Monday, November 3, 2008

2000 - this station is non-operational.

In fall 2000, I began my freshman year at La Salle College High School for dudes. It was a weird, transitional year – but aren’t they all? My friends from St. Helena’s kind of split up into “the La Salle kids” and the “Lansdale Catholic” kids (never mind those few who became public school ruffians!). Even though we rode the same bus, for some reason the LC kids always sat up front and the LSCHS kids sat in the back. Have you ever just stopped being friends with someone and not known why?

I spent a good chunk of freshmen year trying to not be noticed, which went pretty well, overall, except when I’d fuck up in band class and Mr. C would chew my face off (Fave C. quote ever: “It goes dot da-dada dot, not pussy, pussy, faggot.”). More importantly, though, I was on the cusp of discovering punk rock, which is significant in that it is the greatest genre of all time and it saved my life and if you disagree you are anti-cool, ya anti-cool jerk who is lame. I say “cusp” because I wasn’t quite there; I was starting to get into bands like Sum-41, At the Drive-In, and New Found Glory, but it wasn’t until after freshman year, in the summer of 2001, that my doors of perception got kicked the fuck in.

So basically, 2000 was the year I realized that most of my favorite bands were terrible, and 2001 was the year I figured out what wasn’t terrible. I entered high school with a love of Korn and Limp Bizkit, nü-metal acts that tapped into my alienation and desire for aggression. At the Drive-In and Tool made those bands sound irrelevant to me. And once I heard The Ramones and The Bouncing Souls, they stopped existing in my world altogether.

10. At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command

Funny story: The Wall (remember them?) had two albums on sale for $9.99: At the Drive-In’s The Relationship of Command and Sum-41’s All Killer No Filler. “One Armed Scissor” and “Fat Lip” had been bouncing around inside my head for weeks. I had enough cash to buy one of them, a decision that I now realize would radically alter my life’s course.

I picked All Killer No Filler.

And while I unapologetically loved the eff out of Sum-41 in high school, At the Drive-In is the band I listen to much more frequently now. Taking Fugazi’s angular post-hardcore sound to a much more surreal, demonic place, ATDI were heralds for the kind of music I wouldn’t truly love until years later. You wanna talk gateway drugs? Howsabout the crazed performance video for “One Armed Scissor?” Or the feminist defense of the video for “Invalid Litter Dept.,” which protests the Juárez murders? Or how about that time they got motherfucking Iggy Pop to motherfucking duet with them on motherfucking “Rolodex Propaganda?” One of my biggest regrets is that I did not buy this album until after the band split into The Mars Volta and Sparta.

9. Deftones – White Pony

I’d call Deftones the only nü-metal band that matters if that wasn’t so insulting. Indeed, the ‘tones took their metal influences and combined them with a love of My Bloody Valentine, Depeche Mode, and The Smiths. The result: Stoned-out smoky metal jams with ambiance and emotion. Deftones have always been much smarter than their immediate peers, which is probably why they’re still going strong. White Pony is the album that got me into them – there’s something about the way frontman Chino Moreno hits the line “I give you the gun / Blow me away” in the video for “Change (In the House of Flies).” It’s the only time I’ve been impressed by a Jesus Christ pose (Soundgarden songs about the matter notwithstanding). Some people slag Moreno for his long, slurring approach to singing, but it totally suits the muddled, distorted songwriting. Moreno uses his voice just as much as Stephen Carpenter uses his guitar or Frank Delgado uses his keyboard to create this thick aura of morose fervor.

8. Mirah – You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This

Madonna has always had a cold, selfish, over-thought approach to sex in her songwriting (something apparently mirrored by her real life…); I prefer the warm, giving, playful nature of Mirah’s sexuality as expressed through her songwriting. On her debut full-length, Mirah delivered the cutest song about S & M (“Murphy Bed”), the cutest song about wanting to eff someone from long distance (“Million Miles”), and the cutest song about afternoon shags (“Pollen”) of all time. Mirah dresses her songs up in neat lil folky pop ensembles, and the raw sexual energy is further underscored by her strident leftist politics. Who knew a protest singer could be so… fun and well-rounded?

