[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty (1977) on black, Discount’s Ataxia’s Alright Tonight (1996) on white, and Naked Eyes’ Naked Eyes’ (1983) on black.
Place of Purchase: Empty came from the defunct comic/collector shop Legends at the Plymouth Meeting Mall. Naked Eyes came from the defunct used record shop Disc World in Conshohocken. Ataxia came from the Internet, and that shit ain’t ever gonna die.
Thoughts: Jackson Browne had both a specific niche and mass crossover appeal in the ’70s. He was too pretty and poetic for the rockers, but darker and heavier than those softies churning out yacht-rock as well. But he rolled with E Street crowd, so he’s alright with me. Running on Empty is a tour record, with live tracks and rushed studio takes capturing Browne and his band at their peak. The title track is the best cut, with its traveling imagery and huge chorus. It’s like the Doobie Brothers with brains. A close second is a cover of “Cocaine,” which, let’s be honest, has always been a great anti-drug song simply by talking about what cocaine does without politicizing it. Straight edge!
I can’t go more than like 200 words without bringing up pop-punk. It’s the best genre in the word. Suck it, jazz. Discount was one of the best pop-punk acts of the ’90s, and they started their reign off brilliantly with their full-length debut, Ataxia’s Alright Tonight. While things got even better on Half Fiction, Ataxia shows a band already in charge of its sounds. Frontwoman Alison Mosshart dishes personal observations and awkward situations while the rest of the band chugs and burns. Tunes like “Half the Time” and “Malarie’s Mission” get me stoked on life. And that cover of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” tacked on at the end is pretty great too. Forget Paramore and Fifth Hour Hero, this the penultimate female-front pop-punk group. Oddly enough, though, my favorite song on this album is “No Surprise,” which has guitarist Ryan Seagrist on lead vox.
I love Naked Eyes’ cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Always Something There to Remind Me.” It’s one of my favorite ’80s songs. Oh sure, I’m all about tunes from Nebraska and Candy Apple Grey, but the longing and the freaking percussion ensemble that power that song are undeniable. Why don’t marching bands play this song at every sporting event ever? Anyway, the rest of the album holds up, barely. It’s atypical ’80s synth-pop, but sometimes I have to indulge in that kind of stuff too.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Monday, December 27, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This time last year, I did a Christmas edition of VV. This year and every year thereafter, I’ll commemorate something more important: The passing of legendary punker Joe Strummer, who died Dec. 22, 2002. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: The 101’ers’ Elgin Avenue Breakdown (1981) on black, as well as The Clash’s The Clash (U.S. version, 1979) and Give ’Em Enough Rope (1978) on black.
Place of Purchase: 101’ers was an eBay find. The Clash came from the defunct record/antiques store Geeks and Gawds in Ambler, Pa. Rope came from Mad Platter Compact Discs in West Chester, Pa.
Thoughts: Joe Strummer remains an inspiration to me as a musician and writer. A charismatic man of contradictions, he represents pure force of will tempered with compassion. He taught himself how to play guitar wrong-handed specifically because he thought he looked cooler right-handed than left. He forced himself to be a good singer, and his insane energy channeled into some of the most galvanizing anthems of all time. I’ve been mad for his complete discography (Cut the Crap aside), with my earliest Strummer tunes dating to his years in The 101’ers, a bar rock band indebted to The Rolling Stones and Van Morrison. While his bark became more effective with The Clash, Strummer brings a real fire to shoulda-been-hits like “Keys to Your Heart” and “Rabies (From the Dogs of Love).” Original pressings of Elgin Avenue Breakdown, a compilation of 101’ers tunes released to capitalize on The Clash’s fame, go for up to $100 on eBay, but I scored it for $20. The seller thought it was the much less valuable re-release from 2005. I saw no reason to correct him.
101’ers were a solid group, but they can’t compare to The Clash. Decades later, their catalogue is still laced with some of the fiercest punk tunes of all time. I know punk rock cred demands I like the original U.K. version of their self-titled debut, but I honestly prefer the American redux. I mean, we got “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais).” The Clash is best represented by intense, snotty songs like “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” and “Clash City Rockers,” but “White Man” is the better tune. It marks the band’s progression towards Jamaican music, takes white punks to task for ripping off black music, and offers my favorite Clash lines of all time: “Ha ha / You think it’s funny / Turning rebellion into money.”
Give ’Em Enough Rope gets a bad rap. Admittedly, it recycles The Clash’s style to diminished returns, and its successor, London Calling, just flat out clobbers it, but it’s still a great record in its own right. It opens strong, with “Safe European Home” and “English Civil War” leading to one of The Clash’s angriest, yet catchiest, songs, “Tommy Gun.” Strummer fires off more political missives while Mick Jones throws in catchy guitar licks. With these two records, The Clash set the standard for how punk bands should sound. If you’re as smart and as intense as them, congrats, you’re legitimately good.
I still wish Joe Strummer was still around – he had more great songs in him – but with these three records, and plenty more, I can at least celebrate his legacy.
Monday, December 20, 2010
[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
Bear vs. Shark
I didn’t get into BvS until after they broke up, regrettably. They only put out two albums, but they’re charged with so much intensity and emotion that two will have to do. Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands gets me energized every time I put it on, with songs like “Ma Jolie” and “Buses/No Buses” rocking so dang hard. I’m not as keen on Terrorhawk, which I know a lot of people would disagree with me on, but I still love it anyway. The band perfected a crushing sound that should qualify as hardcore, but incorporates so many odd time signatures and keyboard lines that it feels like something beyond hXc. There are only a handful of bands I feel comfortable dubbing post-hardcore (Fugazi, Thursday), and Bear vs. Shark is one of them.
