[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
Big D and The Kids Table
Depending on what I’m listening to, my favorite ska band is either Less Than Jake or Big D and The Kids Table (No offense to The Specials or The English Beat. I loves you too). But D has shown the most variety in their work. Their early material up through How It Goes is stuffed with stellar ska/punk. Strictly Rude was more two-tone, while Fluent in Stroll was a new genre altogether, a blend of two-tone and swing. Their non-full-length material could be even more experimental, ranging from techno to international to spooky Halloween music. Sometimes it works (I listen to Salem Girls so much every fall). Sometimes it fails (Porch Life). My fandom took a severe hit when the band chewed me out over a negative review for their remix album, Strictly Mixed and Mashed, but I still love the music. Besides, it’s not like that time Tom Gabel freaked out on me via Twitter…
Verdict: Keep most of it. I’m not that keen on their split with Drexel from back in the day. It’s too indistinct for me. The band didn’t start coming into their own until Good Luck, an album that I love more and more with each passing year. And I like Fluent in Stroll just as much, so eat it, bitter Big D fans.
I didn’t even plan this, but today I drove around Norristown listening to Bikini Kill whilst wearing my “Fight For Women’s Rights!” baseball tee from a women’s rights benefit show at my college. HA HA HA. Anyhoozle, I got into Bikini Kill near the end of high school, and was blown away by how angry they sounded. Minor Threat taught me about straight edge, Bikini Kill taught me about equal rights betwixt genders, and between the two I formed some sense of morality. I get way more excited than anyone else when “Rebel Girl” comes up on Rock Band 2.
Mike Birbiglia and Patton Oswalt are locked in a deadly battle for my heart. I love Oswalt’s nerd rage, but Birbiglia takes about failure, something I’m quite familiar with, so well. The basic tenant of his comedy comes back to this quote: “I have a tendency to make awkward situations more awkward.” That’s my life, and my girlfriend and I get tons of laughs out of his bits. Here’s a clip:
The Bird and The Bee
I have a lot of memories attached to the first Bird and The Bee album. It came out around the time my girlfriend and I first started dating, and its electro-twee tunes soundtracked our budding romance. Of course, that album contains “Fucking Boyfriend,” one of those coyly crass tunes in the tradition of The Vaselines, so it’s fitting. Less awesome is follow-up Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. At 14 tracks, it feels a little bloated, and none of the hooks are as big as “Again and Again” or “I’m a Broken Heart.” Inara George’s vocals are still quite pretty though.
Verdict: Keep the self-titled, sell Ray Guns.
I forget how much I like Bjork. She’s rarely my first choice for music, but I’m so happy every time I put on one of her first four albums (or her remix disc Telegram). As weird as she gets, Bjork always challenges herself on each album and tries to come up with a new direction for her sound. Certain hallmarks remain – electronic atmosphere, that huge voice, lyrics crammed with emotion and fantasy – but overall, each disc is its own universe. Debut is her most traditional; it’s basically a dance record with heart. Post is where she starts experimenting, going from big band jazz to industrial. Its companion, Telegram, reevaluates the songs. It doesn’t so much remix the songs as offer new perspectives, and I view the two as one piece of work. Sometimes I prefer Post, sometimes I prefer Telegram. The orchestral version of “Hyperballad” kills me. It’s quiet during all the scene description of Bjork destroying beautiful things while her lover’s sleeping, for the sake of getting that nature out of her system so she can go back to being normal, and then explodes during the choruses. It’s perfect. Homogenic and Vespertine are less eclectic and more moody. One’s trip-hop and the other’s just straight up mellow, but for a while I listened to these records every night as I slept. In between the two, Bjork dropped Selmasongs, a mini-album soundtrack for her film Dancer in the Dark. It’s not as good as her proper studio records, but its got some cool tricks and continues some of the ideas she presented on Post.
