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Stephen Carradini’s Top Ten of 2007

Stephen Carradini’s Top Ten of 2007

Jim Ward – Quiet EP

500 Miles to Memphis – Sunshine in a Shotglass

David Shultz and the Skyline – Sinner’s Gold

Novi Split – Pink in the Sink

OK Tokyo – Sums/Electro Metro single

Bees and the Birds – S/t EP

Free Diamonds – By the Sword

Ringer T – Around the Bend EP

ReedKD – The Ashes Bloom

(tie) First to Leave – Forging a Future

Josh Caress – The Rockford Files

Music Obsessives and the Lives they Lead

Music Obsessives and the Lives they Lead

By Stephen Carradini

I’ve been evaluating my future with independent music recently. Getting broken up with will make you evaluate a lot of things, and the things I use to escape the world are always on the list. Not initially, of course – I have to bandage my aching soul with Josh Caress before I consider what a life without the band-aids I just applied would be like. But I inevitably will question my love of pop music in the gnarly aftermath of a breakup. It’s not that I’m no longer interested in Novi Split – it’s that I’m too interested in it. Way too interested in it.

In fact, it’s only at these vulnerable times that I see how completely obsessed with music I am – the people, the business, the history, the sound, rhythm, trivia, concerts, everything. I am obsessed with pop culture as it relates to and interacts with music. The reason that this is problematic is that a very small fraction of the world’s population cares about music in this way. Even less care about music as much or more than I do, but there is a very small fraction of the world that even has a form of my all-encompassing obsession.

Considering how few people in the world know who the Flaming Lips are hurts my mind – considering that even less would read a biography about them (such as Jim DeRogatis’ fantastic Staring at Sound, which I just consumed) makes me feel ridiculous. Recognizing an obscure reference to Jim DeRogatis in Jonathan Sellers’ Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life struck me not as a terrible coincidence, but as a sign that I’ve reached a conclusion with a dichotomy: I am a total addict of pop music – I can either accept that or continue to live in denial.

As possibly distressing as my ever-growing amount of obscure music trivia is, there’s something that leaves me even more distraught. What’s more threatening to my well-being is that a large amount, a striking amount, a disturbing amount of those people who care about music as much as I do carry the XY chromosomes. Those who mark their calendar months in advance for album releases and concert dates, obsessively read fan magazines, watch rock DVDs and defend the honor of their bands like they were family? They’re almost all male.

Now I’m not saying that girls can’t be fans of music – may it never be said of me that I uttered such a career-ruining statement. I know plenty of girls who are totally into music. But there are stark few females who are into music in the same way the obsessive male is. Yes, the realm of music obsession seems dominated by males, as even the most musically hip girls I’ve met don’t learn the line-ups of tours they will never see and festivals they will never attend. They don’t scour the internet for new music, and they surely don’t plan their careers with the dream of someday forsaking the parent-approved, sensible, logical “dream” and actually going for the big one: running an independent record store, book store, coffee shop, record label, recording studio, venue, zine, or rock band. They just don’t think that way. Music isn’t the unattainable goal to be lovingly slaved over – music is a side trip. Music is the hobby, not the goal.

This is not the case for me. As I have previously stated, I am obsessed. At this point in my life, I’m still deciding what to do about that.

I do know one thing: until a girl can understand and embrace this aspect of my life, I am toast. Not just tolerate my obsession, either. They’ve got to be on board and taking the trip too before I can commit again. I’m talking “has a similar, if not exactly the same, secret desire.” And you know what? Girls ready to jump headlong into the unendingly exciting uncertainty that is the music business are few and far between.

Side note: Those secret desires make or break your relationships. I could have saved myself three breakups if I had known these following three sentences:

1. I should have had a conversation addressing our secret desires before we started dating.

2. I would have noticed that each of theirs clashed with mine.

3. I could have saved myself the inevitable heartbreak when each girl pronounced that it just wasn’t going anywhere.

After all, it really couldn’t go anywhere – two people going in opposite directions don’t ever end up in the same place. Duh.