Oddly enough, the only Beastie Boys album I own on CD is The Mix-Up, an all-instrumental rock/R&B record they put out back in 2007 for the hell of it. It’s not exactly The Meters, but it’s still pretty good. I have a tape of License to Ill in my closet somewhere, but honestly, I find the group’s vocals grating after a while. Still, between this and my SNL compilation that features a live version of “Sabotage,” I think I have all the Beastie Boys I’ll ever need.
My interest in The Beatles constantly changes. At one point in high school I went through a really strong anti- phase, but I soon came back around. It’s impossible to adequately rate the band, but the truth is they produced an insane amount of good music in a small period of time that only a handful of other artists (John Darnielle, Robert Smith) have matched. I love (and have consistently loved) the mid-period stuff the most – Rubber Soul and Revolver, and later on the “White Album.” The Beatles sometimes take flak for writing simple songs, but I can’t fault them for following John Lennon’s rules of songwriting: Say what you mean, give it a good backbeat, and make it rhyme. For all the more technical music I listen to, those three rules still generally guide my life. Shit, Lennon basically predicted my love of pop-punk. No wonder Joe Strummer said he was OK. I know, I know, I’m probably the billionth person to write about The Beatles (maybe not even that), but I love these simple love songs.
Verdict: Keep, although I’m gonna have to trim my copy of This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul.
Not to start shit with any hip cats out there, but I’ve never been an avid Beck fan. Every so often I’ll pick up another album in an effort to like him more, and it never goes anywhere. At this point, I’m down to his 2005 effort Guero, which gives a decent overview of his discography – sometimes it’s funky (“E-Pro”), sometimes it’s contemplative (“Broken Drum”), and sometimes it’s silly but fun (“Hell Yes”). I’m good. But then again, I’m all about his soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, so…
Verdict: Keep what’s left.
The Bens were a side project for tour mates Ben Folds/Kweller/Lee. I own their complete discography, which amounts to five songs between a self-titled EP and a track for the Hedwig and The Angry Inch soundtrack. The group sounds exactly like the music from its individual members – catchy pop rock abounds. My only regrets are: 1) I wish they did a full-length and 2) I kinda wish Lee was replaced with Ben Gibbard, but whatevs.
Few rock bands sounded better in the ’80s (maybe The Clash), but Berlin is among them. Then again, they were barely a rock group before segueing into new wave. On the guilty pleasure-ridden Best of Berlin 1979-1988, opener “Blowin’ Sky High” is the only reminder that the band used to rock. It’s an atypical Heart rip. The band vastly improved once they embraced their inner freak, turning out sexy dance floor hits like “Sex (I’m a…),” “No More Words,” and the supremely awesome “The Metro.” Oh, and there’s this other song called “Take My Breath Away”…
I respect Chuck Berry as a rock ‘n’ roll innovator. It all springs forth from him. But I can only take so much Berry at a time. I think it’s just as important to remember that he recycled a shit ton of chords, and all of his songs are either about cars or women troubles or both. That guitar intro to “Johnny B. Goode” is pretty great… until you realize he used that part a lot. I’m certainly not anti-Berry – no self-described rock fan can dismiss him outright – but I appreciate him more than I necessarily love him. That said, “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are so infectiously simple that it makes me hate prog-rock all the more. John Lennon said it best: “Don’t give me any sophisticated crap, just give me Chuck Berry.”
Best Thing in Town
Doylestown pop-punk band in the vein of Anti-Flag. My friend Rory was in a terrible/awesome punk band called Fight to Live that put out a split with them. I played it for my girlfriend tonight and she actually made me promise to hold on to it forever.
Verdict: DON’T FORGET YOUR ROOTS.
Underrated twee band formed by a bunch of punks. The Besties were in a weird place – their melodies were way too pretty for the hardcore set, but their hearts belonged to a tattooed-mindset that Belle & Sebastian fans could never appreciated. The only reason I even know who they are is because I was sent their promo for review on punknews.org. That reminds me; I should follow up on what the members are doing now…
I like The B-52s more in theory than in application, to the point that I probably could have gotten by with just a greatest hits package, although I am quite fond of Cosmic Thing. I get that their early material was profoundly influential in the post-punk and indie genres (Without the B-52s, you don’t get R.E.M., and without R.E.M….), but those songs have a rambling, nonsensical quality to me that gets boring after a while. Sometimes the band went so far looking for something kitschy that they ended up coming off offensive, like on “Quiche Lorraine.” The joke is that it’s a break-up song about a dog, but in doing so it becomes a song about animal abuse (and, uh, bestiality). Boo on that. Still, though, Cosmic Thing catches the band at a perfect point, where their absurdity and catchiness meet. Everybody knows “Love Shack” and “Roam,” but tunes like “Cosmic Thing” and “Junebug” are just as great.
And, OK, I love “Rock Lobster.”
Verdict: I’m gonna sell back Wild Planet. Self-titled can stay… for now. And I’ll always cherish Cosmic Thing for what it is, but I’m just not that keen on bands that are weird/kitschy just because they can be.
I love Big Black. I love the tinny, proto-industrial beats. I love the distorted, shrieking guitar. And I sure love frontman Steve Albini’s bating, angry vocals. Hammer Party and Songs About Fucking are ideal records for when I’m feeling petulant.
