Friday Night Lights
My initial impulse was to write about Green Day’s American Idiot as the best album of the year, but I feel like I’ve adequately written about the virtues of that album, at least for the time being. Instead, I decided to go a different route.
For the film version of HR Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights,” director Peter Berg enlisted little known instrumental rock act Explosions In The Sky to do the original score. The result of this bold decision is unusual yet fulfilling and results in one of the most stunning albums of the year-one that says more with no lyrics than most artists do in their entire careers.
For those not familiar with EITS’s previous work, they craft sprawling, epic musical landscapes. In addition to the lack of lyrics, they also work without the help of elaborate instrumentation. They are a standard four piece band, and somehow manage to make their sound incredibly epic, but also amazingly soothing and mellow.
And now, with the Friday Night Lights songs, they have taken their mellowness to another level. There is no percussion to be found on any of the songs, just two guitars strumming haunting melodies. This may be the best album to fall asleep too of all time. However, those still awake will find layered, involved music that should keep the conscious involved as well. The several non-EITS songs on the record are in the same vein and are equally as enjoyable, but are not the real star of this album.
Initially, the idea of getting a band like this to score a football movie seemed incredibly weird. Where’s the Ozzy? Where’s the Slipknot? Seeing the movie should give the listener even more appreciation for this album. This is a more melancholy, downbeat football movie than most, and high energy music would have been very out of place in it. EITS thoroughly nail the mood of the movie with their songs, and Berg was very smart to choose them in lieu other bands with a similar style (Mogwai, Godspeed!, You Black Emperor, etc).
In short, this is the best soundtrack of the year, and also a darn good album on its own.
Note: The movie also features previously released tracks from ETIS not available here. Those who enjoy this record should check out their others.
One of the most talked about men in music this year was undoubtedly Usher. His fourth album, Confessions debuted at No. 1 and sold over one million copies in its first week, the most for an R&B artist.
It isn’t just the hype and success of Confessions that makes it one of the best; there are actually solid tracks on the CD. There are simply too many worthy tracks on Confessions to single out just one. It’s rare to find an artist who can produce a solid CD, but Usher manages to do so from track 1 to 16. Every single song is enjoyable to listen to, whether you’re on the way to the club or in for the night with your significant other.
When the album was initially released in March, there was much hype over what was fact and fiction. On “Confession Part II” Usher speaks of cheating on his mate and getting his “chick on the side” pregnant; this was rumored to be the cause of the breakup between Usher and Chili of TLC. Whatever the case, Confessions went on to become a major success due to its content and not the hype surrounding Usher’s personal life.
Although the singles, “Yeah!” (featuring the king of crunk Lil’ Jon and Ludacris), “Confessions” and “Burn” flooded the airways, the CD is full of less pop-oriented tracks.
Usher seems to channel R&B god Prince on tracks like “Can U Handle It?” and “Do It to Me.” The clearly suggestive songs are steamy slow jams that set the right mood, but they’re not the typical, raunchy R. Kelly-ish lyrics that make you want to blush in front of your mom.
However, Usher does manage to sex it up on one of the most memorable songs on the CD, “That’s What It’s Made For.” With lyrics like “Go on and hit it/ That’s what it’s made for/ We got protection,” it’s clear that Usher’s all grown up and ready for some action.
The immense success of Confessions spawned the release of a special edition CD with additional tracks. The special edition features the obnoxiously overplayed “My Boo” with Alicia Keys, but it also has the smash “Red Light,” in which Usher just can’t seem to get a woman out of his head.
It’s clear that Usher’s grown as a man and an artist by taking on writing and producing credits. His efforts are worthy of making Confessions one of the best of 2004.
Bring You To Your Knees:
A Tribute To Guns N’ Roses
(Law of Inertia)
An unacknowledged paradox lies deep within the world of popular music today. As interesting as it is to hear one band’s interpretation of another band’s song in an isolated context, a selection of many bands working together to cover the songs of another band is almost always guaranteed to suck. These abominations against man are called tribute albums, and with the exception of the Alpha Motherf-kers tribute to the band Turbonegro, none of them have ever come anywhere close to being a good front-to-back record.
