Fave Five: Musicians (#4)

Kevin Brown: Good news, Brewer – No one expressed their outward dislike of the first post!  Now don’t ask the logical follow-up question of “well, did anyone express their like”?  Don’t do that.  It would be mean.

I hope you’ve taken the last 15 hours to listen to some Ben Folds.

Alex Brewer: I will admit, I did watch that video at the end of the review. Brilliant stuff.

Kevin, you want to remind people what we are doing here?

KB: Showing them more ridiculous Ben Folds covers, obviously!

OK, now that that’s over with…you and I are debating our five favorite musicians.  Today we’re on #4, and here’s a link to yesterday’s post for those of you who are seriously too lazy to go back to the home page and find it there.  You get the first writing today after going with Jimmy Page yesterday.  Tough act to follow.  Who’s your #4?


4. Jeff Tweedy

To those reading this article, I will be really impressed if you are more than familiar with my next pick. Jeff Tweedy is not someone people first think of in music today. In fact, he hasn’t ever been a megastar when you compare him to others in his genre…but damn, is he a great music mind.

Wilco is Jeff Tweedy’s main band and outlet of musical creation. In the early years of their existence, they were very much a country-western rock band. Over time, they’ve transformed into an extremely innovative alternative rock band with a very simple, yet unique sound. Tweedy is the longest standing member of Wilco alongside bassist John Stirratt.

I was first introduced to this band by Travis, one of my great friends from high school. Travis may be the best guitar player I have ever met, and he has a real knack for talented and creative musicians. I was a little surprised that Wilco was one of his favorite bands after listening to a couple of their major hits. They seemed a little a dull with not much creativity there. “Jesus, Etc” and “Box Full of Letters” are great songs, but they aren’t exactly shockingly good. They are just good tunes. I’m sure a lot of you feel this way, and have probably moved on from Wilco after coming to the same conclusion.

…but that’s where I went wrong, and I hope you don’t either. If you dig deeper into each album Tweedy and Wilco have made, the music is just brilliant. Are some songs simple? Sure…but so are most of U2’s songs (no disrespect at all to that band…their genius is in simplicity).

Aside from Zoo TV, that is.

Since Jeff Tweedy is the frontman and main songwriter of Wilco, he qualifies in my top five. Do yourself a favor. Go listen to “At Least That’s What You Said” off of the album “A Ghost Is Born”, which may be the most haunting and beautiful song I have ever heard. Better yet, Kevin, I’m just going to throw this link into the post to make it easier for the people.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending two Wilco festivals at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Center.  That’s right…they held a festival in an ART GALLERY. The mix of simplistic song bases with extremely complex layers is what made me fall in love with Jeff Tweedy’s music. Whether you are a teenager or in your later years, Wilco is a band that everyone can truly enjoy…and you can thank my #4 pick, Jeff Tweedy, for that.

KB: I feel rather ashamed to say I know maybe three songs by Wilco.  I should really listen to them because, well, I should listen to any band that gets a 10.0 rating for one of their albums on Pitchfork.  (Side note: I hate Pitchfork and I hate that I have to acknowledge that getting a 10.0 from a Pitchfork is this legendary achievement.  But I just did it.  Gadzooks!)

I finally discovered “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” last year and was blown away by its sonic beauty.  And yet I haven’t explored Wilco much further.  I don’t really know why.  This seems like a good excuse, though.

Did it take you a while to get into them, too?  Or am I just being oddly stubborn for no apparent reason?

AB: No, you’re not being stubborn at all. It’s an acquired taste for sure, much like I believe the band Primus is an acquired taste. Once you dive in, and really experience what their music is all about, you’ll start to realize how awesome it is.

…and yes, I found a way to mention Primus.

This was a Google Image result for “Primus”…is this Mr. Peanut?

KB: Hey, Primus!  They were on Guitar Hero II!  Here are some other things I can say about Primus!

(Brewer, save me…)

AB: …I could write an entire review why Les Claypool is the best bassist to ever walk the planet. Maybe that’s a look into things to come on this blog!

All right, Kevin, you led off pretty strong with Ben Folds. Who ya got at #4?

KB: If Les Claypool is in your top three, I will eat a fisherman.  Moving on…here’s the most logical follow-up to Folds.  (Or maybe the least.)

4. Kanye West

Well, if yesterday was off the beaten path for me, I’m not sure where this choice is located.  Yes, Kanye West is about 1,000 times more mainstream by Ben Folds – can you imagine a Folds/Kardashian pairing, by the way? – but this doesn’t fit my typical bill.  I’m, on the surface, an average white guy from Long Island who plays piano.  I listen to rock radio stations 95% of the time.  I disdain Hot 97 and Z100 and everything they stand for.

And truth be told, it took me a while to really immerse myself into enjoying hip-hop, because I had never been seriously introduced to it until, say, high school.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize what a smart and enjoyable medium it can be – and so I’m selecting a man for my list who has dominated the last decade in the genre in West.

