Friday, August 29, 2014

Rilo Kiley - "The Moneymaker" 7"

Rilo Kiley – “The Moneymaker” 7”
Warner Bros, 2007
Acquired: KJHK Music Staff, New, 2007
Price: $0
Rilo Kiley’s final studio album—Under the Blacklight—is a disaster. Gone were the days of sweet, heartfelt and earnest indie pop, as they were trumped by…whatever this was. Lead single “The Moneymaker” is a flat, empty, and trying desperately to be edgy. It’s a boring, by the numbers tune barely fit for a late album filler track and yet, it’s the track they thought best represented Under the Blacklight. It sort of embodies everything I hate about modern pop music, which is the tendency to repeat repeat repeat without offering anything substantial. Considering that Jenny Lewis’s solo records and Blake Sennett’s work with the Elected are so much better than this, it’s an acceptable failure. This sound of a band going through the motions and falling apart. The b-side “Draggin’ Around” is more soulful than anything on the record proper. You know, it’s been so long since I dismissed Under the Blacklight maybe there were some good tracks there and I let “The Moneymaker” ruin my experience. Alas, there are worse things than making a forgettable album.

"The Moneymaker"

"Draggin' Around

Thursday, August 28, 2014


On  Wednesday Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost took to the local talk radio airwaves and ended up making a grievance about fans not showing up for the games. Here’s the quote:

“I mean, what, 13,000 people got to see a great game? . . . We’re in a pennant race, yeah. We’ve been working on trying to build this team for the last three or four years to put ourselves in a position where we can contend for a championship. And not only the division, but we want to contend for a world championship. It’s really, really important we have our fans behind us at the stadium . . . I know there’s different things you can do. You can watch it on the Internet. You can watch it on TV. But there’s a real need for our fans to be a part of this. We had a great crowd last night, and I was kind of hoping we’d have another great crowd tonight, and we really didn’t.”

I think the unanimous response from Kansas City went like this: “Shut the hell up Ned Yost, you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” Do you want to convince the Royals front office to make going to a game affordable for the average person? Do you not understand that you work for a soulless business with the sole design of raking in fat stacks of cash? This isn’t your grandpappy’s baseball, Mr. Yost, where 25 cents bought you admission to the greatest show on earth, peanuts, a cool beverage with enough leftover for the trolley ride back home. A nosebleed seat in the upper deck behind the infield costs $18, which isn’t so bad but then you have to factor in the fees. Kaufman Stadium is located outside of the city, which means you pretty much have to drive out there and pay $11 to park at the Truman Sports Complex. So that plus gas is a nice sized chunk of change if you’re broke and going to a game all on your lonesome and who does that? A garbage hotdog will set you back $4. A coke $6. A beer? Let’s not even bother.

For reference, here is what it would cost for my brother and I to go see the Royals play the lowly Twins tonight (nosebleed seats edition):

The thing Yost doesn’t get is that it’s not chump change, and while I also find it frustrating when I see the stands empty when I’m watching the games on TV, I’m frustrated because I’d gladly go to a game if I could it. The Royals would rather make money by charging an arm and a leg for seats (decent field level seats run $40-60 a piece) than putting butts in them. The Royals do not care about their fans, they care about money. Just like every other sports franchise on the planet. It’s not new. It’s not even wrong. It just is.

The other side of this is that Kansas City hasn’t had a baseball team worth rooting for in 29 years. When the Royals won the World Series in 1985—also the last time they made the playoffs—was the year I was born. I wasn’t even alive to see it, but I like to think I was there in spirit in my mother’s belly. Since then it’s been a shifting state of hopelessness. And still, we loved our team. I was obsessed with baseball as a kid and I was fortunate enough to see George Brett play in the twilight of his career, but there are drawbacks to rooting for a team that never, ever wins. Especially as a kid. I was flipping through a shoebox of old photographs at my parents’ house last week and was amazed at how many photos there were of me sporting Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins gear. Those teams were added to the MLB in 1993, and to me they represented a fresh start. There was something pure and untainted about those teams to my eight-year-old brain.

In 1994 the strike happened and that pretty ended my love affair with professional baseball. The Royals were doing the best they’d ever done since I’d been born and then the season was shut down. I kept playing little league for a couple more years but my team had divided into two factions: the kids who loved the game and the douchebags who wanted to call me a fat piece of shit. Our last game ended with a brawl in our own dugout. One of those memories that will never leave me is standing outside the dugout, watching these kids fight, and telling my dad that I was done with baseball. After that, I got into music (really shitty music, but music nonetheless) and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and that was the end of it.

