Tuesday, August 11, 2009

9 Pages on 69 Love Songs

Here's another thing I wrote from the Pop Music class, though this was for the final project. We needed to choose our favorite album of all-time and writing about its importance/what makes it interesting/ etc. Naturally I chose the Magnetic Fields....

69 Love Songs

The Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs is a three- volume concept album, released by Merge Records on September 7, 1999. The three volumes compile the tracks in a loosely thematic way: Volume 1 being the “Pop Album,” Volume 2 the “Ballad Album,” and Volume 3 the “Comedy Album.” However, the album is not made up of love songs in the traditional way of expressing affection or admiration for another individual. Rather they are songs about love songs, many of them sarcastic or with a cynical view point. Of this, Stephin Merritt, the principle songwriter and instrumentalist behind the Magnetic Fields says, “the whole idea of 69 Love Songs is the travesty of the idea of the love song- the love song is generally not supposed to be happening in bulk.” He further describes the album as a stunt, an experiment in “Warholian repetition” like “Evel Knievel jumping over 69 cars.”

To keep the album interesting for the duration of its almost 3 hour running time, Merritt explores writing songs in a variety of different genres, as well as in the styles of some of his favorite artists and composers. Of this approach, Merritt says, “I like ripping the details out of popular songs and reducing them to just the skeleton, and seeing how much they still mean- and they still mean a great deal, I think.” Despite his subversive tendencies towards popular music, Merritt considers himself to be a lifelong pop music junkie, and it is “what he cares about most in the world”, partially in its most sugary, bubblegum form. Thus, in addition to being an album of “love songs” abut love songs, 69 Love Songs also stands as a love letter to the popular music styles of the 20th century, with the only significant exclusions being hip-hop, modern R&B, and heavy metal, styles that Merritt felt he was not suited for playing.

The Magnetic Fields were formed in Boston MA, in 1989, when Stephin Merritt was 23, the band name a reference to a Andre Brenton novel. However, Stephin had been recording music for years earlier, as he obtained his first four-track tape deck when he was 14, and made bedroom recordings with a guitar and synthesizer. In high school he first met future Magnetic Fields member Claudia Gonson, who then performed with him in the band the Zinnias. Merritt also attended Harvard University with Gonson, where they met cellist Sam Davol and guitarist, John Woo. It was here where the band was first assembled, and all four remain members to date. Susan Anway, friend of Claudia and member of the post-punk band V was also an original member, and sang on the first two Magnetic Fields albums, 1991's Distant Plastic Trees, and 1992's The Wayward Bus. These albums were heavily influenced by the Young Marble Giants and the production of Phil Spector. Anway left the band in 1992 to live in Arizona, and Merritt took over vocal duties, something he was always hesitant about, as he was not confident with his voice. He first sang on the House of Tomorrow EP, released in 1992.

Prior to 69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields released 5 records, the aforementioned Distant Plastic Trees, and the Wayward Bus, as well as Holiday and the Charm of the Highway Strip in 1994, and Get Lost in 1995. The albums are all surprisingly different from one another, with Holiday being entirely synth-based and lo-fi in production, while the Charm of the Highway Strip is an attempt at an all-electronic interpretation of country music and traveling songs, featuring heavy multi-instrumental layering, with everything performed by Stephin apart from cello by Sam Davol. Get Lost was a progression closer to that of 69 Love Songs, with the integrating of different styles on a song-to-song basis. His primary influence was the Pavement compilation Westing (By Musket and Sextant,) and attempted to replicate how almost every song sounded like it was recorded in a different way. Get Lost marks the first Magnetic Fields album featuring acoustic instruments with minimum accompaniment (specifically songs "With Whom to Dance?" and “When You're Old And Lonely”) as well as higher production values that are more characteristic of later Magnetic Fields releases.

The concept of 69 Love Songs, was originally envisioned as Merritt’s attempt to get into theater (something he later would achieve.) He thought of writing a review without a storyline, noting Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1968) and An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer (1959) as influences. Also, taking the idea from the 1922 Charles Ives songbook, “114 Songs” Stephin toyed with the idea of writing songs in bulk for the revue, and envisioned a Andy Warhol-like poster saying “100 Stephin Merritt Love Songs.” After realizing how long that would make the revue, he decided to cut the songs down to 69, “the next sexy number down from 100.” When Merge records approached him about releasing a new album, as he had gone three years without doing so, he mentioned the idea of doing a triple album, which much of the label staff was apprehensive about, yet Merge’s distributor, Touch & Go, was excited by. Thus Stephin began working on the project.

The writing process for 69 Love Songs was very quick. Of this, Stephin says: “one of the funny things about 69 Love Songs is that it’s such a denial of inspiration and confession and autobiography and sincerity- I simply set to work.” He began writing the album in May of 1998 and was finished by July. Writing the album was all that Stephin did for the two month period, and he frequently would complete two or thee songs within a single day. Even more so, about 60 songs were left over after the final 69 were chosen. Stephin’s song writing process for the album involved going to a café and making two pots of tea to last for the day. He found the café environment helpful for the album, as the music playing on the jukebox and the overheard conversations provided inspiration for songs. Once the tea was finished, he’d head over to a gay bar that played “bad disco music” at high volume. Oddly, this helped him write, as he finds the music so incredibly boring that he has to go off into “the songwriting place” so he “doesn’t sit there and scream.”

The recording of 69 Love Songs was a much more collaborative process than the previous albums. They aimed to capture the sound of a band playing in the room with you, and thus used significantly more string instruments than in the past. Still, Stephin played almost 100 instruments on the album himself, and as a collector of bizarre and foreign musical instruments with three rooms in his home devoted only to them, he had a variety to choose from. Three additional vocalists also performed on the album, LD Beghtol, Dudley Klute, and Shirley Simms, as well as two musicians, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) who played accordion, and Chris Ewen who contributed to the backing tracks on some of the more electro-pop oriented songs.

When the album was finally released the next year, it was a surprise indie hit, with all 2,500 copies of the original pressing selling out within a day. This was exceptional, as all of the previous Magnetic Fields releases sold on average of 10,000 copies each at that time. The reviews were almost universally positive, including perfect 5 star/A+ reviews from Robert Christgau, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, The A.V. Club, and the Guardian, as well as 4.5/5 and 9/10 ratings by AllMusic and Pitchfork. The album currently features a critical average of 88 and user average of 98 on the rating aggregator site Metacritic, and made Top 10 Albums of the Year lists by Magnet, the Village Voice, Spin, New York Times, and Rolling Stone. Furthermore, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, and Neil Gaiman make up some of the album’s celebrity fans. To date, the set has sold over 130,000 copies, especially impressive considering its $34.98 retail price.

Merritt’s musical influences for the album are vast and electric, and they are reflected in how no two of the album’s 69 songs sound particularly alike. While he states that his music taste is primarily catered towards bubblegum pop and experimental composers, his favorite band is Abba. They were the first band that he listened to as a child, and they fueled his first attempts at songwriting. He said that after listening to Abba, he began to write songs about things that he knew nothing about, such as “marital difficulties at the breakfast table,” with many of his songs still featuring this topical approach. In addition, Abba’s musical approach of never writing music down as “if they can’t remember it, no one else well” is something he has taken to heart, writing and storing melodies in his head. On 69 Love Songs, the Abba influence shines through the clearest on the songs “Long Forgotten Fairytale” and “It’s a Crime.”

Additionally, Merrit is heavily influenced by Tin Pan Alley composer Irving Berlin, who he regards as his favorite songwriter. The song “A Pretty Girl is Like...” was written as a response to Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” the song essentially saying that this is an insult, as there are many melodies that you would not want to have in your head. The song is also structured in Tin Pan Alley song form, AABA. Also, on the first volume of the record, “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” features Tin Pan Alley form for its verses. Another song on the first volume “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” is also influenced by Berlin, but rather by his work in musical theater. The song’s title was written by Berlin, yet the song itself was never composed. The lyrics also reference the life of Berlin, as the song’s story involves the ugliest guy on the Lower East Side, yet he has a car and thus meets a beautiful girl. Merritt stated that while Berlin was not an attractive man, he married beautiful women, and thus he clearly had other assets.

