Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 75 Albums of the '00s

OK, here it is, my decade-end list of the top 75 albums of the past decade, the '00s. Hard to believe that a decade has passed since the oh-so-innocent panic of Y2K hysteria. My general feeling is that music, at least the kind of music I tend to like, was pretty stellar in the past ten years. But, as a point of reference, looking back at the past 50 years of popular music, it's hard to rank the past decade as anything particularly special. I still continue to think that there hasn't been a period as creative as the late 1970s/early 1980s but I would actually rank the '00s as a decade much better than the '90s and probably as good as the '80s.

Just a quick scan through the list suggests that I ranked very few artists from the babyboomer era as still producing good music. And let's face it, the only two real candidates in that category are Bob Dylan and Neil Young, both of whom continue to be as weird, iconoclastic, and inaccessible as ever but seemed to have cooled off in terms of producing sublime music. (And no, I don't like Leonard Cohen and maybe Scott Walker's doing some good stuff too). Neil Young's last peak was sometime in the mid-nineties while Dylan's "Love and Theft," which ranked on my top 75, was released in 2001 (actually, September 11, 2001, to be precise). Most of the other folks on the list came of age in the nineties.

In terms of genres, I can't really draw any firm conclusions besides the fact the '00s had a lot of derivative music (see Interpol, the Strokes, etc.) but that doesn't necessarily mean that it was bad music. I concede one can enjoy a copy of the copy of the copy. After all, I think we can all agree that authenticity is vastly overrated. Sometimes it's more fun to listen to the Rolling Stones than Robert Johnson, ya know?

It's also surprising to see so many of my picks from the early part of the decade rather than the later. The general trend seems to be that the decade began pretty well in 2000 (8 albums), reached a peak in 2003-2004 (about 12 each), then had a steady decline to 2009 (only three records from this year).

Finally, the issue of consistency. Very few bands/artists on the list had multiple showings, i.e., it was one good album and then done. I don't have an explanation for this but it seems to me that in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, you could probably easily find an artist (Joni Mitchell from the '70s, the Smiths from the '80s) who could be counted on to consistently deliver good albums, one after the other. Nowadays it ain't so, although I wonder if that has something to do with the attention span of the audience than the work of the artist.

So, my list:

75. Iggy Pop - Skull Ring (2003)
74. Ariel Pink - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2005)
73. Burial - Untrue (2007)
72. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (2006)
71. Caribou - Up In Flames (2003)

70. AA Bondy - When The Devil's Loose (2009)
69. Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004)
68. Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The UK (2006)
67. Bob Dylan - "Love And Theft" (2001)
66. Tangemeenie - Faust (2001)
65. A Silver Mt. Zion - He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms... (2000)
64. Paul Westerberg - Stereo/Mono (2002)
63. School Of Seven Bells - Alpinisms (2007)
62. Zero 7 - Simple Things (2001)
61. Rachid Taha - Tekitoi (2004)

60. Eluvium - Talk Amongst The Trees (2005)
59. Lemon Jelly - '64-'95 (2005)
58. The White Stripes - Elephant (2003)
57. A Perfect Circle - Mer De Noms (2000)
56. M.I.A. - Arular (2005)
55. The Album Leaf - One Day I'll Be On Time (2001)
54. Tinariwen - Aman Iman (2007)
53. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O. (2002)
52. Sea Ray - Stars At Noon (2003)
51. Yo La Tengo - And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000)

50. King Khan & The Shrines - The Supreme Genius Of (2008)
49. Califone - Roots & Crowns (2006)
48. Steely Dan - Two Against Nature (2000)
47. Ellen Allien & Apparat - Orchestra Of Bubbles (2006)
46. Verbena - La Musica Negra (2003)
45. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (2005)
44. New Order - Get Ready (2001)
43. Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things (2006)
42. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain (2006)
41. Radiohead - Amnesiac (2001)

40. Dead Meadow - Feathers (2005)
39. Sonic Youth - Murray Street (2002)
38. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
37. The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
36. Boards Of Canada - The Campfire Headphase (2005)
35. The Secret Machines - Now Here Is Nowhere (2004)
34. Massive Attack - 100th Window (2003)
33. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)
32. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero (2007)
31. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig! (2008)

30. Mogwai - Happy Songs For Happy People (2003)
29. Four Tet - Rounds (2003)
28. Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below (2003)
27. Atlas Sound - Logos (2009)
26. Buffalo Daughter - I (2001)
25. Royksopp - Melody A.M. (2001)
24. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
23. Primal Scream - XTRMNTR (2000)
22. Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles (2004)
21. Adem - Homesongs (2004)

20. Ulrich Schnauss - A Strangely Isolated Place (2004)
19. M83 - Saturdays = Youth (2008)
18. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (2005)
17. Diplo - Florida (2004)
16. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Like Bad News (2004)
15. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (2007)
14. Beck - Sea Change (2002)
13. Deerhunter - Microcastle (2008)
12. The Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
11. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007)

10. Boards Of Canada - Geogaddi (2002)
9. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)
8. The Books - The Lemon Of Pink (2003)
7. Pinback - Summer In Abbadon (2004)
6. Sigur Ros - () (2002)
5. Explosions In The Sky - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003)
4. PJ Harvey - Stories From The City Stories From The Sea (2000)
3. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (2005)
2. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)

1. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Top 30 Songs of the '00s (part 1)

Music was awesome in the '00s. Incredible. I had a lot of trouble narrowing down 30 songs I liked. And even then I left out at least another 75 that I could have easily included. But yeah, this past decade was just incredible for unrelentingly good music. Here's my list. People will notice that I went for 'pop' rather than 'esoteric' or 'experimental.' This is because I love da pop music. There's nothing like a good tune.