I started watching baseball again in 2011 when I joined my little brother’s Fantasy Baseball league. All of that deep seeded passion for the game welled up and I was obsessed. I drank in everything I had missed, and though the Royals had a typically Royals season (71-91, 24 games out of first place in the division), it was nice to see the team nurturing its young talent instead of selling them off as soon as they got good (see: And other reasons it was painful to be a Royals fan for years and years). In 2012 I was in Minnesota but watched as many games as I could via MLB.TV and for once, they had a shot at the playoffs! It was a dream! A long shot, but more hope than any Kansas Citian had dared to foster in 25 years. We moved back to Kansas in September of 2013 and as we were driving into Kansas City I caught the tail end of their last home game of the season on the radio. The Royals were down, bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded. Justin Maxwell came to the plate and hit a grand slam. I started to cry. They were out of the playoffs run by then, but it felt so, so good to be home.

This season has been the absolute best. All the cynicism for the game I developed when I realized the harsh realities of the money game via the strike in 1994 melted away and I just enjoyed a young team that was there to compete. Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, Omar Infante, Moose, Greg Holland, James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, even the once and former garbage fire Wade Davis! These are my guys. When the season started, I would listen to the games on the radio via my phone at the lowest volume pressed to my ear whilst holding my infant daughter as she slept. I tried hard not to jostle her too much when they won. Midseason my father in law sprung for the KC sports package via Dish Network and there’s something wonderful about coming home from work and turning on the game and watching the Kansas City Royals play absolutely fantastic baseball.

This year, the Royals are gutting it out. Their young pitchers are coming into their own, their veterans are holding steady and leading the team, Greg Holland is the greatest shut down closer in the game, and even though I worry that Alex Gordon is putting his season at risk diving for fly balls and running into walls, my heart jumps every time he catches one of those harrowing flies. I love this team, and the fact that they are 17 games over .500 is almost too much to handle. Even if they blow the rest of the season, this is more hope than I’ve ever had for the Royals. Honestly, my hope caps out at them making the playoffs. I can’t even think about them getting to the World Series. I honestly can’t fathom the situation. I can see them making the AL Championship Series. Winning the pennant would be the greatest thing I had ever seen as a sports fan. It would be a dream.

I don’t think Ned Yost understands what it’s like to be let down for decades. This quick turnaround from worst to first has left folks a little gun shy. We’ve been duped before, why is this time any different? It’s promising, but you can’t expect folks to go out in droves to the games. The stadium is still out in the boonies and games are expensive, and while I wish I had been there the other night to see Alex Gordon’s walk-off homer, I can’t afford it. But I’ve been trying to find a game me and my brother can attend. I’m willing to put tickets on the credit card to be a part of this glorious run.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Jay Reatard/Deerhunter - Split 7"

Jay Reatard/Deerhunter – “Flourescent Grey”/”Oh, It’s Such a Shame” Split 7”
Matador, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $6

As the scarcity of the 7”s rose, so did the price, which correlated with a severe dip in my interest. $6 for a seven-inch is fucking insane from a numbers point (That’s $3 a song, where a long player runs about $1.50 a song assuming an average of 12 tracks and ballooned $18 list price). Still, I was committed, having already purchased the first three sevens in Jay Reatard’s 2008 Matador seven-inch series, and even though I don’t consider myself a Collector collector, that was the mindset I was in when I bought this. The $6 for a seven-inch racket exists to woo hardcore collectors. It’s something exclusive. It’s like finding all the gaps in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or collecting all the hidden flags in Assassin’s Creed: totally superfluous. At least from a music stand point, since when am I ever going to just put on a seven-inch? That’s just me personally, though. It’s more a piece of art than a delivery system for jams. Still, this is a beautiful little piece of art. The vinyl is split pink and black to fit the overall packaging scheme and looks absolutely delicious. Oh yeah, and there’s music too, I guess. Reatard covers Deerhunter’s “Flourescent Grey” and makes it creepier than the already pretty creepy original. Deerhunter covers Reatard’s “Oh, It’s Such a Shame” and they do a really fantastic job with it. Deerhunter has always been one of those bands I’ve failed to connect with, despite enjoying their albums. They bring a surprising amount of gravitas to Reatard’s garage rock banger. I’m not usually one for big, instrumental pieces to close out a track, but the blanket of processed guitars Deerhunter lay down over the last minute or so of this cover is exceedingly pleasant. They steal the show, on Reatard’s own seven-inch, and maybe that was the point. You’ve also gotta love the trollingly homoerotic cover, too.

Jay Reatard - "Flourescent Grey"

Deerhunter - "Oh, It's Such a Shame"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

B-Side Worship: Frightened Rabbit - "Boxing Night"

Frightened Rabbit – “Boxing Night”
"State Hospital" EP, 2012
As much as I love Frightened Rabbit (which is a whole fucking lot), I’ve always found their b-sides to be a little throwaway…which is sort of the whole essence of a b-side, so no harm done. But “Boxing Night,” from the State Hospital EP is a marvelous exception. The picture Scott Hucthison paints of the day after Christmas is perfect, and with pure Frightened Rabbit (read: Scottish) glumness:

Boxing night
I celebrate in style, in boxer shorts and spirits
Floor littered with ghosts of bottles past
There’s a naked hush, clothed only in breath and a pulse
Of a heart that is kicking as though it is desperate to be born

Jesus Christ.

Good Glasgow could burn to its timber tonight, I’d barely blink an eye.

Hutchison’s songwriting is prized for his brutal understanding of agony, and the lilt of this song almost feels like a sick joke. It’s fantastic. Absolutely terrific. The little acoustic guitar line that runs through this track practically bounces. The choruses swell into these big, optimistic triumphs with ethereal backing vocals and a glorious sense of fulfillment. Somehow, Hutchison has found a way to be bleak without being depressing, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why he’s one of the best songwriters out there.

Hutchison recently released his first solo effort under the moniker Owl John and it's morose and terrific. I've been wallowing in it for the last month. Review forthcoming. Here's one of my favorite tracks, "Los Angeles, Be Kind."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Gut Feeling: The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Matador, 2014
The New Pornographers are making records like there are other bands vying for the title of finest power pop band of the 21st Century. As usual, no one even comes close to matching the explosive, soulful, and devastatingly hooky pop Carl Newman and company have been crafting since the turn of the century. Their last two records—2007’s Challengers and 2010’s Together—were understated, democratic affairs, that were enjoyable but seemingly shooting for loftier emotional payoff rather than pop majesty. Brill Bruisers is their most undeniable record since their 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema and a mighty return to form.

Has it really been almost ten years since Twin Cinema? That record is still so fresh in my mind. Driving down I-35, blaring it the day it came out, understanding that it was going to be my favorite record of the year. Undeniable. The kind of music with a direct line to that kinetic link between my heart and mind. Nine years later I’m driving down the same highway, listening to Brill Bruisers, and feeling that same satisfaction. And I’m thinking Brill Bruisers is the better album. It just feels like a classic.

While a lot of what I love about Brill Bruisers is rooted in a gut-level appreciation for the booming guitars and lovely harmonies, but have been actively tricking my brain into appreciating all of the elements that went into making this immensely satisfying record. First, it’s a wonderful blend of something old and something new. The aforementioned full-bodied guitars that morph into a big wall of sound at will are like sonic comfort food, but it’s worth mentioning that Neko Case and Dan Bejar are coming off the best albums of their respective careers and there’s something about Brill Bruisers that feels like an All Star Game, but with actual stakes. Carl Newman (who is also coming off the best solo album of his career) plays ringleader, effortlessly corralling all of these elements like a master alchemist.

The Neko led “Champions of Red Wine” is buoyed by sparkling synthesizers and despite having throaty, driving guitars backing her up, it’s the album’s most intimate moment. The crunchy guitars that anchor two thirds of Dan Bejar’s tracks are perhaps the furthest thing form the euro disco vibe on his latest album as destroyer, Kaputt. “Born with a Sound” oscillates between heavy verses and effervescent choruses thanks to the sweetness of Kathryn Calder’s co-vocals. His other stand-out track is the album’s single “War on the East Coast” which is a delightful bit of fun with menacing guitars and the busy synthesizers that tie the whole album together.

There are so many treats on Brill Bruisers that it’s impossible to list them all. The ELO inspired vocoded vocals on “Backstairs.” The token late album change-of-pace track “Wide Eyes” features the album’s best interplay between Case and Newman and it’s just nonchalantly tucked away! Slow burning closer “You Tell Me Where” ends the album the way all New Pornographers albums end: with big, satisfying harmonies and perfect synthesis. It’s amazing this group is still together, considering how successful Neko Case and Dan Bejar have become in their own careers. Still, after 14+ years, maybe it’s inertia keeping these guys together. And in that case, thank god for inertia. I don’t expect this album to grow, not really. They don’t have to evolve. I look forward to their albums because I know I’m going to get the best, soul satisfying power pop the modern music world has to offer and yet here I am, delightfully surprised that the group has somehow gotten better. I’m going to appreciate it while it lasts, which will hopefully be a long long time.

"War on the East Coast"

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jay Reatard - "Always Wanting More" 7"

Jay Reatard – “Always Wanting More” 7”
Matador, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $5
Pulling this one from its sleeve, I forgot this one was one was on clear vinyl with neon primary colors painted in streaks on the B-side. It got my heart racing! And then the track kicked in and my heart kept racing because “Always Wanting More” is the best. Sure, it was the first track from Reatard’s 2008 singles series that I heard (on a Matador compilation on the way back from SXSW that year) so there’s some sentimental attachment. It was the first song of Reatards that stopped me in my tracks. It’s the purest distillation of what Reatard does so well: big, chiming riffs; barreling garage rock with a pop singer’s mentality; earwormy hooks. It’s super satisfying and relistenable. B-side “You Mean Nothing to Me” borrows the warbly synthesizer from “An Ugly Death” but neglects to channel that song’s spunk. Maybe it’s just the scales balancing and we just have to deal with the series’ catchiest song being paired with its most forgettable.

