Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come

The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come
Sire, 1987
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $4

Is there some common understanding that Strangeways is the Smiths weakest record? Because if so, they must have had one hell of a discography. Strangeways Here We Come is a gem. It has “A Rush and a Push and the Land that we Stand on is Ours,” “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” and that’s just on the first side! I think maybe I made that whole thing about this being a substandard album up. I really appreciate great bands who can exist in five albums or less. It makes everything so much easier. Not that easy is always (or ever) the way to go, but the simplicity of falling in love is that much simpler (see also: Pavement). With the Smiths, it was sometime in high school when I found Louder Than Bombs on Napster and, despite seeming totally unpunk, I was drawn like moth-to-porchlight to Morrissey’s funny, self-deprecating, sad, and occasionally profoundly moving lyrics and Johnny Marr’s guitars, which sounded unlike any guitars I’d ever heard and really gave the Smiths a sound that many bands have tried to replicate but just can’t nail down the gorgeous complexity of it all. THESE were the cool guys. They somehow seemed so legit to me when I was eighteen, driving to school with the windows down and “Panic” or “Ask” playing on a mix CD. 

I didn’t get to the proper albums until college. I still haven’t listened to Meat is Murder all the way through more than once, but I do have a great affinity for The Queen is Dead and “Still Ill” from the self-titled debut has a special place in my heart because until Danny played a cover of it for me at band practice one day I’d A.) Realized I’d never really listened to the self-titled debut either and B.) That song kind of nutshelled every complex relationship-related emotion I ever had and C.) Thought Danny (who is an incredible songwriter in his own right and now has a band signed to Sub-Pop’s Hardly Art label) had written it himself and I was like “Holy shit that is fantastic.” But Strangeways didn’t come into the picture until Destroyer’s magnificent Destroyer’s Rubies came out in 2008, the quasi-title track of which features the line “Typical me, typical me, I throw my cargo to the sea…” Being the nerd I am—particularly with Destroyer songs and the other songs they reference—I rooted around and found the source to be “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.”

I think my favorite thing about music is the way the things I like are all kind of daisy-chained together. Bands discovered and fallen in love with because of off-hand references made by other beloved bands. It’s a beautiful, organic sort of thing that I wholly appreciate. Something that really boils down the essence of what it is to be a psychotic music person. Wanting to take in everything but only having a finite amount of time and having certain tastes and such built up over the years. That feeling of discovering a new favorite band, it’s better than just about anything. It’s on the same wavelength as love (thus, better than sex, natch). You don’t even need to know WHY you love an album; it’s practically irrelevant as long as it is getting through. Anyway, the Smiths hit that wavelength and still do. I think Morrissey is a total weirdo, but he seems like a totally genuine weirdo who really is obsessed with his art and politics. My kind of weirdo indeed. This listen through gave me the gorgeous closer "I Won't Share You." The melody is subtle but oh god does it cut right through you butter-like. And then it's just like, autoharp and bass guitar. That's all it needs! And it just ends! No wrap up or anything, just kind of fades away. The last track on the last album of one of maybe the greatest English band's career. I know you've got the Beatles and the Clash and Radiohead and all that, there's just something about the Smiths that feels raw and real and more emotionally resonant than anything produced by those other three bands.

Green on Red - Gas Food Lodging

Green on Red – Gas Food Lodging
Enigma, 1985

Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $3

The reason I grabbed this is because I knew I heard/read Jeff Tweedy talk/write about Green on Red once and I was like o_O. Jeff Tweedy likes this? I must investigate. I love Jeff Tweedy. And regardless, I’ve really been diggin this record for the last six months or so. I put it on every now and then to do the write-up and can’t ever think of the right thing to write. I’ll start by saying I always get a tingly feeling when I write-up an album from the year I was born, because if I’m feeling old, that means the dudes that made the record must be WAY old. And at the same time it doesn’t sound THAT old. But that’s because I’m getting older, and really I’m sure older dudes probably think I’m pathetic thinking I’m getting older at 26 (and I certainly now it, I feel like I meet dudes in their mid 30s all the time and I like to think I’m as grisled as they are but no fucking way). But I still like good old fashioned alt-country before it was alt-country. Rootsy jams from AZ in this case. There are all sorts of weird influences floating around on this one. At first I thought REM (but less boring) and then there’s the rollicking aspect that suggests that alt-country tinge, like Uncle Tupelo’s rowdier numbers, but OH YEAH Uncle Tupelo doesn’t release their debut for five years SO. And then there are the offhand references to the Paisley Underground in the Wikipedia entry for Green on Red SO. OOO. I’m out of my depth. There’s a lot going on here in terms of influences that’s just really cutting edge for the time that I am absolutely unfit to talk about…until I read the Allmusic page about this album and Green on Red and wow look at that technology! From what I’ve read this is a sort of shape-of-things-to-come record for Green on Red in re alt-country, but the references to “their friends” the Dream Syndicate have my interest way peaked and remind me I need to thoroughly drown in the Paisley Underground like I said I would years ago because of my ongoing love affair with Jangle Pop and wanting to know my roots, etc. But all that shit aside, this I’ve been diggin on this album for a while as I said and I’m still diggin on it. “Sixteen Ways” is my favorite tune on the record. It’s like this thin-voiced murder ballad that has this really awesome, carnivalesque organ running through it. It’s seedy and sinister and awesome. And then it’s followed by ANOTHER fucking murder ballad in “The Drifter,” which is about a drifter…going from town to town…killing people. Feels like singer Dan Stuart exorcising some awesome demons.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yuck - Yuck

