Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Albums of 2012

My tastes have grown increasingly masculine over the years. Not in a macho way, though I did cut my hair short, grow a beard, and start obsessively watching football (granted only for the sake of Fantasy Football but you know). More of a general understanding of myself. I racked my brain trying to think of female artists to put on this list because I felt it was so overpoweringly Male that it might look sexist even though dropping in a token female fronted band for the sake of having gender diversity is probably even more sexist. Maybe St. Vincent could have just released an album this year (on her own, NOT with David Byrne, which for some bizarre reason I never got around to listening to why is that?) and I could have continued to avoid the fact that my sonic diet is mysteriously devoid of ladies.

Still, a couple of ladies managed to find their way onto this list, but not as many as I feel like there should be. They feel wholly underrepresented. But then again, I’m stuck in a musical comfort zone and have been stuck there for years and the stuff I turn to tends to be sad men with big hearts. But then again, indie hip-hop started to click at some point this year and for the first time ever I have legitimate non-rock entries to my year end list. It’s scary thinking how entrenched we get. In anything, really. Jobs, relationships, cities, bands, TV shows, cuisines, whatever. It seems only natural to see comfort and safety. To seek the calm, reassuring security of ordering the same Jucy Lucy at the Blue Door Pub every time even though you know the rest of the options on the menu are probably great. And while comfort is all well and good, it’s almost always a positive thing to make progress. To adapt and evolve one’s tastes and explore new things. As I get older I feel pretty cemented in my tastes but I also feel like there are little additions being built on top of them. Like modifiers that sit on top of your DNA or a new subdivision in the suburban sprawl of your life. There’s always room for more.

I’ve been making a year-end list for ten years. I started when I was sixteen years old. My favorite album of 2002 was Dillinger Four’s Situationist Comedy. What a great record! That’s one I still own on CD and still listen to in the car and still enjoy the same way I did in high school and more so now that Dillinger Four is a local band. A local band! What the hell happened? How did I end up in Minneapolis? I have a theory that bands like D4, Husker Du, the Replacements, and the Hold Steady mythologized the Twin Cities for me over the years and I think that’s probably accurate. There is something romantic about this place that I can’t quite explain, and I think it’s because I’m just thrilled to live in a place that come hell or high water sustains a vibrant music scene. I never really got that from Kansas City where all we really had was the Get Up Kids and I never really got that from Lawrence outside of a couple of bands I loved fiercely. I always felt guilty about being picky about local music and now I can still be picky and still really enjoy that the hip-hop scene here produces incredibly top-notch stuff.

It’s been a weird year full. I got married, I moved away from Kansas, I worked at three different Half Price Books stores and eventually got promoted, my wife got a job with her master’s degree and we’re basically on the precipice of not having to live like college students anymore. I’m becoming an adult and it’s strange because I can see it happening. I look more and more like my dad every day and my hair is going grey strand by strand. I feel a pull toward ambient music and another one toward socio-political hip-hop and another towards dark, artsy, and no-bullshit metal. I feel less judgmental than I did four years ago where shitting on music was my game. I was good at it. Now the meanest thing I feel like I can muster is indifference. I think that’s a positive thing. I’ll always be a pompous jerk, but I’m trying. This list is pretty much what you’d expect, but I recommend all of these albums.

10. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It

This is one of the saddest albums I’ve ever heard. It’s also a triumph. An album that undeniably proves that the promise Mark Hadreas showed on his 2010 debut Learning was no fluke. That he’s able to confront the darkness in his own life and the world and craft songs this touching and powerful without completely falling apart is amazing.

9. Lambchop – Mr. M

The wine tasted like sunshine in the basement.
-“Gone Tomorrow”

So goes my favorite imagery written in song this year. Mr. M was my first encounter with Lambchop. It seems psychotic that they were overlooked during my alt-country years in college. A real, bona fide cryin’ shame because after listening to this sad, gorgeous record I went back and listened to their discography album by album and it’s the sort of solid you don’t fuck around with. For whatever reason I prefer directness in songwriting but Kurt Wagner’s cryptic songs make me want to be a better man.

8. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

There’s No Leaving Now was an album I used for the feelings of needing to move on in 2012. Kristian Matsson still sounds like the long lost heir to Bob Dylan’s throne (sorry Conor Oberst) without sounding like he’s trying to be Dylan. He’s also done a great job at staving off repetitiveness which is basically knocking at your door every day when you’re making hushed folk tunes. Where Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt so perfectly encapsulated the autumn, There’s No Leaving Now feels like so much like the spring, and it’s Matsson’s best yet.

7. Moonface – With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery

It just wouldn’t be a year without a contribution from Spencer Krug. And I suppose, it wouldn’t be my year-end list without a contribution from Spencer Krug considering my rabid Krug fanboydom. Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, I don’t care, it’s all good in my book. Though Moonface lacks the cohesion of Sunset Rubdown, with Finnish rock band Siinai Krug has put together a truly badass album. It just sounds cool. It’s also unhinged and loose and spontaneous but Krug’s songwriting is as disciplined as ever.

6. P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here

This album never quits. End to end, through the whole 45 minutes Stef Alexander is spitting his worldview at you at warp speed. Yet as Alexander spews references to Surly, NOFX’s “The Decline,” Christopher Hitchens, Minnesota, Doomtree, black presidents, and generally hammering home the fable of American exceptionalism. It’s a fucking masterpiece. An honest and unflinching testament to the fucked-upness of our times that also happens to be a whole hell of a lot of fun. Not only does Alexander get the whole Doomtree involved via Lazerbeak beats and guest spots from Sims and Mike Mictlan, but reels in outsiders like Busdriver and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. The Vernon collaboration “Where We Land” is the showpiece here, constructed as a step back from the venom of the rest of the tracks yet seeming somehow like the whole point. Well, that and “Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats” which is Alexander on his own delivering his thesis statement like a valedictorian delivering a speech to his graduating class. It’s half personal history (“Aight! Motherfucker, see, I was born like this/ Pissed with a twist/ Raised in the Midwest where they hate with a grin”) and half anarchist anthem set to tear shit down. Every song feels insanely important, and the beats are an incredibly diverse blend of glitchy electronics, soulful grooves, and some live drums on opening track “Bumper” that just totally blow my mind with how well they work with that song. Not like anyone should ever trust my opinion about hip-hop. For years it’s been the genre I’ve kept at arms length with a sort of passive “I think it’s the one musical genre that’s really pushing things forward but I don’t really have the desire to listen to it in my free time.” And then this year I changed. I’ve always appreciated indie hip-hop but moving to a city where indie hip-hop is the bulk of the local music scene kind of fundamentally changed everything. Minneapolis has always been a place that has fostered great music in the face of harsh weather and fake nice people, and P.O.S kind of proves that nothing has really changed in that regard.

5. Guided by Voices – Let’s Go Eat the Factory/Class Clown Spots a UFO/The Bears For Lunch

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not ever. But it did. The thing is, when the classic line-up version of GBV announced that they were producing an album, I really didn’t have any expectations. Could it be awful like so many reunion records? Sure. But there was also the chance that it could be really good and honestly, since no one ever expected this to happen Let’s Go Eat the Factory was given permission to suck. And the fact that it not only didn’t, but was mostly an excellent record was kind of what I imagine Christians would feel like if they found out angels were real. There was a sense of triumph, a collective fuck yes from every diehard GBV fan in the world. And that Class Clown Spots a UFO and The Bears for Lunch were just as good (or better, in the case of Bears) brought the sort of next dimension joy a music geek gets once or twice in a lifetime.

