Be sure to check out
Be sure to check out
I hate to see a good band go. It sucks when they're big players, like the end of R.E.M. or Rilo Kiley, but it's even worse when a band break ups on the cusp of breaking out. At best, we get an album, maybe a few EPs, to remind us of the potential and nothing more. These are the bands that will come up when I set my iTunes to shuffle and think, “They really could have had something.” Big enough to be missed, but too small to warrant a reunion. These are the bands that split before their time. Harlem Shakes could have been huge. I say this because whenever I play “Strictly Game” or “Sunlight,” for someone two songs from their only album, the listener wants more almost without fail. It was high energy, emotive substance with lyrics and melodies that begged you to sing along. That's because they aimed to stuff their songs with wall-to-wall hooks, which isn't everybody's idea of perfect music, but it was massively accessible and fun. They toured big on the album, selling out venues, but all that goodness was for naught as they eventually mysteriously broke up. The lack of reported reason usually steers towards internal friction. The Sound Team song that made waves in music fans was “Movie Monster,” the title track of their album, which sounds a bit like a darker, more textured and downtempo Interpol. A distorted bass synth fills the foreground, overpowering even the vocals, which is a uniqueness that sticks with you. But it's not representative of their sound as a whole, and if we're reading into the creative differences that contributed to their break up, maybe the different directions of their album was a sign of their tension. Still, they broke up in an interesting fashion: A couple of guys dropped out to pursue their education, they had a big tussle with their label over pricing, and then released all their songs for free and digitally soon after calling it quits. Finally, when I think of victims of the music blogosphere, I think of Voxtrot. They had a string of highly buzzed about EPs full of great lyrics laid on top of a traditional guitar-driven sound that was completely satisfying. They got what any indie band wants before the release of their first album - a strong fanbase, blogger hype and comparisons to The Smiths. But when their first full-length arrived, it was as if they suffered from early-onset sophomore slump. They pushed forward on their sound and aimed for an evolution that may not have yet been in their grasp. It's always tough to be raised up and then unceremoniously dropped. There were hopes of retooling, maybe a more back to basics approach, but the story is the same here as on all the others. Voxtrot lives on in a single self-titled album, a handful of EPs, and the lead singer's solo project.
I learned a lot this past year. For example, did you know that Nicolas Cage could have been Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings? Crazy. But for more substantial learnings about life, let's turn to this year's music, and what it told us along the way. 1. Surprise People. 2011 in music was a year of surprises and generally stepping out of one's comfort zone. Usually this was in the form of collaborations – Kanye West reached out to reigning indie king Bon Iver, and Jack White worked with Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and even the Insane Clown Posse just to screw with you. Sometimes it came out as wild ideas like The Flaming Lips producing a 24-hour song. Certainly, stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't always produce fantastic results, but sometimes the act itself is all the incentive you need. As the saying goes, the only reward of the easy path is that it's easy. 2. Two Great Tastes Don't Always Taste Great Together. Metallica and Lou Reed taught me that you can't just smash two things together and hope for the best. In the event that you do decide to smash two wildly disparate things together, avoid the hubris of talking it up in interviews. Do not, in any situation, tell people that this is the best you've ever been, especially if both of you happen to be legends in your respective field. I know I said surprise people – but do it in a way that is self-aware of the surprise, either with humor or humbleness. 3. If You're Amazing, You Will Last Forever In 2011, everything old is new again. It seems like every year, high quality box sets and reissues of classic material ramp up, and this was no exception. Whether it was The Smiths, U2's Achtung Baby or the mythological Beach Boys' Smile, there were enticing pieces of music history given new life in today's market. Maybe you lived through their heyday, or maybe it's all new to you. The lesson here is that the past doesn't quit, and that there will always be value in yesterday's best. 4. Know When, and How, to Quit. This year saw the end of Rilo Kiley, R.E.M. and LCD Soundsystem. Each had at least a healthy amount of success, especially R.E.M., so it's not like we didn't get to enjoy them while they were around. But things happen, and there's no shame in quitting. It's just a matter of how it ends. For Rilo Kiley, it was an ugly dissolution of relationships described as “deception, disloyalty and greed.” For LCD Soundsystem, it was a case of going out on top, and they did it in supreme fashion with a sold out Madison Square Garden. As the year ends, you'll be reflecting and evaluating how it went, and what emotion you want to attach to its passing. Here's hoping your year warrants more of a last hurrah than a quiet fade out.
"Radio Free Europe": R.E.M.’s first single made them the darlings of college radio in 1981, and set them on their path towards being the first successful alt-rock band. In 2010, this song was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry for setting "the pattern for later indie rock releases by breaking through on college radio in the face of mainstream radio's general indifference.”
"The One I Love": This 1987 hit from Document was R.E.M.’s first big mainstream radio hit. Although the classic song is often interpreted as a love ballad, Michael Stipe has called the song “incredibly violent” and said "It's very clear that it's about using people over and over again."
"Stand": This 1989 song from R.E.M.’s Green was a hit song, but most importantly, it was also the theme song to cult TV show “Get a Life,” which starred Chris Elliot.
"Losing My Religion": This classic from 1991’s Out of Time was R.E.M.’s biggest MTV success, based on the song’s infamous music video, which was stylistically influenced by Hindu deities and the works of Caravaggio. The clip won six MTV video music awards, including the top prize for best video of the year.
"It's End of the World as We Know It": This 1987 Document track is known for its ridiculously fast-paced stream of consciousness lyrics that can seem so convoluted even Stipe has forgotten them. ("Eye of a hurricane / Listen to yourself churn / World serves its own needs / Regardless of your own needs.”)
"Driver 8": This fan favorite from 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction has been covered by some big names including Hootie and the Blowfish, Death Cab for Cute, The Walkmen and The Old 97s.
"Mine Smell Like Honey": This track is from the group’s final album, Collapse Into Now. Until the inevitable reunion, this will stand as the last great single R.E.M. ever releases. Be Sure to Check out: The String Quartet Tribute to R.E.M. Available now at iTunes and Amazon The String Quartet Tribute to R.E.M. Vol. 2 Available now at iTunes and Amazon
Vitamin String Quartet will release an album of Decemberists covers this coming March. The track list for this album is as follows: