Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Jagjaguar, 2011
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2012
Price: $8

I have mostly quit buying records. Something clicked in my brain like, 6 months ago where I realized I was broke and really needed to un-stuff my life. Not like I’m going to sell off my record collection, but I used to be pretty bad when it came to buying records. Now I can’t think of buying anything without thinking about how many hours of work it took me to get something. In this case, it took a little under one hour of work to get one of the most beautiful records of 2011 on vinyl, which is a more than fair trade I think. Considering that Jenny loves it too, and it will spend a considerable amount of time on the turntable (and assuming the bedroom turntable worked, it would take out a year long lease there NOT WHAT YOU THINK (or is it!!!)). The Grammys are on tonight and Bon Iver got some nominations for this record. It’s obnoxious because it’s the Grammys, which seem to go out of their way to honor only the garbage, but they seem to be getting restless (what with “Who the Fuck is Arcade Fire?” gate last year) and getting ballsy by nominating an occasional excellent record. But really, good for Justin Vernon! Now more people will get to hear this gorgeous record. Jenny and I drove across Wisconsin last week. From Minneapolis to Milwaukee, cruising across snowy hills and barns, through Vernon’s hometown Eau Claire and down through more countryside. It’s beautiful up there. I see where he gets it. And I love how he’s moved beyond the cabin mythology on this one, driving his music further than anyone excepted on the sophomore LP. The lyrical directness of For Emma, Forever Ago and “Blood Bank” is all but gone, replaced with beautiful words and images and a timeless quality. We spent the whole driving listening to Bon Iver (with the exception of the last couple of hours, in which it was stand-up comedy because that and This American Life podcasts are what keep a roadtrip from getting insane). I have that habit of soundtracking any place I go to on vacation. When we were in Minneapolis, I played nothing but the Hold Steady, Lifter Puller, Husker Du, and the Replacements. When we went to Denton last year the Mountain Goats All Hail West Texas was prominently featured. It’s corny but I like it. So Bon Iver meshed up nicely with the early evening across Wisconsin where the sun made the fields look like iced over ponds. I still think “Beth/Rest” is the defining song on this record but only because I think picking an individual song off of this record as a favorite is mindbogglingly hard because, again again again, it’s such a Record with a big fat capital R (and to be fair, "Beth/Rest" sounds almost entirely different from every song on the record, it's just that every song on the record seems to be somehow building up to this point). I am exceedingly excited about following Justin Vernon’s hopefully long career (and the prospect to moving to a cabin in the upper Midwest with my wife and dog and getting to just enjoy because holy shit, it’s gorgeous up there).

Destroyer - "Archer on the Beach"/ "Grief Point" 12"

Destroyer – “Archer on the Beach”/ “Grief Point” 12”
Merge, 2010
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2011
Price: $6

I’m pretty sure I got a spur of the moment deal on this from Kelly when I bought Kaputt at Love Garden. AWESOME. I tend to hate how the list price of 12” singles tends to be like $10 and $6 is right at the line where I will cave under the right circumstances. Well played, Love Garden, well played. “Archer on the Beach” is a pensive and subdued affair much less vibrant than anything on Kaputt. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just moody. Extra cool points because it’s a collaboration with Tim Hecker (whom I know from having my experimental music friend play me parts of Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do it Again at various places in our college tenure and I specifically remember it was the only thing out of his collection I could stand. Hecker’s new album Ravedeath 1979 is pretty great, from the chunks of it I’ve listened to, and I wish I had more patience as a listener but I’m just too easily distracted). The B-Side is a collaboration with longtime collaborator Loscil, who did that weird last side of the Destroyer’s Rubies vinyl. It’s weirder than “Archer on the Beach,” and much more pensive, featuring some very sparse and ambient synthesized sonics and Bejar reading some stuff off a page (you can hear him turning the pages). Bejar’s reading appears to be a treatise about the song, or about quitting music (“I have lost interest in music, it is horrible”). He also appears to be drinking scotch. Or maybe ice water, but I like to pretend it is scotch. Canadian whiskey! “I think the world does not like me grim. It likes me melancholic, but not miserable. English on the Mediterranean, which is oddly enough some of the worst people there are.” The writing here, even as a testament to not making music, is beautiful and brilliant like any of Bejar’s songwriting. “The answer to the making of “Grief Point” is picnic baskets, filled with blood. Too rich, nothing at stake.” It’s the not so secret 18th century European poet living in side Dan Bejar, and it’s little things like this cast off anti-song that makes him such a fascinating artist. Well, not just this, but the fact that something like this exists, and that he is constantly willing to change it up to keep from getting stale or boring.

