Monday, September 19, 2011

New stuff:

Here and here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The latest:

By Michael T. Fournier

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Details are here regarding my book deal (!)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Update: 12/1/2005

New criticism on Jandek and Garrison are up!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Update: 11/17/05

I'm happy to announce that I have some fiction published at Barrelhouse Press. I also have criticism about Fugazi on Trouser Press.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Thank you, goodnight!

594 reviews
187 posts
105, 766 words
Uses of the word 'skronk': 9
Number of Jandek records purchased (and unreviewed) since completing reviews of 27 of his records: 12
Number of auxillary Jandek reviews you would have read: 0
Spring Break: 6/30-7/4/05
When I got iTunes: September 30th
When I should've gotten iTunes: January 1st

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 21, 2005


(I'll be wrapping up on Monday- please stop by.)

Young Marble Giants- Colossal Youth

Total cult record, one that’s revered by a small but fervent group of loyalists. It took me a little while to get into, and the reasons for the lag time are among those that elevated the band to their minor altar: clean, trebly guitars (or sometimes organs) cut precise juts just large enough to allow bass guitar to weave in counterpoint. A female vocalist with a pretty voice sings lyrics with a slight accent, adding to the feel that everything has been translated from a different language. The band is sleek, elegantly rolling out a few songs as you, the listener, wait for the rest to kick in, whatever that might be- some drums, maybe, a distortion pedal. A trick, some deviation from the formula. Ain’t gonna happen, though- it’s all there right away, graceful in muted minimalism. Young Marble Giants make listeners reassess the notion of pop music by stripping it down. I don’t think they were doing it in some lofty, arty way, though, like any number of bands who try and be way different for the sake of it- it feels authentic and downright charming, with ripples that have touched any number of twee indie bands.

Thalia Zedek- Been Here And Gone

This is it. The last one. Can you believe it?

I’ve been dragging my ass since I got back from Texas, admittedly- my three-a-day pace slackened down to two as I did other things- uploaded music into iTunes, mostly. I haven’t been writing so much. I was in this amazing groove for months where I’d come home and get so much done after work every night- didn’t think much of it at the time because it was going well. Such a mental space is fragile, and much as I hate to throw out the sports lingo, when you’re there, in ‘the zone’, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. You’re just doing it. Since my return, I have been making mental adjustments, trying to get back into the swing of things, but something or other has come up every week that has knocked me off track.

The inherent structure- listen to a bunch of records, then write about them- has been great for me. The writing has improved; the work under pressure/dealines has gotten better. I’m going to take a little bit of time to work on some odds n’ ends projects that are currently cluttering the mental junk drawer before getting back to writing short stories and my goddamn novel (again). The structure of the writing isn’t enough, though. I need to make the writing more the day’s work and less something I do after coming home from an evening at the restaurant. To that end, once daylight savings rolls around I’m going to be changing my sleep schedule, getting up early and writing before clocking in (hopefully afterwards, too, if only a few nights a week).

I can feel myself beginning to occupy a new space, one that’s come after months of self-evaluation (and improvement). It’s been a brutally hard couple of months for me, though I seldom show it- wracked with self-analysis and doubt, mental paralysis. I’m finally starting to come through, though. Making changes to help myself out, my work habits and confidence. The last such period, I think, was when I moved back here, to Wadsworth, around four years ago. It’s funny- Thalia Zedek was my neighbor back then. Right after I moved, her record came out, a collection of raspily gorgeous love songs that owe as much to Leonard Cohen as they do to Tom Waits. I knew what Thalia was singing about just from being around at the time, neighborly osmosis. Bleak, yet hopeful, that second after the door slams behind you before you look to see what’s ahead. Moving. You know. You’ve been there. Then you’re gone.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Y, I (MN: 2!)

(So: last two reviews tomorrow. I'll be wrappin' it all up on Monday- please stop by.)

Yo La Tengo- And then nothing turned itself inside out

The college radio station at UNH did what they could to book cool bands. My first year, I remember, found the whoppingly awesome bill of the Laurels, Edsel, and Pitchblende playing on Easter Sunday- welcome back, Jesus! Hope you like indie!

Then there was the radio station marathon show that featured Huggy Bear as headliners. Man, were they ever great, screaming their heads off and jerking around, then thanking the crowd in a very proper British fashion afterwards.

When Yo La Tengo came by, there was a pretty big buzz before the show, held in the Stratford Room, this simply cavernous space that looked empty for every show I ever saw in there. From what I heard, something like fifty people attended the gig, allegedly a very good one. I don’t know, because I blew Yo La Tengo off for my umpteenth Stricken For Catherine show. It was only years later that I came to appreciate the fragile, fuzzed-out dreamscapes of the New Jersey trio, delicate two-part harmonies intertwining with pretty drones to form ethereal chords that wink, hum and fade. The rockers, if you wanna call ‘em those, harness the same gentle precision and make ‘em move. Always welcome on shuffle despite the minors and flecks of melancholia.