"Always Wanting More"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Covered Up: Neko Case - "Madonna of the Wasps" (Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians)

Neko Case – “Madonna of the Wasps” (Robyn Hitchcock)
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You B-Side, 2013

There was a time, five or six years ago, where I was an absolute nut for Robyn Hitchcock’s Fegmania!. I think it had something to do with Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy citing Hitchcock as an influence. I played a track from that album every week for a semester on KJHK. “Another Bubble,” “My Wife & My Dead Wife,” “I’m Only You,” actually, the whole first side of that album was on rotation. Despite my devotion to that record, I never picked up another Hitchcock album, which seems totally insane. Leave it to a fantastic cover to reopen the door to Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians. I didn’t know “Madonna of the Wasps” was a cover when I first listened to the b-sides from Neko Case’s latest album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, and that’s probably a good thing. Her rendition of my favorite Harry Nilsson track—“Don’t Forget Me,” featured on Middle Cyclone—was a huge disappointment. This one, however, is just so wonderful. Without even listening to the original, I can hear Case and the band channeling the jangly guitars and wobbly synthesizers of the late 80s. M. Ward provides soulful counter vocals that play so well with Case’s, which is no surprise since their vocal interplay on The Worse Things Get… is one of the myriad elements that make that album a masterpiece.

Listening to the original for the first time was like meeting up with an old friend after years of separation. Hitchcock’s buttery, yet lightly idiosyncratic vocals, and those beautiful jangly 80s guitar tones are pure magic. It’s just flabbergasting that I didn’t think to rip Hitchcock’s entire catalog when I was at KJ. It was all there on the shelf, even Queen Elvis, from which “Madonna of the Wasps” is culled. Beautiful, slightly dark, but cut through with that shimmering riff and infinitely replayable with its three-minute running time that feels way too short. Three-minutes is the perfect length for a song, and I’ve wasted so many words railing against bands who feel the need to repeat the same verses and choruses over and over again, but I could listen to this track forever.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jay Reatard - "Painted Shut" 7"

Jay Reatard – “Painted Shut” 7”
Matador, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $5
How Reatard and Matador decided the A and B-sides seems to have been an arbitrary process, because the rather rote garage rocker “Painted Shut” absolutely pales in comparison to b-side “An Ugly Death.” A spooky synthesizer sets a creepy, Halloween-y vibe that carries through the verses and reappears in the chorus to lend the bouncy hook a hand. I just listened to “Painted Shut” a minute ago and I’ve already forgotten what it sounds like, but “An Ugly Death” is one of my favorite tracks from Jay Reatard’s 2008 singles series. Sure, it’s garage-y like the rest of ‘em but it’s the most fun track of the lot.

"An Ugly Death"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

B-SIde Worship: The Get Up Kids - "Central Standard Time"

The Get Up Kids – “Central Standard Time”
Vagrant, 1999

One of the earliest memories I have from when my wife and I started dating was seeing the 7” split the Get Up Kids and the Anniversary did together on her dining room table…melted to form a cute little bowl. I don’t even remember what was in the bowl. Probably nothing, which made me even more frustrated. “How could you!” I think I asked, incredulous. We’ve been together ever since. Coming of age in Kansas City in the late 90s/early 00s, the Get Up Kids were all we had. Outside of the area they are typically met with derision by people who think they know better, but around here they’re basically an institution. Fucking beloved. “Central Standard Time” is a perfect b-side, because though it was recorded along with the rest of their 1999 emo masterpiece Something to Write Home About, it has a lot more in common with the songs on their debut Four Minute Mile. It’s a fine track seemingly built for a split 7” where it doesn’t have to worry about not fitting in. I feel like I’m giving this song a pep talk. “Hey! Don’t listen to them! So what if they’re wearing fancier shoes and are dressed in fancier clothes, you do your own thing. Just be yourself and someday, you’ll show them all!” Ok, maybe this song isn’t going to show anyone anything. It’s a footnote in the Get Up Kids discography, and it’s not even their best b-side (that would definitely be “Mass Pike”), but it’s so damn catchy that you can almost forgive them for inspiring Fall Out Boy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jay Reatard - "See/Saw" 7"

