Tuesday, September 30, 2014

B-SIde Worship: Yuck - "Coconut Bible"

Yuck – “Coconut Bible”
Yuck B-Side, Fat Possum, 2011

I still haven’t gotten over Daniel Blumberg’s departure from Yuck. Listening to the B-Sides from the band’s sterling debut, it just makes the letdown that was Glow & Behold sting a little more. Still, the b-sides are satisfying enough to warrant the feeling of salt in wound. “Coconut Bible” is the best of them, and captures the crunchy, 90s alt rock throwback sound that made Yuck my favorite album of 2011. The guitars are equal parts distortion and chiming and the melody is pure pop gold. Blumberg’s new project, Hebronix, inspires the same bummer emotions as Glow & Behold and illustrates the alchemy of what could happen when all of these people worked together. Here’s hoping for a surprise reunion that will probably never ever happen!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Slumber Party - Mailorder Freak 7" Singles Club

Slumber Party – Mailorder Freak 7” Singles Club
Kill Rock Stars, 1999
Acquired: Mail Order, New, 2002 (?)
Price: $2?
I know for a fact that this is one of the first seven-inch records that I owned. I also know that I don’t know where the hell it came from. I know mail order was involved, and I am fairly certain that it came free when I ordered something from Kill Rock Stars’ website. I’m thinking it was probably Elliott Smith’s eponymous LP, but don’t quote me on that. Slumber Party’s hazy female-fronted indie pop a la the Aislers Set, a more sedate Black Tambourine, or a less edgy Breeders is right up my alley and I really enjoy the beautiful basicness of these tracks. It’s simple and pretty and not without substance (although there’s not a lot that sticks, there’s something to be said for tracks that are pleasant in the moment). This is the December installment of KRS’s Mailorder Freak 7” Singles Club. Maybe I purchased it as a “Random 7” add-on to my order. I had just started collecting records in the very early 00s and I know the prospect of paying a buck or two for some random single would have appealed to me. Actually, that still appeals to me. Every record label should offer that! What a great way to clean house!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sleep Capsule - "In Half" 7"

Sleep Capsule – “In Half” 7”
Sub Pop, 1996
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1
Coming in at the very tail end of the grunge boom, Sleep Capsule mightily roll out four crunchy, throaty tunes that bleed between punk, noise rock, and the aforementioned destroyer, Grunge. These songs drip with the sound of Seattle. If you ever watch Sunday Night Football and the Seahawks are playing at home, they ALWAYS roll out grunge tunes when they go to and come back from commercial break. Usually with a shot of the Puget Sound or the Space Needle. It’s like whoever is programming the broadcast Googles “SEATTLE” and uses cultural landmarks to pepper up the broadcast. SHOW THAT DUDE THROWING THE FISH AT THE FISH MARKET! You know what I mean? Anyway, every time that happens, I go “Oh yeah, grunge.” A genre I missed entirely by virtue of being a child. I started paying attention to music in the radio-friendly, post grunge alternative rock boom, where I bought cds by bands like the Gin Blossoms, Dishwalla, and Third Eye Blind, listened to the single, and didn’t ever bother to venture into the rest of the album (with the exception of Smashmouth’s Fush Yu Mang, which was the first album I loved). I didn’t care about albums until way later, and for good reason: those late 90s alt-rock radio friendly albums were mostly shit. There were some good ones (Dynamite Hack, best known for their white-boy cover of “Boys in the Hood,” had a bunch of other fast, fun, power-pop tunes that their label just didn’t know what to do with because that’s what happens when you establish yourself with a joke song) but honestly, the people making albums in 1997 were indie bands that I had absolutely no access to because A.) The internet barely existed and I don’t even think Napster was around, muchless a reputable music blog to hip my absolute beginner’s brain to the good shit B.) I didn’t really care enough about music to seek out Pavement or Guided by Voices or Sonic Youth because MTV didn’t play music videos and even when they did they rarely played bands on Matador, Sub Pop, or Merge and C.) CDs were expensive and, if I was going to use my allowance to buy one, I was going to buy, like, Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits or make my dad drive me to Sam Goody to buy Blink-182’s Dude Ranch (although Blink-182 was the band that got me into punk rock, and thus actively enjoying music, my first encounter with them was my guitar teacher spending a half hour of our hour long lesson writing down the tab for “Dammit” on a legal pad and me feeling incredibly naughty because there’s a line in that song that says “He fucked her” and me going “THIS IS SO EDGY!”). I digress. It must have been awesome to have been in one’s twenties in the 90s. Maybe I fetishize that music because, for one reason or another, it’s what I respond to and love with every fiber of my being (Superchunk, Pavement, GBV, the Lemonheads, all that stuff). I can’t explain it, but I’m sure a psychologist could find the latent reasons why I’m obsessed with heyday-era indie rock. Sleep Capsule don’t blow my mind, but they do capture the era perfectly. The grunge elements are still ever present in the almost metal sounding chunky guitar riffs, but they have a lot of elements that are hallmarks of the noisier side of indie rock. Dissonance, a lot of screaming, and more! There’s vital energy coursing through the four songs of this 7” and while it’s a little outside of my wheelhouse, I can definitely appreciate it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

