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. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

John Prine - John Prine

John Prine – John Prine
Atlantic, 1971
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
price: $1.50

The first half of John Prine’s debut LP has been the highlight of my year. In a time when my life is in a sort of upheavel, filled with demands to find a real job, prepare for child rearing, and generally figuring out what the hell it is I want to do with my life, John Prine’s songwriting has put my troubled mind at ease. Granted, I’ve got First World Problems, but then again, John Prine is singing for people with those sorts of problems.

This recent discovery is naturally aided to the Justin Vernon curated Prine tribute Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows. That was the point, I suppose. The expose a generation of youngsters who dig on Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, the Avett Brothers, Conner Oberst, Lambchop and a handful of other terrific artists who populate the soundscape of modern Americana. Best of all, I was falling in love with this excellent compilation at work. On the clock. Getting paid. Granted, I was pricing a thousand CDs and LPs, but this one made the days that much brighter. When I read Vernon’s liner notes, I noticed he made reference to a compilation of Prine’s work called Great Days, and I remembered I’d just priced the damn thing like a week prior! So I took that home, ripped it to the computer, and then spent the next month immersed at home, in the car, and at work in John Prine’s genius.

It’s an outrage that John Prine isn’t more famous than he is. I think that was probably the point the tribute album set out to prove. A sort of “All of us love this guy’s songs, why don’t more people know who the hell this guy is?” It’s baffling, really. Especially after listening to the first half of this album. About half the songs on this were on either Great Days or Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows and the rest—like the brilliantly hilarious anti-war song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”—are absolute quality jams. He’s a brilliant storyteller, which is why his recycling of melodies and chord progressions is wholly forgivable. Overall though, it’s the chorus for “Spanish Pipedream” that really won me. Like heart and soul, made me a fan. That moment where he sings “Blow up your TV/ Throw away your paper/ Go to the country/ Build you a home/ Plant a little garden/ Eat a lot of peaches/ Try to find Jesus on your own.” It’s solid gold, and even more golden that the words are being delivered by a stripper delivers to a soldier on his way to Montreal.

In short: Get this record (Read: See if any of your friends have this album and have them burn you a copy, but keep an eye out at used record stores). These songs might have the most heart and wit of any songs I’ve ever heard. Notably “Sam Stone,” the story of a veteran who returns from Vietnam and the only way he can cope with civilian life is heroin (“there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes”). That and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” definitely date this album to the 70s, but like any great anti-war song they’re just as potent today as they were for the wars they were written about. Dylan said the times were a-changin’ but maybe they haven’t. Or maybe they are, we’re just a-changin’ at a snails pace and either way, the stuff John Prine was singing about on this album over 40 years ago is the sort of shit normal folks deal with every single day in 2012 and to conquer timelessness in an album is a little miracle these days.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gut Feeling: The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth

A year and a half after the release of the last Mountain Goats album—the magnificent All Eternals Deck—John Darnielle and company are back with a brand new one that is, as you’d expect, pretty great. Granted, I’m biased. I mean, I GUESS you could call it biased, but when it comes to the Mountain Goats my rabid fanship is less of a bias and more of a way of life. In terms of the Mountain Goats discography, there are no bad albums. There are average ones, like Get Lonely and maybe some of the earlier ones which are too disorganized to work as albums (and really, I don’t think they’re trying to work as albums anyway), but most of them range from great (The Life of the World to Come) to really great (Heretic Pride) to heartbreakingly good (We Shall All Be Healed) to the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life (All Hail West Texas) and the other greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life (Tallahassee). I’m probably not the only person who’s thought about writing a screenplay/opera/ballet based on Tallahassee. That’s how we roll, I suppose.

So there’s a new Mountain Goats album, Transcendental Youth, and I have accepted it with open arms. Like every new MTN GTS release before it, this one took me a while to warm up to before I loved it. I don’t know why that is. As if my expectations are being let down a little bit and then song-by-song the whole thing comes together and it’s like YES! And it’s business as usual here. A song-by-song breaking down of my heart. Where Darnielle has been fixated upon survivor stories of late (notably “Never Quite Free” from All Eternals Deck and pretty much the entirety of The Sunset Tree, although there were some people who didn’t make it through on that one) and they are here in spades. Fuck-ups, rejects, failures. The kind of people who, in Darnielle’s words, “people who madly, stupidly, blessedly won’t stop surviving, no matter who gives up on them.” It’s a messy, life-affirming affair. But then again, what Mountain Goats album isn’t?

The opening line is “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive,” for fucks sake. I mean, seriously. And still, Darnielle & crew find ways to diversify. The horn section courtesy of Matthew E. White adds something fantastic and special and emotionally dissonant/triumphant to “Cry For Judas,” “In Memory of Satan” and the title track. It’s a fun new side of the Mountain Goats, but the most special collaboration is the one between Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster who grow tighter as a unit each time around. One of my favorite moments of any show ever was when some drunk ass girl talking way loud at the very front of the stage at a Mountain Goats show at the Jackpot in Lawrence years back almost got hit in the face by Peter Hughes bass and then immediately after that (I think, in my head) was the part on “See America Right” where he goes “Hey!” but in this version of the song he bellowed out “HEYYYYYYYY!” and it was great. Though the Mountain Goats are John Darnielle’s thing—in the sense that his lyrics are what draws people to this project moth/flame style—watching them become a full-fledged band over the last five or so years has been so much fun.

