Monday, December 26, 2011

Favorite Albums 2011 (part 2)

11. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will: Mogwai returned this year with undoubtedly the best album title of the year. As I noted in my review of the album in Inflatable Ferret, this album is more of recent period Mogwai, and in that sense, there are no surprises. What is surprising is the unceasing creative well of the band members. Even as they use the Mogwai format of heavy-to-light instrumentals, they continue to produce tracks with amazing dynamics, melodies, and arrangements ( contrast to Explosions in the Sky, another instrumental band who seem to have hit a cul de sac.) The hipster wisdom about Mogwai is that that they peaked with their very first album, Mogwai Young Team, but I’m in the minority who believes that every album since then (1997!) has a classic or two. They have such a vast discography now that it can be a little daunting to get into, but I actually think this new one is not a bad place to start. You have the long languid crush-your-bones tracks, the sweeping uplifting calls to arms, the deeply melancholy musical nostalgia, and the utter sadness of failure-without-redemption music, all here. I had tickets to see them in April but they canceled and rescheduled to September because of visa problems. Then they canceled again, and the shows have yet to be scheduled. We shall see.

12. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts: Again, I’ve already reviewed this both on Inflatable Ferret and had a brief note here. Who’d have thought Moore had it in him to make a warm, lush, almost romantic album? Produced by Beck, this has some parallels to Sea Change. While not quite as brilliant as Beck’s magnum opus, Demolished Thoughts has a little bit of that same weariness. What’s different is that it also has a tone of joy in it. All those acoustic guitars, violins, and wooden instruments play music that would be ideal for a sunny Sunday afternoon at Washington Square Park. Of course, it may or may not be pertinent that Thurston Moore recently parted ways with Kim Gordon, and perhaps this album is the soundtrack to his new life? Who knows. My favorite track is "Space" which has some of the gorgeosity of Love and Rockets' classic "Haunted When the Minutes Drag"... or "Saudade." Either way, it may be the best Sonic Youth-related product be released in the past... um, at least five years?

13. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica: OPN is the name of Daniel Lopatin, some dude who lives in Brooklyn (where else) who makes music on vintage synthesizers and pianos. It's music more on the ambient, drone-y side of things, not unlike Boards of Canada's beatless soundscapes. There's a lot of space in this kind of electronic music, and that space often makes the music more creepy than evocative. This is another one that benefits from repeated listens, and once you start to distinguish each track you start to realize the arc of each song, from beginning to end, that there is some method to all of this. It's a little bit like the Books, especially in the way samples (especially vocal samples) are repeatedly looped and broken and looped again, to create a rhythm -- check out "Sleep Dealer" for example. But where the Books create a strange world out of normal everyday sounds, OPN do the same (and up the strangeness factor) with a panoply of analog synthesizers. I imagine that Pink Floyd's abandoned Household Objects project might have sounded a little bit like this if it they had synthesizers and GarageBand in 1974.

14. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs: So this album came out earlier this year, and it was a brief but exciting moment. Hearing the album was, however, underwhelming. It sounded vaguely unformed, meandering, almost tuneless. But you know, it's really grown on me, and I've come to appreciate it much much more now. If you have not heard it even once, prepare not to be able to tell the difference between the first four tracks. The album really takes off on the final four songs, beginning with "Lotus Flower," the song where Thom Yorke does his spassy dance in that video that was floating around a while back. "Give Up the Ghost" is a beautiful acoustic song while the album closer "Separator" is classic Radiohead pop that wouldn't out of place on In Rainbows. The best thing about the album is that it really works as a single musical statement. Any of the songs taken out of the context of the album really don't do justice to the overall power of the whole thing. Some people complain that Radiohead are too far down the road of programmed music and have permanently left behind the feel of a live band, but remarkably, despite all the bleeps and bloops of computers on this record, it sounds warm. And to prove that, they have recently released a live show (King of Limbs - Live from the Basement) where the band reproduced the whole album live in the studio. There's also a somewhat inessential album collecting various remixes of the album entitled TKOL RMX 1234567, and while some of the folks recruited are impressive (Caribou, Four Tet, Modeselektor, etc.), it's not that great. What is great is that the band released a few songs from the same sessions later in the year, which are fantastic, particularly "Supercollider" and "The Butcher."

15. Real Estate - Days: I first heard Real Estate a couple of years ago when their song "Beach Comber" came out, which I played like a million times. I couldn't believe that there was a song this good that existed; very good R.E.M.-ish Byrds-esque indie rock circa mid-1980s. Maybe it was a bit nostalgic for me, but again, I'm a sucker for a good pop tune that's just a bit off-kilter. The new album is all that and more. Standout tracks are "Younger Than Yesterday" (a sly Byrds reference?) and the brilliant "It's Real." There seems to be a slight resurgence of 1980s-era indie guitar pop these days (see also the band Wild Nothing with their Smiths-esque Gemini from a year or two ago). Real Estate may be the best of the lot. I know I should be posting something from the new album but I can't help but post "Beach Comber" yet again (via Stereogum).

Real Estate - Beach Comber [mp3]

16. Seefeel - Seefeel: This, probably the best electronic band of the 1990s, suddenly reformed in 2010, released an e.p. (Faults) and then a full album in 2011. Bizarrely, as far as I could tell, no one noticed and the album kind of dropped out of sight. Just to back up, Seefeel produced some of the most beautiful electronic music of the nineties. And they somehow they did it all (mostly) with guitars. I like to think that if Kevin Shields hadn't lost his shit and produced a follow-up to Loveless, it might have sounded a bit like Seefeel's utterly brilliant Polyfusia (actually a compilation of singles and e.p.'s). I've written love letters to Seefeel on my blog before (and on the now long lost Fred newsletter), but I haven't mentioned this album yet. The most stark difference with earlier Seefeel here is that they have a live drummer, Lida Kazuhisa (or E-Da) who used to drum for the Boredoms. The main architects of the band, Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock, still produced blissful music but it sounds more fractured, damaged, brittle, distorted, largely to the dry syncopated drumming that gives it an almost tribal tone. It's definitely an acquired taste and on the fringes of experimental pop but frequent listens will be rewarded. A worthy return from a great band. Here's a recent interview with Clifford and Peacock.

17. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy: I didn't pay that much attention to St. Vincent (Annie Clark) until I saw her shred some guitar covering Big Black's "Kerosene." I mean I'd heard a few tracks here and there (including "Actor Out of Work") but this new album really caught my attention. She seems to have a little bit of the nice-mannered-young-woman-bordering-on-deranged sensibility (a la Kristen Hersh) but without being too predictable. She's clearly very talented as an instrumentalist and the album makes good use of many different instruments (including trumpets, clarinets, violins, flutes) but you kind of never forget the guitar which is front and center here. Which is what you get from this clip:

It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

18. Tinariwen - Tassili: I've liked Tinariwen for a while now (loved "Amassakoul 'N' Tenere") and judging by the press they've gotten in recent years, they have a big following here in the U.S.. This is partly I think enabled by the fact that members of TV on the Radio have played with them. Incredibly, they were on the Colbert Report recently. Their music is still a nice mix of Tuareg blues but now the band incorporates more rock influences (including songs in English). The album is also very live-sounding, very loose, like a band jamming along, almost discovering unexpected trajectories for each song to take. I wouldn't go quite as far as NPR when they called Tinariwen "just about the best guitar-based rock band of the 21st century" but they are exploring similar spaces that bands like Television did back in the 1970s, a kind of a dream-trance state of guitar music. This makes it three-in-a-row for great Tinariwen albums, and Tassili holds up well to repeat listens. Dream on.

19. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo: I’ve already written a bit about Kurt Vile so I won’t repeat what I wrote before. It has a classic rock vibe not unlike a young Tom Petty—his vocal affectations are eerily like Petty at times—but there’s something about Vile’s music that raises it above generic classic rock nostalgia. The low-fi production, the surprisingly warm and creative arrangements, and most of all, the killer tunes, make this worth all the praise it has gotten. It's the perfect modern classic rock album in ages. Almost every song on the album has pop melodies that get right to the heart. And the heart is really the target here; although not all the songs are about love, they're all about romance, damaged romance for a variety of topics, one of which happen to be girls. And I’m unable to explain exactly why but this may be my favorite album of the year. I’ve listened to it a thousand times and I keep coming back to it over and over again. Worthy of note: he’s released a follow-up e.p. called So Outta Reach that has been packaged with newer editions of Smoke Ring For My Halo.

20. Wild Flag - Wild Flag: Members of Sleater-Kinney and Helium get together. Add guitars and organ. Loud drums. Play.

Favorite Reissues
1. Can - Tago Mago (originally 1971): I come to kraut rock as a complete novice. I’ve resisted the temptation for years to listen to this stuff, especially when, in the late 1990s, it became the hipster badge-of-coolness to have some awareness of krautrock. And then by the early 2000s, when every band this side of Interpol was talking about motorik, I actively resisted. I’m also wary of the revisionist history that folks like Pitchfork will throw at you. People really didn’t listen to this stuff in the 1970s. Or most people didn’t. So their influence was minimal at best, until, I would say, post-punk a la P.I.L. and stuff like that. So my sum total of krautrock songs I’d heard until 2011 was 1. And that was the song “Oh Yeah” from this very album, a track I heard only because it was on an awesome compilation I’d picked up back when I lived in Northampton in the ‘90s. Either way, “Oh Yeah” was actually quite amazing, and for the longest time I actually thought that the percussion on the song was programmed, not realizing that, no, it was actually a LIVE human being playing drums. So anyway, on a whim I picked up this reissue thinking that I should start my krautrock education at basically Year Zero, or Tago Mago. Because I’ve read so much about Tago Mago, it’s hard to escape the weight of its legacy. Yet, I found it oddly freeing to have never heard it until now. I don’t owe it anything. I wasn’t gonna like it if it sucked. That was basically what I came with. So... now that I’ve heard it a few times I can say that it is indeed good. It has the slight whiff of post-Barrett Pink Floyd, vaguely from the Ummagumma years. The two most "visible" instruments are the drums and the vocals, the formerly cranking into a mesmerizing metronome beat that’s mechanical and hypnotic, and sometimes creepy. Damo Suzuki’s vocals mostly play as instruments rather than vocals; and if sometimes he sounds absolutely insane (see “Mushroom”) he also knows when to modulate and drone (see “Oh Yeah”). And one more thing I didn’t know about Can: they sure know how to funk up the music: “Halleluhwah” absolutely cranks up the ‘70s funk even as it creates some sort of space rock jam in a foreign language that wouldn’t be out of place at the Saturday night party on an interstellar battleship heading off to a new nebula. In the context what’s going in 1971, sure, it’s out of place, but not that out of place, if you consider the whacky stuff even popular bands like Pink Floyd were doing. But you know, as a piece of music ripped out of its context, it is an oddly perfect album to bridge the personal with the social. I’ve listened to it on headphones in airplanes and airports, and it seems to mirror the anxieties and movement of the mass of people around me perfectly, while at the same time creating a bubble around me. About the reissue: it comes with a second disc containing a complete live Can concert (three songs!) from 1972. Two of the three “songs” on the live CD are also featured on the original album but they bear absolutely no resemblance to the recorded versions. Highly recommended!

2. Nirvana - Nevermind (originally 1991): What to say about Nevermind at this point? I have a (very) long essay actually coming up soon on that very issue, but as far as the reissue is concerned, is there much to say? Well, the album is the album, everybody knows the deal, but what about the extras? Disc 1 has appended (after the original album) all the original single b-sides some of which are actually essential (“Aneurysm,” for example). Disc 2 has a bunch of previously unreleased tracks from around the time of Nevermind, most of which are alternate versions of songs you’ve already heard a million times. Sure, some of them are of moderate interest (especially some of the pre-Butch Vig versions of the songs, which are generally inferior). There’s the absolutely incredible cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” which has actually been floating around on several compilations. The key tracks, that I think worth getting (or at least hearing) are: a brilliant version of “Sappy,” and low quality boom box-recorded versions of “Verse Chorus Verse” and “Old Age.” All three songs are, in my mind, as good as any of the songs actually on Nevermind. “Old Age” in particular was “taken” by Courtney Love and released as a b-side by her band Hole without any writing credit to Kurt Cobain. I’m not an audiophile so I’m not terribly interested in Disc 3, basically a slightly different mix of Nevermind. Disc 4 is worth getting: a complete live show from Halloween 1991 in Seattle. This one has been bootlegged a million times and this pristine recording shows why: it is the three-piece band at absolutely the top of their game. They rip through various Nevermind and Bleach tunes with a single-minded focus that is impressive. Opening the set is a brilliang electric cover of the Vaselines’ “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” which later showed up as an acoustic song on “MTV Unplugged.” Just to round out things, there is also a DVD of that Halloween show, with the film remastered to such clarity that the sweat flying off the band members can be seen in Hi-Def. All-in-all, this box set is not worth getting unless you're into the live show and the DVD. And unless you fetishize expensive and redundant objects that remind you of your lost adolescence. You decide.