B-Side Worship: Wilco - "Cars Can't Escape"

Wilco – “Cars Can’t Escape”
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Engineer’s Demos, 2002

Yesterday afternoon I gave Jeff Tweedy’s new solo album (Sukierae, under the moniker Tweedy) a listen and it put Wilco on the brain. My relationship with Wilco is a long and storied one that I’ve chronicled here every time I task myself with writing about one of the band’s albums. At first I hated them, didn’t understand what all the fuss about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was about (this was 2003, when I was 17 and pretty stupid). Then at some point in college (circa 2005, when I was 19 and still pretty stupid) it clicked and I became obsessed. In terms of a piece of American music, I think it stands right up there with Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited or the Ramones eponymous debut or NWA's Straight Outta Compton in terms of being a record that is quintessentially American. Though recorded before 9/11 (which, fittingly, was the album’s original release date) if you listen to the lyrics of “Ashes of American Flags” or “Jesus Etc,” it seems as if YHF ushered in the post-9/11 age we are currently a part of. After 2007’s Sky Blue Sky my rabid Wilco fandom petered out, but I still worship Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Once I’d thoroughly devoured the album, I sought out the demos, and then the engineer’s demos, which is where I found this little nugget: “Cars Can’t Escape.” It’s a beautiful, mournful tune that is out of sync with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but stands on its own tremendously well. The sweetness the melody coupled with Jeff Tweedy’s dejected vocals make this song like the song they play on the jukebox right after the bouncer yells “Last call!” Our poor schmuck stares into the heady swirl at the bottom of his pint glass and mutters, “So I tap my glass and nod my chin and wonder who you’ve been in rhythm with.” The wonky sonic elements that give YHF its unique texture and landscape make an appearance at the track’s end, watermarking the track to its very specific time and place in a Chicago loft at the beginning of a brand new century. Like the album it didn’t turn up on, “Cars Can’t Escape” is timeless. I have this fantasy about future explorers a thousand years from now discovering a time capsule I have left them. Inside is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and I like to think if they listened to it they would see a portrait of this bygone era. I might try to slip this one in there too, you know, just in case they were hungry for more introspective bearded dad rock from the early 00s.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet - Music for Pets 7"

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet – Music for Pets 7”
K Records, 1991
Acquired: End of an Ear (Austin, TX), Used, 2008
Price: $3

You’d have to search pretty far and pretty wide to find someone who didn’t at the very least enjoy the surfy, instrumental jams of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Music For Pets is particularly enjoyable, mostly because it occasionally throws in ridiculous animal sounds in addition to covers of “The Cat Came Back” and “Baby Elephant Walk.” Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are probably best known for doing the theme song to the magnificently hilarious Canadian sketch comedy show “Kids in the Hall,” which is probably a big reason why these tunes bring me so much joy. I’m transported to my mid-teen years when Olathe FINALLY got Comedy Central and, while I was mostly just excited to watch “South Park” behind my parents’ backs, I vividly watching the Head Crusher bits late at night and rolling on the floor with laughter. Sometimes music just transports you, and that’s what Shadowy Men on a Planet Does with me. Takes me right back to the development of my absurd sense of humor. These songs aren’t nearly as tight as some of their other work, but again, it’s hard not to enjoy those surfy rhythms and the pure joy woven into the mix.