P.S. If you haven't seen The Family Circus by Dan Bejar, you're missing out! (on laffs!!! Just keep hitting refresh!)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Byrds - Younger Than Yesterday

The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday
Columbia, 1967
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $2.50

SPEAKING OF THE BYRDS! I only remembered that I’d recently acquired this album when I was looking up that cover of “My Back Pages” for that last post and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW! IT HAS THEIR COVER OF “MY BACK PAGES” TACKED ON THE SECOND SIDE! See, my problem with the Byrds is that I see them as a sort of yoked up cover band. Though they have plenty of songs that are their own, and I heard Sweetheart of the Rodeo during my alt-country kick years back and dug on that, and “Eight Miles High” and all that, I still haven’t ever been able to get past the fact that their best known songs are Bob Dylan songs. I know there’s a whole musical history of people popularizing songs written by other people, but in the case of pop music I just read it as a red flag. Well, most of the time. And sure, their version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “All I Really Want to Do” are probably better than Bobby D’s, technically, zeitgeistly, whatever, but in the end I don’t think there’s really a qualitative judgment to be made. Or maybe there is. Who cares? Anyway, there’s a whole chunk of musical history that is totally alien to me, and that’s folk rock, which the Byrds basically chaperoned into the musical history books. My boss, a massive music nerd of the classical school (read: 60s/70s/prog-rock) gave me a lesson about the Byrds one day and it sort of convinced me to revisit them. Now I just have these little chunks of history floating around in my brain involving Gene Clark and David Crosby and Gram Parsons and I have no way of sorting it out other than reading a book (or diligently combing the Wikipedia). I don’t care enough yet, but someday soon I will! ANYWAY, going from what I know about the Byrds, I know that this is one of their famous albums. I guess all their albums are famous though. Or most of them, probably. The 60s ones, given how apparently influential they were. The psychedelic influences start coming out and really weirding it up about halfway through. Still, I don’t have any reference (other than “Mr. Tambourine Man”) for how this fits into their discography, and though this record stands fine on its own, it would benefit from being a specific piece in a specific puzzle.

"Have You Seen Her Face" was my favorite tune from the record. Pop majesty all up in this jam!

Thrill of Discovery: Arctic Monkeys - Part 4/Conclusion

Day 7: December 14, 2011
Suck it and See

And THIS is the potential that Arctic Monkeys always hinted at…well, half the album at least. It’s not like it’s evenly split, but it kind of is. The first two songs and the last four are phenomenal. Just great, solid, excellent in varying degrees. The stuff in the middle varies from pretty fuckin’ good (“Reckless Serenade”) to pretty OK (“The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala) to the worst Arctic Monkeys song of all time (“Brick by Brick” which sounds like the group trying to collectively suck off an arena for the favor of the arena hosting a rock show, just pathetic, and awful, and really the sole reason why this album didn’t get the #25 spot on my year end list. An album is only as good as its worst song). But the six songs I love, I love fiercely. I understand this band now, and I think Alex Turner is a lifer. I think he has it in him to not have a Gallager-esque meltdown. I know this because I listened to this album like 100 fucking times in my car over the span of three months when I was supposed to be writing these little Thrill of Discovery bits really quick. I wanted to take my time, give them the benefit of the doubt, and on this album I realized that it was the iffiest album I’d ever heard. It’s the breaking through the wall. Which is to say, there’s bits of brick (pun intended, in reference to the aforementioned godawful “Brick By Brick” holy shit is that song terrible) in the punch. But let’s get on with the good, ok?

“She’s Thunderstorms”

Oh man, what an opener! Pensive riff all on its lonesome for the distorted chords and Turner’s dulcet tones to ease their way in and then the crash-in of the drums yes, yes, yes. Everyone sounds better here. The dance punk phase is dead and buried, fuck that. Arctic Monkeys sound like Arctic Monkeys now and I am so excited about this. It’s a great song title too. Titling songs is a lost art, and only the great songwriters know how to do it right. It’s important. Did I mention that already? Like the title of a book. I know music is a joke now and even the indiest of music blogs suck off the mainstream at will, but I really do appreciate Arctic Monkey’s effort at titling their songs. I looked at the tracklist before listening to this album, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy for wanting to listen to Arctic Monkeys (I listend to this before I even listened to their debut Whatever You Think I Am That’s What I’m Not) and with tunes titled “She’s Thunderstorms,” “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” “Piledriver Waltz,” and “Love is a Lazerquest” I was convinced to charge ahead. The album title is brilliant too, if only to get a rise out of the censors (I believe this album was barred from the shelves of Wal-Mart or something due to its “suggestive title”).

