Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sleater-Kinney: Rock 'n Roll #likeagirl

Sleater-Kinney's legendary status in the world of rock 'n roll was secure well before the release of "No Cities to Love," the band's new album, and their first following a hiatus that lasted almost a decade.  But "legendary status" doesn't always translate into popularity.  I read somewhere recently that the total sales of their first seven albums barely exceeded half the amount for which platinum records are rewarded, and I'd hazard a guess that most random people on the street - even those who would call themselves music fans - wouldn't be able to tell you a thing about the band or its music.

Notwithstanding their relative obscurity (the manifestation of what Robert Christgau once called "semi-popular music"), it really isn't much of a stretch to argue that Sleater-Kinney is one of the greatest bands in the history of rock music.  At the same time, it's not that difficult to understand why they've never achieved the mainstream success that they now seem poised to make a run at - as melodic as many (most?) of their songs are, they're as loud and hard as hard rock gets - theirs is not music to play in the background while you're trying to do something relaxing.  It demands your attention, and once it has it, it's not going to let go of you any time soon.  And then there's the matter of the fact that the band is comprised of three women, which makes me wonder how many metal heads would even bother to give it a listen.  Never mind that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker do things with their guitars that are hard to fathom, and that Janet Weiss' drumming frequently threatens to make Charlie Watts and John Bonham sound like wimps - you know, they're girls. good is the new album?

About 1997's "Dig Me Out," which to these ears is the band's best album (#30 on my all-time list), Robert Christgau wrote, "one reason you know they're young is that they obviously believe they can rock and roll at this pitch forever."  "No Cities to Love" is the album which proves that they just might be able to do just that. Clocking in at an economical 33 minutes ("Rocket to Russia," anyone?), the album doesn't sound like a "comeback record" -  it sounds like the next natural progression in the band's evolution - as if it were recorded back in 2006, and kept in the vaults until now to unleash on an unsuspecting public.  There are no slow songs, and right now I'd argue that at least six of the album's ten songs are classics - "Price Tag," "Surface Envy," "A New Wave," "No Anthems," "Bury Our Friends" and "Fade."  A very positive sign is that I keep changing my mind about which ones I like best, which usually means that a record will have staying power.  Right now it's clearly the album to beat for the #1 spot in 2015, and it wouldn't shock me at all to see it remain at the top at year's end.

Does this mean that Sleater-Kinney is about to become a household word?  I'm not sure I would go that far, but there's little doubt in my mind that it will easily become the band's best seller.  Carrie Brownstein is now reasonably famous for her role as the co-star and co-auteur of "Portlandia," so there's one potential group of new fans.  And the late night guys clearly love them; they've already done turns on Letterman, Conan, and Seth Meyers.  But whatever success they achieve, it's well-earned and long overdue.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Epic Losses II: Legion of Gloom

This morning's Seattle Times website.
Well, I'm not sure if the adage quite applies, but no doubt you've all heard the saying "live by the sword, die by the sword."  Just two weeks after winning the NFC Championship in the most improbable fashion, a game that certainly qualified as an "epic loss" for the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks appeared poised to deliver a second consecutive epic loss blow to the New England Patriots when, inexplicably, they turned the sword on themselves, leaving their fans with the rest of their lives to ponder the call that will live in infamy, at least in the Pacific Northwest.

It was as shocking a denouement as could have been imagined - the Patriots taking the lead on a clutch drive led by Tom Brady, and then allowing the Seahawks to move down the field as if they had forgotten the point of the defense was to tackle.  And then, what nearly became the most incredible play in Super Bowl history, a catch by Jermaine Kearse that made what David Tyree did to the Patriots look like child's play.

And then, after a bruising run by Marshawn Lynch (hold that thought), came "the call" - a slant pass, intercepted just inside the goal line.  Game over.

The great baseball writer Bill James once defined "managerial blunder" as an unorthodox move that does not work.  Certainly, a slant pass on the 1-yard line when you have the toughest running back in football in your backfield qualifies as "unorthodox."  And while kudos go to Pete Carroll for being a stand-up guy and taking the heat for the call, there's really no explaining it.  It was a bad call.

And so my sympathies go out to the fans of the Seattle Seahawks - welcome to the "Epic Loss Club."

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Super Bowl Prediction

I would have made a different prediction after the Conference Championship games two weeks ago, but after two weeks of suffering through the most desultory Super Bowl build-up in history thanks to "Deflategate," I can't imagine that the Patriots will be able to overcome the distraction from the ridiculous "scandal."

How's that for an analytical basis for a prediction?

I'm no fan of the Seahawks, and frankly I just hope it's a good game (unlike last year).  In the end I think the Seahawks will be energized by their miraculous escape against Green Bay, and I think the Patriots will have lost their edge after two solid weeks of dealing with stories and jokes about properly inflated balls.

Therefore...drum roll please...

Seattle 34, New England 24.

Cleaning House - Movies of 2014 (in the theater)

Last, but not least, the documentation of 2014 ends with the list of movies seen at the theater.
  • Top Five (12/29/14)
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (12/27/14)
  • Foxcatcher (12/21/14)
  • Birdman (12/20/14)
  • Interstellar (11/10/14)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (8/31/14)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (7/14/14)
  • Edge of Tomorrow (6/15/14)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (6/14/14)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (5/26/14)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (3/30/14)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2/17/14)
  • Her (1/20/14)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1/12/14)
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (1/3/14)

Cleaning House - Books of 2014

A paltry list, for certain - but I did a lot of re-reading in 2014, and didn't include those books.  I'm bound and determined to do better in 2015, but it's off to a slow start with James Ellroy's mammoth "Perfidia." 
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  • Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
  • Missing You, by Harlan Coben
  • Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving
  • Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  • The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly

Cleaning House - Albums of 2014

Well, there went January, so I suppose that now is as good a time as any to do a little house cleaning.  So for posterity, we commit to the blogosphere the Albums of 2014.
  • Sucker - Charli XCX
  • Avonmore - Bryan Ferry
  • Ride Out - Bob Seger
  • Standing in the Breach - Jackson Browne
  • Plain Spoken - John Mellencamp
  • Songs of Innocence - U2
  • lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar - Robert Plant
  • Somewhere Under Wonderland - Counting Crows
  • Brill Bruisers - The New Pornographers
  • Get Hurt - The Gaslight Anthem
  • Tarpaper Sky - Rodney Crowell
  • The Voyager - Jenny Lewis
  • Hypnotic Eye - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • Acoustic Classics - Richard Thompson
  • Most Messed Up - Old 97's
  • A Letter Home - Neil Young
  • Lazaretto - Jack White
  • Platinum - Miranda Lambert
  • Turn Blue - The Black Keys
  • Ghost Stories - Coldplay
  • Bad Self Portraits - Lake Street Dive
  • Girl - Pharrell Williams
  • Supernova - Ray Lamontagne
  • Snapshot - The Strypes
  • Lights Out - Ingrid Michaelson
  • "Singles" - Future Islands
  • Memphis - Boz Scaggs
  • English Oceans - Drive-By Truckers
  • Morning Phase - Beck
  • The Outsiders - Eric Church
  • And I'll Scratch Yours - Peter Gabriel and various artists
  • The River and the Thread - Rosanne Cash
  • High Hopes - Bruce Springsteen
  • Matangi - M.I.A.