There are a few reasons why these tribute albums do more harm than good. First off, for a band to warrant a tribute album, they need be legitimately great, making it near impossible to do a better version than the original. The key to any successful cover is being able to do a better version or to add something worthwhile to the song. Most bands have trouble writing their own music, let alone rewriting someone else’s. Another major reason these albums typically cause migraines is that the bands selected to do the covers are generally much less talented than the band they’re covering. More often than not, the young bands are looking for a quick buck and some exposure, which explains why most of the music sounds as though it was cut over an afternoon in someone’s basement.
With all that said, the presumably well-intentioned folks at Law of Inertia Records decided that Guns N’ Roses needed an homage from some of the stalwarts of the “metalcore” scene, including some legitimately talented groups like The Dillinger Escape Plan. The novelty of the concept is that the album would be packed full of aggressive covers with break-neck tempos and throat shredding vocals to create a sharp contrast to the melodic and decadent style of the original GNR versions.
Unfortunately, the novelty of the style wears thin halfway into the first track, Zombie Apocalypse’s cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” The album is only enjoyable when the covers tend to be more straight ahead like Every Time I Die’s version of “Used To Love Her” or Break The Silence’s version of “Night Train.” This isn’t because the style of “metalcore” isn’t interesting on its own, but the style just can’t capture the magic of Axl and Slash any better than the similarly awful Velvet Revolver record could. If these bands really wanted to pay tribute to a band, they’d let the originals stand on their own instead of butchering them for an easy buck.
What do you get when you mix hype with a big named rapper and a mediocre record? You get disappointment. That’s the exact vibe Eminem’s Encore is giving off. It has to be one of the most disappointing albums of 2004.
Since his last hit record, The Eminem Show, you would think Eminem would take some time off from recording to concentrate on producing or developing his Shady Records label into an empire with a roster of G-Unit, D-12 and Obie Trice. Like many talented artists who don’t concentrate on only making music, Eminem can’t stay away from the mic for long and like many of those artists, he has hit a wall. The effortless Encore features Em at the lowest point in his career. He takes a different route trying to mix his fast-paced lyrical flow with party and political music rather than taking verbal jabs at people.
Most of the album’s lyrics are mediocre as Em tries to relegate to the more immature style for which he first gained notoriety. His many comedic imitations on “Ass Like That” are the best example of this. The Middle Eastern-sounding track doesn’t have a specific topic, but rather is more of a humorous song mocking everyone from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, to Pee Wee Herman to the Olsen Twins.
Eminem takes a more serious approach and addresses all the beefs surrounding his label on “Toy Soldiers.” Moreover, he discusses his and Aftermath’s problems with Murder Inc: “We actually tried to stop the 50 and Ja beef from happenin/ Me and Dre had sat with him/ Kicked it and had a chat with him/ And asked him not to start it/ He wasn’t going to go after him until Ja started yappin in magazines how he stabbed him.”
On “Mockingbird” he gets sensitive about speaking about his daughter.
Guest appearances from 50 Cent, Nate Dogg and Dr. Dre give little help to bail Encore from complete meltdown. The heavy bass beats of “Never Enough” compliment Em and 50’s flows. “Encore Curtains Down” is a club banger that offers a west coast vibe featuring Dre and 50.
The crunk beats of “Evil Deeds” don’t go well with the second-rate lyrics Eminem supplies. He goes on a random tangent stepping away from any theme or message he usually offers on his tracks. On “Yellow Brick Road” he is closer to an underground amateur than veteran all-star as he gives minimum effort with low-quality production.
The crude and irritating beats sound something closer to a loud typewriter than actual music on “My First Single.” Despite the beats, Em does acknowledge his minimal effort: “When will I stop…I dunno/ Tryin to pick up where The Eminem Show left off/ But I know anything’s possible/ Though I’m not going to top what I sold/ I’m at the top of my game/ As long as I got Dr. Dre on my team.”
Em may be on top of the industry, but does prove he has a weakness of getting cocky after selling millions of records. The momentum has stopped for Em, who should not receive an encore for giving the “Dr. Dre excuse” for being lazy and rushing out a lackluster record that seems like it was put together in weeks, not months. Encore is the worst album of the year because of the anticipation and amateur-quality effort more than anything else.
– Alan Gung