Waxed: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago

I was a little late to the Bon Iver party. While everyone was raving and ranting, I was busy listening to other things. When For Emma, Forever Ago began appearing on the "best of the year" lists for 2008, I started to take notice. When Daytrotter trotted out an excellent few recordings, and a very interesting and enjoyable article to boot, I decided it was time to listen.

Unfortunately, I shared an office with someone who's musical tastes didn't exactly mirror mine. And since Bon Iver were not American Idol finalists, the first strains of the Daytrotter session that I began playing one day were met with fierce disapproval. Rather than try to listen through the haze of discontented slurs, shouts, and verbal dismissals, I bowed out. And then I went down to my local record store (I love you, LUNA!) and bought For Emma, Forever Ago. If this many people loved it... well, it didn't have to be good. The people are sometimes very, very wrong (I am looking at you, Rolling Stone magazine, and you, American Idol viewers and listeners).

But sometimes, the masses are right. Granted, most of the "masses" that I was listening to for recommendations are places like Heather and her Fuel for Friends blog, and Aquarium Drunkard, and of course Daytrotter. These are valued and reputable sources for good music, at least so aligned with my tastes. And in this case, my trusty sources lead me not astray. Bon Iver is the real deal, and For Emma, Forever Ago is by far one of the best releases of 2008.

My first listen, in my car, left me intrigued. Not yet impressed or excited, but very intrigued. It wasn't until I got home, put the record on a shelf, and returned to it. It might have been a cold, rainy day, and if it wasn't, it should've been. When I put the disc in my home stereo and hit play, that was when the record grabbed me. It hasn't let go since.

When that first rising crest of harmonized vocals in "The Wolves" hit, I was hooked. From the opening strums of "Flume" to the acoustic guitar fading out on album closer "Re: Stacks," For Emma, Forever Ago is a classic album. The album cover, with its wintery, dirty window look, is a perfect picture of what's inside, of the haunting melodies and found sounds and gentle acoustic strums that will soon grace your ears. Hipsters might call this Indie-Folk. I just call it great.

"Flume" begins the record with that gentle acoustic, along with slight keyboard flourishes and a strange, warbling sound that sounds like a stringed instrument being manipulated with a magnet. And of course, that voice, familiar and haunting, quiet and whispery and passionate. All manner of aural treats make this record a pleasure to listen to, be it buzzing strings or gorgeous and fresh-sounding vocal harmonies. It is a very organic record.

There are many twists and turns throughout the album, like the buzzing instrumental break in "Flume" or the lilting voices and volume swells in "Lump Sum." It's full of organic sounds. It is a folk record through and through, but something more new than old. It borrows from the rich folk lineage of American song, but not the songs themselves, as is so common with folk releases. Here are new tales of love and the cold and the Midwest. "And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind," sings Justin Vernon (who is Bon Iver de facto) in "Skinny Love." "Who will love you, who will fight?" Is he singing to a lover who jilted him, or is he singing to himself? Doesn't matter, because it is affecting and effective either way.

I wish I could highlight a favorite track for you, dear readers, but I can't. I can't because every track seems to be my favorite - I feel like a kid in an aural candy store. Or an addict, and Bon Iver is my dealer of sweet nothings and electric highs. I wonder along with Mr. Vernon as he sings "What might have been lost?"

Who knows, really. All I know is that I am glad Justin Vernon retreated to cabin in Wisconsin to write and record this gritty collection of songs. Bon Iver - a mispelling in French of the term "good winter" - weaves tale after tale, in dulcet and majestic acoustic tones. The hushed vocals of "Blindsided" make is sound as if we're hearing a fairy tale, just one on one, in a room with the storyteller. The soft drums, chirping guitar, and drifting vocals are deceptive in "Creature Fear," as the chorus explodes (for this record, anyway) in a swell of chugging guitars and driving snare. There's even a hint of fuzzy electric guitar and bass in there to drive things along as the song segues into the track "Team."

For Emma, Forever Ago stays mostly quiet and reserved, it's nine songs much like a journey, like a walk outside to clear your head on a cool and crisp winter day, the cold biting at the tip of your nose, but your thoughts warm and comforting in your head. Other times, the music sounds like the perfect companion to brandy and a fireplace. Even when, in "For Emma," Justin sings "go find another lover to bring up, to string along," there's a warmth and joy built into the music. The horns accompanying "For Emma" remind me a little of "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, and the comparison isn't a bad one - if you like Neutral Milk Hotel, you'll find some common ground here as well.

"Re: Stacks" might be one of the most straightforward songs on the album, but is also one of the best, a strong, vibrant piece of songwriting that breathes with energy and emotion, even as it is relaxed and reserved. It pleasantly reminds me of walking down cold Columbus, Ohio streets in winter, hand in hand with my lover, watching the world unfurl around us.

And I could say that for the whole record - it's like a cold walk with a loved on, or a warm fireplace by yourself, wondering why you are alone but not really worried how. It is a record of reflection and remembering. It is also a record worth owning, and listening to, over and over. After listening to it almost every day for the past two weeks, and a bit before that, too, I can tell you it's a record that reveals itself slowly, and only gets better the more your listen to it.

This isn't a record for your winter (or summer) of discontent. It's a warm, soulful record for walks and drives, for rainy days at home, for your own reflection. See yourself in For Emma, Forever Ago, and go and see the world through the eyes of a dirty, wintery window. It's about life and living it, and this makes for part of an excellent soundtrack to that great journey.


Waxed: Jason Isbell's Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The first time I listened to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the newest release from ex-Drive-By Truckers guitarist/singer/songwriter Jason Isbell, I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed. At first listen, I thought his latest record lacked the fire of his first solo release, 2007's Sirens In The Ditch. But headphones don't lie. It wasn't until I gave the record another chance, sitting at my desk at work with my headphones on, that the beauty, power, and stunning grace of the record readily became apparent. Songs like "Sunstroke" and "Cigarettes and Wine" are slow simmers, songs you need to be immersed in for them to take hold. Much like the south where Isbell hails from.

I don't want to saddle Isbell with the same agenda that Trucker's captain Patterson Hood seems to push - the whole "dichotomy of the southern thing" deal, which is charming and lends his songs a kind of launching point for understanding. Isbell doesn't seem to be making such a claim or even functioning from trying to explain how or why the south works. Rather, he just seems to be writing about what he sees, where he lives, what those people do. It's not clear how much of the characters on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are from Jason Isbell's own life, and how many have just been observed or created, but they all feel real. Which makes the record feel real, dirty and gritty.

