Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Twenty One

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“The big watershed was The Clash album […] Although The Damned and the [Sex] Pistols were great, they were only exciting musically; lyrically, I couldn’t make a lot out of it […] to realize that [The Clash] were actually singing about their own lives in West London was like a bolt out of the blue.”-Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

“See microscopic, see world view, see the future leaking through, see the person who once was you.”-Coil, “Windowpane”

Thousands of words have been spent in this space discussing punk rock, not to mention the millions that have been published elsewhere on the subject. We’ve talked about its genesis, from The Stooges to The Ramones. We’ve talked about its existence as a reaction to the mainstream bands of the time (especially Boston). Most of all, we’ve talked about the after-effects of punk, from the New Wave ushered in by Joy Division and New Order to the hardcore exemplified by bands like Husker Du and a few other we’ll get to in a couple of weeks, to the slow development from post-punk into modern conceptions of alternative rock, starting with bands like REM and The Smiths. But until this week, we haven’t touched on one of the most important punk bands (honestly, just bands would still be accurate) of all time. Until today, we haven’t talked about The Clash.

The Clash debuted alongside The Sex Pistols at the dawn of punk rock, but the reason they remain so relevant is not only that they came in on the ground floor, but that they quickly evolved, continuing punk traditions while also bringing in other outside influences to change up the expected punk sound. By doing so, The Clash didn’t leave punk rock behind; rather, they solidified the genre as one worthy of the same amount of respect doled out to other forms of music. While just a few years after the late-70’s heyday of punk rock many fans would be complaining about and rebelling against what they saw as the tightly drawn rules of the genre, The Clash showed years before other bands seemed to catch on that punk rock shouldn’t and needn’t be as caged in as many other punk bands seemed to imply; rather, just doing whatever you wanted and creating memorable music outside of the mainstream could be seen as “punk rock” too. I’ve talked before about bands being “punk rock” without sounding like what we usually call punk rock (especially in my discussion of The Jesus and Mary Chain), but it’s possible that The Clash invented the idea. No one was ever going to claim The Clash weren’t punk rock, which freed the band to be whatever they wanted. They may not always sound like punk rockers, but that may be the single most punk rock thing about the band.

The Clash’s third album, and Collin’s pick this week, is the undisputed masterpiece London Calling, released in December of 1979 in the UK and the next month, at the dawn of 1980 in the US. After recording their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, in the US, the band separated from their manager Bernard Rhodes. This meant that the band had to find a new recording space, and after serttling at Vanilla Studios (which was located at the back of a garage) for a practice space, they quickly wrote and recorded demos, with Mick Jones composing and arranging music and Joe Strummer providing the lyrics.

In August of 1979, the band entered Wessex Studios to begin official recording of London Calling. The band asked Guy Stevens to produce the album, much to the dismay of CBS Records. Stevens had drug and alcohol problems and was known for his “unconventional” techniques. During recording he would swing ladders and throw chairs around the band to keep the tension high. The entire album was recorded in a few weeks, with many of the songs recorded in one or two takes.

The title track was partially influenced by the March 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, as well as the problems of rising unemployment, racial conflict, and drug use in Britain. “Rudie Can’t Fail,” the album’s fifth track, features a horn section and mixes the band’s punk roots with elements of pop, soul, ska, and reggae and tells of a hard-partying young man who is criticized for not acting more responsibly.

"Spanish Bombs" is, unsurprisingly, a song about the Spanish Civil War. What stands out about it is the fact that the band was actually endeavoring to deal with some political ideas within their music, to communicate ideas to their fans. This was not uncommon for bands like Devo and Gang of Four, yet for a British punk band at the time, it was at least a little bit outside the norm. "Lost in the Supermarket" is a slower song, and one of my favorite tracks on the album. The lyrics focus on someones struggling with an increasingly commercialized world and consumerism gone mad.

"The Guns of Brixton" has a strong reggae influence and is one of only two tracks written solely by Paul Simonon to be released on a Clash album. Contrary to popular belief, the song pre-dates the race riots in Brixton (which took place throughout the early '80s) but the lyrics depict the feelings of discontent that were building up due to the recession. "Train in Vain" (which on US releases is usually known as "Train in Vain (Stand By Me)") got it's title to avoid confusion with Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." The song was written in one night and recorded the next day, near the end of the album's recording. The song is sometimes referred to as a hidden track, as it was not included on the original sleeve, yet this only happened because the sleeve was printed before the track was added to the master tape. "Train in Vain" is a love song with country influences, a departure from much of what the band had done to this point, even on this departure of an album.

The Clash was one of the foremost bands in the development of punk rock, but quickly evolved into something more complex, influencing the development of ska, the prevalence of reggae, and the increase of political lyrics and ideas in popular music. London Calling is nothing short of a masterpiece, an album of big ideas, consistent vision, and an eye towards the future. Bono has said of The Clash that they are, "the greatest rock band. They wrote the rule book for U2." [Author's Note: It should be said that while Bono may claim The Clash as an influence, they should not be blamed for Bono's being a giant tool. That one's on him.] Other bands, including LCD Soundsystem, The Wallflowers, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys, and even M.I.A. consider The Clash to be a huge influence on their work. A landmark punk band from day one, The Clash became something more as they showed what punk could be and paved the way for numerous musical innovations to come.

Following on the heels of Throbbing Gristle, the Godfathers of industrial music, Coil was an English industrial experimental group formed in 1982 by John Balance (occasionally credited as "Jhonn Balance") and his partner Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson. Balance chose the name Coil because he said the shape was omnipresent in nature. The band's first album, and one of Tab's picks this week, Scatology was released in 1984. The album opens with "Ubu Noir," a decidedly experimental track that plays around with a single musical beat on a loop, feeding in found and industrial sounds around that center. "Tenderness of Wolves" opens with the sound of a child crying and develops an ominous feeling around that background noise.

"The Sewage Worker's Birthday Party" continues this ominous feeling, this time backed by the sounds of running water (let's hope) and industrial noises. The album's closing track, "Cathedral in Flames" is more melodic, but no less dark, maintaining the omnipresent hammering drum and adding vocals into the mix.

The group's third album, Love's Secret Domain is a much more palatable record, at least to my mind, a departure from the brooding melodies and heavy synthesizers of the group's previous work and focusing more on "acid house sampling," a repetitive, trance-like style that uses spoken word more readily than lyrics. The album's opening track "Disco Hospital" provides a perfect example of the acid house style the band experimented with on this release. The album was also intended to be more melodic than its predecessors, with even darker songs like "Windowpane" picking up a stronger beat that creates a dance-y thorough-line for the experimental piece. The title of the song refers to sheets of LSD (which the album's title is also a reference to), and the lyrics describe an acid trip.

