PROGRAMMERS NOTE: The planned posting of the Top 5 Pearl Jam albums will not be read today, as we commemorate the death of an interstellar star system as it left our galaxy on February 22, 2021.
Every now and then a band reaches you at the exact moment where you needed positivity and energy the most. This was the circumstances under which I fell in love with French duo extraordinaire Daft Punk. Around 1999 i was deep in with the metal of the era- Slayer, Slipknot, Nine Inch Nails and various other heavy as shit bands were consuming my life in the best way imaginable, but i was starting to notice other genres, other music and tons of things i normally wouldn’t be interested in.
In 2001 I got “Discovery” and away I went. The music filling my car, house and various other spaces spoke to me in a way that metal never could. The record as a whole is a huge leap forward for the modern electronic era, combining the knowledge from their debut and the direction EDM ( as it eventually became known) was naturally going. With songs like “Aerodynamic,” the romantically tinged soulmate sharing of “Digital Love” and of course, the one song that would catapult them to another level. It's called “One More Time” is a disco explosion of beats and remixed vocals. The song, up until a point, was the band's best known selection, but in the years that followed plenty of things would change for the best electronic band of all time.
In 2005 a new record emerged, this time titled “Human After All.” The album, while not as game changing as their predecessors, isn’t as bad as most people rememberBy this point the plotline of humans being destroyed and coming back as robotic programmers had been known for several years, but they still hadn’t played a show in the new millennium. That would all change come 2006, when the group would surprise everyone and be the talk of the music world with their dominating performance at the mecca of the music world, Coachella.
The show itself is nothing short of perfect, and having been fortunate enough to see it three times, I can safely say that Daft Punk's music has been a tremendous motivator for me and how I navigate this world. Yes its bleeps and blops and not for everyone, but for me it worked, and made me better than i was before.That the strength of music.
So, as we close this thing that i wasn’t aware I’d have to write today, thank you to Thomas, to Guy Manuel, to getting “Lucky” with friends while we escape our everyday lives, and to the everlasting memories of a giant glowing pyramid as it single handedly changes who musicians approach live performances. And while many assumed we’d already heard the last of the french robots, let us not forget all the music they’ve left behind, and how we got to witness the “Primetime of our Lives” through joyous inspiring music. Thank you guys for all the robot rock.
\\During the game changing music scene of the 90’s, Britain's Portishead created a sound as imaginative as it is genre defining. They blur lines left and right,often combining genres that you wouldn’t automatically think would work. As a band in their “third decade”, Portishead has been less than prolific. Three studio albums, one live album, and a few one-off singles are all we’ve seen over the band’s twenty plus year career. Having said that you can’t really fault them for taking their time to correctly present their vision, when the ultimate vision ends up being so thoughtful, solid, and beautiful. Today, we’re talking about their first album, the modern masterpiece known as “Dummy”
Let me first say that in a world full of unoriginal bands with no impressive ideas, Portishead manages to sit atop a mountain with a few other vastly important bands still making music that is years ahead of anything the mainstream audience might experience. I mention that because their first album “Dummy” is the album that started the upward mobility.
Released in the late summer of 1994, “Dummy” isn’t a typical album. It’s not a warm loving record. Instead, vocalist Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow & guitarist Adrian Utley took elements from the 30’s, mixed them with a new type of sound called “triphop.” From the opening of “Mysterons” you get the cold, harsh, but often calculated ambiance that the band created for us. An interesting tidbit about the band, before the recording of this album the band only consisted of Gibbons & Barlow, but after working well with Utley, he was brought on to be the third member, and that’s still the core lineup that the band uses today.
If you think about the music of the times, a few things come to mind. One, does this album sound even remotely close to any of the modern more well-known music being released at that time? Of course not, but that’s why unknown bands are sometimes the best. They can survive and create without the restrictions of big level record companies, and in this case, it helps to cement a great band’s legacy. In the climate of today;s music industry, bands like Portishead wouldn’t even get the big label treatment. It’s too much of a risk to the record company, at least in their eyes,
The second thought that occurred to me was what other now regarded classic alternative albums had come out that year. Nine Inch Nails “The Downward Spiral,” Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” and Tori Amos’ “Under the Pink” all were released in the same year. With all of those great albums, I’d be surprised if that didn’t help “Dummy” to get a little bit more attention than it would have gotten had it been released during a time where the thirst for “alternative” music wasn’t at an all time high.
One of the best things about this band is the skill they have to combine sounds and textures. Gibbons' voice is reminiscent of a cabaret singer, quietly vocalizing in a dark, smoky red-lit bar at two in the morning. The sultry, painful voice, combined with the precise use of a drum machine and synthesizer make the overall sound of the band impressive. It’s especially obvious on tracks like “It Could be Sweet,” and the track that follows, “Wandering Star.” Having purchased this album on vinyl, it’s really the way it was meant to be heard. The album on its own has a very warm quality to it, but on record it’s even more undeniable.
