This week we'll be following up the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2019 with interviews with each participant, where we discuss their personal #1 picks of the decade. It is Thursday and we have one more day to go. Only two interviews today, but the second one is a long one.
Pete Vincelli / pvincelli: Good Riddance - Thoughts and Prayers (2019)
Hey there, Peter! What's going on? For the Top 100 Albums of 2010-2020 project, you chose Good Riddance's 2019 album Thoughts and Prayers as your #1 pick of the decade. What is it about this album that lead you to pick it as your #1?
Hey bud, I think it’s partially because Good Riddance was one of the my favorite bands growing up. And their debut album was one of the first punk CDs I bought when I was a kid. And after all these years, even after a pretty long hiatus, it still amazes me how unique their sound is. And Thoughts and Prayers is the perfect example of that.
This album is the perfect mix of speed, aggression, and melody mixed with thought provoking lyrics.
Yeah, you know I kinda thought so, too. I'll admit that Good Riddance isn't one of my favorite bands, but they've definitely kept their edge all of these years and never seem to slip regardless of how long they go between albums.
Yeah, definitely. I've always loved how they were able to seamlessly blend different tempos and styles. Their slow songs still sound aggressive. And their fast songs are still melodic and catchy. And Thoughts and Prayers is one of the best examples of this Good Riddance style.
It is pretty tight. I remember when Fat went over the promo and I listened to it, like, 12 times in a row in the car… and I wasn't even the one reviewing it! (laughter) Being the Reviews Editor has its perks…
I don't know if I wasn't paying attention or if it was a surprised, but when they announced the first single, I had no idea that they were even making a new album. So I listened to that song over a dozen times that day. So I had pretty high hopes for the album. And I think they exceeded my expectations, which is pretty damn good because I expected a lot based on that first single.
You ranked their only other album of the decade, 2015's Peace in Our Time, pretty high, too (#16). That's a pretty respectable ranking, all things considered, but what is it about Thoughts… that made it the preferable album?
Peace in Our Time was a welcomed return after a long hiatus, but and I loved it when it came it. But in retrospect, it seems like they were just warming up for this album. And I don't mean that as a bad thing. I think they just honed in their sound even more without changing too much and keeping a good mix of style and tempo. And on top of that, the lyrics as usual are thought provoking without sounding too preachy.
I'd buy that for a dollar. If you didn't have to stay within the 2010-2019 requirement of this poll, how does this album rank in your all-time list of favorite albums?
Damn, that's a tough one. It would definitely be in the Top 100, but probably not the top half of the list mainly because most of my favorites are from when I was first discovering punk rock. For example, I'd probably rate their first album, For God and Country higher. It's not necessarily a better record, but I like it better…a time and place type of thing, ya know?
Oh yeah, sure. I get that it isn't a slight to the album itself, but that some music just resonates more simply by virtue of when it came into your life. OK, final one: What is your favorite track on the album, and why?
I hate that question haha. But, if I had to pick, I'll go with "Don't Have Time". It's quintessential Good Riddance. Reminds me of why I got into punk rock in the first place. Also, everytime I hear the line "what have we done, we killed a mother's only son", it really puts things in perspective. Excellent!
Well, Peter, thanks for speaking with me on this. I look forward to our Best of 2020-2029 in ten years! (laughter)
No problem. Glad to be a part of it. 'Til next time.
Jeff Sorley’s #1 pick: Various Artists - The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute (2013)
For this interview, fellow participant ChurchillDownes took up the interviewer role, as I can’t rightly interview myself. Aside from two questions in every interview (how it ranks overall, and favorite song), he was left to his own devices.
Jeff, my friend, my captain, my boss. We're talking about your number one album of the decade, The Songs of Tony Sly: Tribute. I want to start here: As this is, essentially, a covers album, does anything here surpass the original No Use For A Name / Tony Sly solo original material?