7. Modest Mouse – The Moon & Antarctica

I was at a party in high school when Bill Benz and Eric Geiger started playing “3rd Planet,” on an acoustic guitar, off to the side. Some people remember their first LSD experience; they remember colors and emotions and connections. Well, that’s how I feel about “3rd Planet.” At first I thought maybe Geiger had written it, on account of him being a phenomenal lyricist (Favorite Geiger lyric, from “Moonbounce Collapse:” “Hop upon my moonbounce / There’s just me and then there’s you, bounce!”). After they blew my brain all over the commonwealth, the boys explained it was actually a Modest Mouse song.

I went out and bought The Moon & Antarctica not long after that. The album is much spacier than anything Modest Mouse did before or after, making it kind of an anomaly in the band’s discography. I was stoked to hear the original version of “3rd Planet” when I popped the disc in, and relieved to hear the brilliance of each successive track. “Gravity Rides Everything” continues the expansive pop feel before “Dark Center of the Universe” heads into acid rock. Some days, this is my favorite Modest Mouse record.

6. The Cure – Bloodflowers

“When I look back on it all as I know we will / You and me wide-eyed / I wonder will we remember / How it feels to be this alive? / And I know we have to go I realize / We only get to stay so long / We always have to back to real lives / Where we belong.”

The above are the first two stanzas of “Out of This World,” the first song off of what was intended to be The Cure’s farewell album, Bloodflowers. After 1996’s crushingly disappointing Wild Mood Swings (not to mention 1992’s slightly disjointed Wish), frontman Robert Smith was about ready to check out on The Cure once and for all. That attitude ended up freeing Smith’s songwriting – Bloodflowers unquestionably sounds like it was supposed to be a good send-off. Much more subdued and spacey, it hearkens back to Disintegration. And that’s not just me trying to oversell the album; Bloodflowers was also meant to conclude The Cure’s “Dark Trilogy,” which consisted of Pornography and Disintegration. While the band’s ’90s psychedelic guitar squalls show up on tracks like “Watching Me Fall” and “Bloodflowers,” for the most part, the album is an attempt to grow old gracefully, to put on one last good show. Obviously, this didn’t happen, since The Cure have released two more albums since then. Still, though, Bloodflowers stands as the delayed last great Cure album – The Cure was way too safe and pandering, although I haven’t listened to my copy of 4:13 Dream just yet. And while I’ll always love the time I finally say The Cure in concert this year, part of me will always wish that the lads had gone out on the high note that is Bloodflowers.

5. Flogging Molly – Swagger

Up until this year’s Float, Swagger was my favorite Flogging Molly record. But man is it a close race. As recorded by Steve Albini, the album captures the band at its rawest, borrowing from The Pogues while outrocking ‘em as well. Frontman Dave King leads his ragtag team of boozers and losers through 13 of the best songs about drinking, fighting, dancing, and loving. This is perhaps the penultimate Celtic punk album, blending searing guitar and pounding drums with more conventional Irish instrumentation via tin whistle, fiddle, banjo, and accordion. For every barn burner like “Salty Dog” or “Devil’s Dance Floor,” King has a tender, folkier side for ye with songs like “Far Away Boys” or “Grace of God Go I.” Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash is pretty good, but Swagger is drunkenly transcendent.

4. Our Lady Peace – Spiritual Machines

Our Lady Peace hit their creative peak in 2000 with Spiritual Machines, a concept album made with, and in reaction to, Raymond Kurzweil and his book The Age of Spiritual Machines. The last album to feature original guitarist Mike Turner, the band entered a spacier (there’s that word again…) level to accommodate the record’s futuristic, science fiction-oriented nature. The album is perhaps best known for the life-affirming anthem, “Life,” one of the first songs I ever learned how to play on drums. But it’s the more paranoid, Orwellian alt-rock jams that stick with me, tracks like album opener “Right Behind You (Mafia)” and “Everyone’s a Junkie.” The album still holds up for me, eight years later, combining my love of rock and/or roll with my love for robots.