The album also rocks harder, but in a more subtle way. "However Long," "Good," and "Soldiers Get Strange" all have a fiery burn. This isn't Truckers-style stomp, but a more relaxed, bluesier sound. I recall when the record first came out, the first review I read of it was on the Onion's A.V. Club, where the folks who comment get a little rowdy, there's a thousand trolls, and most people either act like hipsters or make fun of acting like hipsters. The greatest stone thrown at the new record was that it wasn't as good as the DBT's, or as good as Isbell's first record, or wasn't alt-country enough. Someone compared Isbell to Ryan Adams, but only to say we already had one Ryan Adams, and he's a better songwriter, and this kind of music wasn't good enough to need competitors. And they all seemed to lack the clarity of thought that might had come with time - with giving a record time.

Sometimes I review new records a month or more after their release. Sometimes it's much more than that. Some records take longer to get comfortable with. And, to me, that's an accomplishment by artist, to make an album that isn't just an immediate pay off, but one that grows on you and has a life of its own. Some records are about impact - but Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is a sleeper. Isbell's new record is also a keeper.

Isbell chooses to end the record with "The Last Song I Will Write," a slow burning ballad with some nice guitar work and some lingering, floating instruments in the solo break, and Isbell's typical everyman lyrical understanding. It's as good as some of the great songs he wrote while in the Drive-By Truckers. And it's great in its own right, too. A perfect closer, it manages to capture the entire feel of the album, as well as Isbell's career so far, and looks to the promise of more to come (or so we hope - I certainly hope it isn't the last song he will write, nor think that it should be). The warmth and fire of the whole record is brought home by the song's coda, ringing out with crashing cymbals and warm, earthy guitars and organ.

Much like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's tales of lovers wronged, work to be done, and everyday people, Isbell has a long way yet to go to establish himself as a premier songwriter and performer in today's musical climate. Thankfully, though, with records like this one, it'll be more of a matter of getting heard, rather than creating great material. Because albums like this one are keepers.

Now if the tour would only stop in Indiana...


Waxed: Bob Mould's Life and Times

The first time I heard "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," I knew I was going to buy the new Bob Mould album Life and Times the day it came out. The moment I put it in the cd player, and "Life and Times," the title track and first song on the record, started up, I knew the record has great. I let the album spin, getting a first taste, a first impression. Little bits kept catching my attention - a sharp lyric here, a trademark guitar lick there, that unmistakeable voice, now even more mature and wise, and those unspeakably wonderful guitar tones, acoustic and electric.

From the first percussive snaps of acoustic guitar in "Life and Times," are just a precursor to the emotional fury that is coming, both in the first song and the whole album. "You're taking me back to the places I've left behind," Mould sings, "the old life and times." By now, Mould has mastered taking on old, festering romantic wound and turning it into expert pop songcraft. "Life and Times" kicks of this album with a bang.

"I know Superman couldn't stop the rain from find it's way in," Bob sings on "The Breach," and the hits just keep on coming. If you are looking for a mature album dealing with loss and heartbreak, you'd be hard pressed to find a better new release than Life and Times.

The album seems to borrow on all of Bob's career post-Husker Du. The acoustic songcraft of Workbook, the charged up electric alternative rock of Sugar, and the electronic sounds of Modulate and parts of his more recent records are all here. "City Lights (Days Go By)" benefits with the swirling keyboard accents that color the chorus. In fact, the song is a beautiful amalgamation of the best of Mould's talents. "City Lights" even contains a bit of the buried vocals we've come to know and love from Mould's best work, but so much as they were in the past.

The album benefits from a quick pace that keeps it surging forward, picking up steam as it goes. "MM 17" keeps things up, but "Argos" sounds like a lost Sugar gem, and has some of the Husker Du energy. It's pure pop-punk ecstacy, and at 2:03, it's the shortest song on the album. You're going to want to repeat it several times - it's that good.

"Bad Blood Better" begins with electronic string swells before quickly switching into acoustic ballad mode. "You deny that there's a problem," Bob sings, "you left your hand print on my face." The message gets through - when this is all the love you've got, "bad's blood better than no blood at all." The emotions Mould wrings from his old soul, and mature voice, makes this song hit you everywhere - the head, the heart, the gut, the groin. When you're hoping to God you die happy... it's as real and as personal as it gets. The Bob let's us in this close is astonishing, daring, and brilliant. He tops off the song with an energetic, angry blast of a guitar solo.

Life and Times really sounds like a mature, full, and important work - a statement. The type of things a younger or less experienced songwriter might be embarrassed to say, Mould shouts and whispers, out front and in your face. As dark as the record is - and it is, it is hard and dark and cold and rough like hate-sex - it's still punctuated by Mould's own very survival. The fact that he lives these cataclysmic heartbreaks, and keeps walking upright and proud (at least, after awhile...), this is where the hope and positive energy is in this record. Trust me, as off as that might sound, that Mould has survived to keep writing these diary entry and sniper shot songs makes you swell with pride. The two-punch blast of "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" reinforce this notion - the musical peaks and valleys of the record not only keep it moving along, but keeps it interesting from a storytelling standpoint, too.

By the time you get to "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," you're ready to admit all your failed love affairs, too. The internal reflection Bob brings to light in this song is staggering - it's an anthem for any lover, any where, who's ever been sad, broken, jilted, left behind, or moving on... just about anyone who isn't at this moment in a perfect relationship can relate. And those of us wistful individuals who like to hold on to our paths, it's a siren song call-to-arms. "Why I always find the broken ones, what does this say about me?" - he cuts to the bone. "I tried to heal you, I tried to fix you, I tried to show you compassion... I tried to listen, I tried to love you even though you were broken." It might be the most honest song of his career, a lifetime full of honest, heart-wrenching songs.

The record comes full circle with the closing track, "Lifetime." It is the longest and most electronic-sounding song on the album, but creates a unique atmosphere with it's fuzzy keyboard swells and xylophone pings. It's another brave step forward for an artist who never shies from taking chances with his art. The whole album builds to this moment - a lifetime of heartache, heartbreak, loneliness... and trying again, starting over, and moving on.