The artist interpreting and responding however does not end at Abba and Irving Berlin. “A Chicken with its Head Cut Off” is a Johnny Cash style, pop-country song which attempts to scrape the bottom of the barrel of clichés and rhyme schemes. “Come Back from San Francisco” is a response to Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), " placing the song from the perspective of the person whose lover traveled to San Francisco, and longs for them to come back, stating “It can't be all that pretty.” “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” interprets the style of synth pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. “The One You Really Love” is written in the style of country group The Carter Family, though a darker and more bitter interpretation. “I’m Sorry I Love You” is also influenced by the Carter family, yet attempts to combine their style with a Bo Diddly-esque beat. “When My Boy Walks Down the Street” recalls the Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 album Psychocandy, with Beach Boys style melodies washed in screeching distortion (The Magnetic Fields 2008 album Distortion would further expand on this approach.) “No One Will Ever Love You” is according to Merritt, an attempt to roll multiple elements of the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk into one song. “Yeah, Oh Yeah!” is a tragic take on Sonny & Cher duet “I’ve Got You Babe.” Lastly, “My Only Friend” is in the style of pianist duo Ferrante & Teicher, “For We Are the King of the Boudoir” is in the style of Victorian era composers Gilbert and Sullivan, and the album’s final track “Zebra” as a parody of composer Cole Porter, a person whom Merritt is frequently compared to.

Merritt also wrote songs in specific genres for the album, the four most obvious being “Punk Love,” “Love is Like Jazz,” “Experimental Music Love,” and “World Love,” a take on Graceland style world music. Also of note is the folk-rock of “All My Little Words,” the Irish War Ballad “Abigail, Belle of Kilronan,” the interpretation of Krautrock in “I Shatter,” the folk of “Acoustic Guitar,” the traditional Scottish “Wi’ Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget,” a waltz “The Night You Can’t Remember” and the blues based “Xylophone Track.” For a book on the album in the 33 1/3 series, Merritt along with guest vocalist and author LD Beghtol attempt to classify each song into a specific genre, some much more specific than others.

With the mirroring and genre hopping that Merritt employs on 69 Love Songs, some have questioned his authenticity, particularly when he takes on more sensitive genres such as country where authenticity is valued. Merritt however is quick to admit to his use of appropriation and fraudulent authenticity, particularly as he enjoys keeping his music playful, and finds “artifice more fun than pure confession,” an element he has in common with another one of his biggest influences, Gary Numan. Merritt also shares a similar approach to Eurythmics singer, Annie Lennox, particarly on their 1987 album Savage. He interprets each song on this album as a subversion of an existing cliché. The subverting and unpacking of clichés is a common thread among much of Merritt’s songs, and it can be best exemplified with “The Book of Love,” the highest voted song when a poll regarding the album was held in 2006, and the second highest voted when it was originally held in September of 1999.

Love being a book is a cliché that has been used to death, however in this song Stephin approaches it as if there actually was an encyclopedia about love. According to him, it would be “long and boring” and contains charts, facts, figures, flowers, heart-shaped boxes, as well as instructions for dancing. This song contains another characteristic among Merritt’s songwriting- the blending together of completely opposite emotions in a way that seems effortless. The protagonist in the song is someone who is very bitter and jaded about love, someone who writes off much of the actual book as “really dumb” and irrelevant, as he’s part of the generation “too young to know” much of its contents. Still, some of it is “transcendental.” Thus I feel the song is also about the cynic surrendering to love, giving into the book to the extent where he can be read or sung “anything” by the person to whom he gave his heart.

The winner of the 69 Love Songs poll in 1999, and what I personally consider to be the best song on the album, “Papa Was a Rodeo,” acts as a subversion of cliché. Even from its opening seconds, you can tell it is the most country sounding song on the album, yet the opening line, “I like your twisted point of view, Mike” is far unlike any opening line I have heard in a country song, or even song before. In the first verse, the male character singing is speaking to “Mike,” saying that despite his affection, he must leave early and will not be back until the following year. The chorus continues this theme, explaining why he is the type who will “never stuck around long enough for a one-night stand.” The next verse details a future meeting between the singer and Mike in a dive bar, reconnecting after an absence in time and wanting to take Mike away with him. The third verse, is another meeting, though 55 years later, after they’ve had the “romance of the century.” Now when you factor in these verses as well as Stephin Merritt’s sexual orientation, you can imply that this is a song about the attraction between two male cowboys. However there is a big reveal at the end of the third verse when “I still feel like crying
When I think of what you said to me” is uttered. Guest vocalist Shirley Simms enters, and sings the exact same chorus that was repeated twice before. Mike was a woman! The point is drilled home with the song’s final lines: “What a coincidence, Your papa was a rodeo, too.” However, whether the tears were regarding Mike leaving the man due to her being just like him or whether the tears were of joy regarding that she was just like him, and the two could now be wanderers together is ambiguous and up for the listener to decide.

I consider 69 Love Songs to be my favorite album of all-time. I have listened to all three discs in a row on occasion, and it has never failed to hold my attention. I have used countless songs from the album on mix CDs and made a three different “best of” mixes, constructing each new one without reminding myself of the previous versions. I have even ranked the songs in order from favorite to least favorite. Around the time of 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt said in an interview: “What I’d like to do next is come up with something that really doesn’t sound like anything else, and yet somehow is withing the pop tradition. I won’t be upset if I can’t figure out how to do it. But it’s a noble goal.” Honestly, I think he’s already done with 69 Love Songs. Despite all the homages, interpretations, responses and genre exercises, the album always sounds like the Magnetic Fields, and its their ambitious scope yet how they never losing traces familiarity that I think makes the band so appealing to both myself and their rabid cult of fans (myself included.)

-"69 Love Songs." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Apr 2009, 22:38 UTC. 26 Apr 2009
-Begtol, LD. 69 Love Songs. New York: Continium, 2006.
-Cooper, Tim. “Truly a Merritt-able cause” This is London. 19 January 2001.

-Costa, Maddy. “Love's anatomy” The Guardian. 14 July 2000.

-Gallivan, Joseph. “The order of Merritt” The Independent. 14 April 2000.

-Handler, Daniel, essay in accompanying booklet, 69 Love Songs performed by the Magnetic Fields, Merge Records MRG 166-168, 1999, compact disc.
-“Stephin Merritt: Urbane hymns” The Independent. 20 June 2003.

-Tannenbaum, Rob. “As Hundreds Cheer: The Glum Triumph of The Magnetic Fields” The Village Voice. 30 November 1999.

-Taylor, Sam. “A genius? No, I'm actually a fungus...” The Observer. Sunday 23 July 2000.

-"The Magnetic Fields." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 Apr 2009, 14:20 UTC. 26 Apr 2009
-Wolk, Douglas. “Hooks, cliches, and highbrow wit: How Stephin Merritt has become a pop songwriter without peer” New Times LA. 06 August 1998.

Monday, August 10, 2009

God Only Knows

You typically write in blogs. I however don't write particularly much in this blog, or at least as much as I used to. This is a quick attempt to change that. Here's a short paper that I wrote on "God Only Knows" for a Pop Music class that I took earlier this year. It's nothing too formal, but I think it's worthy of a post here, at least for archiving purposes.

God Only Knows

The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is one of my all-time favorite albums. I have had many heated conversations regarding the album, debating that it is better than anything the Beatles ever put out, a stance I still hold. The eight track on the album, “God Only Knows” is arguably the album’s best song, though my personal favorite is “You Still Believe in Me.” Still, “God Only Knows” remains as one of the most moving and simply best songs I have ever heard, as well as one of the few songs that can occasionally make me cry based on its music alone (seeing Brian Wilson and his band perform it live also really did the trick.) I feel it is just a perfect pop song, nothing missing or nothing seeming unnecessary in the arrangement, perfect in length, and never coming anywhere close to a dull moment.

