Ted Leo Virtual Tchotchkes

In honor of Ted Leo's hard-fought victory in the Tournament of Tunes, I'm passing along a few electronic odds and ends. The wonderful photo above was taken at the 25th anniversary party for Touch and Go Records (photo courtesy of Pitchfork).

Next, here's the video (Windows Media) for "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" (Ted's loving tribute to ska pioneers the Specials) from the terrific album Hearts of Oak. Listen closely, and you'll hear him name-check Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers and Lynval Golding.

Lastly, here's an animated video (Flash) of Ted covering "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, created by Scott Bateman. Charming indeed.

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes Final:
Ted Leo vs. Camper Van Beethoven

The final round of the Tournament of Tunes has finally arrived. Without further ado...

Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country [mp3]
Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts [RealAudio]

These are two excellent artists who have enough in common that I could easily see them sharing a stage. Not together, that is—their musical approaches are quite different. Out of respect and deference, I’d imagine it would be Ted Leo and his band the Pharmacists as the opening act for Camper Van Beethoven, but not one of those 15-minute opening sets; Leo & Co. would be allowed to hold the stage for as long as they liked. And I can easily envision the two bands joining for an inspired encore, probably covering some old hardcore punk tunes.

Each has eclectic tastes—Leo’s great album Hearts of Oak sounds like a pastiche of 80s punk and new wave, while Camper Van Beethoven was an 80s band for the most part, with their earliest work coming across in a dizzying array of musical styles. Leo’s inspirations come largely from punk, even if his music is more punk in spirit than in execution, while CvB draws from much further back, to the psychedelia of the 60s (its epic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” being merely the most obvious example). But even their seemingly disparate influences are misleading—CvB famously covered Black Flag’s “Wasted” on their debut, and I’m pretty sure that Leo listened to his fair share of Black Flag during his youth.

What the two unquestionably share is an undeniable passion for music, an insistence on doing things completely on their own terms. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Ted Leo and Camper Van Beethoven. So, on to the songs.

“Sweethearts” is an undeniably terrific song, for reasons that I’ve already elaborated on previously. Yet just this morning, while listening to the rest of Key Lime Pie to put the song into context, it occurred to me that if it was either “When I Win the Lottery” or “All Her Favorite Fruit” going up against Ted Leo, it would be no contest—CvB would be the winner. In other words, “Sweethearts”, as good as it is, isn’t even the best song on that album; in fact, it’s probably no better than my fifth-favorite CvB song (my top five would include those two above, plus “Take the Skinheads Bowling”, “The Ambiguity Song” and “Peace and Love”). I now realize that my one reservation about “Sweethearts” is the slightly ironic narrative distance of its third-person perspective—the narrator is dryly commenting on the simplistic and hypocritical patriotism of political conservatives, from afar—and this distance dilutes ever so slightly the emotional impact of the song. It creates just enough of a disconnect with the listener to prevent the song from achieving true greatness.

And that’s the song’s biggest difference with “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country.” Ted Leo’s song is simple and direct, with its first person perspective driving home the point that Leo is quietly pissed about the present state of our political climate, that he clearly sees the current administration infringing on our personal liberties and preventing us from being the people we’re destined to be, and that he’s going to do whatever he can to change the situation for the better and for the common good. Simply put, Leo says: here’s what’s wrong with our country, and I’m not going to sit still and placidly acquiesce. It’s a quietly defiant call to arms, with Leo’s plain and non-allusive language and passionate delivery making the listener realize that this is exactly what he feels. The song completely connects with the listener, which is the ultimate achievement of a musician or any other artist.

These are two great songs, but one is just a bit greater.

The winner of the 2006 Tournament of Tunes is “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country” by Ted Leo. Download the mp3—I’m absolutely certain you won’t be disappointed.

Winner: Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - The Final

I'll be publishing the championship of the Tournament of Tunes later today. I promise. Yes, I admit that this has dragged on too damned long.

October 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes: The Lyrics

As a prelude to the championship of the Tournament of Tunes, here are the lyrics for the finalists.