The last impression after several listens to Bob Mould's Life and Times is that is more than just a mature work by a mature artist. It's more like a cross section of an artist's tortured soul. There is nothing here to pity, nothing here to raise up emotionally - it's a factual statement. This is what love can do to you - it's part and parcel of throwing yourself out there to see what happens. The matter-of-fact nature of the lyrics and Mould's delivery and sincerity make it a joy and pleasure to not only listen to, but recollect and reflect with, too. Musically, it's one of Mould's strongest efforts - it sounds unrushed and comfortable while sounding fresh and energetic. If this record isn't proof that Mould isn't one of the greatest songwriters walking the earth, I don't know what is.

Do yourself a favor, buy it. Burn a copy for your car and for work. Just in case. Keep it for those trying, emotional days. Turn it up, way fucking loud, and revel in the fact that there's another soul out there like you who wants love, doesn't understand it, and keeps fighting for it tooth and nail. And when times are good, know you'll always have a friend waiting if they crash, a friend called Life and Times.


I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore - The Genius of Bob Mould

What makes a songwriter so good? What bit of their personality and their life experience makes their particularl brand of songcraft go beyond good to brilliant?

Rarely if ever do I consider my influences. Most of the time, it is much easier - and truthfully to the point - to just say I am influenced by any and all music I hear. After all, if I hate a song, I am not likely to copy it or borrow from it, and if I do, I'll be changing it in a way that allows me to not hate the part I steal. But, rarely do I discuss in depth some real influence, whether apparent or not, that reaches beyond just words and fingers on a fretboard, and mixes with the soul.

Nick Hornby, in the beginning of his collection of essay entitled Songbook, begins describing a way of discussing music that transcends and is apart from emotion (or so it seems - I haven't finished the book). In a way, Hornby seems to suggest that the best music is not temporal - it exists as an expertly crafted tune aside from and without our personal experience and memories attached to it. He even goes so far as to say that people who only like a song for its way of helping them recall a particular memory or moment or feeling, don't truly like music at all. They just like to be reminded of that moment.

I like Hornby the writer, but for the most part think that the last part of that statement, that people who like a song for emotional or temporal reasons don't really like music, is dead wrong, stupid, prickish, elitist and pompous (which describes most of the way people think about me and my music elitism, by the way). I think songs can be great because of our emotions and connections to memories. And yes, maybe that makes writing about them more memoir than discussion of what a collection of aural instances combine to make one excellent-no-matter-how-I-feel almight fuck of a rock song (or blues, jazz, whatever). But we need emotion, and music is one of the best forms of communicating human emotion and humanity itself - love, loss, and so on.

It struck me today as I listened to Workbook, The Last Dog and Pony Show, and Besides - all albums by Bob Mould or one of his groups (in this case, Sugar) - that Bob Mould is a huge influence on me and my music. My next thought was of Hornby's book, though, and what my emotional connection to Bob Mould's music was. And I realized that one of the points that Hornby makes was spot on - music is truly great when it transcends our emotions and temporal connections to it, and becomes great to us all the time. And that is when I realized: Bob Mould is a fucking fantastic songwriter, all broken bones and stomped on hearts and rage and fury. But for me, despite how much I really relate to his music, his music is timeless, not temporal. And I now realize how big of an influence on my songwriting he truly is, and how great his music really is, on a scale that can't be measured by how I feel or felt when I listen/listened to it for the first/current time.

Let me explain another way: Pearl Jam is my favorite band of all time. I have made this statement a half a dozen million times. And, frankly, it might still be true. But it might not be, either. Because, for some of Peal Jam's music, it just doesn't do anything for me anymore. Ten sounds dated to me now - I still love it, but it is attached to my memories of a time and place. Vitalogy, on the other hand, is a remarkable album that has stuck with me. Yes, it is a hard album, and I find it uplifting because its sound of struggle. I do have memories wrapped around the first time I heard it, my discussions with friends about it, and so on and so forth... but those aren't the first things that come to my mind when I hear those songs. My first thought is to turn it up. Loud.

The same can be said for No Code and Pearl Jam's self-titled record (or, if you will, "Avacado"). Or Son Volt's Trace, or "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin, or "Castles Made of Sand" by Hendrix. Some Beatles songs remind me of my ex-fiance. Some remind me of their greatness and nothing else. (quite a few make me miss Lennon.)

I discovered Bob Mould via The Last Dog and Pony Show (LDPS from here on in), sitting in the "Top Shelf" rack at WIUS AM 1570 Student Radio at the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. There it was, mixed in with so much thoughtless music - sugary pop, avant noise rock, the latest indie darlings. Don't get me wrong, some of that "top shelf" was really good. I met a lot of bands there that I still have a love affair with today. I also met a lot of bands that I would've revoked their right to make "music" right then and there. Anyway... there it was. The Last Dog and Pony Show. Supposedly the last big, loud Bob Mould album. I didn't even know who this guy was. But I found out, and right quick, too. It wasn't long before Beaster by Sugar was in constant rotation on my radio show, and other treats by Mould, Sugar, and Husker Du.

Beaster and LDPS enchanted me. I loved the songs, loved the guitar sound - God, that guitar sound! - loved the open nature of the lyrics. It was emotional, visceral, real. Real human pain, real human triumph, real human glory, real human struggle. And I soaked it all in. The sad thing was, like most records I love, these weaved their way in and out of my life. I loved it when I remembered them... but my constant diet of new music left me putting them back on my shelf, usually only to be retrieved whenever I might hear a tune on the radio or hear about a new release.

As time has moved on, though, my record collection has grown, and I've added to it some important Bob Mould albums. Copper Blue, Workbook, Besides, and File Under: Easy Listening are all there to be listened to in my collection. I've been searching out Husker Du records, trying to find ones that aren't listed at $18.99 or $19.99 (this is hard to do, by the way - apparently wanting to listen to older music from Minneapolis has it's price - The Replacements' records seem to have this problem, as well. No word as of yet on old Soul Asylum.). Bob Mould's new solo record, Life and Times, is pre-ordered and should hit my doorstep sometime this week.

But it was Nick Hornby's opening essay in Songbook, and the first single off of Life and Times, "I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," that really made me reconsider Bob Mould and his music in a different light. As in, not just enjoyable pop music, or genre-changing cornerstones, or part-inventor of alternative rock. But as an influence, as a major influence, and as music that has stayed relevant and important since the day I heard it. And I can't deny it anymore. There is no emotional involvement for me with this music. As emotional and soul-baring as it is, I've never made that personal connection. BUT, despite that - maybe even because of it - this is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Bob Mould is a major influence, a fantastic songwriter, a musical icon and more. His songs do hit home, and hit home hard. It's just that I've never really used his music to "get through" anything. It's too good for that. It's too good to just borrow to deal with pain or swoon with love, and then discard once I've internalized or moved on from whatever situation merited the need for some serious emotional ass-kicking. "Moving Trucks" could have been the greatest song for moving my ex-girlfriend out (or for her, as she was moving out). But it wasn't, because it was too good for that.