You And I- Within The Frame
You And I- The Curtain Falls

Against the looming grey of skies inching towards winter, forlorn leaves on weathered branches shudder as gusts swirl and threaten to


Flailing, spazzing out, the visual demonstrations of clichés that I had previously only read about in emo fanzines. Were all of the poses and attire standards, or was this band the epitome, the one act that everyone saw and wrote about? Either way, I was mightily impressed with the


(ten seconds of silence)


(jangly guitar part, no drums or bass)

check out our structure
changes for no real reason
just like this review


I wept as I drove from your house. Wept for my loss. My heart.
Tears fell on my sweater.
I gave you that handbag. Now his picture is in it.

Loss of innocence


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

X/Y (MN:5)

(Sorry about the blank post, folks- technical difficulties.)

X- Beyond And Back

And pray, what would my last week of reviews be without one more b-sides/rarities compliation? Hell, just for fun, we’ll make sure it’s a double disc by a band that was arguably one of the most crucial in the development of Los Angeles punk rock. All right! Talk about a no-win situation!

So check it out: much as I would love to have a more extensive list, a grand total of two songs that I play relate directly to the day on which I play them. Every year since probably 1989 I have played “Halloween” by the Dead Kennedys on October 31st (usually accompanied by an email to Terry G.), and on Independence Day I play (yep) “Fourth Of July” by X (though the Elliott Smith songs would be a good twofer. And I have to start playing ‘Bastille Day’, too. Geddy will be stoked). For years I was playing the album version of ‘Fourth’, which I had on a tape. I wasn’t very keen on X as anything more than a concept for a long time because of my initial experience with them - they were a band that got namechecked an awful lot, I saw, one of those acts that was highly regarded as both influential and pioneering. Most importantly, though, their music was available to me as a teenager in New Hampshire.

Of course, by the time that X recorded ‘See How We Are’, they were pretty well done being punk and were on their way to being a country band. Not what I was looking for, but I dug ‘Fourth Of July’ anyway. (And, in retrospect, X’s conversion from rockabilly-tinged urban realism to would have made them fucking HUGE if the timing had been a little bit better, but they wound up being sadly ahead of the pack and didn’t make a bunch of monety off of the later albums/the Knitters like they coulda. Ah well.)

Anyway, what does the Fourth of July have to do with the rest of this review? Very little, as it turns out- me and the gang had this amazing holiday weekend that started in June and extended through August, if that counts for anything. And I still plan on playing “Halloween” in a few weeks. If nothing else, I would like this review to convey that X was an amazing band, and that if you’re looking to a b-sides album as a good place to begun yr. education on the act, you’re likely to find something as slapdash and messy as this review, and lord knows you wouldn’t want that. Get yourself “Los Angeles” or “Wild Gift”.

Yaphet Kotto- We Bury Our Dead Alive

It probably comes as no surprise that I buy records without hearing them- sometimes I’m saturated enough by references to a band that I feel compelled to go and check ‘em out. Such was the case with Yaphet Kotto- they’ve been kickin’ around for years, and always get props in HeartattaCk (Lemme just toot the horn here for a sec and mention that I have a little piece in the newest issue of HaC, the work issue, on sale now at finer record stores and crusty anarchist squats everywhere).

I walked around with ‘We Bury Our Dead Alive’ in the discman for a solid week, listening to it going to and from work as I trudged through thigh-high snow left by the season’s umpteenth blizzard. Not too bad. The players have written songs with disparate parts, sure, but they understand how to connect the pretty bits with the heavier, punk sections- the shifts in tone and tempo are done in such a way that I feel like they’re written into the structure of the song. It sounds silly to say that, but there’s plenty of bands who make such shifts for seemingly no reason at all. The vocals, mostly hoarse and shouted, are largely intelligible, a nice touch- so many bands that try and play complex, emotive post-core shoot themselves in the foot by being so screechy vocally as to reduce any lyrical message to a series of choking noises.

It’d be a pleasure to see these guys play some local basement, dive bar, or record store.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

W, III (MN:7)

Wilco- Being There

I credit my coworkers at Newbury Comics with a slice of my music education. When I started working at the store in 1997, I didn’t have any problem with playing the same three CD’s over and over again (Jawbox, Cast Iron hike and Superchunk). Predictably, the rest of the staff started to (gently, yes) steer me in other directions, broadening my very narrow pallete and keeping everyone at the store from committing any post office-esque disgruntled atrocities.

I was drawn to Wilco because of the tone of some of the songs- the debuts on each of the album’s two discs are very moody, very dour. They reminded me of emo. The sense of playfulness appealed to me, as well- doing the same song in different styles on both discs, ripping off the theme from ‘Sesame Street’ pretty much note for note. The genius tag was already being touted for Jeff Tweedy, I remember, because of the double album. As with most, it would have been a much tighter single disc, but the reasons for putting out double albums are long and varied. It’s usually more about showcasing stylistics than it is putting out twenty-plus songs that cohere into a solid whole (note that I said usually).

Wu-Tang Clan- The W
Wu-Tang Clan- Iron Flag

The Wu-Tang bug hit me all at once in the summer of 1998, for no discernable reason. I bought ’36 Chambers’ and spent the summer listening to little else. I liked the fact that there were so many guys rapping on the records, and that there was a huge sense of humor at play even though the act seldom slipped into outright silliness. So much of the Wu Tang’s early stuff slipped effortlessly into the big manilla folder of injokes.