Ted Leo - Loyal To My Sorrowful Country

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

Well, I've walked from coast to coast
And I've seen, yes I've seen
No one's business but my own
Where I've been, where I've been

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

In the days when we were young
We were free, we were free
Now that Georgie's reign's begun
We won't be, we can't be

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

Though my name of bygone years
Is in the land, in the land
I'll uproot it without tears
And I'll change it if I can

No more shall I be
Loyal to my sorrowful country

Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts

‘Cause he’s always living back in Dixon, circa 1949
And we’re all sitting at fountain at the five and dime
‘Cause he’s living in some B-movie
The lines they are so clearly drawn
In black and white, life is so easy
And we’re all coming along on this one

‘Cause he’s on a secret mission
Headquarters just radioed in
He left his baby at the dance hall
While the band plays on, some sweet song
And on a mission over China
The lady opens up her arms
The flowers bloom where you have placed them
And the lady smiles just like mom

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles as we crash
‘Cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan
Wheels they turn and gears they grind
Buildings collapse in slow motion
And trains collide
Everything is fine
Everything is fine
Everything is fine

September 21, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tournament of Tunes:
The Pixies vs. Camper Van Beethoven

The second semifinal match of the Tournament of Tunes has finally been completed...

The Pixies - Debaser [RealAudio]
Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts [RealAudio]

Once again, two great songs. “Debaser” is a visceral thrill ride, with its brisk tempo, Frank Black’s near-hysterical singing, the shouts of “Chien!” in the chorus, the bouncing bass, the crisp drumming. “Sweethearts” is much more subtle (now there’s a rarity—CvB being called subtle!) with its moderate tempo, restrained vocals and vaguely allusive lyrics.

What separates the two is the degrees of emotional attachment each song, as well as the artist, has to me. While I can’t help but admire the Pixies’ greatness, I do so from a considerable distance. I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of their albums, being content to own just a cassette copy of Doolittle. Their public persona, particularly that of Frank Black, always felt somewhat staged to me; they seemed cartoonish, and never quite real. Not that being cartoonish is necessarily a bad thing—if the shtick is good enough, I can easily be won over. And I can’t deny being won over by “Debaser.” But still, the band never quite connected with me, for reasons I can’t really explain.

In contrast, I’ve loved Camper Van Beethoven from virtually the first time I ever heard them—which, if I recall correctly, was hearing “One Of These Days” on the radio. My attachment to the band is so strong that I can remember exactly where I was when I heard specific songs of theirs—“One Of These Days” playing over the loudspeaker in the men’s room of a bar during a wild office going-away party; “When I Win the Lottery” in a Radio Shack; “Take the Skinheads Bowling” covered by a solo acoustic dude in a club in Champaign, my recognizing of which amazed my non-indie buddies. The band and I have a long history—my ardor for CvB compelled me to hunt down the first two albums, on vinyl, at Reckless Records in Chicago and the third, eponymous album at Newbury Comics in Cambridge, Mass. And when I longed to upgrade the first album to CD but couldn’t justify the expenditure to myself, I managed to convince my now-wife (whom I had just started dating at the time) to buy the CD during our first visit to a record store, somehow knowing it would be ours to share for the long haul. (Blissfully, I was correct—and not just about the CD.) “Sweethearts”, with its gentle putdown of the Reagan worldview, came to me at a special moment in time, when I was just becoming aware that my initial youthful conservative leanings were not who I really was. During those early adult years, Reagan had me fooled, too—just, as the song implies, he had fooled himself.

“Debaser”, a great song that I admire from a distance. “Sweethearts”, a great song that says a lot about the person I’ve become. It’s Camper Van Beethoven—no contest.

Winner: Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

September 12, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tournament of Tunes:
Ted Leo vs. Morphine

The semifinals of the Tournament of Tunes finally begin. As I note at the top of the play-by-play page:

At this late stage in the competition, everything about the remaining songs’ merits has pretty much already been said. Given this, along with the fact that this competition is dragging on far longer than I ever anticipated, I’ll be as succinct as I can. Beyond some point, words can no longer convey what makes a song truly great—and there’s no denying that these are great songs. Read my brief thoughts, and take them or leave them. But you owe it to yourself to track down each one of these songs, adopt them and make them as major a part of your lives that they are to mine. You won’t be disappointed, I assure you.