Head For the Shallow came my way when I was a freshman in college. I gave the promo a good review at the time, but listening to it now makes me realize just much more in tune with it I am. This two-piece bass/drums combo plays Sabbath-indebted sludge that’s not as removed from Baroness, Kylesa and Black Tusk as one might think, with a healthy dose of Melvins. I’m gonna check out what these guys have been up to since Shallow came out in 2005.
Verdict: Keep/Expand upon.
The Big Chill: Music From and Inspired By [Deluxe Edition]
Despite my life-long distrust of baby boomers, I’ve maintained a steady love of The Big Chill, a dramedy about trying to hold on to one’s values, only to find out that they left anyway. Music plays a big part in the film – Kevin Kline’s character listens to a lot of R&B – and to that end, each song on the original soundtrack lifts a scene or two. I can’t quite say that about the soundtrack’s sequel, More Songs From The Big Chill, but the song selection is still solid (Anything with The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” wins). The second disc is songs that could’ve been the movie, but weren’t, which seems like a stretch, but it also means I get more songs from Marvin Gaye, so I suppose it’s give and take sort of thing.
NEXT TIME: B is for... bein' strictly rude, into feminism, and Mike Bahowski.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Sometimes you look at a record and think, “Yep, this is gonna suck.” In this case, I’m referring to Fell For the Gift by Kandi Coded. Look at the terrible spelling for the name. Look at that album cover. My gut reaction was, “This either rips off Korn or Insane Clown Posse. Either way I’m fucked.” Turns out it’s neither; the band is simply a few self-pitying diatribes away from being the perfect parody of grunge. That’s nothing new, but what makes Gift so disheartening is the presence of Jack Endino.
Endino, in case you forgot, is the producer behind Nirvana’s Bleach, Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff and High on Fire’s Death is This Communion. Oh, and Blood Guts & Pussy by the Dwarves. The guy has some serious credentials, and the fact that he produced and played guitar on Gift has to count for something, right?
Wrong. Endino’s involvement makes the record marginally noteworthy, but it doesn’t make it good. Sure, he recorded it well enough – the guitars are gritty and the drums sound huge. But the songs are laughable. While the occasional success will break through (“Hurt When It Bleeds” has a touch of Matt Pike’s ferocity in the vox), generally the record fails. The songs that make the biggest impression tend to be the worst, like “Walk Away,” which boasts a mind numbingly repetitive rhyme scheme and empty promises of a fist fight or some shit. It’s brainless mook music. Grunge devolved into self-parody well before this record came along, but Gift makes the genre's shortcomings that much more obvious.
I can only assume that the title of the Attack’s new album, Of Nostalgia and Rebellion, is in reference to missing Kid Dynamite and H2O in their prime. Nostalgia deals in turn of the century melodic punk/hardcore. Yes, it’s weird to think of that style being old, but whatever. The Attack does it better than most thanks to big hooks and rapid riffs.
The KD/H2O comparison breaks down like this: When the Attack plays fast, they get into that zen-like perfection that accompanies many a Dr. Dan Yemin composition. When they slow it down, like on the midtempo-ish “Man Down,” they give off more of an NYC hardcore vibe. Point is, they know the tri-state area pretty well, and they’re from freaking Florida.
“The Great Escape” opens the disc, and it’s almost startling in its assault. The production is a little sterile, but the Attack’s chops come through – driving drums, roaring guitars and shouts dominate. “Matters” is even better, kicking out a catchy chorus upfront and then staying strong for three minutes. There’s not too much variation in the style, which might get old for some people, but generally it’s a pretty fun punk assortment. And the record closes out with a cover of “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I don’t care what you think of punk cred; CCR rules. The Attack does a solid job with the tune too, upping the tempo to punk speed while maintaining the song’s core qualities.
However you define classic music, be it through CCR or KD, the Attack has it covered. Somebody book these guys with None More Black stat.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s installment commemorates Big Country, whose brilliant but troubled frontman Stuart Adamson committed suicide Dec. 16, 2001. Um… e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds?]
Records: Big Country’s The Crossing (1983), Steeltown (1984), and The Seer (1986), all on classic black.
Place of Purchase: Crossing came from the late, lamented Disc World in Conshohocken, while the other two came from Siren Records in Doylestown.
Thoughts: I got into Big Country on a whim – I saw The Crossing for like $3 at Disc World, remembered being really into their big hit “In a Big Country,” and figured I might as well take a looksy at their rockitude. Produced by Steve Lillywhite (U2, The Smiths, and, uh, Evanescence), the record is rife with Celtic-tinged highland rock. Guitarists Adamson and Bruce Watson used effects to make their guitars sound like bagpipes. It was such a simple trick, but a genius one – The band managed to honor Irish/Scottish folk while maintaining a solid rock edge. They don’t sound anything like The Pogues, but they somehow cover similar territory. Crossing was a revelation for me, pretty much because of that hit single, and I played it constantly when I got it.
That said, I honestly prefer Steeltown. None of the tunes quite top “In a Big Country,” but as an overall album, it flows nicely. This is also where the band figures out its formula, going from just a group with a gimmick (that one guitar trick) to a more fully formed sound. There are plenty of moments where the group recalls its biggest hit (like the “hah!” on “Where the Rose is Sown”), but they also lock into place. “Country” is good because of the guitar, but here there’s an interplay between Adamson and drummer Mark Brzezicki that’s just killer. And while “Big Country” will always be the band’s best song, “Flame of the West” is certainly a solid second place. Very few ’80s records “rock,” but Steeltown sounds amazing. It’s one of those albums that probably would have killed had it come out 20 years sooner or later.