4. AC Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Sometimes I can’t figure out how Carl Newman’s mind works when it comes to writing songs for the New Pornographers and writing songs for himself. On Shut Down the Streets that question gets answered. Newman has flirted with adding openly autobiographical elements to his songs (notably through Neko Case on Challengers’ “Go Places” and The Slow Wonder’s “Come Crash”) but Shut Down the Streets is straight up personal drama. Which makes sense, as the album comes in the wake of his mother’s death and his son’s birth. So you have the hearbreaking sadness of “I’m Not Talking” and “They Should Have Shut Down All the Streets” and then you have words of encouragement to his new son in “There’s Money in New Wave.” But there’s also the disgustingly amazing pop gold of “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns” which, with Neko Case on backing vocals, sounds 100% like a New Pornographers B-side but hey, I’m not splitting hairs because no matter where that album pops up in Newman’s expansive discography it’s one of the best he’s written.

3. John K Samson – Provincial 

On the second year-end list I ever made, the #1 record was the Weakerthans Reconstruction Site. That was 2003 and nine years later they’re still probably my favorite band (next to Guided by Voices, of course) and John K Samson is absolutely my favorite songwriter. So much about how I think and write is influenced by him, and every time he puts new songs out I find myself caught in a sort of flabbergasted sense of amazement because really, how can one man be that good? Though most of these songs are new versions from his “Manitoba Roads” 7” project, the new recordings bring all of these songs to a real cohesive whole where they really belong. 

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

If ever there was an album that lived up to its name, it’s Celebration Rock. The thing kicks off and closes with the canned sound of fireworks and in between are the eight most triumphant songs of the year. “The House that Heaven Built” and “Younger Us” were the hits that everyone kept talking about, but for me it was all about “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Adrenaline Nightshift,” and “Continuous Thunder.” Beginning, middle, and end. The construction of this album is masterful, even with the intriguing conclusion of the Gun Club cover “For the Love of Ivy.” The pureness of the love described in “Continuous Thunder” is what really kills me though. To convey so much heart in a song that basically repeats the same two verses for five minutes is an enormous accomplishment, and Japandroids seem to know it. Celebration Rock is easily the most confident album of the year if only because Brian King and David Prowse don’t over think a single thing.

1. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

There’s something majestic about this album, which is effectively J Tillman’s identity crisis. I suppose plugging away as a singer-songwriter for a decade and then only being known as “the drummer from Fleet Foxes” when you actually didn’t really have anything to do with the crafting of those songs would take a toll on anybody. Tillman appropriately name drops Joseph Campbell on Fear Fun, an album wrapped up in creating mythologies in Hollywood Babylon. This is a fun concept for sure, but it’s Tillman’s swagger that really sells this thing. Watching him perform the album’s most transcendent track, “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” on Letterman is what sold me. This is a dude from the Northwest who’s been making pensive and thoughtful singer-songwriter indie folk for years and suddenly turned into a sassier Leonard Cohen, a less sleazy Serge Gainsbourg. Where Fleet Foxes spend their days trying to recapture the lost sounds of Appalacia, the departed Tillman is coming out as a truly great American songwriter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Top 40 Songs of 2012

40. Seapony - "Outside" 

I still miss the idiosyncrasies and personality of Transmittens a lot, but the Seapony songs are outrageously lovely.

39. Purity Ring - "Fineshrine" 

Purity Ring's album is a bit cloying as a whole, but in bits and pieces it is really nice. The songwriting on "Fineshrine" brings some warmth and personality that always seems to be lacking in the too-cool-for-school electro of the hipster age.

38. Superchunk - "This Summer"

Every time "This Summer" was played on the Current I only ever caught the last thirty seconds of it. I didn't actually hear the song in its entirety until the fall, and by then it was too late because this is the perfect song for bike riding, lake swimming, and porch beers.

37. Angel Olsen - "Acrobat"

Angel Olsen's sophomore album sounds like a lost artifact from the days of folk music past. Like a synthesis of Numero Group's Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies of the Canyon compilation and a healthy dose of Kath Bloom and Vashti Bunyan. Influences and agelessness aside, Olsen's Half Way Home is one of the most disarming albums of the year.

36. Jason Lytle - "Dept. of Disappearance"

I really disliked Lytle's first post-Grandaddy solo album Yours Truly, The Commuter but Dept of Disappearance reminds us just how good a songwriter Lytle is and how his voice and melodies marry to create very specific sorts of songs.

35. The Antlers - "Zelda"

The Antlers just won't quit. The followed up their masterpiece Hospice with last year's pretty much just as great Burst Apart and this year delivered again with the terrific Underwater EP. "Zelda" was my favorite track, loaded with sad horns, spaced out synthesizers, and all the haunted moodiness that makes this band so interesting.

34. The Avett Brothers - "The Once and Future Carpenter" 

The Avett Brothers make some of the prettiest music around. The thesis statement to their latest album is no exception, and while that album is a bit hit or miss, this song is the Avett Brothers at their best.

33. Islands - "Never Go Solo"

Nick Thorburn did it again! Another excellent Islands LP! That makes him 3/4 if you stand by the opinion that the overly ambitious Arm's Way was a bit of a failure despite half of that album being great. So 3.5/4! Not a bad record. I'm only going to assume "Never Go Solo" is an excuse for his spark-lacking solo album I Am An Attic.

32. Why? - "For Someone"/"The Plan"/"Probable Cause"/"Twenty-Seven"
Why? is one of my favorite band and they released one of my least favorite albums of the year. Mumps, Etc was heartbreakingly bad. It was a Why? album where all the honesty was replaced with grandstanding and self-parody. There were a couple of decent songs but most were repellent. It hurt. I listened to it so many times too, just to make sure I wasn't missing something. Like it might be a grower. It should have been, in my mind. The last three Why? albums are three of my favorite records. Alas, no dice. However, the Sod in the Seed EP was actually really good...if you subtracted the awful title track and "Shag Carpet." What you had in the middle of the EP was a mini-song cycle where all the songs felt like short sketches and that's probably why they worked so well. They weren't over thought or injected with self-deprecation. The four songs in the middle are loaded with the stuff that makes me love Why? and after I couldn't take Mumps, Etc I returned to these four for solace.

31. Mount Eerie - "Through the Trees pt. 2"

Phil Elverum always seems to be in the state of making the best music of his career. An endlessly fascinating and wonderful musician and songwriter that I really have nothing else to say about because I mean, it's Phil Elverum and he could have just quit after the Microphones' The Glow Pt. 2 and just kept. getting. better.