That being said, here is the first semifinal match:

Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country [mp3]
Morphine – Whisper [RealAudio]

Each of these songs is wonderfully emblematic of the artist’s body of work and creative ethos. “Loyalty to My Sorrowful Country” is simple, direct, passionate, guitar-based, punk in attitude if not necessarily in execution, overtly yet tactfully political. “Whisper” is slow, moody, sultry, mysterious, seductive, a mesmerizing come-on of a song. Both songs share the authenticity and genuineness that I look for in all of my art; there’s absolutely nothing fake here. Further, through these songs I feel like I know Ted Leo and Mark Sandman personally, while I’ve never actually been so honored.

So which is the greater song? Depends on which moment in time you happen to ask me. If I’m angry, disgruntled, frustrated, wanting this country and the world to be so much more than they currently are, and wanting to shout out lyrics in defiance of the status quo and to just cathartically blow off steam, then it’s “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country.” If I’m more calm, placid, happier with my place in the universe, feeling a bit playful and pretending to be the ultra-confident flirt that I’ve never been (it’s true—just ask my wife), then it’s “Whisper.”

This one is clearly a toss-up. Yet “Whisper”, in all of its subdued, slow-burning sultriness, lacks just a tiny bit of the fire that fuels Ted Leo’s art. It saddens me to send Morphine packing, as they will forever remain one of my favorite bands, but on the merits of just these individual songs, I’m going with “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country.”

Winner: Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

August 29, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tournament of Tunes - The Final Four

A quick recap on how the four finalists got here...

Ted Leo, "Loyal to My Sorrowful Country"
Round 1 - Smothered Bedhead, which issued nary a whimper of protest.
Round 2 - Scratched and clawed past a scrappy Tommy Stinson, who fared much better than Westerberg ever would have.
Regional Semis - Struggled past Archers of Loaf and the best downtempo tune they ever created.
Regional Final - Eased, with simplicity and passion, past the often-bloated Built to Spill.

Morphine, "Whisper"
Round 1 - Knocked off, with a sultry swagger, indie titan Dinosaur Jr.--much to the dismay of John from Iowa.
Round 2 - Waltzed past the slackers of Pavement, who were presumably too ironically bemused to care.
Regional Semis - Vanquished the great Elliott Smith with surprising ease.
Regional Final - Brought the endearingly overachieving Scruffy the Cat's inspired run to an end.

The Pixies, "Debaser"
Round 1 - Pummelled Miracle Legion, who never knew what hit them.
Round 2 - Subdued Yo La Tengo, which would have fared far better ten years ago.
Regional Semis - Overran the seminal Mission of Burma, which failed to bring its heaviest artillery.
Regional Final - Topped a valiant Joel Phelps, who surely deserved a better fate.

Camper Van Beethoven, "Sweethearts"
Round 1 - Trounced an overmatched Peter Case.
Round 2 - Marched past the Replacements and their timeless song of teen angst.
Regional Semis - Dispatched Saturnine, with not even a drop of sweat expended.
Regional Final - Surged through the Mudhoney maelstrom, using every ounce of strength saved up during the previous round.

Semifinals next week, finals the week after. Your continued patience is appreciated, your brave endurance admired.

August 17, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tournament of Tunes:
Camper Van Beethoven vs. Mudhoney

The Elite Eight of the Tournament of Tunes finally concludes, with the last match of the Carl Perkins Regional:

Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts [RealAudio]
Mudhoney - No One Has [RealAudio]

