Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Morning Jacket: The Best Band In The World

So I gotta start this out by saying I'm a bit biased in this assessment. The band is from Louisville, I'm from Louisville....ya stick by your family.  That's not all my opinion is based on though. My Morning Jacket is one of those bands that almost begs to be "grown" with. Their sound has evolved over the years and they always seem to keep their audience guessing as to what direction they will head next. There are not many bands, including my all-time favorites, such as The Replacements, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd, in which I have trouble finding a couple of songs that I just don't like. MMJ (as I shall call them for the remainder of this blog) just never seems to mail it in. Every song is unique and they don't seem to fit a specific genre. 

MMJ's first album was released in 1999, called The Tennessee Fire. That album, along with their second record, At Dawn, were given nice reviews by and Pitchfork as well as others. The sound was odd and certainly different as the band used heavy reverberation and mixed tempos within many of the songs, drawing you in slowly and then punching a hole in your eardrum. One of my favorites is called "The Way That He Sings" from the At Dawn album. 

Here is a great live version performed on David Letterman

The album It Still Moves was their first major label release and it opened them up to a whole new world, as the band won critical acclaim and toured seemingly non-stop to build a rabid following. It Still Moves is a fantastic piece of music that is varied in style and can at times remind the listener of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, as well as Metallica and Pink Floyd. The song "Run Thru" is another personal favorite of mine and is ranked as one of the top 100 Great Guitar Songs by Rolling Stone magazine!

If It Still Moves was their coming out party, then their next album Z would make them darlings of the critics and again show that they are not one trick ponies who just stick with a sound. Z is just a bit more pop-ish than their previous albums, but I wouldn't call it MMJ going soft. They were refining their sound and exploring different instruments and sounds. Metacritic, who uses an aggregate score of album reviews, ranked Z as the second best album of 2005 and Pitchfork Media ranked the record at 146 of the top 200 albums of the 2000's. One of the best songs off of an album full of them (Off The Record), also features a cool video.

Z seemed like a tough act to follow, but somehow, the band just keeps making great record after great record. Evil Urges was released in 2008 and stripped away much of the bands earlier sound and was an attempt to create a record that sounded more like MMJ as a live act, as opposed to the studio touches that highlighted previous records. 2008 was a big year for the band. They appeared on Saturday Night Live, received a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Rock Album, and played a legendary 3-hour live set at the Bonnaroo music festival that featured 35 songs, with help from Kirk Hammett of Metallica and comedian Zach Galifianakis. Evil Urges was ranked on no fewer than 5 lists for one of the top 20 albums of 2008, including a ranking of #4 from Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Here is yet another fantastic song. I give you "I'm Amazed", one of a handful of great tunes off of Evil Urges.

Their latest release is called Circuital and once again, the band took it's sound to a different place. Not as easily accessible as previous albums, this one is a "sitter", meaning you need to listen to it a few times and not expect the tunes to just grab you in the way many pop tunes do. This record will get better with each listen, until you have these tunes stuck in your head....."holdin' on to black metal"....Oh, Yeah!! The album debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top 200 and once again the band received a Grammy nomination. 

I have to say this about MMJ; they are a great live band. As good as their albums are and as much enjoyment that I can get out of those with the headphones on, there is nothing like experiencing them live. They will flat wear an audience out. They are the type of band that doesn't let the audience get restless. They pour it all out when they are on stage. I've seen them several times and not once can I say that they were anything other than great. Years back, before they started playing to sold out festivals, I saw them open for Joe Henry at Phoenix Hill Tavern on Bardstown Road. I had no idea who they were, but I wouldn't forget them. In addition to all the albums and touring, the band has appeared as themselves on the television show "American Dad", toured with Neil Young,  have been featured on Austin City Limits a couple of times, and were a part of the VH1 Storyteller series in 2011. If you love rock n roll and don't know who this band is, you need to do some You Tube searching and get with it! If I had to recommend an album for a mainstream music fan to introduce themselves to the band with, I think I'd choose Z or Evil Urges. 