I picked up the double album, “Wu Tang Forever”, and was charmed, although it was occasionally a bit tough to wade through some of the less-than-stellar material to get to the good bits. Still, though, the humor was fully intact, U God was out of jail, and everything was good.

Of course, by the time ‘The W’ was released, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.) was in prison. Didn’t stop him from appearing on the record- he has a bit that sounds like it was recorded from across the room with a Mr. Microphone or something. (The rest of the Wu wisely decided not to include any more jailhouse Dirty on ‘Iron Flag’.) The rest of the act compensates for his absence well- the aforementioned U God says some amazingly ignorant shit that might/not be serious, Ghostface throws out staccato proclamations, Method Man flows. ‘The W’ doesn’t quite stack up to the most majestic moments of the first two records, but it has its own. Production is a little less gimmicky, more subdued- totally solid, with lines and bits that stick. ‘Iron Flag’ is okay, maybe a notch or two below that of ‘The W’. You know how it is- I don’t really listen to a lot of hip hop, even though I try.

Monday, October 17, 2005

W, II (MN:10)

White Magic- Through The Sun Door

Plenty of credible source raves about this one. It’s a frustrating record to listen to because I know the band has a lot of potential- they did a giveaway split with American Analog Set that contains some of the craziest bad trip distorto drone I’ve ever heard, completely visceral stuff. This EP, though, consists of a few songs that feature piano in a prominent way, which, like it or not, makes me think of Tori Amos, which in turn makes me think of Tori Amos’s fans, which makes me wanna, in no particular order, smoke crack, shoot myself in the face, eat a giant steak, and break the record into tiny little pieces.

The non-piano stuff is okay, if a little drab: subdued psych that reminds me of Jefferson Airplane. Jesus, the piano in tandem with the vocals just kills it for me. Can’t, won’t get around or past it.

But the split rules.

Who- My Generation

I’ve never known the Who as an album band. I grew up in New Hampshire, after all, where classic rock reigned supreme. The Who were one of those staples, an act that no clique or social circle ever talked shit about. Hell, even the punks liked ‘em.

The reason that I mention the Who’s proper albums in this review is because of two things. On Friendster or Myspace, can’t remember which, someone passed along a questionnaire asking, among other silly questions, whether Led Zeppelin or the Who was better. No question, I thought, but a bunch of people I know were totally waffling on their answers, going back and forth. I’m coming from a place where, as I mentioned, I’ve listened to the Who’s singles zillions of times, but have listened to full lengths a handful of times at best.

My Who ignorance resurfaced again when I picked up Petra Haden’s a capella rendition of “The Who Sell Out”. It sounds great, but I don’t really get the joke (kinda like when I got the Dangermouse Grey Album and wasn’t particularly well-versed in either the Beatles OR Jay-Z). This project has served as a chance to challenge conceptions that I have sometimes baselessly held for long periods of time- you know, the one review a week which was me making amends for being needlessly standoffish for the sake of it- and served to illustrate some gaps in my listening that need to be filled if I’m going to continue being any kind of decent rock critic. Sure, my encyclopedic knowledge of obscure Midwest nineties emo is great and all, but sometimes my foundation is a little wobbly. But you knew that.

Friday, October 14, 2005

W, I (MN:12)

Weezer- Pinkerton

I’m getting close to the end of this project, and, as such, have been looking back a little bit. You know, charting my progress. I’m surprised that I never steered any reviews towards an argument of classic albums. It’s such infinitely arguable stuff, the kind of topic that can be rehashed over beer and idiocy for months on the back porch. Criminally neglected albums are like assholes.

From here, sitting at my desk, I can hear your bullshit detector going off, trust me. With an intro paragraph like that, the logical conclusion to make is that the body of this Weezer review is going to be about how “Pinkerton” is a criminally underrated classic album. I don’t know about that, but I do have a couple of observations about the record:

-This is one of those records that I didn’t think I knew all that well, but managed to absorb through osmosis. Seriously, I can at least hum everything on ‘Pinkerton’ even though I have actively listened to the record maybe five times.

-There is a growing delegation of ‘emo’ kids that cites Weezer as a major influence. By transitive property, Peter Frampton was emo, too, based on the guitar solo in that ‘Beverly Hills’ song on the new Weezer album. Is there a point where a band’s current output affects their past discography/legacy?

-I really like the stories about an anonymous, bearded Rivers Cuomo puttering around Harvard in the winter following the first album’s release/some kind of surgery. The sad, defrocked artist thing has a romantic tinge to it that I can get into.

v/a- What We Do For A Living

There was a period of time in the mid-nineties when lots of touring bands played the Elvis Room, the little coffeehouse club that was like ten miles away from my dorm at UNH. I was doing a fanzine and going to lots of shows, so I wound up meeting and subsequently housing a bunch of acts. The first group that stayed with me was a three piece from Richmond named Whirlybird. I played their three song demo tape until it wore out, fucking loved their show, and was never able to find either of their two seven inches (a plea: anyone out there wanna sell me one/burn me a CD copy/send links to an MP3 site? Anyone at all?).