Jay Reatard – “See/Saw” 7”
Matador, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $4
“See/Saw” was my introduction to the late Jay Reatard and his immediately satisfying ramshackle garage-rock. Actually, that’s not true. I heard “Always Wanting More” first on a Matador compilation highlighting all the cool shit they were releasing in 2008. “See/Saw” was the first of six seven-inches released in 2008 (“Always Wanting More” was third) and, despite not really buying seven-inches at the time, I was buying scads of records and liked “Always Wanting More” enough to take a flyer on Memphis’s latest musical genius. “See/Saw” is fantastic, and so is the B-side “Screaming Hand,” and really, so are most of the tracks from his 2008 seven-inch series (I have changed my tune since I wrote up the compilation collecting all of the seven-inch songs five years ago, and of course I don’t have it anymore, drag). I don’t know if Reatard heralded the grungy garage rock revival that exploded in the late 00s and still haunts us today, but he was one of its brightest stars and the only one I could listen to without having my eyes glass over. The hooks are just phenomenal, and somehow the production sounds professional and gritty at the same time. It’s a ridiculous shame that Matador released fewer and fewer copies of each successive seven-inch because I bought the first four and it was absolutely impossible to get my hands on the other two without having to do commit some sort of debauchery, which I’d do for GBV or the Hold Steady but not for Jay Reatard. Still, these two tracks are absolute killers.


"Screaming Hand"

Friday, August 15, 2014

Modern Baseball/The Hundred Acre Woods - Split 7"

Modern Baseball/The Hundred Acre Woods – Split 7”
Lame-O, 2013 (Clear Vinyl)
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2014
Price: $1.50
Philly emo/pop-punk wizards Modern Baseball’s latest album—You’re Gonna Miss it All—was my favorite surprise of the year so far. So when this 7” and a copy of their first album—Sports—came into the store I immediately scooped them up. Their tracks on this split with fellow Philadelphians The Hundred Acre Woods are quieter than the upbeat overshare gems from their records, but it’s nice seeing the softer side of such a bratty (I mean that lovingly) band. Even if one of the tracks is an acoustic version of Sports standout “Re-Do.” Split-exclusive “(240)” starts soft but builds into a prime piece of emo-revival fare (“She melted and I got her all over my shoes”). The Hundred Acre Woods are quite a bit more sensitive than Modern Baseball (or at least wear their heart more prominently on their sleeve) and lean more toward capital-E Emo opposed to the post-hardcore/pop-punk infused hybrids that have emerged seemingly from nowhere in the past couple of years. I dig it though. Sad dudes is sort of my thing.

Modern Baseball - "(240)"

The Hundred Acre Woods - "All I Love"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Covered Up: The Mountain Goats - "Pet Politics" (Silver Jews)

The Mountain Goats – “Pet Politics” (Silver Jews)
The Believer Music Issue, 2005

Take a band I already love and adore (The Mountain Goats) and have them cover a band I’ve heard of, but never given a chance because the recordings I heard sounded like garbage (Silver Jews’ The Arizona Record) and you basically have indie rock alchemy. “Pet Politics” makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen to David Berman’s poetry. Even through the conduit of John Darnielle, the apocalyptic essence of this song remains intact. I immediately got TheNatural Bridge and its follow-up, AmericanWater, but it was the latter that blew my mind. Just broke it wide open and showed me the beautiful mind of America’s best contemporary songwriter. Ever since I could appreciate music, I’ve been chasing the feeling that comes with discovering a band that you’re going to carry with you the rest of your life. This cover is good, but there’s a weight that Berman brings to the original that just can’t be replaced by anyone.

Silver Jews - "Pet Politics"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Black Flag - "TV Party" 7"

Black Flag – “TV Party” 7”
SST/ Unicorn, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2014
Price: $3

Black Flag’s ripping bit of satire against a generation glued to their televisions unable to talk about anything but their favorite shows feels eerily applicable to thse modern times where people can’t even take their eyes off their phones to drive their fucking cars. Or take their eyes off of there computer screens where they sit reading commentaries on 30 year old seven-inch records. The greatest feat of “TV Party” isn’t its satire, but that it’s a fucking blast. Just a joy to listen to. A group of punker dudes having a ball. The Chuck Dukowski loops around like someone stumbling around a room and the hilarious chant-a-long lines like “Don’t talk about anything else/ We don’t wanna know!/ We’re dedicated/ To our favorite shows!” make you want to chant right along with the gang. The icing on the cake is the shouted television programs that litter the song (“Dallas!” “Monday Night Football!”). The B-Sides “I’ve Got to Run” and “My Rules” are a couple of Damaged b-sides that have a little bit of My War on them. Fun fact: Five years ago I compared “Loose Nut” to a drunk guy stumbling around the room! I don’t know whether this is the universe trying to tell me something, or I’ve got one simile for cyclical music made by schlubs.