Oh, and I can't let this blog end without showing the clip of My Morning Jacket on American Dad. 

And in case you were wondering if stardom has went to lead singer Jim James' head, it hasn't. He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else!!!

Why're we so loud when we say it wont happen to us? 
Why does my mind blow to bits every time they play that song?
It's just the way that he sings, 
Not the words that he says, or the band. 
I'm in love with this soul, it's a meaning that I understand. 

"The Way That He Sings"---My Morning Jacket

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

American Politics: Should We Tune Out?

I've always been a proponent of putting in some effort in regards to politics. I've educated myself on issues. I've researched politicians. I try to talk with as many people as possible in regards to how they feel about issues and the world in general. I am starting to believe it's against my self-interest to do so. Why? Glad you asked.

What has being engaged gotten me? It has served to piss me off and jaded me against anyone who is running for political office. I have not seen the middle class and poor gain access to the same American Dream as our leadership likes to talk about. Every election cycle we hear that prosperity is just down the road. Yet, the multinational corporations still enjoy the fruits of the bailouts and tax loopholes. The wealthy, who we look to for job creation and the banks we look to for a flow of credit have started pinching their pennies making it tough for anyone to get a new business off the ground. 

How many times in the last 30 or so years have you heard about the impending disaster that awaits if we don't change our energy policies? We keep getting promises of change, but we never quite get the results. Is that our fault? In good times, are we apt to forget that there are still issues that need our attention? Perhaps we are to blame in many ways. We don't hold the politicians feet to the fire until things turn sour. And when things do go south, we start picking at each other. We blame the poor for being poor and tell the homeless to "get a job", even as we look at 10% unemployment and college graduates working at Burger King. If we don't stand united on the issues we want addressed, why would we expect them to get addressed at all? Why would a politician risk his career by seriously engaging his constituents or the greater public on hot topic issues like Social Security, especially when we seem to stop caring ourselves after the elections? 

I'd love to say that we should just vote out every incumbent in the November elections to send a message. Usually though, that message is misunderstood. In 2010, the nation turned to politicians who were running on a platform of economic responsibility. What did they do? They started turning towards social issues and became what they really were at heart; political animals. There have been exceptions, but on the whole, we are not getting any better results now than we were before the 2010 mid-terms. So, why even bother? They are all in the pockets of the same corporations and interest groups. Remember how Bush and Cheney were oil men who were in the pockets of big oil? Did you know Obama takes a lot of money from oil companies too, specifically BP? We put in an anti-war president in Barak Obama and still maintain most of the policies from the George W. Bush era. Even more liberty has been stripped from us in the name of security. There appears to be no end in sight. 

Getting back to the main point, should we disengage and just let the monster run wild as we just try to live off the scraps that fall to us? Should we become more engaged and educated on politics? I would love to think that an educated public could put pressure on D.C. to make changes that reflect the will of the people. All one has to do is look at what television shows have the highest ratings and watch a couple hours of the cable news networks to know that we are not ready to truly take back our country. These things have me starting to realize that it may be time to "drop out". To stop being concerned with what is going on and simply live my life without regard. It goes against my nature, but it could help me to spend my time in more valuable ways that are less stressful and aggravating. 

I'd love to hear from you guys. Feel free to post your thoughts below, but I'd rather not see any left versus right bullshit. How do you approach politics? Is it something you only care about every four years? Do you keep track of what's going on daily? Are you in the crowd who thinks it's all a scam by the two parties and the media to centralize wealth and power? Does knowing how sick the system is make you a better person or does it make you feel worse? 

I'm still not certain on what I want to do or should do. I'm thinking about it more and more and usually, once I get an idea in my head, I have to try it out. Anyone who follows my blogs know that I usually change my mind within 60 minutes of any writing, so tomorrow you can expect a full run down of the Arizona and Michigan primaries!!!!

Until next time.....cheers!!!