CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL SCORE: (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 168, (7) Tracy Chapman 159 .......... FINAL FOUR FINAL SCORES: (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 154, (1) Joy Division 90 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 137, (1) The Cure 89 .......... ELITE EIGHT FINAL SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 74, (14) Low 60 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 85, (1) Elliott Smith 69 ..... THE CURE 65, (2) Radiohead 58 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 74, (1) Neutral Milk Hotel 44 ..... FINAL SWEET SIXTEEN SCORES: (1) JOY DIVISION 75, (5) PJ Harvey & Nick Cave 24 ..... (14) LOW 73, (2) Concrete Blonde (64) ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 78, (4) Gary Jules 44 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 74, (6) Kate Bush 53 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 54, (13) The Church 49 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 73, (3) Sinead O’Connor 35 ..... (1) THE CURE 109, (3) Tori Amos 86 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 76, (6) This Mortal Coil 50 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 96, (9) Mazzy Star 91 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 76, (7) Bob Mould 28 ..... (14) LOW 60, (6) Crowded House 51 ..... (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 65, (4) Alphaville 38 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 113, (8) Replacements 88 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 87, (3) Nirvana 64 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 99, (2) The Eels 62 ..... (3) GARY JULES 103, (12) Morrissey 63 ..... (6) Kate Bush 72, (3) Nirvana 53 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 66, (11) Ride 27 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 106, (5) James 44 ..... (2) JEFF BUCKLEY 95, (10) Smashing Pumpkins 40 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 80, (9) New Order 56 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 102, (7) Nine Inch Nails 99 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 61, (3) Indigo Girls 60 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 89, (5) Swans 40 ..... (1) CURE 82, (8) Tom Waits 68 ............... FINAL 1ST ROUND SCORES: (5) PJ HARVEY & NICK CAVE 93, (12) Midnight Oil 38 ..... (7) BOB MOULD 63, (10) Peter Murphy 47 ..... (1) JOY DIVISION 117, (16) Erasure 19 ..... (6) CROWDED HOUSE 98, (11) Leonard Cohen 54 ..... (7) TRACY CHAPMAN 199, (10) The Smiths 162 ..... (5) MORRISSEY 115, (12) Morphine 83 ..... (3) NIRVANA 137, (14) Slowdive 102 ..... (8) THE REPLACEMENTS 128, (9) Dream Academy 82 ..... (13) THE CHURCH 262, (4) Magnetic Fields 193 ..... (10) SMASHING PUMPKINS 165, (7) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 155 ..... (9) NEW ORDER 160, (8) Sarah McLachlan 78 ..... (1) JEFF BUCKLEY 204, (16) Bjork 92 ..... (4) TORI AMOS 78, (13) Echo & the Bunnymen 22 ..... (8) TOM WAITS 72, (9) The Pretenders 22 ..... (6) THIS MORTAL COIL 51, (11) Yaz 31 ..... (3) INDIGO GIRLS 71, (14) Pavement 26 ..... (9) MAZZY STAR 132, (8) REM 46 ..... (2) CONCRETE BLONDE 88, (15) Psychedelic Furs 34 ..... (4) ALPHAVILLE 71, (13) Dead Can Dance 36 ..... (14) LOW 120, (3) U2 65 ..... (1) ELLIOTT SMITH 63, (16) 10,000 Maniacs 24 ..... (2) EELS 50, (15) Counting Crows 46 ..... (4) GARY JULES 62, (13) Depeche Mode 19 ..... (6) KATE BUSH 59, (11) Sisters of Mercy 20 ..... (1) NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL 42, (16) Violent Femmes 12 ..... (11) RIDE 25 (6) Peter Gabriel 24 ..... (3) SINEAD O'CONNOR 37, (14) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 17, ..... (5) JAMES 24, (12) Red House Painters 23 ..... (7) NINE INCH NAILS 46, (10) Wilco 31, (5) SWANS 31, (12) Pet Shop Boys 18 ..... (1) THE CURE 50, (16) Gear Daddies 10 ..... (2) RADIOHEAD 40, (15) Liz Phair 35


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

First Round Matchup: U2 vs LOW

(3) U2, "With or Without You"

A couple days ago, my friend Sean pointed out, while listening to this song, which the committee also included on its 2009 Best Pop Songs Since 1978 mixtape, that U2 was a wack inclusion, and this song in particular, because the song’s obviously about Jesus. He went on a riff about the religious iconography of the song and really much of U2, and how U2 wanted to be Christian but not to be a Christian band (understandably), and how in his view that disqualified it. The committee thought about that. 

This may be true, though there’s plenty of evidence in the song (all the “she”s for instance) to suggest the primary reading’s a more personal, romantic one. But it’s also articulating a surprising point, not just that "I can’t live without you"—that much is obvious—but that "I can’t live with or without you," which you probably already know from a million listens to the song. But here’s a song of longing and of exhaustion, or perhaps of doom, and perhaps it’s got a couple readings (as South Park pointed out, pretty much any romantic song can be turned into a Christian song by just switching in “Jesus” for the beloved, which raises some interesting questions about the nature of romantic or spiritual love better explored elsewhere), but even so, that makes the song in our view even more notable. It’s one of only a couple in the bracket that can be reasonably read as about religious love. And sure, one might have picked “One” in spite of the way it’s commonly misunderstood, or “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” as other committee members had suggested, but you know what? This is the jam. It’s one of their best-known songs, and it’s easy to forget now that U2 had some force then (in fact still does and isn’t just encrusted in the view that the culture’s started to take of the band as just a band embedded in the lining of Bono’s ego or the idea of a band and layered over, much as the saguaro cactus internalizes and grows over foreign objects embedded in it), and they could really crush a song. So we encourage you to listen to the song and not just to listen to your memory or idea of the song. You want passion? Here it is:


(14) Low, "Words"

When the selection committee met to consider initial nominations, Low felt like one of the indispensable and incorrigibly sad bands, even if they’re not remotely as well-known as their opponent here. Though they're a midmajor, Low is certainly the pinnacle of this kind of music (which I think someone named “slowcore” at some point, though it’s never felt super apt to me). Hailing from the frozen landscape of Duluth, Minnesota, Low makes cold-weather, stay-inside songs, so the video below feels more than apt. If what you want is lyrical pyrotechnics, this isn't your band: Low is not a band that’s going to get you with spectacular wit or narrative. As the song says, "too many words / too many words." And so there are actually very few lyrics on offer here. Instead, listen to the beauty of the two-part harmonies and the simple three-part instrumentation. Low’s best quality is its affect. It does the one thing very, very well. One of the committee members has seen them at least six times, and remembers the first show he saw, at Knox College on the tour for I Could Live in Hope, how they played in the tiny student snack shop for a crowd of maybe 75. He wants to tell you that he was amazed at how quiet a crowd could be: it felt like church, he has to say, and listening to this song you might, I think, imagine it: lights low, dark outside, just two voices, one drum, a bass, and a guitar. For the "guitar solo" in one song they just played the same note over and over very slowly for several minutes. Around 660 BC, Greek poet and mercenary Archilochus wrote: "The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog knows only one: one good one." Seems like Low might be a good way to puncture the grandeur (grandiosity?) of U2.

Which is sadder? Vote by 9am 3/9

With or Without You
create a quiz


  1. I just powered up my PalmPilot personal digital assistant and discovered that “With or Without You” has been automatically loaded onto the device, which really cramps my style because that one audio file is like half the storage capacity. Now a clip of Bono shouting “Whooooaaa-oh-oh-oh” plays when I launch the Memo Pad, more or less inhibiting my willingness to write or do much of anything besides wallow in sentimentality, and there is a low-res wallpaper graphic of the faux leather vest he wore in the video. The Calc application also snowcrashes. Did I ask for this?

    More to the point, I'm voting for Low this round. They are champions of raw, minimal emotion: fragile harmony, narrative complexity (perhaps I disagree with the committee on this one), delicate strings, and nary a kick drum. It's true that the hedgehog knows only one good one, and that's OK. It may be out of scope for this tournament, but there are also some winning tracks on Low's Things We Lost in the Fire, such as “Like a Forest” and “Laser Beam.”

    If Sinead O’Connor were substituted for Bono, à la the Heroine soundtrack she performs with the Edge, then I might recast my ballot.

  2. Low is aptly named, okay? I voted for U2 on this, resisting the urge to punish them for their commercial sins, but it was by a hair. (And maybe I forgot how hot he was in that video...but that's not why I voted!)

  3. This is the first time I've actually seen Bono without his sunglasses and never noticed he looks a little bit like John D'Agata. Still, I feel like no one who played Super Bowl halftime should win at sadness.

    1. this is a real aside, especially since Low is crushing U2 in a shocking turn of events here, and if that lasts, it'll be a great upset here, but in my memory of the Super Bowl, it seems like more often than not those who perform at the half aren't American. Actually that's not true, looking at the wikipedia page for this which is super worth your time. The list gets weird real fast. Lots of Gloria Estefan. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? What in the shit?

  4. Those devastating ghostly harmonies, man. #lowforlife

  5. As good as that U2 jam is (maybe not as good as Pride, and doesn't offer the nostalgia of the Boy album for me), I voted for Low on this one (for sadness factor alone)--I remember that concert at Knox too. Low is the only "slowcore" band that has stayed powerful for me all these years. I think they're more than bands like Bedhead or Codeine. They've got some complexity and they've reinvented their sound a few times over the decades.

    1. The Committee had a Bedhead song in an earlier version of the bracket; they were edged out at the last minute and the committee member responsible for its inclusion was shamed somewhat for it. I agree with you though that Low has had a remarkably varied career thus far, especially for a band initially pegged as really only doing the one thing: they've actually done a lot within that sound. Have you seen their (awesome) video for Try to Sleep? ... damn John Stamos is a beautiful man.

  6. Hey, Delta Bravos, the U2 song must be taken in its original context, Joshua Tree, often voted by most any interested Christian as a top ten Christian album of all time. (And you thought Christian Rock was an oxymoron) The album is a true argument for what an album actually is (look up "album" kids;" it’s there in the dusty bin alongside phone cord and human dignity), much in the way of Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, Spock's Beard, and so on), albums that were never simply collections of songs, but rather linked stories, an opera, etc. “With or Without You” is one spiritual in the hymnal, Joshua Tree, alongside “Trip Through Your Wires” or “In God’s Country,” and so on. Many of Joshua Tree’s songs are slightly altered bible verses. It’s a Christian album. And therefore this entry is not a truly sad song. The song is one parable of a larger narrative. True, sadness exists in the core of the Christian faith, but most Christians don’t wallow in that sadness, or even spend too much serious time on the subject. They are much more likely to celebrate the natural conclusion to a failed world, to sin, to man as fallen—the rising, to exist “Where the Streets Have No Names.”
    Since I’m no dumbass politician, offering up this problem without offering a solution, I’d say any song off Songs of Innocence might work, since it was SPAM, a force-feeding, and basically buckled any integrity the band once had. (Apple even had to give a step-by-step guide to us to remove the fucking thing from our devices.)
    But seriously, the saddest (and one of the best, period) U2 song is one you’ve never heard of. You know why? Because you suck.

  7. The shiny black leather vest is sad, though.

  8. They all are. Also: the memory of Passengers! The Chris Gaines of mid-90s bombastic rock. Oh, that was actually Chris Gaines.