There are happier songwriters, better singers, more technically gifted guitarists. Still, the stew that Mould has cooked up for us as listeners time and time again is superior than so much music out there.

I'm not sure what makes it a cut above the rest, exactly. Maybe all things that are transcendent are that way - that's why they transcend, because we can't describe why, or how, or what. They're just great. And Bob Mould is just great. In whatever moment you find yourself in - personal or otherwise.


Waxed: Whiskeytown's Stranger's Almanac

From the opening notes - hell, from the first little hammer-on - of "Inn Town," you just know something special has arrived. Let's not even get into the fiddle strains and sparse guitar. For God's sakes, we've got a classic on our hands before the little shit even starts singing...

That's bound to be your reaction to Stranger's Almanac if you have any good music sense at all. Whiskeytown released this classic alternative country album on the world in 1997, and if you haven't heard it yet, you don't know what you're missing. There is just something, some sound that Ryan Adams, Caitlin Cary, and Phil Wandscher make together, that is priceless, timeless and perfect. Here the trio of singers/songwriters/musicians do their best to break your own heart tonight, and I'll be damned if they don't do it on every song.

Starting with the instant classic "Inn Town" is a good way to start. The aforementioned beginning doesn't even speak to how incredible this song is - musically, lyrically, totally. How could a kid, a young punk like Ryan Adams was at the time, write a song this good? "Parking lot, movie screen/ I can't feel anything/ Cigarette, beat up t.v./I can't feel anything," he sings, and you feel it. THEN the harmony vocals kick in, and suddenly you're a Whiskeytown fan... for life. If you can find a better tale of broken, lonely small town life, I'd be impressed. But you won't. "I can't say anything without dreaming," Adams casually tosses out, before returning to that perfect harmony chorus - "Now that I'm Inn Town."

It get's better. "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight" is so much more than a broken down country song, and that's before you find out it's a duet with ace Texas singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. Not to mention the incredible steel guitar playing - Adams, Cary, and Wandscher benefitted greatly from the cast of studio musicians that helped record the album, in between bands as the trio that was the backbone of Whiskeytown was. And with lines like, "Well excuse me if I break my own heart tonight/ some things are born too strong, they have to learn how to fight/ the situation keeps me drinking every goddamn day and night," there's a deep maturity to the heartbroken hard country of the song.

It is a shame that most of us didn't catch on to Whiskeytown and their cache of excellent albums until after the band dissolved and Adams went on to do his solo career. Songs like "Yesterday's News," pure Stones-y rock from Wandscher mixed with Adams' pure songteller sensibilities explode with both energy and innocence that frankly is missing from the latter's solo work, at least in such staggering quantity and quality as is found on Whiskeytown's brief, precious output.

"Got sixteen days/ fifteen of those nights/can't sleep when the bedsheet fights/ it's way back to your side," Adams sings on "16 Days." Somehow, the three culprits of this criminally excellent music managed to mix their superb musicianship and warm vocal harmonies around this boy-wonder's songs that are far too good, and far too lived-in, for his age. "Well your ghost has got me runnin' away from you." The album maintains it's strong start right through "Everything I Do," a forlorn lover's tale and an expert mixture of country ballad and soulful rocker. In fact, the way Whiskeytown mixes several genres of music can't be overstated. In some ways, they are as much a Rosetta Stone for the alternative country genre/culture as Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. And just as deserving of praise.

"Houses on the Hill" is somber and sweet and tired and aching, the three singers voices intertwining in just the right places. It's the sound Ryan would mine almost exclusively for his first so album Heartbreaker, but instead of the intensely personal, this song is a story about somebody else's life, and that what makes it so sad and relatable. We've all known a broken widow, a woman left without because of some other man's war. "Turn Around" starts out gentle enough before churning into a raging storm of a rocker. It's also as good a place as any to sit back and just enjoy guitarist Phil Wandscher's excellent guitar playing, as well as the myriad tones he strangles out of his instrument throughout the record. His playing takes a simple folk song and makes it something extraordinary. Adams hasn't had a sideman or co-contributor as gifted as Wandscher since Whiskeytown, and that's evident here.

"Dancing with the Women at the Bar" is another song Adams should be too young to write, but he does it anyway. He's proven himself an expert at capturing human emotion at it's gritty best and worst, and this song is no exception. Not to be overlooked, either, is Caitlin Cary's solid contribution. I'm waiting for the day that Adams and Cary cut a record together, supporting each other and meeting on common ground. I might be waiting a while, but if it happens, the flashes of brilliance on this record proves it'll be worth the wait.

Stranger's Almanac continues its excellent song cycle on "Waiting to Derail," and open, cascading tune, reminiscent of U2 without being derivative. While Adams solo work frequently gets compared to other artists and he is sometimes called a copycat, it's hard to saddle Whiskeytown with such a claim - they manage to make their songs sound uniquely like Whiskeytown, whether because of the myriad of styles they've mastered or the unique gifts, tones, and sounds each of the three primary members contributes.

Adams refered to "Avenues" as "everyone's favorite Whiskeytown song" in an interview in No Depression magazine, and it's no slouch of a song, for sure. It's sweet and self-assured, a soft tune full of warmth and a bit of innocence that Adams could still convincingly deliver, and contains his trademark haphazard bad language that litters his later work. But "Losering" is the tune I return to time and time again. Whether because of the off-kilter nature of the song, or the harmony vocals, or just the strange way it builds, trickling at first and never becoming a full raging river, it's a favorite. Maybe it's Cary's violin playing, which I can never seem to get enough of. Maybe it's just because there's no such word as "losering." No matter, it sets a great mood for the end of the album, beginning the bookend to an excellent statement by a young, up and coming band.

"Somebody Remembers the Rose" returns to the slow, melodic country-rock burn this band does so well early on, hooky and full of ear candy without overpowering the affecting, simple tune. The atmospheric strains that kick of "Not Home Anymore," the albums closing track, borrow from the eerie mood of "Losering" in a familiar way, and the song wraps up everything great about Stranger's Almanac - the expert violin touches, the tasteful guitar tones and elegant playing, the harmonies to die for, and the finely crafted touches of the studio musicians who helped round out the lineup for the recording of the album. It's not the surefire hit that some of the other songs would be in a perfect world, but it's a competent and fitting album closer, more like an accessory to a great gift than the gift itself. It does speak to some of Ryan's later work, especially the low key moody rock he would explore fully on Love is Hell.

