2011 Favorite Albums / 13. Patrick Stump, Soul Punk

Patrick Stump, Soul Punk
Music Math: (Fall Out Boy – everyone except Patrick Stump) x Prince

Best Tracks: “This City,” “Spotlight (New Regrets), Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers),” “Everybody Wants Somebody”

Representative Lyrics: “Step 1: Drink / Step 2: Make mistakes / Step 3: Pretend you don’t remember / Step 4: Drink a little more / Step 5: I need to run dry”

Notes: Many of you know I was devasted when my favorite emo band for 14-year-old girls broke up a bit ago, but my wounds have been healed by this release, which gives amazing vocalist Stump the ideal platform for his frenetic and funky brand of pop-rock. His voice is fully unleashed and is the star of the show, trumped (maybe) only by the note that Stump himself played every instrument on the album. Crazeballs! I saw him live this year and he is, truly, one of the most amazing live singers I’ve ever heard.

Beau’s Critique: “I love his voice, but this album is kind of lame.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 14. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
Music Math: (Peter Paul & Mary – Peter) + Ulysses S. Grant / Hell on Wheels

Best Tracks: “20 Years,” “I’ve Got this Friend,” “Barton Hollow”

Representative Lyrics: “I’m a dead man walking here / That’s the least of all my fears / Walk beneath the water”

Notes: Charmingly anachronistic duo The Civil Wars blend country, folk rolk, and bluegrass sounds with their perfect cross-gender harmonies. Both singers have beautiful solo voices, which we hear from time to time, but their real strength is their dueling melodies on tracks like “Barton Hollow,” which evokes the era of the actual Civil War more vividly than many elements of the war itself.

Beau’s Critique: “This album makes me want to commit suicide.”

2011 Favorite Albums / 15. Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some

Peter Bjorn and John, Gimme Some
Music Math: (The Hives – Green Day) + The Cars + Wakko from Animaniacs

Best Tracks: “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Second Chance” (awesome video above)

Representative Lyrics: “When you flew out of the nest / you made a mistake / flew all the way back”

Notes: In their effort to be constantly different than they used to be, Peter Bjorn and John released this fun little disc of anachronistic pop songs that feel like they could have appeared in just about any decade previous. The energy on the album is consistently high and the album doesn’t stray far from exquisitely crafted pop hooks, backbeats, and lyrics that are alternately vacant and pithy.

Beau’s Critique: “I kind of like that song now.”

2011 Favorite Albums!!

This year, instead of ganging up my favorite albums post into one loooong post, I’m going to unroll it one day at a time.

I winnowed the list down to just 15 albums (which was tough), so starting on 12/16, there’ll be a daily post featuring one of the albums and my take on it.

Epilogue: Ruby Classen on the Refound Joy of the Vinyl Record

Oh, Vinyl – Where are thou gone?

I admit it–I’m a closet vinyl lover! Not the kinky kind–we’re not talking zip up suits and strange masks–I mean honest-to-goodness 33 1/3 vinyl record albums. I grew up in the 70s and my parents had the classic record player console complete with mini bar. I would spend my days playing Weebles while listening to a Sesame Street soundtrack album or this nursery song two-record album set complete with large Bugs Bunny-esque character and his band of merry children. In the evenings, my parents would alternate between Dad’s country tunes (“donuts make my brown eyes blue”) and Mom’s Spanish albums (“El Sauz y la palma se mesen con calma”). I remember when I knew all the words before I even knew what they meant. The order of the songs played on those scratchy albums mattered the world to levels of anticipation and memory games.

Now – 30 some odd years later:

I bought a record player again, three years ago, before my son was born. Tried to find an appropriate place for it ’cause who knew record players could take up SO much room? We’ve gotten spoiled with CDs and MP3 players–heck, even a cassette player was NEVER this big. So it sat, under the console table, under the front room window. Until Saturday.