"Rover & Rusty"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will Sheff & Charles Bissell – Will Sheff Covers Charles Bissell/ Charles Bissell Covers Will Sheff

Will Sheff & Charles Bissell – Will Sheff Covers Charles Bissell/ Charles Bissell Covers Will Sheff
Jagjaguar, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $5
I remember doing a backflip when I heard this split 7” was happening. I mean, not a literal backflip—I’m a schlubby music critic, after all—but a geeky, nerd-brain backflip. Will Sheff of Okkervil River and Charles Bissell of the Wrens are two of my absolute favorite songwriters and that’s not even hyperbole. I think The Meadowlands is a master class in songwriting and still one of the freshest sounding rock records from the last twenty years. Sheff continues to hone his craft album after album and just the other day “Plus Ones” from The Stage Names came on in the car and I made Jenny stop talking so I could point out the brilliance of the songcraft. That didn’t go over well—shushing your wife never, ever does, especially to point out something only you find interesting—but these guys bring out my indie rock nerd. It seems strange that I haven’t listened to this 7” since the day I bought it, the day it came out way back in 2008. It’s helpful that both artists cover standouts from each other’s discography. Sheff’s rendition of Bissell’s “Ex-Girl Collection” is straightforward but dripping with Sheff’s personal affection for the track. “She pours herself a don’t-ask gin/ No ice and light on the bitters/ I’m through with quitters/ Why?/ Cause I found out/ Wipe that smile off your mouth/ I think it’s tell-me time,” is one of my favorite lyrics from anywhere and, as someone who has spent the majority of his adult life dwelling on ex-girlfriends (until I got married, of course), it speaks to me. The storytelling is just so, so choice. Bissell’s version of Sheff’s “It Ends in a Fall” (from Okkervil River’s Down the River of Golden Dreams) is hazy, hushed, and plays like it could be a Wrens track (although that’s mostly thanks to Bissell’s iconic guitar tones, which you can seriously pick out of a line-up). The track has a wonderful crescendo and damnit, more artists I love need to cover each other’s best songs.

"Ex-Girl Collection"
"It Ends in a Fall"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Covered Up: Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten - "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"

Shearwater & Sharon Van Etten – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks)
Record Store Day 7”, 2013
After listening to Shearwater’s “Rooks” for the last entry, I got Shearwater on the brain, so I might as well talk about how great their cover (with the impeccable Sharon Van Etten) of Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Shearwater abandon all the lovely, ornate elements of their usual sound for the ballsy swagger of Tom Petty and Van Etten takes a little sandpaper to her lovely vocal chords to affect a worthy, sultry Stevie Nicks tribute. Meiburg even tones down his melodramatic (I say that lovingly) quavering vocals to inject the song with a certain amount of testosterone that his vocals usually do not bring to the table. What I love about this cover is that it’s taken from the AV Club’s Undercover series, and I always thought they should compile those covers into a compilation every season because some are jawdroppingly perfect and I’ve discovered so many bands (via the performers and songs covered alike) that, goddamnit, they deserve a better audience than the AV Club can provide. This season they practically buried the Undercover series and I am particularly bothered by that. ANYWAY, this cover, fantastic. Off the cuff, raw as hell, and accurate and we can talk about Sharon Van Etten’s gravitas all damn day (I’ve put off writing about her latest—Are We There—because my love for that album grows a little more every time I hear it). The b-side features another collaboration between Shearwater and Van Etten in a lovely original—“A Wake for the Minotaur”—whose hushed glory captures the true sensibilities of both artists.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shearwater - "Rooks" 7"

Shearwater – “Rooks” 7”
Matador, 2008
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
Price: $4
When “Rooks” was made available for download in advance of Shearwater’s fifth LP Rook, I listened to it ceaselessly. It’s a gorgeous, sinister, haunting track. I vividly remember Tiny Mixtapes scathing review of the album, which hinged upon Shearwater sounding exactly like Talk Talk and that was grounds for outright dismissal. Which was annoying, but I know I’ve done it once or twice so whatever. Personally, I loved that record, and its quasi-title track was a big reason for that. I saw Shearwater play songs from the record two or three times at SXSW that year and later in Lawrence when they toured. I haven’t been as diligent with their last few albums, but I still have a great affinity for Jonathan Meiburg and his craft. The performance on “Rooks” is so tightly coiled it almost feels uncomfortable. There’s a tension wrapped up in the hypnotic guitar line that, the heart-gripping menace of the bass, and all the weird stuff Thor Harris was getting up to. The song builds through its first couple verses and casually explodes into horns and chanting without ever losing control. It feels organic and drives right through you and, just like that, it’s over. Maybe that’s why I listened to it on end. It’s fashioned in such a way to be a few seconds short of just long enough. The b-side is a Talk Talk cover, which is more of an experimental clattering of percussion and dissonant guitar tones than a song. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard a Talk Talk song, so I can’t speak to the band’s influence on Rooks, and considering how much I love that album, I’m thinking I should probably keep it that way.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

B-Side Worship: Guided by Voices - "Dodging Invisible Rays"