With the opening seconds of the song’s instrumentation, the denseness of sound is very apparent, due to the multitude of musicians playing on the track. Specially there were twenty-three musicians present during the recording of the song in March of 1966, sixteen of which ended up on the final take. Despite all these musicians, there is no guitar on the song, and rather three different bassists made up the core rhythm section, each performing a different variation of the instrument (specifically acoustic string, electric, and danelectro bass.) Also in the rhythm section, the percussion is simple yet also unorthodox, made up of a combination of sleigh bells and castanets, producing a similar effect to wood blocks. Depending on the section of the song, the tempo these are played vary, though the sleigh bells are played at a slower pace by the end of the song than the beginning. Brief snare drum rolls also are present at various times, the first being in the instrumental break/ interlude section following the second repetition of the chorus, the drums appearing twice in the section, each in the middle part of the break’s two lines. The snare drums however are most prominently in the song’s final section, where “God only knows” is sung and harmonized with three different voices, the drums marking the repetition of a new section.

In total, the rest of the instruments on “God Only Knows” are piano, organ, accordion, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, french horn, baritone, saxophone, violin, viola, and cello. For the time, this is a huge amount of instruments to have on the pop song, and the presence of instruments traditionally not associated with pop music makes this song even more un-traditional. On a casual listen, the instruments that stick out most prominently are the organ/ piano chords and the french horn, especially in the song’s first section, though you can hear a variety of string instruments lower in the mix, giving the song some texture. For the first verse and chorus, the instrumental section is more sparse, consisting of only the rhythm section and the organ. The bass heavy transition to the next verse and chorus, where the instrumental section is more complex, the string section entering and muting the volume of the bells a bit.

Following the chorus, the next transitional section is unlike any previous section of the song. As mentioned before, the snare drums first appear here in this interlude, easily the most playful sounding section of the song. In relation to the song’s celestial themes and sound, I would describe this part as sounding like someone in the sky jumping from cloud to cloud. With the following section, the tempo of the bells slow down and the vocals take the forefront with a three part polyphonic harmonizing section, featuring Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson, and Bruce Johnson. The song next moves into the chorus rather than another verse, the next and final verse thus follows immediately without any transitional section. With the final verse, all of the instrumental elements from the second verse are in place, though this time the bells remain at a slower tempo and a new flute section enters at the end of each line for the final two lines of the verse.

The song ends with the repetition of “God only knows,” cutting back to only the core rhythm section for instrumentation. After two repetitions however, the other instruments gradually enter again, the first being the snare drum rolls on two and four and the sound of a hard to identify string instrument (possibly a cello or viola plucked strongly) also where the snare drum, occurs though after each line rather than just half. This instrument plays a two note pattern twice in a row each time, descending for the second line, descending once more for the third line, and then playing the same notes for last line as it did for the second line. This element is interesting as it is very difficult to hear in the Pet Sounds version, but when listening to the instrumental version on the Stack-O-Tracks album, you can hear that it remains in the song until the very end, where silence is reached after the fade out.

It is interesting about the song’s conclusion that, despite the main versus and chorus of the song being sung by Carl Wilson, he left the studio before the recording was done, so instead Brian Wilson used multi-tracking and sung two of the three vocal melodies, harmonizing with himself. It is also of note that it was a bit of a rarity for Carl Wilson to perform lead vocals, as “God Only Knows” is the only song on Pet Sounds where he does so, Brian Wilson doing the rest on every song apart from “That’s Not Me” where Mike Love sang. Before Pet Sounds, Carl had only performed lead vocals on three Beach Boys songs, though rather than Brian singing it as standard, he handed it over to Carl, as he felt he could “impart the message better.”

In addition to the song’s complex structure and arrangements, as well as dense and unorthodox instrumentation, it was also groundbreaking in terms of its lyrics, being one of the first pop songs to use “God” in its title. Before this song, religion in popular music was traditionally avoided, rather leaving the subject matter for less commercial Christian recordings, and hymns. However I do not find “God Only Knows” to be a religious song but rather a love song that uses God in its title as a spiritual word, expressing the ethereal, other-worldly side of love, and the idea of eternity. Still, the song was definitely key in removing the taboo of spirituality in popular music, something that these days is fairly commonplace.

“God Only Knows” is also a song that has been covered by numerous artists of different styles, from David Bowie and Neil Diamond to Mandy Moore, Joss Stone, and even Daniel Johnston. Still, none of the covers I have heard come close to even having a fraction of the power and effectiveness of the original, Bowie’s version being especially disappointing. The Beach Boys version is just truly timeless and a masterpiece of popular music. As a really big fan, it always frustrates me when I meet someone who is only familiar with their fun yet straightforward and fluffy surf-centric early 60's recordings, or their lame late 80's “Kokomo,” party with the Tanner family on Full House era. In addition to Pet Sounds they had a fantastic string of albums from 1965's Today! to Surf’s Up in 1971. Still though the degrees of awful that the Beach Boys reached by the 90's was a bit frightening, the highs they achieved with Pet Sounds and “God Only Knows” alone are leaps beyond what most bands do in their entire careers.

Instrumental: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Pozjzct_iY

Acapella: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_Z-6p7Hag4

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer Mix Vol. 1

So here we are... It's already mid-Summer. There's already seeing 50% sales on Summer related goods like beach balls, squirt guns, towels, and the like. I've even seen a few Back-to-School displays out already! How offensive! There's plenty of Summer left and this mix here is perfect for your Summer listening! After a few weeks of frequent rain and thunder storms, we've finally had some consistent sun and warm weather. I gave this mix a test run in my car a few days ago and it's absolutely perfect for Summer driving. Even if you're not heading to the beach, pool, or 50's style burger joint, and just making a trip to something as boring as the DMV, I guarantee that this mix will make your drive delightful!

The majority of this mix is from the late 50's and 1960's. It's hard to deny that the best, most iconic, and timeless Summer music is from that period. Plus as 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the music of that decade is just as relevant now as it ever was.
Most of what I've included from that era directly references Summer in some way, though a few of them are my own subjective interpretations. "Green Onions" for example is entirely instrumental, though I included it due to its classic association with baseball. Plus it's use in The Sandlot, also certainly helps its case. "Sunshine Superman" is another more subjective inclusion, though I'm sure I'm not the only one who associates that song and its very distinct feel with the Summer. After a Grease standard, the mix changes directions with Alice Cooper's "School's Out". However rather than keeping with the 70's, it shifts to the 80's with the Tom Tom Club covering the Drifter's "Under the Boardwalk." I know the original would have fit in perfectly earlier in the mix, though I find this cover to be, well...more Summery. The mix ends then with three tracks from the 90's, including one of my personal favorite songs from The Adventures of Pete & Pete, "The Sunburn Song." Lastly, I decided to close things out with a nostalgic and somewhat somber Jonathan Richman track, "That Summer Feeling." It's a great one. Enjoy the mix! I'm really proud of this one.

Summer Mix Vol. 1 (sharebee)
Link 2 - Ipod version
(all songs have "Summer Mix Vol. 1" as the artist for easy categorization)

1. The Jamies - Summertime, Summertime
2. The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer in the City
3. Booker T and the MG's - Green Onions
4. The Surfaris - Wipe Out
5. The Beach Boys - All Summer Long
6. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas - (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
7. Eddie Cochran - Summertime Blues
8. Mungo Jerry - In the Summertime
9. Shangri-Las - Remember (Walkin' In the Sand)
10. The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon
11. Donovan - Sunshine Superman
12. Marianne Faithfull - Summer Nights
13. Love - Bummer in the Summer
14. Seals & Crofts - Summer Breeze
15. Frank Sinatra - Summer Wind
16. Roy Orbison - Summer Song
17. Harry Nilsson - Just Wait Till the Summer Comes
18. The Zombies - Summertime
19. Chad & Jeremy - A Summer Song
20. The Doors - Summer's Almost Gone
21. Grease OST - Summer Nights
22. Alice Cooper - School's Out
23. Tom Tom Club - Under the Boardwalk
24. Yo La Tengo - The Summer
25. Semi-Gloss - The Sunburn Song
26. Jonathan Richman - That Summer Feeling

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sigur Ros - Untitled #3 (Samskeyti)

Have you ever had a completely unexpected environmental circumstance that somehow worked perfectly with what you were listening to? That just happened to me. Earlier this afternoon I was driving home from Worcester MA. The weather was very hot and humid before I left, the temperature reading 88. I decided to put on Sigur Ros's ( ) for the ride, as its been almost two years since I last heard it. Soon enough we got to track #3, Samskeyti, one of my favorites from the album. The song is built around a repeating piano line that eventually shifts octaves in the most glorious way possible. Its very repeative yet the way its constructed makes it sound like it is constantly moving forward. Remarkable song.