Yuck – Yuck
Fat Possum, 2011
Acquired: Christmas present, New, 2011
Price: $0

This was my favorite album from the last year. It may not have been the most artistically daring or genre defining album, but it was easily the most enjoyable and the one I listened to the most. There’s gotta be an equation for how many times you can listen to an album before it wears out, and how that solution verifies the worth of the music. In the case of Yuck, I made sure to avoid wearing it out by swapping it out with something else every week. I did this because the album was special, something that had grown near and dear to me. I didn’t expect to fall for this album as hard as I did, and when it happened, I made sure not to fuck it up.

Relationships with albums are a lot like relationships with girls. There’s a delicate balance that must be kept, otherwise you run the risk of being overbearing, smothering, and well there goes that. But you’ve also gotta give’em attention too. A lot of attention (BUT NOT TOO MUCH). If all goes well, you can nurture this relationship for years. Relationships with albums (like girls, natch) often start off passionate and wild. You just can’t get enough of each other. She…er, the album will be in your CD player for days and all you wanna do is shout from the rooftops “HOLY SHIT I LOVE THIS RECORD SO MUCH.” And then after a couple weeks, well, the honeymoon is over. You’ve gotta…see other…albums. But, ok, ending that analogy right now. But you get my point, right? There is always such a thing as too much of a good thing. No album, I don’t care who you are if you say so you’re lying, is unwearoutable. Every album has a breaing point. I mean, what if you were a huge Beatles fan and got stuck on a desert island with only Rubber Soul in your walkman? You would eventually get sick of it. You’d never wanna listen to Rubber Soul for as long as you lived and probably be like “Man, I wish I brought the White Album because at least that one has all sorts of fucked up weird shit to analyze.” Back to Yuck though, Yuck didn’t wear out. It really, really could have but I planned ahead and avoided it, but it could have. However, it would have taken a very long time because this album rules.

It rules because it feels geared to the type of music nerd I am. It’s like some lost gem dug up from some 1990s basement. It’s the sum of the band’s influences, and that sum ends up being something surprisingly fresh and honest and real. There are no bones made about the inspiration. No attempt to cover up the Yo La Tengo or the Lemonheads or the Sebadoh. All the energy this band would spend on posturing trying to pretend they weren’t inspired by so and so is instead put into crafting a set of songs that just slay. It’s like a guided tour of indie rock, from simplistic upbeat punk-tinged jams like “The Wall” and break-your-heart indie power ballads like “Shook Down” and “Suck” and pure indie-pop bliss in “Georgia.” Then there are the songs that sneak up on you after like 10 listens like “Operation.” And the way the guitars sound on this album, holy shit. And how I namedropped three bands up there but really, this album draws from 80s and 90s indie rock as a whole, and it blends everything together pretty seamlessly despite the surprising sonic diversity and the rawness of the sound.

Every song is great. Or I love every song. Either/or. Even the B-Sides are great (oh yeah, the album comes with a whole separate disc with six b-sides) because they are straight-up b-sides. They don’t really fit on the album, but on their own they shine. Like “Coconut Bible,” holy fuck. What a jam. It’s such a nice, refreshing treat to have these new jams after absorbing the old ones so thoroughly.

And since there's a bonus album, here's what a true b-side sounds like!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Guided by Voices - Alien Lanes

Guided by Voices – Alien Lanes
Matador, 1995
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2012
Price: $14

I feel like I’ve already written about this album on this blog. I mean, do I really need to express how I feel about Alien Lanes? It’s like one of my built in personality traits. Ian is tallish, shy, and Guided by Voices. No even loves Guided by Voices. It’s just there. In my blood and stuff. I’m one of those people. If you ask me to make you a mix CD I’ll make you three, and then outline why the way I’ve ordered the songs is optimal for your listening experience. “The later stuff is full of great pop hooks, but it gets very hit or miss in the absence of Tobin Sprout who really kept Bob Pollard in check on those great albums. The holy trinity, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars.” The thing about GBV is that they so warrant obsession. It’s like perfect tornado conditions or something. A massive discography (Pollard apparently has over 1,000 songs registered in his name with BMI) that you can only do your best to listen to all of, great songs buried on albums laced with tape hiss and cast offs barely worth the magnetic strip they’re occupying but they’re there anyway. It’s so pure and unfiltered, and seeing the bad songs helps you appreciate the great ones that much more. It’s like the whole process of the band is documented from day one. Like there wasn’t a single idea they didn’t record. Sure, it makes for some hit or miss, but good lord the hits are some of the most potent pop songs of all time. Maybe that’s overexaggerating, or is it? I mean, I think Guided By Voices are better than the Beatles, but that’s just me. The Stones? Please. Pollard and Sprout over Jagger and Richards any fucking day. Especially with the classic line-up.