It's rumored that the band recorded over 30 songs for Stranger's Almanac, and I have to wonder, what haven't we heard? What would we have heard had this great band survived to record not one more, but half a dozen more albums? Would the talents and contributions of Cary and Wandscher have been enough to temper the mad genius of Adams, into making more concentrated, fleshed-out and complete songs as are evident here? Looks like we'll never know. But for what it is worth, Stranger's Almanac is one hell of an album, for Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, alt-country, and/or otherwise. Give it a spin and welcome yourself to a whole world of deep, passionate music you might be missing. You won't regret it.


Kings of Leon's Only By The Night

On my first listen to the Kings of Leon, I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed. It wasn't that they were bad. They just didn't strike me in a lasting way. You know how sometimes the moment or context in which you hear a band makes a difference in how you view or think about or feel about that band? You could say the first time I heard the Kings of Leon, at least the first time that mattered, was surrounded by a case of context, or rather, a lack there of.

As is occasionally wont to happen, however, another time came when it was of use to me to hear Kings of Leon. And maybe even listen to them. Of course, it was because of a girl. She recommended I check the band out. So I bought the first album that broke them to a large audience, Aha Shake Heartbreak. I gave it a spin in my car, but again wasn't very struck by any lasting impression. I was told by my lady friend, however, to try their latest, Only by the Night.

This time, something clicked.

It may have been the two songs she recommended, that we listened to on the way home from dinner, "Notion" and "Sex On Fire." It may have been her. Hell, who knows. For whatever reason, I got it, finally.

My first impression was that this band had found some cross section of .38 Special, U2, and white-boy Stones soul. The sound of Only by the Night is recognizable, familiar to a fan of rock and roll. The singer's voice recalls someone, I'm not sure who, and that might be the point - it's familiar enough to sound comfortable, and different enough to sound engaging.

The album kicks off with "Closer," a song that reminds me musically of something R.E.M. would have done on New Adventures In The Hi-Fi, and I mean that in a good way (it reminds me a bit of the siren call keyboard wail present in "Leave" from that album). The guitars echo U2 (pun intended) and singer Caleb Followill does his best soul impressions. "Crawl" harkens back to later-era Led Zep, funky and a bit synthy-sounding. The album's first outstanding track is it's third one, though: "Sex On Fire."

The opening, off-kilter guitar notes turn into a funky, danceable rhythm that drives the song forward to it's first anthemic chorus. Wailed vocals couple with the driving rhythms and reverb-drenched guitars that soar in the way that the best work from The Edge does. The lyrics match, vaguely describing sex in an open, echoing kind of way, capturing more the feeling of being wrapped up in someone physically than the physical sex acts one might perform or experience during the process. This anthemic quality continues on the next track, "Use Somebody." It's apparent that the Kings deliberately continued their shift from garage rock to a more accessible sound, but that sound serves them very well, especially on "Use Somebody." It may be dipping far too shamelessly into the U2 well, but that matters little when the results sound this good. "Use Somebody" builds on the quality of "Sex On Fire" with a thunderous, rousing torchsong. The lyrics are again vague, but to great effect here - the lack of detail makes the song easy to relate to, easy to get cozy with. Everyone can connect with the feeling of wanting someone, and further needing to feel wanted. The song mixes things up appropriately with a small bridge and a nice, if basic, guitar solo - again, the kind of fret work you'd expect from the Edge - before closing out the song.

The rest of the album follows these trends. There's little to match them to their garage roots, and more to point towards modern contemporaries like Coldplay, just with less keyboards/piano. This strikes me as odd, now, given my initial .38 Special comparison, which seems kind of knee-jerk after repeated listens.

What may speak loudly for the universal enjoyment of the record, though, may be this: a colleague of mine (from my day/real job) has recently become intranced with the band's music, particularly Only by the Night. Of course, it's because of a boy (and no, certainly not me). Some sweet something passed her a copy of the record. She listened and fell in love. Now our office, a large room with several cubicles, is filled daily with the sounds of Kings of Leon, sometimes hearing this most recent record two or three times in one day. I quickly passed my co-worker Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times, in hopes of getting some variety mixed in. To wit, that hasn't happened yet, but that still hasn't dulled my interest and enjoyment in the band.

So if someone with complete opposite tastes than mine can get into it, it's got to be good, right? There are other great songs on the record, particularly "Revelry," "Notion," and "Be Somebody" and "Cold Desert," the tracks that aptly close the album. Only by the Night has a certain coldness to it - the wet, swampy reverb sound of Pink Floyd, just icier at times. Thankfully, it also has a bit of old school warmth to it, as well, in the soulful vocals as well as obvious classical (as in classic rock) elements of the music. If you wanted to listen to the Kings of Leon, this is the album to get. It's an enjoyable and at times moving listen, and far more deserving of the damning review websites like Pitchfork gave it. Yes, Kings of Leon may be a trendy pick of hipsters everywhere, but they ruin everything - just don't let them ruin your appreciation of a fine album by a truly good band.


The End is the Beginning is the End - Ten Lives On

The end is the beginning is the end. That's how it goes sometimes. In relationships,

in life, in work and play. And in music.

“I’ll ride the wave where it takes me,” Eddie Vedder sings in “Release,” the closing tune from Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten. “I’ll hold the pain/ release me.” As the band rises and falls like the waves of an unbound, unchained ocean, so does Vedder’s voice, carrying with it hope, pain, love, loss, life.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this record. I was, what, 14 years old? I had heard “the buzz” about Pearl Jam as I had first begun to discover rock music. My first records were common Top 40 fare at the time, some of it good and some bad – Clapton’s Unplugged being good, All 4 One the bad, and the Spin Doctors somewhere comfortably in between.

Then I heard kids at school talking about Nirvana and Metallica, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. So I listened. And while Pearl Jam was not my first entry into grunge/alternative/’90’s rock, they would grow to become my favorite band, slowly and surely. And it all started with Ten.

My mother and I had cooked up some cockamamie scheme to join those wonderful by-mail music clubs, BMG and Columbia House. I joined one, she joined the other, and the crux of the deal was that if her club had something I wanted, she would order that, and I would order something she wanted from my club.

What I wanted was Ten and Vs. (She, justifiably so, wanted Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits. You go mom.) So we ordered them. And I waited.