So about 20 seconds into the song I notice a drop of water hit my windshield. Not a tiny drop, but a large one. Another one happens after a few seconds. It wasn't like the way rain usually starts where its very small drops and a bunch of them - this was single drop large rain. Well this didn't last for too long as no longer than 15 seconds later full rain began to break out. Its like the clouds just broke as it went from droplets to dozens in a second. I'm constantly adjusting my wipers as the the amount of rain is steadily increasing. There's now a huge cloud in the sky that was clear a minute earlier. The amount of rain continues to reach until it reaches its peak only seconds after the octave shift in the song. I now have the wipers at the second highest level. The rain remains relatively constant for the next minute and then completely stops, just as the song is fading out. The timing was insane. Soon enough the sun came back out and was even brighter than it was earlier.

Here's two videos of the song. The first is a fan video for the album version, and the second a live performance from the Heima DVD.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Essential Field Mice

Personally, I feel like the Field Mice remain one of the most overlooked and criminally underrated bands of the last 25 years. Oh they definitely have a devoted cult of fans, and are recognized by most anyone with a more than passive interest in twee pop, but in terms of being regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 80's, they still have a ways to go. It's remarkable how fresh this music still sounds, something that I can't help but attribute to how stale the "indie pop" genre is becoming at this point. For example, one of the internet's most recent blog bands is The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They're a solid group, but I don't feel they aren't doing anything different than what the Field Mice were doing more than 20 years ago, and the tunes aren't nearly as solid. Still, their most popular song "Young Adult Friction" nears 4,000 plays a week on last.fm, yet the Field Mice's "Emma's House", gets less than 400. Life just isn't fair.

But back to the Mice- They only released three albums: Snowball in 1989, Skywriting in 1990, and For Keeps in 1991. Their formation was only a year before Snowball's release and they broke up shortly after the For Keeps tour. Despite this brief 3 year existence, they created a remarkably consistent output of material, with less than a handful of songs that are subpar ("Humblebee" as one.) The best collection of the band's material is the 1998 Where'd You Learn to Kiss That Way? compilation which takes 36 of the band's best songs, both from the original albums and various 7" singles. Though it comes close, there's still 15 recorded tracks by the band that do not make the compilation, so pursuing the actual albums is a necessity. Still, just about everyone's personal favorite Field Mice song is likely to be on Where'd You Learn to Kiss That Way?

However, I decided to take this compilation one step further. What if I cut down the 36 tracks to the essential essentials, enough to make a one disc compilation of the band's material? I did just that, and deciding what to include and what to omit was more difficult than expected. I ended up listening to the band's entire discography, and rated every song on a scale from 1-5. Everything on this mix got at least a 4 and five songs got the 5rating (Sensitive, Below the Stars, Emma's Hose, End of the Affair and Willow. ) This posed problems though, as there were still great songs left over that wouldn't fit. For example, "This Is Not Here" (a 4.5 for me) didn't make the cut. I guess compilations need to be this way in some regard, as if they weren't, there would be no incentive to pursue the artist any further. You just can't have ALL the greats. Also, I tried to organize the mix in a way that varies from the released compilation, yet still works well as a mix. This is how it turned out:

The Essential Field Mice

1. Sensitive
2. Emma's House
3. If You Need Someone
4. Couldn't Feel Safer
5. Everything About You
6. September's Not So Far Away
7. End of the Affair
8. Willow
9. A Wrong Turn and Raindrops
10. Let's Kiss and Make Up
11. This Love Is Not Wrong
12. An Earlier Autumn
13. Canada
14. So Said Kay
15. Between Hello and Goodbye
16. And Before the First Kiss
17. White
18. When Morning Comes to Town
19. Below the Stars

Bonus- This is Not Here (I just had to include this somehow. Let's just say it's track 20 for those listening with ipods or just straight from the folder.)

The Field Mice @Amazon.com

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Essential Sebadoh Vol. 4

Here it is! The fourth and final volume of my custom "best-of" Sebadoh mixes. To think this all started with one mix, a mix that I thought at the time was pretty comprehensive. Yet over the last few months I've been obsessively listening to Sebadoh, and soon enough I found enough great songs to fill up three more volumes. Crazy!

More so, I still have yet to give a thorough listen to the Folk Implosion. Maybe in the future there will be a custom essential mix for them! Also, I intend to put together a collection of Sebadoh b-sides from all of the 7"/CD singles. There's already a good custom b-sides complitation floating around, though it concentrates most on their earliest material. Anyways, here's the link to volume 4 and the included tracks. As always, these mixes are just below 80 minutes in length, and appropriate for CD burning.

The Essential Sebadoh Vol. 4

1. Ladybugs (The Freed Man)
2. Cyster (The Freed Man)
3. Dance (The Freed Man)
4. Oak Street Raga (The Freed Man)
5. Jealous Evil (The Freed Man)
6. Narrow Stories (The Freed Man)
7. Bridge Was You (The Freed Man)
8. Feeding Evil (Weed Forestin)
9. Mr. Genius Eyes (Weed Forestin)
10. Wrists (The Freed Man)
11. I Can't See (Weed Forestin)
12. Three Times a Day (Weed Forestin)
13. More Simple (Weed Forestin)
14. Jealous of Jesus (Weed Forestin)
15. Sickles and Hammers [Minutemen] (III)
16. Renaissance Man (III)
17. New King (Gimme Indie Rock)
18. Soulmate II (Sebadoh Vs. Helmet)
19. Really Insane II (Rocking the Forest)
20. Junk Bonds (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
21. Cliche (Bubble and Scrape)
22. Bouquet for a Siren (Bubble and Scrape)
23. No Way Out (Bubble and Scrape)
24. Temptation Tide (Bakesale)
25. Mystery Man (Bakesale)
26. Give Up (Bakesale)
27. S. Soup (Bakesale)
28. Rebound (acoustic) (Rebound EP)
29. Magnet's Coil (acoustic) (Rebound EP)
30. Social Medicine (Rebound EP)
31. Worst Thing (Harmacy)
32. Can't Give Up (Harmacy)
33. The Act of Being Polite [Residents] (Princess 7")
34. Moisture [Residents] (Princess 7")
35. Surburban Bathers [Residents] (Princess 7")
36. I Mean It (early version of "Sorry") (unreleased)
37. It's All You (The Sebadoh)
38. Weird (The Sebadoh)
39. Flame (acoustic) (Weird promo single)

Sebadon @ Amazon.com

Monday, May 25, 2009

Best of 2006 Vol. 1

Here's the original mix, made in December of 2006. It was fun to make that second mix as it allowed me to include songs from 2006 albums that I was not into at the time (Mission of Burma, the Hold Steady, TV on the Radio, Jay Reatard, Destroyer, Grizzly Bear, and Liars.) Man, what was I thinking?

Best of 2006 - Vol. 1

1. Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day
2. I'm From Barcelona - We're From Barcelona
3. The Gothic Archies - Scream and Run Away
4. Islands - Rough Gem
5. Sunset Rubdown - Stadiums and Shrines
6. Beirut - Postcards from Italy
7. Band of Horses - The Funeral
8. Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken
9. Danielson - Did I Step On Your Trumpet
10. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - You are What You Love
11. Oh No! Oh My! - Jane is Fat
12. Tilly & the Wall - Bad Education
13. Yo La Tengo - Beanbag Chair
14. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 3
15. Bob Dylan - When the Deal Goes Down
16. Cat Power - The Greatest
17. Joanna Newsom - Cosmia
18. Sufjan Stevens - Majesty Snowbird

People were so excited over the live Sufjan song that I included as the last track. This led to speculation that he would have a new album the following year. That was 2007. Now it's 2009. The guy needs to get his shit together! I mean he got SO MUCH PRESS about the whole 50 States project, and now it's been 4 years since he's released something. Still, "You Are The Blood" from the Dark Was the Night compilation was really good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Best Songs of 2006 Vol 2.