Part II in a coupla days.


LCD Soundsystem -- All My Friends [2007]


The Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Maps [2005]

THE REST (in alphabetical order):

1) The Arcade Fire -- Rebellion (Lies) [2004]

2) Battles -- Atlas [2007]

3) The Books -- That Right Ain't Shit [2003]

No official video, someone made this one up:

4) Death Cab For Cute -- I Will Possess Your Heart [2008]

5) Explosions In The Sky -- The Moon Is Down [2001]

6) Feist -- 1-2-3-4 [2007]

7) Fleet Foxes -- White Winter Hymnal [2008]

8) Fujiya & Miyagi -- Ankle Injuries [2006]

9) Gorillaz -- Feel Good, Inc. [2005]

10) Low -- Sunflower [2001]

11) Master Cylinder -- Jung At Heart [2000]

12) M.I.A. -- Sunshowers [2005]

13) MGMT -- Time To Pretend [2008]

14) Modest Mouse -- Float On

15) Mogwai -- Friend Of The Night

Next 15 in a day or two.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Top 30 Songs of the '00s (Part 2)

16. The National -- Fake Empire [2007]

17. New Order -- Crystal [2001]

18. Okkervil River -- Our Life Is Not A Movie or Maybe [2007]

19. Outkast -- Hey Ya [2003]

20. Phoenix -- Too Young [2000]

21. The Postal Service -- Such Great Heights [2003]

22. Radiohead -- There There [2003]

23. Rhymefest -- Devil's Pie [2006]

24. Ulrich Schnauss -- Knuddelmaus [2001]

25. The Secret Machines -- First Wave Intact

26. Tinariwen -- Amassakoul [2004]

27. The Tings Tings -- Shut Up And Let Me Go [2008]

28. Vampire Weekend -- Oxford Comma [2008]

29. Kanye West -- Stronger [2007]

30. Paul Westerberg -- Crackle & Drag [2003]

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Will post my Top 50 Albums of the decade shortly. Until then, here's something from 1995.

"God of piston, God of steel
God is here behind the wheel."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Replacements -- Answering Machine (live)

In 1989, the Replacements put out an e.p. called Inconcerated, which was basically a promo CD for radio stations. It was a blistering 5-song live record of a show they did at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee to support their then-latest album Don't Tell A Soul. This was a rare CD, and I paid a lotta money to get it on ebay. Anyway, it rocks -- and in typical Replacements fashion, they never bothered to release the whole show which would have been too good to be true. Whatever. Danielle wanted to hear the live version of "Answering Machine." Here it is.

The Replacements -- Answering Machine (live)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

It's A Wonderful Lie

Listening to mid period Paul Westerberg (the stuff that I don't really like) makes me feel uneasy. Paul began his solo career with the awesome 14 Songs but then quickly descended step-by-step into what I still consider AOR shlock. I generalize. Every album that he released after 14 Songs had a few drop-dead genius songs on it. But the other songs were so cliched, so much dead weight, that I could never make it through an entire album. I'm being too harsh. I think it's more that listening to those albums (Eventually and Suicane Gratifaction) made me depressed. There are few pieces of music that make me depressed. Usually, it's the other way around: I get depressed and then I listen to some music or other. But the stuff he put out in the mid to late nineties was just plain dour, maudlin. Later I find that Paul is a depressive and he's on some serious medication. Over the years, his edges dulled. What can I say.

After what seemed like a never ending slump, he finally (in 2002) showed up with a double album of sorts, Stereo/Mono, which (shock) was actually good. It took me a while to warm up to the albums, but they worked. He'd clearly changed his style. His music had gotten a lot simpler, he'd abandoned those clever chord progressions; and his voice had become more nasal, in a quasi-Dylan way that could occasionally be annoying. But if you got over that, his songs were still good, and at times brilliant.

Since then, he apparently doesn't leave his house in suburban Minneapolis. He's afraid of people and what not. He has a studio in the basement where he goes down and bangs out songs. The ethos is uncompromisingly low-fi with nary the slightest concession to polish or practice. Every few months he releases a bunch of songs on-line, songs that sound he like recorded them underwater. The drumming is usually awful -- he is a brilliant guitarist but he remains a terrible drummer. Paul, try and meet some people, for the love of God! You don't have to go to a bar, just put an ad out that you need a drummer! Jesus.