To my mind Camper Van Beethoven was, in concept and execution, the epitome of indie rock. (I speak of them in the past tense, because though like most 80s icons they’ve recently patched up their differences and reunited, I haven’t heard much about their new stuff and they’ll forever be of the past for me.) They were: Northern California goofballs who never took themselves too seriously; highly talented musicians unafraid to always try something new; funny as hell (I defy you to listen to “Take the Skinheads Bowling” or “Down and Out” with a straight face); brazen enough to set most of their world-music instrumental melodies to the same ska rhythm; unabashedly populist in their political views while recognizing (in “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac”) that all world leaders, left to right, from LBJ to Stalin to Pinochet, are only in it for power and wealth; tastefully eclectic in their choice of cover tunes, from Black Flag to Sonic Youth to Pink Floyd to Status Quo; and, above all, fun—their exuberance and joy compelled you to laugh and dance while also making you think. The band members’ post-breakup efforts (Cracker, Monks of Doom, Victor Krummenacher’s solo career, et al) all had brief highpoints but never came anywhere near the glories they achieved as Camper Van Beethoven.

In contrast to CvB, I don’t have an exceptionally strong personal connection to Mudhoney. I didn’t first come across them until my thirties, and I was never into the whole Seattle grunge thing. But I do have connections with them—my wife was a big fan from way back, enough so to name her (and now “our”) cat after them; I still laugh at the memory of seeing a publicity photo in CMJ during the My Brother The Cow era, with Mark Arm jauntily wearing a crown, like an actor out of an old Imperial Margarine commercial; and I’ve published a short story, “Freewheeling”, which imagines a hardcore fan’s emotional reaction to the band’s breakup. (Yes, of course they’re now back together.) Their music is undeniably great—loud, raucous, funny, don’t-give-a-frig rock & roll that blows away most of the grunge pretenders who emerged in their wake. I have the utmost respect for the band, particularly their willpower in churning out such consistently good music for so many years.

As for the songs themselves: “No One Has” is a hoot, and must have been thrilling to hear stretched out to eight or nine minutes in some tiny, sweaty club, the audience a sea of humanity and dancing as one. Thing is, I have no idea what the song is about. Which is maybe their point, though this weakness still prevents me from completely embracing it. But I’ve truly loved “Sweethearts” for over fifteen years now, my intellect completely getting the point of the lyrics while my soul is immersed in the lovely country rock melodies, and that alone is enough to advance this great song past the visceral thrill of “No One Has.” Camper decamps, and marches on to the Final Four.

Winner: Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

August 15, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tournament of Tunes:
Joel R.L. Phelps vs. The Pixies

The Elite Eight of the Tournament of Tunes continues, with the final match of the Johnny Cash Regional:

Joel R.L. Phelps - God Bless the Little Pigs [mp3]
The Pixies - Debaser [RealAudio]

This is a very difficult call. On the one hand, Joel Phelps, a relatively obscure artist whose work I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for many years and who, from what I’ve read, is a genuinely decent human being. On the other hand, postpunk icons the Pixies and one of their greatest songs. My selection could potentially say a lot about me as a listener—whether I favor the lesser known artist, in some snobbish show of exclusivity, or go with the big name, with the latter choice being one that few rock fans would argue with. As tempted as I am to let outside influences filter in, however, I really have to focus entirely on the songs themselves.

“God Bless the Little Pigs” is a cathartic blast of noise, bursting up in the middle of the otherwise reserved album Warm Springs Night. It’s impossible not to be thrilled by this song—the furious guitar squall lead-in, the way the guitar then melds perfectly into the chugging bass line, Phelps’ muted vocals in the verses that erupt into wails, the sharp guitar solo, the bass melody line near the end. And yet…this song simply isn’t Phelps at his best. His finest songs are midtempo, dynamic, emotional pieces that are beautiful in their quiet intensity. Not that there’s anything wrong with rocking out—when Phelps does it he does so quite well—but that’s not the reason I listen to his music. I go for the beauty, not the noise.

A confession: I don’t even own a Pixies album. I’ve got a dubbed cassette of Doolittle and an mp3 of “Debaser” from salon.com or somewhere, and that’s it. I’m aware of their legacy, their influence (some say Nirvana would never have existed without them, though in Nirvana I hear a lot more Hüsker Dü than Pixies), and their inevitable comeback (do 1980s alternative rock icons ever really go away completely?). But I’ve never heard Surfer Rosa or Come On Pilgrim or Trompe le Monde or Bossanova, nor do I particularly care to. I have no emotional connection to the band—in fact, Black Francis’ cartoonish persona pretty much acts as barrier to such devotion—and they’ve never been an integral part of my life. I’ve admired them from a considerable distance, and that’s all. But there’s no denying that “Debaser” is a truly great song, one which is fully emblematic of the band’s sound (or of the sound of Doolittle, anyway, since I’ve never heard the other albums).