Well, here's a minor throwback. Recently I've been re-organizing the music on my hard drive. I made sure that all of my artist folders contained the artist's name only- not their name and the name of the album, the year, the source, etc. Then upon opening the folder, all of the albums would be organized with the year in parentheses first, and the album name second. Thus if I were looking the Beat Happening album "Dreamy," I would first open the Beat Happening folder, and then find "(1991) Dreamy". Very simple, yet very effective. Also, for making yearly lists, something that I frequently do, it really is helpful to have your music files tagged by year.

Anyways, while in the process, I re-discovered a bunch of in progress mixes that I never completed. One of them was a second Best of 2006 mix. My first Mix does not exist on this blog, yet is rather over at my last.fm page, as I used to post mixes in my journal over there before this blog. Well I decided to complete the mix, and it's pretty rad. That was a great year for music. Here's the mix:

Best of 2006 - Vol 2.

1. Mission of Burma - 2wice
2. The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations
3 . TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
4. Jay Reatard - Blood Visions
5. Sonic Youth - Incinerate
6. The Pipettes - Pull Shapes
7. Islands - Don't Call me Whitney, Bobby
8. Destroyer - Your Blood
9. Built to Spill - Goin Against Your Mind
10. Morrissey - You Have Killed Me
11. M. Ward - Chinese Translation
12. Grizzly Bear - Knife
13. Joanna Newsom - Sawdust & Diamonds
14. Liars - The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack
15. Animal Collective - People
16. Peter Bjorn and John - Young Folks
17. Animal Collective - People
18. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy

I'll repost the first edition of the mix soon. Also coming up soon will be the second volume of the Essential Built to Spill, and a Summer Songs mix.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Essential Built to Spill vol. 1

Here's the first volume of a custom "best of" Built to Spill compilation that I made. It includes much of their best known tracks, as well as fan favorites. Yes, it contains nothing from their debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers or the very underrated compilation The Normal Years, though I will certainly drawn from those for future volumes. I think it works very well as an introduction to the band, or a brief overview of their most popular albums. Their second, There's Nothing Wrong with Love is my personal favorite. Unlike most of my other "essential" mixes, the songs here are not in chronological order, though I still made sure everything still flows together well as a whole.

The Essential Built to Spill Vol. 1

1. Big Dipper [There's Nothing Wrong with Love]
2. Strange [Ancient Melodies of the Future]
3. Carry the Zero [Keep it Like a Secret]
4. I Would Hurt a Fly [Perfect from Now On]
5. You Were Right
[Keep it Like a Secret]
6. The Plan [Keep it Like a Secret]
7. Car [There's Nothing Wrong with Love]
8. Else [Keep it Like a Secret]
9. Kicked it in the Sun [Perfect from Now On]
10. Center of the Universe [Keep it Like a Secret]
11. Conventional Wisdom [You in Reverse]
12. Stop the Show
[Perfect from Now On]
13. Time Trap [Keep it Like a Secret]
14. Liar [You in Reverse]
15. Distopian Dream Girl [There's Nothing Wrong with Love]
16. The Weather
[Ancient Melodies of the Future]

Built to Spill @ Up Records

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Essential Sebadoh- Vol. 3

Here's custom mix #3 for my favorite band at the moment - Sebadoh. Unlike the first two, this draws more heavily on their lo-fi recordings, so much in fact that it only reaches up to Bubble & Scrape. Though definitely not the first albums newcomers should check out, The Freed Man and Weed Forestin' have lots of short little gems. I've started work on the fourth and most likely final volume, though have some narrowing down to do.

The Essential Sebadol - Vol. 3

1. K-Sensa-My (The Freed Man)
2. Healthy Sick (The Freed Man)
3. Level Anything (The Freed Man)
4. Design (The Freed Man)
5. Julienne (The Freed Man)
6. Soulmate (The Freed Man)
7. Moldy Bread (The Freed Man)
8. Fire of July (The Freed Man)
9. Punch in the Nose (The Freed Man)
10. Pig (Asshole 7")
11. Slow to Learn (Asshole 7")
12. Hung Up (Asshole 7")
13. Cheapshot (Oven is My Friend 7")
14. New Worship (Weed Forestin')
15. Ride the Darker Wave (Weed Forestin')
16. It's So Hard to Fall in Love (Weed Forestin')
17. Subtle Holy Gift (Weed Forestin')
18. Pound My Skinny Head (Weed Forestin')
19. Whitey Peach (Weed Forestin')
20. Waited Forever (Weed Forestin')
21. I Believe in Fate (Weed Forestin')
22. Gate to Hell (Weed Forestin')
23. Broken (Weed Forestin')
24. Red Riding Good (Gimme Indie Rock 7")
25. Toledo (Split 7" w. Azalia Snail)
26. Downmind (III)
27. Hoppin' Up and Down (III)
28. Holy Picture (III)
29. Limb By Limb (III)
30. Half Undressed (Princess 7")
31. Fantastic Diaster (Soul and Fire 7")
32. I Stopped Singing (Ow, Quit it compilation)
33. Losercore (Losercore 7")
34. New Worship (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
35. Everybody's Been Burned (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
36. Mean Distance (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
37. Pink Moon (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
38. Emma Get Wild (Bubble & Scrape)
39. Sixteen (Bubble & Scrape)
40. Flood (Bubble & Scrape)
41. Sister (Bubble & Scrape)
42. Reject (Soul and Fire 7")

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Magnetic Fields - B-Sides & Rarities (1989-2008)

The Magnetic Fields have been a band for 20 years now. In that time they have released 8 albums (10 if you count 69 Love Songs as 3 albums) and a handful of EPs. Then when you take in mind Stephin Merritt's other 3 projects, that adds 6 more full length albums to the picture, as well as 4 EPs. On top of that, Stephin also has 3 albums of the various film/ theater scores he has composed, with compilation album Showtunes compiling various songs from each. The guy is pretty prolific. Sure, he's no Robert Pollard, but unlike him Stephin keeps the quality ratio pretty damn high.

So all Magnetic Fields albums are really fantastic. But did you know there's a good number of hard to find b-sides and compilation tracks by the band? What I've done is compiled every single Magnetic Fields non-album track in chronological order, as well as a few excellent live tracks from the band and Stephin Merritt solo tracks. All the rarities! The only things I've excluded are the "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" remixes, but those aren't really necessary as the EP is still readily available.

So enjoy this custom compilation by favorite band!

The Magnetic Fields - B-Sides & Rarities (1989-2008)

1. Plant White Roses (Susan Anway Vocal) ('89) [The Long Secret compilation]
2. Crowd Of Drifters ('90) [Doctor Death's Volume IV-The Marvels Of Insect Life]
3. Beach-A-Boop-Boop ('92) [Long Vermont Roads 7"]
4. Plain White Roses ('94) [Rows Of Teeth: Merge Records 5th Anniversary Compilation]
5. Rats in the Garbage of the Western World ('95) [All The Umbrellas In London 7'']
6. The Man Amplifier (Young Marble Giants) ('95) [Why I Cry 7"]
7. 'Heroes' (David Bowie) ('96) [Crash Course For The Ravers compilation]
8. I Die, You Die (Gary Numan) ('97) [Random compilation]
9. Smoke and Mirrors (Mary Robinson Remix) ('97) [MRG100 compilation]
10. I Don't Believe You ('98) [I Don't Believe You 7"]
11. When I'm Not Looking, You're Not There ('98) [I Don't Believe You 7")
12. Le Tourbillion (Boris Bassiak) ('99) [Pop Romantique compilation]
13. Take Ecstasy With Me (Susan Anway, vocal) ('99) [Oh, Merge: A Merge Records 10 Year Anniversary Compilation]
14. If I Were a Rich Man [Fiddler on the Roof] ('99) [Knitters on the Roof compilation]
15. One April Day ('03) [Pieces of April soundtrack]
16. The Meaning of Lice ('06) [Plague Songs compilation]
17. The Man of a Million Faces ('07) [NPR's Two Day Song Challenge]
18. The Nun's Litany (Stephin Merritt version) ('08) [Please Stop Dancing EP]
19. Three Way [Live at the Iron Horse Music Hall (2-11-08)]
20. Too Drunk to Dream [Live at the Iron Horse Music Hall (2-11-08)]
21. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend [Live at the Somerville Theatre (2-15-08)]
22. Take Esctasy With Me [Live at the Iron Horse Music Hall (2-11-08)]
23. Yeah, Oh Yeah! [Live at the Iron Horse Music Hall (2-11-08)]
24. The Nun's Litany [Live on Fair Game]

Bonus songs:

Flare (The band of LD Beghtol, guest vocalist on 69 Love Songs) - Celebrate the Misery (Stephin Merritt Mix) ('99)

The Magnetic Fields - What a Fucking Lovely Day! (Stephin Merritt vocals) [Live at the Iron Horse Music Hall (2-11-08)]

Friday, April 17, 2009


So over the past few months I've been on a huge Sebadoh kick. My last.fm plays are ridiculous.
Here's a few awesome Lou Barlow acoustic videos.