30. The Shins - "Port of Morrow"

The song on most lists that feature a Shins track this year is going to be "Simple Song" because those music critics didn't hear that song 100,000 fucking times this year. The first twenty listens or so, it was like "Man! What a great track! THE SHINS ARE BACK BABY!" And then it was everywhere. As ubiquitous as fun. or Gotye or Peter, Bjorn, and John when "Young Folks"was everywhere years back. No matter how good a song might be, any song can get played out. Fortunately, Port of Morrow is a great record and its title track is a real step forward for James Mercer. It's different, inserting some moodiness that I don't remember ever finding on a Shins track. A real atmosphere! Lady vocals too!

29. Sharon von Etten - "Serpents"

Everyone went all apeshit about Fiona Apple this year, but what about Sharon Von Etten? In terms of upper echelon female singer-songwriters, Von Etten is there. Tramp was a feat and "Serpents" was the most vital and moving song on that record. And one of the most vital and moving songs of the year. This shit just fucking slays.

28. Guided by Voices - "Class Clown Spots a UFO"

The only reason this monster jam isn't higher on the list is because it was previously released as "Crocker's Favorite Song" in a more stripped down fashion on one of the Suitcase sets. That's not really an issue per se, since this full-band version is so much better and triumphant sounding, but it's like when a band's debut LP is just a rerecording of songs from their earlier EPs. Though the songs are better, more complete, there's still something off. But it's GBV, and there are two more GBV tracks on this list so SOMEONE had to be in the high 20s.

27. Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "Storms"

I've never really given a crap about Fleetwood Mac but my wife LOVES them. More like she LOVES Stevie Nicks. So when I told her Superwolf was covering one of her favorite Fleetwood Mac songs she kind of hit the roof, and then legitimately hit the roof when she heard it. It's so fucking good. They find a way to make this not sound like a cover (unlike some of the other covers on the Fleetwood Mac tribute this came from. Best Coast's "Rhiannon" which is absolutely soulless).

26. Beach House - "Myth"

Beach House has been proving that there is a place for overly pretentious music in the world because the music they make is so goddamn pretty. These two have a legitimate vision for the music they make, and while I've always found it a bit too prim and proper to convey any real emotional resonance lyrically, the music, production, and tone is all really top notch.

25. JEFF the Brotherhood - "Sixpack"

Though I missed Superchunk's "This Summer" on the radio every single time this summer, I DID however hear Jeff The Brotherhood's summer anthem "Sixpack" dozens of times. It was always on the radio, and I always got that hell yeah summertime feeling when it came on. This son of a bitch is good old fashioned raw and dirty fun.

24. Shearwater - "Animal Life"

Man, it's been the year of lovely music. Jonathan Meiburg has been pushing Shearwater to lovelier and lovelier places since his departure from Okkervil River a few years back and Animal Joy is another fantastic record. It really shows how much Meiburg has grown as a vocalist which is really special since he's already been establishing himself as one of indie rock's best singers these last few years.

23. Dirty Projectors - "Dance For You"

Following the masterfully performed yet chilly Bitte Orca, Dave Longstreth and crew delivered a record that was both sonically impressive and emotionally resonant. It's as if they knew they were being mega hoity toity with Orca and really brought some humanity back into their music this time around. Swing Lo Magellen has a lot of heart, and "Dance For You" was my favorite song from the album to randomly catch on the radio this summer.

22. Guided by Voices - "She Lives in an Airport"

At the end of 2011, I was elated to learn GBV would be releasing a new album in 2012. Thrilled. I never expected to have that. Even if it was bad, I was still going to be happy. And when it was actually really good, I was sated. And then they released another album. And another. Three albums, holy shit. And the thing is, if you take the absolute best songs from those three albums, you get one album length (by GBV standards, roughly 22 songs) record that is brilliant and stands up there with Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand. Sadly, it's just three really good records, and The Bears for Lunch is probably the best.

 21. Frightened Rabbit - "State Hospital"

More excellence from the pen of Scott Hutchinson. I cannot fucking WAIT for Frightened Rabbit's new album Pedestrian Verse. This song is an excellent teaser and finds Hutchinson in top form, telling a sad story and singing a sad song like he does so well all the time.

20. Twin Shadow - "You Call Me On"
I didn't think I was cool enough to listen to this incredibly hip music, but then I gave Confess a spin and found that I could really get down on George Lewis Jr's songwriting. His neo-new wave is vibrant and never seems to be trying too hard. I mean, I get the impression that Lewis is trying VERY hard to keep up his image based on his official music videos, but when it comes to the songs it sounds legit to me.

19. Jens Lekman - "I Know What Love Isn't"

Another excellent effort from the Swede. Jens Lekman just doesn't seem to know how to make a bad record. The title track to I Know What Love Isn't turns from sweet to sour in typical Lekman fashion. The premise is what happens when you want to get married for citizenship, which you feel to be a romantic notion and a good way to stay in a country you're not a citizen of but the twist is that you wouldn't be able to write a song about it. Classic Lekman, duh.

18. Moonface - "Yesterday's Fire"

It just wouldn't be a year end list for me without a contribution from Spencer Krug. This year, it's "Yesterday's Fire," my favorite song from his collaboration with Finnish band Siinai. It's the best thing Krug has mustered under the Moonface moniker so far, and the whole thing has this looseness to it that really brings about the best in all parties involved. "Yesterday's Fire" is a epic piece of drama that Krug makes sound like the end of the world with his vocals. But then again, he kind of always does that doesn't he.

17. Serengeti - "Geti Life" 

This hilarious collaboration with Yoni Wolf is far from Serengeti's best. Last year's Family and Friends was his best record so far, abandoning the hilarious Kenny Dennis for some real talk and some other, sadder characters. This year's C.A.R. lacks the gravitas of Family and Friends, but I just never got over "Geti Life" after seeing him play it whilst opening for Why?. Though Wolf was in the building, he didn't join Geti for the track and that made it even funnier. The line "Yo Geti Life/Laying next to the sweaty life" was hilarious to me. It still is. I brought that home with me like a communicable disease and spent the next four months harassing my wife with the line. She eventually turned it on its head after many protests that no, she does not sweat, and that it should go "Yo Jenny life/ Laying next to the sweaty husband." That just made me do it more. But goddamn this track is great. It's Geti's cleverness and randomness culminating in a great prank. And the reference to Why?'s "The Hollows" and the playful jabs at Yoni that wrap the song up just kill me.

16. Rooftop Vigilantes - "Automatic Trash"
I'm no longer living in Lawrence, but Rooftop Vigilantes still feel like my favorite local band. Sure, Minneapolis has a fine music scene, and while I was always obnoxiously outspoken about the Lawrence scene, I always though Roofie Vig were the most special thing ever. They were making the kind of music I wanted to listen to. Made by people under the same influence(s) I was. Just out to have fun and write clever power-pop songs. The most embarrassing thing I ever did in my whole life was do some incredibly drunken vocals on the band's second or third cover of Big Star's "September Gurls" the day Alex Chilton died. It was bad, I couldn't remember most of the lines, and afterward I immediately ran outside into a snowstorm, tripped on Massachusetts street, ripped open my brand new jeans at the knee and skinned the knee as well. It was not a proud moment. But that sort of drunken chaos is what I think of when I think of Rooftop Vigilantes, a band that is inherently tied to some of my best and worst Lawrence moments. "Automatic Trash" is another rock solid winner from a band that tried so hard to be the Replacements they ended up becoming something totally fresh and original.

