Friday, July 31, 2009

2002 : 42 "Sellout" by Here Are The Facts You Requested

Back when I read Spin magazine, some time in the 90's, they did this section in their year-end issue: "The best albums of the year you never heard." My friends in college used to play a game with that segment. In that spirit I would like to offer the Here Are The Facts You Requested album Felt. I would like to nominate this as the best album of the 2000's that no one heard.

I know I would not have heard the album if I did not work with a member of the band. Still, I think that is an amazing album. It is strange to think this is the album from the a guy from the tech writing department and his friends. This album is a reminder that making good music is not enough. There are a ton of talented bands out there that never make it. I think it is as good as anything else I heard in 2002.

I thought the long tail was supposed to make it so bands like this could make it without labels. It turns out that model is not as easy as it might sound. I am sad that so few people got to hear this album, but I am happy that I got to hear it. If you want, you can buy it on Amazon.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Here Are The Facts You Requested >> "Sellout"

2002 : 41 "Six Days" by DJ Shadow

Although lyrically inappropriate, this song goes great on a "let's get high and fuck" mix. But, when you hear that spine tingling loop and the marching band drums, who is going to notice?

Actually, I kind of hate that when I've been going through my list of songs I've liked in the early Aughts so far, there has been a long cloud of pot smoke hovering over it. But truth be told, that is the state I was in during my early 20s. Now that I’m fast approaching 30, I can't remember the last time I felt the urge to listen to Ween live albums. This DJ Shadow track holds up really well—proof that beautiful usage of samples with strong, heartbreaking vocals trumps any substance you ingest to alter your mind.

James Specht

Listen: DJ Shadow >> "Six Days"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

2002 : 39-40 Aught Music Roundtable: Tallahassee by the Mountain Goats

Roundtable Part One: "No Children"

I didn't realize, until I came to write a blurb for this song, that the Mountain Goats are not a local band. They seem to have an enormous cult following in Philadelphia. Granted, my circle of friends might not be a representative sample of the population, but I don't know anyone here who can't sing along with "No Children." The over-the-top meanness crosses the line into self-parody pretty early on, a condition which is all too familiar for "the city that booed Santa" (as the national media is quick to remind us). Still, like Philadelphia, this song has some warmth hidden within which cuts the viciousness down a notch. The lyrics may be about a couple that hates each other so much that they decide to drink themselves to death, but it manages to inspire enough camaraderie that I have witnessed more than one impromptu public sing-along when this plays, complete with linked arms slung over the shoulders of near-strangers. Aw, shucks. We ain't so bad.

Angela Smith

Roundtable Part Two: "Southwood Plantation Road"

I got you
You've got whatever's left in me to get
Our conversations are like minefields
No one's found a safe way through one yet

I have never had a relationship like the ones described in the Mountain Goats songs. Luckily I have only seen them from the outside. I have known people in these relationships. I love the way John Darnielle finds to describe disfunction and hurt. It is just amazing to me to have so many songs like this and so many of them be great. He really knows how to write a lyric.

I am not gonna lose you
We are gonna stay married
In this house like a Louisiana graveyard
Where nothing stays buried on Southwood Plantation Road
Where the dead will walk again
Put on their Sunday best
And then go with unsuspecting Christian men
La la la la

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Mountain Goats >> "No Children" | "Southwood Plantation Road"

2002 : 38 "Pneumonia" by Fog

This song, unerringly focused on the most dreary aspects of the quotidian, uniquely captures the precise flavor of [my] depression. It's nominally upbeat, and it occasionally rallies into a nearly triumphant mode, but these are illusions: the emotions revealed here are nothing more than the tremulous bravery one musters while crumbling internally or, better, the sick sense of satisfaction that one is permitted to indulge in only at one's most wretched.

The casserole was good
and the drives were so nice
welcome to the worst part of your life

At the time it was released, Fog was one guy, Andrew Broder, who hailed from Minneapolis, MN—and, sure enough, this track sounds exactly like what one might produce in the midst of endless grey wintertime.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Fog >> "Pneumonia"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2002 : 37 "Please" by Apples In Stereo

Please, tell me what to do
please, to get in touch with you
and I tried to call your satellite
but baby you would not receive
and I tried to call your satellite
but baby you would not believe

I love the Apples in Stereo. They have a high energy that is just unmatched. They just crack up everything. "Please" is the perfect under-three-minute pick me up. I hear this song and I just want to dance around the room. I can hear music history in this song. The guitars make a wall of sound. The song is fun and should be played loud. It is the kind of song that can make you fall in love with pop music again.

Apples in Stereo makes me think about the genre of Indie Pop. Some people might look at that as an oxymoron. How can something be both popular and independent? I am not sure, but I am pretty sure that this decade has seen the birth of Indie Pop, and it makes me happy.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Apples in Stereo >> "Please"

2002 : 36 "First in Flight" by Blackalicious

Hip-hop is a genre that looks a little weird on this nerdy white gal. And I'll admit my listening criteria are restrictive: live instruments if possible, good hooks, and intelligent lyrics. This is by way of explaining why Blackalicious is one of my favorite hip-hop bands, and why I would argue Blazing Arrow is one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Gift of Gab has a knack for throwing together surprising imagery in getting his message across. Take this line from "First in Flight":

Rise! Like the sun up at the crack of the dawn
Like a waking giant in the morning stretching and yawning...

Makes me want to get off my ass and do something, anything that will leave a mark on this world. And that's what great music is all about.

Nancy Pokrywka

Listen: Blackalicious >> "First In Flight"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

2002 : 35 "Light & Day / Reach For The Sun" by The Polyphonic Spree

The Polyphonic Spree fills me with joy and happiness. The music feels like an ocean wave crashing over me. It is so powerful and so much going on. If feels better to just flow with it rather than fight it.

I love the idea of them having such a large group of people playing together. I think there is a real power of the crowd here. They make good use of having that many voices. The songs have something that a single voice or an overdub just cannot do.

The Polyphonic Spree are in a space between a novelty act and serious music. They are doing something that is a little outside what anyone else in popular music are doing. I think that makes it cool.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Polyphonic Spree >> "Light and Day / Reach For the Sun"

2002 : 34 "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" by McLusky

"Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" has one of the best titles ever, plus a fury and energy that enables it to surpass just about every other garage-rock scrapper from this decade. But the real reason I'm writing about it for this project is because it gives me an opportunity to link to Joel Veitch's Flash animation of the track being performed by kittens.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: McLusky >> "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues"

Monday, July 27, 2009

2002 : 33 "My Darlin" by Jay Bennett & Edward Burch

Grow up now
My darlin
Please don't you grow up too fast
And be sure, darlin
To make all the good times last

If you watched the movie I'm Trying to Break Your Heart you either think that Jay Bennett got a raw deal or that he got what was coming to him. I am in the camp that thinks he got a raw deal. I think that he was an important part of Wilco and I hear his contributions all over my favorite albums of theirs.