“Black Treacle”

Like I said, I’ve been listening to this album in my car for months. At one point, I thought I’d start a feature on the blog where I took songs I liked and made recipes out of them. Oh yeah, the songs would have to be about food. FOOD SONGS BLOG! FUN! So there would be a recipe for treacle tart but then I realized I’m not British and I don’t know where I’d even GET treacle so I decided to put that on the shelf. This was also the song where Turner won me over. This line, in particular: “Now I’m out of place and I’m not getting any wiser/ I feel like the Sundance Kid behind a synthesizer/ And I tried last night to pack away a laugh/ Like a key under the mat/ But it never seems to be there when you want it.” He’s a WEIRD songwriter, which is wonderful. Stream of consciousness, know what I mean? Just images I haven’t thought of coming out of his head and making it easier to understand where he’s coming from.

“Brick by Brick”

Did I mention I hate the song? It’s like a total regression. “You were doing SO well in rehab until you ate all that crack like it was a pudding.” Yeah. “I wanna rock and roll/ Brick by brick.” This stands in stark contrast to the above-mentioned line about synthesizers. This song is just so blatantly terrible, I don’t know how it ended up on this album. Who the fuck would ever care about this song? Really, who? Seriously, fuck this shit. Fuck it so goddamn hard. This ruins the album for me. I don’t even think Arctic Monkeys like this song. They pry think it’s a joke, good for them. This ruins the album. Did I say that already?

“Piledriver Waltz”

Annnnnd we’re back, with that hypnotic two-note guitar line. And magnificent songwriting. I feel like Alex Turner thinks this is his masterpiece, and really it goddamn is the best song he’s written. I say this because it’s the only song from the Submarine soundtrack that ended up on this album. And that soundtrack was FULL of amazing songs. Granted, there were only five songs on it, but still, the crossover is telling. This is the song that won me over though. It transfers well from the solo version over to the full band version. Have I mentioned how amazing Alex Turner’s soundtrack to Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is? It’s so great. Submarine is my favorite film from 2011 and part of that is because of the music. So perfectly placed, so perfectly executed. There’s so much trust, too. I can see it in my head, I don’t know how it happened, but I see Ayoade and Turner as friends (Ayoade directed all the best Arctic Monkeys videos) and Ayoade telling Turner about this movie he’s making and how he wants him to do the soundtrack. That’s a big role, really, because music can kill a movie if it’s done wrong (see: the 80s). Submarine is very Rushmore-esque but moves beyond it because it’s just barely so unique. Does that make sense? It’s unique in the way anything can be unique in the 2010s which is basically impossible. It’s unique because it’s something that is so familiar yet so fresh and exciting at the same time. That’s what Turner’s songwriting is to me. It’s like an old friend I’ve never met before.

“Love is a Laserquest”

Goddddddd, fuck. This song kills. The backhalf of this album is the strongest backhalf of an album I’ve heard in forever. I don’t know how these songs got buried at the end, and I don’t know how all the substandard songs got shoved up front. The aching, goddamnit! Alex Turner writes lyrics that are easy to transpose into a critique. So many songs you hear and you love the words but you type them into a bit you’re writing and they don’t have the power you want them too because there’s that intangible IT that you get with a song, but Turner is onto something I just don’t know quite what. I love his words. And this is my favorite song on the album. Well, writing-wise at least. I think the title track is more of a sweeping anthem, but the tricks Turner pulls in this one are just phenomenal. “Do you still feel younger than you thought you would by now/ Or darling have you started feeling old yet?” Maybe that doesn’t seem grand when you read it but when I write it and look at it it feels grand. “Don’t worry, I’m sure that you’re still breaking hearts/ With the efficiency that only youth can harness.” THOSE ARE THE NEXT LINES! THIS SONG IS PERFECT! It’s like an AIM instant messenger away message in the making. The whole thing! And it’s a song about trying to forget someone you’re incapable of forgetting as much as you need to. And it does everything right. “I have found a better method of pretending you were just some lover.” It hurts. It stings. It’s necessary.” Brilliant tune.