The wobbly but consistent beats on “Wandering Star” are probably one of the most electric beats on the whole album. The album has so many layers to it that it’s hard to focus on one at a time, but that’s what great bands do in a way that makes the music seamless and effortless when played for avid listeners. They add layers that might not work on their own, but together, it’s radiant and glorious. Most great bands are good at this gentle art, and Portishead is among those great activators of sound.
One of the cinematic, epic songs on the whole album is “It’s a Fire.” The symphonic beginning quickly dissolves and gives way to the quiet of a piano behind Beth’s voice, until the other beats slowly bleed through, forcing you to acknowledge them. Her voice here is one of the more lovely parts of the whole album, and it’s also one of the few parts where you get a hint of positivity. Even with a hint of optimism, that’s not implying this is a happy record.
One of the saddest, albeit most beautiful songs on the albums, “Roads” is the perfect foundation for the rest of the band’s work. It’s not only the best song on the album, but it’s my favorite song by the band. The song speaks to the listener from a solitary, desperate place. I can relate to this position of the speaker so much because sometimes in life you feel like you’re alone, and without a net to save you.
The imagery set forth here is unbelievably powerful, and the music does just as much for the overall feel of the song than the vocals do, if not more. If it were up to me, this song would be put in a time capsule for the future children of earth to find two thousand years from now, if we even last that long. The song both begins and ends with a warm fuzz of a beat coming in and out. I’m not sure what instrument is being used to bring it to fruition, but it works wonderfully to propel the song to its ultimate apex.
From the first time I was ever exposed to this album when I first heard the single “Sour Times,” to the years working my way through this collection of songs, so many of them have spoken to me in a personal, life-affirming way. Even songs that have a sinister undertone like “Biscuit” still work even twenty years after the album was released. That’s how you can tell a band knows what they’re doing. The music has only intensified in the time since it was unleashed. Album closer, and overall great song “Glory Box” is one of the better reminders of this.
Like much of the rest of the album, “Glory Box” presents imagery that is both epic and mythological, while juxtaposing a quiet burlesque feel that is both haunting and a throwback to the times of the roaring twenties. Tell me you can’t see that in this world? Gibbons voice is perhaps at it’s best on this track, and the emotion pouring out of her is at the same time defiant and dependent on whoever she is talking to. It’s the perfect song to conclude this monster of an album, and it helps to permanently claim the trio’s spot among great bands.
When the third album, “Third” came out, it was evocative of everything they had done previously, and it still worked. They had taken the basic idea experimented with on “Dummy” and had refined it and made it new and fresh. That’s what this band does. They evolve and change but they remain uniquely brilliant. Eventually they’ll make a fourth proper studio record, and when they do, I have no doubt it will be as important and interesting as the other three albums currently making up their discography. Thanks for reading
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As a band approaches their third, and even fourth decades, they usually start to dwindle in quality, surviving off the often vast catalog of hits they may have created during that time. For Pearl Jam, who’s long weird journey began in 1990, being a band in their 30’s has only made them more independent and aware of what works. They still play 3 hour sets each night, often with a drastically different setlist than the nights before and after. Today, a week before a post about the bands 30 year career, we discuss the bands Top 10 best songs. This list is sure to get people talking, with more than 11 albums featuring some truly remarkable songs. This list features some stuff you’ll immediately recognize, and hopefully plenty of others you’ll grow to enjoy. Thanks for reading! What are some of your favorite PJ Tracks? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on instagram at @the deathofthemixtape.
10. LOVE BOAT CAPTAIN: RIOT ACT
When I first encountered “Love Boat Captain,” it was the opening number of the now legendary first appearance by the band at the Bonnaroo festival. The song enters in a slow emotional manner, reminiscent of a road weary man marching himself towards a greater goal of love. The song speaks to the need for admiration, for love, for partnership, but it’s written with an earnestness you’ll find in plenty of stuff created by Vedder himself or the band. As we open the countdown, “Love Boat Captain'' shows the strength of knowing your place in the universe is meaningless at best, but for a certain few in our world, we get to share love and the craziness of the planet as we fight against being meaningless.
9. LIFE WASTED: PEARL JAM
One of the best straight rockers in this list, “Life Wasted” comes from an album later in the band's career, but it spits with all the urgency of a band hungry for relevance, which they still had for many middle aged grey haired dads across the world. The guitars by (Gossard & McCreedy) are rushed and antagonizing, with Vedder's voice harping on the life you've abandoned, with the catch coming during the moments of the song you realize his attacks and pleading are all focused inward on himself. He’s trying to get his road straight, and with the urgency of the music under your wings and your ears, you’re transported to a place where pushing yourself is the only way to succeed.