The band told me about this place called Big Burrito. One of the guys from Doc Hopper worked there, they said, and made them these huge burritos. Whirlybird’s stories made me want to visit to see if the burritos were as big as rumored.

I remember the first time I had one- Stricken For Catherine was playing their first Boston show right around the way from the Burrito, in the basement of this food co-op. I was doubly stoked. Then, months later, I moved to Boston, and one of my first roommates got a job working there! I got to know a bunch of the people who worked at the place, to the point where about half the time I went in I didn’t have to pay to eat (and I wasn’t even in a band!) I felt like the king of Allston every time I got the hookup, which was often. While waiting for my food to be made, I’d stand on the side- show flyers hastily slapped up with packing tape on the wall next to the pipe where touring bands would put their stickers. The strata of adhesives were like an archeological dig of Allston punk history. Through it all, until the place was sold, Whirlybird’s sticker was visible, way up top, out of reach. I’d look at it every time I went in.

It wasn’t just punk bands that worked there- metal, hardcore, and even hippie jam were genres that were represented. I don’t think of hippies or metal, though, when I look at the sign on my back porch and think about the Big Burrito and how it played a small but vital role in my Boston history. I mostly think about shows at dingy bars that smelled like beer piss and old cigarettes, bad tattoos, worse piercings, and connections, however inconsequential they turned out to be, that made me feel like this city was home even as I bobbed around without an anchor or a clue.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ween, II (MN: 14)

Ween- Chocolate And Cheese

Here’s what you need to know about this one: ‘Chocolate And Cheese’ was considered a much more mellow record than the one that preceeded it, even though it contains (among others) a little ditty titled ‘The HIV Song,’ an entirely cheery bit of music that would sound perfect as the soundtrack to a carnival ride were it not for Gene and Dean butting in every few minutes to say “AIDS” in these silly voices. These guys can get away with whatever the hell they want, no question about it.

Ween- 12 Golden Country Greats

The title is a twofold joke. There’s only ten songs on the album, but twelve country session musicians were hired to record it without knowing what Dean and Gene had in mind. If you listen to apocrypha- and who doesn’t?- the dudes who recorded the music for the album were all sorts of pissed when they heard the end results of their labor. Can’t really blame ‘em – songs like “Piss Up A Rope” and “Japanese Cowboy” sound like slags on the genre, to be sure. Thing about Ween, though, if you spend any time with ‘em, is that they have the ability to pick all of the best elements of different styles of music and celebrate those stylistics and signifiers in a funny way that borders on parody but winds up being homage. Honestly, no one listens to the Ween record to pick on the musicians- it’s to laugh at the jokes. I’m on the same side of the fence as the rest of the people who think that good renditions of __________ are awesome, even if the subject matter is silly as hell. Maybe you’re on the side where everyone thinks that fun is being had at the expense of others. You’re either laughing with or at Ween. They really don’t give a shit either way as long as you’re laughing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ween, I (MN: 16)

Ween- The Pod

A few things about this record:

-I wear earplugs when I sleep. Even still, I can sometimes hear whatever record BQ is playing on the living room stereo. I usually don’t mind that much, turn over and fall back asleep, but this one time, right, these horrible, horrible sounds were bleeding through my door and earplugs, causing nightmares of almost unimaginable scope. When I got up, I asked what he was listening to, and he said (yep) “The Pod”. I told/asked him to never play the record while I was asleep ever again- too fucked up.

-The album notes state that while the album was being recorded, the band used 3600 hours of tape and inhaled five cans of ScotchGuard. After considering these stats, I thought them to be bullshit. Thirty-six hundred hours of tape is the equivalent of doing nothing but taping songs for a whopping one hundred and fifty days! Fie months! There’s no way that those guys did THAT much taping and ONLY went through five cans of ScotchGuard- the numbers just don’t line up, dudes.

-A few nights ago, I was discussing my mini-Ween marathon with friends on the back porch. One friend (not mentioning any names, if it’s okay with Code Richter) conceded that yes, “The Pod” was probably Ween’s best album, even though he (Code) had never listened to it all the way through.

-The other night, me and Michelle and Michelle were driving around, looking for some food after midnight. The only option that we could think of was a Wendy’s drive-through somewhere out near Lynn. We pulled in, tried to decide what to eat, kept amending our orders as we spoke to the drive-thru speaker box. I couldn’t think of anything but the Ween song “Pollo Asado”:

“What’s the pollo?”
“That’s the chicken.”
“What’s the carne?”
“That’s the beef.”

So, yeah. “The Pod” isn’t as fluidly genre-hopping as “God Ween Satan”, my introduction to the band- more often than not, this record sounds as if they’re trapped in some kind of musical tar pit, playing these thick, viscous riffs with similar sounding lyrics/jokes driving the songs. Think of a very stoned caveman riding a mastodon- such is the pace of the album, even when tempos are fast. And, as Code Richter alluded to, shit is not always easy to get through. Despite the relative inaccessibility of the record, though, there are so many gems if you can manage to slog yr. way through the bullshit. Some of the band’s most damaged songs are on “The Pod”- like trying to write pop songs after brain damage and/or nitrous. Probably both, with greater quantities of the latter.

