My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Had I been more organized, I would have had this post ready to go on New Year’s Eve or Day, but as it is, I was busy and just didn’t have the time or wherewithal to get it together. I have been doing my research over the past few weeks and have come up with not one, not two, but three music-related best of lists for 2011. Like last year, I will list my favorite new music of 2011 as well as the older records I discovered in the year, but I’m also adding a new section about bands that I really go into this year. I’ll get into more detail when I get to that post, but there will be some albums on that list that could or would have been on this list, so technically, I had more than 10 favorites this year. As always, this list is in no particular order, so here we go. Continue reading My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Music Mondays: Fountains Of Wayne

I’ve done some moving around on the recurring feature schedule I made for myself recently. I’m dropping Crossovers I Want To See as a weekly feature because, frankly, I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to get old really quick. I also never got into doing a weekly record review on Fridays, but I still want to talk about music on a regular basis, so I’m changing the focus and moving it to Mondays, hence Music Mondays. There will be record review elements, but also more personal anecdotes involving various bands. The first entry will revolve around Fountains Of Wayne, a band I mentioned in last week’s Supergroup Showcase about Tinted Windows.

There aren’t many bands out there that I remember exactly when I first heard them, but it just so happens the the night I staid up watching MTV’s 120 Minutes and discovered Man…Or Astroman?! I also saw the video for FOW’s “Denise” off their second record called Utopia Parkway. This was probably around 1999 when that record came out, so I would have been 16. I was instantly taken in by their awesome pop rock sound. Soon enough I bought Utopia Parkway and then eventually found their first, self titled record at my beloved Boogie Records. I even got my friend Matt into them, which was fun. In fact, I believe I found their first album at the library first ad listened to it a bunch before finding the used copy. Anyway, it was fun to get into a band with a good friend who also had good taste in music.

The band consists mainly of Chris Collingwood (far right, above) and Adam Schlesinger (far left, above) on guitar and bass. These guys are the brains behind the operation as they’re the main songwriters. Collingwood also sings, offering his versatile vocals to the tracks. The guy has proven that he can sing in every style from mournful longing to country warbling and good old fashioned rock and roll. Jody Porter (second from right, above) acts as the other guitar player and Bryan Young (the other one) plays drums. These guys come together to create beautifully eclectic records that zoom in on real life from the heartbreak of breaking up to the mind-numbingness of working a crappy job. I defy you to listen to a FOW record and not relate to most of, if not all of, the songs. I always describe FOW as “What pop music should be.” What I meant by that is that it felt like the natural progression from 60s pop and 80s New Wave, skipping all the bad stuff including the late 90s pop I was being subjected to at the time.

Of course, just as I started getting into them and started spreading the records amongst my friends, the band went on a few year long hiatus. During the break Schlesinger helped write the original songs for the Josie and the Pussycats flick. At the time I started getting heavily into bootleg trading online. This was back when you had to actually swap discs, I assume you just send digital files back and forth now with the use of FTPs or YouSendIt. I eventually found some people swapping live FOW shows and got my hands on an in-store Sam Goody acoustic set they did on 5-5-99 and a lesser quality regular live set from a place called The Shelter in Detroit on 7-15-99. Both are still in my regular listening rotation.

Soon enough I would go away to college in Delaware, Ohio. A few months into my sophomore year, I read that they were playing in Cleveland at a place called Peabody’s. I immediately told my buddies Matt and Charlie who were going to school in nearby Columbus, Ohio and more importantly, had access to a car. The three of us made plans to go to the show on 11-12-2002 and I even got introduced to OK Go, another band I would wind up loving. Luckily I did a concert review on my old website, so here’s my review from back then:

FOW is one of my favorite current bands, so I was stoked as hell when I found out they were touring. As I said earlier, we drove all the way to Cleveland (from the Columbus area) to see them. After OK Go finished up, some people moved around and we ended up being one person from the stage. I could have literally reached up and touched Chris. It was amazing. Actually, I wouldn’t have been able to touch him because he’s a very tall man. Their set blew me away. It had all the songs I wanted to hear “Leave the Biker” (my personal favorite), “Utopia Parkway,” and “Denise.” The only song I really wish they would have played and didn’t was “Lazer Show,” but I was by no means disappointed. They played three or four songs from their upcoming album that sounded great. Two songs that stood out were “Bright Future in Sales” and “Stacy’s Mom Has Got It Goin On.” Usually I don’t like it when a band plays songs that I haven’t heard yet, but it was different this time. The songs were so good they made me want to go out and buy the album. They closed the show with “Sink to the Bottom” (I think). Right after they left one of my friends reached up and took three pics from the pic holder on the microphone. Do I feel bad about this? Nope. I’ve got a FOW pic, even if Chris didn’t use it, it’s still cool. By the way, Jody looks like a true rock star, a combination of Keith Richards and Jimmy Page. As a whole the band was tight and performed amazingly. They didn’t quite have the energy of OK Go, but their music is also a lot more mellow. This very well could have been my all time favorite concert.