Guided by Voices – “Dodging Invisible Rays”
Tigerbomb EP, 1995

Not only is this one of GBV’s best b-sides, it’s one of their best songs. It’s Tobin Sprout’s best contribution to the band’s discography, which is saying something considering his songs are so often better than Bob Pollard’s. Or maybe it just stands out in contrast to the three mega-weird Pollard tracks it precedes on this brisk EP (which also includes the single versions of “Game of Pricks” and “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” and back to back those songs are damn near unstoppable). “Dodging Invisible Rays” has all the shambling power of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes but is obviously a brilliant standalone track that couldn’t be shoehorned into either of those collage-like records. One of my favorite things about GBV’s massive output is that, if you dig enough, you will ultimately uncover these perfect little gems. There’s something special about tracks like “Dodging Invisible Rays” or “Paper Girl” or “The Key Losers” or “Choking Tara (Creamy Version).” They’re underserviced and when you listen to them, you get the feeling that you’re the only person in the world listening to this particular track at this particular moment. This one, though, this one is my favorite. “Dodging Invisible Rays” also appears on a disc of demos, b-sides, and live cuts that came with a deluxe edition of their Best Of Human Amusements at Hourly Rates (also included on the disc dubbed Demons and Painkillers (I think this was also included with the Hardcore UFOs boxset). If you can find this version, it’s your perfect gateway to the greatest band of all time (after you’ve absorbed Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, of course).

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Sedgwicks - "Up Till Now" 7"

The Sedgwicks – “Up Till Now” 7”
Susstones, 1990
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2007
Price: $.25
Here is some college rock from the halcyon days before grunge came along and made everything crunchy. This Minneapolis quartet has a bit of a sedated vibe but the hooks are solid and the tunes are…also solid. The b-side has a little more pop/a little more jangle but is just as much a delight as side A. The Sedgwicks from Minneapolis (not to be confused with the Sedgwicks from England, who also played jangly pop music) appear to have released only one seven-inch. Alas, what a waste, for the music herein is super good! I'm sure you all know by now the soft spot I have for bands who, while not spectacular, were solid and contributed a thimbleful of joy to the world of music.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Loudon Wainwright - Attempted Mustache

Loudon Wainwright – Attempted Mustache
Columbia, 1973
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $1
Loudon Wainwright’s fourth album is just as good as his first three. Brimming with heart, humor, and honesty, Attempted Mustache is a fantastic display of Wainwright’s particular brand of folk music. Opening track “The Swimming Song” is right up there with “One Man Guy” or “Dead Skunk” in terms of tracks that would land in the top 5 on his greatest hits. There’s something so pure and easygoing about that track, though. It mourns the end of summer and celebrates it via a season of swimming in the ocean, swimming pools, and reservoirs. “I Am the Way”—recorded live and told from the point of view of Jesus Christ—highlight’s Wainwright’s grin-worthy humor with lines like “Every son of God gets a little hard luck some time/ Especially when He goes around saying He’s the Way.” It’s akin to John Prine, who, like Wainwright, is a master of being simultaneously lighthearted and incredibly deep. There are a number of jauntier, bluesier numbers thrown in but they pale in comparison to the tracks where it’s just Wainwright on his own exercising his storytelling muscles. “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” is tucked away on Side Two but delivers the album’s biggest emotional punch. The lovely “Come A Long Way”—penned by his then wife Kate McGarrigle—is another of these intimate numbers that serve as a nice contrast to Wanwright’s wackier side.

"Swimming Song"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Covered Up: Harry Nilsson - "Many Rivers to Cross" (Pussy Cats)

Harry Nilsson – “Many Rivers to Cross” (Jimmy Cliff)
Pussy Cats, 1974

Jimmy Cliff’s gospel-tinged standout from the The Harder They Come soundtrack is a heartbreakingly gorgeous classic. Harry Nilsson’s cover serves as the lead-off track to Pussy Cats—his collaboration with John Lennon during his “Lost Weekend” period of serious drugs and drinking. As a result, that album sounds two guys having their own private party, and the way Nilsson belts out “Many Rivers to Cross” gives me chills every single time. The album also features covers of “Rock Around the Clock,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and a particularly wonderful and shambling rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Pussy Cats is an album I frequently recommend. It’s not really a masterpiece, or even a great, consistent record, but it so perfectly captures a time, a place, and a relationship of two men that I find it to be an enthralling listen. Plus it features the showstopping “Don’t Forget Me,” which is one of the greatest songs ever written, so there’s that. I always come back to that cover of “Many Rivers to Cross,” and while Cliff’s original is beautiful, all the blood and guts and pain Nilsson throws into his version makes it my favorite. The guitars sound stoned and reel around, but ultimately this feels like the last song they play before the lights go up and the bar closes together. Everyone standing arm and arm, drinks in hand, sloshing all over the place. Strangers becoming brothers. That's the power of song, man.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sarandon - "Joe's Record" 7"

