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Best of the 00s: Gentlemen Jesse, Grandaddy & The Hold Steady

Posted by August 6th, 2011 No Comments »

Best of the 00s: Gabe Joins the 21st Century
Part 20:  Gentlemen Jesse, Grandaddy & The Hold Steady
By Gabe Baker & Matt Ashworth

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.

Gentlemen Jesse – Gentlemen Jesse        
#38 on Paste’s List

Matt: Jesse’s kind of got a Graham Parker / early Elvis Costello thing going, which puts him in a category I wholeheartedly endorse. Sadly, he doesn’t approximate the former’s wry honesty or the latter’s nervous energy, so it comes off a little dull. He’s also not the greatest songwriter, as evidenced most clearly on the awful “Stain on Me.” For the first album on this countdown I was completely unaware of, I’m not all disappointed though. The intersection of new wave and pub rock is a safe place, and Jesse and his band keep it that way. Grade: LIKE

Gabe: You could call Gentleman Jesse and His Men an Elvis Costello and the Attractions tribute band, but that would be selling Jesse and his gang short. At times, GJAHM also rip off Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Graham Parker and Squeeze. “Rip off” is probably too harsh. GJAHM’s take on new wave power pop sounds sharp throughout this album, and I’m sure I’d love them if I heard them in a bar. Especially if it was an Elvis Costello cover night. Seriously, even the album cover’s photo of Jesse holding a camera is a take-off on the cover of This Year’s Model.  Which is just a really, really outstanding album by the way.  Grade: DNL

Grandaddy – The Sophtware SlumpGrandaddy – The Sophtware Slump    
NME’s # 34

Gabe: I can say with some confidence that The Sophtware Slump is the only popular music record that will ever feature songs about a poetry-writing, suicidal android named Jed. If nothing else, this sci-fi concept album is a great palate cleanser when you’re tired of yet another song about some stupid relationship shit. And The Sophtware Slump is a proper concept album. It actually tells a semi-coherent story about a future earth where obsolete technology clutters the landscape until at least a portion of humanity move off planet. The music almost seems secondary to the lyrics, and at times the vocals sound more like a book store reading than a rock performance. But overall the elements of the songs come together to effectively tell an interesting and poignant story about technology and humanity. Grade: LIKE

Matt: Now that I’ve tried deciphering The Sophtware Slump and forming a definitive opinion on three separate occasions, and failing each time, I think it’s time to accept it as a true musical enigma. Calling Grandaddy “the Indie rock ELO,” while accurate on paper, just doesn’t do them justice, and each time I listen to this, their defining 2000 release, I like it even more. Or maybe less. Sometimes the things I like about the album swap with the things I didn’t like the last time through. It’s just all so confusing. I used to wish they fired up those big, fuzzy guitars a bit more, like they do on “Chartsengrafs,” but lately I’m not sure about that either. The understated “Miner at the Dial-a-View”  is my favorite track right now. Jason Lytle’s vocals can be a bit precocious at times, but his songs are so unique and descriptive that it’s easy to overlook when the accompanying music is good. The only thing about The Sophtware Slump I’m sure about is that the final 50 seconds of “The Crystal Lake” make me want to stand up and salute the god’s of pretty guitar melodies the same way as Modest Mouse’s “Trailer Trash,” which ranks it among my favorite moments in music. Grade: LIKE

The Hold Steady – Almost Killed MeThe Hold Steady – Almost Killed Me   
#26 on Nada’s list 

Gabe: The Hold Steady is my favorite band of the 2000s. It’s hard for me to write blurbs on Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday, and Boys and Girls in America because I’ve loved them utterly and unconditionally for the past six years. It’s like trying to describe your wife or your best friend to a stranger.  No description could possibly capture what makes them so unique and wonderful to you. Love can make flaws seem endearing, and so it is with me and the Hold Steady.  Calling them a punker version of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band or an arena rock version of the Replacements just doesn’t seem sufficient. So, instead, I’ll just say that the Hold Steady’s first three albums is easily one of my favorites sets of three consecutive rock albums, along with the Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street), Replacements (Let it Be, Tim, Pleased to Meet Me), Led Zeppelin (III, IV, Houses of the Holy), Neil Young (On The Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Zuma), Big Star (#1 Record, Radio City, Third), and Guns n’ Roses (Appetite for Destruction, Lies, Use Your Illusion I and II). Grade: LOVE

Matt:  I’ve got a handful of really special moments from my time as an online music magazine publisher. A couple of those are vivid memories of popping in a random promotional CD and instantly knowing I’ve stumbled onto something special. I’ve got such a memory for Almost Killed Me, which came over from French Kiss in 2004 while I was between jobs and living on a mattress in a bi-level in Kent, Washington. I remember that moment like it was an electrical shock, a physical reaction. The Hold Steady grabbed my attention in the first few seconds and kept it there through the “20th century history minute” that is the beginning of “Positive Jam.” Then that first guitar sound starts and it’s like a second strike. Every song is great and front man Craig Finn is a rock ‘n roll beat poet (though he may be a better writer than most of those guys.) There are so many lines where you’re just … “wait, what did he just say?” Try: “My name’s Neil Schone but some people call me Nina Simone” and “She said it’s good to see you back in a bar band baby. I said it’s great to see you’re still in the bars.” But it’s this epic, self-referential couplet that best personifies why The Hold Steady are so great: “Half the bar is calling out for born to run, the other half’s calling out for born to lose. Baby we were born to choose.”  Grade: LOVE

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