Monday, August 31, 2015

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
Columbia, 1973
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $.50

Proto Bruce! These early Springsteen records sound like the dawn of life on Earth. They’re wild, they’re raucous, and they’re definitely hinting at greatness. Springsteen’s songcraft is already damn solid on this, his second album, and I’m almost surprised at this record’s quality. It has been sitting on my shelf for three years and I’ve never put it on! Don’t know why! The Hold Steady is one of my favorite bands, and their debt to Springsteen’s anthemic storytelling rockers has always been worn on their sleeve, but  The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle is hitting all those same Hold Steady buttons. The storytelling is rich and Springsteen does a great job of bringing you into his little corner of Jersey. It’s drenched in the 70s and surprisingly theatrical. Most importantly, it’s a FUN record. One that can be absorbed without the critical eye of his later work or the emotional investment of his mid-80s records, and sometimes that’s just a damn nice thing to have.  

"The E Street Shuffle" - You can see the seed of the Hold Steady in their daddy's eye on this one.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bruce Springsteen - "I'm on Fire" 45

Bruce Springsteen – “I’m on Fire” 7” Single
CBS, 1985
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $.50

Bruce Springsteen is best known for his big, soaring rock anthems (and having his name tattooed in a crude scrawl on a girl who stayed with us a few years ago but that’s neither here nor there) but I’m more of a fan of his quieter, sensitive stuff a la Nebraska and Tunnel of Love. Born in the USA is sandwiched between those two aforementioned records in his discography, and it’s probably his most famous (at least most famous for having its title track misappropriated by conservative politicians who don’t understand that it’s highly critical of their agenda). It’s at least his most famous cover, featuring Bruce’s all-universe butt in front of an American Flag. It’s got “Born in the USA” and “Dancing in the Dark,” and in the middle it has “I’m on Fire.” There are no chanting background vocals or handclaps or booming guitars. On this track it’s just Bruce, a sweetly sad little synthesizer, a minimal drumbeat, a delicately plucked guitar riff, and some sultry vocals about American Love (“At night I wake up with sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head/ Only you can cool my desire/ I’m on fire”). It’s simple, short, and sweet, and almost infinitely replayable. There’s no repeating the chorus five times here. The line “I’m on fire” serves as a refrain that is uttered three times before the song ends and you reset the needle. I don’t know if I’ve ever admired the Boss as a songwriter more than at this moment, listening to this song ten times in a row on a Monday morning. It’s a track that’s so good that it can even make those dated synths sound relevant. I’m a believer. B-Side “Johnny Bye Bye” is a short, low key reimagining of Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny” that replaces the departure of Johnny B Goode with the death of Elvis Presley. It’s an exemplary b-side: it’s soulful and stands on its own and would make the album from whose sessions it was culled falter a little bit. This is an excellent single for staying up late and flipping through records with your beloved. Sometimes Jenny and I will do that. We’ll hang out up in the loft, she’ll say “what’s this?” and I’ll play a track. For me, that’s the point of owning records. It’s the thrill of discovering what you own, the songs you keep because they’re just that goddamn good and it’s the only way you know how to truly appreciate outstanding music.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Spoon - "The Underdog (Demo)" 7"

Spoon – “The Underdog (Demo)” 7”
Merge, 2007
Acquired: Included with GaGaGaGaGa, New, 2007
Price: $0

This is a very weird promo 7”, but hey, who does promo 7”s any more? I’ll take it. It’ll do. What you get here is an acoustic version of “The Underdog” (which, of all of Spoons incredible singles, seems to be the one most championed by bro-dudes everywhere please kill me) and an experimental b-side entitled "It Took Me a Rumor to Wonder, Now I’m Convinced I’m Going Under.” “The Underdog” demo is fine because it shows that Britt Daniel knows what the fuck he is doing. He knows any great pop song can hold its own in the sparest of arrangements, and while some of Spoon’s weirder cuts aren’t built for dude-and-guitar arrangements, Daniel could release an album of the Spoon singles in this fashion and I’d give it so many spins. The thing about Spoon is that they’re basically a classic rock band in the making. Classic rock for 2035. And when we look back at Spoon 20 years from now, we will see a trail of absolutely devastating singles. You could argue about which is their best album, but the fact that you’d argue means they’re all just goddamn great. GaGaGaGaGa is their high watermark in my book. The three singles—“The Underdog,” “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb,” and “Don’t You Evah”—could be the finest hour for three separate one-hit wonders. The lead-off track “Don’t Make Me a Target” is as gripping a track one as you’d expect from a group that can probably attribute 25% of their fanbase to gripping track ones. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is one of those aforementioned experimental leaning tracks that sounds exactly like its title. The one-two punch at the end with “Finer Feelings” and “Black Like Me” practically forces you to become born again in the church of rock n’ roll. “Black Like Me” especially. That’s one I’d like to hear on that dream, Britt Daniel – Spoon, Acoustic record. That’s the closer. That’s another single for a one-hit wonder and it’s not even a damn single! But yeah, this is a weird 7”, but Spoon is a pretty weird band. I mean, sure they’re violently accessible, but these guys get up to weird shit all the time and it’s the juxtaposition of that envelope pushing and the fist-to-the-face rock n’ roll that makes them so compelling.