Sarandon – “Joe’s Record” 7”
Slumberland, 2007
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2009
Price: $1
Beautiful pink vinyl with no indication of which side is which on the label? F. FAIL! WHY WHY WHY DO BANDS DO THIS?! Pain in my ass. I digress. Slumberland is one of those labels I fawned over until I realize, of late, that they basically release the same, washed out sounding pop records on repeat. I love Black Tambourine, Swirlies, Honeybunch, and Velocity Girl, but newer bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Literature, Veronica Falls, Brilliant Colors, Crystal Stilts, and Sarandon either sound like some other band or nothing at all. It’s probably not fair to criticize the label without having heard every single thing they’ve released in the last five years, but every time I bite at something based on my preconceived notions of Slumberland I always feel a bit let down (that new Joanna Gruesome record was pretty good, though, so maybe I just need to dig a little deeper). Maybe I’m just feeling cynical today and being harsh on a well meaning indie label for not living up to the glory of their early days. I’m scanning their complete discography looking for the last record of theirs I really loved that wasn’t a reissue of one of their heyday bands and it took me all the way back to 2003 with the Aislers Set’s How I Learned to Write Backwards. Basically, my impression is that they only release bands that are afraid to sound like something other than cool kids who bury their pop-tinged tracks in layers of fuzz and reverb and hazy production with hushed vocals and a vintage twee vibe. None of the music they release is bad…good god, who knew I cared so much about Slumberland’s discography not living up to my expectations. I’m surprised myself. And a little embarrassed, but I’m leaving it in. Honestly, I think I’m still mad that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart always sound so good upon first listen until I realize their music is totally empty. But it’s so pretty and it reminds me of so many other bands! Ack. Anyway, for Sarandon I played this record three times and I can’t remember for the life of me what it sounds like. I recall jaunty post-punk guitars and some incredibly thin production. I listened to it one more time and immediately forgot. If it were up to me, I would skip this forgettable stuff. That’s what I do when I review new albums. If I hate it, I don’t even give it the time, but for the integrity of this project, I listen to every last little record I own because I gotta understand why it is there. I don’t know why I’m worried about stepping on Slumberland’s toes. It’s not like they send me free records or anything. I think maybe it’s because I used to burn bridges as recent as like, three years ago, and since then I have tried to make a habit of not burning bridges. But writing for the Pitch required me to be very even handed and to avoid this at all costs so my inner snark and cynical trash talk crops up here from time to time. Maybe if Crayola Sarandon had bothered to put some actual text on his 7”s labels I wouldn’t be in this position!

Here's their track "Kill Twee Pop!" which has more verve and energy than any of the tracks on this 7".

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

B-Side Worship: Brand New - "Moshi Moshi"

Brand New – “Moshi Moshi”
Brand New/Safety in Numbers Split/ Triple Crown2002

For a band built on sweeping, well penned songs about hyper-dramatic relationship issues, “Moshi Moshi” feels entirely out of place. The earwormy pop of this track out of step with the emo-dripping pop-punk of Your Favorite Weapon and the theatrical emotional epics on Deja Entendu. And yet, it still feels like a Brand New track and features the sort of melodramatic lyrics that make Jesse Lacey’s songs such a delicious pleasure (“If I kissed your neck/ Would you slit my throat?”) while also intentionally trying to be a little goofy (“The more I hang around you/ The more hang-ups I get”) to up the sense of playfulness. Even though this song lives outside of Brand New’s wheelhouse, it’s a perfect example of a great b-side: a track that doesn’t quite fit on a band’s album, but excels on its own as an example of the band’s versatility. Not all b-sides have to do this to be great, but considering there really isn’t a place for this on either of Brand New’s early albums, it’s nice that they thought to release it anyway.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – More Noise & Other Disturbances

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – More Noise & Other Disturbances
TAANG! Records, 1992
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2003
Price: $4