Now, I am not totally lost – I can take consolation from my friend Karen. Karen is a very hip, intelligent, girl with a fantastic taste in music, an awesome indie-rock dream (book store) and a totally awesome fiance who apparently harbors the same secret goal of running the bookstore. Karen is also a writer and copy editor for Independent Clauses…so there’s a chance this paragraph might not make it into the edition. It could be edited out.

Regardless, she gives me hope that:

A. There are girls who get as excited about three-day folk festivals in Colorado as I do.

B. These girls are not all creepy, scary feminists who listen to too much Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Le Tigre.

C. There are some girls (no matter how few) who harbor the type of dream I’ve got.

D. Good matches can happen (the fiancé seems as nuts about music as Karen is).

And yet, as soon as hope cracks open the door, another insecurity slams it shut. Yes, here’s another thing that scares me about submitting myself wholly to an interest in music: music obsessives become weird to those around them. I know because I’ve been doing a lot of “research” on obsessive music types: the Flaming Lips biography, John Sellers’ aforementioned hysterical autobiography, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs and what I consider the holy grail of all modern indie rock books, Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity. I’ve held off on watching Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous to console myself, mostly cause I don’t want my favorite movie in any way associated with a breakup. But it should be on the research list, as it fits in with the point I’m about to make.

There are several common threads among these readings/watchings: all the main characters are neurotic. It’s manifested in several ways, of course. Rob Fleming of High Fidelity expresses it by revealing his ridiculously insecure internal dialogue. It’s awesome, yet mildly terrifying – I can also see myself in 20 years freaking out over the same things in many of the same ways. John Sellers’ awesome Joy Division footnote is 8 pages long. Lester Bangs is an alienating, yet awesome, crusader. The Flaming Lips believe whole-heartedly in shooting off cannons of confetti, wearing furry costumes, and celebrating outer space themes (yep…it’s awesome). These guys are the fringe of society, and they would tell you that without pause, complaint or reservation.

While this insecurity (and subsequent publishing of said insecurity) may be proving that I’ve already become what I’m afraid of becoming, here’s the crux of point two: I’m already weird enough to myself in my own head. Do I need other people to confirm my opinion of myself by knowing a ridiculous amount about a subject that will become increasing uncool to know about as years go on? Will I ever be taken seriously by those who aren’t music obsessives? Scientists who cram their heads with scientific knowledge and discover things are revered as relevant to society – can rock journalism (and more importantly, rock journalists) ever be relevant to more than just their fan base?

And that’s the ultimate, final problem here. If I’m going to subject myself to the loss of both relationships and friends over this thing that will seem increasingly juvenile to others as I get older, it had better be pretty important to someone. I know it means a lot to me and my friends now, but can I make a meaningful, useful life out of entertaining fickle college students with prescriptions of good music? Is this something you can dedicate your life to and feel like you’ve made a difference, or is it just indulging a fantasy world? Is this a career of absolute and total escapism, both for you and the people you write for? Do I want to enable escapism? Do I want to be escapist my whole life? Is that all music is – escapism?

I’d like to refute the desperation of the last sentence by spurting some deep philosophical junk about the meaning of pop music. I could talk about the fact that it brings people together, or that some people have life-changing experiences due to a particular song or album. I could also riff on the notion that music defines the different times and places of our lives for us. I might even go for the ideas that music is a link to the vital heart of life or that sometimes people really do need to escape their reality for a while.

But I am aware that while almost everyone goes through a phase where they love music (made even more widespread by the use of the iPod), almost everyone settles into a groove somewhere after age 30 where they’ve got their favorite artists locked in and they generally have more important things to do than obsess over music. Like John Sellers says, “Somewhere along the line they had become adults.”

Or, as he clarifies later in the page:

“There seemed to be unwritten rules for people my age. Having diverse listening tastes: great. Going to the occasional concert: fine. Getting excited about one band more than others: okay, but watch it. Exhibiting fanboy behavior: embarrassing and not to be tolerated.”

Oh geez. That’s me, in 15 years. Now, I’m not saying that being John Sellers is the bad thing here: writing for Spin, writing a book about indie-rock? I can get into that! No, it’s the fact that I can look forward to things getting more and more socially unacceptable as I get more and more involved in rock journalism that bugs me.

