In Memory of the White Stripes: a Reminiscence

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard. But in case you haven’t been anywhere near the internet, you should know that Tuesday morning—2nd February—the White Stripes announced that they will no longer record or perform as the White Stripes, citing ‘a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way’.

And now, as we cannot help but expect, the ensuing days and weeks will see an abundance of White Stripes retrospectives and ruminations. And it’s only fair. They’ve been hugely influential and significant players in the world of music over the last 13 years. But I doubt it was their influence or musical prowess that won most of us to their side in the first place. I can still remember the first time I heard the White Stripes. It was a performance of something (possibly ‘Fell In Love With a Girl’) on some awards show (possibly the Grammys). In fact, it was what I perceived to be their lack of technical ability that put me off their music in the first place. I wrote them off completely and didn’t give a Meg and Jack a second thought for years.

Then I fell for a girl who loved the band. And I fell hard. For both of them. In my quest to understand the things she loved, I became swept up in everything: the carefully constructed public ethos, the visceral pathos of Jack’s guitar and vocals, and the blistering power of the entire package. Before long, I had more invested in the White Stripes than the retail price of half a dozen CDs. They were a relational touchstone, a social reference point for someone like me who is more apt to disappear into obscurity than engage in small talk. But I think that’s what captivated me most. The power of the White Stripes was not in complexity or lyrical gravitas but in the imperfection and stuttering brokenness of their delivery.

Given Jack’s numerous side projects in recent years and the fact that the band haven’t released a full-length studio album since 2007, I suppose Tuesday’s announcement was not all that surprising. But I think we were all still caught off guard—I suspect we always would have been.

The band concluded their announcement saying:

The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful.

The White Stripes were an experience I am thrilled to have shared and sad to see end, but if, as they say, they belong to me—to us—now, I, for one, am happy to have them.

 

The Indie Handbook: Best of the Decade (2000’s)

I don't know the dog's name...
Osvaldo Golijov with Dawn Upshaw, Photo (c) John Sann/DG

Now that you’ve perused our favorite albums and songs of the year, we hope you’ll enjoy our best of the decade lists.  Since both of us were incredibly uncool until about halfway through the decade, please forgive us any gaps, although I think we’ve done our research since then.  On this page, we’ll post our top 10, but don’t worry, we’ve linked to more extensive lists.

Kristin’s top 10 albums of the decade:

10. Jason Mraz, Live at Java Joe’s (self-released, 2001): I don’t care how “mainstream” Jason Mraz is, he is an incredibly talented guitarist and singer/songwriter.  This album is a lot different from “radio Jason” like “Wordplay” and “Geek in the Pink”–it’s poetry set to acoustic guitar.  “Unfold” is my favorite track, but I wouldn’t skip one.

9. Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge, 2006): My favorite Camera Obscura album.  Lovely twee/pop to which you can dance and laugh and cook, apparently, because that’s what I do.  I discovered this band much too late.

8.  The Format, Dog Problems (The Vanity Label, 2006): Everyone knows I love the Format.  Dog  Problems is a work of angsty genius.  Incredible arrangements and Nate Ruess has the best voice ever.  I cried every night until he came back with fun., which is on my best of 2009 list.

7.  Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive, Zomba, 2006): I don’t want to say too much about this (because I’m saying so much about my other picks), and I realize it isn’t a very indie choice, but it is an amazing album, and I think its sound is pretty revolutionary.  So, thank you Justin, for bringing sexy back.

6. Belle & Sebastian, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds (Matador, 2005): I decided that compilations are allowed, even if the songs didn’t come out this decade, since it is my list and everything.  Every single Belle & Sebastian album is worth having and listening to on repeat, but this compilation happens to house some of my favorites, like “The State I Am In” and “You Made Me Forget My Dreams”.  This storytelling twee makes me so happy I could die.

5. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts, 2004): I think Stars may have changed my life a little bit.  This lovely, cathartic electropop is actually pretty epic, I think.  “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and “Ageless Beauty” are, in my opinion, the most notable tracks.

4. The New Pornographers, Challengers (Matador, 2007): Another epic album; every song is cathartic, with haunting layers and perfect movement.  “Unguided”–the climax of Challengers.

3.  White Stripes, White Blood Cells (Sympathy for the Record Industry V2, 2001): I don’t think anyone can deny that the White Stripes have made their mark on the music industry over the past 10 years–but which album is their best?  I’ve seen other albums on other lists, but White Blood Cells is my favorite, especially for “Hotel Yorba,” “Fell In Love With A Girl,” and “We’re Going To Be Friends”.

2.  Arcade Fire, Funeral (Merge, 2004): EPIC.  In my search for cool, I listened to Neon Bible before I ever heard Funeral, and while Neon Bible did indeed make my extended list, Funeral is groundbreaking.  What a sound!  What lyrics!  Thank you, Arcade Fire.  “Crown of Love” and “Wake Up” are my favorite tracks.

1.  Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum, 2007): There was no question here for me about the best album of the decade.  This album reflects the work of a phenomenal classically-trained multi-instrumentalist with a great comprehension of musical theory and folk tradition.  His lyrics fascinate, and his arrangements stagger.  Can I pick a favorite track?  “Scythian Empires,” “Fiery Crash,” and “Armchairs” have the most plays on my iTunes.  Andrew Bird, we love you.

