Monday, October 27, 2008

1999 - origin story

This week’s list is united in that all 10 of the albums are sexxxcellent driving records. I’ve probably spent more time listening to music in a car than anywhere. As much as I love laying on my bed and spinning a record, the open road is my more prominent venue. In rush hour, driving from my home in Blue Bell to Philadelphia (and vice-versa) can take an hour or longer, making concerts a bitch to see sometimes. All those three-hour drives to Maryland and D.C. add up as well. New Jersey shore trips. Work. Picking up siblings. And copious South Street shopping sprees. Yeah, I drive a lot. After a while, driving can wear on me too. I have to sit in the same position – 8-10 hours when driving to Canada to see Michelle’s brother – and that’s just no good for a spastic dork like me.

Luckily, music eases my pain. One of the reasons why I stayed straight edge for so long is that I really don’t need drugs to have a good time so long as I’ve got a song to sing. A joint is a one-off affair; a Bouncing Souls record is a renewable resource of awesomeness. This brings me to my next point:

I can do almost any shitty job so long as I can listen to good music.

Now, obviously, this theory hasn’t been completely tested. Excluding pet upkeep, I’ve cleaned up feces less than 20, maybe 10 times in my life. I have never had to clean up other peoples’ blood for a living. And I don’t think Jawbreaker will make giving a back alley blowjob any easier (no pun intended!). But thus far, music has gotten me through deaths, suicide attempts, lame retail jobs, bad nights, fights, endless school work, stress, and, above all else, sheer, unquenchable boredom.

I’ve been trying to quit drinking, although I've been regressing a lot lately. I usually only have a beer or two now when I’m waiting for something. I shared a couple of drinks with Ryan P. Carey D.D.S and Steve Lipenta whilst waiting for The Secret Machines to play at The Trocadero. I had a Hoptimus Prime (love the name, hate the aftertaste!) at Ben Kweller. But when I’m actually engaged, when I am confronted with art in all its beauty, I am good and sober.

What was I talking about? Oh right. Huzzah! – driving = music > boredom.

10. AFI – Black Sails in the Sunset

My favorite AFI album makes me raise my fist and make angry faces a lot. I was so ridiculously nervous when I interviewed for my Wonka Vision internship back in summer 2007. It sounds silly now, but I was freaked out to meet with the editor-in-chief of a somewhat-popular music magazine. I put on Black Sails in the Sunset in my car, and I channeled all of that angst and fear into the music. Lots of steering wheel poundage occurred, I assure you. From “Strength Through Wounding” to “God Called in Sick Today,” the album’s sole flaw is the huge silent gap you have to cross to get the hidden bonus track. But man is still a great album. Black Sails is where the band’s songwriting caught up with its more serious approach to lyrics, resulting in an album more pounding and hardcore than anything they’ve done before or after. I know a lot of people love The Misfits, and accuse AFI of stealing their shtick, but AFI made them irrellevent to me because they rock harder and don't buy into the whole "let's use violence against women" angle. While I love what AFI has done since 1999 too, I know Black Sails in the Sunset will always be there for me, ready to make me pump some fists and kick some imaginary ghosts right in the nards.

9. The Get Up Kids – Something to Write Home About

I got into The Get Up Kids as they were breaking up – literally. I got Four Minute Mile and then saw their Philadelphia farewell show like a week later. I picked up Something to Write Home About afterwards, and was blown away by what I heard. Sometimes I still wonder if I’d have enjoyed their show more if I’d known more songs, but it was still a great set. Speaking of great song lists, how about the track listing for Something to Write Home About? Eh? Eh? I don’ toss around the phrase “perfect album” often, but Something goes from “Holiday” to “Action and Action” to “Valentine” to “Red Letter Day” to… OK, you get my point. Not just an emo masterpiece, Something to Write Home About is one of the greatest pop rock albums since the genre’s inception, boasting strong melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and a succulent balance between searing and atmospheric chord progressions.

8. Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles

The Battle of Los Angeles is the first Rage Against the Machine album I heard all the way through, and it’s remained my favorite Rage disc for almost 10 years now. I prefer to think of this as their swan song instead of Renegades, an uneven covers album that verged on self-parody. I can remember some kids in high school calling Rage hypocrites for decrying corporations from Sony’s pulpit, but when I hear Zack de la Rocha on the mic, those accusations seem besides the point. Dude spits white hot hate better than most on tracks like “Sleep Now in the Fire” and “War Within a Breath,” and his political calls-to-arms are made dangerous not because of their profanity, but because of their catchiness. Ultimately, Rage spun the catchiest propaganda, and I’d like to think they’ve influenced my left leanings ever so slightly. Side note: the spoken word part after the guitar solo in “Guerilla Radio” still gives me chills.

