I've had a few comments from readers bemoaning the fact that I have neglected current music in my articles. The reason is quite simple. It sometimes takes me up to ten years to gestate on the merits of an album before I expound on its virtues. Hell, I didn't really start loving Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie until the 80s! Also, I believe good music as a whole has been mass-marketed, American-Idolized, iTuned and Hip-Hopicided into near extinction. Don't get me wrong, there is certainly good music to be found, but it has been marginalized and overwhelmed by prodigious piles of puerile bullshit. Certainly, there has always been puerile bullshit, musically-speaking, but the piles have proliferated in the past couple decades until there looms a mountainous mass of the stuff, crown-ed with Kanyes, Glees and Ga-Gas, a Minaj-a-twat that only leads in One Direction.
Oh sure, I've listed several albums that have been universally praised (In Rainbows, Elephant and Illinoise, for example), but my subjective tastes swerve often enough outside the critical mean to give you a worthwhile overview of more obscure but meaningful and significant offerings from the last decade + three years. How did I choose these releases, you may well ask? The simplest answer would be to say that I went in the opposite direction of critic Robert Christgau's absurd ratings, which more often than not suffices in finding good albums. If Christgau hates it, buy it. Beyond that, and more to the point, the selections I have chosen reflect superb musicianship, finely crafted compositions and meaningful lyrics, or at least some combination of the three.
I have gone further afield more than usual in this endeavor, leaving the rock genre as my chosen playground and inviting in other musical categories in my blogging sandbox. You'll find post-rock, bluegrass, country, indie-folk, blues and a bit of Gypsy and Irish punk thrown in with the usual suspects of the rock, blues-rock and prog-rock varieties. It seems, more and more, that one needs to really dig and explore to find the golden needles hid beneath the rank, sodden haystacks of modern music.
But enough sermonizing to the furthest pew. Here are the first 25 albums, in no particular order (and none in sequence should be inferred as preferential over another), with a few specialty releases thrown in. These I deem the best of the last 13 years, with a second installment of 25 arriving shortly - as in, whenever I get around to it.
Tool - LateralusBasically (and I am speaking as an English major who views all mathematics suspiciously), Fibonnaci numbers start with 0,1 (or 1,1) and each number following is the sum of the previous two (continuing onward to infinity). Listen to the words in the song "Lateralus". The syllables follow a precise Fibonnaci sequence starting at 1 and progress up to 8 and then the lyrics reverse back in sequence to 1 again, and then to 13 in sequence back down to 1. Even the time signature of the rhythm runs 9-8-7 which is the 16th step of the Fibonnaci sequence. It is amazing. Okay, before my brain explodes, onto the song "Schism". In this one song, Tool changes meter 47 times: 5/4 to 6/4 to 13/8, then 11/8 to 10/8 and 7/4, etc. all propelled by the brilliant bass line of Justin Chancellor. Far more complex and satisfying than Tool's previous major label releases, Undertow and Aenima, Lateralus is a geometric puzzle wherein "I know the pieces fit" -- I just haven't solved it all, even after listening to it since 2001. If you hear echoes of King Crimson in Adam Jones jangling and biting guitar bits, it is because Tool members are ardent followers of Fripp and Co.
Worth the Price of Admission: Lateralus, Schism, The Grudge
Tom Waits - Bad As MeI was inclined to add Wait's fabulous Mule Variations to this list, but it was released in 1999, and so that would be cheating. Let's just view Mule Variations as the album that nailed shut the coffin of the cadaverous 20th century. Waits best album so far from 21st century is Bad As Me, as eclectic, frenetic and odd as any Waits release in the past 30 years. But eclectic, frenetic and odd are the hallmarks of Waits, and if bizarre beats, jerking rhythms, biting lyrics and offhand time-signatures are not your cup of tea, then go drink something a bit more soothing. The songs Waits supplies are such an amalgamation of musical styles that they defy classification and are timeless and, as usual, his poetry is savage and sad and off-kilter enough to make you uneasy at enjoying yourself. But go ahead anyway.