Other good reissues:

The Beach Boys - Smile
Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs
R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
Queen - various albums 1973-1976
Ride - Nowhere
Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
This Mortal Coil - box set
Throbbing Gristle - various albums

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Favorite Albums 2011 (part 1)

So, I've been perusing through various year-end lists and the one thing that I've realized is how little new music I heard in 2011. I went to NPR, I went to Sound Opinions, Stereogum, the Quietus, PopMatters, Pitchfork, and I have no idea about most of these artists/bands. Never heard of most of them. What does that mean?

Well, it means many things, but first and foremost, it means that I'm disconnected from the prevailing critical consensus. For some reason, by the end of the year, you start to see the same old records circulating in everybody's lists, and you're never sure why. Is it because everybody actually likes those albums? Or is because they don't wanna feel left out?

Second, it means that I'm disconnected from what is required listening for people who are "up-to-date." This means that my music tastes are slowly calcifying, held back a little bit more firmly every year by the accumulating inertia of a collected past. The past is a big presence in my imagination these days. In fact, the past was one of the big stories of popular culture these days, judging by the fact that one of the most thought-provoking books out this year was Simon Reynolds' Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. Just today I stumbled upon a piece in Vanity Fair about the same topic. I'll have more to say about the past in a later post, but looking at my list of my favorite albums of the year, one gets the obvious creeping realization that there's nothing really new or innovative that I'm listening to. Everything on the list could have been made in 1992, honestly. This is something that's been preying on me more and more the last few years, that all the music I've been listening to, since about 2000, kind of sounds like a facsimile--perhaps a more high-tech facsimile--of music that was around before. But then, saying that, kind of sounds like an old grandpa thing to say. "Back in my day, mumble, mumble, etc."

Either way, here is my list of 20 albums that I liked in 2011. They're mostly old bands and what not, but they did reflect music that I repeatedly heard all through the year. I tend to listen to a lot of music. A lot of music. On my headphones, walking around, at home, going to sleep, etc. At home, I rarely watch TV or anything visual--if I have the choice of watching TV or listening to music, I'll almost always opt for the latter. The main problem has been that since about 2005, my music collection has grown in leaps and bounds thanks to the internet, so I'm basically accumulating more music than I can actually listen to. My iPod currently has something like 15,262 songs. It we assume that each song is about 4 minutes long on average, that comes to about 42 days of non-stop music. So basically, there's a lot of competition for my music-listening time. So... in the battle between a new album and something old, the new one has to be really good for me to occupy my time. So what fell into that category in 2011? In alphabetical order, they are:

1. Atlas Sound - Parallax
2. Battles - Gloss Drop
3. Bombino - Agadez
4. AA Bondy - Believers
5. Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
6. Death In Vegas - Trans-Love Energies
7. The Field - Looping State of Mind
8. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
9. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
10. Metronomy - The English Riviera
11. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
12. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts
13. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
14. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
15. Real Estate - Days
16. Seefeel - Seefeel
17. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
18. Tinariwen - Tassili
19. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
20. Wild Flag - Wild Flag

Some more detailed thoughts on the first ten on this list. In a few days, I'll have capsule reviews of the remaining ten.

1. Atlas Sound - Parallax: I've developed a fascination and respect for Bradford Cox, he of the band Deerhunter, who is obviously as obsessed with creating music as I am but has about 100 times more talent and motivation to do it. He has a wonderful imagination, not unlike Kristen Hersh, in that you imagine that his songs come out as fully formed reflections of ideas that pop into his head. And sure, some of it is self-consciously referential to the history of pop music but Cox really makes it sound so attractive and alluring, it's hard to resist. This, I think is the best of his solo albums (which he releases under the name Atlas Sound). If there's a common stylistic thread to it, it's a vague nod to early 1970s pop, embellished with modern electronics and guitars. Listen to this song, "Terra Incognito":

2. Battles - Gloss Drop: Much has been made of the fact Battles lost a key member last year, and now they are down to a three-piece band. They're about as "experimental" as any band gets in my list, but they still work within the confines of pop. This album is very much a different beast than the previous one, in that it really exudes ebbulience. There's a joy here that's kind of refreshing. The record is like a soundtrack to a party written and orchestrated by a bunch of very skilled but excited geeks. You can see that joy in this awesome live performance of the song "Futura" from this album.

Battles | Futura | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

3. Bombino - Agadez: I don't know much about him but he's apparently from Niger (or Agadez, to be precise). The dude, whose "real" name is Omara Moctar, is a sublime guitarist, and produces something called Tuareg blues. Bombino has lived through a lot of strife and conflict, particularly a civil war within Niger involving the Tuareg minority rebelling against the central Niger government. Not sure if any of this informs his guitar-playing but it's hypnotic and mesmerizing, almost trance-inducing. A little bit like Tinariwen (see below) but more drone-ish, if that's possible.