The Seer is where the band’s formula starts to get a little worn. The lyrics are sometimes awkwardly self-conscious in their political leanings, and there a couple of moments where they blatantly rip off “Big Country.” But hey, it’s still Celtic rock. I don’t play The Seer nearly as much as the first two Big Country records, but it’s still solid, all things considered.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Don't forget to check out "You Were Cool," the song Darnielle gave last month. Bless him.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Back From the Grave
I had developed an interest in ’50s and ’60s garage rock – proto-punk at its most proto – from hanging out at the Philadelphia Record Exchange. The owner there plays the loudest, greatest early rock I’ve ever heard. While I’m still a novice to the genre, the Back From the Grave series has filled in the gaps. The compilation series collects rare seven-inches from obscure bands from the era; some bands’ scant discographies are completely represented by these comps. Some of it comes off a little misogynistic (The Painted Ship’s “I Told Those Little White Lies” is a little too stoked on ruining an ex-girlfriend’s life), but overall it’s a pretty great series, and I look forward to completing the set.
Band of Horses
I’ve been a BoH fan ever since I saw the video for “Funeral” on Subterranean. I was obsessed with their first two records of country rock in the vein of My Morning Jacket in college, and while new album Infinite Arms is a step down, I still spin it on occasion. Frontman Ben Bridwell has a knack for crafting haunting melodies and pulsing road-ready anthems. Cease to Begin has been my favorite release for about a year now. One day I realized that most of that record reminds me of my girlfriend… besides “Is There a Ghost.” But “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Detlef Schrempf,” and “The General Specific” form a nice triad of cuddles, so to speak.
In another life, I was straight edge. Since then I’ve adopted a more casual attitude towards alcohol but maintain a pretty strict aversion to other drugs. I still hold on to straight edge hardcore band Bane, though, just because the music is dang energetic. Holding This Moment is one of my pick-me-up albums. For whatever reason, it’s soundtracked a few of my failures and speed bumps, and in doing so made me want to try harder. Sounds corny, but these guys keep me going.
Verdict: Keep… except for The Note. That one was a little too mallcore…
Here’s a guilty pleasure for you: The Bangles’ best songs were almost always written by other people (“Manic Monday,” for example, was Prince’s futile attempt to get Susanna Hoffs to sleep with him), but their knack for ’60s melodies a la The Hollies made them better than most ’80s pop acts. I think the band would have been better off forming either 20 years before or after they did – get passed the hammy production of the era and there are some great songs on their greatest hits collection like “Hero Takes a Fall” and, uh, “Walk Like an Egyptian.” Shut up; don’t judge me.
I almost always disagree when bands get compared to Jawbreaker, The Cure, and Bruce Springsteen. Those names get tossed out a lot, but they’re rarely earned. Banner Pilot is one of the few groups I’d actually give the Jawbreaker tag to, though, circa Unfun. Well, that and Dillinger Four. The group bothers to write really catchy songs and really personal lyrics. Frontman Nick Johnson crams each song with images, even though you can’t always tell through his gruff vocals. At this point, my only complaint is that Banner Pilot hasn’t released more material – last year’s Collapser was such a breakthrough that I need another album ASAP.
My Canadian girlfriend hates Barenaked Ladies. She makes a big stink about having Canadian pride – she even cheered on Team Canada during the Winter Olympics – but she can’t stand “If I Had $1000000” or “Be My Yoko Ono.” Which is why I usually get death glares when I shout “It’s been!” in her ear. Or maybe it’s because I’m screaming at her. I don’t know. Our relationship is weird. Anyway, I’ve got All Their Greatest Hits, which is pretty much all the BNL I need. It’s got “One Week;” I’m good. The songs are kinda catchy (“Lovers in a Dangerous Time”), kinda silly (“Pinch Me”), kinda nonsensical (The one that goes “Shoebox of lieieieieieieies!”).
Dave Peisner wrote an article for Spin about a year ago about Savannah, Ga.’s metal scene. It was a well-written scene analysis that introduced me to Baroness, Kylesa, and Black Tusk, and I still return to it every few months hoping for more wonders. Us music journalists love labeling any gaggle of bands part of a movement, but Savannah really is the source of today’s best metal bands. These groups write heavy, sludgy jams that just rock so dang hard. Baroness arguably has the most diverse sonic palette, dropping classic metal (“Grad”) and Alice in Chains-style alternative (“Steel That Sleeps the Eye”) into the mix. At this point, I almost have their complete discography. Or, I will once their split with Unpersons comes in the mail. I haven’t loved a metal band like this since Tool circa Lateralus.