Now, as I select Kanye West for a list of musicians, I’m reminded of a Sam Kinison comedy special where he talked about his disdain for rappers (with Ice-T in the crowd, laughing it up).  The quote was something to the effect of “rappers are always holding their junk because they can’t play any (bleeping) instruments.”  And while it’s a ridiculous point that’s played up for comedic value, there’s something to it in terms of this exercise.  Can I really consider Kanye a “musician” for the purpose of this exercise when he’s up there on stage holding nothing but a microphone and, well, sometimes, some other things?  The answer I’ve settled on – which seems rather obvious at this point – is yes.

That being said, here’s a picture of Sam Kinison just for the hell of it.

Our perception of “musicians” has changed in the past few decades.  I don’t think a musician has to be someone who plays an instrument on stage, rapidly strumming a guitar or clanging around on his drum set.  A musician can be someone who draws inspiration from different genres, who utilizes all sorts of techniques in the studio, who changes his or her sonic approach from album to album.  And Kanye West is that type of musician.  He’s said that he often enjoys listening to rock music over hip-hop.  He studied U2, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin for his third album, Graduation.  He seems to love indie music – hell, the guy had Bon Iver on his latest album.  West, for all his perceived rockheadedness, possesses an extremely sharp musical ear which he’s consistently put to good use.  Let’s examine…

– The College Dropout (2004): A shock to the hip-hop system.  Hopeful, religious, thoughtful…this was a very soul-based record.

– Late Registration (2005): …and then Kanye topped it.  Filled with beautiful piano (“Heard ‘Em Say), blazing horns (“Touch The Sky”) and string sections galore, this is smart AND ridiculously catchy hip-hop.  Nearly impossible to beat.

– Graduation (2007): Of course, he almost beat it.  The first five tracks on this album feature samples from Elton John, Steely Dan, Daft Punk, Labi Siffre and Michael Jackson.  There’s a Chris Martin appearance, violins and piano all over the place and a generally anthemic sound.  You’re not supposed to make three albums this good in a row.

– 808s & Heartbreak (2008): He didn’t make it four.  But 808s and its AutoTune, drum-machine, synth-based sound was a necessary step in the evolution of West, and without this album, I don’t think he could have made his next one.  It’s a gigantic directional shift for West, who turned his hopeful and energetic sound into as cold and lonely an album as can be.  And it while it’s far from perfect, 808s features a few brilliant tracks, including the tragically gorgeous “Welcome to Heartbreak”, one of Kanye’s best songs ever.

– My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010): And then holy freaking crap.  MBDTF is the best hip-hop album I’ve ever heard, and I don’t know if that will ever change.  This is an album that explores the darkest depths of West’s celebrity, managing to be both staggeringly personal at times and gloriously funny at others.  It is consumed with wealth and sex and love and heartbreak and arrogance and humility and a million other things, and never for a moment does it sound anything but fresh.  Sonically, this is a killer as well.  “Power” rips through a furious King Crimson sample.  “Runaway” mystifies with a haunting lone piano note, a solitary E key played out for what feels like hours at the start.  “Gorgeous” is filled with sleazy, dirty guitars over a twisted vocal.  How does it get any better than this?

So, Brewer…have I defended my pick enough yet?  Or should I keep typing?

AB: I mean…you defended it. And you know my opinion of Kanye West…I think he is outstanding.

It’s an interesting argument when you bring up what we define as a musician. Hell, that dude named Psy is considered a musician…OK, maybe he isn’t.

No, definitely not.

Personally, I think Kanye is up at the top of my leaderboard when it comes to hip-hop/rap artists. What separates him from others is his musical philosophy.  He is a producer first and a rapper second. His beats are always dynamite. His collaborations are always executed well. His albums flow correctly. He clearly cares about not only the song, but the entire presentation.

All that said, he wouldn’t…and clearly won’t crack my top five. It’s a good pick, and I don’t think you’re crazy for picking him.


KB: What are you saying??  Oh, wait, that’s supposed to be the start to “Power”, right?

I didn’t even mention Kanye’s background as a producer, mainly because I didn’t feel like writing any more.  But you’re right – he’s worked with so many different artists, and he’s a guy who was an acclaimed producer before ever making it as a rapper.  Hell, he produced “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” and “Encore”, among others, on some of Jay-Z’s greatest albums.  That’s undoubtedly given him a sonic advantage over most rappers.

Yeah, man.

From what I’ve read about Kanye, he obviously wanted to be a rapper for a long time – but it probably worked out in his favor that he had to wait his turn while doing so much work as a producer.  That opened him up to so many different sounds, and I can’t imagine his albums being the same without it.

By the way, here’s how dictionary.com defines the term “musician”, for whatever that’s worth…

1.             a person who makes music a profession, especially as a performer of music.

2.            any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.

AB: I would agree with that definition…mainly because I don’t have a choice.

I’m pretty happy that in one review we talked about Jeff Tweedy (alternative, country artists) and Kayne West (hip-hop, rap producer/songwriter). That’s a hell of a review…and we have THREE more to go.

Till next time, Kevin!

KB: When was the last time you called me “Kevin” in real life?  Also, shame on you for trying to get the last word.

I leave you good folks with this…till tomorrow…


Alex Brewer (@ACBrew) is a contributing writer for “Kevin Reviews Things”. Hailing from the lost and forgotten state of Maine, Alex enjoys music no one would think he listens to, Boston sports teams, and Starcraft 2 a little too much. 

Follow Kevin on twitter @kevinnbrown.


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