4. AA Bondy - Believers: Back in the nineties, I used to like this band called Verbena, kind of a sub-Nirvana power trio playing punkish rock'n'roll. I liked them a lot, even saw them live once in Pittsburgh in a tiny little club where the band seemed surly and uncomfortable. Fast forward a decade, the main guy from Verbena has gone solo, completely disavowed his punk rock past, and now plays Dylanesque folkish Americana. I'm not a big fan of the genre as practiced by contemporary musicians (if I want my Dylan fix, I listen to Dylan) but Bondy is a rare gem. His songs really do sound like ghosts singing them. I had a previous post on Bondy but his new album is even more spectral and eerie than usual. It's goes along at the speed of Low backed by Galaxie 500 with the spirit of Dylan hovering by. Beautiful. Listen and reflect:

5. Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow: Kate, O Kate, wherefore art thou, O Kate? Kate is so strange. Kate is 53 years old now but we still remember her as a 20 year old when "Wuthering Heights" came out back in 1978. I don't want to rehash her career since then--others can do (and have done) that much better than I. I listened to The Whole Story all through my college years, without doubt one of the best "greatest hits" compilations ever put together. She disappeared for a while but came back with Aerial in 2005, and now in 2011, she put out two albums, one called Director's Cut, which revisits some of her latter day material, and this one, 50 Words For Snow, a brand new album that is as weird and yet old old-fashioned as one might expect from Kate Bush. When I say "old fashioned" I don't mean regressive, just that Kate Bush has a very "old world" mentality. Many of her songs are about nature, especially the misty dark wintery wisps of English nature, and this one is no different. There are songs here about the life of a snowflake, a love song to a snowman, about a lake in search of a dog, and one that summarizes 50 (somewhat absurd) words for snow. Steve Gadd (who played drums on "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and "Aja") provides subtle but wonderful percussion throughout on this largely piano-based album that has been a perfect winter companion for me.

6. Death In Vegas - Trans-Love Energies: Most people probably know Death In Vegas from the lovely "Girls" from the Lost In Translation soundtrack, and that's not a bad thing. But Death In Vegas have a much wider palette than evocative electronica; their album Dead Elvis (1997) still remains one of my favorite albums of the nineties and a fantastic journey through all manner of electronic music from four-on-the-floor techno, to hip hop, to guitar-based My Bloody Valentine-esque dance anthems. They kind of disappeared for a few years but have come back with this album (and the subsequent e.p., Medication). Trans-Love Energies has a lot of my favorite influences (kraut rock, electronic dance music, My Bloody Valentine) but it puts it all together in a pretty amazing seamless whole. If you want moody dance music that isn't always for dancing but for blissing out, this is perfect. Lead architect Richard Fearless explains his aesthetic here. There's no one song that really does justice to the album, as all the tracks are so different, but the 7+ minutes of "Your Loft" captures a little of the blissosity of the album.

7. The Field - Looping State of Mind: I have a soft spot for this guy (Alex Willner), especially his album, From Here We Go Sublime, which is the kind of techno, ambient, repetitive techno, I love. Willner, as the Field, basically takes a perfect instrumental loop and slowly adds keyboards, guitars, and all manner of noise until by the end of the song, you reach a wall of sound designed to overpower you into the great sublime. What makes this album particularly different from his prior efforts is that he appropriates a variety of other musical genres into his music, including gospel, shoegaze, house, funk, and guitar-based rock. You'd think that mixing all this stuff into one would be have the Wal-Mart effect, i.e., lots of different things no unified purpose, but amazingly this album works. It has a suitably happy (or at least upbeat) and almost transcendental vibe. I imagine that if this was around in 1967, the hippie kids would be listening to this as they swayed back-and-forth at their love-ins.

8. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake: I wrote a long review of this album for Inflatable Ferret, so I won't repeat all of what I said there. One thing I did write: "There is death everywhere on the album but the music is light, sometimes even jaunty, often pretty (as in 'Hanging in the Wire'). Where her last two albums were musically spartan, sometimes sounding incomplete or brittle, the music here is lush, full of reverb... She expands her musical palette with plinks of electric piano, xylophones, trumpets, saxophones, and strange samples... The pop centerpiece of the album is 'The Words That Maketh Murder,' an almost creepy song constructed out of a skip-dancing beat wrapped around a simple descending figure on an autoharp and a saxophone. She sings, 'I've seen and done things I want to forget / I've seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat / Blown and shot out beyond belief / Arms and legs were in the trees.' "

9. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming: Wow, well, what to say about this? Who makes double albums these days? Anthony Gonzalez says that he was trying to emulate the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (or The White Album). To try and create something big, huge, expansive, ambitious, sprawling, etc. His music has always been about nostalgia, but in this case, it's nostalgia for a kind of musical experience that wasn't simply about music, but about the act of buying and hearing records with sleeves, lyrics, pictures, etc., and how it used to be before everything migrated on-line. Musically, everything you need to know about the album you can figure out by watching "Midnight City" (below) which is being transmitted directly from the year 1985, sounding a lot like a track from Songs From the Big Chair (or maybe The Hurting).... but what's the harm in that? Especially if the melodies are great and the production makes you want to yearn for things that you didn't even know existed as you slide ever so further away from adolescence. In a way, this album is much more like Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (but with a much more eighties vibe) and less like (still my favorite) Saturdays=Youth which was a concise and perfect pop statement that wasn't as much looking in the rearview mirror as this one is. Still, the more I listen to Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, the more I love it for its music rather than its ambition. Great for a really long drive.

10. Metronomy - The English Riviera: Look, I don't really know much about who these people are, but they must be from the UK since they were up for the Mercury Prize (ultimately won by PJ Harvey). It's great pop music, light, breezy, catchy. A bit like Phoenix but more clever, I think, but just as eager to stay "pop" and not "rock." Surely, these guys would have intersected with Steely Dan if they'd been around in the seventies, perhaps with some plastic soul thrown in? I'm actually shocked that anyone makes this good pop music in 2011. Everyone else is either too serious or too retarded or too clever or too hip. Not these guys; Metronomy seem utterly incapable of writing a poorly conceived pop song and they make it seem effortless. Can this really be the best unabashed candy pop album of the year? You be the judge on my favorite song off the album, "The Look." (And I forgot to mention, they have the coolest looking bassist of all time).

The rest of my list in a couple of days + my favorite reissues/compilations and soundtracks. (and below, another clip from Battles doing "Futura" at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this past summer.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Wanna Be Adored

For many reasons 1989 was a good year, maybe the best year of my life. And I think, to top it off, I was exposed to an absurd amount of new music in 1989 and 1990. Anyway, it just so happened that one of the best albums of all time came out that year, the self-titled Stone Roses album, which had just come out in March or April or something. I have no idea where or how I heard that album first, but I do remember how it was the soundtrack to many a night. I have this distinct memory of eating chicken wings (!) with K. at some late night eatery, no doubt super drunk, watching the TV and them showing the video to "I Wanna Be Adored." Without any kind of qualification, I can say it's one of the most sublimely beautiful songs ever recorded, perfect for when you're alone or with company. And the album was just as brilliant. What songs! Anyway, turns out the Stone Roses are reforming. You know me, I'm totally against any band reforming to relive bygone glories. So I wish they hadn't. But I don't wish them ill. They will never recapture 1989 again but, you know, who would begrudge them for making the money that they originally never made. There is probably no other band in the history of pop music that burned so brightly but so briefly. They were here for one spectacular album, a series of fantastic singles and then completely and immediately burned out. The second album was a disaster. And then they split up. But what a beautiful set of songs they left behind

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

This Week = 10 Years in New York city

Last Sunday morning under the George Washington Bridge.

