Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

ben wilson This is the blog of a one Ben Wilson, a Louisville, Kentucky native who enjoys baseball, beer, music, bikes, things that fly and good food. By day he pushes pixels and makes the Internet happen for a local advertising agency. His wife, Kelly is an Ironman, and his baby Amelia is the cutest thing ever.

Looking back through the archives, I see it’s been a few years since I really did a “Best Music I Heard Last Year” article, and that’s a shame, ’cause I really enjoy doing them – almost as much as the music itself. But it takes a lot of time to put something like this together and once I get going on one my editorial instincts go out the window and they become untenable, unfinishable beasts. And thats what you had here in the last few weeks… I started my “Best of 2008″ and realized that I hadn’t done a Best Music I Heard This Year for 2007… and that lead me into a wider discussion of How To (or How I) Criticize Music. Somehow both of those got done and here we are now, 2008…

The year…2008. A year of much car listening for me (and Kelly), travelling to and from races. A lot of personal growth for both Kelly and I eventually culminating in her completing the biggest challenge of her young life and we both taking first big step to the biggest challenge of them all – parenthood. Perhaps viewed relative to those things, the music got lost – dwarfed a bit, but perhaps it was just a down year. I didn’t sense the same profound leaps in sound that I saw in 2007 – just a lot of good-to-great music that was just a step or two removed from the everyday. This band sounded like that band but with just a little twist thrown in. Perhaps it’s just the quiet before a loud and roaring storm?

It was a good year with a number of albums that I dearly loved, but my general feeling was that the market was down from the high that I saw in 2007. And the good news is that the market for sound always rebounds… more after the jump.


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Jan 31 2009 ~ 11:39 pm ~ Comments (1) ~

The year was 2007… I listened to a lot of music, but didn’t write so much about it, and for that I am remiss. In writing my “Best of 2008″ post I realized that much of the music I was listening to I had listened to in 2007. Perhaps a sad critique on the 2008 season, I’m not sure, but in any case, here goes. Listed after the jump below you’ll find some selected reviews of albums that I heard in 2007.

Add one to my “all-time favorites”, a few to the “I could listen to them anytime list” and a few from years gone by…

If this is your first time ’round with me, I would recommend reading my prior “Best Of” posts and also suffer my treatise on how I criticize music, otherwise soldier on…


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Jan 21 2009 ~ 3:16 pm ~ Comments (2) ~

This was going to be a part of my not-quite-so-annual-anymore “Best Music I Heard This Year” series, but it got so large and gangly that it broke itself out of the 2008/2007 post and landed here…

If there is one thing that this blog has taught me (aside from imposing some editorial control on my self) is how and what makes good criticism. It’s all well and fine to say to my self, in my own head “this is good” or “this is not good” without much back-and-forth because I, being my own audience, understand me pretty well.  Not so on the blog side, though – as my audience (you, dear reader) will require a further explanation.

So, suffice it to say that I’ve done a fair amount of cypherin’ and ruminating on the subject – so here are some thoughts on how I listen to, criticize and then report on music. Read on after the jump…


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Jan 10 2009 ~ 7:10 pm ~ Comments Off ~

The year was 1997…

In the years that I called college, I was a bright and cheerful young man… and not the weathered old salt that lies here before you. I was awesome, frankly. And being awesome, I certainly didn’t need to do stuff like, oh, go to all of my classes, study or display any manner of professionalism once so ever. I could do damn well what I pleased and at college there are more than enough opportunities to do whatever that damn well is, like joining the Army or plunging neck-deep into crippling credit card debt. Luckily I chose neither of those, but I did very much enjoy music, technology and (perhaps my greatest trait) making an ass of myself in a public manner. Now, where could a young ebullient man like me-in-the-past go to do that while at University? Oh yes, that’s right… THE CAMPUS RADIO STATION!

