 15-year-old. Fortunately, 1992 was the summer of The Cure (Wish) and Helmet (In The Meantime). Two bands that were / are on the opposite ends of the spectrum – The Cure brooding and melancholy, Helmet reveling in pure metallic aggression. At the time, it all seemed to be labeled “Alternative”. The most notable single pulled from Helmet’s album was Unsung - an unusual song from the band due to the increased focus on melody during the verses. It features a memorable thrash based guitar riff, enveloped in staccato. Page Hamilton’s vocals provide the melodic contrast needed to make it one of the best singles of the 90′s. MTV played the video non stop throughout the 2nd half of 1992 and it never failed to keep me enthralled. I like quite a few records by Helmet, but honestly – this is the song I absolutely love. Everything works perfectly – from the menacing bass riff that opens to the military-like drum fills (I’ve already touched on guitar & vox). The song was recorded by Steve Albini and remixed by Andy Wallace, lending the song an odd mix of feeling raw AND polished. The track hit #29 on the Alternative charts and #32 on the Rock charts and proved to be a huge influence to the band Pantera. As for The Cure? Well, that is a story for another day. These words will get stuck in your head after listening to Unsung just once: “Your contribution left unnoticed some / Association with an image / Just credit time for showing up again / Attention wandered I’m left with it”

Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End

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The post Nirvana music world left a wasteland of burned out one hit wonder alternative rockers. Weezer didn’t fit that mold, thankfully. Their 1994 debut album was an almost instant hit (over 3 million copies sold to date) that straddled the line between straight up Rock n Roll and what was called at the time Alternative Rock. It also launched an endless, tiresome debate that is now almost 2 decades old. Following 1996′s beloved Pinkerton (which some consider a landmark album in the Emo movement), Weezer seemingly turned their backs on confessional alternative rock and started delivering up less emotional power pop rock – a trend that has mostly continued to this day. What is mainstream music? What is hip? Weezer has been considered both at times, and has also had some silly hatred thrown their way over the years from the hip crowd who moan with each release “but…but…it isn’t Pinkerton!”. Honestly – every Weezer album has songs that I really like and songs that I skip (yes, those early records too). If the band has had a weakness in the past, it is the inclination to get as many songs out in lieu of a cohesive listening experience. So how does the new record, Everything Will Be Alright In The End, stack up? It is a glorious record – a perfect storm of strong material and smart editing choices.

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