Music Ranked By Year 1969-2010

Over there at Paper Street Cinema, they did a massive list of all music from all time (well, from 1970) that's good. So I thought I'd try and one-up him and do one from 1969. It's kind of randomly done and I haven't put too much thought into it. I'm sure I'm missing super important albums. I didn't include live albums, compilations, box sets, or E.P.s.

Some preliminary observations: Paper Street Cinema (PSC) and I have some overlap. Years where we picked the exact same album as the best album: 1980 (Remain In Light/Talking Heads), 1985 (Meat Is Murder/The Smiths), 1988 (Surfer Rosa/Pixies), 1994 (The Downward Spiral/Nine Inch Nails), 1996 (Aenima/Tool), 1998 (Mezzanine/Massive Attack), 1999 (The Fragile/Nine Inch Nails), 2001 (Lateralus/Tool), 2002 (Sea Change/Beck). But beyond that, there's a lot of overlap in the "other albums that were good" category. We did diverge significantly on other stuff: I don't include much kraut rock in my list. In fact, most of my 1970s selections are fairly straight forward classic rock (including the dreaded Led Zeppelin...), the kind of thing I railed against when I was a youngster. PSC also has a fondness for Porcupine Tree and Crystal Castles whereas I have a fondness for sweeping instrumental music a la Godspeed, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Sigur Ros. I apparently like a lot of real embarrassing 1970s pop (Gerry Rafferty anyone?). And guess what, I like Madonna! On the whole I tried to list albums I liked instead of albums I was supposed to like. In other words, if it's on the list, I have heard the album a lot.

Some of the choices were difficult. Kid A (2000) is one of my favorite albums of all time but it didn't make the best album of 2000 because of Godspeed's Lift Yr Skinny Fists, partly because the latter album is embedded in my memory while I was suffering through a lonely summer in Moscow. It's just the way I associate that album.