Alien Lanes is just as good as Bee Thousand, if not better. I don’t subscribe to one being superior, but the parallel theory. That some sort of metaphysical anomaly occurred in Dayton, OH in 1994-1995 that changed the game. The thing about Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes is how far superior they are to every other record in GBV’s discography. They are perfect. There are fillery songs, but they’re there to accent the real cream. Just look at how “(I Wanna Be a) Dumbcharger” brings you into a brown haze and then that beautiful bring A power chord hits and you’re suddenly in the most perfect minute and thirty-three seconds of your life. “Game of Pricks.” I didn’t even have to look up the running time, that’s the kind of GBV obsessive I am. And the thing is, ALL GBV obsessives are like this. It’s cultish, really, but I think that’s the point.

I know I said that Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes are parallel, but I should clarify one thing: Bee Thousand is the better album (sequencing, clarity of vision, etc) whereas Alien Lanes has better songs. Surefire hits like “A Good Flying Bird,” “Game of Pricks” (easily the crown jewel of GBV’s expansive (understatement) discography), “As We Go Up We Go Down,” “Blimps Go 90,” “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Motor Away” and under the radar stunners like “King and Caroline,” “Ex-Supermodel,” “Alright,” and that magnificent drinking anthem opener “A Salty Salute.” The hits are just so much hotter on Alien Lanes. And the thing is, all the best songs are under two minutes long. That’s a beautiful tactical manouever if there ever was one. Crafting these glorious hooks, playing them out JUST long enough and never banking in repeating the chorus for five minutes like modern pop music. It leaves you wanting more. Makes the songs practically infinitely repeatable. 
I’m not much of an American. Not really. But Guided by Voices is one of those things that reminds me that America has the potential to be absolutely great. I mean, we produced the greatest band of all time, didn’t we? Look at those American Flag chucks Pollard is wearing on the back of the sleeve! That’s America right there! These five schulbby dudes hanging out in a cluttered basement, either before or after or during the process of making an unfuckwithable masterpiece. It’s not even something that can be argued. I’m a pretty even-handed dude, always willing to see things from someone else’s point of view and to quick to admit I’m wrong when I’m wrong. However, if you dismiss Guided by Voices, I will probably think less of you. I don’t want to be this way, but I can’t help it. Maybe that’s hyperbole, I won’t think less of you, I just won’t understand you. I know it tanked at least one potential relationship in college when I found out this girl “just didn’t really get why this band was supposed to be so great.” I tried to show her the way, I made like two mix CDs and wrote out a listening guide but after that, I knew it was toast. Maybe that just helped me realize that the compatibility issues were deeper than I could see because I just wanted a girlfriend. Jenny loved Guided by Voices though, and when we got married, she knew she was marrying my obsession and was OK with that and downright supportive. She came with me to see them in Minneapolis on the Classic Line-Up tour and thought it was awesome. I think that’s when I realized I was going to propose to her as soon as I had enough cash to buy a ring. It seems downright baseless to judge someone because they don’t like some silly band, but to me GBV ISN’T just a silly band. It’s my favorite band, something I’ve spent the last eight years internalizing and to hear a dismissal of the band to my face is like a personal insult. There’s something about a bunch of dudes in their 30s getting together and deciding to be rock stars. Not with lofty ambitions (ok, Pollard maybe), but just for their own personal wellbeing. For fun. Dudes with families and day jobs and mortgages. That’s the human spirit right there, and I want to live my life like that. To just say fuck it, let’s get drunk and record music in the garage.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Sub-Pop, 2008
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $5

This is a beautiful record that I only very recently fell in love with. I had some issues with this album when it came out, and they were the worst kind of issues. The kind you internalize when you’re Music Director at a college radio station and you overthink everything to the point where you can’t even enjoy music like a regular person anymore. My problem wasn’t the band itself, not by any means. I loved their sound so much. The songs were beautiful, just the epitome of loveliness. I saw them open for Blitzen Trapper a little bit before this album came out (I think, or they were touring in support of it) and I remember seeing Robin Pecknold walking down the street as I left with a massive headache halfway through Blitzen Trapper’s set and I told him how fantastic his band sounded and how they were the epitome of loveliness and he just seemed like the sort of dude who was new at receiving compliments about his music and was really very sweet and like thanks! That still resonates with me, how just flat out fucking nice that guy was. I’m sure he still is that nice, and really, listen to this music, how could people that made music with this much beauty and passion be dicks? I mean, I know it happens but I choose to ignore it and just live in my blissfully ignorant world where everyone is cool. So anyway, my problem with the record was all the insane press it got like this was the second coming. Like Fleet Foxes were single handedly saving music. And I thought that was just way off. I thought the music was so gorgeous and sounded like it was straight out of mid-century Appalacia or something but that was just it, it sounded old and I have a hard time really rewarding stuff that is basically doing a magnificent job at doing something that has already been done. It’s the same way I get annoyed when every actor up for the best actor/actress Oscar is getting nominated for a biopic. There just seems to be so much more in doing something new. But now that doesn’t matter, not with this album. It’s just so achingly lovely that all of that critical mumbo jumbo can be left at the curb for the garbage man (assuming it’s under 50 pounds, otherwise you’re gonna have to haul it to the dump yourself). There’s a purity to this album that I didn’t see the first time around. There’s so much joy in it, and though it is fiercely controlled, it never feels restrained. It’s wild and free and all that. A testament to capital F Folk music. It’s not art, it just is, and really I think that’s more important and an answer to why I can put this record on any time, any place, and dig on it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Squeeze - Singles: 45s & Under