Anyway, a week or so ago, Westerberg released another e.p., this one called PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys. Yeah, that's what it's called. Paul being Paul, he took a word from each of the six songs and made up a title. Some of the songs are really good. Hey, what the hey, indeed. [Go here for a free song from the e.p.]

One of Paul's favorite things to write about is: the sadness young men see in young women who never see it in themselves. He wrote a buncha those (see "Achin' to Be," "Merry Go Round," "Birthday Gal," etc. etc.). Those are good ones.

And then there are the requisite songs about dead people (cheery guy, he), including one about Sylvia Plath. In a terribly morbid poem titled "Edge," Plath wrote:

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

God, so gloomy, like a 16-year old goth chick. Paul, for whatever reason, wrote a song called "Crackle and Drag" (a lovely way to describe the static you hear when curtains move to close across theater stages). And he would sing it differently in various versions. The video below is an acoustic version, much better actually than any version he put on record. The other is a studio punk rock version. Both are brilliant.

But it's most important to understand that even when Paul puts out what could possibly be the shittiest album released by a human being in the entire decade of the nineties (Suicane Gratifaction), in his typically perverse way, the very first song on the album, "It's A Wonderful Lie," may be the best thing he wrote the whole decade. I hear it now -- I know exactly what he means.

Although Paul could give two shits about me, I still love the skinny bastard. I love his music. It changed my life. I don't listen to the old stuff that much anymore but that doesn't matter. Those buncha albums from the '80s that he and his bastards of young put out -- they are now imprinted in my DNA. Those who have loved me, and those who I have loved, know this about me. That I am one of those children by the millions, who wait for Paul Westerberg, to come home.

Paul Westerberg -- Crackle and Drag (unreleased live) [mp3]
Paul Westerberg -- Crackle and Drag (electric) [mp3]


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hello Sunshine

Fall is here. It's almost October. Would love to go to Colombia one day. But maybe not by train.

Super Furry Animals -- Hello Sunshine [mp3]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Easy Listening

Somebody I know has teased me that my posts on this blog are very 'emo' -- presumably meaning that I emote, that I talk too much about emotions. So maybe I should be witty and ironic and acerbic and euphoric or something? If I am 'emo,' then it's probably because I try and generally avoid writing about the events in life, focusing instead on my (ahem) aesthetic preferences. But ... it's hard to write about one's preferences and not allude to how one feels. Which I guess leads to emoting. Hmm.

So ... I thought I would every explicitly emote in this post. Emoting about music is usually about remembering. It is usually about nostalgia. It is now 1.30 am, a suitable time for remembering. I'm listening to "Saudade" by Love and Rockets, the beautiful instrumental that closes their first album Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. No specific memory associated with this album but vague images that run through my mind. The front of an apartment complex on Boyett Street. Being young. Being too young. Being skinny. Having a crush on a girl who didn't have one on me (until much later). Lying on the couch falling asleep during the day with a Calculus textbook opened on my chest. My roommate buying me a pack of cigarettes. A time that is most definitely not today. Not today at all.

Here is an excerpt from my rock'n'roll book about that time:

In Texas, there was either Austin, Houston, or Dallas to go to. The latter was the furthest, and therefore infrequently visited. But there was a memorable trip in the spring of 19_, memorable not because anything particular happened, but because on the drive there, as I was lazily watching the vista of the scenery move by from my passenger’s seat window, I saw a rainbow set, almost like a colored architectural (drawing) implement balanced over the horizon; in the foreground a cemetery with gravestones raced by until the headstones strobe-lighted through my brain into an image that I’ve never forgotten. Later, I wrote a poem-song called “Rainbow Cemetery Freeway” for that one memory—of movement and death and loneliness that I felt on that trip to Dallas.

Nadeem had some old friends from __ who went to school at the University of Texas at Arlington. This was a little “town” located right between Dallas and Forth Worth. There’s nothing remarkable about any of these three places—although Dallas would figure a little bit in my life in the years hence: several times I flew kites over a suburb of Dallas. Nadeem had a friend who lived in Arlington whose name was Pappu, an incredibly skinny dude who dressed like a punk. He wore black all the time, made up his hair, had lots of piercings, and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time making himself look good (which he did). We would always be late for shit, ‘cause Pappu was doing his hair. I looked positively suburban next to him. He put in some serious time with his sartorial eloquence. Well, Pappu had an album he was playing at the time, "Meat Is Murder," by a band I had hitherto not heard of, the Smiths. It sounded like warbling to me, definite signs of warbling and moaning. I was nearly ready for the Smiths, but not quite so. However, we heard the album dozens of times that weekend while smoking cigarettes and sitting outside his apartment.

Pappu had a gorgeous white chick for a girlfriend who also wore black all the time. One time I was sitting on the steps outside their apartment. Nadeem and Pappu were somewhere else. It was just me and her. She put on 'Meat is Murder' yet again. She said it was the only thing she could listen to. We sat there smoking cigarettes and not talking. This was a recurring theme in my American Adventure. The soundtrack, the cigarettes, and the silence. It was like being placed in freshly fallen snow on the side of a highway after a car accident that didn’t really hurt you that bad.