Best album: Abbey Road (The Beatles)
Other good ones: Let It Bleed (The Rolling Stones), Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, The Velvet Underground, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young), The Stooges, Crosby Stills and Nash, Trout Mask Replica (Captain Beefheart), Blind Faith, Then Play On (Fleetwood Mac)
Best album: Fun House (The Stooges)
Other good ones: Loaded (The Velvet Underground), After The Gold Rush (Neil Young), John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Deja Vu (Crosby Stills Nash and Young), Bitches Brew (Miles Davis), Abraxas (Santana), John Barleycorn Must Die (Traffic), All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)
Best album: Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones)
Other good ones: Led Zeppelin IV, Meddle (Pink Floyd), Who's Next (The Who), Hunky Dory (David Bowie), Imagine (John Lennon), Blue (Joni Mitchell), L.A. Woman (The Doors), If Only I Could Remember My Name (David Crosby), Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys (Traffic), Machine Head (Deep Purple)
Best album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)
Other good ones: Exile On Main Street (The Rolling Stones), Harvest (Neil Young), #1 Record (Big Star), Talking Book (Stevie Wonder)
Best album: The Dark Side Of The Moon (Pink Floyd)
Other good ones: Houses Of The Holy (Led Zeppelin), Time Fades Away (Neil Young), Aladdin Sane (David Bowie), Raw Power (Iggy & The Stooges), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), The Human Menagerie (Cockney Rebel), Inner Visions (Stevie Wonder)
Best album: On The Beach (Neil Young)
Other good ones: Countdown To Ecstasy (Steely Dan), Band On The Run (Paul McCartney & Wings), Radio City (Big Star), Crime Of The Century (Supertramp)
Best album: Horses (Patti Smith)
Other good ones: Blood On The Tracks (Bob Dylan), Desire (Bob Dylan), Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin), Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd), Zuma (Neil Young), Katy Lied (Steely Dan), The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (Joni Mitchell), Still Crazy After All These Years (Paul Simon), A Night At The Opera (Queen)
Best album: The Modern Lovers
Other good ones: Station To Station (David Bowie), The Royal Scam (Steely Dan), Hejira (Joni Mitchell), Arrival (Abba), Year Of The Cat (Al Stewart), Radio Ethiopia (Patti Smith)
Best album: Marquee Moon (Television)
Other good ones: Animals (Pink Floyd), The Clash, Low (David Bowie), Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Rocket To Russia (The Ramones), Aja (Steely Dan), CSN (Crosby Stills and Nash), Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (Joni Mitchell), Gone To Earth (Barclay James Harvest), Moonflower (Santana), The Album (Abba)
Best album: Leave Home (The Ramones)
Other good ones: Some Girls (The Rolling Stones), First Issue (Public Image Ltd.), Dire Straits, Adventure (Television), C'est Chic (Chic), City To City (Gerry Rafferty), The Modern Dance (Pere Ubu)
Best album: Metal Box (Public Image Ltd.)
Other good ones: The Wall (Pink Floyd), London Calling (The Clash), Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young), Regatta De Blanc (The Police), Tusk (Fleetwood Mac), Three Imaginary Boys (The Cure), Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division), Entertainment! (Gang Of Four), Communique (Dire Straits), Replicas (Gary Numan), The B-52s, Off The Wall (Michael Jackson), Y (The Pop Group), Cut (The Slits)
Best album: Remain In Light (Talking Heads)
Other good ones: In The Flat Field (Bauhaus), Gaucho (Steely Dan), Boy (U2), The Pretenders, Seventeen Seconds (The Cure), Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (Dead Kennedys), McCartney II, Wild Planet (B-52s), Back In Black (AC/DC), Never For Ever (Kate Bush), Underwater Moonlight (The Soft Boys)
Best album: My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (David Byrne & Brian Eno)
Other good ones: Ghost In The Machine (The Police), Faith (The Cure), Damaged (Black Flag), Computer World (Kraftwerk), Tom Verlaine (Dreamtime), The Au Pairs (Playing With A Different Sex), Fela Kuti (Black President)
Best album: 1999 (Prince)
Other good ones: Thriller (Michael Jackson), The Sky's Gone Out (Bauhaus), Album-Generic Flipper (Flipper), Plastic Surgery Disasters (Dead Kennedys), The Night Fly (Donald Fagen), The Dreaming (Kate Bush), Vs. (Mission Of Burma), Songs To Remember (Scritti Politti), Lou Reed (The Blue Mask), Avalon (Roxy Music)
Best album: Murmur (R.E.M.)
Other good ones: Hootenanny (The Replacements), The Final Cut (Pink Floyd), War (U2), Synchronicity (The Police), Learning To Crawl (The Pretenders), Soul Mining (The The), Speaking In Tongues (Talking Heads), Infidels (Bob Dylan), Violent Femmes
Best album: Let It Be (The Replacements)
Other good ones: The Smiths, The Unforgettable Fire (U2), Purple Rain (Prince), 'Pop' (Tones On Tail), Reckoning (R.E.M.), It'll End In Tears (This Mortal Coil), Double Nickels On The Dime (The Minutemen), Like A Virgin (Madonna), The Waking Hour (Dalis Car), Meat Puppets II
Best album: Meat Is Murder (The Smiths)
Other good ones: Time (The Replacements), The Head On The Door (The Cure), Psychocandy (The Jesus and Mary Chain), The Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven (Love and Rockets), This Is The Sea (The Waterboys), Songs From The Big Chair (Tears For Fears), Low-Life (New Order), This Is Big Audio Dynamite, Hounds Of Love (Kate Bush)
Best album: The Queen Is Dead (The Smiths)
Other good ones: EVOL (Sonic Youth), Throwing Muses, Infected (The The), Candy Apple Grey (Husker Du), Lifes Rich Pageant (R.E.M.), Gun Shy (The Screaming Blue Messiahs), Big World (Joe Jackson), True Blue (Madonna), Filigree and Shadow (This Mortal Coil), Skylarking (XTC), Black Celebration (Depeche Mode)
Best album: Pleased To Meet Me (The Replacements)
Other good ones: Strangeways Here We Come (The Smiths), Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (Dead Can Dance), Sister (Sonic Youth), The Joshua Tree (U2), Children Of God (Swans), Sign O'The Times (Prince), The Ideal Copy (Wire), Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (The Cure), Floodland (The Sisters Of Mercy), Darklands (The Jesus and Mary Chain), The Lion & The Cobra (Sinead O'Connor), Crowded House, Document (R.E.M.), Bikini Red (The Screaming Blue Messiahs), Atomizer (big Black), If'n (Firehose), Solitude Standing (Suzanne Vega)
Best album: Surfer Rosa (The Pixies)
Other good ones: The Serpent's Egg (Dead Can Dance), Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth), The Burning World (Swans), A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck (Wire), Nothing's Shocking (Jane's Addiction), Naked (Talking Heads), Earth Sun Moon (Love and Rockets), Fisherman's Blues (The Waterboys), Starfish (The Church), Songs About Fucking (Big Black), Viva Hate (Morrissey), Bringing Home The Ashes (The Wild Swans)
Best album: The Stone Roses
Other good ones: Doolittle (The Pixies), Disintegration (The Cure), Spine Of God (Monster Magnet), Mind Bomb (The The), 3 Feet High And Rising (De La Soul), Neil Young (Freedom), Don't Tell A Soul (The Replacements)