7. Face to Face – Ignorance is Bliss

It’s funny how the album that got me into Face to Face is their most underrated and/or loathed. I picked this record up after hearing the song “The Devil You Know (God is a Man)” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spent many a bus ride to and from pep band practice and football games spinning this disc (along with Good Charlotte’s first album… I was young!). Ignorance is Bliss was a good autumn spin for me then, and it still is now, with its more moody approach to songwriting. Oddly enough, right now I hear more connections to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain than I ever would’ve guessed, which just goes to show how far Face to Face was willing to go. It’s a shame Trevor Keith and Scott Shiflett had to break up the band in order to pursue this style further, but man what a great run they had. The guys claim to not know how to play these songs anymore since people hated ‘em so dang much, but Keith totally busted out “Nearly Impossible” for the encore at Face to Face’s farewell show at The Trocadero.

6. Counting Crows – This Desert Life

This Desert Life is actually the first Counting Crows album I owned. Sure, my pops had August and Everything After, but Desert Life is the first CC record that was all mine. I think that’s why I tend to overrate the disc to some people. But I can’t help it; these are the great American rock and/or roll tunes I grew up with. “Hangin’ Around,” “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dreams,” and “Kid Things” put a spring in my step and a song in my heart. I can remember singing these songs to myself softly when I’d get bored with the DJ’s top 40 picks at school dances. And the emotional catharsis from songs like “Colorblind” and “I Wish I was a Girl” is staggering. While not as balls-out rocking as Recovering the Satellites, This Desert Life does expand the Crows’ palette a little further in the opposite direction, achieving an eerier calm to accompany Adam Duritz’s dispatches from his own private hell in the public eye.

5. Guster – Lost and Gone Forever

More of the same from Guster, albeit with even better hooks. Lost and Gone Forever marks the beginning of the band’s shift away from jam band territory into more of an indie rock sound. They didn’t really get there until 2006’s Ganging Up on the Sun, but still… I still get chills from “Two Points for Honesty.” Everything leading up that one is pretty good too. Oh to be in prep school again…

4. The Bouncing Souls – Hopeless Romantic

I feel as if this series hasn’t properly portrayed my allegiance to The Bouncing Souls, because they were such an integral part of my high school experience. Hopeless Romantic was the second Souls album I got, and man did it rock my socks. And while it’s probably the one that’s aged the worst for me (some bad lyrical choices, the drums keep clipping), I still can’t get over how damn catchy and fun the record sounds. What’s even more mind-blowing to me is that most bands crap out by their forth album, and The Bouncing Souls actually got even better after this one.

Hopeless Romantic found the band getting back into full-on songwriting after the rapid-fire in-n-out style of The Bouncing Souls. Sure, there are still some quick punk ditties like the title track and “You’re So Rad,” but overall the songs are comparatively longer and more developed. “Kid” exists almost like a mission statement: “Get up, now’s your chance / We are here and we make you dance / You are not alone / This is our home.” Punk feeds on alienation, on “us vs. them,” with “them” keeping “us” down. But the Souls are a band that doesn’t just make me feel included in something important, they write as if we are all part of that something. And while that occasionally makes the band come off as hippie-esque, it’s nice to know that not everyone is trying to get the other guy. Even when the Souls rag on other people, like on “Bullying the Jukebox” or “Monday Morning Ant Brigade,” there’s a humor to their approach. Few groups make me feel as warm as the Souls do when they play “Night on Earth.”

And have you heard the boner-fried soccer anthem that is “¡Olé!”?

3. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity

This album was like my official vacation record in high school, along with Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros’ Streetcore. It reminds me of half-sleeping in the backseat of my parents’ car during the three-hour drive from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania to Ocean City, Maryland, and from Ocean City to Blue Bell. I can remember vast Delaware farmland, green and leafy, with metallic sprinkler systems hanging overheard. I can remember watching as our plane broke through the clouds on flights to Orlando, Florida. Standing alone in a Georgia airport with only my headphones to shut out all of the “Welcome home”s and frantic searches and emotional chaos.