Ween- Pure Guava

It’s cool that “Push The Little Daisies” was on ‘Beavis and Butthead’; it’s not so cool that there’s a chunk of the public that have associations of the band based solely on that song. Understandable but unfortunate.

“Pure Guava” hops around a good bit, doesn’t have the addled focus that made “The Pod” both an amazing accomplishment and an exercise in enduring tedium. My initial reviews of this record were starting to slide towards tedium themselves, the kind of analyses that rattle off grocery lists of different styled songs on the record. Unless you’re sitting there reading these reviews while listen to the albums in question, such writing veers towards totally useless. So let me say this- Ween can do whatever the fuck they want, in pretty much any genre, and get away with it. The unfortunate thing is that they’ll never be taken seriously because they make the songs silly. That’s why I wind up appreciating them so much, though- their silliness infuses the songs with awareness, like “we know how awesome (insert genre here) can be, and to make you aware that we know, we’re going to be goofy about it to draw attention to the structures and signifiers inherent to the genre”. Except, you know, Ween would never use such academic terms in their discussions- they’d just pass you whatever it was they were on at that particular point and be like “dude, it’s cool. Take a hit!”

One quick story to finish this review out- for years, me and BQ would play “Reggaejunkiejew” on the jukebox every time we’d go to the Model for a drink. In case you’re not familiar with the song, it’s this mumbled, totally hilarious dis on this guy (“some people like to eat it/but I think you’re a dick”). It’s a great deal quieter than the rest of the album, mixed lower so that you’ll turn the stereo up when it comes on. The big ‘fuck you’ is at the end of the song, two-plus minutes of high pitched bleeps and bloops designed to get the listener to throw a brick through the stereo as the frequencies penetrate yr. spinal column and make you twitch. So, for years, we were playing one of the most annoying songs ever recorded EVERY TIME we went into our local bar to get a drink. Ed recently mentioned that he did the same thing. Makes me wonder how many other Allston kids did the same thing, and how the staff of the Model were able to stay sane through five hundred to a thousand repetitions of that fucking song every year. Poor Effie.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Mike Watt (MN:18)

Mike Watt- Ballhog or Tugboat?

The breakup of fIREHOSE saddened me a great deal, even though I thought their last record sucked. Another instance of me damn near revering an act but never making the effort to see them play- I musta missed the ‘HOSE like six or seven times, thinking in each instance that I’d catch ‘em on the next time through. Same thing with Nirvana, Hoover. Hell, even Watt himself, this guy who I hold in such a high regard, a guy who played on the album which is, in my estimation, the best ever. How many times have I missed he and his band playing TT’s? Damn, I really have to get my shit together, you know?

(To be fair, I did plan on going to see him play the last time he came through town, but that evening happened to be October 27th, a night that found me shitfaced on the Longfellow Bridge, bellowing onto Bill Lee’s answering machine. The Sox winning the series = free pass.)

At any rate, Watt’s first solo album post-fIREHOSE gathers a staggering roster of musicians for a tough, varied bunch of songs. The title alludes to Watt playing on each track, either as the guy who pulls the songs along or as the main man. There’s a bunch of ‘hits’ to be found- Eddie Vedder singing on ‘Against The Seventies’, Dando on ‘Piss-Bottle Man’, and Watt himself on ‘Big Train’. Some meditations on Minutemen songs, a few covers, guitar wank from J. Mascics, the whole ball of wax. A nice pastiche of styles and moods that manages to sound cohesive. Easily found in used bins all over the country, no less.

Mike Watt- The Secondman’s Middle Stand

Not only a concept record but also a rock opera about how Watt had this abcess that almost killed him a few years back- echoes of Dante’s Inferno run through the record, binding it thematically. Watt’s distinctive bass tone complements his chunky, marbles-in-mouth bordering-on-Beefheart vocal style. The album is driven as much by the B3 organ as it by the man himself, and, as I’ve recently discovered, Petra Haden adding vocals can never, ever hurt an album. I’m totally impressed by this record- Watt’s fingerprints, obviously, are all over the place, but the music that he and his players make continues to expand his musical palette.

Monday, October 10, 2005

V, I (MN:20)

Rocky Votolato- A Brief History

Mr. Votolato was in a band you’ve probably never heard of (Waxwing) before releasing this record of spare, haunting singer/songwriter-ish stuff. The only reason I know about Mr. Votolato’s previous band is because all of the fanzines dropped the obligatory namecheck/Fagen in their reviews. Personally, I have no stake in Waxwing, can’t even tell you what a single song of theirs sounds like. Nice and easy to be objective (for a change).

This record’s pretty good. There are some kinda poppy numbers that sound like they’d be well-suited to a full band backdrop, some more somber moody ones. Probably more charged with meaning if you’re a Waxwing fan- that’s how these singer/songwriter things usually work- but not too bad on its own. Of course, not compelling enough to avoid a namedrop-driven review, so take that as you will.