The Spinanes – “Madding” 7”

The Spinanes – “Madding” 7”
Sub Pop, 1996
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2007
Price: $.25

“Madding” is the first track from the Spinanes’ second album, Strand. It’s the only album of theirs that I have heard, but it was a big hit. Notably the mid-album track “Valency,” which I played seemingly every other radio show when I was working at KJHK. I love that track, and I love how it’s like a platonic ideal ass-kicking mid-90s indie rock song. “Madding,” on the other hand, is hushed and gorgeous and in the vein of Low. It’s a curious lead-off track, and an even more curious single. The mid-90s was THEE time for slowcore, I suppose, but Strand’s other single, “Lines and Lines,” is another angular ass-kicker in the vein of “Valency.” There are a couple more sleepy snoozers on that record, but it’s mostly catchy, chiming jams. B-side “10 Metre Platform” is another sleepy/dreamy track that again ignores the college rock majesty of the album’s bulk. Regardless, the Spinanes are one of those great little bands that got lost in the alt-rock explosion and discovering bands like this is always a treat. Outside of the Spinanes frontwoman Rebecca Gates released a couple of solo albums that I would very much like to hear and drummer Scott Plouf drummed for Built to Spill in their prime (Perfect From Now On/Keep it Like a Secret/ Ancient Melodies of the Future). It probably already exists, but man oh man I would so love to see a diagrammed Indie Rock Family Tree.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Shufflin' - August 2015

I think, in the process of compiling this month's playlist based on straight-up shuffling iTunes, I realized something: I really like Merge Records. No, seriously. Like REALLY REALLY like. Like LIKE like. It makes sense. I had a Merge Records sticker on my car when I still had stickers on my car. I read the Merge Records book! I'd say my LP collection is probably something like 10-15% Merge artists. So yeah, I really like what they do. And here I am, shufflin songs, and all like, "No, skip, blah, oh this is a good one who is this? Well shit, of course Seaweed is a Merge band." So it goes. Here are this month's highlights:

Seaweed - "Thru the Window" 
Hits all the same sweetspots as Archers of Loaf. Wailing, distorted guitars. Brain-meltingly great chorus. Perfect distillation of mid-90s college rock.

Girlpool - "Cherry Picking" 
I really like Girlpool's schtick. Two girls, lots of off key harmonies, a subdued blend of indie pop and anti-folk elements. "Cherry Picking" starts off slow but has a tremendous build that gathers steam over the track's duration and pays off nicely.

Fucked Up - "One More Night"
I don't know if I ever made it all the way through David Comes to Life more than a couple of times. I kept getting hung up on certain songs. "One More Night" is the penultimate track on that record, and it's a shining example of why I love Fucked Up: they are able to deliver a heavy emotional payoff via screaming at you over a cacophony of crashing guitars.

Destroyer - "Your Blood"
I burned this mix to a CD and played it in the car on the way to Lawrence last month. This song came on and I was surprised to find that I still know all the words. Destroyer, always fun to sing and feel like a foppish dandy dropping hundred dollar words.

Why? - "For Someone"
Relistened to the "Sod in the Seed" EP a bunch this last month. I still hate the title track and the closing track "Shag Carpet" has all of the lurid eww-ness that made Mumps, Etc hard to listen to, but the four quick tracks in the middle are a masterpiece of tone, instrumentation, and sequencing. They reminded me that, though I didn't quite like Yoni Wolf's last offering, I'll still eagerly consume whatever he throws at me next.

Guided by Voices - "Your Name is Wild"I think I read somewhere that Bob Pollard wrote this song about his daughter (or that it was at least a companion piece to "My Son Cool"). Or something. Who knows, everything Bob Pollard says is probably suspect in re what his songs are about. Either way, that's how I'm going to read "Your Name is Wild" now, and I love it.

Damien Jurado - "Gillian Was a Horse"
Poor Damien Jurado. I feel like he's made a career of being a second-tier singer songwriter, which isn't fair because he's a pretty goddamn great songwriter. And yet it always seems like he has a new album out and it's always pretty goddamn good. If he were a running back, he'd be the sort of guy I'd draft because he's consistent. Consistency is key in fantasy football, and something I admire in all fields. So anyway, fantasy football digression aside, I think I need to revisit Jurado's back catalog.

John Prine - "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore"
One of the funniest, most incisive anti-war songs you'll ever hear. Go listen to some John Prine, you deserve it, he is  God's gift to us all.

Sundowner - "Baseball's Sad Lexicon"
Lawrence Arms' co-frontman Chris McCaughan translates Franklin Pierce Adams' poem of the same name and captures all the bittersweetness of baseball's cruelty perfectly, even though Tinkers, Evers, and Chance played for the Chicago Cubs and, McCaughan being a good Chicago boy, I can only imagine he delights in the poem's subject matter.