Worth the Price of Admission: Hell Broke Luce, Face to the Highway, Talking at the Same Time
Sufjan Stevens - (Come on Feel the) IllinoiseSufjan's second state-themed album after the widely acclaimed Michigan (god, I hope the next one isn't Ohio!), Illinoise is a sprawling and epic release that is both weird and wonderful. Songs like "John Wayne Gacy Jr." (a beautifully warped song about the clown mass-murderer) and "Casimir Pulaski Day" (about a girlfriend who died of bone cancer) are not the usual faire for a baroque pop album, or indie folk, or folk rock, or whatever the proper musical genre tag is. The titles are hilarious and as outrageous as the lyrics: "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" and "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!", but this is one magnificent album.
Worth the Price of Admission: Casimir Pulaski Day, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
The Decemberists - The Hazards of LoveA folk-rock opera that is as dark, daring and in the end, deathly, as Bizet's Carmen or Mozart's Don Giovanni, but Colin Meloy injects a bit of poignancy and sardonic wit into the grand and grave album to lighten the proceedings a bit. Of special note are the two female vocalists, Shara Worden (the malignantly jealous Fairy Queen) and Becky Starks (the innocent heroine, Margaret), who sing their parts brilliantly. The gallows humor pervades "The Rake's Song" (the Rake being an evil antagonist who kills his children one by one, played by Meloy with wicked zeal). Worden is revelatory in The Wanting Comes in Waves (an eerie reincarnation of 60s-era Grace Slick), and Starks is beautiful in "Isn't It a Lovely Night". The best acoustic passages are "Annan Water" and The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)". One of the best albums of the last ten or fifteen years.
Worth the price of admission: The Rake's Song , Annan Water, The Wanting Comes in Waves
Ali Farka Touré - SavaneIf you've never heard of Ali Farka Touré, I wouldn't be surprised. But the man from Mali is a legendary African guitarist playing a style of Malian music so akin to American blues that one wonders if the North and Western African musical stylings found their way to the Mississippi Delta via slave ships. In any case, Savane is the final solo album by the "African John Lee Hooker", released posthumously after Touré died of bone cancer in 2006. The music is characterized by sinuous rhythms, intricate riffs and repetitive circular guitar patterns that recall Middle-Eastern music as much as it reflects African tribal beats and Southern blues. It is both hypnotic and netherworldly. I can think of no other album that will both delight and confound a blues fan like Savane. Listen and you'll hear John Lee Hooker, Led Zeppelin's Moroccan bits and even a beat or two of Deep Purple's "Sweet Child in Time".
Worth the price of admission: Savane, Yer Bounda Fara, Ewly, Beto
Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks: Underdog World StrikeIf Gogol Bordello is playing, chances are there is a crazy party going on or a bloody bar fight. Either or. These Gypsy punks are a hilarious combination of traditional Roma music, The Clash and Spike Jones. Gogol Bordello just didn't find a niche music market, they damn well invented one, rather like The Pogues, and like their crazy Irish kin Gogol's music is tight, wildly fun and tailor-made for intoxication. So buy their album and let the mayhem commence!
Worth the Price of Admission: Mishto!, Underground World Strike, Illumination, Undestructible
Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)Achingly beautiful plaints sung with conviction. In the mode of Neil Young's country folk acoustics, Gillian Welch offers up a revelatory batch of songs best sung on the front porch with a hint of a night breeze stirring the branches of mossy oaks a way down yonder in some lost summer. The music is spare in the best Dylanesque Blood on the Tracks style and the lyrical content is moving and as stark as the musical accompaniment. The video of "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll" is from an excellent concert documentary Down from the Mountain recorded at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.