Tom Waits- Mule Variations

Two halves to the Tom Waits equation: the sensitive ones, corroded voice wrapping around drawn-out tales of ordinary love gone wrong like an indie Springsteen, and the other ones, junkyard percussion punctuating the hazy ramble of bayou state fairs at closing time.

Friday, October 07, 2005

U/V (MN: 22)

Up On In- Steps For The Light

It’s probably inevitable that this shit gets compared to Tortoise, even though musicians could sit down and pick out all the ways that they DON’T sound like ‘em. Seriously, sometimes I feel like the whole jazz-influenced quiet instrumental post-rock movement (if you wanna call it that) is financed solely by people in bands who wanna admire the musical masturbation, kinda like when chefs buy the French Laundry cookbook to salivate over technique and inaccessible recipes involving squab and foie gras.

Armand Van Helden- 2Future4U


Just say heck no to techno.

Suzanne Vega- 99.9 F

And we’re back. Don Bixtler here with former all-pro reviewer Dick Johnson in the third round of the 2005 Record Review Invitational. There’s just been a shocking development. Dick?

Thanks, Don. You talk about cred killers- this guy has spent the past nine months reviewing his record collection. Here’s a guy who’s posted reviews pretty much every work day since January first. He takes a two week vacation-

-to see Jandek play his first two shows-

-a very credible move there, many scene points accrued.

Credible to the thirty people who like Jandek. The other forty million, three hundred and seven think they’re both tapped.

Anyway, he blows all of the banked cred, all of it, by admitting that he has a soft spot for Suzanne Vega.

Well, Dick, to be fair, Suzanne Vega’s not too bad.

You wanna talk about cred death, Don- she’s it. After that Luka song-

That was a very good song, Dick.

-she let some hip-hop guys re-record “Tom’s Diner”, originally an a capella tune.

A good move on her part. The royalties on “Tom’s Diner”, combined with “Luka”, assured that she’d never have to work again, freeing her to put out the albums that she wants to.

I don’t think she wanted to put out giant pieces of shit.

Dick! Watch your mouth! We are LIVE!

Whatever. No one’s watching the fucking 2005 Record Review Invitational, anyway. How many people were watching the last installment? Forty?

Thirty-seven. But that’s not the-


Um, back to the review. Vega’s album features a danceable-


-proto-techno song, as well as tough yet gentle-


-usual acoustic grace-


Um, Dick, for the sake of-





Thursday, October 06, 2005

Unwound, II (MN: 25)

Unwound- A Single History

Records are made to be broken. I don’t want to write about the relative shoddiness of odds n’ ends comps every time I listen to one, but I do so because they’re never as good as a full-length. I buy as many as I do, though, for the same reason I rooted for Luis Castillo, Jimmy Rollins and Johnny Damon (twice)- I wanna find one that maintains quality throughout without laying a few goose eggs.

‘A Single History’ starts off with a bang, enough to get me all psyched, thinking that Unwound was going to be able to pull it off and beat DiMaggio. The early stuff fits right in with the tracks that are found on ‘New Plastic Ideas’ and ‘The Future Of What,’ the most solid and least experimental of the band’s catalogue, where everyone in the act is on the same stylistic and sonic page. As much cohesion as a proper studio album.

The second half falls apart, alas- there’s brass, which was in vogue for a few minutes, probably because of the Nation of Ulysses. The songs featuring said that brass symbolize the beginning of the end- uneven production values and meandering ‘experiments’ (although Unwound gets points for the title of the longest, most experimental song: The Light At the End Of The Tunnel Is A Train. Bravo!) I thought that they might actually pull it off, and they kept my interest for a good long while, but having a consistently good comp album still remains the untouchable gold standard.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Unwound, I (MN: 27)

Unwound- New Plastic Ideas

The way it sometimes works: a name will show up in enough places to compel me to seek _________ out. That’s how it was in the summer of 1994 (?)- kept hearing about this band Unwound being the next coming of all things punk/rawk. I drove down to the Newbury Comics in Nashua, the closest good place to my folks’ house in Concord, to see if I could track the band down. Cleaned out, except for a copy of ‘New Plastic Ideas’ on vinyl. I bought it reluctantly.

(On the issue of vinyl: we all know that it sounds better, more organic, blah blah blah, but the sad fact of the matter is that I don’t listen to actual record albums as often as I should because my record player is in my living room. There’s a CD player in my computer, which is where the vast majority of my music listening takes place. Having said that, though, when I was in Austin I was greatly impressed with Amanda’s little Fisher-Price record player. We listened to Joy Division, Kraftwerk, and Sam Cooke, and everything sounded phenomenal through one tiny speaker. Gotta check eBay and see if I can find me one cheap.)