I’d love to advance the cause of Joel R.L. Phelps to the masses (or at least the dozens who are reading this) by advancing “God Bless the Little Pigs” to the Final Four, but it’s simply not a better song than “Debaser.” So I’m betraying my heart and going with the Pixies.

Winner: The Pixies - Debaser

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

August 3, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes...

...resumes on Monday, with the long-awaited results of Joel R.L. Phelps versus The Pixies. (Or I hope they're long-awaited; I have no idea if anyone other than me really cares anymore. And I'm not entirely sure about me, either.)

I'm off on a four-day weekend, commencing with the Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference tomorrow. Good workshops and Alex Kotlowitz--I don't know what could be better, other than maybe Studs Terkel plus reincarnations of Nelson Algren and Mike Royko.

July 26, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes:
Morphine vs. Scruffy the Cat

The Elite Eight of the Tournament of Tunes continues, with the final match of the Jerry Lee Regional:

Morphine – Whisper [RealAudio]
Scruffy the Cat - You Dirty Rat

Each of these wonderful bands passed from existence in its own sad way—Morphine dissolving after its mastermind Mark Sandman died of a heart attack onstage in Rome in 1999, Scruffy the Cat breaking up less suddenly but no less poignantly after years of indifference from their record label. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Sandman’s death and Morphine’s demise were all the more tragic for the intriguing possibilities suggested by The Night, the band’s brilliant final album which they were working on at the time of Sandman’s death. The new directions that Sandman and Morphine might have pursued, as hinted at by that album, are ultimately heartbreaking with the recongition that they will never be realized.

While never earning the critical accolades of Morphine, their Boston brethren, Scruffy the Cat plugged along in amiable and earnest near-obscurity, releasing two LPs and two EPs between 1986 and 1988 before finally calling it quits during the early 1990s. I met the band’s frontman Charlie Chesterman after a Chicago club show in 1989, when he hinted to me that things were not at all well with their record label, Relativity. Though he didn’t get into details, the impression I got was that the band received little support or recognition from the label. I didn’t hear much more about them until several years later, when I heard they had officially broken up. A sad passing of a truly wonderful band—Tiny Days, their first LP, will forever be one of my favorites. But their second LP was clearly the lesser of the two, suggesting that the band wasn’t on a creative upsurge at the time of their demise, and Chesterman’s 1994 solo debut, while enjoyable, didn’t offer anything particularly innovative either.

All of which tells me that maybe Scruffy the Cat just had a few good years, and it was simply their time to go, an impression which I definitely don’t hold for Morphine. Morphine had their best years still ahead of them when Mark Sandman died. This puts Morphine ahead of Scruffy the Cat in my musical pantheon. And while “Whisper” is one of the very best songs Morphine ever created, one which could readily serve as Exhibit A for their sound, “You Dirty Rat” is just a notch or two below the best that Scruffy the Cat was capable of. Morphine, better band, “Whisper”, better song. Scruffy had a nice run, but must now depart.

Winner: Morphine – Whisper

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

July 19, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes:
Built to Spill vs. Ted Leo

The Elite Eight of the Tournament of Tunes has commenced. From here on out, I'll reproduce the results here on the blog to highlight and better expose the proceedings.

Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2 [WM]
Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country [mp3]

Here we have a real battle of extremes: density versus simplicity, epic versus folk song, personal versus political, long versus short, meticulous studio production versus one-off recording. Whichever song prevails will depend on wherever my tastes happen to be tending at the moment.

On the one hand, I love the simplicity of Ted Leo—just him in a studio, banging away at his electric guitar, howling against what our country has become during the past six long years, doing his own small part to fix what’s gone so wrong. There’s little doubt of what he’s singing about, or where his sympathies lie.