And I’ve told myself that I’ll be more on the businessman side of it. I’m the editor. I’m the head of the organization. I’ll be the one taking the checks and facing the facts, as Ben Folds aptly put it (SEE! There’s subtle but condemning proof that I’ll be a fanboy forever. I quote my favorite songs without a hint of irony). But I know it’s not going to be totally true. I’m not going to be going to Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, or any of these businessman’s organizations. I could dress in a suit and show up, for sure (I do own a snazzy suit), but when pressed, they’d reveal their hundred-million-dollar oil distribution business and I’d reveal my niche independent music media organization. I don’t think I want to subject myself to those sorts of pained facial expressions.

And in the attempts to avoid getting myself into situations where people won’t take me seriously, I will, as so many others in the music industry have done before me, retreat to hanging with those who will take me seriously: the guys in the business with me, the bands, and the fans. That’s how we obsessives get thrust to the fringes of society so easily. We readily and purposefully avoid the mainstream because they look down on us. And the mainstream world looks down on us because (surprise, surprise) we avoid them. It’s a sick cycle (I held off on quoting a Lifehouse song, not because most of our readers would cringe at a Lifehouse mention, but because I’ve already name-checked once in the last two paragraphs, and it would start to look like I only know how to relate to the world through quoted songs).

But this still remains: when I sit down to listen to music, I forget all insecurities about my love for it. I get no greater pleasure than finding a new band with an amazing sound. I do feel comforted when I blast quiet music at top volume. My heart still jumps with glee when I get a package from a band I haven’t heard of. I go to concerts whenever I can and don’t feel bad about it. I even look forward to answering business e-mails, as I get to talk to those in music.

When I look at it that way, it’s clear to me that music has enriched my life. Right now, I have an e-mail sitting in my inbox from an artist I admire as an artist and a person. I can even, with a small stretch, call that man my friend, though we’ve never met in person. But I also have many in-person male (and the very occasional female) friends who get the whole music thing. I get continuous support from them. I continue to be amazed and excited as this magazine grows and grows and grows. Even if I may have a future of awkward party introductions (“What do you do?” “I run an independent music magazine.” “Oh, well…I’m a lawyer.”), independent music is ultimately where my heart is at.

And if music is where my heart is, then you know what? I’m going to embrace it. I’m taking the part of the dichotomy that accepts the obsession.

I am odd, I am quirky, I am obsessed with pop music. But it’s what has me writing this column, and what has you reading to the end (I doubt there are any of you left, but thanks anyway). I can be the best at what I do, be the best person I can be, be confident in the blessings God has given me, and chuck everything else to the wind.

Cause that’s where I build my foundation: God, men, rock’n’roll. I just need to be reminded every now and then.

Daniel G. Harmann-The Books We Read Will Bury Us

danielharmannDaniel G. HarmannThe Books We Read Will Bury Us

Mood-encompassing indie-pop that will calm and soothe you with lush beauty.


I love indie-pop, in all varities. I love Sufjan’s jubilant theatrics, The Postal Service’s blippy electronic pop, Fountains of Wayne’s pristine guitar pop, the Mountain Goats’ delicate acoustic songs, and Novi Split’s fractured half-songs. I love all of it – but there’s a special place in my heart for a small sub-genre of indie-pop that I have lovingly labeled “Rainy Day Makeout Music.” Daniel G. Harmann may not know that he is one of the superstars in this specialized arena, but with The Books We Read Will Bury Us, he has vaulted himself into the upper echelon of this tiny group.

What constitutes “Rainy Day Makeout Music”? It’s surprisingly easy to pin down, although not a lot of people set out to make music like this. It’s basically muted, muffled, shuffling, dreary music – beautiful, full songs that seem full to bursting with parts but just don’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. The members of Meryll are the experts at making moving music that hardly moves at all, but Daniel G. Harmann certainly is challenging them.

Harmann’s music is totally encompassing in the fact that it controls the mood of any room it is played in. The songs are inescapably beautiful – perched right on the brink where nostalgia becomes regret and sleepiness becomes disappointment, but never falling over into the downer side. It is comforting music – music that makes me want to get wrapped up in a blanket, watch the rain fall, and, well, leisurely make out with a girl.