Wow. Coming straight in with a knife, aren't we? (laughter) Shit… that's a tough question. I mean, I honestly don't look at the songs in that way. I won't lie- even though I've liked No Use For A Name since '94, I really liked Tony Sly's solo work and, then, by extension, his work in Scorpios a bit more. I guess I see the songs more as, mostly, clever adaptations of NUFAN/Sly songs. I mean, when your career is split between electric and acoustic, the cover songs are almost invariably going to be a band punking up an acoustic song, or slowing down a melodic punk song. That isn't always the case on this album (Strung Out does their slightly more metal thing to "Soulmate" to great effect, for example), but that's mostly what it is. So, although I DO have a few favorites, I like to appreciate them for what they've done to adapt, instead of whether or not they are better. I think some songs are really fucking phenomenal in their own right, but that only serves to highlight just how good the songwriting of Tony Sly was in the first place. I know that isn't an answer, really. But that's what you're getting. (laughter)
We're coming in hot, Jeff! This ain't your grandfather's interview! So, cards on the table: I liked No Use for a Name in the 90s, but I lost track of the band and never really followed Sly's solo work that closely. I'd be interested in hearing about your experience with Sly, specifically how you came to be a fan and how that fandom evolved over time.
Well, like a lot of kids I discovered NUFAN via the Fat Music for Fat People comp that Fat was handing out for free during the NOFX/Face to Face tour in 1994. After that I saw NUFAN a few times, including a free show put on by Q101, Chicago's alternative radio station, when NUFAN was touring in support of ¡Leche con Carne! in '95 or '96. But in 2004 when Tony released the split Acoustic album with Joey Cape I was really impressed by both of their adaptations of their respective punk band's songs into acoustic. From that point on I looked forward to his acoustic releases more than I did the NUFAN ones. Then, in 2010 Tony, Joey, Jon Snodgrass, and some random guy on keyboards named Brian Wahlstrom (laughter) took their acoustic gig throughout Europe. I was living in Lyon, France at the time and my wife and I saw them play in one of those party boats on the river (La Marquise, you can look it up on Google). It is probably one of the smallest party boats, really long and really narrow, and it was just a spectacular and intimate experience. It was fun, goofy, a bit disheveled. Exactly what music should be like. They all came around again in late-2011 I think (my wife was pregnant at the time), by which point they were officially Scorpios (having realized that all four of them were of the Scorpio astrological sign), and they played on the next boat up, at the time it had some Australian-themed name, but is now just called The Boat, and this was a much larger venue. They still packed it, but I got to chat with each of them at points and all were just such laid back guys. Then in July 2012 Tony died, something like a month or so after the release of Acoustic: Volume 2 with Joey.
I mean, for a good decade between about 2005-2015 I kind of stepped away from "discovering" new music, and only paid attention to new releases by old favorites. So Tony's acoustic work was part of a small selection of new, but slightly familiar stuff I'd listen to or buy for a long time. That may give it extra weight in my mind, but it is what it is.
That you mention how meaningful the live experiences are and how the record came out in a somewhat fallow period of discovery are interesting details. Not to diminish what this record means to you (which I promise we'll get into in a minute), but do you think, had you been in a more exploratory mood during the first half of the decade, the record would still be as important to you as it is?
Oh, yeah. I think it works well for me on multiple levels.
Tell me about those levels. I'm assuming there is some "these are covers of songs I like by bands I like" at play, but do you see any of these songs as, say, a particularly moving expression of grief or honor or tribute?
Well, I think in general they ALL are. I mean, from my experience and from talking to a lot of bands over the years, Tony seemed like a really swell guy and lot of people and bands throughout the scene had interactions with him. So I think a lot of the songs have some measure of both grief, honor, or tribute. Be it through direct expression of emotion in the song itself, or just by trying to do the best they can in covering the song. I don't think that any of the bands just saw this opportunity as "a song to cover and throw on a comp." There's a lot of effort put into most of these.
