Sunday, October 19, 2014

Satanic Messiah/Scaling Back/Back Problems

First, I want to share the Mountain Goats 2008 Satanic Messiah EP. It was released during a very productive time for the Mountain Goats, and I spent more time with Darnielle's collaborations with Kaki King and John Vanderslice. I randomly put this on this morning and have listened to it five times. It's gorgeous, full of the supremely lovely piano ballads that made The Life of the World to Come such a therapeutic treat. After the splendor of the EP started to ease, I wondered what the hell happened in my life that I didn't buy this and then remembered that, like his collaboration with Vanderslice (the also wonderful Moon Colony Bloodbath) it was a tour only affair. Since no one ever comes to Lawrence, Kansas, I missed out on that (note: I've seen the Mountain Goats in Lawrence a few times, so it's not like they never come, but for that particular tour I feel a little gypped). Such is life, and if the universe wants me to have it, well, I'll probably stumble across it somewhere down the line. And besides, I can pull it up on iTunes anytime I want. It's led me to make a playlist of underheart deeper cuts from the Mountain Goats circa 2000-2014. I love this band.

Second, while I tried so hard to maintain Monday-Friday posts as a new dad, and did for a solid six months, my new job at the Kansas City Public Library takes up more time/siphons more energy than Half Price Books and I basically come home, make dinner, snuggle my child, and stare at my record collection with contempt and then sit down and read for an hour before passing out. This is who I am now. So close to the end, too! I put a little postmark in where the 7"s end and there are maybe three big handfuls left to go through in addition to a small armload of LPs. Honestly, it was an effort to become a more consistent, diligent writer. I hoped it would translate over into actually finish the book I've been working on for almost two years (which effectively turned to dust the second I found out I was going to be a father and, while I've pecked at it here and there, I mostly just stare at the stack of legal pads and pull at my collar like a cartoon character expressing worry). My back went out last weekend, and that seemed like as good a time as any to scale back. Regardless, there's no way I'm going to miss Year End List season, so maybe I'm just storing my energy for that. It has been a TREMENDOUS year for music. I feel like people say that every year, but I think there are definitely years when there are maybe only five or ten great albums. Then there are your 2005s, your 2007s where there aren't enough spots in your Top 25 to honor all the great records. 2013 was great, but I feel like there are so many great records this year I can't even get to them all (because I literally have no time for music and I can't get to them all, which is heartbreaking. I haven't even listened to the new Antlers record and I love that band!) It's currently a neck and neck race between Andrew Jackson Jihad, Sun Kil Moon, Open Mike Eagle, Cheap Girls and The Hotelier for top honors, but there's still a solid two and a half months and anything can happen. This is what I live for (other than, you know, my beautiful baby girl and her wellbeing. And fantasy football.)

Third, TAKE CARE OF YOUR BACK BECAUSE WHEN IT BETRAYS YOU, IT BETRAYS YOU HARD. This is the third time my back has gone out. The first time was in January of 2012 when I idiotically dislodged some integral bit of my back's structure changing a tire. I was laid up for 3 days, couldn't move. Couldn't even sit up. My wife had to hold a jar for me to pee in. That's real intimacy. Of course she laughed so hard, and then I laughed and it hurt so bad and I almost pissed everywhere. I don't think our marriage could have handled it if I had had to go #2. That's honestly the real motivation to focus all your healing energy and find a way to get out of bed. The second time was in March of 2013 when I innocently bent down to pick up Panda's poop, felt a twinge, and was bedridden for another three days. Insanity. Third time, October 2014, and I don't even know what I did. It just didn't feel right when I got to work on Thursday. I assumed it would go out that night but it didn't and I made it in on Friday. On Saturday morning I tried picking up Rosie out of her high chair and felt it. I got about halfway down the road before I realized something was really wrong. I couldn't get out of the car. I couldn't even bend far enough to get the door closed. I had to empty my messenger bag and chuck it at the door until I could close it, then right myself into a position where I could drive back home without causing a wreck on an empty dirt road. It took about 20 minutes for Jenny to help me out of the car and into the house where I was stuck on the couch for two whole days. Of course, I had built up about 200 hours of sick time at Half Price Books and I had maybe 7 accrued at the library. Of course. I think people have this idea that your back goes out, but you can still perform essential functions like it's not that bad. I think it varies, I've only ever known the totally debilitating kind that sends razors through my nerves if I even try to move. I went through an entire bottle of prescription painkillers saved from my root canal; pills I'd been saving for the next time my back went out. I honestly think this happened because I stopped exercising regularly, because Jesus Christ lord knows I don't have the time. But I have to make the time, because goddamn. That hopeless, kill-me-now feeling when you yell for your wife to bring the jar ("No, the big one") is bad enough the first time, and dehumanizing the third. If anyone knows any quality exercises or daily stretches for lower back health, I will absorb them like a sponge.