Man, it was a good day for finding records I forgot I bought in high school in my parents’ basement! First the Residents, and now this! I didn’t start seriously collecting records until my second year of college, but in high school I would frequent the Half Price Books in Olathe on a weekly basis hunting for punk rock records (that’s where I got my copy of Black Flag’s Loose Nut). I didn’t even like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and I was out of my ska-punk days, but I bought this one anyway because I thought the band’s second album might have more of a punk slant. It doesn’t, but it’s quite a bit more raw than their 1997 monster break-out Let’s Face It. What came first, the ska revival or the swing revival? Or did they happen simultaneously? It feels like those two genres were feeding one another. Both have a fun, throwback vibe and are straight-up good time music. Let’s Face It was ubiquitous. You’ll find CD copies of it in clearance sections and cut-out bins across this great land, and it’s hard to remember there was a brief moment in our history where this is what the people wanted. It was a brief moment, but it came right at the time where I was discovering music on my own and I very much-loved “The Impression That I Get” (still do, it’s a great, catchy as hell song). I was 12, and I gotta think the nascent punk rock elements in the band at that time helped shepard me down that path. The first concert I ever attended was a ska-punk show at El Torreon in KC, right around the time I bought this record. I learned to skank, and had a generally magnificent time even though I went on my own. So maybe that’s why I have a soft spot for ska-punk. Even though it didn’t get under my skin like pop-punk and hardcore, it lent a hand.

I should probably write something about the actual album opposed to the feelings it brings up. More Noise & Other Disturbances is a whole hell of a lot more unpolished than their mainstream fare and a whole hell of a lot more rockin. It’s really, really fun and was recorded in an era before horn sections in rock bands became a running joke.

"Where'd You Go"

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Residents - Duck Stab/ Buster & Glen

The Residents – Duck Stab/ Buster & Glen
Ralph Records, 1978
Acquired: Love Garden Shotgun Room, Used, 2003(?)
Price: $1
Just an average day where I stumble across a Residents album in my parents basement. My immediate thought was “There is no way in hell my parents own this, much less know who the Residents are.” Then reality set in and I located the little squid sticker inside the sleeve and realized that I must have bought from the Love Garden Shotgun Room sometime in the early 00s. Part of me thinks that I bought this in high school before I had any idea who the Residents were and liked the cartoony cover. Presently, the only thing I know about the Residents is that they have giant eyeball heads and make insane concept albums. I had never heard their music until putting this record on the turntable this afternoon, and it’s about as weird as I expected. Totally strange. Which is fantastic. Just imagine some disco freak listening to this! THEY COULDN’T HANDLE THE WEIRDNESS, MAN! AIN’T NO WAY! Thank God for the weirdos like the Residents, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Bonzo Dog Band for giving that era some stark contrast. It’s just hard to explain how balls-to-the-wall, straight-up weird these two albums are. Bizarre electronic elements and creepy vocal parts make these the sort of songs that sound like they belong in a haunted house…or your nightmares. I half expect my wife to come out into the loft and say, “Ian, what the hell are you listening to?” It’s not her cup of tea. It’s not most people’s cup of tea. This isn’t even my cup of tea, but I apprecitate the art of it. Weirdos like the Residents made it possible for weirdos like Ween to have their day in the sun (coincidence: Both bands have a song called “Birthday Boy,” and while Ween’s is one of their most melodic tracks, the Residents’ is their most unsettling (at least on this release)).


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Covered Up: The Breeders - "Shocker in Gloomtown" (Guided by Voices)

The Breeders – “Shocker in Gloomtown” (Guided by Voices)
Head to Toe EP, 1994

I’m sure I’ll cover it later, but one of my favorite bits of indie rock lore is that Robert Pollard gifted Kim Deal the song “I Am Decided” as thanks for producing Guided by Voices’ Under the Bushes Under the Stars. She recorded and released it with the Amps on their sole LP Pacer. The fact that two indie rock heavyweights like Pollard and Deal both hail from Dayton, Ohio, is like some weird little miracle, and the music video for the Breeders cover of GBV’s “Shocker in Gloomtown” (released a mere year prior on The Grand Hour EP) is one of my favorite songs of all time. The original is great, but to GBV it’s just another box to check off the list. Deal & co swing for the goddamn fences and knock it straight out of the park. The Breeders bring an energy to the track that the original lacks, and I think maybe even GBV know this. The video is hilarious. The Breeders are Jamming out this sub-two-minute track in a garage in Dayton and GBV are outside peering through the windows. That’s the sort of shit that makes me giddy. “THEY KNOW EACH OTHER!” I say to myself. “THIS IS THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS.” This is one of those tracks you can play forever. It’s so short, and vacuum packed with dangerously condensed hooks, that the only better delivery vehicle I can think of other than headphones is a pure injection of pop bliss right into my heart like a needle full of adrenaline. Just pipe that shit in all day, I don’t care if I eventually go insane. The Breeders version was produced by J. Mascis, which is another thing that makes brain hurt with joy. If you haven’t heard this song before and you’re about to listen to it for the first time, you’re welcome, and I’m sorry. Because you now know no one kicks more ass than the Breeders.