On his solo album I think you can hear what he added to the band. He is not as polished a singer or performer at Jeff Tweedy and that is clear from the solo albums. You can hear a heart and a musical idea on his solo albums. You can get a good idea of what he is about.

I like the Jay Bennett version of "My Darlin" more than the Wilco version. I think that it has more heart and there is more of a connection between the singer and the subject. The song has both a sadness and joy that the Wilco version lacks.

Jay Bennett passed away recently to little notice. He accidentally overdosed on pain medication while fighting his health insurance over a hip replacement. I cried when I heard about it and I cried again when writing this. I used to be a big fan of Wilco and Jay Bennett is the member I felt was the most like me.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Jay Bennett and Edward Burch >> "My Darlin"

2002 : 30-32 Aught Music Roundtable: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

Roundtable Part One: "Poor Places" (First Pass)

It makes no difference to me
How they cried all overseas
When it's hot in the poor places tonight
I'm not going outside

I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot everyday for a year. From the day I purchased it, in April of 2002, until April of 2003, I put this album on every day. Often I listened to it first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed. For a year, it was part of my everyday life. I do not think any album ever had this effect on me.

I could have picked five or six different songs from this album to write about. "Poor Places" is a great example of everything I love about this album. It is an expansive soundscape, it is personal, it is well produced, it is distorted, it is familiar, it is unexpected all at the same time. In the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Jeff Tweedy is asked about his yet-to-be-released album. He says, "Yes, it will have a lot of tape loops and electronic music. No, it is not a techno album."

I remember someone saying to me back in 2002 about this album, "Oh, Wilco, they're an Alt-Country band, right?" All I could do was tell them to listen to the album and tell me if they are still an Alt-Country band or not. The album was so good because I felt there was no sub-genre that covered it.

If the question is "what did 2002 sound like?" this album has a huge part of that answer to me.

Rich Thomas

Roundtable Part Two: "Heavy Metal Drummer"

He played guitar, not drums, and it wasn't heavy metal really, but all the same I can't help but feel nostalgic listening to this.

Along with my other two 2002 picks ("Golden Age of Radio" and "Jenny",) this song makes up the first three songs in my ultimate driving mix. It's always evolving and it never quite gets finished, but these three songs have been on it since I first heard them. To me upbeat tunes with a dose of melancholy or longing in the lyrics make the best driving music.

April Walker

Roundtable Part Three: "Poor Places" (Second Pass)

There's really no need to explain the importance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, not to mention its almost immediate placement on any list of the best albums of the aughts. Every song on the disc is worth mention on this blog, and there are genres abound within the span of the running time: experimental, electronic, classic rock, et. al. "Poor Places," at first glance, is probably the simplest song on the album, yet is arguably the most beautiful. The music works as a full spectrum: it starts off lush, with barely noticeable hints of drum and guitar supporting Jeff Tweedy's voice, but as the song progresses, it increases in contribution and volume, reaching a crescendo of mechanical noise, with the haunting vocal of "Yankee... Hotel...F oxtrot..." closing it out. Tweedy's vocals are the closest they'll ever be to perfect here, and the lyrics alone would work as a poem:

There's bourbon on the breath of a singer you love so much
He takes all his words from the books that you don't read anyway

Despite my earlier statement that the song is simple, the lyrics offer much for interpretation: family, depression, love, and creativity. In short: Wilco at its best.

Jamie Yates

Listen: Wilco >> "Poor Places" | "Heavy Metal Drummer"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

2002 : 29 "Ghost Plants Part VII" by Thuja

Back in 2002, I picked Thuja's Ghost Plants as my album of the year, and I wrote that it sounded like music composed by a tribe of mutants from the post-apocalyptic future, fiddling with the ruins of our industrial society. The truth of that is embodied nicely in this representative segment (the tracks are all untitled), which jettisons mostly everything about Western song structure and replaces it with little more than ominous electronic oscillations, clattering, grinding, sticks, stones. If you wait for something to "happen" in it you're liable to be disappointed, and yet if you listen to the crenellations and complications of its anti-formal forms with real attention, you will find that they are enormously rich in aesthetic interest, even beauty. Same as anything, I guess, but if that lesson is one that this album can teach then it's well worth the price.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Thuja >> "Ghost Plants Part VII"

2002 : 28 "In My Heart" by Moby

I am not ashamed to say that I love the Moby album 18. I know that it is easy to mock me for liking Moby. He is the kind of artist who seems tailor-made to make fun of and the people who like him. The 18 album also got over-played, making it easier to make fun of.

When I listen, though, I hear so much. First off, I never thought that Moby would make the album that most reminds me of Pink Floyd. I did not think that 18 would have threads of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here in it. Every time I hear this album I can see the connection.

This album is sweeping, expansive, and engulfing. It feels like it creates its own world, like a novel or a movie. It lets the listener live in that world for an hour or so. It moves in a way that makes the album more than just the sum of the songs. The more I listened to it, the more I got out of it. This album still makes me feel great. It still catches me in ways I am not expecting. I think it is really Moby's masterpiece.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Moby >> "In My Heart"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

2002 : 27 "Insomnia" (excerpt) by Maja Ratkje

The subculture of "noise music" exploded during the last ten years, producing waves of output so challenging and vast that it's difficult to make even a partial listing of what might be the "best" noise tracks of the decade. That said, I definitely have my favorites, and if I were asked to direct someone to the peculiar pleasures that noise music can provide, I might choose this passage from Maja Ratkje's "Insomnia" (from her fantastically weird album Voice). Its primary sonic element is Ratkje's unnervingly delirious witch-howl, and you can brace yourself for that, but no amount of bracing will really prepare you for the moment that happens about twenty seconds in, when Ratkje's witch-woman abruptly multiplies into an entire armada, which proceeds to flay every living thing on the planet in an orgy of interstellar fury and glee. Terrifying stuff, but also undeniably exhilarating, and (if I'm to be completely honest) more than a little bit sexy.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Maja Ratkje >> "Insomnia (excerpt)"

2002 : 26 "I'm Yr Here-I-Am" by Diane Cluck

Come embrace me, I'm your long lost.
I'm your comeback,
I'm your "Here I am."
Don't waste me, 'cause I won't last long,
and I won't come back,
I'm your "Here I am."
I'm your "Here I am."

Diane Cluck finally came to the west coast. About three weeks before the show I got an e-mail about it. The problem was I was going to be on a vacation while she was in San Francisco. It was a vacation that I had been planning for months and there was no way I could be in San Francisco while she was here. I could see her in Portland if I extended my vacation another two days. I ended up doing that.