An aside: I love radio and technology, largely due to two friends of mine, Matt and Jason Chanda. Jason (the older of the two) was into computers and Matt went that way as well, having a computer long before I had my own. Matt was the first guy I knew with a modem and a connection to the Internet, way back in ’93! Jason worked at Radio Shack, back when they, you know, sold radios, built his own mini-studio in his bedroom, made his own antennas and radio gear and generally was a handy guy to have around if you wanted to raise some techie hell. They also introduced me to the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume with Christian Slater. Young boy moves to new town, gets bored, sets up pirate radio station in his bedroom. I loved it. Probing that great wireless unknown, sending out your signal to those who were listening. It did and still does fascinate me.

I attended the University of Louisville from 1996-2000, and the UofL Belknap campus sported WLCV, Louisville’s Campus Voice, 570/1590 on your AM dial. Yes, good old tired AM. Then a grinding vortex of talk radio poobahs and unlistened-to visitor information on the highway and now… well, the same, but even sadder. So the story goes, WLCV tried to get an FM license for low power, but by the time the FCC was ready to give it out, those who had applied for it were long gone, and they gave it to WLOU, the now PRP owned classical music station. And, to make matters worse and the tale I tell all the more pathetic, the AM transmitter we were using wasn’t exactly functional. The only place to hear us was directly outside our tiny study via a Public Address system in the Student Activities Center, right across from Uncle Chen’s Chinese. We didn’t even have control over the volume of the PA. I still have my WLCV t-shirt that says “If you can hear us, you’re standing too close”.

The mascot on the shirt? An angry squirrel (I assume albino) hoisting a frothy beer mug giving a thumbs up. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about WLCV – drunk, angry and resigned to its fate as second-class institution on campus that subsisted off of peanuts. Rules were lax, there were occassional memos like “play the playlist and log it!”, but ultimately all that stuff was ignored and people came and did as they wanted. The “studio” such as it was an oddly-shaped glass-walled place in the lower level of the UofL SAC. It was filled with the relics of past DJs, promotional trash, signed posters and LPs, and just a ton of college music. We had racks of CDs, crates of vinyl, a mixing board, some mics, CD and tapes decks and two in-decent-shape Technics SL-1200 wheels of steel. In short, everything I could possibly ever dream of to recreate my Pump Up the Volume dreams.

I did the lone jock thing for a while, kicking out the assorted jams that I wanted to hear, attempting (in vain) for someone to please call up the studio and request a song (this never, ever happened). But I needed something more, some sort of straw to stir the drink that was that whole radio experience. That man, that catalyst, dare I say it was none other than Hunter Dixon. The extent of our radio experience prior to this had been recording tapes of us reading X-Men comics and various low-brow skits. Hunter and I entered the booth and things went immediately to LUDICROUS SPEED. The first few of these shows were lost into the ether, but soon we realized our own genius and we began taping our 90 minute shows. The rest is history…

So, sit back, relax, and enjoy Episode 1 of a 5 episode series.

Finally, I will say this before you even listen: Who do you think you are, judging me?*

Hunter & Ben’s Radio Fun-time, Episode 1, November 1997

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* Seriously, I was 19 or 20 and thought no one could hear me. What did you think I was going to do? Play it clean like Bob Newhart in the 60s? Oh no, not at all. I didn’t even know Bob Newhart did stand-up in the 60s until well into the 2000s. Also, Hunter is the potty mouth, he made me do most of that stuff. Total Svengali sorta thing. As an upside, he did keep the show running pretty well, so instead of me just groaning ‘uuuuhhhhhh’ into the mic, we actually played music.

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Jul 23 2008 ~ 11:29 pm ~ Comments Off ~

I’ve always wanted a website wherein I could make my own mixtapes and share them with friends. Didn’t know how the songs would get there, but I imagined an unlimited archive of songs. Why hasn’t iTunes made this a feature? Think about it – like a mixtape? Buy it! Helps the artists and maybe the creator of the mix gets a little credit or something.

In the meantime… there is Muxtape. Create an account, upload some MP3s and organize them into a mix. They can be played in the browser through a remarkably simple, clean interface. Like a good tool, Muxtape doesn’t do anything extra – it just does what it says it will, and nothing more.