Vinyl albums have always taken me back to a special happy place. The mood was right. I set up the record player in the front room while my son played happily in a play tent with his Hot Wheels cars and Buzz Lightyear action figures. I dusted off the lid, wired up the speakers, cleared away cobwebs, and delicately took the cover off the record needle. Then I ran upstairs to where I knew half my collection sits in an old copy box relegated to the corner of the room under not one but two Boppy pillows and the box for my netbook. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I unearthed some favorites, focusing on “kid-friendly”: Motley Crue (not yet), Pat Benatar (soon), Tina Turner (SO NOT YET), The Muppet Movie Soundtrack (maybe), The Carpenters (do I want him to fall asleep yet?)–and then the motherload: my Monkees albums, all four of them (More of the Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., The Monkees Greatest Hits and Then & Now The Best of the Monkees).

Rushing downstairs, careful not to drop the precious cargo, I couldn’t wait to fire up the albums that made me laugh, sing, and dance when I was younger AND older.

As I set the needle on the first record, my son quieted down in his play tent. Then he peeked his head out. Then he stepped out and proceeded to dance his way around the room. He jumped and shook tiny fists into the air. He chased me, I chased him–I held him in my arms while I danced around the room, spinning him now and then just to hear him giggle. “Mary, Mary” is still a great groove and I can’t help but click over to Run DMC’s version featuring Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith fame. “Your Auntie Grizelda” with its quirky nonsensical odd mouth sounds by Peter Tork, never fails to make me laugh and apparently, in recreating them as best I could, made my son laugh as well. “Star Collector” has now earned a new name (“The Hello Song”) and is over requested by the 2 year old. And on and on: we danced, jumped on the couch, kicked a ball around (yes, inside the house), and eventually settled down over the final strains of “Kicks.” A four album morning playdate–and it couldn’t have been better, if it tried.

Ruby Classen (very-soon-to-be Harper) grew up in sunny Southern California with her inspiring, single mom and her younger brother. She now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her adorable and charismatic almost 3 year old son and their OLD little Pekingese dog. She anxiously awaits the arrival of her musician fiance from SoCal later this month. A dancer at heart, music has always moved her. She dances to the beat of his drum…happily ever after.

Charles Jensen on Tori Amos’s Scarlet’s Walk

This story begins and ends with heavy petting.

The author opted to start this way because recent studies show a majority of Americans enjoy thinking about heavy petting as much as they enjoy heavy petting itself. While the petting was indeed heavy in the first instance, the petting that begins this author’s story, it was also urgent—the urgent heavy petting of two people about to fall in love with each other, who haven’t fallen in love yet, but who want desperately to be in love with each other soon.

The author will slowly introduce the fact that these heavy petters are, in fact, both men. America is warming up to concepts of hot man-on-man action, if the legislature of the state of New York is any kind of litmus test. If you a sensitive reader, it is too late to caution you. The author apologizes if you’ve been scandalized by this revelation. Perhaps you were already imagining heavy petting featuring a particular person of the opposite sex. If that’s the case, the author will allow you to supplant one of the men in question with a person of your choice. But he also wants to encourage you to consider giving this heavy petting a chance on its own, to be assured, silently to yourself as you read, that two men can fall desperately in love with each other as you (perhaps) once did with someone else.

This takes place in a small living room in our solar system, on planet Earth, in the United States, in the state of Arizona, the city of Tempe, which rests just outside Phoenix. Yes, the lights are off. Yes, there are candles, and yes, they are scented. A stereo bleats is sad love-lorn notes through grizzled speakers carefully placed to maximize the surround of sound. The stereo clicks, changing CDs (for this was in the time of the CD).

The next CD plays: Tori Amos begins “Amber Waves” with “Well, he lit you up / like amber waves in his movie show.”

Meta moment: the amber light of the candles flickering as if through celluloid.

The two men, the author and his future love, kiss passionately on an unfolded futon in this light.

Their skin, when it appears in flashes from beneath their clothing, has an amber glow. In each other’s eyes they see the tiny lights of the candles reflected there like far-off stars. These men think to themselves they want to sail to these galaxies and be among those stars.

As the album continues, it leads the men through a journey. Scarlet’s Walk is ostensibly one woman’s journey across America.

On the cover art: Tori Amos stands paused on a country road—is it Oklahoma?—half-turned from the camera. One foot toward the sun. One foot pointing away. A light breeze threads its fingers through her hair.

In the next song, “A Sorta Fairytale,” the singer is on a California freeway, a state these two men will visit by car several times over the next three years. They cannot imagine these trips now. That one of them will end up on a hotel bed in San Francisco crying to the point of breathlessness cannot be known right now. That one of them will almost die in a one-car rollover accident cannot be known right now. “I didn’t know we could break a silver lining.”