"The Snow" has an electronic dance beat opening that is soon backed by heavy breathing and chanting. "Chaostrophy" is a sample-heavy track that ends in a hauntingly beautiful outro that would feel at home in a Kurosawa movie. Coil is often credited as a template of sorts for the development of post-industrial music in the 1990's, with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails calling the band one of his greatest influences and even starting a band (with Mariqueen Maandig and Atticus Ross) called How To Destroy Angels, the name taken from Coil's first single. Coil took what Throbbing Gristle had started and moved it forward for a whole new audience, giving industrial music a dance-y update for a new decade and influencing the movement of the genre into the new millennium.

While we're talking about the 1990's (another champion segue, I think), we can take a look at Depeche Mode, an electronic music outfit that formed in Basildon, Essex, England in 1980. In mid-1989, the band began recording in Milan with producer Francois Kevorkian, and in March of 1990, released their seventh studio album, and Ashley's pick this week,
Violator. One of the most well known tracks off the album, "Personal Jesus" became a huge success for the band, spawning multiple covers (the most well known by Marilyn Manson and Johnny Cash). As songwriter Martin Gore describes it, "It's a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care...and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody's heart is like a God in some way, and that's not a very balanced view of someone is it?" The song is great by any measure; catchy, intelligent, insightful and memorable, it's no wonder "Personal Jesus" has endured.

"Waiting For The Night" begins with a slow, repetitive beat before the lyrics enter in, deepening the eerie feeling of the song. If any track on the album is more well known and lauded than "Personal Jesus," it's "Enjoy The Silence," which is often considered the band's signature song. Originally written as a slow tempo ballad, the song was eventually recorded over an upbeat tempo by Alan Wilder, who believed (correctly) that speeding the song up would make it a hit.

Depeche Mode has become one of the most prominent electronic bands of all time and continues to be successful today, three decades after their formation. Many bands, including Pet Shop Boys, The Killers, Deftones, Shakira, Coldplay, and (unfortunately), Linkin Park cite the band as a major influence. They helped to usher in the prominence of electronic music in the ensuing decades, and with Violator delivered several songs that have been burned into the public consciousness ever since.

Each of these three bands holds an important place in the development of their respective genre. The Clash was there at the birth of punk and helped it to move forward. Coil ushered industrial music out of its infancy and into the more commercially popular form that it became in the 1990's. And Depeche Mode made their mark on electronic music and helped to shape what came afterwards. Each formed an important part of the development of modern music, influencing all that came afterwards, and their effect on their genres, and on music in general, can still be felt today.

Read more My Year in Lists

Next week on My Year in Lists:

Kraftwerk lives in a Computer World, Sham 69 wants them to Tell Us The Truth, and My Bloody Valentine remains Loveless.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Something to Be Excited About

We know that you loyal Review to Be Named readers have nothing to do all day but sit around waiting for us to update. We also know that we can distract you with shiny objects whenever we'd like. So here's a bauble to keep you busy for at least 20 minutes worth of replaying, the trailer for perhaps the single most anticipated movie of 2011...if you're into this sort of thing...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Twenty

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“Here we are living in Paradise…”-Elvis Costello, “Living in Paradise”

“My interests were not necessarily to be in a band, but to be with people who wanted to play music with me.”-Ian MacKaye

There is a tough lesson that we all must learn in our lives, some of us sooner, some of us later: change is inevitable. For some, change comes naturally, as an expected part of life; for others, every change, no matter how large or how small, is a battle to be waged, a war against the fates to just allow everything to stay they same. I would like to consider myself somewhere between these two extremes, but anyone who knows me would say I am the latter, a person that loathes and fears change in equal measures. A lot of weeks in this column, you’ll see some variation on the theme that music has a lot in common with life in general, which is either a lazy attempt to ascribe greater meaning to the pop culture I’m writing thousands of words about every week or a simple truism that appears in various permutations throughout this ongoing examination. This week, I want to examine the idea that change, in life as in music, can be good or bad, but is ever present regardless of your feelings.

Very few bands stay exactly the same over the course of an entire career, and those that do tend to be criticized for failing to evolve. I understand this, and I agree with it, but the change-a-phobic in me has to point out that not all change is good change. Take, for example, a few examples from indie rock in the last few years. Death Cab For Cutie were champions of melancholic rock, but then Ben Gibbard had to go and fall in love and get married to Zooey Deschanel, and leave us with Narrow Stairs, an album that is so much more upbeat than the rest of the band’s discography it is downright disconcerting. I’ve talked about Stars before in this space as a band I related to deeply in high school, but their constant evolution has so far culminated in The Five Ghosts, an album that left me wondering if we could just step back a bit and stick with the Set Yourself on Fire era of the band’s music. The urge to evolve is a powerful one, and a lot of bands do it in a way that keeps them interesting and engaging, even if they become harder to pin down (Talking Heads are a perfect example of a band that evolves but manages to stay great). It’s difficult to pin down the difference between a positive evolution in music and a negative one (except for to use the obvious “the good bands evolve well” argument, which is reductive and useless), and I think there would be disagreements even if I tried (if any of you out there want to defend Narrow Stairs or The Five Ghosts, or any other evolutions you think are great that people tend to hate, feel free to comment below). So before I even attempt to wrap my head around the difference, let’s look at a case study in each.

Elvis Costello is cool. Let’s start this thing right there. We could get into what exactly “cool” means, or whether a musician should even endeavor to be cool, but let’s not waste the words on that. This column is going to be long enough as it is, so I’ll save us some debate and just operate on the premise that Costello is cool. His first album, My Aim Is True is the kind of debut that makes people stand up and take notice. Confident, creative, and unique in the self-possessed sort of way that indicates the emergence of a great artist, the album got Costello a lot of attention right from the start, but no one is done developing on their debut.

After the release of that album, Costello decided to form a permanent backup band in The Attractions, made up of Steve Nieve on piano, Bruce Thomas on bass guitar and the unrelated Peter Thomas on drums. Costello’s second album and his first with The Attractions, This Year’s Model, is Collin’s pick this week. The album opens with the explosively catchy “No Action,” and follows it up with “This Year’s Girl,” an ode to trendy celebrities who tend to burn out or lose the public’s attention (Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber come immediately to mind, though I may make people angry saying that, and it may just be wishful thinking on my part). “Pump it up” is an excellent example of Costello’s wordplay, rife with double entendres (the title being both a reference to the volume of the song and to masturbation…get it?) and telling of the narrator’s frustration at the hands of a femme fatale. Costello wrote the song in response to the excesses of his first tour.