Luckily, I already had a proto-mixtape I had worked on a little while back, entitled “Workingmans Blues” – inspired by my blasting of Uncle Tupelo’s Graveyard Shift upon my last day of work at my previous employer. It’s perfect for that Friday afternoon, or perhaps that last day of work. Enjoy:

(Thanks be to Jackson…)

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Jun 6 2008 ~ 8:21 am ~ Comments Off ~


Our first good snow of the season, and it’s 4 inches deep. I took advantage of the great light and beautiful muted sounds and shot some stills – which you can find in the 2008.02.11 – A Winter’s Eve gallery. I might be able to make it to work tomorrow…

Flipping through the photos after I got back in from the storm, I realized that I had completely forgotten about our little Rock Band get-together last month. It was a ton of fun and made for some great rock-photos.

Uncle Pappy Rocks

Check ‘em out in the 2008.01.12 – Rock Band gallery.

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Feb 11 2008 ~ 11:21 pm ~ Comments Off ~

Yes, I realize I am late. I have no real excuse except for, oh, I don’t know – launching like 18 websites last year, all hand-carved and polished with fine-grit. The downside is not publishing like I’d like to, but the upside is that I had the chance to listen to a fair bit of new music over the hum of the grindstone…

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

Explosions in the Sky – Everything they have ever released

Honorable Mention

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – So Divided

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Jan 17 2007 ~ 9:34 am ~ Comments Off ~

Each year I think “I’m going to post my top ten albums of the year before Pitchfork posts theirs,” and each year I’m too late. And then I read their list, thereby skewing my own perspectives, right? Right. Well – truth be told I am constantly re-shuffling my own list inside of my head, and I’ll be damned if my top two albums of the year didn’t match theirs. But hey, at least I know what I enjoy. So, without further ado, my list for 2005 (in ascending order):

Sleater Kinney – The Woods

I’ve made mention of The Woods previously and even previously-er, and in the intervening 6 months, my love of that album has yet to wane. Sleater-Kinney have always been on the cusp of something – always consistently at the top of the indie heap, but they never seem to be able to escape the orbit of the underground. Perhaps that is what spurred their self-imposed exodus from their native Washington State to the East Coast to record this album in the woods, quite literally. What came out was an album heavy with conviction and the best album of their 10 year career.

The Heartless Bastards – Stairs and Elevators

I first heard from these guys on a great album called Sunday Nights – The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, doing his “I Done Got Old”, and it blew my mind. Like a two-ton Janis Joplin — frontlady Erika Wennerstrom just stomped my brainpan with equal parts rock and blues. Between these guys and The Black Keys, is there anything that Akron, Ohio can’t do? Is there? Keep an eye on their website for tour dates and go and see them up-close before they are playing bigger venues. (ealier mention: the listening hour – fall 2005)

Blind Willie McTell and Buell Kazee

Death from Above 1979 – You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine

Explosions in the Sky / …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead

Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

Kanye West – Late Registration

Honorable Mention

Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better With…

Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

Wilco – Kicking Television (Live in Chicago)

The Decemberists – Picaresque

M. Ward – Transistor Radio

Think Differently Music Presents: Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture

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Dec 28 2005 ~ 8:34 am ~ Comments Off ~

It’s just about that time, cats and kittens for another installment of “What has Ben been listening to?”. I’ve been getting good response from a number of folks about my past installments, and I’ve got a backlog of stuff to dump now. (Update 2005/10/03: see end of post)

First up, I can’t say enough about The Heartless Bastards, a steady and loud trio from up-river in Cinci. Fronted by a diminutive straight-up hottie chick name of Erika Wennerstrom with a just huge voice. As with fellow Fat Possum alums, The Black Keys, their sound is the pounding blue-collar-and-denim romp that comes out of so many great industrial towns (think White Stripes out of Detroit / Black Sabbath from Birmingham UK). You couple that with Wennerstrom’s strong, steady and yet expressive voice and you get something that is truly great. I suggest you find out their debut Stairs and Elevators and give it a spin. (Also, they are playing at Uncle Pleasants on October 14th here in Louisville. Ticketweb will get you in.)

matt pond pa

The Matt Pond PA was something I stumbled upon thanks to Pitchfork’s free MP3 singles a few years back. That section of the site I came to find out as a dumping ground for small labels (like Polyvinyl). You can imagine there was a lot of listening for the ultimate rewards, but I did manage to find Mclusky and the Matt Pond PA in there, and considering my appreciation for both bands I’d say it was worth it.

