Tag Archives: music

The National’s TROUBLE WILL FIND ME

the national

The National is in the middle of a hot streak. Don’t get me wrong, all of their albums are worth a listen if you enjoy contemporary alternative rock (or whatever they call it these days), but their three album run of Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet have been some of the best albums released in their respective years. So when I realized that The National’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me, was nearing its release date I wasn’t exactly hyped or ecstatic. After all, music from their past records is still just as good years later as it was when I first heard it – additionally, I felt confident that the band would put out another great record. I was never worried that The National would put out a bad album or even a mediocre one.

Everything that made Boxer and High Violet great are back: the atmospheric swells, Berninger’s mournful croon, the nearly rhythmic and propulsive percussion, the melancholy and personal lyrics. By and large, if you’ve enjoyed the past work of The National, you’re sure to enjoy Trouble Will Find Me. The album is a slow burner – perhaps even slower than High Violet. It’s not inaccessible by any means, but many of the songs’ twists and turns, many of the lyrics’ confessional turns of phrase, become more salient with repeated listens.  The band’s music is meticulously constructed, with every melody, rhythm, and tone seemingly not only exactly where it should be, but where it has to be as if there were no other option.

The album begins with “I Should Live in Salt” bears more than a striking resemblance to High Violent’s opener “Terrible Love.” The song begins in skeletal form: an acoustic guitar, Berninger’s voice, and a few slight  synthesizers. The phrase “you should know me better than that” is repeated throughout the verse (much like the title phrase of “Terrible Love”), and the song slowly builds to what feels like an anthem. “Sea of Love” – the band’s first video in support of Trouble Will Find Me – starts with rapid snare taps that make the song feel on the verge of an enormous crescendo. “Sea of Love” follows a few different changes of tempo and sound, and it contains the album’s namesake lyric – it’s sure to be one of the album’s most prominent tracks.

My only real complaint with Trouble Will Find Me is that the band doesn’t really expand its musical palette from previous records. Tonally, it sounds a lot like High Violet, and most of these songs would have fit perfectly in place with that record. Maybe it’s for this reason why I wasn’t hyper-ecstatic about the album’s release – it feels too comfortable. It feels like a warm sweater that I’ve worn for years now. I don’t mean to suggest that the band needs to run out and experiment with electronica, but the band’s sound is by now very familiar.

Fans of The National owe it to themselves to check out Trouble Will Find Me. It’s a great album that only further extends this band’s fantastic catalog. If you’ve never listened to The National before, this record is a good one to start with, but I might recommend Boxer over it for beginners. I’d recommend this band to fans of Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, or Iron & Wine – while The National don’t sound exactly like these bands all the time, they share many sensibilities of songwriting. Listeners who have never been convinced of The National’s merit probably won’t find reason to change their minds here – Trouble Will Find Me is made of the same exact ingredients that endeared them to so many people in the past. Trouble Will Find Me is a great record sure to be on many Best Of 2013 lists.

Essential tracks to sample/download: “I Should Live in Salt,” “Sea of Love,” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”

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David Bowie’s THE NEXT DAY

The Short Story:
If you are new to David Bowie’s work, this isn’t a bad album to start with, but I might begin with some of his work from the 1970’s.  If you are an established Bowie fan, this album is a must-listen.  It’s some of Bowie’s best material in decades.

David BowiePress photos 2013

The Longer Story:
At the end of Paul Trynka’s Bowie biography “Starman,” he leaves with a speculative note.  David Bowie never said he retired, but after his A Reality Tour, he disappeared from the music scene almost completely.  This was unusual for the singer/songwriter – he would rarely go a few years without releasing an album in his decades-long career. It seemed like Bowie had genuinely retired, and Trynka’s biography leaves some hope that one day, Ziggy Stardust himself will awake from his slumber and release an album that would blow everyone away.

Then in early 2013, the world received word: David Bowie was not only working on another album after almost a decade of silence, but the album was already finished and coming out in a couple of months.  The album announcement was accompanied with a video for “Where Are We Now?”  The song is a slow, introspective ballad that creeps along, and it presents a problem: this is not a song for young, up-and-coming Bowie fans, and it doesn’t give listeners a good idea of what the album is.  This is a song that reflects on Bowie’s life, and this is significant in the eyes of a fan because as a songwriter, Bowie rarely lets his guard down.  Even personal songs like “Changes” are wrapped in heavy melodies and pop production.  “Where Are We Now?” hints at an album that finds Bowie in his later years, reflecting back on his career.  At this point, I was expecting THE NEXT DAY to be an album full of songs like “Thursday’s Child” – good, mellow, wise, but missing the spark that his earlier material had.