“Little Triggers” is an early example of where Costello would be heading in the years to come, an effortlessly catchy and contemplative song that shows early evidence of his forthcoming lyrical mastery. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” is a rejection of much of the mainstream upper class English culture at the time, and was left off the original US release of the album (along with “Night Rally”) for being “too English.” “Living in Paradise” is also full of Costello’s clever lyrics and oozes the cool at the center of his persona.

It would also be difficult to discuss This Year’s Model without mentioning “Radio Radio” which didn’t make the UK release of the album (and was released as a single there later that year), but which replaced “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” on the US version. A fantastically catchy and quippy protest song about the commercialization of radio broadcasting and the power held by record companies and recording studios. “Radio Radio” was also performed by Costello and The Attractions on SNL on December 17, 1977. Though the band was scheduled to play “Less Than Zero” from My Aim is True, Costello stopped that after a few bars and launched into “Radio Radio.” This abrupt change lead to Costello being banned from SNL, though the ban was eventually lifted and he returned in 1989.

Costello would evolve into one of my all time favorite lyricists (he regularly makes my top five list when I take the time to think about such things), and evidence of this is apparent on This Year’s Model. The album is very solid, but it pales in comparison to some of his later work, especially in terms of lyrical complexity. Costello was good, but with a little change, a little evolution, he would become a musical legend.

Meanwhile, Throbbing Gristle really tried their hardest to be anything but cool. They were trying to do something different, trying to remind all of us about the darkness in our own souls. With that as a mission statement, evolution is likely to look more like devolution, and in fact, I have to say up front that I prefer D.o.A.: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle to any of the onslaught we are about to plow throw. In the case of Throbbing Gristle, I think the band changed what they were doing, and I think their later output works less consistently than their earlier releases.

United/Zyklon B Zombie was released in 1978, before D.o.A., and serves to parody the two prominent forms of rock music at the time. “United” featured a minimal drum loop and synthesizers along with positive lyrics (which is strange for the band), mocking the emerging New Wave sound. “Zyklon B Zombie” features guttural growling, distorted vocals, a strong bass line and a frenetic guitar solo, a parody of punk rock.

After the release of D.o.A. the band releases We Hate You (Little Girls)/ Five Knuckle Shuffle. “We Hate You (Little Girls)” is basically two minutes of anguished screaming with an industrial backing. This makes it somewhat difficult to discuss beyond the description above; there isn’t much depth here, only pain. “Five Knuckle Shuffle” is, of course, slang for masturbation (with “Pump it Up” also included, maybe this should have been masturbation week at My Year in Lists. But how silly of me. Every week is masturbation week here at My Year in Lists), but the song sounds less like jerking off than it’s predecessor, instead providing almost seven minutes of droning, with a sense of greater complexity and thought than “We Hate You (Little Girls)” ever attempts.

Following those singles, the band released their third album, 20 Jazz Funk Greats. The album’s cover is a picture of the band standing in a field of yellow flowers by the sea side, which might make you think Throbbing Gristle was softening up for their third album, unless you discovered that the photo was taken at Beachy Head in southern England, one of the world’s most notorious suicide spots. The title track, which opens the album, does in fact mix in some jazz influences into the band’s industrial sound, but the album as a whole certainly doesn’t soften at all. “Beachy Head” is a subtle industrial track built around a central drone, with subtle sounds filling it out. “Still Walking” is reminiscent of the band’s previous album with a strong beat and heavy utilization of found sounds.

“Convincing People” brings back the spoken word aspects of their previous efforts, while “Persuasion" is a darkly melodic discussion of the true nature of seduction. The album’s closing track, “Six Six Sixties” is another spoken word piece over a repetitive guitar riff. 20 Jazz Funk Greats is definitely more complex and whole than any of the singles the band released, and feels more thought-out than any of the band’s other material outside of D.o.A., yet the darkness continued to encroach on the band in its subsequent releases.

Much like We Hate You (Little Girls)/Five Knuckle Shuffle, the next single, Subhuman/Something Came Over Me opens with the scream heavy “Subhuman” before settling into the more complex and melodic “Something Came Over Me.” Released simultaneously, Adrenaline/Distant Dreams (Part Two) follows the exact same pattern, leaving the singles feeling a bit redundant (though “Something Came Over Me” has stuck with me while the others quickly fade).

Finally, Journey Through a Body was released in 1982, after being recorded in Rome in March of 1981, with no pre-planning of the songs. The first track, “Medicine” has a simple melody that is slowly built around with both industrial and found sounds. “Catholic Sex (For Paula)” is a bit too screechy and on the nose for my taste, though it does continue the standard dark themes of the rest of the band’s work. Journey Through a Body never escapes the feeling that it is just a jam band record, quite possibly because that’s exactly what it is. Yet unlike Amon Düül’s Psychedelic Underground, when Throbbing Gristle jams, they go to some very dark places.

Over the course of these several releases, Throbbing Gristle certainly changed, and definitely came closer to achieving their mission statement of communicating the dark side of human nature, but while burrowing deeper into an endless pit of darkness, they lost me a little in terms of effectiveness. Throbbing Gristle said from the beginning they weren’t setting out to make “attractive” music, and if that’s the case, they certainly got better at that as their career went along.

Finally, we’re going to look at a band that is, by its very existence, an evolution of previous ideas. After the dissolution of hardcore punk group Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye decided to form a group that was “like the Stooges with reggae.” MacKaye recruited Colin Sears and bass guitarist Joe Lally in September of 1986. MacKaye selected the name Fugazi from a slang term used by Vietnam vets for “Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In” as in into a body bag. Eventually, friends of the band Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty joined the band officially. In June of 1988, the band recorded its debut EP Fugazi (or 7 Songs). Following a tour of Europe, the band recorded songs for a full length album, but was disappointed with several tracks and released the EP Margin Walker instead. The two EPs combined into the band’s first album, and Ashley’s pick this week, 13 Songs.

The opening track “Waiting Room” opens with a strong guitar solo, a solid introduction to an immediately confident band. “Bulldog Front" has a strong chorus, though it feels sort of lost between hardcore and the post-hardcore sound Fugazi was trying to form. “Suggestion" has the same problem, but benefits from MacKaye’s assured vocals, where “Bulldog” fails (when it does) with Picciotto on lead vocals. The closing track “Promises” sounds more assured than most of what came before it, as if the band has finally decided where they are headed in the future. On the whole, 13 Songs feels like every bit the transitional album, even though it is technically a debut. The sound has developed from where Minor Threat left off, but it has yet to become what Fugazi will sound like in a few albums.