The Matt Pond PA single I picked out was “Fairlee”, the excellent opening track on their 2002 release The Nature of Maps. At the time the MPPA were just a really good multi-piece conglomerate band that rarely toured outside of their home-base of the Northeast. But now, they are opening for Liz Phair on her tour and have readied Several Arrows Later, their 4th or 5th full-length album, for release. Thanks to the wonders of the intarwebs, I have managed to get a listen to this new album.

On Several their songs still remain as yarns about the changing seasons, or perhaps snapshots of wasted fall afternoons, but now with a bit more polish and weight. Something that originally drew me to MPPA was their obvious talent with the modest arrangements to match the subject matter in the songs. A good match, and having been to Vermont, I guess I’m pining for such humility. With Several Arrows Later they’ve made a heavier, more lush album. This jump in production and sound might ordinarily strain other indie bands, but the Matt Pond PA have the talent and patience to take on that load, and do it well.

Self-references: 2003.01.07 – Rainer Maria Rocks, mclusky breaks up, mclusky.

Yanni Papadapolous

A few weeks back, I joined Brad and Hunter to go and see Clutch in Indianapolis. I was already hyped to see Clutch (though I’m not the biggest of Clutch fans) because of their “awesome live show” reputation. But, as we were driving up, Brad and Hunter told me of the opener (which they had seen at the Louisville Clutch show) — a band called Stinking Lizaveta, fronted by a bearded man-beast named Yanni Papadopoulos.

Milling around before the show, Brad would occassionally point to some dark corner off-stage and say “That’s him! That’s the YANNI.”. Glancing in that direction, I only say a dark mass of hair above what appeared to be a Hawaiian shirt. Some sort of dark yogi not on a hill-top but in the dingy green room of the Vogue. Still, I had not been witness to the Lizaveta.

Finally, the show began and out came someone who appeared to be a young Edgar Allen Poe (actually Alexi, Yanni’s younger brother). His weapon of choice? Upright electric bass. I knew this was going to be good. Behind the drums sat a woman who Brad described as having “huge guns!” – her name is Cheshire Augusta. And then, out from the shadows behind the stage – pot-bellied, unshaven, shirtless, haggard and wearing ripped jeans came… Yanni.

Being an instrumental band, Yanni spoke few words. He didn’t need to. He’d simply walk over to the mic, and say things like “Day of Dust” or “Caught between worlds” or “Man-day. This song is about going to work.” and then proceed to crush our souls with some of the best punk-metal-jazz fusion I’ve ever heard or seen. He enjoyed the crowd and the crowd enjoyed him. He even passes his guitar around the audience at the end of the set. We all converted to Papadopolism that night, my friends. We all agreed we’d easily pay the $20 cover just to see the Lizaveta. Hunter dropped the $10 for their album III, and we listened to it on the way home, but it lacked a certain urgency and certain visceral element that I think raises Stinking Lizaveta to another plane.

My Morning Jacket

Thanks to my buddy Jackson, I managed to get a pre-release version of My Morning Jacket’s soon-to-be-released album Z. It is good.

Let me say that MMJ has all of the hallmarks of a “Southern” (read: Lynyrd Skynyrd) band – the big bearded lead singer, the drawl, the multiple guitarists, the jams. They have all of the hallmarks save for one thing: their actual music. You can’t peg it down easily, especially on Z, their most ambitious outing yet. (“Ambitious” being rock-criticism-speak for “what-the-fuckitious”) They still throw down the jams like they did on their true “breakout” album, 2003′s “It Still Moves“, but they’ve added more depth, more dynamism and more just plain weirdness “a kitten on fire / a baby in a blender” perhaps in reaction to their “Southern” label. Losing two founding members in the last year or so probably had something to do with this “ambitousness”.