Fortunately, “Where Are We Now?” gives absolutely no indication as to what THE NEXT DAY sounds like.  With its opening track (the title track), the album roars to life with energetic guitar riff not unlike something from Bowie’s Berlin triptych.  Most of the music here is mid to up tempo, and a lot of it reminds of stuff that would have been recorded around 1975-1980.  “If You Can See Me,” “Dancing Out in Space,” and “Dirty Boys” sound like they could have come from the same period as well. “How Does the Grass Grow?” has a choppy rhythm that feels pulled out of the 1980’s oeuvre.  There are a handful of songs that sound strange, but only in the sense that they sound unfamiliar.  “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “Valentine’s Day” don’t have the quirk or glam that has defined most of Bowie’s songwriting, but they are great traditional rock songs with strong melodies.  All of this is played with a renewed sense of interest: Bowie didn’t make this record because he was fulfilling a contract, and he’s not going through the motions.  He doesn’t sound bored here – he sounds more excited than he has in a long, long time.  The inclusion of long-time collaborator Tony Visconti as producer is icing on the cake.

The album finds Bowie pushing himself forward into new territory but with an eye on the past.  Many of these songs do sound new and fresh, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these were actually written in Bowie’s days in Berlin.  The album art encapsulates this: it’s the cover of HEROES, but with a giant white square obscuring his face.  Even though Bowie might have (in his work in the 2000’s) tried to avoid reaching into his past, he’s realized he can’t.  Instead of running from his past, and instead of embracing it, he does something different.  He accepts the past and tries to one-up himself.  There’s an acceptance from Bowie that we’ve seen from him in more of the recent albums, but nothing this clear eyed.

the nextday

The album feels like it’s the most personal Bowie has ever released.  “The Next Day” uses a chorus that begins with: “Here I am / Not quite dying / My body left to rot in a hollow tree.”  The song is a triumphant (and knowing) return to form.  Bowie isn’t rejecting his age here, he’s embracing it and using it as a personal challenge.  “Where Are We Now?” is a meditation on a former life, back in Berlin in the late 1970’s.  “Heat” has a few haunting moments in its slow, paranoid crawl as well.

For what it’s worth, THE NEXT DAY is the best (and most consistent) album that Bowie has released since 1980’s SCARY MONSTERS.  This album feels like Bowie is comfortable with his own legacy; we see plenty of the trademark Bowie hallmarks here.  I don’t feel like there’s any standout single like “Changes” or “Starman” or “Heroes,” but this album makes up for it in its consistency.  I would recommend this album to any fans of Bowie’s, but I think that newcomers will find a lot here to enjoy as well.  The fact that this album exists at all is a wonder, but the fact that it’s a great one is more than I can ask for as a fan.

Essential tracks to sample/listen: “The Next Day,” “Valentine’s Day,” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”

Additional release information:
THE NEXT DAY was also released in a deluxe edition.  The deluxe edition of the album comes with three songs that do not appear on the full version.  These songs are “So She,” “Plan,” and “I’ll Take You There.”  Out of these three songs, one of them is an instrumental: “Plan” appears on the “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” video as the opening minute and a half before the video begins proper.  The remaining two tracks are good, but they don’t quite compare to the other songs on THE NEXT DAY.  I’d recommend this version for the Bowie fanatic, but it isn’t essential listening.

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The Most Under-Appreciated Albums of 2012

2012 has been a pretty good year for music.  Every genre has received some kind of hit record: for folk-indie, there was Mumford and Sons’ Babel; for R&B, there was Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange; for hip-hop, there was Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, for pop, there was Taylor Swift’s RED.  Perhaps it’s because it was a good year in music, there’s been several albums that have kind of fallen by the wayside.  The collection of albums below have gone through 2012 without much appreciate.  Here, this means that the album didn’t receive much critical or commercial attention — Grizzly Bears’ Shields is excellent, and underappreciate by audiences at large, but it was championed by critics and it has found its way on many “Best Of…” lists already.  The following list of albums is by no means ordered.  Stay tuned for a list of the most disappointing albums of 2012 coming soon!