3. The Mountain Goats – The Coroner’s Gambit

My second Mountain Goats purchase in high school was The Coroner’s Gambit, a raggedy, lo-fi acoustic album that solidified my love for John Darnielle. I’ve made it pretty clear how much I fucking love the man’s work, so I’ll cut to the songs I love: “Jaipur,” with its aggressive, bluesy guitar part. The pre-4 A.D. Goats recordings are blessed by their grainy recordings; I can imagine so many more parts to this song than there really are. “Baboon,” for its keyboard-n-drums style and its bitter kiss-off. Favorite lyrics include “I haven’t got very little money left / …but I’ll have none of your goddamned impudence” and “I’d be grateful my children aren’t here to see this / if you’d ever seen fit to give me children.” That last line actually made my mother stop and stare at me for several minutes before asking what the hell was wrong with me. That’s right kids, one guy with a guitar can seethe with far more hate than any hardcore band. A final shoutout goes to “Shadow Song,” a tune forever engrained in my brain from when I saw John perform it at the Mighty North Star Bar.

It was during his encore. People had been drinking for a while, and they started calling out all manner of requests. He honored none of them, opting for this quiet little ditty.

“If you get there before me / will you save me a seat?” he asked before wrenching forward into an anguished cry, mouth frozen in horror. It was terrible and random, made even more intense when he made the face again, but without the noise, as if he was so choked up with grief that he would pass out. No one performs like John Darnielle.

2. New Found Glory – New Found Glory

Ah, the more assured follow-up… I got into New Found Glory through their first single, “Hit or Miss,” freshman year of high school. When I found out the song was on two albums, I settled for getting both as quickly as possible. While I still prefer Nothing Gold Can Stay, New Found Glory is still an improvement in some ways. Foremost is the better recording quality. The band took the time to make sure you feel every bass boom. Frontman Jordan Pundik comes through better too, aided by his lower singing range, which he’s stuck with. The group’s sound has been co-opted by many pop punk/emo bands hoping to step to the throne, but for me NFG will always be the kings. In their early years, the hooks, energy, and honesty were plentiful. And while the band doesn’t quite touch me lyrically anymore like a Bruce Springsteen or a John Darnielle, there is something desperate and searching there that I still identify with. New Found Glory is truly one of the finest mixtures of pop punk, emo, and hardcore to date.

1. The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

Occasionally, some folks do write better songs than John Darnielle. I was introduced to The Weakerthans in college, when my band wanted to play “Left & Leaving” for a covers show. I was hooked by the mp3 my bandmates gave me, and I purchased the whole dang album not long after that. Like Darnielle, Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson is a hyper-literate songwriter. I was struck by the moment in the title track when Samson is so angry and sad at his ex-lover that all he can do is forlornly list the things (s)he left him. Another hitter was “Aside,” which rose to prominence on the Wedding Crashes soundtrack. No wonder; the song is quick and chock full o’ pep and neurosis. My favorite, though, was and is “Exiles Among You.”

The song talks about some woman, a Kate Winslet in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type, trying to keep it together. “Wish on everything / pray that she remains / proud and strange and so hopelessly hopeful” goes the chorus. That final guitar squalor that follows after she “shoplifts some Christmas gifts and a bracelet for herself and considers phoning home” is devastating. As she “sits down on the sidewalk and bites her bottom lip and spends the afternoon waiting for traffic lights to change,” I find a solace in the dissonant chords that surround her.

I’ve always been a sucker for troubled girls.

2001: born to die, wear the grudge like a crown, American justice/American dreams, 2001.

1 comment:

Mr. Dogg said...