The album moves forward: the up tempo “Wednesday” dissolves into the pensive “Strange,” haunted by vibraphones, and then “Carbon” with its icy drizzle of piano notes gathering into rhythmic waves of acoustic guitar and drums. “Carbon made only wants to be unmade” the way two men desperate to love each other want to be unmade, to be taken apart and studied, to be put back together. This is a way of loving. The author underlines this point.

“Wampum Prayer” appears. The a capella chanting may startle one or both of the men, coming suddenly after the first movement of the album. This is a turning point in the collection. “Don’t Make Me Come to Vegas,” Tori sings. In a few weeks, one of these men will visit Vegas without the other. He will think at the time it will be a chance for him to explore some other pastures, but all he does is miss the other, has a horrible time with his bitchy friends, calls often. The one in Vegas buys a mug for the other with London Bridge on it, a sight they visit along the way. It has the man’s name on it. The recipient keeps it for 9 years, 5 years longer than these two men kept each other.

“Sweet Sangria” arrives in its tightest dress and dancing shoes. It may or may not have brought along its pole. The men, in their petting, are negotiating a clothing reduction program, but it isn’t going well. One man wants to feel his skin on the other man’s skin. The other knows this is a slippery slope, that shedding a shirt leads to shedding pants, and shedding pants—well, the author is certain the reader won’t need a diagram.

“If the rain has to separate from itself / does it say / ‘Pick out your cloud’?” she sings in “Your Cloud.” The men, at an undetermined point in the future, will pool their belongings into a home. Framed pictures will appear on those walls, furniture arrives, and a domestic calm settles around them like a net through which they will see but feel they cannot move. Ultimately this net, initially what holds them together, they believe, will hold them back. From what, the author cannot say. They will separate. They will pick out their clouds. Their belongings, by this point, have lost their identities as “his” or “his.” The dog, just a puppy, they opt to share, but this arrangement doesn’t last long. The author had already named this dog Arden.

This was in the long, uncomfortable wake of September 11, so when “I Can’t See New York” fills the room, both men feel a great sadness weigh on them.

Folksy “Mrs. Jesus” leads into “Taxi Ride,” written for Kevin Aucoyn. “Just another dead fag to you / just another light missing on a long taxi line.” The line, its meaning, resonates. It is in this room one man will receive an anonymous voicemail in which a male caller threatens to rape the man in this story for being gay. But this night, months before that, is a night in which they feel safe together, unknown by the outside world. They are fully themselves.

The last four songs are another movement. The men leave behind the sadness of the last few songs. They have their lives to live. In this night, they are concerned with only each other, with the way this feels. The music fills the room like a liquid. Like a liquid, their lives will take the shape of the years they will share together. It always finds its own level. Things are good until they are no longer good. In ten years, they will not know each other anymore.

These last songs: wistful, knowing. The lush strings of “Gold Dust” enter: “Sights and sounds / pull me back down / another year.” At the end of things, the author knows he has loved and been loved. But things change. The past is not changed—the past stays back where it is and lets us go.

“How did it go so fast / you’ll say as we are looking back / and then we’ll understand / we held gold dust / in our hands.”

The author promised to end with heavy petting and will stay true to his word. This album, played so many nights while that futon warmed beneath the author and his soon-and-former love, became a tour the author attended at a venue down the street. He goes in, he listens to this performance, his first and only experience seeing her play live, playing many of the songs that have become inextricably linked to the telling of this story. He sits in his third balcony seat and looks down at her. He is thinking of his love when he hears these songs.

Somewhere in that auditorium is the man the author is going to marry.

Somewhere in that auditorium, listening to these same songs, loving this same album, is a man he will meet years down the road, whom he will meet at the worst possible time and under the worst possible circumstances. Someone the author will almost let pass by like a taxi he decides he does not need. Someone who will fall asleep during his first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Someone the author will realize is the man he has been looking for and, dear reader, unlike many movies, our author has this realization just before it is too late, before this good man has passed him by and left him alone with his record collection and his big empty bed and his dog, who has grown and grown and become a lady.

Somewhere in that auditorium, the author’s future is listening.

When they kiss, no music plays. The music is always there between them.