"TV Party"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

B-Side Worship: Superchunk - "Home at Dawn"

Superchunk – “Home at Dawn”
Snap! Crackle! Punk!, 1994

Superchunk have a lot of fucking fantastic fist-pumping anthems. They’re the flagship jams that people think of when they think of Superchunk. “Slack Motherfucker.” “Precision Auto.” “Hyper Enough.” “Detroit Has a Skyline.” These are all songs that are very near and dear to me, but my favorite Superchunk song is one of their least fist-pumpy songs, “Home at Dawn.” It’s special for a few reasons, a big one being I’d never heard it until I randomly found it on vinyl at Love Garden, took it home, threw it on the turntable, and proceeded to listen to it twenty times. I couldn’t get enough. I still can’t get enough. It’s one of those songs I’ll listen to on repeat. The way that guitar line reels with the character in the story Mac is telling us. The embarrassment of walking home after spending most of the night with someone. Probably hungover. Definitely hungover. It’s so beautifully realized, it puts you right there. On that sidewalk, stumbling over the bricks as the sun starts to creep over the horizon. No traffic on a usually busy street. Everything simultaneously new and ending, locked in a loop. I’ve already covered this song on this blog already, but I love it so much I’m covering it again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Purple Ivy Shadows - Circle Psychic Baby EP

Purple Ivy Shadows – Circle Psychic Baby EP
Spin Art, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.25
Dream pop gets its name because it’s dreamy. Shimmering, sparkling, low energy but brimming with beauty. Purple Ivy Shadows make music that sounds like it’s coming from an actual dream. It has dreamy elements, but the hypnotic A-side “Psychic, Baby” sounds like something out of a weird dream. Not necessarily pretty, and actually maybe a little unsettling. It’s a strange track, especially in comparison to the B-side “Circleye” which has the shimmery, dreamy dream pop/shoegaze quality I was talking about with a little jangly guitar thrown in to date it somewhere circa 1993. 1994? Yep, 1994. That said, the songs on this 7” are quite lovely. The Providence, RI group released five albums between 1997 and 2002, which is impressive. The most fascinating aspect of this 7” for me is that it was engineered by Dave Auchenbach who eerily has produced/engineered a bunch of the 7”s in my collection (see also: Honeybunch “Count Your Blessings,” Small Factory (with whom he played guitar), the first Kind of Like Spitting record, the second Versus record). Ok, not that many, but enough to where I recognize his name and can give a silent nod of respect to his page on Discogs.

"Feeble" (from the band's 1997 album No Less the Trees Than the Stars)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
Barsuk, 2003 (2013 Reissue)
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2014
Price: $7.50
The only thing you need to know about my relationship is that, in the late summer of 2005, I listened to this at top volume in my new bedroom at my first apartment while hammering together a shitty particle board dresser at midnight. All while singing along and getting very emotional. It was an emotional time, the first time I’d dealt with relationship-y relationship drama since high school. Because there is no line that fits your complicated relationship drama like “I NEED YOU SO MUCH CLOSER.” I also drew a comic comparing my relationships with Death Cab for Cutie songs that was never finished because it kept evolving and by the time I met Jenny it was the most embarrassing thing I’d ever created. Most of the songs were culled from Transatlanticism, because of course they were. No album in recent memory really captures all of the embarrassing sadness of suburban white kids falling in love.

And as a suburban white kid, I have a special place in my heart for Death Cab for Cutie’s best, most complete album (but only if you discount The Postal Service’s Give Up, which is the best Death Cab album Death Cab didn’t make). This thing oozes with sentimentality, and my sentimental attachment to it makes it hard to analyze it with any sense of objectivity. Transatlanticism has some cringe-worthy moments. The lyric sheet for “Title & Registration” and the unbearably awful earworm of “The Sound of Settling” are rough. It also has some big, dramatic grand gestures like the build and break in “Expo ‘86” and one of the album’s truest, most affecting tracks “We Looked Like Giants,” which cuts through all the sad sack shit with lines like “We looked like giants in the back of my gray subcompact/ Fumbling to make contact as the others slept inside.” The spare closer “A Lack of Color” delivers twenty times more emotional impact than the title track that feels structured to make your heartstrings bend and break. It caps an album that, while not traditionally Emo, might as well be because goddamn, so many emotions.