Diane Cluck played first on a three act bill. That means she only got to play five or six songs. I know I wanted to see her play all night, but it was not going to happen. It was worth two extra days at a hotel and two more vacation days to hear those six songs played live.

She fumbled with the mic a little as she got on stage. Her guitar looked way too big for her. She looked a little shy and unsure on this stage that was really a rehearsal room above a theater. Then she played "I'm Yr Here-I-Am." The room got very quiet as she belted out this song. Everyone took notice and listened to her. There is a point where she knocks on her guitar with her hand to make a sound, It just blew me away. It set the mood perfectly.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Diane Cluck >> "I'm Yr Here-I-Am"

Friday, July 24, 2009

2002 : 25 "Acqua" by Polmo Polpo

This is a sweet, gentle shuffler from Canada with obvious debts to Basic Channel and various Warp Records releases from the '90's. That being said, the marriage of lap steel to cavernous, smeared beats is genius.

Neil Jendon

Listen: Polmo Polpo >> "Acqua"

2002 : 23-24 Aught Music Roundtable: Castaways and Cutouts by the Decemberists

Roundtable Part One: "July, July!"

In discussions, I more often than not find myself alone on the Decemberists' wagon, usually being one of the few music fans in my circle who genuinely appreciates the work of Colin Meloy and company. However, their style is such that there is usually no happy medium. It's just as easy to enjoy their take on Victorian times, sea shanties, and Dickensian low-lives as it is to loathe such a niche. "July, July!" was one of their earliest hits off of their debut LP, and it combines the best two qualities of their style. The music is rollicking, especially during the main chorus. However, this jaunty melody belies the old-fashioned darkness that permeates the lyrics:

And I say your uncle was a crooked French-Canadian
And he was gut-shot running gin
And how his guts were all suspended in his fingers
and how he held 'em
How he held 'em held 'em in

There are usually no underlying messages in any Decemberists' song. The joy is in the basic storytelling, and while "July, July!" is among the simplest stories they've committed to music, it does show hints of the longer, more complex myths, fables, and sagas that have been seen in their most recent albums.

Jamie Yates

Roundtable Part Two: "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade"

And the road a-winding goes
From golden gate to roaring cliff-side
And the light is softly low
As our hearts become sweetly untied
Beneath the sun of California One

There are too many things for me to write about this song. How this is the perfect two songs stacked together to make one song. How the length of the song is carried by the dreamy nature of the tune and playing. How the song reminds me of the stretch of the California Highway One between Carmel and Big Sur. How I fell in love with this song while I was traveling alone in Europe. How the first time I heard this song I played it ten times in a row. How the song strikes the perfect chord about being alone. How this song is an amazing ending to an unexpectedly good album. How I cried when I saw them play it live.

We're calling all bed wetters
And ambulance chasers
Poor picker-pockets, bring 'em in
Come join the youth and beauty brigade
We're lining up the light-loafered
And the bored bench warmers
Castaways and cutouts, fill it up
Come join the youth and beauty brigade
Come join the youth and beauty brigade

What amazes me still is how they are calling to their listeners. They are calling to the misfits and losers of the world and saying "We are you; You are us." It caught me the very first time I heard this song. They are ending their first album by calling all their fans. It is a brilliant move.

There are lots of songs about California. I have learned that California is a million different things to 40 million people. This song is about my California.

I figured I had paid my debt to society
By paying my overdue fines
At the Multnomah County library, at the library
They said "Son, go join up
go join the youth and beauty brigade"

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Decemberists >> "July, July!" | "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

2002 : 22 "How Great Was Husker Du" by Anthemic Pop Wonder

Many blinding punk rock nights
at the 
Cubby Bear
jump like Greg, sing like 
but you know Mould was the glue
Flying V it was
his guitar was Hüsker Dü.
Ooh, do you remember? 
How Great was Hüsker Dü!

I love love songs. It is even better if the song is not about the love of something traditional. You can tell how much this band loves Hüsker Dü. That is the kind of thing I love hearing love songs about. There is something about sharing your love for something that makes the world better.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Anthemic Pop Wonder >> "
How Great was Hüsker Dü"

2002 : 21 "Human Shield" by Anti-Pop Consortium

One of the most enjoyable hip-hop acts to watch during the early part of the decade was the Anti-Pop Consortium. They only released two proper albums before splitting up but they managed to cram an incredible amount of disparate stuff into those albums: vintage analog synthesizers, robotic drum-machine programming, unusual lyrical inflections (dancehall and Nuyorican poetry-slam culture are both influences), gangsta fantasias, science-fiction imagery, affable clowning, sloganeering, skits, spaced-out marijuana-tinged studio fuckery… This cornucopia of pleasures doesn't attempt to fix what isn't broken—it's loaded with plenty of "classic" elements of hip-hop—but it also includes no shortage of oddball material, ultimately justifying its release on the Warp label (better known for releasing weird electronica like Autechre and Squarepusher). A representative track might be "Human Shield," from Arrythymia, structured around familiar hip-hop brags that then proceed to distort, skew, and push on towards more cyborg heights.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Anti-Pop Consortium >> "Human Shield"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2002 : 20 "California" by Phantom Planet

Hustlers grab your guns
Your shadow weighs a ton
Driving down the 101
California here we come
Right back where we started from

I am not sure I would love this song if I did not end up living in California. With that said, there is lots to love about it. The piano intro has an iconic feeling to it. The vocal and drum sections make me want to speed on 101—well, speed faster than everyone else is speeding. The song is constructed in a way to just grab you and keep you. That might be why it was used for the theme song to The O.C. (On a side note, I still think the first six episodes of the OC were brilliant, but it was never that good again.)

I might love this song because I had been living in California a few years when it came out. I was finally getting used to the idea of California as my home. I was setting down some roots and making some friends.

This song contains references to guns, driving, music and a longing for a place you already are. That sounds like California to me.

Pedal to the floor
Thinking of the roar
Gotta get us to the show
California here we come
Right back where we started from

Rich Thomas

Listen: Phantom Planet >> "California"

2002 : 19 "Silent Film Star" by Paul Westerberg

Pretty much out of fucking nowhere Paul Westerberg accidentally released a really good double album. As an "All Shook Down" apologist I might not be the most objective person to talk about Westerberg without resorting to hyperbole. Anyone who has had to explain The Replacements to someone only familiar with "Dyslexic Heart" knows it can be an uphill battle. Just like Frank Black did with "Dog in the Sand" a few years prior to this, out of nowhere some old school college rock dude shows up and puts out a great album in a sea of mediocrity. I'm not saying the Stereo/Mono album is as great as anything off Tim, but it's still damn good. Just proof that sometimes you shouldn't just send your teen idols packing to the retirement home once you've outgrown them.