“The Diaz Brothers” is one of my favorite songs on the record, if only because I spent like fifteen minutes trying to figure out the namesake of the titular siblings (UFC fighters? I know how much JD loves fights, or is it just boxing? Singers? Is it a metal thing?) until I realized pretty much every write-up out there noted that the Diaz Brothers were basically the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern of Scarface. And THEN I fell in love with the song that much more. Darnielle always handles his characters with a novelist’s grace. Even when they’re preexisting fictional and non-fictional figures (Authors Sax Rohmer and HP Lovecraft, horror film villain Michael Myers, and movie stars Charles Bronson and Liza Minelli have had their own songs on the past handful of albums), drug addicts hold up in an apartment waiting for “the guy with the angel dust” as in “Lakeside View ApartmentsSuite,” historical figures (like Billy the Kid on the psychotically great All Eternals Deck b-side “CatherineAtrim’s Kid”), and misfits. It’s Darnielle’s tributes to musicians that always kill me. “Song for Dennis Brown” on The Sunset Tree and “September 15 1983” from Heretic Pride (about the death of Prince Far I) are sad and wonderful tributes to fallen reggae legends and here he pays tribute to tragic doo-wop singer Frankie Lymon on the standout “Harlem Roulette.” Lymon’s death by heroin overdose at the age of 25 is prime John Darnielle material. He covered his own addictions on We Shall All Be Healed and come to think of it, “Harlem Roulette,” “Song for DennisBrown,” and “September 15 1983” are all about singers who have died of overdoes. If it haunts his songs, it must haunt him. I guess. Maybe that’s where the joy comes from, because as depressing as any Mountain Goats song gets there’s always a glimmer of hope lurking on the horizon.

Though Darnielle has openly stated that though he is a recent father, this isn’t an album about being a father. It is however an album about staying alive, and with a wife and kid in tow, you can tell that Darnielle is just thankful to be around. “Every dream’s a good dream/ Even awful dreams are good dreams/ If you’re doing it right,” he sings on “Harlem Roulette.” There’s an appreciation of existence at work in his songs that elevates them to a level of transcendence. And sure I’m biased, I’ve been a huge fan of the Mountain Goats since the waning years of high school when I heard Atom and His Package’s cover of “Going to Georgia” and followed that tip down that long, tape-hiss laden rabbit hole and found a singer who made ever little fiber of my soul vibrate with a sort of positivity I’d been lacking. And I just don’t think Darnielle has ever let up. Every album is a treat and they’re kind of beyond being assigned trivial ratings. And naturally, Transcendental Youth rules.

Annnd here's JD performing "Harlem Roulette" for Pitchfork. Absolute perfection. The way he looks like a possessed preacher, yeah, I'mma go ahead and be part of THIS religion.

Here's a heartbreakingly lovely solo-piano version of "In Memory of Satan."

And the spectacular opening track that I barely mentioned, "Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1"

Darnielle performed a number of songs from this record with the classical vocal quartet Anonymous 4 in New York months and months back, and here's what "Counterfeit Florida Plates" looked like. (Hint: If your math looked like "JD + Vocal Quartet = Lovely, kind of awkward but a fun twist on the Mountain Goats"then your math was correct).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Coathangers - "Shake Shake" 7"

The Coat Hangers – “Shake Shake” 7”
Suicide Squeeze, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $1

Here we have some sassy ass ladypunk from Atlanta. I remember getting a copy of this on pretty white vinyl from Suicide Squeeze when I was music director at KJ and REALLY wanting to keep it (since half the DJs didn’t know how to use the turntable and another 25% were afraid to use the turntable, and seeing as the other 25% were experienced DJs with special programs and didn’t have to play rotation, well, it just seemed like a waste of time to put in a 7” that would never chart because two people might play it (it sounds like I’m being mean or something, but I’m not even shitting you when I say I knew DJs who told me they were actually afraid of playing a record. “It’s not scary I promise, see you just…” and then I got waved off so whatever). This one though, this one ended going out because my assistant really liked it. I think. Something like that, but it’s cool because I ended up finding a copy of it at Love Garden later on down the line. Listening to it now, I wonder what made me like it so much when now I’m like “it’s pretty good.” And then I remember how wrapped up in twee I was in 2008 and this was very clearly right up that narrow little alley I called “my taste in music circa 2008.” It’s extra good considering that this band started as a joke. They’ve released three albums on Suicide Squeeze since and I remember thinking the first one was pretty good. It’s not gonna win any awards in the innovation department, but it’s good ramshackle fun and listening to “Shake Shake” and the b-side “Dreamboat” I can see why this ended up in rotation: these are the sort of songs you hear on the radio in passing, wonder who it is, and then forget about it before you can check the DJ’s playlist (or, you get home and find out the DJ isn’t logging music because A.) they’re lazy or B.) the software doesn’t work, one or the other. Man, a lot of hate on DJs but SERIOUSLY WHAT IS WITH THE NOT LOGGING MUSIC PEOPLE CHECK THAT SHIT!). I don’t hate the DJs, I just want them to not look at a turntable and say “feh” and instead look at it and be like “OH MAN I CAN’T WAIT TO PLAY SOME VINYL I DON’T CARE IF I OCCASIONALLY FUCK SOMETHING UP BECAUSE THIS IS COLLEGE RADIO!” Now I feel like I need to defend KJHK, which is awesome and though it kind of crushed my soul, it was my fault that I let it crush my soul and once I got out I missed being a DJ. Fortunately great souls like Wake Mitchell and Vince Meserko are still spinning great shows and the eternal Nick Spacek found out how to do what every KJHK lifer has wanted to do: He figured out how to work at KJHK as a grown up. Kudos to Nick! Getting’ to work with the Toje and help those young college kids steer the good ship KJHK into the horizon. Man, I’ve been so nostalgic for Lawrence lately.

SO COOL! I love acoustic versions of crunchy punk songs. There's an X-Ray Spex/Raincoats/Runaways influence I totally didn't notice on full display here. LOVE.