Batman Forever soundtrack
I’ve gone back and forth over this album since its release 15 years ago. I loved Batman Forever when I was a kid, but then I got older and got into punk and kind of started to hate “Kiss From a Rose.” Apparently, I didn’t pay much attention to the track listing, since it also features choice cuts from The Flaming Lips, The Offspring, PJ Harvey, and Sunny Day Real Estate. Method Man contributes “The Riddler,” a fucking rap song about the got-damn Riddler! Never has the tag “Music from and inspired by” been more accurate! The Flaming Lips’ “Bad Days” was used quite well in the film, specifically when Jim Carey’s Riddler kills his boss right after hearing the lines “In real life you hate your job and your boss / But in your dreams you can blow his head off.” Come to think of it, The Riddler might have the best music taste of any Batman character…
In a sense, The Beach Boys are the biggest cult band of all time. They were never the most popular band of their era (That would be The Beatles), their best album was a commercial flop (Pet Sounds), and their best period occurred long after the public stopped paying attention (Sunflower, Surf’s Up, and Wild Honey are so good!). Unlike The Beatles, whose best songs almost always ended up as singles, The Beach Boys have a slew of deep cuts on par with any of their hits, like “Salt Lake City” or “All I Wanna Do.” Yeah, sometimes they get a little square – Friends is too hippy-dippy and they wrote way, way too many songs about surfing – but overall The Beach Boys turned out an insane amount of smartly crafted pop songs. Pet Sounds really is their best work, and listening to anything else after it is a little bit of a bittersweet letdown. Brian Wilson’s melodies and arrangements are at their richest, and he never again matched their beauty and dexterity, as Smiley Smile and Wild Honey clearly shows, but the records that followed are still mighty catchy, foreshadowing a lot of what’s going on in indie music right now. Now I’m seriously considering pushing even further into their ’70s discography, as I’ve just read some pretty great things about Love You.
Verdict: Keep, although some of the bonus tracks on the re-issues aren’t worth my time. I love “Good Vibrations,” but how many alternate cuts do I need? Same goes for the pre-Pet Sounds material. I’ll keep the singles and ditch the deep cuts. Have you heard “Farmer’s Daughter?”
NEXT TIME: TERRRRRROOOORRRRHAAAAWWWWWWWK, MMMMMMEEEEETTTRRRROOO, and Chuck Berry.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I attended La Salle College High School from 2000 to 2004, in that last gasp before the iPod revolution. Mp3 players were around, but they weren't really all that great. Filesharing was certainly going on, but kids would burn those illegally ripped tunes to CD-Rs. There was still a slight physicality to listening. Like many an unhappy white middle class American youth, I spent a lot of my free time in my car, driving around and brooding. I dubbed mix tapes for myself, agonizing over the song selection, making sure to pick songs that I loved but knew I wouldn't get sick of, and even tossing in a few potential new favorites. I still have most of those tapes.
In later years, I became obsessed with things like energy flow, making sure each song segued into something complementary. I also just got sucked into the act of making a tape. I would stay up all night perfecting a cassette, play it in my car for a couple of weeks, then make another one. I think you can tell when I hit the a.m. mark in each dubbing session, because suddenly the song selection drifted towards more atmospheric fare like My Bloody Valentine and Autolux. But the intros were always punk rock.
There are rules for making mix tapes - Open strong, dial it down a little, then kick ass again. Only use an artist once per tape. Have a good closer. Oddly enough, I never thought about that stuff on my first tape. I just recorded songs I liked.
I have always been reticent about upgrading my technology. Because it's expensive. Because you never know what format is going to survive. Because my old stuff still works. But once I finally upgraded to an iPod, I was pretty much done with tapes. I've kept my collection around, in my closet, for those rare moments when I drive my dad's car, which still has a tape player, but now that I'm moving out, I doubt I'll ever use these tapes again. I'd give them away, but who even uses that format anymore?
I shouldn't be this sad, though. I mean, I still own The Smith's "I Know It's Over" - on compact disc and vinyl, no less. I can listen to these songs whenever I want. I could even recreate the mix tapes as playlists on my iPod. I think it's just that the format afforded me an escape from the mundane and the depressing when I was 17. It gave my friends and I something to sing along to. It meant so much when I was at an age where everything meant so much. Now, it's just more clutter in my closet.
Here's the tracklisting for the first mix tape I ever made:
Mix of Joy + Shouts?!
1. Yellowcard - "View From Heaven," Ocean Avenue [This is embarrassing, but whatever. I still love this song.]
2. Jawbreaker - "Save Your Generation," Dear You
3. Sunny Day Real Estate - "Seven," Diary
4. The Reunion Show - "New Rock Revolution," The Motion EP
5. The Cure - "Just Like Heaven," Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
6. The Jealous Sound - "Hope For Us," Kill Them With Kindness
7. Eisley - "Marvelous Things," Marvelous Things EP
8. Death Cab For Cutie - "The Sound of Settling," Transatlanticism
9. Simple Minds - "Don't You (Forget About Me)," New Wave compilation
10. The Sounds - "Seven Days a Week," Living in America
11. Foo Fighters - "Everlong," The Colour and The Shape
12. Allister - "Somewhere in Fullerton," Welcome to the Family compilation
13. Allister - "Love Song," Dead Ends and Girlfriends [I ran out of room on my tape and decided to blast through a couple short songs. Can you tell?]