15. Cat Power - "Nothin But Time" 

Meow. This sure is a sultry jam. I don't think it's meant to be a sultry jam but it has this hypnotic allure that helps it to sustain its ten-plus minute runtime. I am a huge fan of the long song, the same way gymnastics judges are fans of more difficult routines. It's very easy to fuck up a long song but when its done right it's a thing of beauty. A bunch of people holding up signs that say "8.3" or whatever. This song feels like Chan Marshall crawling out of the artistic hole she's been living in since the release of her last LP The Greatest in 2006. You wonder where she's been. There was the covers record Jukebox and her highly publicized mental health and alcohol issues. Who knew she was crafting another great record.

14. Guided by Voices - "The Unsinkable Fats Domino"

I heard this for the first time at the end of 2011. It must have been Christmastime, because I felt like with a new GBV record in 2012 and the Fantasy Football championship I'd just won, I didn't need any other Christmas gifts. So this one has some sentimental value, and it's why it's the highest ranked of all the GBV tracks of 2012.

13. The Tallest Man on Earth - "Criminals"

Every song on this record is great, so it was hard to pick a favorite. The title track "There's No Leaving Now," "To Just Grow Away," and the unavoidable single "1904" could all be in this spot. But something about "Criminals" really struck me in its spareness. This is what Kristian Matsson does so well. Letting his Dylanesque voice float over his gorgeously finger-picked guitar. It's a beautiful, beautiful track that he makes sound so easy.

12. Lambchop - "2B2"
Mr. M really caught me off guard early this year. I'd never listened to Lambchop before. I knew who they were but had never heard a single song. I don't know how I ended up with Mr. M but I thought it was beautiful. A sort of twisted Americana that felt real. "2B2" was the immediate standout and it stuck. "Gone Tomorrow" was amazing too, but I got to know this one by heart.

11. Cloud Nothings - "Stay Useless"

It seems like just yesterday I was watching Cloud Nothings play to no one at the Granada during Scion Garage Fest. That was a couple few years ago, and now Dylan Baldi and crew are recording with Steve Albini! The recording is naturally better recorded, but the songs are just as gritty. "Stay Useless" sounds like a desperate plea. To who I'm not sure but it sounds like the message Baldi is delivering is very important. It resonated with me at least because who can't ID with a sentiment like "I need time to stop moving/ I need time to stay useless." It's punky pop on its face, but deep down there something really promising about Baldi's songwriting. Something that he's already shown on the mature-beyond-his-years Attack on Memory which feels like a landmark album.

10. P.O.S. - "Bumper"

The Twin Cities music scene is slowly seeping into my brain. I haven't been avoiding it in my first six months here, I've just been too busy. The best way to know what's up in any local music scene is to go to shows, and I fucking hate going to shows. I can't do it anymore. I mean, I make my exceptions sure, for the Hold Steady, GBV, bands I really really love, but when it's like "Hey this random band is playing" it gets into "Ungggg, I have to go downtown and pay $8 to park and then I gotta pay $5 for a shitty beer and then stand for four hours and not talk to anyone cuz I don't know anyone here." I couldn't be happier. However I really want to see P.O.S. because his latest album We Don't Even Live Here is so fucking good I'm sold sold sold. The lead-off track "Bumper" got me hooked. I feel like "Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats" is the album's finest moment, but there's something unfuckwithable about "Bumper." Maybe it's those live drums that never quit. Those sharp, alienating synths that blast in right around the chorus. It just sounds legit. Like an answer to my fundamental problem with mainstream hip-hop. Alexander's explanation of the track pretty much makes me a true believer.

9. The Mountain Goats - "Cry for Judas"

I know I just said I hate going to shows, but the Mountain Goats show at the Varsity last month was so great. I guess that's not saying much because every Mountain Goats show I've been to has been great. My favorite bit though was John Darnielle's explanation about "Cry for Judas." He said he felt sorry for Judas because he is basically playing a part in a larger story that he can't quite comprehend til the very end. "I think Judas gets kind of a bad rap," he said. I really liked that line. I grew up Catholic, so I'm kind of game for anything that makes religion look weird or depressing. Like, "Isn't it WEIRD that Judas gets a bad rap because you know, he sort of has to betray Christ for this whole thing to work so he can die for your sins yadda yadda." Love it. I love it almost as much as I love the horns on this track, good lord it's like they're just pumping this thing full of energy and moving the Mountain Goats sound into uncharted territory. Hell yes.

8. AC Newman - "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns"
First off, let's talk about how great this song title is. It is awesome. Classic Carl Newman right up there with "35 in the Shade" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno." Second, let's talk about how Neko Case sings the back-up vox on this number and why isn't this a New Pornographers song? And does that matter, because it fits so well on this, a Carl Newman solo album. Third let's talk about how this is his best solo album yet, even surpassing his feisty debut The Slow Wonder which holds such a special place in my heart that I was surprised to see it nudged aside by Shutdown the Streets. Fourth, let's talk about how this is a perfect example of how Newman's songs work. The verses are always really good and well written so you're paying attention to the words as you're going along with the really good verse. There's usually a little break between verses that keeps you involved, and then it's back to the verse and then he absolutely dominates your being with a chorus that is so above and beyond what you were expecting from the relative tameness of the verse that you just want to put the old fist in the air and say "yes, please, thank you more please." I'm a sucker for Carl Newman though. I've been fawning over his songs since at least 2003 and turned both of my siblings onto the New Pornographers. It's such a blast to watch him continue to grow as a songwriter and more comfortable in his skin. For years he's come across as a bit prickly but Shutdown the Streets is full of warmth (probably because it's rooted in personal tragedy and thus, kind of by nature has to be full of warmth). This is just a textbook monster jam.

7. Craig Finn - "No Future" 

Craig Finn's depiction of the Twin Cities on all the Hold Steady records was never one that cast the towns in a particularly favorable light. But there was something romantic about his very clear love of the place where he grew up. Something that made me say "Guided by Voices is touring and the closest they're coming is Chicago or Minneapolis WE ARE GOING TO MINNEAPOLIS JENNY!" I bought the tickets without even thinking about it or asking my future wife. It was a gut call, and a good one. We fell in love with the city and it became a nice potential future refuge from the psychosis of Kansas and the depressing nature of Kansas City. Finn's solo record took all year to grow on me. I kind of really disliked it at first despite really wanting to like it, and "No Future" was the track that really broke it open. That and an in studio at the Current studios when we were up visiting looking for jobs for Jenny a couple months before we moved. The songwriting is all there, and it's just as good as his stuff with the Hold Steady ("Bed sheets for curtains/ I know one things for certain/ The devil's a person/ I met him at the Riverside Perkins"), and it's so fun to see one of my favorite songwriters take a chance with something different. I can only imagine what it's like to write fist-pumping anthems for a living. It must be exhausting. "No Future" is a straight-up killer though, with the way that chorus makes you want to cry when he sings about dying on the inside.