And waited. And, in a move that quietly mirrored the rest of my life to come, I grew impatient. So… I rushed out and bought a whole slew of “singles” at Wal-Mart. For a short while in the ‘90’s, you could buy actual singles from a band at Wal-Mart. Now bands don’t even put them out, it seems. But most of the big alternative/grunge bands did. Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were all waiting with mini two and three and four song samplers, mixed in there with the Boyz II Men and All 4 One and Madonna and other pop records in the Singles section of the Wal-Mart Music Department.

I couldn’t wait. I bought the singles to “Oceans” and “Jeremy,” both off of Ten, and "Daughter,” off of Vs. I wanted the “Even Flow” single, but they were sold out. It and

“Alive” and “Go” and “Animal” and “Dissident” would all come later.

For now, I listened to these songs, the live versions of “Why Go” and “Alive” and “Deep” (all off of the “Oceans” single), and “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Footsteps,” b-sides from “Jeremy” that have become legendary in the Pearl Jam catalog, “Yellow Ledbetter” especially. I literally soaked my soul in these songs. I devoured them with the hunger that only a 14 year old knows when they first discover love, emotional and physical, and time, and reason, and… music.

So it was with some excitement when those CDs finally arrived. I checked the mailbox everyday, hoping they would come before we left for our summer vacation to go horseback riding and camping in Brown County Stare Park. I was overjoyed when, on a whim, I asked dad to let me check the mail as we were pulling out of the driveway, horses and camper in tow, on our way to Brown County, Indiana.

And there, in the mailbox, was the cardboard box containing my prize, my treasures. I think I put in Vs. first, truth be told, and I listened to it over and over again on my Sony Discman. The drive from our place in Mooresville to Brown County was about two hours or so. When we arrived, the headphones came off and I had to help set up camp.

By the time we were finished, nighttime was falling. As we were always wont to do, my family planned vacations with other families who had horses, usually the folks that we showed horses with during the summers (and 4-H). As it were, my first crush and by this time my first girlfriend was among the families we showed and camped with. And, with our camp set up, and set about doing another haunting habit that rests with me still: waiting for her to show up.

Now, this was about a year before I started playing guitar, so there wasn’t much to do other than kick around rocks, ride a horse, or listen to my headphones. The choice was easy. I popped in Ten, pressed play, and walked up to the guard/registration house at the opening of the campgrounds. I found a picnic table, sat down and waited. It was there that I first heard the opening notes of “Even Flow.”

Since then, I’ve been hooked. Like the opening “song,” “Master/Slave,” a strange drum and bass tune that ebbs and flows with bristling, concealed energy, like some sultry temptation, so has my life and love of Pearl Jam.

“Once upon a time, I could control myself,” Vedder sings as guitarist Stone Gossard pumps out one of his trademark slinky, funk-based riffs, like water sliding over glass, then cascading into the band charging through the chorus of “Once”. This eventually gives way to Mike McCready, the band’s lead guitarist who’s work instantly defines nearly every song he plays on. His fiery guitar solo on “Once” announced that Pearl Jam was squarely in the classic rock tradition, that their heroes were the icons of the seventies like Zeppelin, Kiss, Sabbath, The Who, and Hendrix.

“Even Flow” set such a standard for the band, the funk-based riffery, liquid guitar leads and driving bass all as much a hallmark of the PJ sound as Vedder’s soaring and sometime incomprehensible lyrical delivery. And this from a band that hadn’t yet fulfilled its potential, and had barely had time to solidify its lineup. Drummers would come and go over the next few years, but this mattered little, so strong were Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, and Vedder’s stranglehold on the band’s signature sound.

All of that came to a head on the album’s most celebrated song, the anthem “Alive.” Though this song is ultimately about incest and confusion, it was widely misinterpreted as a claxon-like call for survival for Gen-Xers in the rough and tumble, rapidly changing 1990’s. It’s call of “I’m still alive” can still be heard echoing wherever the band plays live. Over the years, the song took on a life of it’s own, with even Vedder acquiescing to his fans over the anthem-like quality, bring more positive energy to the song than ever before. What was a semi-autobiographical story for him became the rallying cry for legions of confused twenty-somethings.

“Why Go” was anchored by Ament’s thunderous bass, and used the trademark liquid riffs coupled with big open guitar chords to fine effect as Vedder vamped about a troubled teen locked away. It also continued McCready’s string of stinging, blues-influenced lead guitar solos.

But it was “Black” that I found myself coming back to, again and again, in my later teenage years and into college, when heartbreak had come a-knockin’ on my door. This ballad in E (wink wink for those of you in the know…) showcased not only the melodic, softer side of the band, but also Vedder’s terrific writing skills. While most of the protagonists in Pearl Jam’s songs have battles to fight or wounds to tend, they usually tended to have hope. In “Black” Vedder deviates from the hope-saves-us-all formula to turn in one of the few songs that ever truly captures the emptiness that comes from lost love. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his voice echoes each painful stroke of the lyrics with its own dripping passion and anguish.

“Jeremy” would be another hit for a band that was looking more and more like a hit-making machine. When the dynamic, visually grabbing video was put into regular rotation on MTV, it would help skyrocket the band to success. The tale of the schoolboy seeking solace in his only escape is both harrowing, and yet, still told with a strange grain of hope – Jeremy does get the last word, after all.

“Oceans” would find the band again quieting down, this time for a ballad that expertly captures that wateriness of the song’s titled. A favorite of mine since I began listening, “Oceans” almost sounds like waves, or sometimes air, and its story of lovers longing to touch is one any adolescent teen – or lonely college boy, or adult man looking for answers – can relate to.

Another concert favorite would be delivered in “Porch,” a song that when performed live (on SNL and MTV’s Unplugged) Vedder would use to deliver whatever message was on his mind at the moment. Though it has changed over the years, it’s still a favorite, and features more push-and-pull tactics from the band, combining their ‘70’s rock influences with the elasticity of funk and rhythm and blues. All this, and still sounding like modern alternative rock.

On “Garden,” the band would use clean, hushed verses to build ambiance, then thunder in with big choruses. The floating guitar interplay between Stone and Mike would foretell many great guitar moments to come – Pearl Jam are nothing if not masters of wonderful musical bridges – and provided more pyrotechnics after the already dynamic and charging “Porch.”

Vedder would tackle drug use and it’s various consequences on “Deep,” a scorch, warbling rocker with a trademark off-kilter Stone riff driving the song along. It provided yet one more moment for McCready to show off his command of the guitar, straining and pulling and squawking emotion from the instrument as Vedder did the same with his vocals.