damon albarn Dr Dee

Damon Albarn — Dr. Dee
It would be hard to Damon Albarn to release anything that goes under the radar.  Sure, Dr. Dee was noticed, but it was largely dismissed upon its initial release.  The album is a folky British opera that chronicles the mysterious John Dee — a consort to the queen, scientist, magician, mathematician, and astronomer.  Who would have thought that audiences weren’t interested in traditional operas about obscure 16th century alchemists?  The album is littered with Blur-esque acoustics by Albarn, but the majority of the album is traditional opera.  Critics were hoping for a small scale, intimate set, but instead, they got a strange, esoteric passion project.  SAMPLE THIS:  “Apple Carts” and “Preparation.”

liars WIXIW

Liars —  WIXIW
Those fans that were hoping that Radiohead would return to their uncompromising, electronic tendencies (Kid A and all) got their wish with last year’s King of Limbs.  Anyone still feeling a bit unsatisfied should seek out Liars’ WIXIW (pronounced “Wish You”).  The band has been no stranger to changing their sound between albums or being inaccessible: WIXIW changes none of that.  On the face of it, it’s an electronic record set with many of dance-ready beats.  A deeper listen reveals the paranoia and menace of the album.  It’s an album that rewards repeated listens, and while it may take a few to get used to the dense electronic atmosphere the band creates, it’s well worth the time.  What initially feels like a claustrophobic and harsh set of songs gradually opens up to be a surprisingly open and rich record.  SAMPLE THIS: “No. 1 Against the Rush” and “His and Mine Sensations.”

Django Django

Django Django — Django Django
It’s the band so nice they named it twice — four times if you take into account this is a self-titled record.  When I first listened to Django Django’s debut record, I knew that this was the record that everyone would be talking about in 2012.  The album has everything a listener could want: it’s well produced, it’s catchy, it’s fun, and it spans an array of genres, constantly keeping you guessing what comes next.  The band effortless shifts between surf-rock, electronic music, traditional Egyptian, and world music, but they never forget to give the listener a melody to remember.Django Django opens with the sound of nature before giving into the sounds of an arcade-like PacMan synthesizers.  It’s the perfect metaphor for the album itself: it’s an album that marries very natural sounds and melodies with fun electronics.  The album came in went with some people noticing it (NPR), but for the most part, it was lost in the rush.  Check this album out!  SAMPLE THIS: “Hail Bop” and “Waveforms.”

Grass Giraffes transportation

Grass Giraffes — Transportation
The Athen, Georgia-based band carries on the musical traditional.  The band’s debut release, the Transportation EP is a stellar mix of pop-rock and psychedelia.  Grass Giraffes’ music is sure to please anyone looking for more music by the Elephant Six collective.  The EP is only 5 songs long, but the band leaves its mark on the listener by giving the audience melodies that are irresistible and spot-on musicianship.  The lyrics here are just as smart and sharp as the lyrics, and if Transportation offers anything, it’s the hope that this kind of music (whose epoch seemed to fade out after Neutral Milk Hotel’s excellent In The Aeroplane Over the Sea) isn’t quite on its way out just yet.  SAMPLE THIS: “Backstories” and “Better Alone.”

Dan Deacon america

Dan Deacon — America
Dan Deacon has been skirting around massive audience appeal for some time now.  He’s a hard guy to pigeonhole:  his background is in classical music, but he is constantly trying to push the boundaries of electronic music.  America offers one of the best examples of what Deacon is capable of: the first half of the record is a handful of short, melody-heavy pop songs, and the back half of the record is a sprawling instrumental.  It’s hard to understand why Deacon isn’t a bigger figure in the mainstream consciousness — his music is either too electric for classical listeners or too classic for electronica listeners.  America does a great job marrying the two approaches, and if any release this year makes electronica fun, smart, and beautiful, it’s this one.  SAMPLE THIS: “True Thrush” and “USA II: The Great American Desert.”

Jesca Hoop the house that jack built

Jesca Hoop — The House That Jack Built
Tom Waits once described Jesca Hoop’s music has refreshing as “going swimming in a lake at night.”  It’s a surprisingly apt description of her music, and on that front, The House That Jack Built succeeds.  Hoop, who recorded this album after touring as part of Peter Gabriel’s band, pushes herself in a ton of different directions.  This album is a bit more streamlined than her previous work, but it’s also more accessible — fans of Hunting My Dress may be a bit disappointed with the decidedly poppier approach Hoop takes here, but it pays of in dividends.  Although Hoop’s musicianship is pristine here, what really shines is her lyrics; the material spans a wide array of subject material, but nothing is as profound as her reflection of death on the haunting and minimalist “D.N.R.”  Hoop’s music feels too poppy for the indie-audience that she records for, but here’s hoping this fantastic album finds its audience.  SAMPLE THIS: “Ode to Banksy” and “D.N.R.”