But on the other hand, I also love the epic ambition of Doug Martsch and Built to Spill—the nearly nine minutes of running time, the unhurried pace, the lush and meticulous production, the tempo shifts, and the ambiguity of the lyrics, which seem to be about questioning one’s religious faith. However, despite having plenty of time to clearly deliver his narrative point, it’s unclear whether Martsch is telling the person he’s addressing that he or she needs faith, or whether it’s perfectly alright to do without—whether he’s evangelizing or saying live and let live.

Both songs have their strong and distinctive merits. But at this precise moment in time, I find myself more engaged by the mental image of a lone Ted Leo in a shadowy studio, quixotically but clearly railing against the powers that be, than by Doug Martsch leaving things opaque and fussing over details during post-production. Leo’s immediacy wins out, and “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country” continues its idealistic quest.

Winner: Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

July 13, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #10

Apologies...I've finally gotten my shite together and finished off the third round of the Tournament of Tunes, with Mudhoney knocking off Bad Religion in what was undoubtedly a battle unsuitable for family viewing. Now at last we move on to the regional finals...

Elvis Regional
Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2
Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country

Jerry Lee Regional
Morphine - Whisper
Scruffy the Cat - You Dirty Rat

Johnny Cash Regional
Joel R.L. Phelps - God Bless the Little Pigs
The Pixies - Debaser

Carl Perkins Regional
Camper Van Beethoven - Sweethearts
Mudhoney - No One Has

Interesting mix of players there; it's worth noting that only two of them are artists I've discovered during the past ten years. There's also an undeniable handful of personal favorites whom purists might scoff at still being in the running, while numerous huge names (Mission of Burma, Yo La Tengo. etc.) have long since gone home. To those people I simply say, get your own tourament.

I humbly apologize to anyone who dozed off or otherwise lost interest during my inexcusable hiatus. I promise I'll pick up the pace from now on. I hope you still enjoy my self-indulgence, or at least tolerate it.

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

July 8, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #9

I haven't reported on the Tournament of Tunes in a while, so here's an update. We're now halfway through the regional semifinals, with semis completed for the Elvis Regional and Jerry Lee Regional. As I mention in my disclaimer on the play-by-play page, having commented on each of these songs twice thus far, I've all but exhausted my supply of adjectives, and thus the assessments from here on out will be much more subjective and the narrative much more free-ranging. As for the latter, I've already espoused on the allure of the solo electric guitar, my preference for obscurities, the fickleness of mortality and the relative in-concert merits of Sebadoh and Built to Spill.

In short, advancing onward are Built to Spill, Ted Leo, Morphine and--in what will be a shocker only to people who don't know me personally--Scruffy the Cat. Read all about it here. I'll be posting new results every other day from now on.

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

June 14, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #8

The second round of the Tournament of Tunes is complete. The latest round of the Carl Perkins Regional wrapped up yesterday, with punk heavyweights Bad Religion and Mudhoney dominating pleasant but overmatched foes, Camper Van Beethoven holding off the resilient Replacements and little Saturnine surprising once again, slipping past the Feelies.

Now we're on to the Sweet Sixteen, when things get serious. Most if not all of the pretenders have faded away, leaving some major powerhouses: Sebadoh, Built to Spill, Ted Leo, Archers of Loaf, Morphine, Elliott Smith, Scruffy the Cat, R.E.M., The Jesus Lizard, Joel R.L. Phelps, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, Camper Van Beethoven, Mudhoney and Bad Religion. (Plus Saturnine, whom even the band's mothers would have to admit could hardly be considered a powerhouse.) These are pretty much the very finest artists in my record collection, and the decisionmaking will undoubtedly become excruciatingly difficult from here on out.

The competitors will take some time to rest and regroup, with the proceedings continuing on Monday. Stay tuned.

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

June 1, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #7

The second round of the Johnny Cash Regional is now complete. In the marquee bout, the Pixies knocked off longtime faves Yo La Tengo, and in other matches the protean Jesus Lizard lumbered onward while the comparatively low-key Joel Phelps rocked past the Verlaines, and Mission of Burma vanquished a valiant Victor Krummenacher.