Everything changes eventually, whether we like it or not. Sometimes things get richer as the develop more, and we wouldn’t have a song like Elvis Costello’s “Satellite” without the groundwork laid by This Year’s Model. Sometimes things lose their luster with age and a band we once loved becomes something alien to us, making us regret our former devotion. And sometimes change is more ambiguous, its effects more difficult to measure. For better or worse, life, like music, is an endless series of changes, often completely out of our control. We may not be able to define exactly how change effects us, and we certainly can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we can at least take solace in the fact that sometimes, at least, change is for the better.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

The Clash answers a London Calling, Coil has a hobby in Scatology and hopes to show us Love’s Secret Domain, and Depeche Mode warns of a Violator.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).

Chris' Comics Corner

Hey all, I'm trying to get back on schedule, so this column includes reviews from the past two weeks, hope you enjoy.

Flashpoint #1
Publisher: DC
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Andy Kubert
Event Watch: Flashpoint Part 1 of 5


Flashpoint #1 is quite possibly the most important comic DC releases all year. Why? Because DC has a lot riding on the success of this limited series.

In the short term, Flashpoint is DC's big summer event and direct challenger to Marvel's Fear Itself. The sales of comics in the summer are driven by events and their tie ins, with the event books and their tie ins eclipsing the sales of just about everything else on the stands. With the two central protagonists of Fear Itself appearing in big blockbuster summer movies, Marvel already has the edge in this category, but Flashpoint boasts an unprecedented number of tie in miniseries. What Flashpoint lacks in exposure it might just make up in sheer volume.

However a short term victory in sales this summer has bigger long term ramifications for DC and the Comics Industry as a whole. As the name of this book might suggest, Flashpoint focuses on the Flash, and is the first DC wide event to place the Scarlet Speedster in such a position of prominence. Flashpoint is (and pardon me for what is the first of what I'm sure will be maaaaaaaaany puns) DC's attempt to see if lightning can strike twice and if Geoff John's can elevate the Flash to the same kind of prominence he achieved in elevating Green Lantern to, back in 2004. Looking even further down the road, the fact that every DC writer and editor has been sworn to secrecy on what the shape of the DCU will be in the aftermath of Flashpoint (In fact aside from Batman Inc., I have nooo idea what any title has in store past the summer) suggests that the companies future plans to reinvigorate its catalogue and compete with Marvel are highly dependent on this series (the foundation for the company's immediate future) being a success.

Like I said, there is a. lot. riding on this book.

So how was the first issue? It was…ok. Which given the enormously high aforementioned stakes, is not the best thing. By itself it is a good issue, but it is not what DC needed it to be. At least not yet.

The issue begins with Barry Allen realizing that the world as he knows it has changed. While the differences are subtle at first, he quickly makes two major discoveries: He is no longer the fastest man alive, and his mother is alive. This leads to a very powerful and heartfelt reunion between mother and son, especially for those who have been reading the recent relaunch of The Flash title.

As far as the story, things kinda go downhill from there. Not bad per se, just nothing exceptional. Most of the issue is devoted to Barry running around in confusion, which I suppose is necessary but in an event that is only 5 issues long that exists primarily to elevate the status of The Flash, having him bumble throughout the new reality powerless is probably not the best way to do it, as it does not give readers a reason to care about Barry as a person, or show just how cool a hero the Flash is. Granted there is still time to do this now that we've moved past the establishing phase but I really think it would have been better to hit the ground running. (…I apologized once, I won't do it again).

The rest of the issue is devoted to a vote among the heroes of this altered world on what to do about the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman that's currently devastating Europe. While this sequence was fun and entertaining at times, it felt like what it was: a lot of exposition. Having the characters tell the readers about the problems that Aquaman and Wonder Woman are causing rather than showing us, leaves the reader with the impression that not a lot happened in the issue, when actually there was a lot of content packed into these pages.

I did like this scene, and I think it was an effective way to introduce us to the players and their world, but I think it lasted a bit too long, and would have felt more satisfying if it had done more to advance the plot. That being said, I commend the choice Johns made to populate this world with lesser known and new characters rather than alternate versions of the A and B listers. Additionally, the twist regarding Batman at the end of the issue was particularly inspired and satisfying.

Andy Kubert is a highly talented artist perfectly suited to the dark and gritty world of Flashpoint. Seeing his Batman swinging across the Gotham skyline makes me pine for his all too brief stint illustrating Grant Morrison's Batman. His character is especially impressive in this debut issue, possibly even a career high, as every face is unique and emotive. His layouts, choreography, and use of multiple angles reveals his vast experience and skill The amount of characters and actions that he packs into these pages could have easily overwhelmed another artist but Kubert handles it like a pro. My one gripe is that I'll have to wait at least another issue to see Kubert render The Flash in action.

I think the main strike this book has against it is the fact that DC decided to tell this story as a big summer event. Had this been just another arc of the Flash, I think a lot of these concerns would have bothered me less than they did in this context. However because the DC hype machine has been promoting this book 7 ways to Sunday, I entered into it with a good deal of knowledge of the direction of the story and the twists thrown the readers' way in this first issue. This Event Series still shows a lot of promise, and I am optimistic that things will look up next issue now that much of the groundwork has been laid.

Grade: B+

Birds of Prey #12
Producer: DC
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Jesus Saiz

Now that's more like it. Ever since Gail Simone returned to relaunch the title on which she had a career defining run several years ago, something has been…missing. This should have been an easy hit for DC, instead, it felt like something just wasn't clicking. There were a lot of great moments, and huge potential, but issue after issue that potential remained unreached. Maybe it was the merry-go-round of artists (7 artists in 11 issues). Or maybe it was the multiple status quo shifts and reveals that were never really fully explained before moving onto the next big idea.

All that changes with this issue. This is the book I was hoping for. This is the book I wanted to be reading. The renowned fun and personal chemistry between her cast of characters that Simone was known for on this title is in full effect. We get some fun interplay between Canary, Dove, and Oracle, a great team up between Huntress and the Question, and a laugh out loud moment featuring Hawk. The issue ends with a genuinely creepy twist that longtime fans of Simone will appreciate as being particularly deadly for our protagonists.