Squeeze – Singles: 45s and Under
A&M, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2011
Price: $1.50

Someone put this on at work one day and the second I heard “Up the Junction” I was like “I must have this.” And I found out it was Squeeze’s singles collection on vinyl that very day and was like “yes please.” And man oh man, I’m always really on the fence about new wave but this stuff is just so genuine and well, just really good. Not earth shattering but true and kind of pure. “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” has a goofy title but it’s like some weird kindred spirit of Elvis Costello. “Tempted” is on this record too, which is great because when it comes on, I think I have cable television and there’s a commercial playing. Overall, this is a nice album to pull out and put on at random when people are over or you’re making dinner and just need something good in the background with a couple hits thrown in for “oh yeah this song! I love this song!”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy

Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy
Columbia, 1989
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012           
Price: $2.50

 This is a great late Dylan record, somewhere after all the Jesus stuff and those two really shitty albums he made and before he started making all of those blues records or whatever those albums from the 90s were. I bought this record because it has “Most of the Time” on it, which was featured in the movie High Fidelity and featured on the soundtrack and a staple for one of the pretty rocky breakup years back. I’ve never listened to the religious albums or the shitty ones that came after, but this does sound like a return to form record. It’s solid. Sounds like Bob Dylan run through the ringer. Most of the songs suffer from that electronic 80s production, but it’s not nearly as obtrusive as it is on, say, Leonard Cohen’s 80s albums. “Ring Them Bells” is a beautiful, somber tune buried in the tracklist. It totally caught me off guard, and kind of led to this idea that “Oh, this is Bob Dylan now.” He’s moving forward, aging gracefully. His voice hasn’t aged as well as you might have thought it would, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. It just gets more weathered and will keep wearing down until he’s in the ground. I remember Sufjan Stevens covered that song on the I’m Not There soundtrack and I thought it was overlong and weird and then I thought it was kind of awesome when I heard the original. When the tunes are spare and lovely, they succeed greatly. When they’re angsty and bitter like “Political World” and “Everything is Broken,” they get a little too dated. I’d definitely love to hear a version of this album stripped down to just Bobby D and a guitar because you know the songs would sound great (that’s just how the man rolls), and I know Daniel Lanois production and I’m just some upstart coming in being all “oh boo hoo the 80s” but that’s just how I call it. On an unrelated note, the teriffic “Shooting Star” sounds like the balladesque songs Craig Finn has been writing lately. 

Since it's like impossible to find an original Bob Dylan tune on YouTube, here's that Sufjan Stevens version of "Ring Them Bells"

Drive Time: Ben Kweller - Sha Sha

Drive Time, in which I spend a week with an album I haven't really listened to before that I probably should have listened to before.

It’s weird how things can just slip under your radar. Especially things that you love. Or would have loved properly had you come to them at the right time. There’s a bit of remorse I’ve felt listening to Sha Sha all week in my car. I felt remorse that I didn’t love this album like I should have when I was in high school. This record came out in March 2002. I was sixteen years old, and I was obsessed with Weezer, and this album sounds like the Weezer I loved. The Weezer of Blue Album and Pinkerton. That spirit is here. Huge pop songs done on a modest scale. My bag. I even remember downloading Sha Sha on Napster. I remember really loving “Wasted & Ready” and for some reason, neglected to listen to the rest of the album. Why? There are so many surefire hits I was bound to love it because right now, I’m 26 and I think it’s one of the best high school records I’ve ever heard.

That isn’t meant as a knock, because as you know well, it’s very easy to stay in love with the music you loved in high school. Maybe I was getting too punk rock. This was sophomore year, the year of 9/11, and the year I started listening to lots of Jello Biafra spoken word albums and 80s punk and kind of cocooned and came out someone that was too cool to like anything that wasn’t politically charged. Or something. I don’t know, there was a lost year in the punk rock gestation where I was critical of everything and then about a year later I found the Weakerthans and started branching out into indie rock like a good little soldier. I can only suspect this is the case. The one time in my life where I shunned poppy music (all the while devouring pop punk). I’m sorry, Sha Sha, I really am. You would have made the perfect soundtrack to so many awkward dates and makeout sessions (well, the like less than 10 makeout sessions I partook in during high school)! Alas, here I am, old and not so much nostalgic but really fondly embracing the music I loved as a teenager. Finding those qualties that made me love it in the first place and refusing to write it off as “stuff I liked in high school” which seems like such a common thing to do. It’s not like your taste gets better, it just evolves. I mean, I liked some shitty stuff when I was fourteen and fifteen, but that was all on the path to enlightenment. It’s like, once you know what you like, and that what you like has certain merits you can kind of stop judging it. Or maybe that’s just me holding this up to the alternative, which is Limp Bizkit and Korn and Slipknot and everything looks like solid gold compared to that shit.