Worth the Price of Admission: Time (The Revelator), I Dream a Highway, Elvis Presley Blues, I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll
Punch Brothers - AntifogmaticYes, there is such a thing as progressive bluegrass music, and it's provided in splendid fashion by mandolinist-extraordinaire Chris Thile and Punch Brothers. Damn can these guys jam! One listen to the jazz-infused country of "When in Doubt" and you'll never look at bluegrass the same again. The deluxe double CD version of Antifogmatic includes a stellar interpretation of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Serious musicians having a seriously good time.
Worth the Price of Admission: Rye Whiskey, When in Doubt, You Are, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, III. Allegro
Kayo Dot - Dowsing Anemone With Copper TonguePost-rock, post-modern, post-apocalyptic, Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue is an addictive melange of metal, progressive rock, jazz and classical forms. Kayo Dot, driven by multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver and violinist Mia Matsumiya, offers up shimmering ambiance, dissonant abruptness, mellifluous phrasing, noisy minimalism and powerful passages woven into dense tapestries of sound. There is not much else like Dowsing Anemone, because defying conventions in the corporate music world would be on par with shrieking that you were a witch on the streets of 14th century Avignon.
Worth the Price of Admission: Aura on an Asylum Wall, Amaranth the Peddler, Immortelle and Paper Caravelle
Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank PlanetA concept album based loosely on Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park, Porcupine Tree's Fear of a Blank Planet is the story of a boy who is either suffering bipolarism and attention-deficit disorder, or, as they were back in my youth, just another normally fucked up teenager, a "terminally bored kid" experimenting with drugs, dressed in black, tuned out, locked in his room with the jams blaring, ignoring his parents and the daylight. Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree (particularly the fantastic drummer Gavin Harrison) present their superb rendition of progressive rock that runs the gamut from languid pop to hellstorm metal with stellar guest appearances by Alex Lifeson of Rush and King Crimson's Robert Fripp.
Worth the Price of Admission: Fear of a Blank Planet, Anesthetize, Sentimental
Otis Taylor - White AfricanCertainly one of the best blues albums of the last 10 or 20 years, Otis Taylor's White African is as striking as an unexpected slap across the face. The songs are haunting and bitter, raging and poignant, with a Delta blues acoustic guitar style that really needs no embellishment. "Resurrection Blues" gives Taylor's take on Christ's doubt and pain, reflected from his own experience. "Three Days and Three Nights" recounts the sadness and horror of a father watching his daughter die because he has no health insurance. "St. Martha Blues" is about a woman's search for her husband's body after he was lynched down south. The songs are intense and rendered with the anger of a man who has seen it all and the gravity of a master storyteller.
Worth the Price of Admission: My Soul's in Louisiana, Resurrection Blues, Aint No Cowgirl, Round and Round
Sigur Rós - Takk..."Takk", as everyone knows, is Icelandic for "thanks". Well, I'm sure not everyone knew that, but you know it now. Sigur Rós sounds like an ethereal amalgam of Tangerine Dream, Björk and Radiohead, and their ambient musings can be used to put a Buddhist to sleep. I certainly find the music relaxing, and from my perspective, music should either excite, inspire, enrage or relax one. The dreamy quality of Takk... is perfect background music and several of the songs are sung in the gibberish speech referred to by the band as Vonlenska ("Hopelandic"), which is akin to Jazz's scat, a language in which the sounds and inflections of meaningless words are used for the melodiousness of their sound, and not for the purpose of grammar or syntax.
Worth the Price of Admission: Sæglópur, Glósóli, Andvari
Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)Multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson (late of Porcupine Tree) released a superior solo album in Grace for Drowning, and then outdid himself on The Raven that Refused to Sing. Of course, it doesn't hurt that this album was co-produced by Alan Parsons, and features orchestral arrangements by Dave Stewart of Hatfield and the North and Egg. The album deals to varying degrees with ghosts, death and obsession. So yeah, it's not very bright and cheery, but I can't see Wilson ever doing a cover of "Shiny, Happy People"; yet the album is beautifully somber and dark. The fusion jazz a la King Crimson "Luminol" (great bass line), the infinitely sad title track, the grand solo by guitarist Guthrie Govan on "Drive Home" -- the compositions are long and complicated but do not delve into progressive noodling and mucking about as is found on many 10 or 12 minute songs.