Pretty much everything Jimmy Eat World has done and will ever do is going to be viewed in comparison to Clarity. Bleed American and Chase This Light are the more direct, pop rock-oriented pendulum-swung-in-the-opposite-direction albums. Futures is the attempt to bridge the two sensibilities. Static Prevails is the punk precursor, the sound of a band learning its instruments by comparison. And Clarity, well, it’s what happens when a great band thinks it’ll never make another album again. Clarity and Bleed American are JEW’s two best albums, and I think a big part of that is because the band was driven to prove something. In the latter’s case, that they could write a catchy, successful album. In the former’s, that they could write the album they wanted. Clarity is a last stand, an expansive emo/pop/indie effort that attempts to sum up everything the band wanted to do before it lost its recording contract with Capital. That’s why it opens with the slow build of “Table for Glasses” before finally breaking out with “Lucky Denver Mint.” That’s why it closes with the staggering rock/techno hybrid of “Goodbye Sky Harbor,” a song that more or less makes The Postal Service redundant. It’s hard to believe such a gorgeous album came from such a desperate place. So it goes.

2. The Rentals – Seven More Minutes

The first time Eric played Seven More Minutes for me, I was actually kind of underwhelmed. Being my first Rentals experience, I was surprised that the record didn’t live up to the “Weezer + Moog” tag. I’d later realize that really only applies to the band’s first album, Return of the Rentals. After hearing some of the Minutes material live, I came to appreciate it much more. Having gone out of print years ago, the hunt was on for a physical copy. I eventually tracked it down after hitting up a few record stores in Montgomeryville, Conshohocken, Philadelphia, and, finally, Plymouth Meeting. And while I was initially unimpressed by the album, I now love it more and more with each listen (hence this blog being named after it).

Here is where The Rentals come into their own, crafting a record that merges dreamy pop with garage rock. Frontman Matt Sharp’s songwriting is still Weezer-esque in that his songs, at their core, are simple, open to interpretation and building. But with all the strings, horns, and keys, it’s like a like a modern day orchestral effort. The record ebbs and flows, from the high spirits of “Getting By” and “Barcelona” to the mellower valleys of “Overlee” and the very sexy “The Man With Two Brains.” While Sharp is the mastermind, the group’s always been better for its wide cache of voices – Blur’s Damon Albarn, Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph, that dog’s Petra Haden, Lush’s Miki Berenyi, and Elastica’s Donna Matthews all show up. The best vocal take, though, has to be Aussie Sharon McConochie on “The Man With Two Brains.” She purrs and slurs through the song, which is about sex to begin with, lending this slow jam a little more kinky energy. Rivers Cuomo even pops up, as a songwriter, on “My Head is in the Sun.” Dripping with synth, Seven More Minutes is like a lost ’79 classic, brimming with punk energy (“Barcelona,” “Big Daddy C.”). Few nighttime drives are as fulfilling as the ones with this album in the stereo…

1. New Found Glory – Nothing Gold Can Stay

…unless, of course, I’ve got New Found Glory’s Nothing Gold Can Stay with me. Freshman year of high school, this was the first punk album to ever feel like it was “mine.” Opening track “Hit or Miss” insured I’d spend the next eight years (and counting) loving this band. I was hooked right away by the song’s nostalgia for shopping malls, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and music on vinyl, however not-so-cool that sounds today. This record distilled my newfound angst into power chords, nasally vocals, punk beats, and breakdowns. Nothing Gold Can Stay, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, and Jawbreaker’s Dear You were my holy trinity of emotional catharsis, with a little bit of Bright Eyes’ Fevers & Mirrors on the side.

Everything about this record made me want to be friends with NFG: The songs were kickass, the hidden track was a giddy vocal diarrhea that wasn’t that funny but must have been fun to record, and the band even had a song called “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.” C’mon! This record walked a fine line for me; boasting pop punk energy and catchiness, hardcore structures, and emo anguish.

Time has been weird to NFG; they’ve gone from underground sensations to mainstream sell-outs to old guard craftsmen to has-beens to … well, I hope the promise shown on this year’s The Tip of the Iceberg EP is an indication of a new upswing in songwriting. Until then, I’ll just have to shout along to “2’s & 3’s,” “Passing Time,” and “Goodbye Song” at the top of my lungs with the windows down, consequences be darned.

NEXT WEEK: memory will rust and erode into lists, if you’re going straight along enough you’ll end up where you were, motherflipping Bloodflowers, 2000.

1 comment:

Paul Tsikitas said...

1999 was the year I gave up on new music. I went into my high school "classic rock" research phase. My personal favorite album from 1999 happens to be Pavement's final studio recording, Terror Twilight. So good.