Next up is the second round of the Carl Perkins Regional, featuring:

The Feelies, "What She Said" vs. Saturnine, "Peace and Rest"
The Replacements, "The Ledge" vs. Camper Van Beethoven, "Sweethearts"
Mudhoney, "No One Has" vs. Portastatic, "Noisy Night"
Bad Religion, "21st Century Digital Boy" vs. Sarah Dougher, "Hold the Bar"

Some intriguing matchups there, but it's the regional semifinals that are going to be a real doozy.

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

May 24, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes resumes...

The tourney has resumed after a one-day layoff, with the big Yo La Tengo-Pixies battle. (Follow link at upper right.) Things were busy at work yesterday, and this strong of a matchup deserved more consideration than I could have afforded at that time. We're now back on our one-match-every-weekday schedule.

May 23, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #6

The second round of the Jerry Lee Regional wrapped up today, with R.E.M. trouncing a valiant but overmatched Pinetop Seven. Earlier, crowd favorites Scruffy the Cat dismissed the Long Ryders, Elliott Smith ravaged Liz Phair (now, there's a visual for you) and, in the closest battle, Morphine edged Pavement at the buzzer, with Stephen Malkmus complaining he was fouled.

The next round of the Johnny Cash regional commences tomorrow. The region's matchups are:

Guided by Voices, "Everywhere with Helicopter" vs. The Jesus Lizard, "Fly on the Wall"

The Verlaines, "Black Wings" vs. Joel R.L. Phelps, "God Bless the Little Pigs"

Yo La Tengo, "Tom Courtenay" vs. The Pixies, "Debaser"

Victor Krummenacher, "Rocket Fuel" vs. Mission of Burma, "Fame and Fortune"

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.

May 17, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #5

The second round of the Elvis Regional is now complete, with Ted Leo fending off a scrappy Tommy Stinson and Built to Spill overcoming a poignant Pogues ballad, while the other two contests weren't even close. The regional semifinal matchups look excellent:

Sebadoh - Got It
Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2

Ted Leo - Loyal to My Sorrowful Country
Archers of Loaf - Greatest of All Time

As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here. And as Letterman used to say: Remember, no wagering!

May 11, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #4

The first round of the Tournament of Tunes is now complete (wow, that was fast!) with the initial matches of the Carl Perkins Regional concluding yesterday. No major surprises in this regional--nary a George Mason in sight--as Camper Van Beethoven, the Replacements, Bad Religion and Mudhoney all prevail.

Now is when things really get interesting, in Round Two, which starts Monday. The first round matchups were largely driven by the randomness of the iPod's song selections. Had it been up to me, the likes of Parish School, Angie Heaton, and Bedhead would never have been amongst my choices for a Top 64 of artists--especially when such great artists like Hüsker Dü, Billy Bragg and Seam, among many others, were excluded.

But in Round Two, we're getting closer to the artists I really and truly admire and care about. Cream rises to the top, as it were, with the pretenders being weeded out. (No apology for the mixed metaphor.) There are several huge battles looming, particularly Pavement-Morphine, Yo La Tengo-Pixies, Pogues-Built to Spill and Replacements-Camper Van Beethoven. Those four matches in particular will sorely strain my heartstrings, with many beloved bands being sent packing. But this is a competition, after all (albeit a completely subjective one), and there have to be 63 losers in order for one winner to rise to the top. Believe it or not, I have absolutely no idea whom that winner might be. I've been resisting the temptation to look that far ahead.

Stay tuned!

Updated tourney bracket is here, with play-by-play here. Recap commentary on the blog itself are collected here.

May 5, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #3

The Johnny Cash Regional of the Tournament of Tunes has concluded its first round. Again, no major surprises, with several heavyweights (Yo La Tengo, Mission of Burma, Guided by Voices, the Pixies) scoring easy victories. The really interesting matchups won't come until Round Two, particularly the Yo La Tengo-Pixies donnybrook. If you're looking for a darkhorse, though, keep an eye on Joel R.L. Phelps, who has a decent chance of reaching the Elite Eight.