The new story arc and return to basics approach on Simone's side is only part of the reason why this issue was leaps and bounds ahead of it's 11 predecessors. The lion's share of the credit needs to go to artist Jesus Saiz for finally giving this series the proper tone, polish, and consistency that this title so badly needed. I love Saiz's thick line work and shading. At an average of about five panels per page, Saiz packs a lot of story into this issue, but his excellent handle on choreography keeps the action from becoming confusing or cluttered. His characters are sexy (without cheesecake factor), and expressive which is exactly what this book needs. I hope that Saiz is onboard for the long haul because he and Simone really clicked this issue, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Grade: A-

Avengers #13
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Brian Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Event Watch: Fear Itself Tie In

So Bendis has been utilizing this oral history of the Avengers prose feature to pad the books to justify the 3.99 price raise, and while I have little interest in reading Bendis's take on the classic Avengers stories of yesteryear, I applaud him trying to give the readers extra bang for their buck. He employs the same technique for this issue, but instead of prose blurbs, we get confessional style panel packed pages, interspersed with some expanded scenes from Fear Itself #1. The confessional technique actually works really well here, as it heightens the sense of anxiety and tension, as the characters are giving confessional interview both pre and post the events of Fear Itself, alluding to tragedy we are yet to see.

Bendis contrasts these scenes with a budding romance between two Avengers. And while he handles some aspects of developing attraction well, other scenes come off as being a bit juvenile. The exchange between Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel in particular sounded like the dialogue of Jr. High School girls, rather than two ex-military super heroines.

Bachalo handles the art chores exceptionally well on this issue. His style is infamously stylized and exaggerated and not what you would normally associate with the Avengers, however I think one of the best things Bendis has done during his tenure in the Avengers franchise is bring in artists not normally associated with the characters. I for one would be happy to see Bachalo take the reigns of an Avengers book, as it is hard to deny that his characters are larger than life, and I simply love his renditions of Thor, Red Hulk, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman.

Grade: B+

Read more Chris' Comics Corner here

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Jordan's Review: How I Met Your Mother, Season 6, Episode 24: Challenge Accepted

GOD DAMN IT. Let's summarize, in a few sentences, everything that we learned this season. In the premiere, TWENTY FOUR MOTHER FUCKING EPISODES AGO, we knew Marshall and Lily were trying to get pregnant, and TWIST: Lily's pregnant. Fucking TWO SEASONS AGO, we knew that there was something between Barney and Robin (honestly, we've known since season one, but it's been an explicit plot point for two years now) and TWIST: There's still something there. AND IN THE VERY FIRST EPISODE OF THIS UNEVEN, APPARENTLY COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME SEASON, in the VERY FIRST SCENE no less, we knew that Ted met the mother at a wedding. We all guessed way back when that it was Barney's wedding, and TWIST: it's Barney's wedding. This season opened with a quote on a church sign reading "For every change there is a season." Apparently, it wasn't this one.

If you haven't guessed this from the expletive laden, caps-filled screed above, I am a little angry. I feel used, I feel tricked, I feel cheated. The writers promised this season of How I Met Your Mother would be different, would be arc focused, would include BIG changes and twists and everything we loved about the show back in the day. This season was certainly more focused (and better) than season five. There was a definitive Barney arc with his father, and even a second Barney arc in his interest in Nora and rekindled interest in Robin (though come now people, we all know he's marrying Robin, right?). Marshall dealt with his father's death and with his fears about becoming a father himself. But the most important plotline in this show wasn't addressed at all after the cold open of the season premiere.

There was a lot of good in this season, but there was also a lot of bad. And ultimately, at a time when the show needs to be bold it is instead choosing timidity, punting again when it should have run for the goal. At this point, I think the only way this show can stay good for the next two years is to introduce the mother IMMEDIATELY. We have been patient, us fans of HIMYM. We have waited six seasons and over 130 episodes. I have said often this year that it is time to move to the endgame; discussing this finale earlier tonight, I mentioned to my friends that I didn't think I'd be satisfied unless the cliffhanger tonight lead us to the mother at the beginning of next season. Instead, the writers have clearly decided to delay the reveal indefinitely, possibly all the way to the finale. I think this is a big mistake, and I think it will hurt the show and it's legacy.

I care about Barney and Robin, and I hope that they get together. I even look forward to watching them stumble back together and into marriage. I care about Marshall and Lily, and while I dread the idea of a baby being on this show, I hope there will be some great moments along the way to the potential shark jump that is a "Lily's having a baby!" episode. But none of these plotlines moves me the way the masterplot does, and I am tired of it being ignored because there's nowhere left for the show to go but into the endgame. Give us the mother. Let it percolate. Let us meet her, let Ted court and date her, convince us she's better than all of his past love interests. Make us care about Ted again. He's the center of the show, and without the masterplot, How I Met Your Mother has felt rudderless for seasons now. I want the show I love back. I want it's heart back. I want to care again. And all this finale left me with was a vague, naive, mostly hopeless, "maybe next year."

Grade: C-


-Strange for this show to jump to the fall and then not do anything with that time jump at all except mock Nora's fashion sense...

-"But new is always better is my oldest rule, which makes it the best!"

-"Can...I...Borrow...An adult diaper."

-"Ted really can go on about a bitch." Cute. Because the show has been on for SIX FUCKING YEARS and we still haven't finished the story.

-"Marshall told us you're exploding from both ends like a busted fire hydrant."

-Ranjit!...was wasted.

-Ever since Trader Joe's opened up, Brooklyn is so...whatever."

-Terrible CGI on the implosion. That seems like a good place to leave things. On something the show did TERRIBLY.

Whose Film Is It Anyway?: Notes on the Auteur Theory in 2011

By Jordan

Note: The purpose of Whose Film Is It Anyway? is to examine the validity of the auteur theory through the lens of individual film-makers, taking a look at their bodies of work and highlighting the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of their films. Ultimately, the goal of this column will be to generate a discussion of the merits of auteur theory through examinations of directors widely considered auteurs, analyses of directors whose status as auteurs is more tenuous, and occasional looks at non-directors who may drive the quality and content of their films with more assuredness than the directors they work with.