Z is a great mix of the old and new – which any “ambitious” album really should have in it’s mix. The songs are varied, with enough rock jams with catchy riffs (“Off the Record”) and enough new, more adventurous fare (“Into the Woods”) to make this a good album and a good step onward for MMJ. In this creative “fanning out” that I heard in the album, I also heard some of their more varied influences cropping up — from Nirvana to Elvis Costello to the Clash to perhaps even a little Pink Floyd. And for those wondering, yes, MMJ is still friends with Mr. Reverb.

It is a time for many happenings in the MMJ world, and so the very different newness of Z seems fitting. For instance, they feature prominently in Cameron Crowe’s newest film Elizabethtown, where they play a local band and yes finally, after years of taunting by that one drunk dude in the audience, they play Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” (which they have never, ever played live). How’s that for irony? Anyway, if you get a chance to give Z a listen, be prepared for something different, something so Southern it’s un-Southern, and enjoy. P.S.: They are sporting on the front cover of Velocity Weekly this week, and Z comes out next Tuesday. Jackson is also hosting a pre-listening party at The Outlook on Bardstown Road tonight from 6-8PM.

Explosions in the SKy

I was introduced to Explosions in the Sky after having re-discovered and re-evaluated fellow Austintonians …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (another post all together) at the urging of Jackson Cooper. Explosions in the Sky is such a great name — how could I not listen?

On the matter of appropriate names for bands, Explosions in the Sky is certainly at the top of the list. For that matter, Stinking Lizaveta and Clutch might be up there, too. At the bottom end of the scale, …Trail of Dead will probably roost. Explosions in the Sky do sound like the fireworks that name might invoke — both the percussive, gasp-worthy delight that a light-show and chest-thumping report would cause, but also for the falling sparks left behind and the inevitably drifting clouds of smoke. The rising crescendo of light and sound with great ends that leave you wanting for more. The dynamic impact of Slint, with a dash of the ominous God Speed! You Black Emperor, and with the silken touch of perhaps the Rachels. Careful, masterful work by a shy group of dudes from Austin, Texas.

How Strange, Innocence, their most recent release, was actually recorded in early 2000! Less that 100 pressings were made and considering their growing foothold on the indie conscience (they contributed heavily to the Friday Night Lights soundtrack — did you know that?), they’ve released this as new material. Do yourself a favor, and check them out at your earliest convenience. I’d also recommend their The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003) and Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever (2001)

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Sep 26 2005 ~ 1:48 pm ~ Comments (1) ~


Dang. Where to begin? First and foremost, Sufjan Stevens has got this mad plan to do an album for all 50 states… he’s already got 2 in the bag with “Greetings From Michigan” (2003) and the soon-to-be-released (and awesome) “Illinois“. While a plan such as that might seem ridiculous to the uninitiated, he does have a track record that says it might just be completed in his lifetime. Five primary albums in as many years and no signs slowing down (with the handful of side-projects and really excellent Christmas albums). Yeah, sure, it’s folky singer-songwriter stuff, but instead of being horrifying navel-gazing bullshit, it’s good.

Now, what really prompted this rise in respect was his song “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” from “Illinois”. Take a listen to it if you can find it (you might want to ask Carl) – and tell me that he doesn’t make the clown-faced psychotic that Gacy was and make him a sympathetic, tragic character. That’s the depth that Stevens gives to any subject he chooses to write about. His lyrical talents aside, listen closely to the lush yet subtle musical accompaniments. They are brilliant.

It’s all I can do from writing him a crazed letter telling him to continue his trek southward and end up in Kentucky. I just don’t know what he’d choose to write about… he forgoes the obvious (as evident with “…Gacy” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” from “Illinois”.

Anywho — highly recommend, unless you don’t like good music.

Note: The release of “Illinois” is currently being pushed back due to a dispute between his label Asthmatic Kitty and DC Comics. Seems he put Superman (a tiny Supes) on the cover and DC pitched a fit.

Further note: Horrifying navel-gazing bullshit. I will not listen to that.

Even further note: This is not horrifying navel-gazing bullshit. I was just generally saying that I will not listen to something if it is indeed HNGB.

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Jul 7 2005 ~ 2:13 pm ~ Comments (3) ~
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