Fourth, seriously, take care of your back. You never know when it will betray you.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Smashing Pumpkins - "1979"/ "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" 7"

Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”/ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” 7”
Virgin, 1995
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $2
I was never a Smashing Pumpkins kid, or maybe I was, but they were just overshadowed by a bunch of other bands from my mid-teenage years. Actually, I take that back, because looking at it now I was totally a Smashing Pumpkins kid. In sixth grade I had my mom buy me the iconic Zero t-shirt from Kohls (a shirt I wore up until a couple years ago when it gave up the ghost and one where I had to constantly keep explaining no, it wasn’t a Scott Pilgrim shirt, although I secretly pretended I was Scott Pilgrim when I was wearing it) AND I made her take me to Wal-Mart to buy Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on cassette. All of this stemmed from seeing Smashing Pumpkin videos constantly on MTV and VH1, and really responding to those videos in a positive way. “1979” with the ice cream truck, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” where they’re playing in a landfill (watching it now, I don't think it's actually a landfill, but it's definitely somewhere gross), and their ode to Georges Meilies A Trip to the Moon with their video for “Tonight, Tonight.” I watched a lot of music videos between the hours of midnight and four-am when I was growing up, and those videos have always stuck with me. What’s great about this 7” is that it pairs the serenity of “1979” with the ugliness of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”: Two sides of the same Smashing Pumpkins. The latter track is one for which I have a particular affinity, and quote on a regular basis in a joking manner. Lately, it’s been doing the voice I do for Rosie and having her say “the world is a vampire” and, when Jenny asks me how was work, I’ll routinely say “You know, despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.” I think it’s hilarious, I cannot explain to you why. I’ve been doing this for years. It’s probably because these songs are ingrained in the fabric of my taste in music. Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness had a very long lifecycle and spawned six singles spanning from October 1995-November 1996. This single appears to be something spit out from a jukebox based on the little Jukebox tag for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” tucked into the sleeve (but in reality it’s just missing the picture sleeve and not the jukeboxes only version).


"Bullet With Butterfly Wings"

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Club: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

I worked in a book store for the last five years and currently work at a library. Despite being surrounded by books, I am a terrible reader. I pick up a ton of books and take them home, but I somehow, until recently, have never been able to make time to read them. So when my favorite songwriter/musician/artist/overall human being John Darnielle released his debut novel Wolf in White Van, I dropped everything I was doing and read. It's an outstanding novel. I'm sure there is some bias in my opinion, as I regularly worship at the man's altar, but it was longlisted for the National Book Award so I can safely assume the novel's merits are legit.

Like many of Darnielle's songs, Wolf in White Van is about an outcast. Sean Phillips lives on the fringe, alone in his apartment with an occasional caregiver there to help because he will never fully recover from taking a bullet to the face. His head is like a horrific mask, drawing stares and revulsion from people who live in the world he is no longer a part of. As he can no longer be a part of society, he oversees and crafts a mailorder role playing game. In the game, players roam a destroyed wasteland en route to a fortress Trace Italian. Sean admits that it is impossible to enter the Trace. Salvation is a carrot on a stick, just as it is for Sean who bears the brutal personification of something horrible and will every day for the rest of his life.

As we learn about Sean's and the nature of his "accident" in reverse through his interactions in the outside world (buying candy from a liquor store, going to renew his business license) and flashbacks to the time before it happened, we are made privy to the tragedy of two Trace Italian players who took the game a step too far which shines a light on our culture's tendency to blame music, video games, and violent movies for the terrible things that people do. Needless to say, the novel is deeply sad. Of course, it's also heartbreakingly beautiful and full of so much soul and every line is like a gift to the reader. As I was reading, I was cobbling together a playlist of Mountain Goats tracks thematically/emotionally/spiritually similar to the text. Here are those songs.

"The Day the Aliens Came"

The intro says it all.

"Never Quite Free"

"Psalms 40:2"
In my head, this song played every time a tract from Trace Italian (and the tragedy of Lance and Carrie) was depicted. It helps that both the track and Trace Italian are based in the burning ruins of Kansas.