“But then the whole idea became perverted; it was transformed into a cult of the author’s work. So everybody becomes an author, and today even set decorators want to be recognized as the ‘authors’ of the nails they put into the walls. The term ‘auteur’ hence does not really mean anything anymore… I think the problem was that when we created the auteur theory, we insisted on the word ‘auteur’ whereas it’s the word ‘theory’ we should have insisted upon because the real goal of this concept was not to show who makes a good film but to demonstrate what makes a good film.”-Jean Luc Godard, Moviemakers’ Master Class

“The directors—and they can excel at doing that—are people who only interpret the script, who just turn it from words into images. The filmmakers, however, will be able to take somebody else’s material and still manage to have a personal vision come through.”-Martin Scorsese, Moviemakers’ Master Class

And then we came to the end. After a full year and columns on 26 directors, we have reached the end of Whose Film Is It Anyway?, at least for the time being. I set out to, as the introduction to every single installment has said, examine the validity of the auteur theory by looking at individual directors. I aimed to look at the films they made, at the technical elements, personal style, and thematic consistency of these films and finally to spark a discussion on the merits of the auteur theory. Now, having done (or at least attempted to do) just that for a full year, it’s time to step back and take stock of both the auteur theory itself and of what we have learned about it in the last year. Is the theory correct? That’s a question far too big to cogently answer in the space of one column, and I’m not sure that’s ever really been the aim of this column. The point has always been to spark a discussion and to rethink the way we look at the theory, at directors, and at cinema itself. And so, as a conclusion to this column (or at least the initial run thereof), I wanted to take stock of my own thoughts on the theory. Rather than trying to be coherent or redefine the theory for a new generation of cinephiles, I want to follow the lead of Andrew Sarris, the critic responsible for bringing the theory to America and articulating its beliefs in English for the first time (after the theory’s invention in the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema prior to the French New Wave), who authored an article entitled “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” that first tried to define the theory for the English speaking world. And so here, at the end of Whose Film Is It Anyway? Are my “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 2011.”

When the auteur theory really began picking up steam, it was criticized for a tendency to champion bad films (or at least, films that were not very good) simply because they had a strong authorial presence. I have consciously tried to avoid the same; I don’t think that was a productive tendency 50 years ago, and it certainly isn’t today. I have discussed how, under the auteur theory, a terrible director like Michael Bay can be called an auteur, but those of you who read my column on him well know that while I consider him an auteur, I also consider him a terrible director of terrible films, and I wouldn’t champion any of his work in spite of that strong authorial presence. So, in that way, I would say that the way the auteur theory was originally laid out was not necessarily useful. The theory was incredibly rigid and dictatorial, requiring support for any auteur regardless of the quality of their films. Personally, I believe the fact that Michael Bay is an auteur with a consistent style and thematic concerns makes him a more interesting director, but it certainly doesn’t make him a better director.

I think the conclusion I have come to is not that the auteur theory is right or wrong, but that it can be both, and therefore should be no one’s central thesis when approaching cinema. Instead, it is better viewed as a tool, and one of many, for better understanding and appreciating cinema. As Sarris, himself put it, “I will give the Cahiers critics full credit for the original formulation of an idea that reshaped my thinking on the cinema.” Whether you believe in the theory or not, its mere presence in the cinematic conversation is important, I think.

A year ago, I was skeptical at best about the supremacy of the director, but over the course of writing this column, I have seen much evidence that the director often reins supreme as the major creative force behind a film. I watch movies differently than I did a year ago, more critically in some cases, and with a greater contextual understanding in others, and that can’t really be a bad thing. Thinking about entertainment more thoroughly and more critically does make it more of an academic exercise, at times, but it also makes it an infinitely more rewarding process. Being able to walk out of a movie talking about not only its individual quality but about how it fits into the director’s career makes me more annoying, sure, but it also makes me a more conscious film-watcher; it allows me to put more thought into movies than just the initial quality of the individual work.

Films are almost always considered in context with every other film the director has done by critics; what I would suggest is that this practice need not be restrained to an academic setting, but rather can be used by any moviegoer to have a more complete an interesting movie-going experience. This is why I have focused so much on thematic recurrences in this space. As I have said before, I believe discussions of pet themes that can be found in many or all of a director’s films are easier to understand and adapt to film watching than an in-depth discussion of technical elements. I think that any movie fan can, and should, find recurring examinations in the work of a director and that those can make said work more interesting, or can at least increase our understanding of what goes into certain films and what individual films mean as part of a larger whole.

This greater awareness and dedication to looking more closely at films need not be restricted to considering a film within the context of the auteur theory. As I said earlier, the theory should be used as one of many tools in any examination of a film, or of films in general. A movie like The Social Network can be looked at using the auteur theory, and examining it as a part of David Fincher’s oeuvre, or as part of Aaron Sorkin's larger body of work. But it can also be looked at in the context of the rest of the film’s released that year, and further, by what it is saying about our times, and about the place of social networking in our lives. The auteur theory can be useful as part of a larger examination of films, but should not, in my estimation, be the end all be all of cinematic analysis.

Ultimately, I don’t believe in the auteur theory, at least not in the way it was originally laid out in Cahiers du Cinema or by Andrew Sarris 50 years ago. As legendary film critic Pauline Kael put it in her retort to Sarris’ original article, “Criticism is an art, not a science, and a critic who follows rules will fail in one of his most important functions: perceiving what is original and important in new work and helping others to see.” My largest problem with the original auteur theory is how strict it is, how universally it demands to be applied. I don’t believe in a set of steadfast rules that must be applied to define an auteur. But I do believe that the auteur theory is useful to the examination of films, a necessary tool to be employed by critics and by contemplative fans.

I do believe that auteurs exist, but that doesn’t mean that I believe the identification and championing of these auteurs should be central to any film critic or fan’s discussion of the medium. I also believe, contrary to the original theory, that not all auteurs are directors. They are not even all writers, as I see it, and the presence of two auteurs on one project need not mean conflict or failure (look again to the collaboration of Fincher and Sorkin on The Social Network). Not all auteurs, as I define them, would fit into Sarris’ definition, not all of them can be universally agreed upon. And they shouldn’t be. Part of the fun of being a movie fan is debating these questions, forming your own opinions and seeing how they measure up against the ideas of other people whose opinions you trust. I don’t think that every film even necessarily has a definitive author. I do think that the auteur theory is important, though, for what it tells us about individual films and about cinema as an art form, both collaboratively, and individually.

When I originally brainstormed this feature, I had a list of over 100 individuals, mostly directors, to examine. Over the last year, I have covered only 26 of those people. Hopefully, this column has been interesting or even enlightening to those of you who stuck around and read it the whole way through. I don’t think the conversation about this theory should end with this column; in fact, I don’t think it should ever end. I opened the very first installment of this column with a quote from “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962,” wherein Andrew Sarris said, “The task of validating the auteur theory is an enormous one, and the end will never be in sight.” I hope that this is true, and that the discussion about the theory long outlives this column. I also hope, that with enough time on my hands, and enough interest and support from you, dear readers, that this column will someday come back and continue to examine more people and more issues that are important to the auteur theory. In the interim, it is my hope that I have helped at least some of you to watch movies differently, to think about them more, and to actually question the theories that are put forward about them. If we can all do that, then not only will we be able to determine who, if anyone, a film “belongs” to, and more importantly, we will be able to form our own cinematic theories that can be ours and ours alone.