Though sentimentality reigns, it’s not really a bad thing. Or I can’t really recognize it as a bad thing. Like I said, I sang along to “Transatlanticism” while hammering tiny nails into the back of a dresser. That shit was deeply felt. But my favorite tracks on the album were the ones like “We Looked Like Giants” and “Tiny Vessels.” Those tracks captured the ugliness of young love in a way that contrasts so nicely with lines like “When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride/ When you need directions, then I’ll be the guide for all time.” There’s nothing sexy or sweet about a line like “You touch her skin and then you think/ That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.” But it’s that ugly truth that makes Transatlanticism live and breathe. It’s a messy document about the inherently messy nature of love between the ages of 15 and 25. It’s inherently built for the nascent emotions of high school kids, but like a good young adult novel there’s enough truth in it for anyone to enjoy. I put all this emotional stuff behind me when Jenny and I started dating, but I still love this album, and I love looking back at all the heartbreak, all the awkward first dates, and all the uncoordinated emotionally fraught fooling around that occasionally dotted my late teens and early twenties. It was ugly, but it deserves respect because its through all that awkward and depressing stuff that you mature and make yourself ready to be an actual partner to someone instead of putting them on a pedestal or being a total dick.
Sometimes I think I’d like to reach through time and tell my angsty 17 year old self “Hey, it’s gonna be OK” because when I was 17 all I wanted was for my grown-up self to reach back in time and say, “Hey, it’s gonna be OK. You’re gonna marry your soulmate and you’re gonna have the most beautiful little baby, but you’ve gotta get through all this stupid, childish romance stuff before you can learn what love really is.” When I was at my worst, that’s what I wanted most: some sort of verification that things would work out and that I could worry a little less when waiting around for so and so to call. It’s why I want to be a young adult novelist and why everything I write automatically heads in the direction of hyper-emotional 18 year olds. I just want to say “Hey, it’s gonna be OK.” It's pretty much impossible for me to separate this album from the last ten years, and a lot of people feel the same way. It's not dated, per se, but it draws up the big fat feelings of younger, more vulnerable years.


"Tiny Vessels"

"A Lack of Color"

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Covered Up: Julia Holter - "Don't Make Me Over"

Julia Holter – “Don’t Make Me Over” (Dionne Warwick)
Domino, 2014

Julia Holter’s most recent albums—2012’s Ekstasis and 2013’s Loud City Song—are what gets classified as “bedtime music” in my brain. Both are fascinating, inventive works that can hold their own against the experimental vocal pop of Bjork, Kate Bush, and Laurie Anderson; but I am a broken man. I am too impatient to seriously sit and listen to record that need to be seriously sat and listened to. Loud City Song has so much going for it! Not only does it feel like a a scintillating blend of the three above mentioned artists, but there is an obvious vitality surging through that record. It took a cover song to understand that, as is often the case. I have discovered (or come to understand) so many artists based on covers they’ve performed or other bands covering their songs. Julia Holter’s cover of the Dionne Warwick classic “Don’t Make Me Over” is a sleepy showstopper. You can hear every single syllable rolling off her tongue, and in her voice you can hear the entire history of female vocal pop music unfolding. There’s an obvious adoration of 60s R&B (also evidenced by the b-side and Loud City Song album track, the Barbara Lewis cover “Hello Stranger”) but you can hear shades of Nico and Dusty Springfield too. Like any great cover, Holter’s spare rendition of “Don’t Make Me Over” preserves the essence of the original while putting her own stamp on it.

Here's Dionne Warwick's original, penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Potholder - "Unsure" 7"

Potholder – “Unsure” 7”
Pop Bus Records, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.25
“1992? 1993? Somewhere in the early 90s, for sure.” That was the first thought I had when I heard the noisy guitar squall and the thumping bass of “Unsure.” 1994 was the correct answer. I was close, but three years in the early 90s might as well have been an eternity because the grunge ship had mostly sailed by this point leaving hundreds upon hundreds of newfound alt-rock bands in its wake. Potholder plays a crunchy brand of noise rock with a bit of a grunge hangover. Naturally, like many of these seven-inch records I scooped up years ago, there is very little information about Potholder on the internet (and, also naturally, tough shit finding a song to share). Today everything is preserved, and I think I love these 90s alt-rock sevens so much because I know I am the only person on the planet listening to this record at this very moment (and maybe the only person who has listened to this record in years, who knows). It’s not like I’m fetishizing the obscure, it’s more like breathing life into this thing that’s been dormant for a decade and getting a vivid image of this time period through the music.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

B-Side Worship: The Mountain Goats - "New Chevrolet in Flames"

The Mountain Goats – “New Chevrolet in Flames”
"See America Right" Single, 4AD, 2002