"Heretic Pride"


"Night Light"

Monday, October 6, 2014

Gut Feeling: Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Republic, 2014
Despite almost fifteen years of churning out some of the worst, pop chair-poised alt-rock, I still can’t completely write off Weezer. Because, like many men and women of my generation, our junior high and high school years were dominated by the band’s first two albums. This is just a fact. I wonder what the percentage is. Like the boomers and the Kennedy Assassination, I remember where I was the first time I heard those opening notes of “My Name is Jonas.” 9th Grade, I was 15 years old and tasked with an insanely intensive biology project that determined my final grade. I had to write up descriptions of five flora and five fauna from the earth’s seven biomes. 70 paragraph-long descriptions of arctic foxes, desert brush, and parasites. It took a whole fucking weekend. Like 6 hours on Friday, 12 hours on Saturday, another 8 hours on Sunday. I still have it at my parents’ house because goddamnit, that’s a weekend of my youth I will never get back. But I don’t WANT it back, because I forged my love of power pop in those desperate hours as I listened to the Blue Album and Pinkerton on repeat, one after the other, for 25 solid hours. This is where I come from. This is why I’m a sucker for a big hook and even bigger guitars, soaring like a majestic eagle over a plain of crashing cymbals and snares and riffs and meaty bass lines. I enjoyed the Green Album, and I have a vivid memory of running a red light on the way to Hastings to buy Maladroit the day it came out, and I can still feel the ache of the letdown. After that I focused my efforts on punk rock and Weezer was put on the shelf, only to be taken down for road trip sing-a-longs and general nostalgia. Put on “Say it Ain’t So” in a room of 28 year olds and I guarantee we’re all belting that shit out in thirty seconds. Still, Weezer is something from our past, and it’s been a general rule of thumb to make believe Make Believe never existed. To ignore the silly album covers of Raditude and Hurley and the even sillier songs collected within. I could talk about this shit all day. The transition of Rivers Cuomo from an incisive songwriter whose pain was felt and understood by millions of people to a guy who would rather cut out his vocal chords than sing a single honest word ever again. The songwriting from the Green Album on is the hollowest shit you will ever hear.

Everything Will Be Alright in the End is Weezer’s least embarrassing album since the Green Album. Cuomo’s songwriting is still pretty dumb but the hooks almost always feel like vintage Weezer and some terrific collaboration with the likes of Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles are beautiful little moments. It shifts Cuomo’s empty calorie lyrics into something more substantive. He feels like a songwriter in transition, because even on his own on a track like “Da Vinci,” you can feel some real emotion but it’s sapped by the whistling-accented lightness of the verse. But the chorus on that track barrels over you like “Why Bother?” The Best Coast collaboration “Go Away” feels like a Green Album cut with the added twist of being a duet. It’s a piece of fluff, but it’s goddamn catchy. “Foolish Father” on the other hand, is totally disarming. Simple, but incredibly affective and a positive sign for Weezer’s potential to return to a world where relatable songwriting is prioritized. The hooks are there, and they’re glorious, but until Cuomo can eradicate lines like “Don’t wanna be mass consumed/ I’m not a happy meal,” which is both dishonest and dumb, there is still a lot of work to be done. Everything Will Be Alright in the End is a positive step, and while it doesn’t totally restore my faith in Weezer, it brings me way more satisfaction than I ever thought I’d get from a Weezer record and I feel like I’m fifteen, rocking out with my headphone on, writing about the animals of the taiga. Horns raised, head rocking, engraving the stylized Weezer W on the front of my Five Star notebook. Let's hope this album's title is a self-fulfilling prophecy for this band.

"Foolish Father"

"Ain't Got Nobody"

Friday, October 3, 2014

Small Factory - "The Last Time That We Talked" 7"

Small Factory – “The Last Time That We Talked” 7”
Vernon Yard, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1
“The Last Time That We Talked” is one of my favorite alt-rock tracks from the mid-90s. It’s absolutely perfect. Alex Kemp delivers the bitter college rock dude tirade while Phoebe Summersquash sweetens the affair with backing vocals that accent and harmonies on the chorus that absolutely make the song. In my head, this is what I think is cool: Three people from Rhode Island playing for no glory, and nobody but themselves. It’s a crying shame that their tiny output remains locked away in obscurity, because their discography is so very, very good. The b-side “Movies” turns up the band’s sensitive side and serves as excellent contrast to the rolling pure pop bliss of the a-side. Though Alex Kemp and Phoebe Summersquash continued on via their band the Godrays, neither seems to have any musical output after 1997, which is unbearably sad considering how great these songs are.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Small Factory - "Lose Your Way" 7"

Small Factory – “Lose Your Way” 7”
Slumberland/Bijoopiter, 1994
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2008
Price: $1
I feel like I can’t go 20 posts without talking about Small Factory. They were a small band from the smallest state and somehow they always seem to be popping up. Something about their tunes really hits me where it counts. They’re pure indie pop, but not cloyingly twee. They’re a little lo-fi with a firm grasp on mid-90s jangle pop, but these tracks sound timeless. Both “Lose Your Way” and b-side “Scared of Love” are instant winners. I was just slagging Slumberland the other day, but this is the stuff I was talking about when I was talking about Slumberland’s mid-90s heyday where their track record was unblemished. Neither of these songs found their way onto Small Factory’s second and final (and fantastic) LP For If You Cannot Fly, which makes this 7” a tiny miracle. 

Scared of Love from Small Factory on Myspace.