"Silent Film Star" showcases what is so great about what a bitter old man Westerberg filled out to be. Who else can sing "Keep that pretty little trap shut" and make it sound beautiful? Like all great Replacement tracks, it has an great unfinished demo vibe to it. It's him coming full circle, from the garage to the stage then back to garage. This song is less pissy teenager, more cranky dad, still 100% Westerberg.

James Specht

Listen: Paul Westerberg >> "Silent Film Star"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2002 : 18 "Greenwich Time" by Jay Farrar

Left it up to chance, left it up in the air.
Played it by year and played down both ends of the line.
I will not let the world pass by
I woke up in the west, Greenwich time.

One day you wake up and you figure out that your life is nowhere near where you thought it would be. This is both a scary and a refreshing idea. The world is open to you, but it is also up to you to make something of it. How will you live your life to make the most of it? This question is at the center of "Greenwich Time."

This was a question in 2002 that meant a lot to me. I got this EP for my 30th birthday. I was at a point where this really was my life. Everything in my life at that moment was of my making. I could not look to anyone else to add value or give me direction. I had to figure those things out for myself. How was I going to live and what was important to me? Those were the questions I really needed to answer. I am pretty happy with how I answered them.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Jay Farrar >> "Greenwich Time"

2002 : 17 "Harlem '99" by Brer Brian

2002 is one of those years that marked something of a pendulum swing in my listening habits: immediately prior, there had been a couple of years where I'd been delving deep into instrumental music—post-rock stuff out of Chicago, experimental electronic ambient music out of Europe, etcetera. What had gotten kicked to the back burner were actual songs: you know, the things with actual people singing? With, like, verses and stuff?

So, in 2002, I tried to rectify this, buying a lot of material from indie songwriters. I'll confess that romance was a factor: I was beginning to get entangled with a songwriter, and I wanted badly to impress her with my mixtape skills. The relationship didn't survive, but I picked up some good music in the process, including the Rough Trade Antifolk compilation, which introduced me to a bunch of rough-edged talents whose music has been among some of the best I've discovered this decade (Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis).

A representative track from this compilation might be Brer Brian's "Harlem 99," an ode to being young, broke, and drunk in a big city.

We play Atari, we never play Doom
Last night we just caught a big mouse in my room
The fun never ends here, have you seen the broom?
I think I sold it.

The song is kind of jokey, but it has a sadness at its core that's hard to shake off once you're tuned in to it. I shared this song with the songwriter I was about to get involved with, and at the very end of our relationship she played me a cover version she'd made of it. I was quite literally floored. I like post-rock and experimental electronica as much as the next guy (if not way more), but only an actual song can knock a man down to the carpet and leave him there, aching.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Brer Brian >> "Harlem '99"

Monday, July 20, 2009

2002 : 16 "Golden Age of Radio" by Josh Ritter

Despite the fact that my last solo cross-country trip was years before this song came out it brings to mind memories of speeding down midwestern roads, just me and my car and my car stereo against the world. This is one of the songs most likely to make me wish the volume on my car stereo went louder than the maximum.

April Walker

Listen: Josh Ritter >> "Golden Age of Radio"

2002 : 15 "D.R.E.A.M." by Transplants

Drugs rule everything around me,
get the powder,
drink another beer ya'll

There is something priceless in the way Transplants pays homage to the Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M in this song. For that reason alone this song is worth listening to.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Transplants >> "D.R.E.A.M"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

2002 : 14 "Naera Grensen" by Atomic

It's fitting that Scandinavian jazz quintet Atomic named Feet Music, their debut album, after an Ornette Coleman composition. One of the fundaments of Coleman's musical philosophy called harmolodics is that harmony, melody, rhythm, tempo, silence, et al., should receive equal emphasis in a piece. This allows the harmolodic composer to get around some traditional modes in song writing—for instance, laboriously mapping out chord patterns—and it requires jazz musicians improvising harmolodically to pay serious attention. They need to be open to a wide array of options for improvisation at any given moment, open to the other musicians in the group bringing unexpected ideas into the mix, and, ideally, this produces a broader range of sounds and more surprising interplay. Though Atomic sounds little like Ornette and isn't harmolodically doctrinaire—if that’s even possible (the theory seems to change every year)—the band is made up of unique "options aware" composers, and their attention to each other when improvising is simply awe-inspiring. Many of the pieces on Feet Music wed the improvisational thrust of Energy (or Fire) Music—born in the '60s of avant-garde greats like Albert Ayler and Charles Gayle—with skillful, yet quirky, scripted passages reminiscent of so-called "European" American composers like Steve Lacy and George Russell. The first track on the album, "Naera Grensen," is a good example of this. It opens with each member of the band (save drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) playing a short take on a phrase. Directly following that, these takes get loosely incorporated into a complicated, but graceful, little horn arrangement. The piece peaks with inspired improvisation by Håvard Wiik on the keys, whose seemingly extrasensory connection with Nilssen-Love is especially gratifying. Feet Music isn't perfect—some of the later tracks (especially "El Coto") are derivative of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra—but I'm okay with that. It's a first album, after all. Feet Music is an impressive debut.

Eric Burger

Listen: Atomic >> "Naera Grensen"

2002 : 13 "Denver" by The Beauty Shop

When Colorado calls your name
yeah Heaven help you, cause you'd better answer

Talking to Jeremy about this project, he asked me about how certain moments felt and how the music of that time reflects that. What I can say is that 2002 felt like walking around the empty streets of San Jose at night and listening to The Beauty Shop.

I will say that 2002 was a weird time in San Jose. Between 9/11 and the bust of the bubble, San Jose seemed quiet and lonely at night. It went from being an overly-optimistic place to a place where people were looking for the bottom. I had a bunch of friends who had been laid off in 2001 and could not find work in 2002. It was a year were people had to choose their future. Could they make it in the tech industry or did they need to move on?

The Beauty Shop seemed to fit those empty streets perfectly. There was construction all around my apartment. It made the ghost town feeling loom larger. I walked around that ghost town, unsure about my future, feeling the crush of everyday life, listening to the Beauty Shop. That was 2002.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Beauty Shop >> "Denver"

Saturday, July 18, 2009

2002 : 12 "Azure For Beginners" by Mike Adcock and Clive Bell

World Music is a phrase that comes loaded with different connotations. For some it means any non-Western music. For others, it means intercultural "fusion" experiments, often involving musicians and instruments of different backgrounds, and smoothed over with pop beats and dance electronica. Graceland and Enya. Sleep It Off (Emanem, 2002) is not a World Music disk according to either of those definitions.