8. NOTHINGMAN: VITALOGY
Even though this is a band very often overlooked in terms of genuine, beautiful “ballads,” there still exists plenty of soul crushing slow tunes in the catalog. While most are amazing, tear inducing, and heartfelt, “Nothingman” is the most obvious choice for me. It’s slow, somber, and wonderful. The vocals are day dreams of an abandoned illusion consisting of what dreams we chose to forget and not pursue. It’s this emotional pull and push that makes the song so beautifully tragic. I’ve still never gotten to see this live, but hopefully someday I will. I’d like to talk more about this, but some songs are best left to let you hear, rather than for you to read about.
7. DO THE EVOLUTION: YIELD
Even before we discuss the actual song, we shouldn’t forget the brilliance of the Todd MacFarlane video for this classic apocalyptic track. The animation presented in the clip ties in perfectly to the nihilistic approach permeating this journey through times and platitudes. The vocals are scratchy, while the guitars and drums both feature tinges of the garage rock days of the band's journey to the top. It brims with the intensity of a world undone by itself, and we’re all mammals trying to not be part of the next extinction.
6. JEREMY: TEN
For me, this song is a sad reminder of wasted youth, and how we as humans are so quick to forget bad events, as long as they don’t interrupt our important lives. But then you still have to factor in the polarizing video. The video, which is still tough to watch, portrays a bullied teen, ignored by his self-important parents, and harassed by his peers, brutally taking the lives of the people he should have been feeling free with in the afternoons and weekends of his adolescence. It was a shocking video to say the least, but in the end it didn’t matter, because the mass population still overlooks shootings as something that just “happens.”
5. ALIVE: TEN
Most folks hearing “Alive” believe it to be a song seeping with positivity at having made it through the difficult thing called life, but in reality it’s far more downtrodden. The song is indeed a roaring anthem, but buried in the subconscious of the song is the massive pain felt by Vedder at the early age of his father. The song, written in regards to the turbulent relationship between his step father, who for a long time he believed was his actual father. In truth. His dad died during his still developing years, and the impacting death made the creation of this song possible. Just remember, when we’re singing and hollowing to the “I’m Alive,” at your next Pearl
Jam show that it was never about Eddie, but instead about the complicated relationships with his fathers.
4. ELDERLY WOMAN BEHIND A COUNTER IN A SMALL TOWN: VS
Like the forgotten dreams of a teenager destined to be stuck in a shitty go nowhere town, “Elderly Woman…” tells the story of the long years gone by, the regret as we all carry with us, and the knowledge that we were meant for better things, if only we could escape. The song itself tells such a normal, painful story that it’s easy to forget that this came out so long ago, but it hasn’t changed the meaning and merit behind it. It’s not instrumentally aggressive like other tracks on their often overlooked second record, but it’s humility and. Eye opening regret make it worth the love it gets among long time PJ fans.
3. GIVEN TO FLY: YIELD
Overwhelmingly optimistic once you get through the rough parts. That’s one way to start. Another would be to say It’s a quite beautiful song, and the music alongside Vedder's simmering, soaring voice really helps to bring me to a place where everything is right in the world. This song exemplifies so much of what life is really like. Darkness, murder, power, love and optimism. I can’t help but think that life is supposed to be experienced, and not to be ruined by pleasing other people, or how much money you have in the bank. Life is what happens when you’re busy trying to figure out what's next. At number three, with its call to soar and to be free, is “Given to Fly.”
2. REARVIEWMIRROR: VS
Like a speeding car roaring away from a shitty relationship, This bad boy kicks all kinds of ass. It’s immediately in first gear, and the flow of the song never lets up, especially in the chorus. Musically it’s rooted in the heyday of the grunge era, but the emotions presented lyrically are the things we never share as they're happening, saving them for the inevitable meltdown. Musically it has everything a PJ fan would love. That bass line going underneath everything also helps to tie the song into a perfect bow. The vocals at the end are what ultimately makes it an amazing song. It’s clear whatever he’s dealing with, he wants to be done, or as he says it, he wants it in his “ Rearview Mirror.”
“Black” may be the band's darkest song, but more Importantly it might also be their best. This song is so emotional in so many ways. The song has so much sadness and desperation in it, but it still brings out pure raw emotions that ultimately make it a priceless song. As a listener I never feel at home in the world of “Black,” rather I feel lost and in the dark as the narrator fights for his redemption for all the damage he’s done. Again, as a listener, the song speaks to the turbulent life of the narrator, and when he speaks to the things “All washed in black,” you know the damage is done, but his heart is broken and full of regret. Moment after moment during “Black” leaves you reeling emotionally, even as you hope for the best outcome you’re certain won’t come. In fact, during the closing moments of the song you don’t get that repeal, instead watching that special one venture away from you and your “Black.” Even more meaningful for me was the first time I saw this performed, which ruled just as much as you might think. If you haven’t yet heard this song, please track it down. It’s the emotional core of not only that album, but the core of the band. Thank you for reading!
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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