6. Perfume Genius - "Hood" 

It's so rare to find a music video that is so absolutely perfectly matched to a song. The video for "Hood," where Mark Hadreas is babied and made-up by a gay porn star, feels like the only video that could exist for this terrifically sad song. All of Hadreas' sophomore LP as Perfume Genius is this good though, which is scary. I don't know how someone can make music that is so sad yet so listenable. It's just so heavy. But tuneful as all hell, and "Hood" captures all of the fear we experience in the secrets we keep from the ones we love. I remember how impressed I was with Hadreas' debut Learning, and it wasn't even in a "this guy has a lot of potential" way you get with new artists. He already seemed to have it all figured out and it isn't even surprising that  Put Your Back N 2 It is as great as it is.

5. Benjamin Gibbard - "Bigger Than Love"

I guess all it took for Ben Gibbard to start writing meaningful songs again was to just not write songs for Death Cab for Cutie. I feel like he dried up when the fame really hit and he had to really start thinking about his audience, although I might just be full of shit and my personal opinion that the songs on Codes and Keys felt really hollow might be totally baseless. But that doesn't matter now because holy shit, "Bigger Than Love" is one of the best songs he's ever written. A duet with Aimee Mann, the song chronicles the doomed romance of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald via their love letters. It's an epic and complicated American tragedy that Gibbard manages to spin in five minutes with gravity and grace to spare. It was enough to cause me to reexamine my impression of Gibbard's decline as a songwriter, because if he's still got stuff like this in him I need to just shut the fuck up.

4. Gentleman Jesse - "Eat Me Alive"
I never really got into Gentleman Jesse's Leaving Atlanta, but I played this song about a hundred times when I was getting ready to leave Lawrence. That was probably the biggest thing that happened this year (and I got MARRIED this year). There was this huge emotional turmoil where I really felt like I was suffocating and couldn't live in Lawrence anymore. I just couldn't take it, I was getting incredibly depressed and had been ready to move (anywhere) the second I graduated until I met Jenny and found a reason to stay. But once she finished Grad school I was champing at the bit. I convinced her to move to Minneapolis with me and we moved. As I was cruising out of Lawrence on K-10 with my car packed full of records and other things too fragile for the U-Haul, I blasted "Eat Me Alive." It got me through. Ensured me that I was doing the right thing. That it was less about the consequences and more about if I felt like I needed to do something and I was going to live some depressed sham of a life if I didn't at least try to get out, then that had to happen. And now here I am, pretty much OK with the concept of moving back to Lawrence (somewhere outside of town on the northside, I think, out in the country with a little bit of land for dogs and small farm animals) because I know now that moving wasn't going to change how I felt about anything. Sure, there were better job prospects for me here and I ended up getting promoted, and there are definitely better job prospects here because Minnesota unlike Kansas thinks there is some importance in social services and that it's a cool thing to provide federal money for that stuff but ultimately, I got my woman, I got my shit figured out, and if I end up living the bulk of my adult life there I'm cool with that. But I couldn't have done that without getting out first, and "Eat Me Alive" was pretty much my battle cry for that.

3. John K Samson - "Letter in Icelandic From the Ninnette San"

Those who know me know of my deep and profound love of John K Samson's songwriting. I've been obsessed with his band The Weakerthans since I was about 16 years old and seriously looking for an out from punk rock. Samson not only provided that out, but inspired me to start writing and thinking in ways I was unused to thinking in. He was the best positive role model in the latter days of my adolescence and I am deeply thankful for that. Naturally, anytime he releases something I fawn all over it and his latest solo album Provincial is no exception. It's loaded with the rich character studies I've come to expect from Samson's oeuvre, and "Letter in Icelandic From the Ninnette San" was my absolute favorite. The images Samson creates are breathtaking and heartbreaking and just listen to it please.

2. Father John Misty - "Only Son of a Ladies Man"

J Tillman's new album under the moniker Father John Misty is a good one. A really, really goddamn good one that I'll tell you more about on my Albums of 2012 list later on but let's just say that it's really goddamn good. And the emotional core of that album is wrapped up in this track, "Only Son of a Ladies Man." There's plenty of goofy fun on Fear Fun, but this track just cuts the shit and hits you right where it counts. The swagger of Tillman's delivery is still in place, but when he tells you the tale of a funeral attended by a man's female conquests it really highlights the mythic qualities that make Fear Fun so much fun. It's a fable of Los Angeles told by a new arrival and the whole thing captures the crazy love/hate insanity of LA in all of its fucked up glory.

1. Japandroids - "Continuous Thunder"

I think "Continuous Thunder" might be the most romantic song I've ever heard. I loved the fist-pump anthems of Celebration Rock all the up to the last track where these chords just wrap you up in a little web and keep you there as you're sung one of the most perfect love songs you've ever heard. I immediately put it on a mix CD for my wife because I hadn't ever heard a song that so concisely summed up how I felt about her. I feel like we spend our lives trying to let people know how much we love them and it's just so hard to communicate. I've always used other people's words because it's so hard for me to put anything into words without rambling on and on about it. So "Continuous Thunder" was a blessing, and the thing is sure the lyrics are perfect but there's a joy in these chords and the huge sound they're reaching for that really drives this one home. It's sung with such conviction, too. "Heart's terrain is never a prairie/ But you weren't wary/ You took my hand/ Through the cold pissing rain/ Dressed to the nines/ Arm in arm with me tonight/ Singing out loud yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah/ Like continuous thunder," it goes. It's so simple. The second verse speaks of loving with a legendary fire and goddamnit yes. That's all I can say, really. It's got it right. It's the most badass song you're gonna put on your girl or boy's mixtape all year.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Corndolly - A Preview of Easter Fashions 7"

Corndolly – A Preview of Easter Fashions 7”
Mud, 1992
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

Four babes from Illinois making some really great, hooky indie pop. The guitars, oh how they jangle. The vocals, oh how they reek of non-singer charm, my favorite kind of singing! Is it sexist that I refer to them as babes? Because it’s kind of a fact, they’re pictured on the back and I can indeed confirm that they are babes. Awesome early 90s indie rock babes. Maybe it’s only sexist if I’m like “That’s the only reason this is good,” which isn’t the case. I think I do that sometimes, I know I did it recently via the Coathangers in which I said it was like, girl punk and that was a cool thing and have kind of come to regret it. And now I’m stumbling over my tongue. It’s complicated trying to stay PC and at the same time realizing that when everything is strictly PC it makes it a big pain in the ass to have an opinion about anything. Is it not sexist if I acknowledge that it might be sexist that I think an all-girl punk band is better because they’re girls even though their music is the same sort of by-the-books punk house punk rock that scads and scads of all-dude bands are putting out? Or do they get the edge via years and years of oppression by men and it naturally sounds refreshing to hear all girl bands. I don’t even know anymore. Usually when confronted with my inadvertent sexism I just throw my hands up and say “My wife is a hardcore feminist bisexual that has to earn me some points right?! RIGHT?!” I just have no idea what it’s like to be a woman.