Pappu was later killed in a carcrash. I'm not sure what happened to his girlfriend.

There were other more deeper trips into Americana. On my first spring break out of College Station, in the late '80s, I went to visit my sister at her school, Wellesley College near Boston. I took a flight out of Houston, via Newark, and landed in Boston. It was the first time that I had been in the north, or indeed anywhere outside of College Station in America. She came and picked me up and first we went to Harvard Square. It was cold. We stopped at Au Bon Pain and we had some hot melts-in-your-mouth croissants, a food I had never tasted before, and actually, have not tasted since. No matter how many croissants I have eaten since that day, I have never been able to secrete the same juices of joy in my mouth as that winter day.

My sister had been in Wellesley for a little over a semester now, and I’m not sure how she was adjusting to it, but it seemed clear that life wasn’t exactly easy for her in terms of money, school, social life, etc. Wellesley was this beautiful isolated oasis in the middle of nowhere, with the most picturesque backdrop one could imagine, especially in the winter—with wide lakes and tall pine trees and distant forests and gliding hills and mysterious pathways that led off to shaded hollows. I met a few of her new friends while I stayed in her room. I remember the big hit on the radio at the time was a song called “Easy Lover,” a duet by Phil Collins and the former lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire whose name I can’t remember now. I wrote many (love) letters to S__, sitting in my sister’s dorm room. I don’t think S__ ever replied to them. My sister did her best to take care of me, but I think I was a lost case. I was right in the midst of my deep chasm of feeling lost, just having come to America, so it must’ve showed on my face.

While at Wellesley, I decided to go visit an old friend who was a freshman at Brown University. __ was the ex-girlfriend of my ex-best friend. She was beautiful to look at, maybe a bit too much, and I was never sure why she was so fond of me at the time. She really devoted a lot of care to our friendship over the years but it was that first trip that cemented something new. I took a Greyhound bus from Boston to Providence with my bags, not really knowing where the hell I was supposed to meet her. I remember leaving the Greyhound station in the bitter cold with two heavy bags walking around the city trying to look for a small college building where I was supposed to meet her. I walked for miles, finally convinced I was lost. My shoulders hurt. I didn’t have her phone number either. I sat down on a corner street and huddled up in the bitter cold as night fell and it was snowing. I smoked a lot of cigarettes. I walked to the campus of Rhode Island College. Amazingly, out of the blue, she showed up in a friend’s car, leapt out of nowhere and hugged me. They took me back to her dorm, where __ immediately told me to take a shower because I smelled bad. I don’t remember the rest of what we did. But I do remember that I smelled bad. Later, after a couple of days, __ hugged me goodbye and we began writing letters regularly to each other, her chronicling her tumultuous love affairs and me chronicling my imaginary ones.

Throughout that trip, I had a small walkman (remember those?!) with me and a few cassette tapes. One of them, stolen from Shammu, began with the song “I.G.Y.” by Donald Fagen—a beautiful, lilting, and absurdly cheesy song if there ever was one. Except, listening to it just made me more wistful, and eventually pitifully nostalgic for “what a beautiful world it used to be.”

"I.G.Y" remains an oddity. It's one of the few songs I've ever heard that is about the euphoric joy of expecting a bright future. The narrator is a kid in 1957 (hence the International Geophysical Year or IGY), just after the launch of the Sputnik satellite into space. And he's excited. He's excited about going to space, about the new space age upon us. The song might as well have been written for me as a ten year old. It's weird that as you get older, the songs that often move you are the ones you remember as a kid, the ones that are willfully discarded as lowbrow (or worse, middlebrow) by the arbiters of good taste. But, really, who could resist when Fagen sings:

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free.

Donald Fagen -- I.G.Y. [mp3]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I had an idea once to write an album full of songs called The Catastrophe Years. I hope I hope I hope that they are not upon me.

So, yeah, I, um, have written a lot of songs over the years. There was a broken Hawaiian guitar in our house when I was a kid, and lacking anything better, I screwed around with it for a while before my parents got me a real guitar. I don't remember how or when but I was roughly about 15 or 16 years old. I started writing a lot of songs at the time partly because I was unable to learn other people's songs. I was basically a self-taught player and took no lessons. I learned by listening but recognized later on that I learned a lot of things wrong. Totally wrong. I still can't play barre chords. But....I suppose, lacking formal training, I started right off the bat with odd tunings and chords that really make no sense. Which can be an advantage if you want to write really weird songs.

At some point, I wrote so many songs that I started to put them together into make believe "albums." In fact, by the time I got to college, I lived in this secret world where I would spend months, sometimes a year, painstakingly putting together an album of songs. By the time I stopped writing songs completely, I had written about 300 songs, most of them were arranged into about 15 or so albums. I stopped writing songs as a regular habit in 1991. Not sure why. Probably got too depressed to write. Or bored. Something like that. But I did do one thing that I'm really glad about now: During a Christmas break in college, I spent a couple of weeks recording on shitty cassette tapes every song I've ever written. These demos were basically skeletal, with nothing but me on acoustic guitar and vocals, so they lack dynamics and color, but they will help me remember the songs and the chords one day when I revisit them. My plan is to record full-fledged band versions of all the songs. (Of course, I'll never do that because I'm too busy, but one can always hope...)