Mike Adcock and Clive Bell are improvisers from the European scene, specifically London. For much of the past 25 years, European free improvisers have sought to expand the color palette of traditional jazz instruments, like the saxophone, drum kit, and trumpet by employing "extended techniques" such as playing inside the piano with mallets, scraping drum skins with bows, and breathing through the mouthpiece of the trumpet, to create textures and sounds beyond the standard tonal spectrum.

On this recording Bell and Adcock play "ethnic" free reed instruments, as well as prepared piano, Indian harmonium, the khene, and pi saw in a series of doppelganger duets. However the untraditional, extended ways they play them highlight the unusual textures (to Western ears), timbres, and microtones of these instruments. What happens when you have skilled improvisers play non-Western instruments in non-traditional ways? Musical tourism, or worse, imperialism? Westerners "going" native? Perhaps musicians simply using whatever materials are on hand to create a fragile and sensitively sketched recording? The moments of wondrous discovery and sublime juxtaposition that occur throughout this album erase any doubt about its worth.

See also: Gul 3 – Singlar 2005 (Headspin, 2005)

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Mike Adcock and Clive Bell >> "Azure For Beginners"

2002 : 11 "Brainwashed" by George Harrison

Brainwashed in our childhood
Brainwashed by the school
Brainwashed by our teachers
And brainwashed by all their rules
Brainwashed by our leaders
By our kings and queens
Brainwashed in the open and brainwashed behinde the scenes

This song right here is how I am going to remember George Harrison, at least as a solo artist. I thought that this album was so great. It was released posthumously, and that is a little sad. It has the feeling of mortality and finality. So few artists get the chance to make one last statement before they die. I think there is something beautiful in the way George Harrison faced his mortality with this album.

Rich Thomas

Listen: George Harrison >> "Brainwashed"

Friday, July 17, 2009

2002 : 10 "biographics" by Minamo

I know that the music found on Minamo's album .kgs is made by human beings: they're from Japan, and I think there are four of them. But I like to imagine that the music is instead produced by some very elegant science fiction bauble that hovers near me and produces music that is custom-generated to be in maximum accordance with a very fine-grained model of my aesthetic tastes. You see, I like the sound of guitars, and I like the sound of bells and chimes, and I like repeating minimalist patterns, and I like smooth electronic drones, and I like abrasive noise, and I'm still not sure that human beings—even four very talented human beings from pre-earthquake Japan—can bring these elements together into the seamless, dense, beautiful flow that is basically every Minamo track ever. So, employing the principle of Occam's Razor, I conclude that I must be the lucky beneficiary of future-Earth devices that generate algorithmically-perfect music and then stream it backwards through time. And I'm OK with that.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Minamo >> "biographics"

2002 : 09 "Flower After Flower" by the Susie Ibarra Trio

Songbird Suite marks, I believe, Susie Ibarra's second effort as leader on John Zorn's Tzadik label. Personally, I feel this recording is representative of the direction avant-garde, or "free jazz," was going at the turn of a new century. You won't hear much of the raucous, free-wheeling, aggressive playing associated with, say, the David S. Ware quartet (where Ibarra previously had residence). Instead, the compositions are spacious and delicate, fusing more overtly the minimalism of the new classical school and the jazz tradition. Also representative is the inclusion of electronics, performed by special guest Ikue Mori of DNA fame. Craig Taborn on piano and Jennifer Choi on violin round out the trio.

Dan Markowicz

Listen: Susie Ibarra >> "Flower After Flower"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

2002 : 08 "Small Stakes" by Spoon

Small stakes
Give you the blues
But you don't feel taken
Don't think you've been used

Every once in a while there is a song that just makes my ears perk up whenever I hear it. No matter what else I am doing I have to pay attention to it. I have to sing along and dance a little bit. I get a smile on my face the moment I hear it. "Small Stakes" is one of those songs. It has an intro that makes me pay attention and the rest of the song does not let me down. It is almost instinctual, like a good rock song should be.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Spoon >> "Small Stakes"

2002 : 07 "Cactus" by David Bowie (covering the Pixies)

Sure, it's a meh cover of a great song. I can't imagine the Pixies were awed by the resulting track. However, if I were to find out that David Bowie wanted to cover one of my songs, I'd void my bowels with force and speed to rival anything currently available in German pornography. Just saying.

Neil Jendon

Listen: David Bowie >> "Cactus"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2002 : 06 Two songs by Calvin Johnson

You fill my heart with forget me nots
And I feel eight foot tall

2009 is the tenth anniversary of Napster. I think it is one of the most transformative technologies in the last decade. In 1999 I listened to Chuck D on the radio talk about how the music industry's days were numbered. He said that this would empower artists who were willing to take the jump. I wonder if he knew how right he was.

I hope there is a Statue of Limitations on this; if not I am screwed. Yes, I used to use Napster, before the lawsuit came down saying it was illegal. I did not use it to download the latest albums from big name bands. I used it to find new bands and try out music I was not hearing other places. I used to find people with songs I liked in their collection and find other songs I ever heard of before. I would download a lot of songs, listen to all of them, and delete the ones I did not like.

There were two songs from this process that stood out: "Love'll Come Back Again" and "Lies Goodbye." Neither of the songs had an artist listed for them. The person I downloaded them from did not know who the artist was. For months I could not find any record of these songs on the Internet. I searched over and over again and came up blank. The songs sounded like they were recorded in a coffee house. In the version I had you could hear cars drive by the window and a dog outside barking. It was the lowest of lo-fi. I was worried I would never find the artist of these songs.

What got me was how the voice in the song seems so desperate. This is another case of a voice that sings not because they want to, but because they have to. The lack of polish and range in the voice only made me love the songs more. If felt like the place I was in with my head and my heart at that time.

We've both wasted so much time hedging bets

Rich Thomas

Listen: Calvin Johnson >> "Love Will Come Back Again" | "Lies Goodbye"

2002 : 05 "Time Bomb High School" by The Reigning Sound

I hate trying to explain what the Reigning Sound sound like. It's straight up rock and roll in the strictest sense. Unfortunately, that's the most vanilla answer, but there really is no better way to respond. You can’t add some prefix like "post-disco punk" or anything else to further elaborate. It's a bunch of old dudes who have been in a million bar bands putting out great rock. They are way too weak-chinned to be mistaken for someone in The Strokes. They have a retro vibe, but they don't use it like some Ian Sevonius-type crutch.

"Time Bomb High School" is like revenge of the shop class guys. The ones in the back of the class who liked to get drunk and high on the weekends that no one paid attention to. The Sabbath kids. The kids who took George Thorogood to heart. The Reigning Sound are the musical equivalent of that. In the early Aughts garage rock revival they were the ugly kids in a room full of high-haired, high-cheekbone sons of models.