It's finals period. Aaaaaaah.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bright Eyes - Papa Was a Rodeo (Magnetic Fields cover)

Here's a brand-new Bright Eyes song- a cover of the Magnetic Fields "Papa Was a Rodeo." The original is from the 1999 album 69 Love Songs, my personal favorite album of all-time, and an album that I cannot recommend enough. "Papa Was a Rodeo" is arguably the best song on the album, though everyone seems to have their own personal favorite songs and disc.

This Bright Eyes cover is from the upcoming compilation Score! 20 Years of Merge Records, out in 2-weeks. It is limited to only 7,500 copies, so I would recommenced pre-ordering it now.

As for the cover itself, I really like it. It is more akin to the electric based Bright Eyes style that Conor experimented with on 2005's Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, though there are actual string instruments on the song as well. Though I personally find that album to be one of Bright Eyes weakest, the approach oddly works for this cover. Nothing can really beat the original, so I admire this creative approach to the song.

Bright Eyes - Papa Was a Rodeo

For anyone who has not heard it, here is the original:

The Magnetic Fields - Papa Was a Rodeo

As a bonus, here's another cover of "Papa was a Rodeo," this time done by singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan. It's more akin to the source material, though of course is sung by a female. Though this does away with the gender shifting of the original (Mike is actually a female) it is a great cover overall, and the alt-country sound works well with the original song's structure and themes.

Kelly Hogan - Papa Was a Rodeo

I like your twisted point of view, Mike
I like your questioning eyebrows
You've made it pretty clear what you like
It's only fair to tell you now
that I leave early in the morning
and I won't be back till next year
I see that kiss-me pucker forming
but maybe you should plug it with a beer, 'cause

Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo

The light reflecting off the mirror ball
looks like a thousand swirling eyes
They make me think I shouldn't be here at all
You know, every minute someone dies
What are we doing in this dive bar?
How can you live in a place like this?
Why don't you just get into my car
And I'll take you away
I'll take that kiss now, but

Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo

And now it's 55 years later
We've had the romance of the century
After all these years wrestling gators
I still feel like crying
When I think of what you said to me:

"Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough
for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me you should know
Papa was a rodeo,"

What a coincidence
Your papa was a rodeo, too

Pre-order Score! 20 Years of Merge Records

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dean & Britta - We're Not Supposed to Be Lovers (Adam Green cover)

Dean & Britta are awesome. They would be awesome still if they began and ended as Dean & Britta, but they are much more than that. Dean Wareham first formed the band Galaxie 500 in 1987, a band whose music hits me in a way that only a extremely select few can. I absolutely adore Galaxie 500, all three of their albums. Then comes Luna, Dean's next band. While I do not connect with them in quite the same way as I do Galaxie 500, I still really love their music. With 7 studio albums and a handful of EPs and assorted singles, Luna gives you more to choose from, but they still are remarkably consistent quality wise. The closest Luna has to a misstep is 1999's The Days of Our Nights, though the album still has some excellent tracks, including "Superfreaky Memories", one of the band's best. Dean & Britta became an official project after Luna disbanded in 2005, and while they are a bit poppier overall than Luna, the solid songwriting is still in place. Still, one of my favorite elements of all Wareham projects is the tendency to cover the songs of other artists. Overall, I can't think of another artist who puts his own touch onto covered material better than him, as well as one who covers such a wide variety of songs. Plus the idea of a novelty cover does not apply here, even when covers are of artists such as Madonna and Guns 'N' Roses. The covers stray from their source material, though are approached with respect to the original versions, resulting in attractive remoldings let the original melodies shine though, yet the structures of the songs may take a vast turn. For example, Jonathan Richman's original version of "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste" is a minute and a half acapella track, only commercially available as a live version. The Galaxie 500 version is epic and sprawling, nearly 7 minutes, much of which are guitar solos. I may as well mention here that Dean Wareham is my all-time favorite guitarist, and most of this has to do with his solos. I for one hate the self-indulgent, fast for the sake of being fast style of solos that often appear in metal and prog. Dean's solo work is different, as though complex and often lengthy, I get a human sense of feeling in his guitar work, it moving me in a way that sung lyrics cannot convey. When he solos, it always sounds necessary.

Anways, the song for this entry is the Dean & Britta cover of Adam Green's "We're Not Supposed to Be Lovers." Adam Green's original is on his 2003 album Friends of Mine. Dean & Britta's version is from their 2006 EP Words You Used to Say. The EP is currently out of print, and last I checked, it goes for quite a bit. It's a shame as the covers on the EP are all great. I may do more entries on them in the furture. For now, here's the two versions of this song-

Dean & Britta - We're Not Supposed to Be Lovers

Adam Green - We're Not Supposed to Be Lovers

Dean & Britta - Official Website
Adam Green - Official Website

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Essential Sebadoh - Vol. 2

The Essential Sebadoh Vol. 2

1. True Hardcore (The Freed Man)
2. Jaundice (The Freed Man)
3. God Told Me (III)
4. Perverted World (III)
5. Scars, Four Eyes (III)
6. Wonderful, Wonderful (III)
7. Black Haired Girl (III)
8. Supernatural Gurl (III)
9. Hassle (III)
10. Good Things (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
11. Ride the Darker Wave (Rocking the Forest)
12. New Worship (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
13. Brand New Love (Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock)
14. Soul and Fire (acoustic demo)
15. Forced Love (Bubble & Scrape)
16. Think (Let Tomorrow Bee) (Bubble & Scrape)
17. Homemade (Bubble & Scrape)
18. Dreams (Bakesale)
19. Got It (Bakesale)
20. Drama Mine (Bakesale)
21. On Fire (acoustic)
22. Prince-S (Harmacy)
23. Beauty of the Ride (Harmacy)
24. Open Ended (Harmacy)
25. Too Pure (Harmacy)
26. Perfect Way (Harmacy)
27. Flame (The Sebadoh)
28. Sorry (The Sebadoh)

I think I'll do a Volume 3 eventually. They do have so many great songs... Sebadoh fans- Any suggestions for songs I have yet to include?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Essential Sebadoh - Mix #1

Truly one of the most underrated bands of the 90's. Vol. 2 will be coming soon....