One of the "albums" I wrote (in 1990-91) was called Home and consisted of 16 songs, most of which I still really like, which is surprising as I am much older now. These were essentially sound poems about a broken relationship (yeah, I know) but not as maudlin or sentimental as some of my earlier stuff. Here is a demo from Home. In my mind, it's a psychedelic song, but with just me and the guitar, it comes off a little spooky. I recorded the demo in 1992.

Joy -- Cool [mp3]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rock'n'Roll Nigger

I first heard Horses in the early winter of '89, probably January. Needless to say it blew my fucking mind. I don't think there has been an album since or before that so profoundly fucked with my sense of what was "possible" in music. I didn't want to fuck Patti Smith, I wanted to be her. I remember playing "Gloria" for my friends, almost proud that I had stumbled upon a piece of musical archeology. I remember the rush, the unbelievable chill I got hearing those first words on the album: "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." There were a lot of songs about fucking on that album but that's not why I loved the music. Horses was fundamentally about a challenge. It challenges you to see beyond, to look outside, to break through, to delve deeper. And yes, perhaps it works best when you are 20 years old and not when you're 30. But in that way, I was lucky to have stumbled upon her genius at that age. (Smith herself was 29 when she recorded the album.)

The picture of her on the cover of Horses -- well, what's the point of even trying to describe it in words? It may be the best album cover of all time. Robert Mapplethorpe, he of the tragic end to life, captured the weird androgyny of Patti Smith that is at the heart of the best rock'n'roll. (Aside: Mapplethorpe was also the photographer for Television's Marquee Moon, another inscrutably brilliant album cover).

Instead of offering something off of Horses, today I offer the b-side of Smith's first single from June 1974, "Piss Factory," supposedly the first punk rock song ever released. She didn't include the song on Horses, but it's worth a listen for the boundaries she was already pushing before the album. When I was a TA for the "history of rock'n'roll" class at Carnegie Mellon in the spring of 2001, I played all of "Piss Factory" to my class (100+ students!) because I wanted them to know the possibilities inherent in the medium of pop music. I also handed out lyrics to her song, "Rock'n'Roll Nigger." In an interview from the spring of 1976, just after Horses was released, Smith noted:

Every time I say the word pussy at a poetry reading, some idiot broad rises and has a fit. “What’s your definition of pussy, sister?” I dunno, it’s a slang term. If I wanna say pussy, I’ll say pussy. If I wanna say nigger, I’ll say nigger. If somebody wants to call me a cracker bitch, that’s cool. It’s all part of being American. But all these tight-assed movements are fucking up our slang, and that eats it.

Patti Smith -- Piss Factory [mp3]

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Swell Season at Radio City Music Hall -- Gently Johnny

I was at this show (below, in the video, on May 19, 2008) at Radio City Hall here in New York, just after the semester had ended, to watch the band Swell Season. The year before, we had seen the movie Once which I really enjoyed -- it was a touching fictional story about a street-singing singer/busker in Dublin who falls for a sweet Czech girl. The two characters were played by the two main singers of Swell Season who also wrote all the songs.

So.. about half way through the show at Radio City Hall, Markéta Irglová (the Czech girl, just 20 years old), did a solo number, inviting her sister (Zuzana) to sing. They did a particularly haunting version of "Gently Johnny," a song originally featured on The Wicker Man soundtrack. Wicker Man was a rather obscure British horror movie put out in 1973 which featured a few British luminaries of the time including Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee. In recent years, there's been a general reassessment of the movie, and many critics now consider it a horror classic. I was totally blown over by the song and immediately got the soundtrack (which is middling at best).

Below I have Swell Season's beautiful version, followed by an mp3 of the original by Paul Giovanni who composed the soundtrack for The Wicker Man. Giovanni's version is much more in the form of an olde English folk parable, probably the way it was originally meant to be. Irglová's version is like a spooky Joni Mitchell song. Both are awesome. (And no, I'm not going to mention the horrible 2006 remake of The Wicker Man.)

Paul Giovanni -- Gently Johnny [mp3]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The first song by Low I heard was the following, "Shame." I saw them live in the late nineties when I was living in Philly, opening for the Swans down at the Trocadero. They had a certain aesthetic, combining silence and understatement with violence and frisson. In the continuing search for my "this-is-how-i-feel" moments in music, I found two Low songs, one of them "Shame" and the other, "Sunflowers." I need to do a longer post on the latter, but here is "Shame," and yes, fuck you, I was (am?) of those people best described as anhedonics [sic]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


There have been many versions of this song, most notably by Don McLean, the 1970s singer dude. Here is one version, featured in an episode of Mad Men, a TV show shown here in the U.S. on AMC for the past couple of years. David Carbonara scores the music for the show.