But I don't want it to come off as "these are cover songs I like by bands I like," either. I only really listen to about 8 out of the 33 bands on the total track. There are also a couple of bands on here who I really don't like. But they still put in a pretty good effort and, well, using Tony's songs as a template, put together a decent song.
That's the thing about this album, on its own it is a great collection of music within the… let's broadly call it "alternative" for lack of a better word… genre. Unlike what one of our reviews team (I hope) jokingly called it, it is not really “a bunch of songs from the 90's and 00's covered by a bunch of bands from the 90's and 00's.” It DOES have a mass appeal outside of even knowing who these bands are or who Tony Sly was. I really haven’t met one person who’s listened to it when I have it on the background be like “what’s this shit?” Even if they don’t express interest in finding out more about it, I see hands or feet start tapping to the beat. I see heads nodding along to the song while looking out of a car window. That kind of stuff.
But, going back to your question after my long-winded non-answer (is anyone still reading, haha): for sheer emotional grief I think Karina Denike’s opener of “Biggest Lie,” Frank Turner’s seemingly curbside acoustic of “Keira,” Joey Cape with Scorpios “International You Day,” and Miracles’ rousing alt-country/western/I don’t know cover of “Coming Too Close” from the bonus tracks seem to have a bit more meat to them. Miracles got robbed by not having their song on the main release. I can think of three or four tracks it could easily have been swapped with.
As for tribute or honor, as I said before the best way to do that is just do right by the source material. But I think some stand-outs in that respect include the aforementioned Strung Out cover of “Soulmate.” There’s also the trifecta of Old Man Markley’s bluegrass-inspired “Feel Good Song of the Year,” Lagwagon’s “Discomfort Inn” which, I believe, was the first “new” Lagwagon song to feature new bassist Joe Raposo; and then Teenage Bottlerocket’s “Via Munich” which sees Kody and Ray swap main and backing vocals halfway through. Then there is Alkaline Trio’s weird alt-rock version of “Straight from the Jacket” that, to this day, I can’t tell if I actually like or not, but it always really hits me in a strong way. From a straight-up “cover song” viewpoint of making a song your own, I really dig Frenzal Rhomb’s cover of “Flying South.”
Now, that being said, are some songs better than others? Yeah totally. Are some not really up to snuff? Yeah, a couple seem like the band kind of mis-fired or, in one case, phoned it in a bit. Not knowing the entire process of putting this together and choosing who went on and who didn't, I think from an editorial standpoint some of those bonus songs should've been on the main album, and some of those slightly… lackluster… songs that made the cut should've been digital downloads.
I suspect I know the answer, but let me ask the question anyway: Has this album revealed anything new to you about Sly's songwriting? Again, having not heard the album and only seeing the genre signifyers you reference, it seems like his approach to song craft resulted in music that was easy, or at least engaging, to reinterpret.
I would say yes. I mean, after listening to this album as much as I have, I really do have an appreciation for how… seamlessly… a lot of his songs were covered. And I'm not referring to the typical acoustic-to-electric and vice-versa. I mentioned "Feel Good Song of the Year" by Old Man Markley earlier. I mean, they took a pretty straight-forward melodic punk opening with a funny sample at the intro (from "Night of the Living Dead") and turned into this punk-bluegrass spectacle that is simply awe-inspiring to behold. Snuff turns "On the Outside" into this rambling samba-style tune that is totally the kind of thing Snuff does, but it's a Sly song. I mentioned Trio's "Straight from the Jacket" earlier, where what was originally a kind of pounding song becomes this almost dirge-like swell of emotion.