The Carl Perkins Regional is already underway, with two low-key matchups: John Doe vs. The Feelies, and Big Dipper vs. Saturnine. With only twelve new contestants left, I'm getting a bit desperate that several of my favorite bands (Replacements, Camper Van Beethoven, Seam) might never be selected. And if the wife doesn't see Bad Religion or Ben Folds pop up soon, she just might boycott the whole shebang.

As always, bracket is here, play-by-play here.

May 1, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update #2

The first round of the Jerry Lee Regional at the Tournament of Tunes has been completed. Several indie rock heavyweights--Big Star, Mountain Goats, Dinosaur Jr.--have been bounced out of the tourney, which suggests that my judging is driven more by emotion and nostalgia than critical plaudits. The next round of this regional looks pretty straightforward, other than the Pavement-Morphine slugfest, though beyond that round there's no single shoo-in for the Elite Eight.

Full play-by-play for the tournament can be read here (scroll way down for the Jerry Lee Regional commentary). Full tourney bracket here.

Next up: the Johnny Cash Regional.

(Previous commentary for the Elvis Regional can be perused here.)

April 25, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tournament of Tunes - Update!

The Tournament of Tunes (explained here) is rolling right along, with the first quarter of tunes--which I'm calling the Elvis Regional--now completed. But based on the fact that only Julie has left comments thus far, I'm not sure if anyone other than her is following the festivities, so I thought I'd do this update to raise the tourney's profile a bit.

The tournament bracket is here, with play-by-play here.

There were no major upsets in the Elvis Regional--the Pogues, Built to Spill, Archers of Loaf and Ted Leo all posted decisive wins, with a rather titanic Pogues-BTS battle now looming in the second round. Tommy Stinson retained just enough of his Replacements goodwill to overcome his Guns N Roses stigma, edging out the wonderful Chris Knox to set up what will likely be an eye-gouging scrape with Ted Leo. Sebadoh also stands a fair chance of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen due to the weakness of its corner of the bracket, unless I suddenly develop a fondness for underwhelming Kiwi vocals.

Stay tuned for the first two matches of the next installment--the Jerry Lee Regional. They're both good ones, and will appear later today.

(Note: I've turned off the comments for this post. If you'd like to comment on the proceedings, please do so at the original post--I'd like to keep all the comments in one place.)

April 19, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink

Tournament of Tunes

Spring is the time for tournaments. But with NCAA hoops long since ended, the Tournament of Books ending today and Faux March Madness in puzzling hiatus (will the Duke kick Condi's ass, or what?), I'm here to fill the void.

Today I'm launching the Tournament of Tunes. Every morning I will have my iPod randomly select two songs as that day's contestants. While I'm tempted to add "May the best tune win", it probably won't be that simple. Sure, superior quality may prevail, but outside influences may just as likely taint my judgment. For example, I might fight myself sickened by the sudden appearance of a Guided by Voices tune in a McDonald's commercial, causing me to vote down the otherwise exemplary "Motor Away." Or I might be angered by some political outrage in New Zealand, causing me to momentarily shun the Verlaines. But I'm hoping that quality will ultimately win out over the course of a six-round tournament.

I should also add that no artist will have more than one song in the tournament--if the iPod selects an artist for the second time, I'll simply skip ahead to the next random song of a previously unselected artist. This will prevent the otherwise probable likelihood of an all-Elliott Smith Final Four, as my iPod is heavily populated by Smith's stellar songs.

The tournament bracket is here, with the play-by-play commentary here. I'll update the sidebar to the right daily with the current matchup. The debut match pits The Clean's "Crazy" against the live version of Dumptruck's "Watch Her Fall."

I hope you enjoy the tournament. If not, please just indulge me for a few weeks.

Update: It just occurred to me that the first round would take inordinately long to complete at the rate of one match per day. So for the first round I'll do two matches per day. I've just added Sebadoh vs. Monks of Doom.

April 13, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink | Comments (13)