That's all if you really obsess over the lyrics. You really don't have to, which is the beauty of the band. If you want music for hanging out with the guys, drinking beer, and farting, you'll find no better band.

James Specht

Listen: The Reigning Sound >> "Time Bomb High School"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

2002 : 02-04 Aught Music Roundtable: All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats

Roundtable Part One: "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton"

I've sort of given up on the idea that songs should tell stories. When a song can glean so much potency and emotional force from the use of non-narrative devices such as direct address ("Love, love me do") or declarative expression ("I got soul / and I'm super bad"), one begins to develop a skepticism towards the whole endeavor of burdening songs with narrative elements.

Of course, a tradition doesn't last for five hundred years unless there's good work being done within it, and so it stands to reason that the Aughts might contain their share of good narrative songs. Someone hunting for these need look no further than the Mountain Goats' 2002 album All Hail West Texas, which explicitly states its narrative intentions directly on its album cover: "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys."

I've never been exactly able to work out which of the fourteen songs were supposed to be about which of the seven people, but why quibble? Especially when the album contains mini-narratives like "The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton," which lasts two minutes and thirty-six seconds and is one of the best stories told this decade, in any medium, period.

Jeremy Bushnell

Roundtable Part Two: "Jenny"

This song feels like summer and desperate freedom and love that makes you feel like your heart is going to burst. Those wonderful but often fleeting moments when everything in your life is exactly right, and you wish for not just a picture, but a hologram to remember it by so you could come back and stand in the feeling later. In short, I love everything about it.

I can't think of a songwriter whose lyrics tell as complete a visual and emotional story as John Darnielle's. It makes me wish that there was a well-written, well-cast, well-shot movie of every song he writes. And "Jenny," with its magic-hour-colored southwestern imagery, would be one of my favorites.

Also, Jenny is totally the name of the bike.

April Walker

Roundtable Part Three: "Source Decay"

I always get a late start
When the sun's going down
And the traffic's filling out
And the glare is hard to take
I wish the West Texas highway was a mobius strip
I could ride it out forever
When I feel my heart break

I understand the idea of getting stuck. I fell that I have spent most of my life fighting to unstick myself. On some level All Hail West Texas is about getting stuck. There is something about getting caught in the tar pit of our own lives. Some people do not realize it until it is way too late.

I am glad that this album did not exist for me to hear in 1996. That was the year of my life which I felt the most stuck and I am not sure it would have helped me. I think hearing it would have made me just get more stuck. When you are stuck like that you tend to poison everything around you, which only makes you more stuck.

The lyric about wishing the highway was a mobius strip strikes me in the middle of my chest. It is an idea that I understand in my bones. When I lived with my parents, I used to just drive around in my car. I did it just so I did not have to be home. I would just drive around for hours and hours. If felt like I was going someplace, even if it was just in a circle.

I could have picked any of five or six songs from All Hail West Texas to write about. There is so much on that album. It is full of stories and emotions that are close to me. I never suggest other people listen to this album, I just respect the other people that love it.

Rich Thomas

Listen: The Mountain Goats >> "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" | "Jenny" | "Source Decay"

Monday, July 13, 2009

2002 : 01 "Stars and Sons" by Broken Social Scene

Things are tough on touring bands in the 00's. The price of everything has gone up, venues haven¹t exactly stepped up with a cost-of-living increase in guarantees, and internet-enabled hippie generosity is making a marked negative impact on record sales. The best you can hope for is to sell enough merch to fill the Econoline's tank and hope for good weather so you can camp out for the night. Maybe somebody will let you sleep on their floor. Basic meat-and-potatoes four piece bands are feeling the pinch and reserving the once-nightly 3AM Waffle House breakfasts for birthdays and special occasions.

All of which makes the 90's-00's phenomenon of the Collective so remarkably improbable. You didn't have to think twice about letting some Slint-ish/Pavement-esque/Shiner-like band crash in your living room. But the Arcade Fire? You simply don't have enough towels and hot water for that crowd's morning ablutions. If bringing horns and woodwinds on the road isn't ridiculous enough, having some addled goof running around banging the crap out of a parade snare is nothing short of a slap in the face to every house sound guy in the world. Really, you had to bring him with? It's like something from a Gunter Grass novel, only weirder and more depressing.

A band I was in opened for one such gargantuan outfit, which will remain unnamed. We were told at load-in that we had to let the headliners use our amps and drums. They had 12 people in the van and no room for gear. My first instinct was to demand a rental fee or walk from a gig that was only giving us a $50 guarantee. Then I thought of all the nice things people did for me when I was on tour, took a deep breath and said, "sure." I gave them the benefit of the doubt and points for taking such an ambitious project on the road.

The thing is, this band was the worst bunch of dicks ever. Seriously, all 12 of them were single-mindedly assholeian. Not one of them could muster up an ounce of civility or gratitude.

Excuses were made: "It's expensive keeping them on the road," The van's really cramped," and my favorite "You know, they really didn't dig your set." Well, fuck them. You thought my band sucked? Fine, that doesn't mean I have to take shit off of your flautist.

I'm sorry your artistic vision is so precious, enormous and unwieldy that it can't fit in the back of a cargo van. I'm sorry that you can't perform without an out-of-tune French horn blooting the flat 7 every time you strum a dominant V chord. The world can be so cruel to "artists" who take sub-tarded pop songs and make them needlessly complicated. See you in the cutout bin, pricks.

Anyway, Broken Social Scene, to the best of my knowledge, is not like that at all. This song rocks; I don't care if it took 19 people to make it.

Neil Jendon

Listen: Broken Social Scene >> "Stars and Sons"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2001 Day of Rest


And thus we draw the curtain on 2001. This blog will now come to rest momentarily, and will resume with write-ups of music from 2002 after the weekend. The tracks from 2001 will remain on the site for a few more weeks, so enjoy.

Remember that parties interested in participating can e-mail me for an invite: "projects" at

Thanks to everyone who provided write-ups and tracks so far!

Jeremy Bushnell

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2001 : 40 "By Your Side" by Beachwood Sparks

This is what happens when you take a smooth R&B staple (as heard on "Sex and the City") and entrust it to stoner wannabe cowpokes. How is this cover not a tongue-in-cheek send up? While some blue-eyed soul jokers (cough, cough Flight of the Conchords cough, cough) would toss off a Midnite Vultures-inspired B-side, the Beachwood Sparks dare to rely on sincerity. After hearing this rendition, revisiting Sade's original—in a CVS or Rite Aid, naturally—will make you long for the Beachwood Sparks' marijuana-infused harmonies. By its conclusion, the song is swimming through an ocean of reverb yet elevated to a certain cinematic "a slow dance while the credits roll" type of magic.