“Release” drew the album to a close with it’s hushed tones and wave-like structure, cresting and drawing listeners in, and sending them on. A reprise of “Master/Slave” bookends the record nicely, drawing the whole experience to a close.

My teenage self is perpetually wrapped up in the album, all awkward emotion and hormonal rush. Each of the songs off of it have been a favorite over time, with “Alive” and “Deep” being my favorites of all early on, and in later years, “Release” and “Oceans” being two of my most treasured of Pearl Jam’s songs.

Nothing sounded like Ten on the radio when it was released, and really, nothing else has sounded like it since then, either. It’s combination of arean-ready rock and roll anthems, generation X issues and problems, and nods to classic rock, punk, and blues hasn’t been duplicated by any band since. What Pearl Jam achieved wasn’t grunge and really wasn’t alternative rock, either. It was a seamless melding of 1970’s rock and roll, it’s glitz and glam and fire and fury. Coupled with a deep understanding of societal issues and deep-seated familial and emotional issues, the album was a torchlight for any who were troubled and needed release. It was a siren call, a warning sign, and a war march all in one.

Pearl Jam would go on to answer the call they made with this first record, with the fiery Vs. and the hellbent Vitalogy, and that triptych of albums stand as a testament to the power and grace of one of the 1990’s, and truly all of rock and roll’s, most important bands. They would challenge listeners even as the comforted. It was rock music with purpose, the kind of music that saves the soul.

That period of the band’s existence would end of course, as all things do. They would mature, grow as musicians, find new subjects to tackle. They would fight stardom and themselves, their own personal demons, feuds with other bands, and more. Hope, pain, love, loss, and life would never be far from them, but their maturity would grant them different looks on these familiar topics, as it would to us all.

But for one shining moment, here was a band that understood. They were our awkward champions, and they fought with every once of energy they had. And we were all better for it.

Life is a circle. Loss follows love. Hope follows pain. Life happens while you’re living it.

I’m just happy I have a kick-ass soundtrack to help it move along.


The Hold Steady (Almost) Saved Me

Life can kind of be bitch sometimes. And, other times, it’s a big party. There always seems to be a new song that can get us through either situation. For those of us lucky enough to live in the Midwest, there’s another “state of being” that maybe is more consistently present than the previous two – the state of being bored.

Truly clever is the rock band who can sing about that. And still do the other two.

There is not a gluttony of great Midwestern rock bands. Sure, there are some. Chicago bands do not count, though, because Chi-town is far too cosmopolitan and big a city to be/feel truly Midwest.

A lot of the Midwest’s other bands don’t quite rock. John Mellencamp is great, but not reckless. Over The Rhine? Amazing songwriters, amazing music, but not quite rock. Not quite rock at all.

I’m looking California… but feeling Minnesota. Specifically, Minneapolis.

(Yes, Dayton has Guided By Voices, Kentucky has My Morning Jacket, Indianapolis has Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s, Belleville, Illinois has Uncle Tupelo. There are several examples. Just humor me, damnit)

Here there be Midwestern rock heroes and gods. Husker Du, Sugar, Bob Mould. The Replacements. Soul Asylum, maybe? But, for my purposes here… The Hold Steady.

Has there been a better Midwestern rock and roll band than The Hold Steady? (And piss on you if you think they are disqualified because they moved to Brooklyn. Their music is FIRMLY ROOTED in the Midwest.) Maybe it’s Craig Finn’s spoken vocal delivery, or the low register of his voice. Maybe it’s the energy in the band – one that suggests there’s nothing better to do than just rock the fuck out.

When I listen to The Hold Steady, one of two things happen: I want to be a character in their songs, or I have been a character in one of their songs. And while my official youth/young adulthood/party years lasted roughly from April 2003 until Summer of 2005 (not a good run, by any stretch – 22 and a half to 24 and a half? Really?), I still kind of crave, feel, and relate to the stories in The Hold Steady’s songs.

Their songs are sing-along psalms, and they mean that.

In a way, The Hold Steady remind me of my own wasted youth, and more so, my continued occasional affairs with that youth.

You see, I have spent from age 19 on thinking I would be married by 21, making babies by 25 or so, doing the whole house-wife-kids-white picket fence thing. Um, yeah. Update: I missed that boat, some 10-8-5 years ago. Despite my utter failure to secure my Midwestern dreams, though, I still kind of live and function like that. Not sure why. My friends seem driven more to discuss music, movies, and art. We drink and carry on, but more with ourselves than with others.

Meeting women is a strange concept to me; I suck at it. Dating? I suck at that too. I would probably suck at sex – and probably do – if it weren’t for dating a bat-shit crazy girl who spelled her name with Y’s and K’s. Lord knows I am out of practice.

So maybe I live vicariously through the characters in The Hold Steady’s songs, in the universe so created by their incredible, intelligent music. “Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together…” Finn sings in “Stuck Between Stations.” “Crushing one another with colossal expectations.” If that’s not my life, or at least the most accurate take on my relationships with the opposite sex, I don’t know what is.

I feel some kind of kinship with this band; it’s like we were meant for each other. One thing is for damn sure: they make me want to put down my acoustic guitar and pick up the electric, and stop writing songs about heartbreak and start writing songs about not caring/causing heartbreak/drinking beer/wasting a Saturday night with people drinking beer-causing heartbreak-not caring.

I’ve got to stay positive, they remind me. And I try. Maybe… maybe The Hold Steady almost saved me. Maybe it’s not too late – is 28 too late to be a delinquent? To be young? To get drunk, high, wasted, lazy, irresponsible?

“Most people in the world don’t believe that rock and roll can save your soul,” says a random fan smoking a cigarette in the new Hold Steady DVD, A Positive Rage. “I don’t think any one of those people have seen The Hold Steady.”

Fuck yeah.

So, as I count down the days until I see them in Bloomington, after missing the last opportunities, I will be ready for a few positive jams. I’m ready for a unified scene.

Mostly I am ready to grow up already, and act like the adolescent idiot my hormones and Midwest boredom tell me to be.


I Scream, you Scream, we all Scream for the death of Chris Cornell...

I had a friend in high school who always said "opinions are like assholes; everybody's got one." It was kind of his way of saying, "we have to agree to disagree." We would argue frequently, and this was his way of ending arguments. So, when I say that the '90's were the hidden second "golden age" of guitar rock, and you disagree... well then, opinions are like assholes. And you are one. An asshole.