The Essential Sebadoh - Vol. 1

1. Brand New Love (Weed Forestin)
2. Gimme Indie Rock (Gimme Indie Rock 7")
3. The Freed Pig (III)
4. Violent Execution (III)
5. Total Peace (III)
6. Kath (III)
7. Spoiled (III)
8. Truly Great Thing (III)
9. No Different (III)
10. It's So Hard to Fall in Love (Rocking the Forest)
11. Vampire (Rocking the Forest)
12. Soul and Fire (Bubble and Scrape)
13. Happily Divided (Bubble and Scrape)
14. Two Years Two Days (Bubble and Scrape)
15. Sacred Attention (Bubble and Scrape)
16. License to Confuse (Bakesale)
17. Rebound (Bakesale)
18. Skull (Bakesale)
19. Not a Friend (Bakesale)
20. Not Too Amused (Bakesale)
21. Careful (Bakesale)
22. Magnet's Coil (Bakesale)
23. Together or Alone (Bakesale)
24. On Fire (Harmacy)
25. Ocean (Harmacy)
26. Willing to Wait (Harmacy)
27. Nothing Like You (Harmacy)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My 88 Favorite Albums of 2008

2008 was an interesting year for music. For much of the year I was complaining about new music- how there seemed to be so few standout albums in comparison to recent years. Last year Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam, Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, M.I.A.’s Kala, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity, The National’s Boxer, and of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? were just a few of many fantastic releases that are still being heavily talked about. For 2006 there was Joanna Newsom (especially), Grizzly Bear, Tom Waits, Beirut, The Hold Steady, TV on the Radio, Destroyer, Islands, the Decemberists, Belle & Sebastian, Bob Dylan, Sunset Rubdown, Yo La Tengo, Liars..... wow that year was epic. Half way through 2008 I only had a handful of albums that I really dug. Lots of anticipated releases proved to be major letdowns. The new albums by of Montreal, Jenny Lewis, Cat Power, My Morning Jacket, and Brian Wilson I found to be really weak to awful. Wolf Parade, Islands, Mogwai, Sigur Ros, M83, the Hold Steady, and Destroyer on the other hand put out albums that were not bad my any means, yet did not come even close to the heights the bands have previously achieved. Instead, I felt that newer bands were responsible for much of this years best work- bands with debut albums this year or ones that were previously established yet truly emerged from the shadows of music obscurity. For example, Fleet Foxes, The Dodos, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, Hercules and Love Affair, Santogold, Titus Andronicus, Vivian Girls, Frightened Rabbit, Fuck Buttons, and Ponytail seemingly appeared out of nowhere this year yet all put out solid albums. Some would also add Los Campesinos and Crystal Castles to that list, though I generally was not a big fan of those albums. Also, bands like Deerhunter, No Age, Gang Gang Dance, Marnie Stern, Atlas Sound, Girl Talk, Beach House, and Cut Copy - ones that have been hyped in the past went beyond what they were before, reaching many new ears as well as artistic heights. Lastly there is the great albums by well established bands category. Though there’s less here, Portishead and Nick Cave are of mention, as both returned to the music scene (Nick Cave’s last album with the Bad Seeds was 2004 but it’s been over a decade for Portishead) with unexpectedly fantastic albums. The Walkmen also put out their best album since 2004, and if I continue to feel the same way about their latest, it may prove to be my favorite. I found Distortion to be Stephin Merritt’s best work since 69 Love Songs with its combination of Psychocandy influenced distortion and Merritt’s consistently great songwriting. TV on the Radio did the near impossible and followed up the ridiculously critically acclaimed Return to Cookie Mountain with an album that is even more acclaimed. Spiritualized came out with their first album since 2003, and this as well received incredibly positive reviews. It’s amazing how Jason Pierce after five Spiritualized albums and his brilliant work with Spacemen 3 (beginning in 1982) can still put out such good and fresh sounding music. David Byrne’s new collaboration with Brian Eno, their first since 1981, was also great, especially considering all the godly previous work the two have done on their own. They sure have not lost it. I managed to see David Byrne live this year and it was easily one of the best shows I have ever seen. He sounds better than ever, and played a wonderfully varied setlist. The Breeders and Wire also returned this year with really good albums. They both also toured and played like hardly any time had passed since their prime. Wire especially. It was like I was back in ‘77 during the Pink Flag numbers in their set. 12 XU! The B-52's also came out with their first album since 1992, but I wasn't a fan. Then again, it’s really only their first album that I’m obsessed with. Anyways enough talk- here’s the list.

88. The Bug - London Zoo
87. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
86. The B-52's - Funplex
85. My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
84. Cat Power - Jukebox
83. Brian Wilson - That Lucky Old Sun
82. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
81. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
80. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
79. Weezer- Red Album
78. Harvey Milk - Life... The Best Game in Town
77. Kimya Dawson - Alphabutt
76. of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
75. The Cure - 4:13 Dream
74. Scarlett Johansson - Anywhere I lay my Head
73. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
72. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed
71. Lindstrom - Where You Go I Go Too
70. A Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
69. Times New Viking - Rip It Off
68. Max Tundra - Parallex Error Beheads You
67. Coldplay - Vida La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
66. She & Him - Volume 1
65. Islands - Arm’s Way
64. All Girl Summer Fun Band - Looking into It
63. They Might Be Giants - Here Comes the 123s
62. Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling
61. Adam Green - Sixes & Sevens
60. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
59. Fennesz - Black Sea
58. Megapuss - Megapuss
57. Boston Spaceships - Boston Spaceships
56. DJ/Rupture - Uproot
55. Destroyer - Trouble in Dreams
54. Mark Kozelek - The Finally LP
53. Music Tapes - For Clouds and Tornadoes
52. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
51. Wire - Object 47
50. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
49. Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward
48. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
47. Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
46. High Places - High Places
45. Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali
44. Matmos - Supreme Balloon
43. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
42. Mount Eerie - Dawn
41. M83 - Saturdays = Youth
40. Sun Kil Moon - April
39. Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual
38. Deerhunter - Weird Era Cont
37. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything that Happens Will Happen Today
36. Blitzen Trapper - Furr
35. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colors
34. Santogold - Santogold
33. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - Lie down in the Light
32. Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
31. Women - Women
30. Why? - Alopecia
29. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrsing
28. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
27. Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
26. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
25. Breeders - Mountain Battles
24. Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
23. Hot Chip - Made in the Dark
22. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair
21. Okkervil River - The Stand ins
20. Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight
19. Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
18. The Mae Shi - HLLLYH
17. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
16. Beach House - Devotion
15. Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
14. Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances
13. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
12. No Age - Nouns
11. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
10. Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls
9. Magnetic Fields - Distortion
8. Portishead - Third
7. The Dodos - Visiter
6. Mount Eerie - Lost Wisdom
5. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
4. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
3. The Walkmen - You & Me
2. Deerhunter - Microcastles
1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

Man what a year this has been for Fleet Foxes. The band came to Clark along with Blitzen Trapper on March 30th. As a result of an apparently incredible performance at SXSW on March 14th, the word had begun to spread on the band. Still, both their EP and album had yet to be released. I had read about the band a bit on BrooklynVegan and Stereogum before the show and managed to find a couple of sample mp3s. I was quite impressed on first listen. I remember thinking, wow, this is the opening band? Blitzen Trapper better put on a great show, or they’ll be upstaged. The band had played the previous night at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and there were already multiple blog posts about their performance, including Stereogum. The show apparently sold out, and was packed in anticipation of both bands.
When they took stage I was right up front. They walked on casually, as if they were just some bar band that was hanging out drinking before it was time for their set. It was true that the majority of attendees had no idea who this opening band was. There had to be no more than 40 people in the venue at that point. Robin, the lead singer, handed a copy of the EP to the kid standing next to me. He said something along the lines of - hey, have a free CD. When they began their set with the a-capella Sun Giant, the entire place became quiet. No conversations, no whispering, nothing. How often to you see that for an opening band? Everyone was just as compelled during the rest of the set. The band often made small talk with the audience between songs, including a memorable Q: “what’s the most popular major here?” A: “Marijuana!” exchange. It was just so incredible how tight this band was, with their interjecting harmonies, gorgeous melodies and beautiful singing all around. It somehow felt tightly calculated and well practiced yet loose and relaxed at the same time. Regardless it was easily one of the most compelling shows I have seen. This was the setlist:
Sun Giant /Sun it Rises / Drops in the River / English House/ Katie Cruel/ White Winter Hymnal/ Your Protector / Oliver James/ Mykonos/ Blue Ridge Mountains Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
The band also announced that it was Robin’s 22nd birthday that show. That completely blew my mind and made me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. Blitzen Trapper played a great show as well, and Fleet Foxes joined them onstage for an energetic performance of their closer. Blitzen Trapper mentioned onstage that we all witnessed history with Fleet Foxes that night, as one day they would be massive. Right they were.
No that I’ve said nothing about the album itself, I’ll say that it is an epic, wonderful, and beautiful thing, especially when compiled with the EP. Though they are massive now (White Winter Hymnal is getting 19,000 plays a week on last.fm - holy shit!) I feel like their hype is completely deserved. They are both a band that puts out incredible music and performs it even better than it sounds on the record, yet they maintain incredibly humble and in touch with listeners. Robin is actually an active poster on the atease forums and is very gracious regarding praise and open to criticism. There’s a gigantic 45-page Fleet Foxes thread with about 40 posts in it by him. It’s very cool. He says he’s very cool with people uploading his music there, considering how much new music he’s discovered on that board himself. In one he gets a poster into a sold out show by putting him on the guest list. I just hope now as they keep getting bigger they maintain the close relationship they have with their fans, as well as the intimate quality that their live show emanated. I mean they played and sold out the Summerville Theater in MA in October and that place has a 1,000+ capacity. I sincerely doubt they will though. “I'm just a music fan really, I come on here to find new stuff like everyone else... I'm not special!”