Best album: In A Priest-Driven Ambulance (The Flaming Lips)
Other good ones: Pretty Hate Machine (Nine Inch Nails), Goo (Sonic Youth), Bossanova (The Pixies), Ritual de lo Habitual (Jane's Addiction), The Vision Thing (The Sisters Of Mercy), I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Sinead O'Connor), God Ween Satan (Ween), Bloodletting (Concrete Blonde), Ragged Glory (Neil Young), The Replacements (All Shook Down), Pod (The Breeders)
Best album: Loveless (My Bloody Valentine)
Other good ones: Nevermind (Nirvana), White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity (Swans), Yerself Is Steam (Mercury Rev), Lazer Guided Melodies (Spiritualized), Wings Of Joy (Cranes), Gish (Smashing Pumpkins), Blood (This Mortal Coil), The Drill (Wire), Screamadelica (Primal Scream)
Best album: Television
Other good ones: Dirty (Sonic Youth), Harvest Moon (Neil Young), Slanted And Enchanted (Pavement), Psalm 69 (Ministry), Dry (P.J. Harvey), Erotica (Madonna)
Best album: In Utero (Nirvana)
Other good ones: Undertow (Tool), Zooropa (U2), Superjudge (Monster Magnet), Orbital II, Rid Of Me (P.J. Harvey), A Storm In Heaven (The Verve), Forever (Cranes), 14 Songs (Paul Westerberg), Quique (Seefeel), Exile In Guyville (Liz Phair), Suspiria (Miranda Sex Garden), Souvlaki (Slowdive), Saturation (Urge Overkill), Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (Stereolab), Where You Been (Dinosaur Jr.)
Best album: The Downward Spiral (Nine Inch Nails)
Other good ones: To Bring You My Love (P.J. Harvey), Selected Ambient Works Vol 2 (Aphex Twin), Dopes To Infinity (Monster Magnet), Crappin' You Negative (Grifters), Live Through This (Hole), Ungod (Stabbing Westward), Superunknown (Soundgarden), Dummy (Portishead), Hips And Makers (Kristen Hersh)
Best album: The Bends (Radiohead)
Other good ones: A Northern Soul (The Verve), Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void (Harmony Rockets), Maxinquaye (Tricky), Exit Planet Dust (The Chemical Brothers), To Bring You My Love (P.J. Harvey), Elastica, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (The Smashing Pumpkins), Washing Machine (Sonic Youth), Garbage
Best album: Aenima (Tool)
Other good ones: In Sides (Orbital), As Good As Dead (Local H), Millions Living Will Never Die (Tortoise), Entroducing ... DJ Shadow, Different Class (Pulp)
Best album: Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Spiritualized)
Other good ones: OK Computer (Radiohead), Urban Hymns (The Verve), Sounds Of The Satellites (Laika), Dead Elvis (Death In Vegas), Either/Or (Elliott Smith), I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (Yo La Tengo), Mogwai Young Team, Dig Your Own Hole (Chemical Brothers), Time Out Of Mind (Bob Dylan)
Best album: Mezzanine (Massive Attack)
Other good ones: Lift (Love And Rockets), Music Has The Right To Children (Boards Of Canada), Moon Safari (Air), Introducing ... The Asteroid No. Four, (The Asteroid No. Four),  Is This Desire? (P.J. Harvey), Deserters' Songs (Mercury Rev), XO (Elliott Smith), Good Morning Spider (Sparklehorse), Psyence Fiction (U.N.K.L.E.), Ray Of Light (Madonna)
Best album: The Fragile (Nine Inch Nails)
Other good ones: The Soft Bulletin (The Flaming Lips), Afterglow (Dot Allison), Into The Pink (Verbena), Stereo Type A (Cibbo Matto), Midnite Vultures (Beck), Central Reservation (Beth Orton)
Best album: Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (Godspeed You Black Emperor!)
Other good ones: Kid A (Radiohead), Mer de Noms (A Perfect Circle), Two Against Nature (Steely Dan), XTRMNTR (Primal Scream), Stories From The City Stories From The Sea (P.J. Harvey), And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Yo La Tengo), Supreme Beings Of Leisure, The Mirror Conspiracy (The Thievery Corporation), The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast (Badly Drawn Boy)
Best album: Lateralus (Tool)
Other good ones: Amnesiac (Radiohead), Simple Things (Zero 7), Get Ready (New Order), Is This It (The Strokes), I (Buffalo Daughter), Melody A.M. (Royksopp), One Day I'll Be On Time (The Album Leaf), White Blood Cells (The White Stripes)
Best album: Sea Change (Beck)
Other good ones: Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (The Flaming Lips), Geogaddi (Boards Of Canada), Stereo/Mono (Paul Westerberg), () (Sigur Ros), Murray Street (Sonic Youth), Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Wilco), Turn On The Bright Lights (Interpol), Yanqui U.X.O. (Godspeed! You Black Emperor
Best album: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (Explosions In The Sky)
Other good ones: Phantom Power (Super Furry Animals), Berlinette (Ellen Allien), A Strangely Isolated Place (Ulrich Schnauss), 100th Window (Massive Attack), Elephant (The White Stripes), Happy Songs For Happy People (Mogwai), Rounds (Four Tet), Chutes Too Narrow (The Shins), The Lemon Of Pink (The Books), Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Outkast), Fever To Tell (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Up In Flames (Caribou), Hail To The Thief (Radiohead)
Best album: Funeral (The Arcade Fire)
Other good ones: Good News For People Who Love Bad News (Modest Mouse), Summer At Abbadon (Pinback), Now Here is Nowhere (The Simple Machines), Fabulous Muscles (Xiu Xiu), Florida (Diplo), Homesongs (Adem), Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (M83), Tekitoi (Rachid Taha)
Best album: The Woods (Sleater-Kinney)
Other good ones: The Campfire Headphase (Boards of Canada), Silent Alarm (Bloc Party), Feathers (Dead Meadow), LCD Soundsystem, '64-'95 (LemonJelly), Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Arular (M.I.A.)
Best album: Silent Shout (The Knife)
Other good ones: Return To Cookie Mountain (TV on the Radio), Rather Ripped (Sonic Youth), Orchestra Of Bubbles (Ellen Allien and Apparat), Transparent Things (Fujiya and Miyagi), I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Yo La Tengo), The Eraser (Thom Yorke)
Best album:  In Rainbows (Radiohead)
Other good ones: The Sound Of Silver (LCD Soundsystem), Untrue (Burial), Aman Iman (Tinariwen), Year Zero (Nine Inch Nails), Alpinisms (School of Seven Bells), Kala (M.I.A.), Boxer (The National), Mirrored (Battles), Here We Go Sublime (The Field)
Best album: Microcastle (Deerhunter)
Other good ones: Ghosts I-IV (Nine Inch Nails), Saturdays = Youth (M83), The Slip (Nine Inch Nails), Dear Science (TV on the Radio), Vampire Weekend, Third (Portishead), Dig! Lazarus Dig! (Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds), Furr (Blitzen Trapper)
Best album: The xx
Other good ones: Logos (Atlas Sound), Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Phoenix), It's Blitz! (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Veckatimest (Grizzly Bear), Embryonic (The Flaming Lips), Actor (St. Vincent), Glasvegas
Best album: Halcyon Digest (Deerhunter)
Other good ones: The Suburbs (The Arcade Fire), My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (Swans), Plastic Beach (Gorillaz) Cerulean (Baths), This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem), Body Talk (Robyn), Cosmogramma (Flying Lotus), Write About Love (Belle And Sebastian)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Poolside - Harvest Moon