14. Fizzy Bangers - "Short Attention Span," Short Music For Short People
15. Less Than Jake - "Anchor," Short Music For Short People
16. Bigwig - "Freegan," Short Music For Short People [I went vegetarian about a year later]
1. The Von Bondies - "C'mon, C'mon," Pawn Shoppe Heart
2. Johnny X and The Conspiracy - "Delivered Vacant," Buy, Sell, Trade
3. R.E.M. - "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," Document
4. Against Me! - "We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)," Reinventing Axl Rose
5. Brand New - "Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades," Deja Entendu
6. Rival Schools - "Used For Glue," United By Fate
7. Lostprophets - "Last Train Home," Start Something
8. Without Parachute - "A Song Before the End," Here's Without Parachute
9. A Perfect Circle - "Judith," Mer de Noms
10. RX Bandits - "VC3," Progress
11. Strike Anywhere - "Sunset on 32nd Street," Change is a Sound
12. The Distillers - "L.A. Girl," The Distillers
13. The Bouncing Souls - "The Ballad of Johnny X," Maniacal Laughter
14. Rancid - "Don Giovannia," Rancid (2000)
Sometimes, for brief moments, it must suck to be Daft Punk. Generally regarded as one of the best electronic acts around for the last decade or so, the group has entered a cycle in the last five years of having their projects overhyped, critically savaged, and then redeemed. This happened to their last album, Human After All, which didn’t receive the love it deserved until nearly two years later, following a series of brilliantly staged live shows documented on Alive 2007. It seems like Daft Punk might have to go through the cycle all over again with their work on TRON: Legacy, a film in which Jeff Bridges (Starman, Big Lebowski, freakin’ Iron Man) and some young pretty people get trapped inside a computer.
Advance buzz on the project suggested the soundtrack would redefine music or whatever. Obviously, it won’t. There are only so many notes to play. Early reviews seem dismayed by the group’s use of an orchestra to perform their compositions, hoping for something more akin to Alive 2007. The problem is that they’re approaching the soundtrack as Daft Punk fans, and not as TRON fans.
I enjoy Daft Punk and TRON, which I think might explain why I love this record so much.
Let’s set up some parameters for discussing the album: First, TRON: Legacy hasn’t been released yet, so I don’t know how well it will handle as a score. In other words, I don’t know yet how successful the soundtrack is at is primary function. Sometimes brilliant soundtracks don’t do much for their films (Juno), sometimes they don’t hold up as independent works (Inception), and sometimes they’re perfect no matter what (Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight is flawless. This is not a debate).
It’s also important to take into account aesthetics. TRON: Legacy was never meant to be a sequel to Human After All, so it shouldn’t be regarded as such. But as a sequel to the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (with some help from Journey!), it’s stunning. Carlos blended orchestral and electronic music to great effect for the original 1982 soundtrack, marking a milestone just as important as the early works of Kraftwork or the birth of post-punk. But Carlos herself was disappointed in the work, saying at the time that, “My music is simply difficult to perform… We were only allowed two days of orchestral recording, which for the sheer amount and complexity of music that I had written was inadequate” (Keyboard Magazine, Nov. 1982).
Daft Punk, by comparison, was able to organically create their score over the course of two years. They take Carlos’ original ideas and develop them further. For that reason alone, TRON: Legacy is a success. Sure, the duo gets help from Jeff Bridges on track two, “The Grid,” whereby he provides a spoken word explanation of the world inside a computer, but the score has plenty of rising/falling actions, divides up the orchestral-heavy vs. synth-heavy material, and generally creates a world of its own to get lost in.
TRON: Legacy is much more subtle than most people probably expected, as there are plenty of quiet moments, and even plenty of traditional orchestral movie moments. But that’s kind of the point – I know when I listen to the string swells of “Rectifier” that some serious bad guy shit is going down, because the tones used CONVEY BAD GUY SHIT GOING DOWN. These moments make the more Daft Punk-y tunes – upbeat, danceable techno – all the better, though. I’m not sure I would love “Derezzed” as much as I do if it wasn’t surrounded by mellower material. “End of the Line” is a midtempo electronic number, but it’s basically a primer for “Derezzed” to rock the party. Give and take. Tension and release. That’s how good music works.
This is not an album for Daft Punk fans per say, unless those fans also love science fiction and especially love TRON. Because these French robots totally get TRON. But I am excited for people to look back on this record in like a decade as an important document. Also, light cycles.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
At its best, Nite Nite recalls Siouxsie and the Banshees’ eerie grace and Blondie’s pop sensibilities. These moments are few on How to Touch the Moon. At their worst, well, they sound a lot like Dido.
Part of this problem comes from the production. Vocalist/guitarist Davis Chatfield does a really a good Debbie Harry impression, but just like Harry herself, those powerful pipes can be falter when not properly supported. I get that this record was self-released and all, but Andrija Tokic’s mix job here just doesn’t help the songs. Goth songs need atmosphere, but these tracks are too sterilized. At the same time, though, they don’t have the punch usually associated with clean production. The music is trapped in a weird midpoint production-wise.
Of course, Tokic can’t shoulder all the blame. The tunes themselves are a little lacking, a little repetitive and a little underwhelming. Yet there’s promise here. The best songs bear a Morrissey-esque bravado, like the maudlin “Hello, I’m Meloncholy.” Given time to grow, Nite Nite could pull out a really solid set of ethereal, moody dance music.
But that’s a big “what if.” As is, Nite Nite has yet to realize its potential. How to Touch the Moon isn’t particularly terrible, but it’s certainly not great. It’s just sort of… there.
[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s installment celebrates the brief return of The Ergs!, a pop-punk act that may one day be just as revered as The Ramones or Screeching Weasel. Yeah, I said it. E-mail email@example.com with your own big finds!]
Records: The Ergs!’s 3 Guys, 12 Eyes seven-inch (2001) on black, “Blue” single (2007) on blue (a-doy), and That’s It… Bye (2008) on black.
Place of Purchase: 3 Guys came from Repo Records in m.f.-in’ Thrilladelphia. “Blue” was purchased at an Ergs! show, back when I still went to concerts. That’s It was mailordered, but I honestly don’t remember who I bought it from… I just remember leaving the country and, when I came back, there it was.