Looking forward, I think 2009 is going to be a good year. I mean we’re just 10 days into the year and already an album came out that it better than anything released in 2008 (Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion.) Unless Grizzly Bear gives that album a run for its money (which they very well could) or the next Joanna Newsom album actually comes out (or My Bloody Valentine!!), I likely will be here at this time next year doing a write up on Animal Collective. There’s lots more to look forward too.New albums by Antony & the Johnsons and Handsome Furs have leaked, and though I have yet to listen I’ve heard very good things. I think the new Franz Ferdinand may have leaked too. Let’s see what has release dates....

Beirut - March of the Zapotec (Feb 1)
Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You (Feb 10)
Morrissey - Years of Refusal (Feb 16)
... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead -The Century of Self (Feb 17)
Architecture in Helsink - That Beep (Feb 17)
M. Ward - Hold Time (Feb. 17)
Black Lips- 200 Million Thousand (Feb. 24)
Dan Deacon - Bromst (March 24)
The Decemberists - Hazards Of Love (March 24)
Depeche Mode - [Title TBA] (April 20)

And TBA albums:
Annie, Arcade Fire (?), The Avalanches, Blur, Bright Eyes, Broken Social Scene, Built to Spill, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (?), Deer Tick, Dirty Projectors, Final Fantasy, Gang of Four, Jay Reatard, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Liars, Lightning Bolt, Marissa Nadler, Menomena, Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, The Strokes, Wilco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Coooooool. Now if Jeff Mangum gets it together this year, 2009 will be truly special. I don't really want another formal NMH album, but I would totally kill to see In the Aeroplane Over the Sea performed live in its entirety.

I'll end this with a ranking of all the live shows I caught this year. I saw a few bands on here twice (The Breeders + The Magnetic Fields) so I only listed the best of the two shows I saw.

Live Shows:
1. Joanna Newsom @ BAM (best of the year and best of my life)
2. David Byrne @ Calvin Theatre
3. Blitzen Trapper/ Fleet Foxes @ The Grind
4. Magnetic Fields @ Iron Horse
5. Wire @ Middle East
6. Radiohead/Grizzly Bear @ Comcast Center
7. Deerhoof @ Pearl Street
8. Mount Eerie & Julie Doiron @ The Grind
9. Breeders @ Paradise
10. Daniel Johnston @ Lupo’s
11. Built to Spill/Dinosaur Jr./Meat Puppets @ Orpheum
12. Y.A.C.H.T. @ The Grind
13. Rilo Kiley @ Lupo’s
14. Deer Tick @ The Grind
15. Lou Reed @ Calvin Theatre
16. Matt & Kim @ The Grind
17. No Age @ Grind
18. Explosions in the Sky @ Lupo’s
19. Islands @ Middle East
20. of Montreal @ Orpheum
21. Kimya Dawson @ Clark University
22. Dirty Projectors @ Grind

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mix CD: Favorite Songs of 2008 (#1 of 4)

So for the past 5 years it has been a tradition of mine to make a mix CD with all my favorite songs from albums that were released. It can be difficult to choose, as well as make song cuts so everything is under 80 minutes. I try to stay up to date with current well received releases and on average listen to about 25 to 30 new albums a year. Well this year was different, though only over the last few months. After being initially disappointed by the start of this year, I payed little attention to new music for most of 2008, instead looking to to past for bands I had yet to discover. Then around the end of the summer I begun to feel a bit out of the loop in terms of the present. I begun to play catchup. I now have listened to so many new albums this year, one mix simply wouldn't suffice, and instead four were needed. I've been working on ranking all the albums that I've heard this year - a list that will be complete very soon. Still, I have a good 15 albums that I still need to give a listen. My year end list will be near 80 albums. It's insane...I have no idea how I have listened to this much. Maybe that's why Christmas seemed to sneak up so quickly this year- no time for x-mas music! Crazy crazy.

Anyways, here's four mixes of my favorite songs of the year. I'm very happy with how these turned out. I put a bit of effort into them to make sure all the songs flowed into one another well and worked together as a whole. I also made sure not to use more than two songs from the same album. Links via megaupload.

So yes, enjoy! Albums and concerts of 2008 is forthcoming.

Mix #1

1. Grizzly Bear - While You Wait For the Others
2. Bon Iver - Skinny Love
3. Deerhunter - Nothing Ever Happened
4. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
5. Blitzen Trapper - Furr
6. The Walkmen - In the New Year
7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig
8. Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper
9. Hot Chip - Ready for the Floor
10. Hercules & Love Affair - Blind
11. Gang Gang Dance - House Jam
12. Portishead - The Rip
13. Spiritualized - Soul on Fire
14. Department of Eagles - No One Does It Like You
15. Vivian Girls - Where Do You Run To
16. Marnie Stern - Transformer
17. No Age - Teen Creeps
18. The Breeders - Bang On
19. Magnetic Fields - Too Drunk to Dream
20. Animal Collective - Water Curses
21. Mount Eerie - You Swan, Go On

Mix CD: Favorite Songs of 2008 (#2 of 4)

Mix #2

1. The Mae Shi - Run to Your Grave
2. Deerhoof - Fresh Born
3. Santogold - L.E.S Artistes
4. Girl Talk - Here’s the Thing
5. Cut Copy - Feel the Love
6. TV on the Radio - Halfway Home
7. Wire - One of Us
8. Beach House - Gila
9. M83 - We Own the Sky
10. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
11. She & Him - Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
12. Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma
13. Okkervil River - Lost Coastlines
14. Fleet Foxes - Mykonos
15. Conor Oberst - Milk Thistle
16. Destroyer - Foam Hands
17. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - So Everyone
18. David Byrne and Brian Eno - Everything That Happens
19. The Walkmen - I Lost You

Mix CD: Favorite Songs of 2008 (#3 of 4)

Mix #3

1. Mount Eerie - Domesticated Dog
2. Wolf Parade - Language City
3. Titus Andronicus - Titus Andronicus
4. The Dodos - Fools
5. Atlas Sound - River Card
6. TV on the Radio - DLZ
7. Why? - The Hollows
8. Islands - The Arm
9. Portishead - Machine Gun
10. Amadou & Mariam - Sabali
11. David Byrne and Brian Eno - Strange Overtones
12. Morrissey - That’s How People Grow Up
13. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules’ Theme
14. Fucked Up - Son the Father
15. All Girl Summer Fun Band - Something New
16. Boston Spaceships - You Satisfy Me
17. Spiritualized - Sweet Talk
18. Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love for Planet Earth

Mix CD: Favorite Songs of 2008 (#4 of 4)

Mix #4:

1. Titus Andronicus - Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ
2. Los Campesinos - We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed
3. No Age - Ripped Knees
4. Deerhunter - Agoraphobia
5. M83 - Kim & Jessie
6. The Dodos - Jodi
7. Bon Iver - Flume
8. Beach House - Wedding Bell
9. Sigur Ros - Gobbledigook
10. Ponytail - Beg Waves
11. Gang Gang Dance - First Communication
12. Cut Copy - Out There on Ice
13. Conor Oberst - Cape Canaveral
14. Adam Green - Tropical Island
15. Megapuss - Adam & Steve
16. Deerhoof - Chandelier Searchlight
17. Vampire Weekend - M79
18. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - We Call Upon the Author
19. Women - Black Rice
20. The Breeders - We’re Gonna Rise