[see Kristin’s other favorites]

Eric’s Top 10:

10. We Leave at Dawn, Envy & Other Sins (A&M/Polydor) – In my mind, Envy & Other Sins is the most significant casualty of the hipster delusion. I don’t care if they won their record deal on a TV show, We Leave at Dawn is still (and by a wide margin) the best album I heard in 2008. Their official break-up in July of this year will forever be a black mark on 2009, but then, even that gave us Malpas, so, you know, it’s not all bad…

9. Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories, Regina Spektor (Sire) – Another collection of impossible to find independent releases, this is Regina Spektor at her best, back when the only people who listened to her actually knew what anti-folk means.

8. Bring Me the Workhorse, My Brightest Diamond (Asthmatic Kitty) – Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond is another one of those enigmatic figures cultivating the no man’s land between pop and classical music. And she packs a punch. Reared on a healthy diet of Pierre Boulez, Nina Simone, Radiohead, and a dash of PJ Harvey, Workhorse was unleashed and it knocked me clean into next week—which is not meant to take anything away from the follow-up A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, but I had to pick a favorite. [Read my interview with Shara.]

7. Want One, Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks) – This is not Rufus’s harmonically adventurous album by any means (Release the Stars is), but in terms of campy grandeur, I challenge you to find any album that can reach this level without making a complete fool of everyone involved. With such sweeping epics as “Oh, What a World”, “Go or Go Ahead”, and “14th Street”, it’s a physically exhausting listening experience—and worth every minute.

6. Super Extra Gravity, The Cardigans (Stockholm) – It may come as a surprise, but The Cardigans probably have more to do with this the existence of this blog than any other band. Hearing this album on one of the British Airways in-flight music channels in January of 2006 opened the floodgates, if you will. It is, by far, the band’s most mature record to date and a major shift from the satirical bossa nova spirit they championed in the mid-90s. Pick up the UK bonus tracks edition if you can, because the final track, “Slow”, is the bleakest love song you will ever hear with a pretty slick symmetrical division of the octave (at the major third) to close it out.

5. Cuilidh, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine) – I took a few months off, then listened to this album again Christmas Eve and came to the following conclusion. This is the most beautiful album I have heard. Ever.

4. Why Should the Fire Die, Nickel Creek (Sugar Hill) – One word: “Eveline”. This is Nickel Creek at the pinnacle of their combined compositional ability. I’m still waiting for that “Hello Again” tour I hope you are planning.

3. Ayre, Osvaldo Golijov/Dawn Upshaw (Deutsche Grammophon) – Yes, if you insist on seeking your identity in the esoterism of the avant-garde, you may keep telling yourself that Osvaldo Golijov is too much of a populist to be taken seriously. All I know is that 4 June 2007, the night I heard Dawn Upshaw perform this song cycle as part of the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow series, still ranks among the top five most glorious experiences of my life.

2. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, Belle & Sebastian (Rough Trade/Matador) – Even though these songs all came out in the 90s, this is the first time they have ever been collected in the one place and, as far as I know, the only remaining way to obtain most of these recordings, so it counts. Ever wonder why B&S have the devoted following they do (ourselves included)? The answer is buried among these 24 tracks.

1. Végétal, Emilie Simon (Barclay) – The most intricate, controlled, and breathtaking effort from the woman I consider the quintessential songwriter/composer of the last decade. After three years, I am still peeling back layers of sonic architecture in hopes of reaching the foundation of this subtly monumental achievement. Emilie Simon is creating the future of music, and I don’t think even she realizes it. This is, quite simply, the masterpiece of the decade.

[see Eric’s full list of 51 albums]

I (Eric) would like to introduce one last superlative before we bid adieu to the first decade of the 21st century. That is “Most Vexing Album of the Decade”. To me, the winner is clearly In Our Space Hero Suits, the debut from Sweden’s Those Dancing Days. I’ve been listening to it for about a year now, and I still can’t figure out if I actually like the music, or if I just think the singer, Linnea Jönsson, is really cute. Watch the video below, and help me figure this out.

A bonus Dutch Week post

We’ve both been too busy to put together our Dutch Week wrap-up today, so, lucky you, you get one more regular Dutch Week post. This time it’s a two-piece, one of those guitar and drum combos that people like so much.

Looking at Appie Kim, the initial comparisons are obvious: (boy + girl) x (guitar + drums) = White Stripes/Blood Red Shoes. To think of something like an inversion of the White Stripes would begin to move you in the right direction since the bulk of the vocal duties are filled by Natasha van Waardenburg (formerly of De Nieuwe Vrolijkheid). Yes, it is true the track “Yes or No” has traces of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” scattered throughout, but there is much more to this band than that. Unfortunately, I get the impression that the five lo-fi, apparently live recordings, available for download at www.appiekim.com do not really convey what these two are able to do with such limited instrumentation.

Some of the live recordings, like “Typewriter”, sport all the reverb of the creepiest of 80s recordings, yet still continue to grow on you in the unsettling and disturbing way of classics like the indefatigable “Rock Me Amadeus”. This is Appie Kim at their garagiest and probably where the Kills comparisons come from. But I think it is in the studio recordings, posted on MySpace, that the real character of the band shines through. Granted, there are only two tracks available, but they have a more polished sound (actual production will do that to a recording) that I actually like better. It is something like a weightier, stripped down version of the Cardigans circa Long Gone Before Daylight. Think all the fragility of “Live and Learn” but darker and heavier.

Of course, you really ought to go check this out for yourself. And if you don’t like my review, just go to the website and build your own (no, I’m not kidding).