Corndolly are great though. I tend to prefer female vocals with my indie pop, so of course they are a natural winner. Big easy, sloppy bass lines. Guitar chords that have been distorted and reverbed out of their minds. Surprisingly deft drum beats for the style and husky, non-singer vocals. I’m game. Jangles a million. Tuneful jams about you know, relationships and stuff. The usual indie pop fodder. Corndolly don’t have lofty intentions of pushing the boundaries of art. That’s really the beauty of indie pop or indie rock or whatever kind of music that involves two to six people getting together and having a great time making some music. It doesn’t have to be Radiohead or whatever. As long as it’s catchy and it sounds like the band is having fun, it’s almost always worth listening to. That sort of everyman/everywoman thing really appealed to me at a certain point midway through college, and when I started playing in bands that was the ethic I brought with me. I love little forgotten songs like “Come Out” and “Sex Kitten,” featured here on radiant pink vinyl. Great little tunes only a handful of people have ever heard. Indie pop is kind of like a quilt. Upclose it all kind of looks the same, sounds the same, has the same elements coming together to churn out a similar result, but as a whole it’s a beautiful an inspiring thing. It was an affront to the exclusivity of punk. While the tweefolk were wearing cardigans and acting as polar opposites to the spiked Mohawk, studded leather jacket wearing don’t-give-a-fucks, a middle ground opened for normal people. College town people. People who were now in a position to say “Fuck it, we don’t have to abide by any set of rules and it’s easy enough to record some songs and put them on a record and this is ours and it’s out there.” I love that. A majority of the 7”s in my collection is from bands like that. Bands that just sort of exist for a handful of songs and then branch out into other stuff and then into obscurity or whatever. It’s kind of like how reality isn’t what you see on TV. It’s not what you see in real life either, because there are too many variables. Too many weirdos (especially in Minnesota, dear lord especially in Minnesota) that throw off your opinion of the collective majority of humanity (note: the numbers get skewed when you work in retail and the only people you remember are the psychos who do not really exist in the collective reality). It is on records like this that reality really shines through. There’s something pure here. Pure and honest and good and real and joyful. And it doesn’t matter that it’s made by ladies, and though that changes the overall effect of the songs, and the songs are coming from a female perspective, it’s all past that and I think that’s the thing I’m trying to get at. It really doesn’t matter what my opinion is because this stuff exists and it exists objectively set apart from any sort of assumptions or second-guessing about political correctness and it’s there to be enjoyed. And man oh man I listened to this 45 like 7 times on each side and I didn’t get sick of it so hey, a small victory on a Friday night. I’m ok with that. 

Coquettish - Total Pops Madness 7"

Coquettish – Total Pops Madness 7”
Asian Man Records, 2000
Acquired: Asian Man Records Mailorder, New, 2002
Price: ~$.50

This is one of the 7”s I hung onto from a big box of Asian Man Records vinyl I got for like $25 in like 2002. I forget exactly when it was, but I remember coming home from high school and finding a heavy ass cardboard box from the Bay Area on my doorstep. It was one of the most exciting musical moments of my life. Having all this STUFF. There were a few records in that box that I really wanted (see: the Broadways, the Chinkees) but mostly, it was a bunch of stuff I’d never heard of. I sold bits and pieces of it off over the years, but this one for some reason is still sticking around. Somehow, these four Japanese fellows managed to fit seven songs of rapid-fire ska-punk on 7 inches of wax. And I’d say that’s pretty damn admirable. Naturally, given that it’s ska-punk, it’s totally good fun. High energy, the sort of music you apply the word “blistering." The hardcore punk at hand is more tuneful than most, almost in a Kid Dynamite-esque way, with a little ska upstroking thrown in just cuz.

Band of Horses - Everything All the Time

Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
Sub-Pop, 2006
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $3

It’s a bittersweet experience listening to Band of Horses gorgeous first album considering the steady decline in quality of their albums over the years. Sadly, the best metaphor I can think of compares the band to film director M Night Shyamalan, and while they haven’t made a record as bad as The Happening, the rote work quality of their latest LP Mirage Rock make me think there’s some big sellout around the corner. They’ll find some way to water down their sound to garner the largest possible audience share and then it’ll all be over. Good on Ben Bridwell riding the wave of popularity to a deal with Columbia that lets him run his own label and one can only assume a pretty comfortable life from here on out (at least the royalty checks will keep rolling in every time “The Great Salt Lake” gets played in some televised teenage melodrama). Certainly not very rich, but you know, the sort of decent living that anyone wants. I don’t fault Band of Horses for that, because it’s easy enough to just quit listening to a band once they abandon all the things that made you like them in the first place. It just stings when you’re hopes got set so high. Where you looked forward to a solid ten or fifteen years of quality records and it didn’t quite pan out.

The fundamental thing that makes Everything All the Time work so well is that there is nothing at stake. Carissa’s Wierd had recently broken up and Bridwell and Mat Brooke formed Band of Horses seemingly out of inertia (granted, it was basically Bridwell’s band). There’s a purity at work on this album that just feels so organic and loose. You can’t fake that, and I feel like that’s what happened after this album became such a huge hit. Brooke left the band after the breakout, which was terrifically sad since his two contributions to the record “I Go Out to the Barn Because I Like the” and the show-stopping closing track “St. Augustine” are two of the best songs on the album. They add an emotional depth that’s not necessarily any deeper than Bridwell’s own, but contrasts in a really fantastic way. I used to like to cite Brooke’s departure as the reason why I lost interest, but that’s not true. Bridwell’s songs are the reason this album works, and they’re really, really goddamn good.

Pulling off an album with a distinct sound yet with enough diversity in the songwriting is a trick in the repertoire of any great musician, and that is the great strength of this album. There’s the almost spooky sounding rocker “Wicked Gil,” the ethereal and instantly gripping opener “The First Song,” the grandiose surefire hit “The Funeral,” the aforementioned TV staple that is also likely one of the best indie rock songs of the 00s/a song that’s going to go right up with Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1” when they make the definitive list someday “The Great Salt Lake,” the silly and joyous “Weed Party” and the emotional nail in the coffin, Bridwell’s masterpiece penultimate track “Monsters.” And then that duet with Brooke “St. Augustine” at the very end. It’s an album that invites re-listening, one that all too easily found itself in my car stereo for the better part of three months. And it holds up incredibly well.

I wanted to like Infinite Arms and Mirage Rock. I came at them with an open mind, and the more I think about it the more I realize that Band of Horses sophomore LP Cease to Begin was actually pretty good (so was Unbreakable following up The Sixth Sense). The last two albums just lack the spark that drew me to their music in the first place. It was sensitive beards-and-flannel-shirt rock and I could definitely get down with that. And though Bridwell still rocks the beard, his band just doesn’t rock. I’ll still hold out hope for a return to form because I know it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility. 