Was impressed immediately by the immediacy of the record; I figured “New Plastic Ideas” was a signifier for some sort of chilly retro schtick. All three members of the bands have these very distinct, unique styles of playing (with the possible aside of Justin Trosper, anyway- more on that in a sec). Sara Lund’s drumming is quirky and reminds me of Aaron Cometbus’s- both contain unorthodox bits that sound like they taught themselves to play rather than taking lessons or whatever. Her style is unique, charming, and sounds good with Vern Rumsey’s bass. Both his playing and his bass tone are distinct- so much so, in fact, that I remember no less of an authority than Keith Werwa mentioning that Vern’s sound is easily identifiable even outside of the context of the band (if you don’t know who Keith Werwa is, you’re missing out on some of my favorite rock writing ever). Justin Trosper’s guitar is noisy and jagged and nestles right into the space left by the rhythm section. Everything is always tight and well thought out, even when songs occasionally shamble and sound like they’re teetering on the brink of collapse (as the self-taught drums sometimes do when the unorthodox fills and rolls come in and threaten to lose the beat). The one thing that occasionally doesn’t sound unique or distinct is Justin’s vocals, which occasionally veer into Thurston Moore territory.

No matter. Despite the occasional Youth-isms, the three members of Unwound are one of those bands that have been blessed by the coincidence/good fortune of meeting. ‘New Plastic Ideas’ is one of those records that has quietly become a touchstone of conversation when pivotal albums are mentioned.

Unwound- The Future Of What

Cleaner production means an unclean edge dropoff, which makes things sound a little bit different. Not bad, mind you, just different, less immediate. Unwound’s a band that’s right up there with Milemarker in the bullshit theme department: if you told me that ‘The Future Of What’ (or even ‘New Plastic Ideas’) was a quasi/concept album, I’d totally bite based on the strength of the artwork and the cohesiveness of the sounds contained therein.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

T, IV (MN: 29)

Tubeway Army- Replicas

I’ve turned into one of those cranky old guys who’s able to listen to a band for a few minutes and cite who’s being ripped off and how. I think I’ve been one for a while, truth be told, but I’ve noticed it in myself a bit more in recent months than ever before. I think it has a lot to do with listening to the radio for the better part of a year, the songs that are hits and the bands that are big.

So there’s all this new wave stuff clogging the airwaves- I’ve mentioned the phenom before. I don’t really mind it- new wave/post-punk stuff is fucking amazing when done well. A lot of what’s on the radio, though, is pandering, looking more for the sound that’s going to move than paying homage to the old stuff. The phenom of homage vs. pale imitation is what endeared me to Radio 4 when they first started putting records out- they were an act that was doing what they loved before the whole thing became fashionable.

Me committing this next thought to type nullifies the sentiment almost instantly, but I’m going to say it anyway: I would fall hook, line and sinker for any band that was able to pull off a credible theft of Tubeway Army AND admit it. How sick would that be?

Gary Numan is best known for writing ‘Cars’, one of my favorite songs ever (I tried to get it as a ringtone when my new phone came in the mail last week, but it wasn’t an available option. I went for ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ instead). Tubeway Army was his band before he decided to go solo. Numan wrote most of the songs himself, using the newest synth tones as he went. There’s this freshness about the record that’s still palpable and amazing as the guy pretty much invents the genre, signifiers and sounds, graphics, at the age of 22. It all sounds familiar now in 2005, but, again, when ‘Replicas’ was released in 1979 he was making it all up as he went along and defining the way kids think 25 years in the future. It’s time the man gets some props.

Turing Machine- A New Machine For Living

Any machine that can fool a human being into thinking that it, the machine, is also human passes the Turing Test and can be considered artificially intelligent.

After a thorough review, I have to conclude that Turing Machine’s album of three-piece instrumental rock- with riffage occasionally heavy enough to warrant dropping the ‘n’ out of that last bit- just isn’t up to snuff. There’s no way in hell anyone is going to listen to this album and be fooled into thinking that it’s math rock.

Tribe Called Quest- Low End Theory

Check THIS out: a hip-hop album that doesn’t go on for way, way too long! A concise-ish record that I heard tons of hype about. Vocally, Q-Tip and co. have this really smooth, flowing style that lends itself to the musical backdrop, which is far jazzier and laid back than anything else in my tiny hip-hop collection.

Monday, October 03, 2005

T, III (MN: 32)

Trotsky Icepick- Carpetbomb The Riff

I bought this one at a dollar store in Concord, New Hampshire- anything on SST is probably worth a buck, if only for the curiosity value.

Sometimes I even surprise myself with new levels of obscurity.

You’ve thought of me as a know-it-all asshole enough times so I can drop this Fagan with impunity (even though the truth of the matter is that I’m excited to have a chance to talk about whatever it is- if you think I’m trying to one-up you, check yr. head):

Everything Arcwelder knows was stolen from Trotsky Icepick.

Even the Buzzcocks bass.

C’mon, guys.

Admit it!



T. Rex- Electric Warrior

What gets lost in the shuffle to non-initiates like me is that ‘Electric Warrior’ was widely heralded as groundbreaking because of Marc Bolan’s shift from twee acoustic to pluggin’ in and turnin’ up (hence the name of the album). For all of the talk of the paradigm shift, some of the quieter numbers wind up being the best- “Planet Queen” is tripped out astral bliss, “Cosmic Dancer” rubs elbows with Bowie, etc. Course, “Bang A Gong” still shreds (and the Power Station cover doesn’t hurt re: exposure to post-glam kids like me). Hardly a misstep to be found.