So here’s what happened. Here’s how this record fell into my life in a rather serendipitous way. I was assisting on a section reflow at work and had to be there past normal go-home-time until 11 and had to spend that time taking books off of shelves, moving shelves around, getting splinters, hammering pegs into shelf walls, and then putting shelves back up and putting books back on shelves. And this is what the assistant manager put on and all the gripes I had in my head about having to stay there til 11 kind of went away and I just worked like a happy little ant all like “Good lord this album is so great!” Naturally, the ASM remarked that this was the sound of high school. Shit yes. The next day, I saw the CD sitting up at the buy counter with a $1 clearance sticker on it and promptly purchased the thing. And it’s been stuck in my car stereo.

Kweller’s finest attribute is that he might as well be you. Just some kid from some small Texas town, probably writing these songs in his bedroom or whatever. The melodies, though, the melodies are world class. They’re playful yet elegant. Fun without sapping any emotional core. It’s also one of those rare album I heard and immediately knew my wife would like. She’s very picky. Sometimes you have to sneak music to her the way you sneak broccoli into smoothies for people who don’t like vegetables (or that one guy from the Magic Bullet commercial who doesn’t like vegetables and remarks “I CAN’T TASTE THE VEGETABLES!” when he tries the broc laced smoothie). I’ll play an album a few times in the car, around the house, making sure to cue up the tracks I think she’ll like. I’m not trying to say that she doesn’t love music, she is just very, very…well, picky. It’s kind of how we compliment each other. She just likes what she likes whereas I have to critically examine something before I can like some sort of nerd detective before I can be like “this is really great” (or maybe more like a dog walking around in circles before choosing to lie down). I put this on in the car and, as I suspected, she immediately liked it. Point Ian.

Kweller’s balancing of the slow jams with the straight-outta-Pinkerton jams is nice. I totally suspected him to just ramp up the power pop but the tender tunes like “Family Tree,” “Falling” and “Lizzy” are that emotional core I was talking about. Playing off the playful “Wasted & Ready” and “Commerce, TX.” It’s rich and satisfying. The hooks, man oh man the hooks! The aforementioned “Commerce, TX” sounds so easy. Like it could have been tossed off, written in under an hour, and the thing about great songs is that sometimes they’re like that. Sometimes they just come out and there it is and you don’t really have to fuss with it it’s just there. It also makes sense that it was Evan Dando of the Lemonheads who took Kweller under his wing. It’s all coming together, what with Dando being another one of those people who has fucking outstanding hooks just effortlessly flowing out of him. For some reason I find it very comforting that Kweller married the girl “Lizzy” is about. That kind of seals the deal for me. OK, Ben Kweller, I thought you were like, SO UNCOOL when I was in high school but now I realize that you are very cool (maybe played in an uncool way but still cool) and I swear every time “Harriet’s Got a Song” comes on I think “This is maybe the best song on the record and it’s buried second to last, what a bold move!” It’s so wonderful to find an album that makes me feel giddy. Something that appeals to the basest of my musical obsessions and just feels so pure and good and fuck yes. There is hope for this world yet!

Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets

Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets
E.G. Records, 1973
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $4


It was so strange that after two years working at HPB Lawrence, waiting for something cool like this to come in, it came in like a month before I left. I have NEVER even seen a copy of this album on vinyl. I didn’t even know what the cover looked like until I did this insanely cool record buy full of weird out of print psychedelic and prog rock stuff from the 70s. Let’s say I flipped a bit. I don’t buy records hardly at all anymore, but this one made me revert to my wanton, wholly irresponsible record buying early 20s. It’s a weird, weird, wonderfully weird record. It’s got these glammy, Bowie-esque tunes like “Baby’s on Fire” and “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” but then it’s got the spacey serenity of “Some of Them Are Old” and the stunning, magnificent, absolutely untouchable title track that sounds like this timeless piece of sonic art that will carry through the ages. It’s anthemic without really standing for anything, and that’s a beautiful thing. Jenny just said “It’s very artistic” and she’s right! She keeps asking “What is this?” and then “Here Come the Warm Jets” comes on and she goes “Oh yeah I love this song.” It’s hard to believe this record is 40 years old despite still sounding so fresh and modern.

The Church - The Church

The Church – The Church
Carrere, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $3

Well would you look at that. I basically just bought Carrere’s year-later French issue of The Church’s debut
Of Skins and Heart. An album I already own and have already written about. Looking back on that review, I can carbon date it because that must have been BEFORE the time Jason Harper told me to stop using the word “stellar” in pieces for the Pitch and I really don’t think I’ve used that word again to this day. But the music here is still “fucking awesome” even if it’s the same album except they replaced “Fighter Pilot…Korean War,” a track I really liked but was apparently like, a dud. In its place is “Tear it All Away” and well, it’s the same fucking album. The cover art is cool though, and I don’t think “She Never Said” is lame anymore because this sort of Australian pop is like, a surefire hit for me. Always pretty reliable, sometimes dated by the 80s, but in this case rock solid yes please. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle

Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
Sub Pop, 2002
Acquired: One of Jenny’s like, Five Records, ???, ???
Price: $???