James Specht

Listen: The Beachwood Sparks >> "By Your Side"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

2001 : 39 "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk

Geeks love technology. It's easy to see why: when you're using technology well, using it to amplify your skills and talents, it can make you feel competent, effective, powerful—maybe even a bit high. This weird endorphin rush is nicely evoked by this track ("Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"), coming to us courtesy of the two French geeks who comprise Daft Punk. Of course, the ubiquitous spread of technology has its drawbacks, and they're embodied here too: "more than ever / our work is never over," sing the robots, revealing the diabolical catch embedded in the bargain with perfect clarity. This summation of the human relationship to tech is concise and tidy, and can be appreciated on an intellectual level, but if you appreciate it on only an intellectual level you're missing the point: this is a dance song, and dance songs are less about what they make you think and more about what they make you do. (Specifically, what they make your feet and your hips and your ass do.) In this region as well, the song excels: it redoubles in sheer awesomeness roughly every thirty seconds. Perhaps my favorite dance song of the decade.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Daft Punk >> "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"

2001 : 38 "Disappear" by R.E.M.

The crushed force of memory
Erasing all I've been
The vanishing point appears.
I looked for you and everywhere.
I looked for you and everywhere.
Tell me why you're here
I came to disappear.

At some level I moved west to find myself and to disappear all at the same time. I wanted to get away from the mistakes that I had made in my 20s and to find out who I could be without those mistakes.

The problem I found is that I had to really look for myself when I got here. It was not enough to just vanish. It was not like a painting that was covered by another painting on a canvas. Just removing the top painting was not enough. I also had to repaint.

It was strange when I realized this. My authentic self was not just there standing behind a Monty Hall door waiting for me to make a deal. It was not enough to just disappear. I also had to find myself once I got here.

I looked for you and everywhere.
I looked for you and everywhere.
Tell me why you're here
I came to disappear

Rich Thomas

Listen: R.E.M. >> "Disappear"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

2001 : 37 Scout Niblett

It only took one song to suck me in and make me a life-long Scout Niblett fan. Her voice warbles and waves, backed up by strong direct stripped-down guitar and (sometimes) drums. Contradictions abound: she sounds childlike and innocent on one song, yet ancient and wise on another; her bluesy tales sound like they surfaced from the depths of a Louisiana Bayou, yet she hails from Britain. Add to this the fact that Scout (nee Emma Louise) has a penchant for wigs, costumes, and astrology and we end up with an enigmatic character indeed.

On "Miss My Lion," the first song of hers I ever heard, Scout seduces her listener with a hot tale of passion. A one-person band of voice and guitar has never sounded so lush and earthy as it does here. She sings, "when you drive, there's no fooling me, those roads invited me" and the song does feel like late a night trip down a windy road. (And a hot make-out session in the back seat.) Fully deserving of comparisons to Cat Power, PJ Harvey, and Kurt Cobain, Scout is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

E.P. Johnson

Listen: Scout Niblett >> "Miss My Lion"

2001 : 36 Three tracks by the Sun City Girls


Libyan Dream is an impossible album to choose a single track from. A re-issue of the Sun City Girls' oeuvre as a part of the Carnival Folklore Resurrection series (#7), this particular selection runs the gambit from the lo-fi garage rocking version of the Amboy Dukes's classic "Journey to the Center of Your Mind" to the seemingly spontaneous skronk "Instantaneous Decisions," to the listenener-friendly surf-rock version of "Vinegar Stroke." If you listened to this with the volume reasonably loud, it would have you equally dancing grooves in the floor and plugging your thumbs in your ears—what more does music ask for?

Dan Markowicz

Listen: Sun City Girls >> "Journey to the Center of Your Mind" | "Instantaneous Decisions" | "Vinegar Stroke"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2001 : 35 "Mt St Helens" by Mirah

The example lay before you
You knew what you had to do
You have a pressure in you
To destroy the one who loved you
The death was all around

There is something about Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn's voice. It is captivating to me, the way it is personal and sweet. She sings in my headphones like we know each other. She sings songs that connect with me in ways I did not expect. Ideas that I have always known but have never been conscious of. Every once in a while I will hear a lyric from her and it will cut through every other thought in my head.

Of course using Mt. St. Helens as a metaphor for a relationship falling apart is incredible. I am not sure why no one has come up with this before. I have felt like a volcano before in my life. Just listen to the way the songs starts off softly, builds up in sound and fury and ends with her voice and guitar fading away. It is something that deserves attention.

Rich Thomas

Listen: Mirah >> "Mt. St. Helens"

2001 : 34 "Forcefield" by Lightning Bolt

By 2001, American punk looked, at least to this observer, like a pair of rather stagnant pools. On the one hand you had the pop-punk of the mainstream, recombining the increasingly empty signifiers of "Punk" in search of market value. On the other hand you had the underground, but only the most dedicated delvers could find the gems sunk within in its dispiriting glut. Then along came Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt. Their album Ride the Skies, aside from being excellent, is also snotty, annoying, libidinal, minimalist, spastic, and palpably gleeful. In short, it contains, in a very pure form, nearly every pleasure that punk music ever provided.

Depsite this, I balk at calling Lightning Bolt "punk," exactly: they're really too weird and ecstatic for the label to fit. Maybe you could call them "art punk." This is a little more apt, given their affiliation with the Providence / RISD scene of the early Aughts. This scene—infamously centered around the "Fort Thunder" art space—got known for its brilliant, damaged, psychedelic visual aesthetic, to which Lightning Bolt's music is the precise sonic analogue.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Lightning Bolt >> "Forcefield"

Monday, July 6, 2009

2001 : 33 "frosti" and "aurora" by björk

listening to björk's vespertine, and particularly the conjunctive tracks "frosti" and "aurora," is like entering an immense and glittering landscape of brilliant crystals.

vulnerable, delicate tendrils wind around music boxes, interior worlds are revealed through bells, clavichord, harp, and voice. suddenly ice translates into emotion reminiscent of a wintry fairy tale that reveals every little particle of the heart through beautiful and sparkling refractions of sound.

these shimmering musical transparencies create dazzling effects that lead one into a world of fascination and reverie...

diane granahan

Listen: björk >> "frosti" and "aurora"

2001 : 32 "Carolina" by M. Ward

Used to feel like California, with baby eyes so blue
Now I feel like Carolina, I split myself in two

I love how calm this song is. A gentle guitar strumming along with a kind voice. It is only after I listen to the lyrics a few times that I realize there is something else here. I realize the calm voice is singing lyrics that are not so calm. This song kept on popping up again and again in my life. I totally understand the difference between the voice and the lyrics.