Aimee Mann charmer

Aimee Mann — Charmer
Aimee Mann has been around for a while now, but 2012’s Charmer feels like she’s found new inspiration.  The 90’s alternative rocker’s latest album is a fun, slick record that never forget to put the melodies up front.  Complimenting Mann’s guitar this time around is a Cars-like synthesizer. The album is accessible, but it’s immensely listenable — this is a record that never fails to just be a fun record.  Even though some of the subject matter turns sour (“Disappeared” or “Living A Lie”), Mann couches it all in poppy songwriting.  Collaborations with James Mercer from the Shins and Tim Heidecker from Time & Eric give the songwriter enough room to maintain her own personality while offering new takes on her music. SAMPLE THIS: “Charmer” and “Soon Enough”

Exitmusic-Passage

Exitmusic — Passage
Celebrities playing in bands is not a new spectacle.  Everytime you here about a Keanu Reeves and Dog Star or Russell Crowe and 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts, it’s hard not to imagine that these are ployed attempts at artistic credibility.  These celebrities play in their band, but they never want that to be the focus of the music; Billy Bob Thornton, for example, nearly cancelled a live interview because the radio DJ singled him out in a question.  Exitmusic, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all.  The group is a husband/wife duo featuring Boardwalk Empire’s Aleksa Palladino on vocals.  Their album, Passage, has all of the atmospheric bombast that a Sigur Ros record has, and it’s just as beautiful.  Simultaneously beautiful and haunting, this is a record that works both as background music and music to lose yourself in.  SAMPLE THIS: “Passage” and “Sparks of Light.”

Hot Chip in our heads

Hot Chip — In Our Heads
Here’s an album that initially received a bit of a buzz at first only to seemingly sizzle away.  Hot Chip has been around for a while now, and their records have been mixed at best.  Sure, some are better than others, but none of them have been as consistent as In Our Heads.  Part R&B, part electronica, part dance, this British group’s latest record features the band at its very best.  The band’s positive outlook makes In Our Heads not only a great album, but one that you’ll enjoy spending time with.  If the music isn’t trying to create a groove to dance to, it’s dropping melodic hooks that will keep listeners coming back for more.  SAMPLE THIS: “Motion Sickness” and “Let Me Be Him.”

Future of the Left plot against common sense

Future of the Left — The Plot Against Common Sense
I don’t know the last time I listened to an album so brutal.  Future of the Left’s The Plot Against Common Sense is noise-rock at its finest, made all the most harsh by the fact that they just don’t seem to make bands like this anymore.  Not only is the music aggressive, but the lyrics are just as sharp as the melodies here.  Moving from cynical to satirical, Future of the Left tackles subjects such as the music industry, Hollywood, the Occupy Movement, and um, bad restaurants.  It’s one of the year’s best, as long as you’re willing to endure the fast, noisy, and raw sound that’s thrown at you.  SAMPLE THIS: “Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman” and “Beneath the Waves an Ocean.”

Honorable mentions:
La Sera — Sees the Light
Mynabirds — Generals
Hopsitality — Hospitality

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Track Review: Sera Cahoone’s “One to Blame”

Sera Cahoone’s brand of indie/country/low-fi music has a certain feel to it — it feels like being under a warm blanket almost.  There’s a certain warmth that comes through her songs so that, no matter what the subject matter is, you’ll know everything is going to be alright.  The singer/songwriter’s third full length album, Deer Creek Canyon, may very well be her best, and while she almost seamlessly transitions between moods and tones, there’s a security to her music that never diminishes.  Deer Creek Canyon is a nice mix of songs, some upbeat kickers (“Nervous Wreck,” “Deer Creek Canyon”), some slow melancholy ballads (“And Still We Move,” “Worry All Your Life”), and some indie-centric, melody heavy songs (“Naked,” “Shakin’ Hands”).  All of these sensibilities converge though in the middle of her album on “One to Blame.”