This one was inherited. A good one to inherit, too. I haven’t really listened to any of Iron & Wine’s albums post Our Endless Numbered Days, which seems really weird because I love Iron & Wine. Actually, I remember listening to the expansive the Around the Well b-sides & rarities compilation and hearing “The Trapeze Swinger” and thinking “Goddamnit why haven’t I listened to any of Iron & Wine’s new stuff?!” No rhyme/reason to that. None at all other than laziness. Fortunately, listening to this excellent debut LP is convincing me to dig up the MP3s. I know they’re floating around somewhere. Funny story, I haven’t really listened to this album very much either. I got into Sam Beam with The Sea and the Rhythm EP and somehow this one never spent that much time in the CD player. I’ve heard it a handful of times, and it’s great, I just for some weird reason never played it to death. Weirdly I’ve heard “Southern Anthem” a bunch of times, like up there with the songs of his I’ve heard the most. Must have been a KJHK staple. The one some intrepid music staffer put as the first recommended track. Still one of the more hauntingly beautiful albums from that decade gone by. An album that introduced us to one of the more infallible (though I haven’t really listened to any of his more recent albums, I know Sam Beam still receives constant praise) artists of the day.

Let's Active - Big Plans For Everybody

Let’s Active – Big Plans for Everybody
I.R.S., 1986
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $6

From the belly of Athens, GA, this is the answer to “What does college rock sound like?” That, and I guess every early R.E.M. record, but this one is more tuneful and enjoyable than early R.E.M. records (I still for the life of me can’t make R.E.M. sound compelling to my brain. At least not yet. Still waiting for some like, revelation moment. Not ruling it out.) Or maybe I just wanna give R.E.M.’s producer some love, I dunno. Either way, I usually enjoy it when producers make music in addition to producing, and Mitch Easter’s jangle pop is no exception. While the album is mostly just “pretty good stuff,” the tracks “Fell” and “Writing the Book of Last Pages” were like, really excellent. I love these 80s bands because there were so many and all of them had at least one or two great songs.

The Mortal Micronotz - The Mortal Micronotz

The Mortal Micronotz – The Mortal Micronotz
Fresh Sounds, Inc, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $1.50

Because of course life isn’t ever simple, I’ve been experiencing a little homesickness for Lawrence. Particularly the Lawrence of the summertime when all the douchers (well, most of ‘em) go back to Johnson County and all that is required of you is to work, go to the lake, drink beer, and go to kickball games and generally just hang the fuck out. Here with the Mortal Micronotz we have sounds of Lawrence past. The front cover of this very warped album has KJHK scrawled on it. Oh yeah, and so does the back. And the whole thing is held together with ancient tape. The music is caught somewhere between early 80s SST punk and post-punk and it’s fucking marvelous. Like, “Goddamnit why doesn’t Lawrence have bands like this anymore! Bands that so clearly don’t give a fuck and just wanna make some jams! WHAT HAPPENED?!?” There are a couple bands like that kicking around Lawrence still, but only a couple. I wanted like ten. I played in one that was inadvertently trying to be like one of these bands like the Micronotz or the Embarassement. Just doing it for fun and free beer and like $50 split between three people for guitar strings and stuff. Cooler still, the track “Old Lady Sloan” was written by William S Burroughs FOR the Micronotz. The Burroughs thing should usurp the Wizard of Oz thing when you tell someone you’re from Lawrence. Instead, more often than not you end up explaining that Lawrence is the one sane place in Kansas and I promise we’re not all backwater hicks (well, not all of us, lord knows Lawrence has its fair share of derpers but hey, what burg doesn’t?). Anyway, this record is a lot of fun and you know, it wasn’t going to change the world, but hey it was never trying to and it’s like a little time capsule when kids were seemingly more interested in making music than trying to be cool.

P.S. I know I rail on Lawrence and Kansas a lot, but I should mention that my ideal place of residence is North Lawrence (a few miles after you cross the bridge, turn left at the airport, keep going a little way and there) but in an alternate universe where Sam Brownback isn't Der Fuhrer and trying to destroy what could be such a great place.

The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree

The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree
4AD, 2004
Acquired: Christmas present, New, 2011
Price: $0

Here’s another album that took me a long time to warm up to and subsequently became one of my favorite albums in an artist’s discography. Tallahassee sometimes has a slight edge over The Sunset Tree, but most days they’re dead even. Beautiful and tragic in different ways. Tallahassee for the tragic in the fictional tale of a dead romance symbolized by a house falling apart. The Sunset Tree, the John Darnielle’s second try at straight-up autobiography. There’s teenage bliss found in first love and there’s the terror of confronting one’s abusive stepfather in his car on the driveway and the scene ending in a standoff. There’s the introduction of drugs in the menacing strings of “Dilaudid” and then there’s “Love Love Love.” And there’s just some of the most amazing words Darnielle has ever written.