Read more Whose Film Is It Anyway? here

Whose Film Is It Anyway? will return...

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Friday, May 13, 2011

My Year in Lists: Week Nineteen

By Jordan

My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger’s quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

“It never matters what you like; what matters is why you like it.”-Chuck Klosterman

“Outside there’s a boxcar waiting…”-Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”

My feelings on the term “guilty pleasure” are incredibly complicated, I’ve found. Ostensibly, I agree with Chuck Klosterman’s thoughts on the term. I don’t think that I should feel guilty for liking the things that I like. I also don’t ascribe to the idea that there is some sort of universal taste that tells me what is good and what is terrible, and forces me to feel shame for enjoying things that have been deemed terrible. In the essay, Klosterman discusses his love of the movie Road House for completely legitimate reasons, and ponders whether the term guilty pleasure implies that “if these same people were not somehow coerced into watching Road House every time it’s on TBS, they’d probably be reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

I’ve read James Joyce, and I’ve seen Road House, and I enjoyed both for very different reasons and at very different moments in my life. If I hadn’t watched the entire first season of True Blood in a giant block, I might have been able to finish Pynchon’s Against the Day earlier, but I’m pretty sure doing that instead wouldn’t make me a better person. So as a rule I hate the term “guilty pleasures,” but my problem is that I also think the term has its use. Some things that I enjoy are constantly at war in my pop culture heart. Some things I recognize are terrible, not for universal, provable reason but for personal reasons. Yet I still enjoy some of these things. The easy answer to this would be to claim I enjoy them ironically, but that isn’t always the case. Look, when I watch Batman and Robin, its because that movie is fucking terrible and I find the gross miscalculations that went into its creation fascinating and hilarious. I watch that movie ironically because it provides a great time but in none of the ways it was intended to.

Yet there are some things I enjoy unironically while also being shocked at how terrible they are. When I was trying to put my feelings about Fleetwood Mac, and specifically the song “Go Your Own Way” into some sort of context, I recalled the night last summer when I was returning from a celebratory dinner after taking the LSAT. The song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler came on the radio in the cab I was in, and my friend and I started belting it out. I went home and bought the song immediately. I hadn’t listened to it since, until this morning when I realized my feelings toward it are nearly identical to my feelings for the Fleetwood Mac song, which we will discuss in a moment. I think “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is pretty terrible: it’s over-the-top, hilariously melodramatic, epic in scope in an exaggerated way that only feels at home in bad ‘80s music videos, and its fucking seven minutes long to boot. But I also think it’s really, really, incredibly catchy, the kind of song I want to listen to, not because it’s really funny how bad it is, but because I find the activity enjoyable. So while I disagree with the term “guilty pleasure” as it is usually applied, I can’t help but feel it’s accurate for this sort of phenomenon where I can simultaneously loathe and love something in nearly equal measures. I don’t feel guilty for listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” four times while I wrote this column, nor do I feel guilty about the fact that I’ll probably listen to it again right now. But I wouldn’t hold it up as an example of great music, nor as one of my favorite songs. I would say, in fact, that it is a terrible song that for some reason appeals to me.

Now to Fleetwood Mac, a pretty awful band that has turned out a few songs that fit comfortably into the above category. The band was initially formed as a blues outfit in London in 1967 by Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Green enticed McVie to join by naming the band Fleetwood Mac after the drummer and the bassist. During their early years the band was a straight blues outfit that achieved moderate success in England. Over the course of the band’s first three years, Green experimented with LSD, which contributed to the onset of schizophrenia. By early 1970, Green’s mental state had deteriorated and he recommended giving all of the band’s profits to charity. The rest of the band respectfully disagreed, and Green left in May of 1970.

After five years in which the band shuffled through several members, they met guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, who was currently heading American band Buckingham Nicks. The band asked him to join and he agreed, so long as his partner and girlfriend (and, if South Park is to be trusted, professional goat look-alike) Stevie Nicks could come along. This new line-up became the iconic incarnation of the band and released a self-titled album in 1975.

The next year, John and Christine McVie got divorced, Buckingham and Nicks ended their relationship and Fleetwood entered divorce proceedings as well (presumably because everyone in the band was a terrible human being and wanted to keep from being privately associated with one another before they released their next shitshow of an album). All of the emotional turmoil was laid bare (read: sung out over melodies so upbeat they begin to feel almost as soulless as Boston) on the group’s eleventh studio album, and Collin’s pick this week, Rumors. The album is by far the band’s most successful release, selling over 40 million copies and peaking at the top of the charts in the U.S. and the U.K.

“Dreams,” the second track on the album, was written by sentient goat Stevie Nicks as an optimistic look back at the dissolution of her relationship with Buckingham. Nicks bleats through an endless series of clichés (you see, “players only love you when they’re playing”) and less than subtle digs at Buckingham for an interminable four minutes of faux-folk-pop. “Women they will come and they will go,” to be sure, but at times during “Dreams” I wondered when, if ever, the song would follow suit and get the hell out of my ear canal. “Don’t Stop” is a slightly better song, reflecting Christine McVie’s feelings after her separation from John following eight years of marriage. The song is relentlessly optimistic, to the point where it feels more like McVie was putting on a happy face to get at her ex-husband, while secretly taking several trips a day to the ladies room to ball her eyes out. Her pain was probably very real, but none of that makes it into this song, a standard “tomorrow’s another day” ditty that rings completely hollow. At least to my ears. Bill Clinton really likes this song, at least if nearly all of his campaign appearances over the last two decades are to be believed. And we all know that Bill Clinton’s taste in music, like his taste in women, is unimpeachable (couldn’t be helped).

“Go Your Own Way” was written by Lindsay Buckingham and was the first single off the album. Just like every other song on Rumors, it is about a break up, with Buckingham seemingly more pessimistic than Nicks about the future of their relationship. “Go Your Own Way” is definitely the best song on the album by far, which is kind of like calling it the skinniest kid at fat camp. I can’t help but think of the song as a punchline, the “driving off into the sunset” song at the end of a terrible movie, but at the same time, I have to admit that my enjoyment of it isn’t ironic, at least not entirely. Like “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” it is a god damn catchy song, fun to belt out, especially while drinking heavily to mask the fact that the song isn’t particularly good. The less we say about “Songbird,” the better, which brings us to “The Chain,” the only song on the album written by all five members of the band at the time, a song with a basic rock structure and folk influences. In some ways it feels like the most meaningful song on the album, mostly because it is obviously pretty meaningless, a string of “let’s stay together” gobbledygook sung over strumming guitars. By writing a completely meaningless song, Fleetwood Mac was able to find a shred of meaning to throw into an album that, from the circumstances that created it should have been chock full of authentic pain.