Is it wimpy of me to like -- nay, love -- this version? It almost beats the original.

And here is the gorgeously beautiful original. Does anyone bring more beauty into this world than this dude?

Stolen from a post by Simon Reynolds.

My R.E.M. Story

Here's a short excerpt from Chapter 8 of my "rock'n'roll book" which I have been writing for 82 years now. The writing is sophomoric, communicating very precisely the self-indulgence of adolescence:

___ had these hippie friends and I fucking hated them. The types who would wear strings tied around their wrists, not flush the toilet to save water, whose idea of a good time was to plan going to Alaska for the summer to make “a ton of easy cash,” and who believed that smoking pot and talking about Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick was the coolest thing that ever happened to them. One time, in November, we went to see Pink Floyd at the Summit in Houston with those kids, and once we got on the road, they cranked up the stereo with “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf. Yes, "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf. I just about jumped out of car and let it run over me. Please kill me right now. The concert was horrible. Pink Floyd was just patently horrible--if sucking itself could suck, a kind of a auto-sucking, that would describe the show.

The next day, my roommate and I went to see R.E.M. at G. Rollie White, our little basketball stadium on campus. R.E.M., touring in support of Document, were brilliant. This was the most stark display of the old vs. the new. The ‘60s were dead. Live and breathe now or die. R.E.M. played with scalpel-sharp precision, alternating between the heaviness of their Wire cover (“Strange”) and the implosive beauty of “So. Central Rain.” The singer came on wearing an oversize suit and a hat, all of which he gradually disrobed before ending the show bare above the waist, wearing baggy pants, huge combat boots, and a shaved head with a strand of long thick black ponytail hair sticking up from the top of his head. He also had thick black marks that underlined his eyes. He looked like a shaved raccoon. I thought that was cool as shit. In “Disturbance at the Heron House” from the new album, the singer repeatedly raised his arm in time and in salute to the beautiful, ascending notes of the intro:

Disturbance at the heron house
Stampede at the monument
To liberty and honor under the honor roll

And something about monkeys too:

They're numbering the monkeys
The monkeys and the monkeys
The followers of chaos out of control.

Lots of monkeys, I see. I had no idea what a heron was. Still don’t. To a mute audience, the singer described the band Suicide as one of his favorite defunct bands. “Go out and buy their record,” he said. I didn’t, but they sure sounded cool. For the show, my roommate and I put hairspray on our hairs, wore a bunch of earrings, piercings, and bangles, and got super-dressed up in black (pants, shirt, combat boots, chains). There was a small-scale intensity about the show, all things that I took for granted over the years: the fact that I was pretty much standing right in front of the band, that there was no laser show, no dry ice, just four misfits totally rocking out. It was the first concert I ever went to where I sensed I belonged. Fuck Pink Floyd.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


1990 was a weird year for me. It was transitional for sure. I shared an apartment with, umm, someone on Wellborn Road somewhere between Bryan and College Station, Texas. There were train tracks next to our apartment complex and everything would shake when they passed by. Those trains lasted an eternity when they passed by. A whole cigarette = one train. I had long hair, I'm embarrassed to admit, very long black hair. I wore black all the time. Not good looking or anything, but kind of nondescript. Average. I had a car that barely ran, some sort of a Chevy type thing, also very average.

Bill Sparks, our resident anarchist/nihilist, walked by me one day on campus, and mumbled something, like he was reading a poem to me or something. He was always acting like he was reading a poem that he'd just written, when in fact, he was just simply talking to you. He mentioned the Swans. "You gotta hear this shit." What did I know of them? Nothing, really. The year before, they had released an album, The Burning World. It seemed that everyone was talking about it. I went out and got it. It seemed vaguely folkish to me, not the kind of music I was listening to a lot at the time (Big Black, early Sonic Youth, Screaming Blue Messiahs, White Light/White Heat). Ironically, later, I learned that Swans themselves had emerged from that crazy nihilistic machinery-of-violence no-wave aesthetic. This album, The Burning World, was but a small false clue, a peace offering, a folk music pause from all the horrible noise that Swans inflicted upon the world. Let me put it this way: there was probably NO band on Earth in the 1980s that sounder louder and more deranged and skull-poundingly heavy as the Swans. (My favorite lyric: "The sex in your soul will damn you to hell!!!" repeated ad nauseam in ALL CAPS for 10 minutes while music that sounds like four thousand Terminator robots marching into your brain screams out of the speakers).

So in 1989, The Burning World was a surprise, because it was so ... lush. Lead Swans architect Michael Gira [pronounced "Jeera"] has since disavowed the whole album as a mistake, and quickly returned to a less "commercial" sounding aesthetic in a series of albums in the early nineties. These subsequent albums had the same repetitive, monolithic drones of earlier Swans but without the noise. Kind of like folk drones. You could find kernels of beauty among the minimalism. (The best of the latter period was White Light From the Mouth of Infinity. For my previous concert review of Gira, see here.)

But that summer, in 1990, I listened to The Burning World a lot. It wasn't their best album (which was and still is undoubtedly 1987's Children Of God). But the songs seemed to mirror my anxieties about things. There was one song, in particular, that I gravitated to a lot, called "Saved." It still seems amazing that Gira would allow himself to sing a song so tender as this, so full of longing and regret rather than his usual hatred and disgust. I always keep coming back to this one lyric:

When sunlight falls on your shoulder
You look like a creature from heaven
You're holy, when you open your eyes
And look up, inside that sheltering sky

And you're an angel, I'll never betray you
But I'll always be ... an only child

It's a powerful moment. You know what he means.

In January 1991, we moved to another apartment closer to campus, at Las Casitas, probably the shittiest apartment complex in College Station (or the world, actually). These pictures here might actually be the exact apartment we lived in in that spring of 1991. Oh My Jesus God. By that time, you know, things were kinda falling apart. But I tell you this, there were a lot of parties that spring and summer. I met a whole lotta people and did a whole lot of dubious things. I've forgotten the names of almost all of the people I met. Except Ted. Ted Townshend? He was an MD student. He was good looking, he kinda looked like a Nordic God with long hair. Ted, where are you these days? But more important, I wrote some damn good songs that year. Damn good songs.

Anyway, tonight I have to admit, "Saved" is a good song to play. That it is.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


"We used to dream / But now we worry about dyin'

We used to dream / But now we worry about dyin'
But I don't wanna worry about dyin'
I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls....."

There's something in that small couplet that captures completely and ineffably the cusp, the point between (invincible) youth and (damaged) adulthood. The Japandroids are a couple of children in their early/mid-20s from Vancouver who make this music. Some of their music reminds me of that old forgotten band, Eddie & The Hotrods, a precursor to British punk who had a major hit in 1977 with "Do Anything You Wanna Do." (And I'm so fucking old, I actually remember how much I loved that song as a child). I don't know much of the Japandroids' discography but the songs I've heard so far are about this precise turning point between being young and being old, suffused with a dollop of nostalgia, an unfortunate awareness what they're experiencing is totally fleeting, it's here and it's gone, and then all that's left is nothing.

I heard this song "Young Hearts Spark Fire" (from their album Post-Nothing) a million times in 2009. I would jog with it all the time, blasting it through my headphones. This is a live-in-the-studio version of "Young Hearts Spark Fire." Incredibly, the actual recorded version rocks much harder.

Here is a subsequent Japandroids single from 2010, a little bit like 1980s power pop a la the Replacements. A song predictably called "Younger Us":

"Gimme that naked new skin rush / Gimme younger us
Gimme that you and me to the grave trust / Give me younger us
Gimme that girls love running wild and free / Give me younger us
Gimme that boys out swimming through the streets / Give me younger us
Gimme that night you were already in bed
Said 'fuck it' got up to drink with me instead."