The great thing about this music is that it doesn’t really matter which track is which – while each track has something unique to offer, it’s really the mood that is set from the first ten seconds onward that is the draw of this album. For what it’s worth, the track that I find most engaging is “Last Swim of the Year,” which rides on a moseying, muted drum beat and a non-invasive, circular acoustic guitar line. The guitar line is layered on top of repeatedly, but the swaying forward motion of the underlying acoustic track paired with the lazy, contented swagger of the kit drummer keeps the track from getting bogged down in the weight of its own layers. The vocals are fragile and perfect, floating above the music in a way that begs for a very cheesy analogy to something like waves or small birds. Just consider them amazing, ok?

The only part of this album that I don’t find amazing is the unfortunate “Solidarity.” It’s not a terrible song – no, the unfortunate quality is that the warbly vocal performance is not nearly up to the stunner that is “Last Swim of the Year.” Did I mention that “Solidarity” directly follows “Last Swim…”? Total buzzkill.

But “She Hears a Frequency” picks up where “Last Swim of the Year” left off by introducing a swooning cello, and all is righted. And honestly, if one slice of one song on a half-hour long album is the only thing I can find wrong, you’re doing some pretty stellar work.

Daniel G. Harmann’s work on The Books We Read Will Bury Us will encompass your mood for a half-hour. Prepare to be soothed, calmed and wowed. And seeing as this is an iTunes-only release that’s merely 6 songs long, the album is cheap. You do not want to miss out on this beautiful piece of (inexpensive) art. This album definitely will be on my best of 2007 list.

-Stephen Carradini

Paul Kerschen-The Pacific Theater

paulkerschenBand Name: Paul Kerschen

Album Name: The Pacific Theater
Best Element: Well-crafted songwriting
Genre: Pop
Label Name: Byzantine Records

Band E-mail:

Home-recorded releases usually work really well with acoustic-based pop. The relative quiet of the acoustic guitar as opposed to the electric guitar makes it a perfect fit for smaller recording systems, as bands like Marc with a C, Novi Split, and ReedKD have discovered. That’s why Paul Kerschen’s The Pacific Theater is so immensely odd- this home-recorded album is split between electric-guitar power-pop and downer acoustic-pop, and it’s actually the power-pop that fares better here.

Kerschen’s power-pop sound is brash and forward- leaving no room for subtleties, he spits slightly off-color syllables in a hyperactive voice in highlight tracks such as “Les Jeunes Rimbauds” and “Chupacabras”. The instrumental backing matches the vocals- quick, choppy, and straightforward. The songwriting is quite good- cut down to the bone, the stark accompaniment provides a very arresting listening experience.

That’s the problem with much of the acoustic-based material on this album- the songs are cut down to their bare minimums so effectively that the only things holding them together are the musical frameworks and the off-and-on vocals. The vocals, when slowed down from their hyperkinetic rate in the power-pop songs, are a sketchy affair, ranging from annoying (“Lullaby”) to overpowering (“Six Times Before Breakfast”, “Golden Gate”) to perfectly matched (“Your Angel”). It seems that Kerschen is capable of writing a solid melody and pulling off a good performance, but for some reason many of these tracks don’t get the excellent vocal treatment they deserve.

Easily the best track here is closer “All My Life”, which features some great lyrics, a doo-wop feel, and a long outro that grows to epic proportions. It’s easily the most accessible track, and even though the vocal performance is a little clunky, the sheer talent of the songwriting redeems the track.

Paul Kerschen knows how to write good songs- this much is easily evident from The Pacific Theater. Whether his voice is solid enough to be fronting these well-crafted songs is a question that isn’t answered in this album- his future releases will provide the final word on that. At the moment, this is an average pop album by a songwriter who has the potential to achieve a whole lot.

-Stephen Carradini

I Must Have-Shake That American Ass

imusthaveBand Name: I Must Have
Album Name: Shake That American Ass
Best element: All-genre incorporation, and spazz-out goodness.
Genre: Spaz-rock
Label name: N/a
Band e-mail:

I have a soft spot for three types of music: well-done acoustic indie-pop (Sunset Alliance’s The Novi Split), post-hardcore (Tooth and Nail’s MewithoutYou), and spaz-rock (Saddle Creek’s Beep Beep). I Must Have falls squarely in the genre of spaz-rock, and they don’t make any bones about it.