David Carbonara -- Babylon [mp3]

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Phule Phule Dhole Dhole

Below, a short scene from Satyajit Ray's Charulata (1964).

The song is, of course, "Phule Phule Dhole Dhole" written by Rabindranath Tagore, who adapted the melody from "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon" by the 18th century Scottish bard Robert Burns. The change to a minor chord gives the melody a deeply yearning quality (as opposed to the more maudlin nature of a lot of his other work).

Below also, an mp3 from a contemporary Bengali singer, Sahana (shown below), who recorded this version in 2007 for her album Notun Korey Paabo Boley. More about her here.

Miss home.

Sahana -- Phule Phule Dhole Dhole [mp3]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Your Own

reminds me of my lost years, noho '95 in particular. i miss those days... living in the moment, place to place, month to month, song to song

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dan Deacon

Fucking hilarious.

Haunted When The Minutes Drag

The music of the late eighties remains an important touchstone for me, mostly because I was just at the right age to soak it up, i.e., young. I was enamored of British pop music of the period but at the same time deeply identified with a completely different strand of American pop music. The former was seemingly intellectual, the performers harboring aspirations of "high art." British pop stars seem to think that they were doing something enduring, something transcending the genre of disposable pop music. Most of the American music I liked, on the other hand, was much more self-consciously low-brow. This was the apex of American indie rock, converse shoes, and stupid but awesome songs by Camper Van Beethoven.

So, recently, somebody gave me a subscription to and I thought I'd revisit the late eighties, which rock critics commonly see as a fallow period. It's seen either as the period when a lot of synthetic pop shit dominated MTV (remember them?) or simply as presage to the revolution to be ushered in by Seattle. I remember neither. For me, the revolution had already happened in my head. Music was incredibly exciting, thrilling even, between 1986 and 1990. I'm not sure that if I heard the same music today I would find it exciting at all, but that is part of what makes youth so peculiar. Youth magnifies the resonant moments, the moments when you think that a piece of art (book, music, movie) deeply moves you into believing (some would say, tricks you into believing) that that piece of art is something essential in your life. You get older and these identifications seem, not so much trivial, but unattainable. After the age of thirty, how could a mere song (a song, imagine that!) mean anything more than a pleasant diversion for three or four minutes?

So I'm listening to a playlist of commercial pop music of the late eighties, the music of my youth, but I decided to go with the British spectrum of my tastes, exemplified perfectly by "Haunted When the Minutes Drag," the 6+ minutes epic by the band Love and Rockets, released originally in 1985 on an album with the particularly unwieldy title Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. As uncool as it was to like them, I always loved Love and Rockets. Every one of their albums had some tasty morsel, something fun about it. And indelibly (and unapologetically) British. Most laypeople remember Love & Rockets for their only Top 10 hit "So Alive" but their albums were all surprisingly fun to listen to, full of wry psychedelic touches, Syd Barrett-isms, and forward-looking atmospherics. They even had a couple of great techno albums (Hot Trip to Heaven and Lift), but really, their archetypical touchstone was the first album, Seventh Dream, and in particular, this epic track, worthy of many youthful indiscretions.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Moon Is Down

This music is so fucking beautiful, I can hardly breathe. There is a moment at 5 minutes and 45 seconds into "The Moon Is Down" when the whole world collapses around me. This, their magnum opus, they did not play last night at Summerstage in Central Park. It rained and rained like the flood. Our feet, socks, shoes, ankles were wet. The sky was like a wet hood over our heads. Walking from the entrance at 72nd St. into Central Park, we walked through puddles, ran through pathways, soaked in the wetness of a June dusk. The band were animated, celebrating their tenth year together, four dudes from Texas. We stood around until we were too tired to stand.

Here is a review I wrote of a show in Brooklyn I saw in 2004:

None of their songs have words, each piece is roughly ten minutes long. There are only two electric guitars, a bass guitar, and a drum set. The music they produce is indescribably beautiful, passing through ebbs, flows, silence, pauses, crescendos, climaxes, and wordless guitar interplays that make (and made) my heart drop into the deep pit of my stomach. There are no chords in any of their music, only notes, clear pristine notes without a hint of tremelo, but with lots of echo. The notes circle around each other, going up, going down, sometimes just going around each other in a way that is absolutely obvious but you've never really heard before. The sounds of the silences come at you between the notes, the melodies breathtakingly beautiful and...also obvious but unheard.

They did not play very long, perhaps one hour or so but performed about six long pieces ending with "Memorial," another track off their new album. Unlike the other pieces, this wasn't drop dead melancholy but rather ponderous (in a go
od way) and in a way that may make you think of the word "behold." Behold what, I do not know. Just Behold. The song ended in a massed crescendo which was so fucking loud, that it made me feel the Earth, my heart, my lips, my blood, and the vibrating air in the spaces between my toes, so loud that the boys on stage were maniacally and unselfconsciously pummeling their instruments which such wanton abandon that at one point two of them--the two guys with the lead guitars--tripped over themselves and landed on their asses, still pummeling their guitars into outer space drone-noise ecstacy.

