[myPod is an attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]
I fell in love with Camera Obscura thanks to their 2006 breakthrough, Let’s Get Out of This Country. Five years later, that record still crackles with energy, hooks, and putdowns ‘n’ come-ons galore. It’s a perfectly catty/catchy pop record about falling in love and occasionally being a real bitch. Its sequel, My Maudlin Career, is a little bit sadder but just as fine.
I feel weird calling myself a CO fan, though, because outside of those two records (and their assorted singles), I’m not too keen on the band’s discography. Country is everything a twee record should be – sassy and ’60s-indebted – but its predecessor, Underachievers Please Try Harder, is awfully dull. I put it on for this essay and I realized two things almost immediately:
- I don’t remember any of these songs.
- I never listen to this album because Country is infinitely better.
2006 is when Camera Obscura tapped into their inner Northern Soul; everything prior is just bland.
Verdict: Purge pre-Country affairs.
Spastic indie/punk from before it was cool. Chicago has given the world plenty of A-class punk group, but it took a new generation of bands to give Jazz their due. Analphabeta-whatever-the-hell, a two-disc set from Jade Tree, collects the band’s complete recordings. Side note: Promise Ring frontman Davey von Bohlen did time with CJ near the end.
Part of what makes The Cardigans’ discography so compelling is the way they tweaked their sound over the years. It’s all generally pop, but the group flirted with twee (Emmerdale, Life), disco (First Band on the Moon), krautrock (Gran Turismo), and country (Long Gone Before Daylight). Their final album, Super Extra Gravity, synthesized all those elements. All of the records are united by a shared love of hooks and depressing imagery, so maybe they’re really just the most chipper goth band ever. Regardless, they’re one of the smartest pop bands ever, whether it’s converting Black Sabbath to twee or filming ridiculously over-the-top, awesome videos. Weird enough to keep me guessing, traditional enough to feel comfortable. And their cover of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” with Tom Jones is pretty great.
I respect Neko Case. I first fell for her as a member of The New Pornographers, then started exploring her solo material starting with the nifty live album The Tigers Have Spoken. Her voice is glorious and strong, but there are a couple factors working against her: Her lyrics can get either too self-righteous or too clumsy (“The Next Time You Say Forever” is both). Each of her records contains at least one song I’m obsessed with (“This Tornado Loves You,” “If You Knew”), but there’s one important factor: My girlfriend hates the shit out of Neko Case. Sigh. There are other artists I can get my country fix from, but this one is on the verge. Still, I came to the same conclusion as I did with Camera Obscura’s Underachievers Please Try Harder: I don’t listen to these albums often.
Almost everything I listen to stems from Johnny Cash. He was political (“Man in Black,” “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”), he was emotional (“I Walk the Line”), he was religious (“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”), and, every once in a while, he was funny (“The One On the Right is On the Left”). His voice and words carried such a weight and force to them that even his pop efforts (“Hey Porter,” “Get Rhythm”) are still kind of heavy. Personally, I like his love songs best. “I Walk the Line” has such a simple, unbreaking logic to it – I love you, therefore I do not stray.
Even his tribute album, All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, is pretty neat. The compilation features amazing cuts from The Bouncing Souls, MxPx, and The Dresden Dolls, and while other tracks are too traditional for their own good, the CD is solid overall.
Mogwai + Hot Water Music = Oh hell yes.
Oh man… It’s weird reviewing my friends’ bands, but here goes. Catch Phrase was a pop-punk band made up of dudes from La Salle College High School. They started off as a blink-182-indebted pop-punk band on their self-titled debut EP. By the release of its follow-up, Coloring Outside the Lines, CP had started to find its own sound while still filling the pop-punk niche. At seven songs, it was probably the best document any of my friends achieved at that point in time. Then things fell apart. The Perfect Form skewed towards screamo/metalcore ever so slightly, the band changed names, and finally broke up. Three-quarters of the band’s final line-up went on to form The Next Big Thing, a group dedicated to writing kickass Lifetime-esque jams.
I’m not going to say Catch Phrase is the best thing ever, and I don’t think the members would say that either, but they’re the sort of artifacts from my youth that I can’t easily discard. If nothing else, it’s interesting for me to hear the evolution in my friend Nick’s singing voice. Dude started out extremely nasal, but this grit slowly crept in. In my head, NBT is a return to Catch Phrase’s roots. But when I listen to the material back-to-back, I see how far these guys have come.
Seeing how scatterbrained Chan Marshall has become in the last few years has really shaken my love for who she used to be. I could put up with her flakey approach to live shows, in fact I actively avoided seeing her perform so as to preserve my fandom, but Jukebox shattered it all. Her music has always been pretty mellow, but one day it got boring and weighed down by idol worship. Still, there are three Cat Power releases I’m holding on to: Moon Pix, because it starts and ends wonderfully despite some bullshit warbling in the middle; The Greatest, a light, breezy soulful record; and You Are Free, which is unquestionably her best work. “He War” is my jam. Remember when Chan would occasionally rock?
NEXT TIME: C is for... crappy rappers, curious local acts, and concise discographies.