Like clockwork, every new Mountain Goats record produces at least 2-6 b-sides, most of which any other band would use as a lead single on their latest album. John Darnielle is no mere mortal. Or wait, yes he is, that is part of his appeal. He’s the everyman who apparently never stops writing. Just a normal guy with a prolific streak that gives Bob Pollard a run for his money. I’ll be covering a lot of Mountain Goats tracks hroughout this feature promoting great B-Sides, but “New Chevrolet in Flames” from the Tallahassee sessions is not only my favorite MTN GTS B-Side, but my favorite B-Side of all time. It helps that Tallahassee is my favorite album and that the Mountain Goats are one of my favorite bands. It also has one of my favorite lyrics: “Oh would that you would kiss me/ With the kisses of your mouth/ Because your mouth is sweeter than wine and has a more complicated history than the American South.” AND THIS TRACK WAS BURIED IN THE “SEE AMERICA RIGHT” SINGLE! This lovely tale of getting drunk on Colorado Bulldogs (effectively a White Russian with Coca-Cola added. After falling hard for this song, I spent a period of three months asking bartenders if they knew how to make one. Most didn’t, except one guy in Austin, who made me one of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever had) and setting a car on fire is a masterpiece.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Gut Feeling: Mac Demarco - Salad Days

Mac Demarco – Salad Days
Captured Tracks, 2014
Mac Demarco’s guitar sounds sick. Not like, “Sick brah,” sick, like in bed with a head cold sick. The easygoing riffs somehow find a way to shimmer despite sounding like they’re wrapped in gauze and played on the worst guitar in the world. Though Demarco’s tendency for raunchiness in a live setting precedes him, the image of Mac Demarco the prankster/goofball/dipshit contrasts sharply with Mac Demarco the pop genius. This motherfucker can write a motherfucking song.

Or 34 songs, for that matter. That’s how many songs he’s released in the last three years over three successive albums (2012’s Rock and Roll Night Club and 2013’s 2). Each one has been a strange, murky, hard-to-put-a-finger on blend of lo-fi bedroom pop injected with a healthy dose of total weirdness, slacker vibes oozing from slack guitars, and pure animal magnetism. I cannot stop listening to Salad Days. It’s pretty much a perfect summer record. I’ve been listening to it at work in the mornings, in the basement shooting pool on my father in law’s uneven pool table, in the car, on the back deck watching the sunset. It’s just been following me around like a mangy dog that you can’t help but love.

All of this would just be your common Brooklyn bedroom bullshit if it weren’t for Demarco’s knack for pairing his hazy, tuneful gems with surprisingly insightful, if simple, lyrics. My two favorite tracks on the record—“Let Her Go” and “Treat Her Better”—are perfect little bad boyfriend songs. Maybe I’ve just been in too many of those conversations where a buddy is telling me that he doesn’t know if he wants to be with a lady and had words like “Tell her that you love her/ If you really love her/ But if your heart just ain’t sure/ Let her go” or “Treat her better boy/ If having her around is something you enjoy.” He’s not gonna win any songwriting competitions, but the sentiment is refreshing in a songwriting world of “she done me wrong” and fuck you songs.

Salad Days is the most complete work yet from who has found a way to balance being prolific and improving on each consecutive release, and I’m sure at this rate his next album will be another gem as well. It’s not a masterpiece, but it gives me the impression that Demarco definitely has a masterpiece in him and we will probably be hearing it sooner rather than later. Demarco’s complete deconstruction of the Pop Song is marvelous, and the arsenal of earworms on this one is truly impressive.

RIYL: Ween, Real Estate with a lobotomy, A Scuzzier Jonathan Richman

"Let Her Go"

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gut Feeling: Happyness - Weird Little Birthday

Happyness – Weird Little Birthday
Weird Smiling, 2014
My notes for UK trio Happyness’s debut LP consist solely of a list of bands Happyness clearly hold near and dear to their hearts. Sparklehorse, Wilco, Eels, Yo La Tengo. There are more, but after crossreferencing this list with other reviews of the band, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one that thought Happyness act is a bit of pastiche. That’s not a burn, though, because one of my favorite new bands of the last five years—fellow Brits Yuck—released a debut that culled all the best parts of 90s indie rock and delivered it in a way that made me forget the sum of the band’s influences entirely. They synthesized the feel of Pavement and the like and reignited that part of my heart that loved the way those songs felt and made me feel. Happyness do the same damn thing and warm the particular cockles of my heart tuned into American lo-fi ramshackle pop music.

But really, I should let it be known that this band really sounds like Sparklehorse. And “Naked Pictures” sounds like it could have been a b-side from Wilco’s Summerteeth (there’s also the lyric “there’s something in you bloodier than blood” on a later album track). The downtrodden “Pumpkin Noir” plays like every Eels track that wasn’t “Novocain For the Soul.” But as the guitars jangle on, and as the influences become mixed and morph into this band’s personality, I find myself enjoying this weird little album more and more. I get the feeling that these guys are more than capable of crawling out from under the shadow of their heroes. Regardless, Weird Little Birthday is pretty damn infectious and delightful and when they're at their best (the aching penultimate track "Lofts" is a wonderfully sad, wonderfully written piece of mope pop and sounds like someone has gone over it with a highlighter) they cut right through your heart. 

"Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same"

"Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy)"