Medula is when things started to slip. Largely a cappella, the record oscillates between full arrangements and vocal exercises, and it doesn’t quite flow that well as a result. At its best, it’s like an a cappella version of Debut (“Triumph of a Heart,” “Who Is It”). At its worst, well, it’s boring. Volta felt like an overview of her other sounds, and just doesn’t add up for me. It’s pretty repetitive. Ballad “The Dull Flame of Desire” sucks so, so much, while singles “Earth Intruders” and “Declare Independence” take great hooks and run them into the ground. Still, I’d consider myself a Bjork Dork all the same.
Verdict: Keep, although I’m going to edit Medulla a bit. And never speak of Volta again.
What a weird shift after all that Bjork! I got into Black Flag pretty late, sophomore year of college. By that point, my interest in primal punk had surpassed, or so I thought. A friend recommended Black Flag’s My War to me during a rough patch, and I connected with its aggression and honesty. At times, it’s an embarrassingly raw record, something my girlfriend reminds me of every time I put it on in the car. But that’s part of its charm. It’s an emotionally stunted, sometimes immature record, but that makes it all the more cathartic sometimes. Damaged is even better, knocking out a series of rapid fire, occasionally humorous hardcore anthems. My favorite, though, is The First Four Years, a seven-inch compilation. Black Flag went through a ton of lead singers before Henry Rollins, and Years makes a compelling case for Keith Morris, who went on to found Circle Jerks, as the best Flag frontman. Excursions into the band’s later albums proved unfruitful, but these three albums kick my ass all the time.
Verdict: Keep the first three, even if songs like “Damaged I” and “Machine” are a little ridiculous.
In Tom Shales and James A. Miller’s book Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests, the authors write about how comedians love laughter and hate applause. Laughter means they think you’re funny, but while applause signifies agreement or respect, it also indicates that they don’t think you’re funny. For the last five years or so, Lewis Black has been stuck in the applause zone. He plays to massive sold out crowds, but his material has increasingly become watered down liberalism. The audiences aren’t hard to impress, and thus Black gives them sub par material. I used to love Black’s vitriol, but his stand-up has become increasingly marred by weak observations. It also hurts that his humor usually comes from commenting on current events. Hence, his Grammy-winning 2006 album The Carnegie Hall Performance hasn’t held up well. The crowd claps with little provocation, and plenty of jokes don’t even have punchlines. I’m more forgiving of the Luther Burbank Perfoming Arts Center Blues, an album that recycles older material but has A) good points and B) good jokes. It’s primarily an analysis of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake incident from the Superbowl (You know the one), which would come off as dated if the humor didn’t so often overlap with the stupid shit we put up with from contemporary hot topics like Lady Gaga and gay rights. I used to love Black, but quite frankly these jokes aren’t funny anymore.
Verdict: Keep Blues for now, but Carnegie can go.
The Blackout Pact
Underrated post-hardcore band from Colorado. Hello Sailor was one of my favorite albums of 2005, and it still gets me super stoked for bearded, gruffly sung jams about zombies and drankin’. TBP only came through Philly once, to my knowledge, and that was as an opening act for Yellowcard. I passed, thinking they’d be back soon. Then they broke up. Fuck.
It took me a while to get into Black Sabbath. In fact it wasn’t until the end of college, which is weird considering they were one of the most important metal bands of all time. I probably should have been 12, not 22. My love slowly blossomed, starting with the group’s infamous second album Paranoid. I eventually started picking up more records – Master of Reality remains my favorite, partially for it being the best stoner metal record ever and partially because John Darnielle wrote a book about it. Volume 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath both expand on the group’s sound to grander, greater effect. Sabotage skewed too much towards pop, so that’s where I cut myself off as far as the Ozzy years go.
Ronnie James Dio’s run with the group sounds like a totally different band, but he briefly turned Sabbath into a good fantasy power metal band for Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. This is one of those bands I love just as much for their shortcomings as for their successes. Every time Ozzy shouts “Ya gotta believe me!” for no particular reason or Dio makes another groan-inducing rhyme ( My favorite is “You were a fool / But that’s cool” from “Voodoo”), I get kind of stoked. Yeah, I’d rather just listen to Tony Iommi drop another sludgy riff, but the hoaky parts are just as endearing.