The Sunset Tree snuck up on me a couple years ago. I’d really liked it when it came out, but got lost in a sea of all the other music coming at the time. I’d just started college, and just started working at KJHK, and there was just way too much going on to really pay attention to any music with the attention that most of it deserves. It was all about consumption. And once that all settled down, I listened to this all the way through for weeks at a time until it all clicked. Until I could say “yes, this is a perfect album.” There’s something so thrilling about listening to an album you’ve heard dozens of times and noticing that your favorite songs are changing. Where “Broom People” was the track that immediately hooked me and today I think “Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod” is the crux that this whole album balances on. One of the most powerful songs I can even think of. The thesis statement and then some. It’s so absolutely heartbreaking the whole thing would absolutely fall apart if you didn’t have absolute faith in the singer. Listening to The Sunset Tree over and over again retaught me how to love music. That sure you wanna hear everything coming out and be as well versed in the scene as you can, but good lord if you can’t take time out to give the great albums the time t your favorite records than maybe something is wrong. Or maybe it depends on the person. Although I’ve always been the type of person to have favorites. To hate that response of “Well I like a lot of different music.” Maybe that’s what made me an asshole of a music director. That if prospective staff members couldn’t name like, five of their favorite bands or albums then I assumed they didn’t love any music passionately enough to be on a staff of people who were all psychotically obsessive enough to be critical. Again, maybe that was the wrong way of going about it, but it made sense at the time. Anyway, The Sunset Tree is one of those albums I could talk to you about forever. Jenny and I fell in love to this record. It was one of the albums I’d put on and we’d lie in bed and listen to over and over again. I can’t believe this album is eight years old. It makes me feel old. I’ve been living with it for so long and it still sounds so timeless. If I meet someone who says they don’t like the Mountain Goats because it’s too lo-fi or the guy’s voice is weird, I burn them a copy of this album and say, “Try again.” I’m pretty passionately evangelical about John Darnielle. I feel like his songs are my scriptures. I get out of them what Christians get out of sermons or the Bible. His songs make me feel comforted, like I know there’s something more and that something more is just trying to be the best person you can be and to be good to people. The Sunset Tree reminds me that it’s OK for albums to be perfect. That trying to judge everything by the same arbitrary scale of numbers is often folly and that the merits of any given album are often way too abstract to put into some sort of cohesive sliding scale. This is a straight-up masterwork.

The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour

The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour

Anti-, 2007

Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2012
Price: $17

I bought this with a giftcard from Jonny D. A wedding present. This and GBV’s Alien Lanes. Two records I couldn’t live without. The Weakerthans especially, though. With the impending move, I’d been playing “Sun in an Empty Room” a lot, hell, this album a lot because the Weakerthans are one of my favorite self-medications. One of those power of music things where I can be calmed, centered by just hearing a perfectly written song sung with such genuine feeling. Reunion Tour took a long time to win me over, though. I’d patiently waited the requisite three-year wait between Weakerthans albums, and this one just didn’t click. Maybe because the retooled version of the album’s closing track, “Utilities” had won me over so hard with its spare solo-electric radio session version that’d been floating around the net for a year and a half. And then one day I had some emotional crisis, something about wanting to desperately do something useful and here I was in the running for a job as a music blogger and how useless was that? Anyway, I got over that one fast when, even though I didn’t get the job, I still freelanced and had steady work and yeah, take what you can get especially if you know, writing about music is something you do on your own for hours a week. Anyway, there was a crisis and this album was playing and I deciphered it. I realized that I not only loved it, but it might have been John K Samson & Co’s strongest album yet. Each song is a character study of some Winnipeger. Fictional and non-fictional. And they’re all lonely. The bus driver who’s route takes him past an ex-lover’s house forcing him to breakdown and deal with the regret every single day the women’s curling champion out getting drunk with the team and trying to reconcile constantly being away from her partner, an elegy for a goalie, the tragic David Reimer, and though not a Winnipegger, Edward Hopper haunts “Sun in an Empty Room” and “Night Windows” which are painted in the same colors as Hopper’s paintings of the same names. “Utilities,” however, is front-and-center about Samson.

Someone who’s songwriting has involved some of my absolute favorite storytelling delivers a first person narrative of hope and a yearning to be useful. The album version grew on me too. It has been five years since Reunion Tour and though Samson’s solo album Provincial (which came out earlier this year) is tiding me over, man oh man I want a new Weakerthans record bad.

Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Saddle Creek, 2005
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $3
 Though I paid absolutely no mind to this record when it was released (primarily because it was released in tandem with the far superior, twang-infected I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning), sitting here with the detached synthesized wash of “Time Code” and reading the lyric sheet, I can see now so clearly the point of this record. Of course the people flocked to I’m Wide Awake. It’s warm and inviting and full of incredibly relatable emotions (and of course “First Day of My Life” is like, every teenage girl’s fantasy song they want their fantasy boyfriend to write for them, or if not, at least put on a mixtape for them). I’ve been over the whole “I Fucking Love Bright Eyes” thing before here, and maybe it’s my acceptance of that that is making Digital Ash sound really, really great right now. Like really fresh, but mostly because I don’t know if I ever listened to it all the way through. I loved “Take it Easy (Love Nothing)” but the rest was just so icy and sterile. At the time, at least. That was also during my first relationship and my alt-country phase was just kicking off so I can see it now why I was so giddy happy with I’m Wide Awake and how writing off this bleak album was so easy.