Circle C - "Honey" 7"

Circle C – “Honey” 7”
Trackshun Industries, 1988
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

“Honey” is a fucking WEIRD track, and I kind of like it because it is such a blatant mishmash of genres and styles it’s admiral, even if the end result is a totally incoherent mess. It’s piano rock and college rock and Jerry Lee Lewis and then there’s some gospel-esque background singers and the song melts down and trucks along for two minutes before collapsing in a heap on the floor. Naturally, given the ubiquity of the band’s name, it’s been impossible to track down any information about them. Which is sad because the B-side cut “Odette” is a quiet and lovely mess that sounds like it was recorded in a shipping container on a cargo liner but the core of the song shines through and it is quite nice. Upon further investigation, I learned that this band went by the name Circle C (though the artwork says “written and performed by Copyright”). The Canadian band was formed by Thomas Anselmi, the frontman of the punk band Slow they had a released a self-titled CD on Geffen in 1991 that sold poorly and were consequently dropped. Slow are most famous for stripping at the Festival of Independent Recording Artists at the World’s Fair’s Expo 86 in Vancouver and leading to a bunch of stuff to get cancelled and the band getting arrested. The negative publicity led the band to split, and shortly after that Anselmi formed Circle C. I love the small histories of bands.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cobra Verde/Moviola - Split 7"

Cobra Verde/Moviola – Split
Wabana, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2008
Price: $.25

Cobra Verde is best known as the band that replaced all the original members of Guided By Voices from 1996-1997 (with Doug Gillard hanging around all the way to the bitter end) They contribute one song to this split 7” and it’s OK. “Blood on the Moon” is pretty straightforward rock n’ roll. Capable, but lacking spark. It most definitely pales to the three tunes by Moviolia on the A-Side, which are just the sort of excellent, hazy, singing-through-distortion indie rock jams I adore. “Empty Ford” is a track that would easily find its way onto the compilation I’m making in my head for the songs on all these random 7”s I got that never made it to CD (most likely, I’m probably wrong and some of the songs show up on CDs SOMEWHERE even if they were limited to like 500) and definitely didn’t make it to MP3. Since I don’t have one of those USB turntables or a tape deck, it’s a mental list, but at least I can mostly remember which 7”s have the jams. There is so much heart in these three Moviola songs that it’s kind of really tragic that they’ve been wasting away unheard in my 7” collection for almost five years (and who knows how long they were wasting away in the Love Garden Shotgun Room). The 7” I WANT is the split they released the next year with Eric’s Trip. This link leads to Moviola’s surprisingly expansive discography.

The Coathangers - "Never Wanted You" 7"

The Coathangers – “Never Wanted You” 7”
Die Slaughterhaus, 2007
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2011
Price: $2

This Coathangers 7” actually precedes “Shake Shake” by a year, but is just as grimy, just as ramshackle, and just as much fun. They’re the kind of band that would really shine in a live performance though, as their whole concept is one of those things that doesn’t 100% transfer to records. They’re good and fun for what they are, but the Coathangers are a party band meant for the musty basements of the world. You can SENSE the attitude on the recordings, but you know there’s something missing. Regardless, there is always room for lady punk bands and the more the merrier and the goofy joy the Coathangers bring to their jams is something that the punk rock world needs more of.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill
Def Jam, 1986
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1.50

The first track on Licensed to Ill is like a pocket of history: past, present, and future rolled in one. “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” is the future of music and the same old shit all at once and that’s why it’s fucking brilliant. I’m not a hip-hop head by any means. I wholly admire and respect the genre, but when it comes to pick out a record to listen to I veer into my indie rock comfort zone. And I wanna stop that. I wanna love hip-hop because I know it’s lovable. And I know for a chalky white boy like me, the Beastie Boys are a sort of gateway drug.

It’s feels almost taboo to acknowledge that fact. The Beastie Boys made it OK for white boys to like hip-hop and not look like out of touch chumps. The Beastie Boys do. Not. Give. A. Fuck. And that’s what makes it OK. And that’s also what paved the way for the horrific rap-rock boom in the late 90s/early 00s with Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit and all that bullshit, but the aim of the Beastie Boys was true. In college I wrote a 30 page paper about the white man’s historical co-opting and commercialization of African-American music. It was the one of two papers I wrote in college that actually bettered me as a person. And it changed the way I thought about music. The crux of the paper was the fact that the band TV on the Radio were considered an oddity since they were a predominantly African-American band playing rock music. How the fuck did that get to be weird? And somewhere down the line it’ll be weird for black dudes to rap one presumes if history repeats itself (which it tends to do).

But then you’ve got “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” which borrows the riff from Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” and yet has that rap-over-rock Rick Rubin production that Jay-Z used way down the line on The Black Album. Musical history is complicated. Just like any relationship you’re likely to be involved in, things are never as easily defined as you think they should be. So maybe it’s a moot point to question the authenticity of white rappers since ideally, we’d live in a colorblind culture but at the same time diversity is a highly prized attribute of any society. So where is the line in the sand? And the answer is probably just who cares as long as everyone is treated equally.

Licensed to Ill is as much of a social document of the birth of white-boy hip-hop as it is a goddamn fantastic record. I picked this up at work because it was so cheap and despite somehow never truly listening to the Beastie Boys outside of the songs that had videos on MTV, I knew it was an important album. It’s brazen as shit and really doesn’t sound like anything else from the period. At least nothing that I can pinpoint. I mean, all the notable songs are sequestered to the back half of the album WHO THE FUCK DOES THAT?! The fucking Beastie Boys did it just because. You’ve got songs that are ubiquitous in our culture—“(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),” “Brass Monkey,” “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”—and this album still sounds fresh as shit. Wholly legit. Which is bizarre. It could so, so easily be a fucking joke and it just manages to be everything at once without sounding like a mess. I mean, sure it’s a mess. It’s cluttered with influences from all over but it’s the sort of organized mess that is prized when it comes to albums these days. A beautiful confusion that somehow reaches a greater truth we mere mortals can only look in upon but never achieve (unless they try really, really hard I guess. Don’t wanna rule it out because great, exciting, envelope pushing music is being made every day and will be until people get sick of music which will maybe hopefully not but maybe be sooner than we think). The cumulative effect of Licensed to Ill is this: The class clown is way smarter than you think, and while you never expected a party album to be intellectually stimulating and groundbreaking, it happened and the world is a strange, kind of fucking awesome place. 

Oh yeah, and "Slow and Low" is probably the best song on the rekkid.

Friday, October 19, 2012

John Prine - Sweet Revenge

John Prine – Sweet Revenge
Atlantic, 1973
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $.25

About a month ago I became the record person at Half Price Books St. Louis Park. I’d done a little bit of record pricing/grading/throwing away (seriously, I’d go out on a limb and say at least 50-60% of what we get is moldy/musty/dusty/fucking sickeningly gross and allergic reaction causing) so I wasn’t I didn’t make like a fish out of water and I spent the last month getting REALLY into pricing records. The whole process was almost therapeutic—a welcome reprieve sequestered in the basement away from the psychosis of the perpetually busy sales floor. Quite frankly, it’s a blast. There’s something incredibly satisfying about pulling a $100 record out of a pile of crap. On the other side of that, there’s me, a recovering record buyer faced with temptation on a daily basis. HOWEVER, in that last month I dug out two John Prine records (this and his eponymous debut) which I no doubt would have missed out on had I not been running the section. The copy of Sweet Revenge I dug up has a ratty sleeve and a handful of scratches and I got it for practically free. Which is great. Since I didn’t know if it would actually play.