Explosions in the Sky are from Midland, Texas, apparently the hometown of the country's current President.

And another review I wrote after seeing them in 2005:

The one thing that struck me seeing them this second time was that it demands something of the audience in that you have to leave your expectations of a "normal" rock show behind. There are no typical musical cues (choruses, verses, climaxes, themes) that punctuate your time in neat segments. If you pay too much attention to the detail of the music (that guitar figure, this drum break) you lose sense of the beauty of the music. In one sense to truly appreciate their music, you have to abandon the rules of musical showmanship behind. Which I suppose is why some call them post-rock (although I hate that tag in general)... If you have ever felt sad in your life, even if for a short while... so sad that it dropped the heaviness in your chest deep into the pit of your stomach, you will probably be able to relate to this music. It is music deeply embedded in the essence of what makes us sad, and in knowing that what makes us utterly sad is often the exact same feeling that makes us exult and euphoric....

At the show, as far as I could tell, they ... omitted "Your Hand In Mine," the most obviously melancholy piece of their oeuvre, a move that in some sense was a relief to me; I could walk out at the end of the night without having felt the emotions too deeply in the pit of my stomach... What I remembered were the three guitarists at the front of the stage pouncing/pounding their instruments in unison at the end of "Memorial" in a way that suggested some unearthly dance of arms, some violence so fucking loud that I left the hallroom with a high pitch in my ears. How can music so sad be so loud that it'll rip your ears out?

So today's featured track is "The Moon Is Down," probably their most illegally sad piece, ten minutes of drowning in sound, from utter silence to manic frenzy. Turn off the lights when it's dusk and listen to the way the world falls away at exactly 5 minutes and 45 seconds into the piece.

On the way home, the rain had completely stopped. Central Park was a husk, just shadows and bright lights. A taxi, dirty feet, the couch, tired as hell, far from the war that Steinbeck once described in The Moon Is Down.

Explosions in the Sky -- The Moon Is Down [mp3]

Monday, June 15, 2009

NINJA Review

So....about 18 years ago, 1991, on a really hot August Friday, I managed to find myself surrounded by what in those days, the kids used to call "alternative" music. Sounds so quaint these days. Anyway, there, somewhere in the outskirts of Dallas, TX, a bunch of us freaks were at a Lollapalooza show to witness the music of an assortment of bands: Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Butthole Surfers, the Rollins Band, Ice-T, etc. Yet, most of were really there to see two acts: Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails, bands at the cusp of very different things. The former had somehow ascended to the top of the heap of the genre, having just released the unfuckingbelievable Ritual de lo Habitual the previous year. Unbeknownst to us, they were just about to break up. The latter, Nine Inch Nails, had just released their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which we had slotted in along with much of the other "industrial" music around at the time, bands like Ministry, A Split Second, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, etc. Unbeknownst to us, Nine Inch Nails, led by some skinny dude from Ohio named Trent Reznor, was about to launch into some global stratospheric level of fame.

Fast forward 18 (!) years, and lo and behold, I managed to revisit both bands, just last week at Wantagh, New York, way out the fuck somewhere in Long Island. The two are on a joint tour, cleverly named NINJA (get it?). Jane's has only the most tenuous of justifications for the tour. They broke up in '91 but have been sporadically reuniting with a number of rotating bassists, since their original bassist dude had refused to be in the same room with the others. A few years ago, with a new bassist, they released a fairly lackluster album (Strays) but we have heard nothing new from them since then. Said bass guitarist finally caved in last year and decided to join Jane's for a new tour, and hence they are on tour ("the original band!") peddling songs from their three original releases (Jane's Addiction, Nothing's Shocking, and Ritual de lo Habitual).

NIN, meanwhile, has been an ongoing enterprise, a veritable mega-corporate machine that has been running like a slick well-oiled machine for nearly two decades catering to the needs of America's disaffected suburban youth. After the stratospheric success of The Downward Spiral in the early nineties, Trent has continued releasing albums every so often. More recently, he's put out a flood of new music (Year Zero, Ghosts I-IV, The Slip) that suggests that he's in some sort of creative renaissance after what seemed like a cul-de-sac. So...Jane's is basically an oldies act while NIN is still a vibrant quantity. Never woulda guessed that in '91, huh?

How was the show? Well, I can't speak for crazy obsessed NIN fans, but I confess I was blown away by the NIN show. Their set was immaculately executed, the sound was crystal clear, and the energy level was high. Last year, NIN toured with a very elaborate stage show on their Lights in the Sky tour which, I am told was "fucking awesome" (Thank you E). This time, the stage show was fairly stripped down, putting more focus on the performers themselves. Trent has buffed up several orders since he was a skinny kid from Ohio fucking with keyboards and drum machines. He looks a little scary, frankly. On occasions in his career, Trent has skirted bathos with his insistence that he is ANGRY, always ANGRY. Yet, on stage, his performance seems less contrived than machine-like (and yes, there is a difference). His vocal affectations never seemed pulled back; on the contrary, he seemed to be projecting himself completely into his lyrics, his songs, his music, and his audience, never for one second letting up. I appreciated that.