The 1990's, and the rock music that came with it - not just "alternative" or "grunge," but a lot of rock music at the time - owed a great deal to the music that came not a decade before it, but two to three decades before it. Black Sabbath's metal, Led Zeppelin's proto-metal blues-rock, The Who's arena rock, and The Beatles psychadelia all played a huge role in the guitar-drive rock of the '90's. So too did punk pioneers like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and more obscure acts like Television, X, and the Damned. Add in a dash of brontosaurus rock like Neil Young, and some NWBHM (new wave of British Heavy Metal) like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the Scorpions and UFO (not necessarily British), even bands like Motorhead and T-Rex and David Bowie... and you mix it all up. Welcome to '90's rock.

Like many of the great bands from the '70's, many of the '90's bands were modeled after the "dynamic frontman" and "lead guitar player with mystique." Plant had his Page. Ozzy had his Iommi. Tyler had Perry, Bowie had Ronson, Jagger had Richards, Daltrey had Townshend. And, in the the great detritus of '90's grunge rock, Cornell had his Thayil.

More metal and less punk than their peers, and more experimental to boot, Soundgarden mined the same ore that Sabbath and Led Zep made famous, though a bit less bluesy. As their career progressed, the Kiss and Sabbath metalisms of guitarist Kim Thayil gave more and more way to the John Lennon/Beatlesisms of lead singer Chris Cornell. While Cornell was, without argument, the strongest set of pipes in '90's music, owing vocally more to Robert Plant and Ozzy than Lennon or Mac or Harrison, musically Cornell drew heavily from the Beatles.

Never was this more evident than on Soundgarden's last two albums, Superunknown and Down On The Upside. Literally all of the Cornell-penned tracks can draw a comparison to the Beatles, particularly Lennon's work. Add this to the band's already experimental side and their heavier-than-thou sound, and Cornell's own wail-of-a-wounded-banshee vocals, and Soundgarden was without a doubt one of the strongest and best musical acts from the 1990's and the grunge era.

There is no finer album from that era than Superuknown. It is quite possibly the best album from the '90's. The follow-up, and that band's swan song, contained songs that really highlighted Cornell's Lennon-esque obsessions ("Blow Up The Outside World," anyone?). Strangeness and despair, musical experimentation, it was all there. And Cornell helmed the great and mighty ship.

I was sad when the band called it quits. And excited when Cornell released his first solo record, the criminally under-appreciated Euphoria Morning. "Preaching the End of the World" might be one of his best songs, and showed a tender side not really seen before. "Pillow of Your Bones" and "Mission" harkened back to his days in Soundgarden. "When I'm Down" and "Wave Goodbye" broke new sonic ground - hell, the whole album did - for Cornell as an artist. It was a statement. Critics hated it because it was different; fans hated it because it wasn't like Soundgarden. And I, typically, loved it.

I didn't buy his second solo album, for really no reasons other than I had moved on and was emmersed in Americana by that point. What I heard off of it, I enjoyed. I even enjoyed his Casino Royale theme song. I liked it a bit. Of course, between those, we had Audioslave, Cornell's collaborative efforts with ex-Rage Against The Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and TimY2K-whatever the fuck his name is. And... when the first demos leaked online, I heard them, and was excited. When the project was mired in record-label problems, I was disappointed. When the first album came out, I liked it, even loved most of it. The following albums had incredible moments. All in all, Audioslave was not great overall, but was pretty good, and that was enough, especially when compared to the rest of the shit music that ruled rock radio by that point. I'll take Audioslave over Three Days Grace and Nickleback any day of the week, and twice on Sundays, thank you very much. At least we got to hear that banshee-wail again!

The point being, Cornell is a damn rock-vocalist god. He fucking rules, owns, and then some. The man has the pipes of a gorram demon and angel, all wrapped up in one.

And his new song makes me want to scream.

"Ground Zero," the first single off of Chris Cornell's new album, Scream, is the sound of a demon getting kicked square in the nuts, then booted out of Hell for being a pussy. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen" doesn't even begin to do this piece of crap song justice, nor the height of the man who is singing, nor how far he has fallen. Produced by Timbaland? Really? What the fuck for?

My rage is nearly uncontrollable, my mind and heart inconsolable. Why, Chris... why? From the spoken dialog at the track's beginning, coupled with pseudo-James Brown funky "ahs!", to the melancholy acoustic outro/segue to surely some other trashy number, this song sucks. Beginning to end. It sounds exactly what you would fear something would sound like when you pair the voice of an entire rock era with the producer from an entire era of hip-hop.

Let's take a moment to breath. This worked with Aerosmith and Run-DMC, right? I've already written hear about Cornell's vocal and song-writing prowess; Timbaland, though involved in music I generally don't like, is no slouch either. The man can write, create beats, and produce. He's produced a number of prominent hip-hop, pop, and rap artists, including Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, The Fray, and Justin Timberlake. None of them may be your (or my) particular cup of tea, but that partial list is pretty damn good; it's a damned who's who in pop, hip-hop and rap music. So it's not like Timbaland is a bad producer.

I watched a myspace music interview with these two several months ago, and to be honest, I was scared shitless when I heard they were working together. Then I watched that little video, and thought to myself, "maybe this will work!" It sounded promising - they spent the entire time complimenting each other, blowing sunshine up each other's asses, but generally making it seem like they were enthused to be A) working together and B) working on this material, and proud of it. They shouldn't be; they should feel disgraced. It doesn't neither artist nor producer any favors. It's laughable. It's the downfall of not only a GREAT artist, but one of the most famous pop producers of our time.

So, if you've read so far, you know I have made a judgement on one entire album based on one song, "Ground Zero." The thing is, the internets is in revolt over this damned Scream album. The A.V. Club is having a puke-fest. Allmusic.com might have gave it 1.5 stars (out of 5), or none at all - I can't tell. I don't even want to check what Pitchfork says - they normally crush my soul with their heartless, plastic reviews anyway. I can't stand to see what they'd say about the man with the golden ticket set of pipes, falling from such a great height. So, it is safe to say... this album is going to suck. "Ground Zero" sucks.

I know that no artist wants to be pigeon-holed into one style or genre, but for the love of Christ... Chris Cornell, please announce that after this tour you're doing a Soundgarden reunion tour. Or Audioslave. Or a Great Expectations soundtrack reunion tour. Something, anything, to make up for this. Bring us back the banshee wail, backed by the hammer of Zeus. Ditch the hip-pop tripe, and get back to what you do best.