Worth the Price of Admission: The Raven that Refused to Sing, Luminol, The Watchmaker
Radiohead - In Rainbows
There are people who love Radiohead from their Kid A and Amnesiac period, and then there are those who prefer the earlier era of The Bends and OK Computer. I am in the latter category. On In Rainbows, Radiohead suddenly discovered they didn't have to rely on sounding like robotic electronica jukeboxes and actually could play music like they did in the old days, with actual instruments and not relying completely on tape loops and other studio gimmickry. This is a more human version of the band. Granted, this is a softer, gentler Radiohead than from the OK Computer days, but many of the songs have that undeniable air that could be heard on "Fake Plastic Trees" on The Bends album. I am quite alright with that, and I welcome Radiohead back to the realms of mortal men.
Worth the Price of Admission: The Bodysnatchers, House of Cards, Reckoner
Wilco - Sky Blue SkyCritics attacked Sky Blue Sky because they said it sounded like "dad-rock". Since I am a dad, I will accept that gratefully. Hey, even musicians have to grow up eventually and gracefully or end up looking like old bar whores or over-cosmeticated cadavers. This is a more contemplative, less jammy album from Wilco, reminiscent of equal parts Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, later Byrds and distortionistic Neil Young, a country-rock style that is considered antique and dad-rock perhaps, but as welcome as the sunshine after a spring rain. Some absolutely gorgeous songs.
Worth the Price of Admission: Either Way, Walken, You are My Face, Impossible Germany
The Black Keys - Attack & ReleaseAlright, other than the song Things Ain't Like They Used to Be being a direct and unequivocal rip-off of The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down", I really love this blues-rock guitar assault by The Black Keys. Sounding at times like Eric Clapton and Cream borrowed Geezer Butler and Bill Ward from Sabbath, The Keys embark on a fuzzy, distorted trip down the cobwebbed corridors of rock and roll.
Worth the Price of Admission: I Got Mine, Strange Times, Psychotic Girl, Same Old Thing
Riverside - Second Life Syndrome
Poland's most famous progressive rock band released a remarkable album in 2005 called Second Life Syndrome. One listen to the powerful "Dance With the Shadow" should convince you there is more to Warsaw than polkas. Moving from mellow to metal in the space of a few bars, Riverside is certainly unique, and I really enjoyed the nod to Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" at the start of the title Track.
Worth the Price of Admission: Before, Dance With the Shadow, Second Life Syndrome
Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's MorningA luminous and quirky album. Conor Oberst is rather like Nick Drake being possessed by Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Or something like that. It's a purposeful cross-breed of folk-Americana and indie-pop, which fortunately doesn't sound as diabolical as it seems. I'm Wide Awake and It's Morning can best be defined by "Land Locked Blues" with the wonderful cameo vocal by Emmy Lou Harris. You wonder sometimes if these guys are serious or all part of a clever, calculated poetical attack on society. Even if that's the case, it's a damn shrewd ploy and highly enjoyable, even if you have been taken.
Worth the Price Admission: Road to Joy, Land Locked Blues, First Day of My Life
White Stripes - ElephantFrom the beginning bass line of "Seven Nation Army", you realize that the Detroit expatriates White Stripes are in a murderous mood. Jack White imports the distortion from another Detroit legend The MC5 and has a wonderfully twisted monologue on "There's No Home for you Here" and rewrites the rules of rock canon in the process. And I really love the ultra-violent blues of "Ball and a Biscuit". White Stripes and Jack White have found the magical formula for being commercially successful and completely perverse at the same time.
Worth the Price of Admission: Seven Nation Army, There's No Home for You Here, Ball and a Biscuit
Fleet FoxesHow can you not love an album with a Pieter Bruegel painting on the cover? Sporting harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Fleet Foxes paints pastoral scenes with the deftness of the 16th century Flemish artist gracing the cover. Fleet Foxes offers up a lush and languid acoustic set in the fine tradition of troubadours like Cat Stevens, James Taylor and Paul Simon. It is a welcome and mellifluous aural garden hidden in the brash cacophonous waste that is modern pop music, a rare oasis in the desert of programmed and sequenced bullshit that is the actual musical mirage.