But bleakness is my game now! I’m totally into that! Totally into references to Don DeLillo, “The sorrowful midwest,” vanishing, personal hypocrisy, and “refrigerators full of blood.” Love that shit.

The teriffic “I Believe in Symmetry” somehow eluded me all these years but stands amongst the better songs Conor Oberst has written. A surefire hit as good as “Take it Easy.” “Ship in a Bottle” is like the twin sister of the Postal Service’s “Brand New Colony,” which may or may not be a coincidence since Postal Serviceman Jimmy Tambarello does a little knob-twiddling on this record. I’m still amazed at how good this record is when I spent years like, slagging the shit out of it. Being all “Oh yeah, that record was, like, so totally forgettable” when I’d only listened to it the (maybe) once and let’s just say it’s not a masterpiece but it’s definitely a solid release. Funny thing is, despite being all poo poo about Digital Ash, I had the t-shirt. The one with the dude throwing up numbers into a toilet, purchased when I saw Bright Eyes in Omaha kicking off the I’m Wide Awake portion of the supporting tour for the albums because the I’m Wide Awake shirt was “too girly.” The Digital Ash shirt looked too girly when I started putting on weight but still wore medium tees in like, sophomore year. Talkin’ bout man boobs. Not attractive. I think the shirt is gone, but at least I have this record. It’s a nice one to pull out once every six months or so and be like “Oh yeah, this is a really good record!”

Last thing. I think I have such a fondness for Conor Oberst and his music because he so totally captures that depressed plains state mentality that you get when you’re living in the depressed plains states and everyone thinks you’re a hick and your town and region is kind of desperate for some culture. In Omaha they made their own, the lucky bastards, but at least it didn’t kill their depressiveness (see also: Cursive, the Good Life, and Tim Kasher, three separate identities for the same dude who is MUCH more depressive than Oberst but just as good a songwriter if not better edgewise). But I get that. I ID hard, and like all high schoolers Fevers and Mirrors was the perfect medication for all the angst and fortunately Conor Oberst didn’t exploit that. It has been fun to grow along with Oberst’s records (despite the fact that he is five years my senior) and while Bright Eyes may or may not be kaput, Oberst will the neo-Dylan til the day he dies.

Drive Time: Felt Pilotes - "Wonderful Summer"

John Porcellino ranks right up at the top when I breakdown my favorite comix artists. He was one of those artists I’d read and realized that despite having little artistic talent, if I just was like “Fuck it, I’mma draw some comics” I could draw comics. Not to say that Porcellino has little artistic talent, because he’s an artistic genius. The way he can say so much with his sparse drawings is inspiring. His King Cat comics (broken down into King Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and The Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and as many single issues as I could get my hands on at comics shops, record stores, and conventions) is one of the most heartfelt and powerful bodies of work I’ve ever soaked in. And of course, he’s in bands. Why wouldn’t he be? And of course he had/has a record label, Spit-and-a-Half Records, and of course I stumbled across a CD on that imprint at Half Price Books. And of course I let it sit on my hold shelf (though it was only a buck) for a year and a half before I actually bought it when I transferred out of the Lawrence store. So that last week of work and that week before moving to Minneapolis, I had this Felt Pilotes CD in the car and it was so, so good. Just like some forgotten mid-90s alt rock band that no one had ever heard of but had some really terrific songs. It reminded me of the time I raided the 45s in the Love Garden Shotgun Room and found a whole bunch of 90s alt rock stuff and just proceeded to have my mind blown and, to make listening to them a little game, started this blog.

Funny thing, Felt Pilotes features John P. on vocals and guitar. And that blew my mind because I didn’t even think to look at the liner notes until like three songs in when I was like “This is really great, I wonder if it’s…it is! It totally is!” Funnier still is that I own an LP by another of Porcellino’s bands, Smile, that I sheepishly had him sign for me when he spoke at Wonder Fair a couple years ago. And now this CD, making this dude who greatly inspires me even more inspiring. Cooler STILL, you can listen to (and if so inclined, purchase) this whole CD and Felt Pilotes entire discography on bandcamp. I haven’t made it past Wonderful Summer but I’m sure it’s all the same great, ramshackle indie rock with that “anyone can be in a band” attitude that made all of those great unheard of bands so much fun to listen to.

Oh, and since Porcellino was living in Denver at the time guess who produced it? Robert fucking Schneider. ROBERT FUCKING SCHNEIDER PRODUCED JOHN PORCELLINO’S BAND’S RECORD! That’s like big news because it’s too convenient. Of COURSE Robert Schneider produced this, because he produced Neutral Milk Hotel’s records and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is my favorite album of all time and John P. is one of my favorite writers (and Schneider’s own group the Apples in Stereo were a mainstay on pretty much every radio show I hosted on KJHK, especially the Pop Rocks years). So that makes sense. Anyway, this album was a lot of fun! Definitely want to check out Felt Pilotes back catalog