The set was heavy with tracks from the early years, particularly, The Downward Spiral, whose songs came alive well on stage often in forms noticeably different from the album versions but not enough that it rendered them unrecognizable. If the songs from The Downward Spiral were there to please the casual fans, Trent was good enough to include a slew of lesser known songs from The Fragile, the double-CD album which many call too sprawling and without focus but which, I think, has aged much better than much of his other stuff, given that it communicates an emotional and sonic depth lacking in his other work. There were also a few stray (and fantastic) tracks from later releases, including "The Hand That Feeds" from With Teeth, and a couple from Year Zero ("Survivalism") and The Slip ("Echoplex"), two recent releases that show Reznor noticeably moving away from his usual "I" centered narratives to a more externalized view of the world. Year Zero was a surprisingly successful experiment at creating a post-everything dystopic world out of music (not a new idea, but well executed) while The Slip was a stripped down album of great succinct songs, his first non-concept album since the debut. There was nothing from Ghosts I-IV, a superb collection of instrumental tracks also released recently but such ambient music (à la Aphex Twin) would have undercut the momentum/inertia of the show.

Two covers underscored how Reznor is basically the mutant child of older sonic pioneers: "I'm Afraid of Americans" by David Bowie and "Metal" by Gary Numan. The show ended with an encore that combined one of his oldest and best songs, "Head Like a Hole" with "Hurt," the beautiful (yeah, beautiful) coda from The Downward Spiral. "Hurt" is a peculiar song in the NIN canon in that it combines a mournful acoustic guitar melody with a lyric that is genuinely sad (as opposed to angry or depressed). In perhaps the two most simple yet "gives-you-chills" lines the NIN catalog, Trent sings about the perils of self-destruction, about the trail of wreckage left behind:

You are someone else
I am still right here.

In concert, it's a strange moment, like the air being sucked out of you -- even though I've heard it a thousand times. At Wantaugh, you felt the chilly air of southern Long Island, the beautiful bay, a backdrop to the amphitheater. I felt a pang of what, I don't know. I knew I didn't want to lose what I had right there next to me. I wanted to hold on.

She doesn't see her beauty
She tries to get away
Sometimes it's just that nothing seems worth saving
I can't watch her slip away

I won't let you fall apart

Jane's came on a little bit later. Their sound mix was vastly inferior to the NIN show, since some klutz had obviously turned up the bass sound to, like, Spinal Tap levels, way beyond distortion. I have a special fondness for the band. I kinda grew up on their two studio albums, and I still think the music on those albums are unassailable, a perfect mix of punk, metal, funk, glam, and God knows what else. They were blessed with fantastic musicians, a guitarist (Dave Navarro) who knew when to pull back, a drummer (Stephen Perkins) who had a particularly crazy tribal quality, and a bassist (Eric Avery) who was the real backbone of the band, creating entire songs out of some of the best motherfucking bass riffs this side of Jaco Pastorius. They also had a crazy asshole creative genius singer (Perry Farrel) who, while barely competent on an instrument, wrote some awesome space-age lyrics, half of which made no sense but kicked ass.

Two decades after their heyday, Jane's looked more or less in good shape. Navarro looks like he's been preserved in Madame Tussauds or something while Perry looks about as skinny as ever but a little tanned and more withered. They began with probably their very best song, "Three Days," a nearly 11 minute tour de force, that according to Wikipedia is a meditation on "death and rebirth." Um, yeah, whatever. From what I can tell, it's about a fucked up menage à trois, which is, well, fine, but fortunately, the song rocks. Here is a version from late 1990. Fucking rocks.

From that, they basically ran through much of their (very) small catalog. Being essentially an oldies act means that they don't have to play their new album, but they did dig deep here and there, uncovering a couple of choice obscurities, including "Then She Did," a song, apparently about Perry's mother's suicide which encapsulates many of the best things about Jane's original run in the late eighties: mystery, storytelling narrative, and da rock and roll. You get a sense of Perry's songwriting chops when the song begins with the simple words:

Now her paints are dry...

I love how a few choice words can set the entire stage for a scene. You get the whole scene immediately. Singing to one of his lovers, Perry finishes the song thus:

Would you say hello to my mom?
Would you pay a visit to her?
She was an artist just like you were.
Would've introduced you to her.
She would take me out on Sundays
We'd go laughing through the garbage
She'd repaired legs like a doctor
On the kitchen chairs we sat on
She was unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were

They also did their chilling account of Ted Bundy's killing spree, "Ted, Just Admit It" although, unlike the last time, they did not have videos of Bundy on the backscreen. The show ended with a spirited "Jane Says," the song that most people associate with Jane's, the best singalong song about heroin addiction and prostitution ever written.

On the drive home, I felt close.

Overall score: NIN - 8.5/10, Jane's 7/10