Day 8: February 11, 2012
“Suck it and See”

Saw the video to this while combing through music blogs and inadvertently remembered that movie Submarine was coming out and vaguely remembered that Alex Turner was doing the soundtrack. Although then, it was “that dude from Arctic Monkeys eh, who cares?” Then I cared, because though this video was kind of the usual music video fare, the song was damn good. And I watched Submarine that night and Turner’s songs were just flat out amazing. And that set this whole ball rolling. I feel like I’ve spent the eight years of my life living in this world and have been taking more and more vacations from it as of late. Being embroiled in college radio or writing for a local weekly non-stop burnt me out, and getting to listen to the back catalog of a band I had trained myself to ignore has been a pretty liberating experience. It’s not that I’ve quit listening to music critically, it just feels like I’ve quit doing that self-defeating thing where I refuse to listen to bands based on this or that. Being music director at KJHK was the worst because I felt like there was this air of quality I had to maintain and it was absolute insanity trying to make sure no hip new bands slipped through the cracks. By the end I was depleted, and though I usually regret having to graduate and not getting to try out for programming director, I think I probably woulda been too fried to handle it. It might have killed me at that point. So out to pasture for now, where I like it, and get to listen to songs like Arctic Monkeys’ “Suck it and See” and just enjoy modern pop music done precisely right. It’s not overly special or anything like that, but it is infinitely enjoyable, and sometimes that’s more important.


I can’t wait for Alex Turner’s solo career. Or for his band to scale it back for a record or too to give his songwriting some room to breathe. “Piledriver Waltz” and “Love is a Laserquest” are just a taste of what I think this guy can do when the tempo takes a break. Turner’s soundtrack to Submarine is still on repeat. Well, not on repeat, but I listen to it once every other week. “Stuck on a Puzzle” is a perfect song in my head because not only does it serve its purpose and fit the film it was written for like a well tailored glove, but it works even better on its own. The version of “Piledriver Waltz” on the soundtrack is better than the version on Suck it and See, too. It’s the acoustic guitar that does it. Directs it straight to the heart. There’s a smoke-filled room quality to Turner’s vocals, which just kind of push this version to another level. I can hear it playing in some lounge to maybe 5 or 6 drunks. Everyone else has left. This is the last song. He sounds kind of exhausted, but you can hear the effort shining through. It’s a beautiful mix. A beautiful song! And I hope Alex Turner doesn’t end up blowing it because right now he is poised to just keep getting better.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bob Dylan - Another Side of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – Another Side of Bob Dylan
Columbia, 1964
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $2.50

I was baffled that I didn’t own this and quickly scooped it up when it came into the store. I was certain I’d purchased this with all the other Bob Dylan albums during my Bob Dylan phase somewhere mid-college. You know that phase? The one where it clicks—either for or against, I suppose—and you spend the next six months trying to absorb his whole discography by osmosis or shunning him completely (if you’re one of the latter discoverers, and probably for the rest of your life until you’re like 40 in that case). So revisiting this record is a treat, full of songs I love and forgot were on this album. “All I Really Want to Do” and “My Back Pages” were the ones that stuck to me years ago and they’re still the ones that are clinging to me now. I can pinpoint the Dylan phase to Autumn 2007 through “I Don’t Believe You,” if only because I can recall a pretty terrible song I wrote at the time that started “I don’t you believe you/ You act like we’ve never met/ At least that’s what Dylan said.” And “My Back Pages” is still one of my absolute favorites, mostly because of that line about “confusion boats.” I wanted that for my AIM screen name SO BAD when I wanted to change my AIM screen name but it was taken. Listening to this now new songs are emerging. The meanness of “Ballad in Plain D,” which is just fucking brutal and harsh and amazing even if it’s a bit who-cares by the end of it’s exhausting 8 and a half minutes. “Chimes of Freedom” is a bit more successful on the long-song front and it’s one I didn’t have the patience for back then and am ready to revisit at the now. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is one I don’t know how I overlooked because I love Bobby D’s talking blues tunes and this one is funny and topical and such a refreshing look at the mid-60s that it oughta be used by some hip high school teachers somewhere (even though it’s almost mockingly (and hilariously) self-referencing and inside-jokey, but that’s kind of the beauty of the song). And the loveliness of “To Ramona” how have I never listened to this one with any mind!

Bob seems to have successfully made it so that youtube has none of the studio versions of his songs and only awful covers come up when you search for them. Well, awful except for The Byrds version which is actually pretty nice.