Thoughts: 3 Guys, 12 Eyes was my first physical Ergs! purchase. The Ben Kweller EP caught my attention; 3 Guys cemented my love. While they only released two proper full-lengths, The Ergs! wrote and recorded an insane amount of material, which is why I think they should be canonized as punk rock saints. I don’t listen to them quite as much as I used to, but I remember the glee I got from hearing each new seven-inch or attending a set. The Ergs! were a talented, generous band, and 3 Guys bears that out. It even comes with a comic! And how you could you not be moved by the emotional appeal of “If You Don’t,” or the guitarmageddon of “Bought a Copy?” Shit rules.
2007 was a great year for Ergs! fans. We got the fantastic full-length Upstairs/Downstairs, as well as a bevy of seven-inches: Splits with Lemuria and Grabass Charlestons, a single for “Books About Miles Davis,” and this little curio called “Blue.” The A-side is typical Ergs!. “Blue” is super catchy, pretty fast, and just generally great. But the song that makes the bigger impression for me is a cover of Nirvana’s “Blew.” They obviously did it as a joke, but it’s a great grunge cover. It reaffirms in my mind that The Ergs! were a great band, as they could take on a variety of styles with ease [Cue reference to that time people complained about Upstairs/Downstairs not having enough jazz references].
Yet for all my fandom, I have mixed feelings about That’s It… Bye. Maybe it’s because the band made a huge deal about it being their last recordings (While they’ve released other songs since their break-up, That’s It features the last three songs The Ergs! ever recorded). Maybe it’s because I never had a chance to bond with the recordings due to personal reasons. Maybe it’s because “Anthem For a New Amanda” is slightly slower. Whatever. Point is, this EP was slightly anti-climactic for me. While the members have gone on to other projects with varying success, I’ll always hold on to the years The Ergs! were together. That said, while I’ll probably never get to see them live again, I certainly look forward to hearing from their new projects. Whether or not they can rekindle that old Erg-y chemistry remains to be seen, but c’mon. Have you heard “Introducing Morrissey?”
Monday, December 6, 2010
Hailing from San Diego, Calif., the Hillstreet Stanglers love the shit out of Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks. As evidenced by their EP Imaginary Baggage, the group does its best to ape California punk acts of yesteryear.
While a little too slow to truly run with Keith Morris, the band does a decent DK tribute. Vocalist/bassist Dick Strangler does a good Jello Biafra impression, warbles and all, and the band even sprinkles in a little bit of surf guitar on the title track. The best I can say about this EP is DK enthusiasts can finally get some new DK tunes.
But that just means Hillstreet Stranglers are a tribute band that doesn’t play the hits. They’re solid at what they do, but they don’t exactly leave much of an original impression. The EP’s five tracks slip by in 12 minutes without much differentiation. It’s all bash, crash and rehash. I’m not going to write the band off entirely, but the Hillstreet Stranglers need to find some new influences, or maybe even try to discover their own musical identity if they’re up to the task.
Friday, December 3, 2010
It’s unfair to compare sons to their fathers, but I’m going to do it anyway. Sure, Daniel Davies and his band Year Long Disaster deserve a chance to carve out their own identity. But Daniel’s dad is Dave Davies of the Kinks, and YLD’s sound so deliberately avoids everything The Kinks did right that it becomes obnoxious.
Here’s a quick history of the Kinks: They wrote great, loud rock ‘n’ roll songs until the Who ripped them off. Then they wrote great concept albums until the Who ripped them off... again. Then they settled for making arena rock records in their twilight that were better than most bands’ output but still sad compared to Lola or Face to Face. They inspired punk rock, told great stories and left behind a discography that’s cluttered but smart and rewarding in places. They were better than Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Rod Stewart, artists who punks pretty much hate (as well they should, aside from Every Picture Tells a Story).
I mention those three specific bands because they so clearly are YLD’s primary influences. It’s like some sort of youth rebellion where Daniel feels the need to act out against his dad, but he’s going about it all wrong by embracing acts that, while more popular than the Kinks, are way dumber, lamer and suckier. The Kinks wrote smart, catchy, rocking tunes. YLD has a handle on big riffs, but these songs lack depth.
To be fair, the band is at least good at what they do. For radio-ready cock-rock, Black Magic: All Mysteries Revealed is better than most entries in the genre. The players are technically accomplished. But the songs are of a lesser value, exacerbated by the fact that Daniel sings like a Davies. This stuff barely worked on Low Budget; it just hurts here. Still, I could this band cleaning up some lowest common denominator classic/hard rock format.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Here's the deets:
The Next Big Thing
Run For It
A Bridge Too Far
4638 Umbria Street
In true punk fashion, this will be a basement show, so don't be a dick. Also, there's parking available Hermitage Street, so enjoy that.
[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s installment is an epic yarn about Record Store Day, which came twice this year with the inclusion of a Black Friday celebration. Here are three vinyl finds from RSD 2010, Part Deux. Viva la vinyl and, as always, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your own big finds!]
Records: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Higher Than the Stars Remixes (2009) on black, Jimi Hendrix’s Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (2010) on clear green, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Save My Love” b/w “Because the Night” on black.
Place of Purchase: Higher Than the Stars came from a.k.a. music. Hendrix and Bruuuuuuuuuuce came from Repo Records.