“One to Blame” is right square in the middle of the album: track #7.  The song isn’t uptempo; it’s not a drag either; it’s somewhere right in the middle.  This song, in both vocal and instrumentation, isn’t dripping with sadness, and it’s not wallowing in its own despair.  Like many of the country artists that Cahoone finds inspiration from, there’s an emotional distance to “One to Blame.”  Instead of Cahoone sounding like she is experiencing the song as it plays, it feels like she has written all of this down, driven to a bar, and sang it for the 100th time.  This lack of immediacy isn’t a bad thing at all though: it works beautifully for the song.  The fallen relationship that Cahoone sings about in “One to Blame” is completely over by the time the song makes its way to the listener in spite of its use of present tense.  These lyrics feel like a well worn path that she has visited over and over again, reliving this memory, trying to understand what went wrong.

What’s most striking about “One to Blame” is Cahoone’s delivery.  What made Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, et al., Bobby Womack et al. such wonderful vocalists wasn’t their willingness to jump into a verse, and it wasn’t their bombastic delivery — it was their lack thereof.  These singers knew that the key wasn’t choosing what notes to wail on — it was choosing the notes to withhold and recede from.  Sometimes, the absence of any kind of delivery can speak louder than any kind of scream, wail, or croon could.  Cahoone finds this here and absolutely nails it.  During the chorus, she sings two lines, and she doesn’t come in again for a few bars.  Because choruses traditionally serve as the lynchpin of a song, vocalists will crowd it — Cahoone gives the chorus room to breathe, and after she sings “Finally found you on the street / I’ve been all over town,” listeners can’t wait for the next line.  It feels like it should be right there following the her, but it isn’t.

Cahoone’s amazing vocal delivery on this song mirrors the mood and lyrics of the song as well.  By the time (and it is late in the song when it happens) she sings “I need you with me / baby let’s just try,” she sounds defeated — she knows the answer here.  The hesitation of her vocal delivery matches this perfectly, because she (or the narrator) knows what the response to the suggestion will be, there’s a brief pause before uttering it.  There’s no mistake that this is the final phrase Cahoone sings of the song; “One to Blame” plays on a few more minutes before seemingly realizing that it’s over, just like the relationship chronicled within it.

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Competition as Motivation: the Curious Cases of Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, and Frank Black

Lou Reed is a notorious pain in the ass. In the late 1960’s, he fronted The Velvet Underground and wrote four albums with the band before leaving due to internal tension within the band. He would go on to release a solo album to critical and commercial apathy. His second solo album TRANSFORMER, produced by David Bowie, would be a creative success however, Reed would never be able to match these early heights. It’s a pattern that is all too uncommon in the music industry (and in several other media): artists peak early only to have their careers stall creatively. What’s missing? In many cases, creative tension within bands bring out the best, whether it being an internal or external form of competition.

Look at the Beatles.  Paul McCartney and John Lennon was two of the best songwriters of any generation — you put them together, and they create brilliant works of pop music.  Outside of the Beatles, the two never really reached the same creative highlights as they once did together in a band.  This trend isn’t exclusive to the Lennon/McCartney pairing though: we’ve seen it with Pink Floyd, Velvet Underground, the Pixies, Soundgarden, Guns ‘N Roses, Stone Temple Pilots, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc…  It happens all the time.  Usually the argument reverts to a simple explanation: these songwriters are good, but once they are combined with their bandmates, they have a certain chemistry that makes them greater than the sum of their parts.  Seems reasonable enough: put two good people together and you get a great product.  Instead of the effect being additive, it seems more like an exponential increase in quality.  What I’ve always wonder is: why?  Why does this happen?

There can be two kinds of competitions in regards to bands/artists making music: outward competition and inward competition.  Outward competition, as it sounds, involves the members of the band trying to gain fans, money, a record label, success, or some combination of the above.  This form of competition serves as motivation for bands in as much as once the goal is achieved, motivation is lost.  It’s no mistake that breakthrough albums are often the best for bands: it’s probably the album that the band tried hardest on.

The other kind of competition, inward competition, is what I attribute the failure of solo projects outside of band’s normal groups.  Frank Black wrote almost all of the Pixies music, but once the band dissolved and he went off on his own, that spark that his songwriting used to carry was (very often) missing.  The only thing that changed was the group of people he wrote the music around — not his fame, success, etc.  Frank Black was notorious for his aggressive (some would say tyrranical) leadership over the band.  For Black, the Pixies was a competition — it was a way for him to assert dominance over others.  What would be the best way for Black to assert his dominance? By writing the best songs.  Sound petty, oversweeping, or too simple?