Rich Thomas

Listen: M. Ward >> "Carolina"

2001 : 31 "Agenda Suicide" by the Faint

In the movie soundtrack to my life, this song will accompany a montage of me getting ready for a night out. The scene: a brightly painted apartment in a completely unfashionable part of South Philadelphia. I am in my mid-20s, newly single, and enjoying a period of financial security and personal irresponsibility. I am on my way to a bar to listen to New Wave music and drink Red Bull + vodka, which tastes revolting but engages my dance mechanism. I have recently cut my own hair with kitchen shears. It looks fantastic. Pow. This is the noise that short skirts and eyeliner make.

Angela Smith

Listen: The Faint >> "Agenda Suicide"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

2001 : 30 "If You Can Want" by the Dirtbombs

Rock is dead. Let's just get that out of the way right now. It died of a bloated colon sometime back in the early 90s. No autopsy was performed so no one is really sure. But then again, it wasn't really getting on well for many years, and most people were relieved when it passed on. People had their pictures taken with it, dressed up like it, and imitated its funny mannerisms. But it was not quite the real thing. Anyways, I didn't pay much attention to its cheap imitators through the 90s and 00s, but I accept that as a reflection of my personal feelings towards it. Maybe I had moved on. I had started new relationships. Bands were all of a sudden calling themselves Post-Rock, which made sense, since, as I said, Rock had died some years before. Then one day in 2001, I heard the first three tracks on this album, and I said to myself, "If there's anyone I want to watch perform necrophilia on the rotting corpse of Rock, its Mick Collins."

Did you know you can buy a 3 bedroom house in Detroit for $5,000? No wonder these chaps are nostalgic for the past.

Darren DeMonsi

Listen: Dirtbombs >> "If You Can Want"

2001 : 29 "Sort of a Protest Song" by the Matthew Good Band

If this song had been around when I was in high school I would have made a tape that consisted of nothing but it repeated over and over again so I could listen to it for hours without rewinding just like I did with other such angsty anthems during that period of my life.

April Walker

Listen: Matthew Good Band >> "Sort of a Protest Song"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

2001 : 28 "Macy's Day Bird" by Diane Cluck

the perfume of her hangs in the air
like an atmosphere
promising thunderstorms

One skill Diane Cluck has as a songwriter is the way she uses metaphor to convey emotion without the metaphor swallowing the song. "Macy's Day Bird" is a good example. She is singing about her relationship with this woman by talking about the woman taking part in the Macy's Day Parade. This is a good way to be direct and ambiguous at the same time. Much of the meaning is left up to the listener to figure out for themselves. I think doing this with the lyrics makes the emotion feel more real. I can feel the connection because I can fill in the details.

she gives me her red rhinestone ring
that fits only my thumb
and i wonder
was it her ex-husband's or father's or someone's
cheap souvenir
from a somewhere he took her
i decide i won't be a gift horse mouth looker
so i wear it for awhile
til' it gives me a rash
i am not sentimental
toss it in the trash

Rich Thomas

Listen: Diane Cluck >> "Macy's Day Bird"

2001 : 27 "Endless Summer" by Fennesz

Bruce Brown's 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer opens with shots of a golden-orange sunset sparkling in the ocean's shifting striations. If I watch the first few minutes of Brown's documentary and then pop Christian Fennesz’s much-lauded 2001 album Endless Summer into the CD player, skip to track 2 (yeah, titled "Endless Summer"), and close my eyes, it's like that seascape has been translated into sound texture. A weave of warm digitally enhanced sounds glides over and through a temperate cycle of guitar chords. Sonic pulses thread through the mix, sometimes getting redirected, much as, I imagine, wave pulses or currents do in the ocean. This piece and the album as a whole (the album is named after Brown's documentary) consistently evoke both the complex waves-and-currents properties of the biggest thing on Earth and also that well-known Beach Boys-esque California-Edenic take on the ocean: it's the essential component of beach paradise and don't you worry, it wouldn't dare drown your daughter or stir up a storm so crass it smites your whole town. The sea giveth, and it does so with a smile. Period. At its most moving, for me, Endless Summer brings the idealized and the real into the same space. Fennesz's album suggests, as Brown's documentary does, that the perfect wave is actually out there in the real-as-rocks world, waiting for a rider. If you happen to be in the right place—it's South Africa's Cape St. Francis in Brown’s documentary—and it's the right time, you can live the synergy between real and ideal. Hell, you can ride it. Whatever you want. In this sense, I find the album incredibly affirming. Additionally, I'm impressed by the way Fennesz keeps the album from devolving into sentimental fetishizing of "golden moments on the beach," etc. Artfully setting the real and ideal in conversation goes a long way toward accomplishing this, but Fennesz also truncates the blissful arrivals on the album and—perhaps most importantly—almost always emphasizes a counterweight wistful quality, the same one that drives the best Beach Boys ballads, like "Surfer Girl" and "Caroline No." Indeed, Fennesz's album is typically discussed as a paean to the Beach Boys, rather than through connections to Brown’s documentary. The Beach Boys, of course, accomplish wistfulness with aching harmonies and lyrics about what could have been or should be (though we know it won't). Fennesz accomplishes his own gently melancholic, peering-longingly-at-something-so-pure-it-hurts quality by running lovely, modest melodic lines behind gauzy screens of digitized noise. He, time after time, track after almost every track, distances the listener from the beauty—suggesting that paradise isolated and (mostly) unattainable just might be richer for our yearning. And herein lies the central tonic quality of the album: paradise lost, paradise gained, and even paradise watched from across a busy street because you’re stuck behind a desk each carry the potential for redemptive, rich experience. Endless Summer really is the rare artistic document that deserves all the critical praise that's been heaped on it—and it's been plenty. If you've ever lived near the ocean or had a really good day or wanted to be somewhere else—okay, have I covered everyone?—you need to hear this album.

Eric Burger

Listen: Fennesz >> "Endless Summer"

Friday, July 3, 2009

2001 : 26 "Tonight Was A Disaster" by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Some folks will tell you that the saddest instrument in the world is perhaps the Spanish guitar, but I know better: the saddest instrument in the world is the thrift-store synthesizer. As Exhibit A, I present you with "Tonight Was A Disaster," by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the solo project of Californian depressive Owen Ashworth. The instrumental bridge that commences right at the track's midpoint is probably the most plaintive forty seconds 2001 has to offer; pathetic in a classical sense.

As a bonus, I'll throw in "Number Ten," a song which concludes with a uniquely heartfelt usage of searing circuit-bent noise. It sounds pretty much like a dental drill banging around inside a washing machine, and yet it's also unmistakably the sound that rages in your skull when you're in the middle of having your heart broken.

Jeremy Bushnell

Listen: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone >> "Tonight Was A Disaster" & "Number Ten"