Yes, their art is spazzy, their lyrics are spazzy, their titles are spazzy, every single thing is on the verge of crazy, but not quite. This is best shown in the first track “Party Disarray” (I love it when people set out a mission statement in the first track- it’s just good album planning), where the dour vocals belt out, “You comb your hair and you drink some wine! You kill her and you thrill her!” Later on in the song he screams that sounds like a cross between Jack White and and a real scream. It’s crazy. And that’s just vocally.

Prone to rock, but also prone to random spurts of jamming, minimalist sections that prey on silence, technical math rock explosions, and to stop/start fits of spasm, this rock is so precisely written that I can’t imagine the amount of time that must have gone into this. To make all this chaos scripted for tape must have taken the utmost patience and care. The back-and-forth punch of “Robotic Harvest”, the demented drumming and stellar bass line in “Complexity in the End”, and the manic, panicked crowning achievement of the album: “Good Nights”. The song rips from all out rock to indie-rock lullaby to stomping rock to precise twists of songwriting and back…it simply defies logic. It’s awesome.

I Must Have disables the barriers of music. They incorporate everything into their spazziness, and if you like experimentation, hard music, indie rock, or like to be punched in the face, you should definitely Shake That American Ass with I Must Have.

-Stephen Carradini



This year was a tough year for mainstream music- no one came out the clear-cut winner, except for Modest Mouse, because everyone wanted to celebrate the indie hero. Yay. For actual indie music, however, it was a banner year- the music came out of the woodwork to blow me away. Four of my top five releases were highly unexpected, unhyped, and unheard of when I received the packages- after hearing their contributions to the music world, I thoroughly believe that independent music will never die.

5. Actionslacks – “Full Upright Position” – Quite possibly the best straight-up pop album I’ve ever heard. It has depth to the lyrics, diversity in the song styles, clarity in the performances, and aesthetics to blow you away. There’s none better than Actionslacks in the world of pop/rock music.

4. Matt Shaw- Matt Shaw and Devices in Shift fought hard for this spot in my head. In the end, Matt Shaw won because I love the dual punch of “The Argument” and “The Fields” so much. Indie electronica doesn’t get better than this. The arrangements keep you guessing, the beats keep your head bobbing, the melodies keep you humming, and the overall product leaves you stunned. A vicious diatribe against technology is dramatically set against technologically created beats- the irony isn’t lost, and neither is the message. You can take this album simply musically (without views) or lyrics and all (with views), and either way you will love it.

3. The Felix Culpa – “Commitment” – Now this is a band that knows what it’s doing. I caught the Felix Culpa bug after simply one listen to this album- and who wouldn’t, after hearing an artistically minded indie/emo band that bends and breaks the rules of ‘emo’ to form something actually emotional? This is a whirlwind trip through the best ways to be passionate about something.

2. Novi Split/The Adrian Fortress Split CD “The Split Series, Volume Two: The Lost Volume”. Anything the Novi Split commits to tape is simply astonishing in the fact that it doesn’t feel like it’s on tape. Every time I hear a Novi Split song, it feels like lead man David J is sitting in my room with a guitar, peacefully singing himself and I to sleep. This man is a genius, and I will continue to laud him at every chance I get. This split is just a continuation of Novi Split’s saga- lovely, stark, haunting acoustic songs. The Adrian Fortress also puts up some deliciously messed up post-rock, only adding more goodness to this split.

1. Hotel Lights – S/t There’s something truly stunning in Hotel Lights: wisdom. That’s a lofty statement, but after thoroughly picking apart this album, I feel that it is justified. These pop/folk/mellow songs are all quite morose in their musings, but they’re also heavily weighted with a sense of ‘been there, done that’ remorse. The fact that the piano, guitar, and vocals work together to craft simply jaw-dropping landscapes helps the delivery of these lyrics, and voila- you’ve got the best album I’ve heard all year. Song of the year: “Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues”.

Honorable Mentions: Devices In Shift, “Velas Para La Enferma”, Relient K “Mmhmm”, Ghosting “October EP” (if they ever release a real album, I’ll rejoice), Page France “Come! I’m a Lion!”, Ember Days S/t EP

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