In the instance of Lennon and McCartney, the two wrote music together in the first half of the Beatles’ career, and it wasn’t until later that the two starting writing separately.  Songs began becoming “more John” or “more Paul.”  When the Beatles really hit their stride (starting with Rubber Soul and following through to Abbey Road) they were writing mostly apart from one another, only to have the other half come in after the songwriting was done to add a few details.  If these two were becoming independent songwriters, why did their talent seem to take a hit once they went solo?  Probably to the surprise of no one, the band broke up because of creative differences — Lennon and McCartney would often try to one-up the other, and sometimes, it led to disastrous results.  Abbey Road was the last album the band recorded, and its second half features an amazing medley that feels as if the two are trying to outdo the other.  It works for the music, but it didn’t work for the band, and polarizing songs (like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”) proved to be their undoing.

Coming back to Lou Reed, the frontman for the heavily influential Velvet Underground, he’s an artist that released an album that actually could stand up to his previous band’s work.  His second album, Transformer, was a commercial and critical hit, succeeding his much maligned debut solo release.  Here’s the interesting thing though: after John Cale left Velvet Underground after White Light/White Heat, Reed was the sole songwriter for the band.  Without Cale, VU would go on to record to masterpiece albums: Velvet Underground and Loaded.  John Cale and Lou Reed didn’t always see eye to eye, and the result was a brand of music that was at odds with itself — Reed’s simple pop melodies would stand just at the forefront, while Cale’s psychedelic experimentation lurked just beneath.  Together, the two were able to create two of the greatest and most influential albums of all time, but it came at a price.  Cale left the band because of the turmoil between the two, so it would seem that the internal competition within the band would have dissipated.  It didn’t.  Without Cale, the Velvet Underground released two more albums that were (almost) as good as the first pair, and Reed was the only songwriter penning the tracks.

Much like Frank Black of the Pixies, Reed was an aggressive leader: he exerted his control over the band’s music with an iron fist.  After Loaded, he released his seltitled solo record, mostly with songs that were to be Velvet Underground tunes — the album passed by most consumers and critics without much fuss.  Even with ridiculously (and maybe even overqualified) session players from Yes, the album failed to make a splash.  It wasn’t until his second solo record, Transformer, that things started to really pick up.  Reed brought in David Bowie and (fellow Spider from Mars) Mick Ronson to handle production of his second solo album.  Bowie and Reed would later go on to have their own feuds and fights, but in 1972, they were able to create a career-defining album for Reed.  Transformer had what Lou Reed didn’t and what all the other Velvet Underground records had: musicians to compete with.  Against Bowie and Ronson, Reed was pushed to write “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Satellite of Love,” two commercial hits that solidified Reed’s status as a solo artist.  Before this time, it was no secret that Bowie was competitive: he and Marc Bolan of T. Rex had friendship that exemplified this kind of competitive nature, so it may come as no surprise that Bowie and Reed would develop similar tendencies.  Reed would go on to develop a similarly competitive relationship while writing his third solo album, Berlin, with Bob Ezrin.  After that?  Reed wanted to produce himself, and the world was “gifted” with such albums as the limp Sally Can’t Dance and insane Metal Machine Music.

It seems that with most bands, there’s some sort of internal frustration — some sort of friction — that goes on.  In Oasis, Noel Gallagher’s songwriting was a way of controlling his brother; whatever Noel wrote, Liam had to (in theory) sing.  In Metallica, it was a way for James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich to vent their frustrations at one another (and seemingly everyone else in the world).  When Billy Corrigan tried to democratize the songwriting process in Zwan, it came up with mixed results, and when he went solo, it was near-disastrous.

Internal competition need not only be for antagonistic relationships.  An example from recent memory of friendly competition lies in the Raconteurs and Divine Fits.  Both of these bands are “supergroups” of two or more songwriters.  The Raconteurs featured Jack White and Brendan Benson taking turns one-upping the other in the studio.  The band’s two albums are both good — the competitive spirit the band takes into the studio pays off and both songwriters are better because of it.  Divine Fits, who have only released one album to date, consists of the songwriters of Spoon (Brit Daniel) and Wolf Parade (Dan Boeckner).  Similar to the Raconteurs, the band features dueling singer/songwriters, and the result of the competition is that both members’ turn in better performances than their “main” band’s latest offering.  Internal competition as motivation isn’t a bad thing — it’s just something that has to be managed and reined for the forces of good.

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