Worth the Price of Admission: Blue Ridge Mountains, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, Ragged Wood
Green Day - American IdiotAs a concept, the entire story of an everyman protagonist with the catchy name 'Jesus of Suburbia' (he must be from California), who is fueled by "soda pop and Ritalin" (as Billie Joe Armstrong related), and has cohorts named St. Jimmy and Whatshername is, by any stretch of the imagination, banal. William Faulkner it is definitely not. Then why do I like this album? Simple: every song is great. The concept is a bloody mess, but the album works because the material is undeniably good. American Idiot is a great collection of songs, and the best are "Holiday", "American Idiot", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends". Let's just not mention the concept.
Worth the Price of Admission: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Holiday, American Idiot
Flogging Molly - Swagger"I don't know where I'm going/Don't know where the fuck I'm going", is a perfect way to start off Flogging Molly's debut album Swagger, and the drunken Irish revelry that ensues is a hell of a lot of fun. Taking up where The Pogues left off (and you can actually understand Dave King's lyrics, whereas Shane MacGowan is often unintelligibly drunk), Flogging Molly is perhaps the most consistent of American-Irish Punk-Trad bands that includes such stalwarts as Dropkick Murphys, Young Dubliners and Black 47. I would give The Young Dubliners the nod for their music in the 1990s, but Molly owned the 2000s, and the follow-up release to Swagger, Drunken Lullabies is just as meticulous in its unkempt, hellfire-and-fiddle approach to honoring the spirit of Gaelic music. So drink a Guinness and punch your neighbor. It's not just for St. Patrick's Day anymore.
Worth the Price of Admission: Swagger, A Salty Dog, The Worst Day Since Yesterday, The Devil's Dance Floor
Big Big Train - English Electric, Part 1 and Part 2First of all, I am a huge fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. That being said, these albums from Big Big Train could easily fit into the Genesis discography between Selling England By Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and nobody would notice the difference. That is high praise, not criticism. Whether you consider these albums an homage or a blatant rip-off, both halves of English Electric are bloody fucking brilliant, both in musical composition and exquisite lyrical exposition. In fact, given Gabriel's penchant for going off the allegorical deep-end, Big Big Train does not wallow in excess like their spiritual father. Following up on the splendid The Underfall Yard, Big Big Train offers the quintessential reworking of 1970s progressive rock in English Electric, Part One (2012) and Part Two (2013) with a reverent but shrewd ear for what worked the best (including generous nods to Robert Fripp and King Crimson as well). And I thank them for it. By the way, a double CD of the combined albums will be released this autumn, hence the inclusion of both here.
Worth the price of admission: Judas Unrepentant, Winchester From St. Giles Hill, Curator of Butterflies, Leopards
Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock OperaIn the fine tradition of The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, Drive-By Truckers produced the finest Southern rock release of the 21st century. It's raw as hell and loud as all get out. It has about as much subtlety as a rabid, bristling boar, but it goes beyond merely echoing great Southern bands. The spoken-word "The Three Great Alabama Icons" is an interesting manifesto seen through skewed Southern filters, and the entire album tells a sometimes hilarious, sometimes damn serious history of a Southern musician's life. It makes Kid Rock's attempts at playing below the Mason/Dixon line seem rather pale and presumptuous. This here's the ragged glory of the real thang.
Worth the Price of Admission: Southern Thing, The Three Great Alabama Icons, Let There Be Rock, Zip City
THREE FOR THE MONEY, FOUR FOR THE ROAD: RETAKES, REMAKES & RETREADS
Here are four albums released in the 21st century that remind us of what was lost from the century previous. After all, you didn't think I would let this article go without waxing poetic on other eras of music, did you? Here are four icons, one of country music, one of rock, one of psychedelia and one of progressive rock. Each as different as night is to day and black is to white, but each sharing that indelible stamp of ultimate musical craftsmanship that made them stand out like a tall ship's spar in a sea of musical mediocrity.
Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes AroundCash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, an album of song covers from bands as disparate as The Eagles and Depeche Mode, is worthwhile for a single song, Trent Reznor's "Hurt". Everything else is gravy from there. Cash so makes Reznor's song his own that one can imagine Reznor worrying about people asking him to "play that Johnny Cash song". Poor Trent will be moldering in his unlamented grave and folks will still be talking about Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. A consumate performer until the very end (this was the last album released before his death), Cash sings along with The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and steals Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus". Then there's Johnny's own apocalyptic vision on "The Man Comes Around" and a great, mournful duet between Nick Cave and Cash on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry". Majestic, poignant and sad as all get out. The last Cash album was as good as the first.
Worth the Price of Admission: Hurt, Personal Jesus, The Man Comes Around, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
The Beatles - LoveA labor of love by Sir George Martin and his son, the Love album is a splendid and sometimes startling remix of Beatle songs. One forgets how ingrained Beatle songs have become over the decades. Many of us know every subtle nuance of every song in their catalog. The sublime "mash-up" contains parts of 130 Beatle songs, and the result is intoxicating. For instance, listen to "Within You Without You" which is reworked with the tabla drum sections of "Tomorrow Never Knows", or "Strawberry Fields" with the piano parts of "In My Life", the brass section of "Penny Lane", the harpsichord of "Piggies" and some vocals from "Hello, Goodbye". It all works amazingly well, and in particular the acoustic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with strings and a stanza of lyric not found on the song when it was released on the White Album. The album is a transcendent reminder of George Martin indeed being "The Fifth Beatle".
Worth the Price of Admission: Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows, Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Get Back
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and AngelsYes, yes, yes, another Hendrix repackaging (released March, 2013), one of literally hundreds released since Jimi died far too soon in 1970. But this one is a bit different, in that that it approximates Hendrix's plan to release an album after his latest project First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which in itself never got released in its entirety until 1997. Hendrix himself coined the title People, Hell and Angels according to Eddie Kramer, Hendrix's longtime engineer and producer of this release. What is intriguing and exciting about the album is his eagerness to collaborate with other musicians (and we can only bemoan the fact Jimi never got to jam with Miles Davis as he planned). Listen to the outright funk of Hendrix backing the Ghetto Fighters on a song he wrote "Mojo Man", or jamming with saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood on the heavy R&B of "Let Me Move You". It speaks volumes for where Hendrix was heading, and perhaps how he would have further altered the landscape of modern music. In addition, Hendrix plays every instrument but drums (supplied by Mitch Mitchell) on "Inside Out", and Steven Stills plays bass on "Somewhere" (known in a different version as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"). Fascinating stuff.
Worth the Price Admission: Mojo Man, Let Me Move You, Inside Out, Somewhere
Jethro Tull - Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight, 19701970s Isle of Wight Festival was Jethro Tull's coming out party. And seething with the energy of a band on the cusp of stardom, they certainly did not disappoint the hundreds of thousands who attended the show. Sandwiched between superstar acts The Moody Blues and Jimi Hendrix on the bill must have seemed a daunting experience for the band, but in essence Tull stole the show with their piss and vinegar performance. The Nothing Is Easy concert (released in 2004) is an exhilarating show presenting Tull as the heavy rockers they were well before the eccentric band took two trips down the progressive rock road (the continuous music of the albums Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play) and eventually camped out on their English folk-laden trilogy (Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses and Storm Watch). This earlier version of Tull is a different beast altogether. Propelled here by the fantastic drumming of Tull's first drummer Clive Bunker, Tull's set is driven and draining. Nothing is Easy is one hell of a ride and a great piece of rock history.
Worth the Price Admission: My Sunday Feeling, My God, Nothing Is Easy