I don't mean to slag GBV's original, but it's like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah": A great song perfected by someone else. No shame in that, none whatsoever. Still a fucking jam and when I saw them play it live I immediately ordered a $7 Miller Light from the dude walking through the crowd with a cooler and raised that cheap beer to the sky in tribute. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gut Feeling: Sun Kil Moon - Benji

Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Caldo Verde, 2014
When my daughter was born, I got a month off work. It was great, and more exhausting than work, and for thirty days I worked the night shift while my poor, bedraggled wife slept. From 10 PM to 5 AM I’d hold Rosie while she slept because, naturally, the only way we could get her to sleep for a decent amount of time was to put her on my chest. I liked it. I loaded up my phone with lovely, quiet music and downloaded a couple of great games on the iPad and I settled in for my shift. During this time I must have listened to Benji forty times. The quietly sung songs played on a delicately finger-picked guitar let the baby sleep and let my mind devour the music. I listened to it incessantly, and I’m just now getting around to writing about it because I’m still processing, still uncovering, and still don’t feel like I’m ready to move on from Benji.  

I’ve always been a fan of Mark Kozelek’s output, but a casual one. I heard Red House Painters’ Songs for a Blue Guitar in college and very much enjoyed its loveliness. Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway was in the background in my later college years and his album of Modest Mouse covers—Tiny Cities—got some play as well. I enjoyed his collaborations with Jimmy LaValle and Desertshore last year, and I think it was those albums that put Kozelek back on my radar and set me up to get totally lost in Benji, which, I should add, is probably the saddest album I’ve ever heard. It’s not depressing (although I’m sure that’s arguable), just deeply sad. But also breathtakingly gorgeous and occasionally laugh out loud funny. It’s a masterfully rendered self-portrait that is so emotionally honest it’s almost painful to experience.

The thing that sticks with me most is that Kozelek has had not one, but two relatives die via exploding aerosol cans in garbage fires. I can’t get over the weirdness of that, and I don’t think Kozelek can either, considering both his deceased cousin and uncle get songs in this album (“Carissa” and “Truck Driver,” respectively). “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” appears to be tender and sweet upfront until you realize it’s a meditation on not knowing how he’s going to cope when his mother inevitably passes away. “Pray for Newtown” plays like a response to a letter mentioned in the song where a fan asks him to pray for the victims in the tragedy that was Newtown and the song is an exercise in attempting to cope with the most horrific tragedy in modern American history. It just goes on like this, and it’s so incredibly comforting to hear someone bearing everything. All there, right out there for you to share and while I’ve never had a loved one die in a fire caused by an exploding aerosol can, I can relate to all of the underlying fears and anxieties.
 Mercifully, Kozelek closes the album with a bit of lightness. “Ben’s My Friend” is a chronicle of attending a Postal Service reunion show. It’s a mundane account of the day and I feel like it’s there to let you know that life goes on. Despite all of the heartbreak of the album’s previous ten songs, you still gotta get up every day, run errands, and try to enjoy your life. The lyrics crack me up every time. Stuff like “Bought a 350 dollar pair of lampshades/ And we at eat Perry’s and I ordered crab cakes” and the refrain of “Sports bar shit” that serves as the second chorus is like a sigh of relief. Sometimes I feel like the only person in my life that really appreciates darkness, so these sad records tend to be very personal experiences. It’s like the record became a part of me and now I carry it around with me. I like that. I think great albums do that to you. You transform a little. You’re a little something more than you were before you heard it. You see things a little differently, things are a little heavier or lighter or fuller. Benji is one of those albums that reminded me why I choose to love music, and I am eternally thankful for its existence.


"Ben's My Friend"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

B-Side Worship: Jawbreaker - "Kiss the Bottle"

Jawbreaker – “Kiss the Bottle”

It’s hard to tell if there is a more beloved Jawbreaker track than “Kiss the Bottle.” Sure, “Boxcar” is about as well known as “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Jinx Removing” is as seminal as it gets when it comes to mixtape staples, but holy Christ this song cuts right through you. Blake Schwarzenbach’s vocals sound like a metal spoon caught in a dishwasher (with good reason, too, as it was the last song Jawbreaker recorded before his throat surgery) and that translates to the most perfectly weathered voice needed to sing a song about goddamn regret. It’s an ugly song about drunks with relationship issues. The chugging guitars sounds like it’s coming in and out of consciousness, and though the song was recorded between Bivouac and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, it wouldn’t really belong on either of those records. It is, however, the finest song Schwarzenbach had written up to that point and full of the emotional intensity that would make 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and Dear You so easy for heartbroken 18 year olds to fawn over. So many of my AIM away messages were Jawbreaker quotes from that era, and Schwarzenbach’s songwriting was deeply influential to me in a number of ways. When I started writing songs, I tried to match that raw emotional honesty (not that I was really any good at it). I started gravitating towards music with that realness. It’s a reason why I totally shut down when I hear vapid lyrics. It’s all I can focus on. I know pop music is supposed to be fun and vapid and the lyrics aren’t supposed to matter but thanks to Jawbreaker, it’s something I find incredibly important.