But it plays! And though the sleeve is pretty fucked up, it features maybe my new favorite album cover of all time. I can’t explain why this image of Prine reclining in a convertible, denim clad with his cowboy boots propped up, aviator shades and half a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He looks like Jeff Tweedy, and I’m sure Jeff Tweedy is aware of that. The back cover is the inverse of the front—Prine reclined, boots up, staring out at the ocean. There’s a real timelessness to it, which really melds with the timelessness of his songs. There’s a little bit more of a sneer to Sweet Revenge than his self-titled debut (the only other album of his I own and have listened to all the way through) and the politics are absent. But the humor is there, and a dark cynicism that is just brilliant. The title track (with it’s devastatingly great opening line “I got kicked off of Noah’s ark/ I turn my cheek to unkind remarks.”) lives up to the album cover. The swagger, the non-chalant badassery. The clever wise-ass at work. As a man who has strived every single day of his life to subdue wiseassery, Prine is an inspiration to me. Maybe I should stop holding it in (although at work I have to, especially today when some woman couldn’t find books about angels and got all sassafras when I couldn’t leave the register to point to the shelf with the angel books and said “Well I guess I just won’t buy anything at your store” and I SO wanted to say “You know being rude ain’t no way to get into heaven, ma’am” in a southern drawl). Or maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and enjoy Prine’s razor sharp wit and get through life a lot easier.

Other winners here are the heartbreaking “woman done up and left me” number “Blue Umbrella” (“Just give me one good reason/ And I promise I won’t ask you anymore/ Just give me one extra season/ So I can figure out the other four”) and the silly and insightful live cut “Dear Abby” that plays out as a series of letters the he famed advice columnist (“Dear Abby, Dear Abby… My fountain pen leaks/ My wife hollers at me/ And my kids are all freaks/ Every side I get up on/ Is the wrong side of the bed/ If it weren’t so expensive/ I’d wish I were dead/ Signed Unhappy”). “Mexican Home” and “Onomatopoeia” are surefire hits and the penultimate track “A Good Time” is a quiet tune I hadn’t heard on Great Days or the tribute album Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows. It’s one of those perfect little songs that just shows up at the door all day and you embrace it like a long lost brother. I feel like everyone has songs like that, that’s why everyone loves music. There’s so much of it, and there’s so much of it you haven’t heard that’s just out there, floating around, waiting to crawl into your ears and then your brain and then your heart. That is incredibly sentimental, a cloying assessment of loving music, but that’s the sort of thing a good song’ll make you feel. Lines like “And you know that I could have me a million more friends/ And all I’d have to lose is my point of view” just kind of resonate to the point of rattling.

I’m getting kind of goofy about how good John Prine’s songs are. They’ve been here this whole goddamn time and all I had to do was put the pieces together. I’m feeling incredibly sentimental, something about the music you listen to throughout your life being like a journey that mirrors the one you’re on. One you can look back at later on down the road. Your record collection is like a scrapbook or a photo album, a cumulative answer to the tired old question “What kind of music do you like?” I look back at when I was a kid, when my brain was just primordial stew, and the music I fell in love with when I was old enough to fall in love with music (it was oldies, from the fantastic KC radio station Oldies 95 which sadly only plays 50s and 60s pop songs on Sunday nights these days). And then there was a 8-10 year stretch where I just listened to what my friends listened to, or what was perceived to be cool. I embrace having once legitimately enjoyed the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit and Korn and Linkin Park and Slipknot though now I realize that was never something I would be able to really enjoy on a personal level. It was like the stupid Russell-Crowe-in-Gladiator haircut with the frosted tips that I had at one point in my early teens. Yet to disown the fact that I liked those bands—to pretend I always had great taste—would be somewhat similar of a Nazi officer fleeing to South America and pretending the whole “personification of pure evil” thing had never happened. I’m not saying that there is anything objectively wrong with those bands I listened to in junior high (well, except maybe Limp Bizkit, which is the most embarrassing of them all but it doesn’t really bother me because I know everyone I grew up with that also attained fine musical taste feels the same way) they were just mistakes I had to make until I somehow found the little inlet that led to punk rock (Blink-182, another band that you could easily lump in with the Korns and Linkin Parks of the world but I wholly appreciate their function as a gateway drug to pop-punk and I still find pretty much everything preceding Take Off Your Pants and Jacket to be really enjoyable, even the really terrible gross songs) and then indie rock and then pretentious indie rock and then somehow John Prine is here. When I was 16 I couldn’t have predicted I’d be listening to some old dude from the 70s and really, truly loving the music ten years down the line. I was going to be punk rock forever! To be fair, I was also going to be Straight Edge for life (I think I had two Minor Threat patches on my black hoodie) and I’m literally brewing five gallons of beer as I type this so you can see how THAT turned out.

I feel sorry for kids nowadays who just get handed a copy of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea with their cool haircuts and cool jeans and good taste once they turn 13. It’s the Internet’s fault, and honestly, I’m mostly just jealous. Why couldn’t the popular music have been cool and interesting when Greg Achey and I were spending our early teens drinking obscene amounts of rootbeer and playing hours and hours of NHL Hitz to the soundtrack of Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday” ON REPEAT. I used to get annoyed but now I feel like it’s the same shit and while I feel like I’ve got more of a claim on the good stuff compared to these 14 year olds with better taste than they have any right to have, they’ll have the same sort of identity crises we all had in our teens and it’ll all work out in the end. And really, they’re the lucky ones because they never had a point where they thought Nickelback was good. Everything that was cool is now uncool, but the timeless cool stuff kind of just stays cool forever I suppose. Which is why I wish I had a Vlogbrothers-sized soapbox to stand on so I could disseminate John Prine mix CDs to the youth of America so they don’t think he’s just some lame old dude. Actually, Bon Iver probably already did that with Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, and good on him for that yes indeed. As long as these kids aren’t just giving up after picking up the latest Arcade Fire album (are they still cool or is it all about glitch-house whatever now with the Skrillex and the Crystal Castles? Good lord I now realize how out of touch I am with everything) and hear that and want to listen to every single cool thing they can get their hands on. To mine the influences of their favorite artists and mine THEIR favorite influences and follow that dark spiral down into the heart of oblivion. Or into a music director’s office at a college radio station where halfway through their tenure they realize they’re totally out of touch with what it means to love music and that reassessment is necessary otherwise the dark hand may never relent its icy, tastemaking grip. The point is, there’s just so much good shit out there that if you’re really trying to discover music you really have to go out of your way to have bad taste in music (assuming you factor in the fact that people who listen to Top 40 and actively enjoy Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and the like aren’t really claiming to have good taste in music in the first place and probably have bigger fish to fry). One of my big regrets in life was how big of an asshole I got once I started working my way up at KJHK. I had tunnelvision because in my mind, the station was in a state of crisis and needed to return to where it was when I started. And I was really shitty to some DJs whose taste I judged as “unfit for music staff” instead of trying to shepherd them into the Promised Land. Those were dark times. But then again, I was 22 and heartbroken and just an unpleasant person to be around and I feel like I should say “that’s no excuse” but it’s mostly the excuse. But I was a snob. I still am pretty much a snob but less now about other people’s tastes and I feel really guilty ripping into bands that make music I hate so I think that’s some sort of progress. Then again, it’s not like I don’t relish ripping into a truly insipid an horrible album, it’s just that I save that stuff for my wife when we’re listening to the radio on trips back to Kansas. She’s my sin eater. My sin eater who cranks the Taylor Swift song when it comes on so she doesn’t have to listen to me bitch about it and then starts singing along.