Thoughts: a.k.a music…you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, at least as far as indie record obsessives go. Still, they hooked me up with that exclusive Bruce 10-inch back in April for Record Store Day proper. So I decided to stop there first, even though my loyalty lies with Repo. The clerks at a.k.a. tend to be wieners, but the selection is so good. It’s like hate-sex on black wax. I arrived right when they opened, hoping to beat the RSD crowd, only to find out that a.k.a., for whatever reason, wasn’t participating. I asked an employee if they had anything in stock. “Oh, we don’t do that,” he chortled. What a dick-bungler. Still, they had a pretty neat remix 12-inch from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart that had been discounted (T or F: The Pains sound even better with haunting dance beats? Discuss), so I bought that, went to Brave New Worlds Comics, because hell yeah I love comics, and then called up Repo.
“Hey, I was wondering if you guys still had any of the Record Store Exclusives in stock?” I asked, lips trembling.
“Hell’s yeah we do. Supplies are limited, but we actually care about customer service, so I’ll set aside whatever you need, Joe Pelone. You are one cool guy,” the voice on the other line said [NOTE: I’m paraphrasing. Capote did it!]. A quick drive to Sixth and South yielded like $70 in records and CDs, because that is how I do. Among my haul was a Christmas 10-inch from Jimi Hendrix. It’s a goofy curio to hear Hendrix play psychedelic versions of “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Turns out he wanted to record some demos as reference track for a string of December shows he was playing. Ever the showman, Jimi tossed in some holiday goodies. The result is exactly what you think would be: Christmas standards mixed with Jimi’s psych-rock noodling. Dude would have hosted an awesome Christmas special. “Three Little Bears” is thrown in to, because why not? The tunes are good, but the back cover is priceless.
I also picked up a new single of old songs from Bruce Springsteen. “Save My Love” and “Because the Night” come from Springsteen’s new vault-clearing The Promise, which boasts two discs songs discarded during the recording of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I get why these songs didn’t make it on to the album, but the fact that Bruce just left “Save My Love” to rot is insane. It’s such a catchy, radio-ready anthem. At least “Because the Night” got to live on with Patti Smith (Who, let’s be honest, perfected the song). I can’t wait to hear The Promise based on these recordings, though. I mean, Springsteen basically dropped a double-album for the hell of it.
Post-script: After Repo, I ate victory falafel from Maoz on Second and South. It was delicious.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Hailing from the mighty state of Wisconsin, punk/ska act Atrocity Solution somehow manages to build a crust punk bridge between Choking Victim and Leftover Crack. I know that’s a big variety of music, but bear with me. The group’s latest, a seven-track EP entitled Tomorrow’s Too Late, keeps a crack rock steady beat throughout.
“The Protest Song” lives up to its title, although lyrically it tends to come off like the ramblings of a crazy homeless person. Heck, they don’t even bothering using apostrophes. These guys don’t conform to your grammatical rules, man. Still, the music rips. “Change the Channel” adds in more ska. The rest of the EP oscillates between those two styles.
Not to belabor the point, but these guys really, really sound like Leftover Crack. The vocals alternate from snotty spit takes to demonic, throaty screams. The guitars are either faux-metal crunchy or upstroking ska. The only thing missing is LC’s sense of humor, which went a long way towards turning Mediocre Generica into a classic. Give me a joke song about Satanism. Hell, even songs like “Born to Die” had a tongue in cheek quality to them that made them better. Atrocity Solution’s biggest problem isn’t plagiarism, it’s that they’re trying so hard to cultivate a certain sound that they don’t seem to be having any fun with it. Somebody buy these kids a Star Fucking Hipsters record.
Monday, November 29, 2010
With the Heart Ache/Dethroned re-release, fans get two possible paths for Jesu, a droning quasi-shoegaze act built around the machinations of Justin K. Broadrick (ex-Godflesh/Napalm Death). Heart Ache, originally released in 2004, shows where the band actually went, which is experimental ambient metal. Dethroned, a heretofore unreleased EP dating back to the same year, is more industrial-tinged. You could even call it sludge metal. Decide for yourself which sound is preferable.
Dethroned is more accessible, but Heart Ache is the better test. If you like the swirling, sludgy drone of the 20-minute title track (“Ruined,” the only other song, is even longer), then you will enjoy the rest of the band’s discography. Some of it’s more ethereal (the EPs), some of it’s more rocking (the full-lengths), but Heart Ache is both the origin story and fulcrum of Jesu. Everything better than Heart Ache is amazing; everything worse than it is pretty monotonous. This is the kind of recording that sounds good turned up like a jet engine or turned down to a whisper. Perhaps the nicest thing I could say is the songs are each 20 minutes long, but they feel like they’re only 10.
Heart Ache takes longer to appreciate, but it’s ultimately both the better half of this release and the right choice for introducing Jesu. Dethroned is still pretty good, though. This disc offers four tracks in 28 minutes. It’s more accessible than Heart Ache, if you can call seven-minute songs with the vocals buried “accessible.” A lot what Jesu does best is represented here: Slow dirges and otherworldly passages abound. But there are little differences. Sometimes it’s as subtle as hearing an actual piano on “I Can Only Disappoint You.” Or it’s in the way opener “Dethroned” is so much more aggressive than what came later that it’s sort of like a bridge between Godflesh and Jesu. It’s easier to get into than Heart Ache, but that kind of makes it disappointing in a way. By being easier to digest, it’s in turn easier to move on from. That said, it’s Jesu. Debate the details, but still listen to both discs.