End of G Through R

It has been almost exactly a year since I posted one of these. So much has happened! Shortly after the last one I got my transfer back to Kansas, started at a new Half Price Books, had a baby, went on paternity leave, and got a new job that I’m starting at next week. I also reigned in my spending on records. It’s pure good fortune that the Half Price Books in Overland Park doesn’t get nearly as many awesome records as the store in St. Paul (it also helps that I work with a bunch of record collectors who always get to the best stuff before I can even consider dropping coin). Lately though, a guy brought in five loads of astonishingly great stuff and that was the greatest test of my self-control I’ve had in a while. I bought a Pogues record, and a few other things in my tenure, but mostly exercised great restraint. It helps to think of it as an investment. Rosie’s college fund, what have you. Honestly, one of the big reasons I started collecting was to bequeath my children with an excellent record collection. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of music growing up (outside of Patsy Cline and the KC Oldies station Oldies 95, both of which had a profound effect on the way my brain processes music) so I want my kids to have an ocean of great stuff to get lost in. Plus, you know, it’s fun.

Running Total: $3130.75
G thru R = $294.25

New Total = $3425

Now I want to highlight my biggest whiff of 2013: Missing Mikal Cronin's MCII. You would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable pop record from the last year. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Gut Feeling: Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE

Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
Barsuk, 2014
A few years ago I gave up on trying to be anything but an indie rock kid. It was hard to quit pretending that I really listened to everything when really all I wanted to listen to was people banging out chords on guitars singing simple, heartfelt songs. After leaving KJHK, where I felt it was important to paint myself as someone who loved all types of music, I went into a deep hibernation of 1990s alternative rock. I listened to the Lemonheads and Superchunk incessantly in addition to combing through the darker recesses of Guided by Voices’ back catalog. It was so fundamentally necessary to unwind from almost four years of playing tastemaker. It’s embarrassing that I even think of it like that, but that’s how I approached my job at the station and when it was all over and the mask fell off, I accepted myself for what I was: Someone with boring taste. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate all different types of music, it’s just when I instinctively reach for something to put on in the car or in my headphones I go for the same sort of stuff. Some is punkier, some is poppier, some is folkier, but it’s all a variation of my beloved indie rock and roll.

When I put on the new Cymbals Eat Guitars record I was just looking for something pleasant to have on in the background. I remembered enjoying their first record—Why There Are Mountains—when it came through KJHK, but couldn’t remember anything but a line about Natural American Spirits from the one song (“Wind Phoenix”) I listened to on repeat. They released a follow-up in 2011 that I totally missed. The last I heard from them they were doing an episode of the AV Club’s Undercover series in which they covered Superchunk’s “Detroit Has a Skyline.” Which is ultimately what caused me to take a chance on LOSE, which ended up being one of the most surprising and enjoyable records I’ve heard all year.

All the indie rock elements are there, but the Staten Island quartet arranges them in such a way and bends generic conventions is a refreshing treat. The first three tracks go from emotionally charged slowburner to a reverb drenched 80s alt-rock throwback to a propulsive, harmonica heavy folk-tinged stomper. It’s an excellent place setting that keeps the listener off balance but also keeps them locked into curious route this band is taking. The lyrics come across deeply personal and deeply sad. Certain lines catch my ear and I know I’m going to be poring over this one for the rest of the year (“I learned to scream ‘Bone Machine’/ My windshield spit was glistening” and “Each frequency’s a memory of some show we attended/ Fuck you learner’s permit/ Drive down to Philly with me to see the Wrens in a rec room” are good examples. Actually, there are a couple of Wrens references on LOSE, and the lyrics sheet looks a whole hell of a lot like The Meadowlands. Which is a really good thing). The personal burden unloaded in Joseph D’Agostino’s songs helps to eschew the normal indie rock conventions and offer a document of drugs and friendship and grief. It’s the sort of deep, thoughtful record with a hearty shelf life that makes me salivate.