It really was a great show. I had seen some huge bands by that time, but they were the first one that I felt like I really discovered and followed (even though, yes, I discovered them on MTV). That upcoming album I mentioned would turn out to be 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers and it would turn out to be my favorite of the group so far. The first three songs on the record “Mexican Wine,” “Bright Future In Sales,” and “Stacey’s Mom” are killer pop rock songs. “Hey Julie” would go on to be a favorite of the missus’ and even her ringtone. Heck, I even like “Valley Winter Song” at a time when I thought I hated county-ish music. Even though it’s a favorite, I’m still not a great fan of “Hailey’s Waitress,” but even the best records can’t be perfect. Matt and I saw the band in Detroit while touring behind this album, though I can’t remember exactly when.

In the last few years, we’ve gotten two more releases from the band. One, a two-disc collection of B-sides, outtakes and live tracks called Out-Of-State Plates came out in 2005 which also included their recording of “…Baby One More Time” a song their label passed to them and they recorded before Britney Spears got ahold of it and turned it into a gigantic hit. It’s not a bad record by any means, but there’s a reason many of these tracks aren’t on regular albums. It’s still fun to listen to, but not up to the same caliber as the regular records. Their last original record Traffic and Weather came out in 2007, another great, fun record that I still enjoy to this day, even after a sometimes-damaging heavy rotation in my car’s CD player for quite a while. I just discovered there’s a live DVD too, so I’ll have to check that out and hopefully a new record this year.

I can’t think of another band that I discovered during that time that still makes music I enjoy as much as the first records I heard. Most of the 90s bands I got into have seemed to have a dip in quality of their songs or have moved into stylistic places I’m not such a fan of, but Fountains Of Waynes’ diversity lends itself well to my aging along with them. Fun fact, after my Wizard internship, I was at home with my parents. The computer was kept in a hutch that also held the stereo. One day I was listening to Welcome Interstate Managers and “Little Red Light” popped on. I started freaking out because the song has a lyric that goes “New York to Nyack, feels like a hundred miles.” I had just spent nine weeks in Nyack so that was pretty awesome. They even refer to the Tappan Zee bridge which I had crossed a few times. It was cool to have lived in a place referenced in a song. That was a new feeling. Now I live in that area and still get a kick out of finding myself in more and more of the locations they sing about.

Supergroup Showcase: Tinted Windows

TINTED WINDOWS
THE PLAYERS: Taylor Hanson on vocals (Hanson), James Iha on guitar (Smashing Pumpkins), Adam Schlesinger on bass (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy) and Bun E. Carlos on drums (Cheap Trick).
THE STORY: According to the band’s site, Adam and Taylor have been friends for a while as have Adam and James. The three of them got together and wanted to find a drummer like Bun and eventually asked the man himself and he agreed. They recorded a self-titled album which came out in April of 2009 and toured. It seems the members have gone their separate ways since last year as there haven’t been any updates on the site.
OFFICIAL SITE: TintedWindowsMusic.com

Holy crap I love this record, you guys. I bought it along with the wildly disappointing Transplants record and Blind Faith’s record, but this one really blew me away. It’s not only one of my favorite supergroup records of all time, but quickly becoming one of my favorite records period. It’s kind of the perfect storm of a group for me to like. I am a gigantic Fountains Of Wayne fan, so Schlesinger’s involvement is cool, plus I know he and Iha have been on each others’ records and even own a recording studio together. I’ve discovered an appreciation for Hanson’s vocals recently and who doesn’t like Cheap Trick? So this is definitely a case of great tastes tasting great together.

Overall the record has a very power pop/rock vibe to it that oftentimes veers very closely to FOW territory (the opening riff of “Kind of a Girl” sounds almost identical to that of FOW’s “Little Red Light” off of Welcome Interstate Managers), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Back when I first discovered FOW, I would describe them to my friends as “what pop music should sound like” (this was in the early days of Britney and NSYNC) and that’s exactly what this Tinted Windows disc is. Hanson’s got one of those great, higher range voices that makes perfect sense when heard singing about girls (which seem to be the subject of most of the songs on the record), but also can get a good growly bluesy thing going on. I defy you to listen to this record without tapping your foot or bobbing your head. Even after just a few listens, I felt very comfortable and familiar with the record, singing along with the songs in my car. These songs won’t blow your mind, but they will make you want to move. I really like to think about what these guys would talk about when they were just sitting around shooting the shit. On paper the group sounds so strange. The guitar player from the Smashing Pumpkins, one of the Hanson kids, a guy from Fountains of Wayne and the Cheap Trick drummer, but it all works out on the record with everyone giving into their lust for pop rock gems.

I’ve listened to a lot of supergroup records while working on this column and while this one isn’t the first I’ve liked, it is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. I really dig listening to the Wilburys, but, in the end, that sounds like a combination of dudes I can pull out. That’s Dylan, that’s Roy. With Tinted Windows, the whole record sounds not only like a band I want to have a hundred more records from, but also one that seems incredibly cohesive and polished. This is a unit not just a lot  If you like pop, rock or pop rock, I can’t recommend a record more than this one. Then go get yourself some FOW and Cheap Trick records and maybe even give Iha’s 1998 solo record Let It Come Down which, as you might expect Schlesinger appeared on.