There are three instances where the same song is covered twice. As above, Snuff does "On the Outside" but so does Jon Snodgrass with The Dead Peasants, but their version is fully in that alt-country style that Jon does a lot of. And BOTH SONGS WORK. Then there is the TBR cover of "Via Munich" on the main release, and then Russ Rankin of Good Riddance does an acoustic rendition similar to the original but with a few of his own flourishes. Both come across as awesome, even though the latter plays it pretty straight. Lastly there is "International You Day" by Scorpios which closes out the main album and then, in the bonus songs there's a version piano by this guy Ryan Hardester. Just some random fan who made this beautiful adaptation and put it on YouTube and then, the next thing he knows, it's a part of the album.
I guess I can't stress that, despite what style the song is being covered in (and there are a lot of styles on this), they all work well because the original music and lyrics were so accessible. If you haven't listened to it, I highly recommend it.
You're making a compelling case that I should check this out. I've got a couple more questions for you, and we can do those lightning round style, but before that: how has your relationship to the record evolved since it came out eight years ago? Do you hear different things in it now than you did then? Do you expect you'll keep hearing new things in it? Or is your relationship with it more fixed than that?
I think that I fully explored the album about 4 years ago. I don't really hear anything new on it because I've heard it through so many different sources, from crappy headphones to $5k stereo systems (not mine). I think I'm familiar with all of the nuances and now it's just there for me. I listen to parts of this album weekly, and I'll probably do the whole thing in a row about 2-3 times a month, even to this day.
Alright, let's hit some lightning round questions: What's your favorite song on this record? What's your favorite Tony Sly song? If you had to add one song to this collection, and pick one band to perform it, what song would it be and who would the performer be?
Favorite song on the record: Fuck you. I got too many on this album! (laughter) But, and this may seem like a cop-out based on all of the variety I've been waxing on and on about, but "Flying South" by Frenzal Rhomb is stellar. They take a gentle acoustic song and turn it into a fabulously fast melodic punk song. Plus, I love how the harmonizing on the vocals is more present than not. You notice more when they AREN'T there and that just makes it all the better. I listen to that song the most.
Favorite Tony Sly song? I'm going to double dip and say "International You Day" for NUFAN, and "Shortest Pier" for his solo work.
The last one is pretty easy. I really like "Exit" off of ¡Leche con Carne!, and then Lagwagon covered it as a bonus track for the 2014 album Hang. To be quite honest, although their cover on "Discomfort Inn" is pretty damn good, I kind of prefer their "Exit" cover better. I'm not sure if they were recorded in the same session or not, but I would've put that on instead if they were.
Where does this record stack up in your personal all-time best of? And, what do you think your second favorite covers album of all time is, assuming this is your number one?
Now YOU’RE double-dipping! (laughter)
It probably sits in my Top 10 of all time, for sure, but not at #1. That list is fairly fluid about what sits on top but, considering this is a covers album, it’s got a lot going for it regardless.
Second favorite covers album? Huh… Uhhh… Well, I’ve been a big fan of Devo since I was a little whippersnapper, and I still really get into We Are Not Devo, which was put out in ‘97 on Centipede Records. It’s a bunch of punk and alt bands doing, as you can guess, Devo songs. This one was a staple during the many road trips my wife and I took in the early 2000s, and now again since we’re back in the states and back to having a car. Don Knotts Overdrive’s cover of “Snowball” is still, in my opinion, one of the best cover songs ever.
And with that, unless I forgotten any other questions, I think this concludes the interview. Jeff I'd like to congratulate you on your excellent number one album of the decade selection. You made a very compelling case for the record, and hopefully you've convinced chumps like me who have not heard it to go out and give it a sniff.
Yes, please do. I’d also like to take this last moment to point out that the proceeds from the sale of this album go to the Tony Sly Music Foundation, a non-profit set up in his honor which funds and promotes music programs for children. Not only is it a great album, but just by listening your contributing to programs that get instruments in kids’ hands and involve them in the world of music. Can’t go wrong there!
I'm sure there are plenty of dirtbags out there like me who listen to all kind of music that never goes to a good cause, so that's an even easier reason to check this one out. Jeff I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and feelings on this record with me. Long live Tony Sly.