Best of the 00s: Gabe Joins the 21st Century
Part 5: Bob Dylan, Bobby Bare Jr. & Bright Eyes
Nada Co-founders Matt and Gabe are listening to 197 of the music press’s picks for “best albums of the 00s” for a series called Gabe Joins the 21st Century.
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
#8 on the Rolling Stone list
Gabe: Music consumption is a zero sum game. I’ve got X hours left to live, of which only Y can be spent listening to music. Since I am going to spend a portion of Y listening to non-Dylan music, you could say that Z represents my future Dylan quota. And despite its charms, Modern Times is going to capture a vanishingly small percentage of Z. There’s just not enough memorable tracks to compete with Desire, Blood on the Tracks, the live albums, the bootlegs, etc., etc. I will, however, continue to listen to the elegiac “Workingman’s Blues #2” on a daily basis for the foreseeable future.
Matt: No shit? Someone thought this was one of the best albums of the past decade? God Bless you, Bob. I’m glad you still get the kids over at Rolling Stone all hot and bothered, but darned if this record isn’t full of long, boring mid-tempo blues “rockers” with so little kick that they sound like tributes to their former selves. I can’t quite tell if I’m supposed to like this like Tom Jones orTom Waits. Are we ironically appreciating something that’s ultimately not that good? Or are we giving an advanced artist credit for everything, even when his work is painfully unappealing? Either way, I don’t actually don’t like Modern Times at all.
Grade: DO NOT LIKE
Gabe: Bobby Bare Jr. gets lumped into the alt-country genre, and admittedly the weaker tracks on From The End Of Your Leash fit nicely into that box. But what would you call the stunning trio of songs that lead off the album? “Strange Bird” is cool like Morphine. “Valentine” is a horn-fueled singalong about murdering your girlfriend. And “Terrible Sunrise” is incomparable and inimatable, like a Denis Johnson short story put to music and sung by the main character, who has hoovered too much coke and is now staring into the abyss. First line: “If you talk any faster with food in your teeth I swear to god I’m gonna call the police.” In fact, listening to “Terrible Sunrise” is almost certainly the best possible use of the next 3 minutes and 3 seconds of your life. Go do it.
Matt: I became mildly enamored with Bare after a phone interview about his first full-length, …And the Young Criminals Starvation League, so I was excited to pop my promo copy of this in the old ghetto blaster back in ‘04. What I did not expect was to have one of the most immediate, visceral experiences I’ve ever experience with an album’s opening note. “Strange Bird” has an eerie, inexplicable power and to this day I can’t name an album with a stronger starting trifecta. The album takes a sharp turn from coke-fueled madness to playful harmonic pop after “Terrible Sunrise,” but both halves are equally great. There’s not a clunker in the bunch and every song inhabits this unique yet familiar territory that makes Bare and his music hard to pinpoint. A modern classic.
Gabe: Wow, this is a tough one. There’s so much that’s good about this album. Conor Oberst’s idiosyncratic vocals and lyrics are intriguing, and the music can be as basic as vocals over an acoustic guitar. But not a pussy James Taylor kind of acoustic guitar. I hear shades of Gordon Gano, Jonathan Richman and Leonard Cohen. Many of the songs on LOTSIITSKYETEG are as rambling as the title. The songs tackle all the big themes of life, love, god and death. The blessing and the curse of this album is that it comes across like one man’s unfiltered vision, which like any man’s is fascinating but flawed. If this was a novel I’d say it could have used a better editor, and Oberst oftens sounds like he could use a damn good whacking. Still, I think I may love it. Maybe not.
Matt: This is an example of what can happen when raw, youthful musical talent can operate as close to unaffected as possible in today’s connected world. Lifted is the final album Conor Oberst and his band of Omaha accomplices performed, recorded and released themselves. The result is a rambling, unpolished masterpiece that highlights Oberst’s skill as not only a unique, gifted songwriter but a composer and arranger with a diverse vision. “You Will, You Will, You Will” and “Don’t Know When But a Day Is Gonna Come” are gentle acoustic ballads that crescendo in to full, lush epics. “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” out-Cures the Cure in every capacity that made them multi-decade cult favorites of mopey teenagers and “Make War” is unironic faux country with delightful slide guitar. Then there’s the gorgeous duet “Nothing Gets Crossed Out” and simple piano melody on “Bowl of Oranges.” Even the solo acoustic numbers like “Waste of Paint” have an unique appeal reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Magnum.
Such unedited vision comes, of course, with a price. Some tolerance for melodrama is a bit of a prerequisite, and there are a few cringeworthy moments both musically and lyrically. There’s also a healthy dose of non-musical interlude and other throwaway annoyances, but even those seem to have aged well. The album’s weaker moments and half-finished ideas almost make the many stunning moments even more stunning, because one imagines Oberst casually tossing off brilliant, affecting classics like “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves” with equal nonchalance.
More in this series:
- Part 28: Midlake, Missy Elliott & Modest Mouse
- Part 27: Luomo, Manu Chau & Microphones
- Part 26: Lil’ Wayne , Loretta Lynn & Los Halos
- Part 25: Klaxons, Les Savy Fav & The Libertines
- Part 24: Justin Timberlake, Kanye West & Kings of Leon
- Part 23: Johnny Cash, Josh Ritter & Justin Timberlake
- Part 22: Jens Lekman & Joanna Newsome
- Part 21: Iron & Wine, Jay-Z & The Jayhawks
- Part 20: Gentlemen Jesse, Grandaddy & The Hold Steady
- Part 19: Devin the Dude,the Deglados & the Fruit Bats
- Part 18: The Blood Brothers, The Coral & The Coup
- Part 17: Avett Brothers & Black Angels
- Part 16: Fennesz, Girl Talk & Grizzly Bear
- Part 15: Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple & Gilian Welch
- Part 14: Elbow, Exploding Hearts & Green Day
- Part 12: Dirty Projectors, Dizzee Rascal, & The Drive By Truckers
- Part 11: Damien Rice, Death Cab For Cutie & Deerhunter
- Part 10: Basement Jaxx, Cat Power & Clipse
- Part 9: Bruce Springsteen, Clinic & Crystal Castles
- Part 8: Bobby Bare Jr., Boredoms & Burial
- Part 7: 50 Cent, American Analog Set & Babyshambles
- Part 6: Boards of Canada, Brendan Benson & Bruce Springsteen
- Part 4: Animal Collective, Beck & Built to Spill
- Part 3: Basement Jaxx, Black Mountain & Blur
- Part 2: Animal Collective, Antony & the Johnsons and At the Drive In
- 00s in Review: Gabe Joins the 21st Century