Following a discussion of Fleetwood Mac and “guilty pleasures” with a look at Throbbing Gristle and industrial music is like doing a double feature of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Ichi the Killer, which is to say, the kids should leave at this point unless they want to see a man dangling on hooks. Throbbing Gristle evolved out of the performance art group COUM Transmissions and in fact, the last performance of COUM Transmissions was also the debut of Throbbing Gristle. The band is known for their confrontational live performances using disturbing images including pornography and pictures of concentration camps to rile up the crowd. The group maintained that their mission was to challenge audiences while exploring the darker, more obsessive side of human nature, rather than make attractive music. Basically, Throbbing Gristle is the anti-Fleetwood Mac. They pioneered the use of pre-recorded samples and made extensive use of special effects to produce a distinct, highly distorted background, which was generally accompanied by lyrics or spoken word pieces. Their first album, Second Annual Report, was released in an initial run of 786 copies. When that sold out and demand remained high, the group did a re-release, reversing the track order and playing each track backwards.

The band’s second album, and Tab’s pick this week, D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle was released in 1978, just one year after Rumors and a sonic universe apart. “United,” the album’s third track, is a 16 second version of the song from an earlier EP (which we will look at next week). The original song runs five minutes, and is simply sped up to fit within the time allotted. “Weeping” uses four types of acoustic violin, is played through a space-echo and is a song about crushing defeat.

“Hamburger Lady” was inspired by a letter from Dr. Al Ackerman, the mail artist, and discusses a deeply scarred and mutilated woman. “AB7/A” is by far the most melodic song on the album, a reprieve from all of the darkness and depression that surrounds it. We will discuss several more Throbbing Gristle releases next week, but for now it must be said that the band’s sonic experiments on their second album are largely successful, and that the work exists as a fully realized journey into the dark side of man’s soul.

Jumping forward again, we turn now to the formation of Pixies in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986. The band consists of Black Francis on vocals and rhythm guitar, Joey Santiago on lead guitar, Kim Deal on bass and vocals and David Lovering on drums. Santiago and Francis first met at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Francis eventually dropped out and the two formed a band in January of 1986. Kim Deal joined the band two weeks later in answer to an ad seeking a female bassist who liked Peter, Paul, and Mary and Husker DU. Deal was the only person to respond, but arrived without a bass guitar, as she had never played the instrument before. The band’s name was chosen at random from a dictionary.

As this year winds down we will revisit Pixies and look at several of their other releases, but this week we will examine the band’s second full album, and Ashley’s pick, Doolittle. The album’s working title was Whore, though when the cover art was revealed to be a depiction of a monkey with a halo around it’s head, Francis decided he did not want to be pinned down as anti-Catholic and changed the name to Doolittle from a lyric in “Mr. Grieves.”

“Debaser,” the album’s opening track, is based around the Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali film Un Chien Andalou (known to those who have seen it as the “HOLY SHIT! That woman’s eye just got slit open by a razor!” movie). The song’s title is a reference to the film as a debasement of morality and artistic standards, but also to Amherst film studies professor Don Eric Levine, who screened the film for Black and was known as “the debaser” because he often spoiled the endings of films.

“Here Comes Your Man” is one of those songs that you know is great from the opening riff. By the first lyric, you’re completely in love and by the chorus on a different place of awesome. In other words, it’s a very good song. Originally written by Black Francis when he was a teenager but not included on earlier releases due to his reluctance and fears about its quality, Jon Dolan of Spin magazine called it, “the most accessible song ever by an underground-type band.” While I wouldn’t say I have the authority to make that assertion, “Here Comes Your Man” is an amazing song, catchy without lapsing into bubble gum pop, grungy without losing its upbeat whimsy and imminently listenable, the type of song I imagine will rack up hundreds of plays on my ipod without me ever getting tired of it.

“Monkey Gone to Heaven” references environmentalism and biblical numerology, a song Rolling Stone’s David Fricke called “a corrosive, compelling meditation on God and garbage.” The song simultaneously deals with man’s destruction of the environment and confusion about man’s place in the universe, two potentially heady ideas that should feel at odds packed into less than three minutes of music, and yet somehow work well together, even complementing each other. If you had told me prior to my first listen that a song on the album dealt with the environment, confusion about man’s purpose, and biblical numerology, I would have believed you (you are, after all, a trustworthy source), but I would have expected it to be a total mess. Instead, “Monkey Gone to Heaven” is sonically clean, with a clear message behind each of its several themes, never sacrificing clarity yet always remaining interesting and entertaining. In other words, it’s awesome. “Crackity Jones” describes a crazy roommate, and is a propulsive roller coaster ride of a song, clocking in at 1:24. The song is a rocket powered, punk-ish discourse wish a distinctly Spanish sound.

We will look more into the legacy of Pixies later this year, but the band, and this album in particular, were instrumental to the alt-explosion of the ‘90s and the beginning of the grunge movement. Kurt Cobain was a huge fan and feared that people would criticize “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (which we’ll talk about next month) as derivative of Pixies’ sound. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. The Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey also cite Doolittle as a huge influence on the shape of music as the ‘90s prepared to dawn. The album is a near-perfect collection of songs, pulled together by recurring themes and a consistent sound, and hearkening toward what the alternative movement would become over the next several years, making it an absolutely essential listen for fans of the ‘90s, or of music in general.

Ultimately, Fleetwood Mac, like Boston before them, feels like a band that was more a part of tearing down the old musical system than a force for driving music forward. Where Throbbing Gristle and Pixies both experimented and helped to shape the musical landscape that would follow them, Fleetwood Mac seems mostly to be gnawing on the corpse of “classic rock,” hoping to get a few more bucks before their teeth hits bone. Still, though, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll listen to “Go Your Own Way” again before the day is out. That is, if I can stop listening to “Here Comes Your Man” for long enough to fit it in.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:

Elvis Costello and the Attractions display This Year’s Model, we take a crash course in Throbbing Gristle with United/Zyklon B Zombie, We Hate You (Little Girls)/ Five Knuckle Shuffle, Journey Through a Body, Subhuman/Something Came Over Me, Adrenalin/Distant Dreams (Part Two) and 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and close out Ashley’s examination of the ‘80s with Fugazi’s 13 Songs.

Want to keep tabs on all of our updates? follow us on twitter @reviewtobenamed (follow us here).