True North- Somewhat Similar

This isn’t half bad. True North play some offkilter punk-influenced rock, but throw some hitches in. For one, this is the rawest, most primitive interpretation of the trad/non/trad Rock Song that I have in my collection. For two, it’s not terribly poppy, which is something of a surprise considering the pedigree of the No Idea roster- the bands from Gainseville sound a lot alike (which isn’t a bad thing as much as a thing). This is an act that could be considered poppy (when held up to like some crazy crusty punk shit) throwing monkeywrenches into the non-specific but-still-retro notion of forging ahead. Works, for the most part, but there’s a good third of these songs that can’t hold the weight of the new part and collapse. Still, two out of three…..

Friday, September 30, 2005

Tortoise (MN: 35)

Tortoise- Millions Now Living Will Never Die

I’ve always thought of Tortoise as a bunch of indie guys playing jazz- jindie rock, I guess. You know, the kind of tasteful, nuanced performances that fuse traditional jazz structure with the occasionally cerebral sensibilities that informed a whole generation of kids who listened to mathy post-rock ship rock. Buncha dudes on stage playing not-rock instruments with rock authority, gracefully waxin’ and milkin’.

The latter half of ‘Millions’ contains five such compositions, songs that I can hum without the benefit of a record, the same way that Rich Ladew can hum a John Zorn song (okay, maybe that’s not such a good example- the same way that Rich can hum a MILES DAVIS song. There we go!) The first half is this meandering, nineteen minute attempt at ambient that has a few too many identifiable sounds and a little bit too much structure to pass as anything but a collage of unfinished ideas. It’s not bad, but when I pop on ‘Millions’ I’m inclined to eschew the bullshit and skip right ahead to what basically amounts to a very good five song EP.

Tortoise- Standards

More of the whole jindie thing, except the electornica dabblings come across as more seamless, streamlined into the smooth, mathy jazz confines of the songs rather than sitting on the side, shouting and drawing attention. There’s some cool, weird effects added to some of the traditional instruments, some bleeps and bloops on the side, but none of it ever falls into the trap of acting simply as signifier. Everything, in other words, seems to be in a place for a reason.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

T, II (MN: 37)

Thumbnail- Red! Dead!

There comes a point when enough bands play the same kind of music so that wannabes spring up. Thumbnail marks the point in time when there were enough heavy, off-kilter math rock bands touring around to spawn imitators, with predictable results. Think of it as a signpost for the genre, if that eases the pain (and if you wanna call it a genre).

Tiger Trap- s/t


So: a bunch of ladies who probably live in a group house and ovulate at the same time every month playing this speedy, largely undistorted straight ahead punk music that never rests, not for a second. They get in, rock politely the fuck out, then move onto the next soaring, hopped-up melodic blip about love, etc. Two minute ditties that are just PERFECT for mix tapes/college radio- there was never a lot of stylistic deviation in the genre, don’t get me wrong, but one song every hour and a half (or one complete spin every three or four months) is pretty infectious.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Three Mile Pilot (Magic number: 39)

Three Mile Pilot- Chief Assassin To The Sinister
Three Mile Pilot- Another Desert, Another Sea

Musta listened to ‘Chief Assassin’ a dozen times or more sitting in front of a blank screen. Nothing was coming, aside from the phrase ‘loping waltz’, which I’m pretty sure I’ve used before (a quick check confirms my suspicion- a SDRE review already contains that bit). Banging my head against the wall, etc. No idea.

There was this one afternoon when Krista came to Allston to hang out and grab some sushi. I sat her on the back porch and played the whole demented Wadsworth canon, the weirdest shit in the house, and (get this) she didn’t even run away screaming in terror.

You can see where this is going, I’m sure- threw on the Pilot to get some kind of outside perspective on a band that I know I love even if I’m not sure why. I mentioned the trouble I was having getting to the heart of act. Then she dropped this bomb on me:

“This sounds like Pink Floyd.”


Yep, that was the sound of a soul dying. My soul. Goddammit.

I’m exaggerating a little, of course- my soul was in fact only deeply wounded- but the horrible moment of realization was there: I was going to have to take Krista’s analogy and write about it. Writing about Pink Floyd. Man.

I never got into Pink Floyd. Tried to- bought and listened to “Dark Side Of The Moon” when I was like fourteen or so, fifteen, and dismissed it as uncool or whatever, but was unable to avoid the band because my home state of New Hampshire is dominated by album-oriented radio stations. I didn’t smoke enough pot to really get it, I guess. I think that’s where the similarity that Krista was talking about comes in: On ‘Dark Side’ there’s this cohesiveness even though all these unorthodox, seemingly disparate songs roll by, this thread that connects everything together. I can hear that, I admit it. (I’m gonna switch gears while I still can.)

3MP does what they do very well, in this unique fashion that makes ‘em very difficult to write about (hence the aforementioned head-bashing).Waltzy, droney dirges that pulse and occasionally explode hysterical-sounding vocals into the forefront as pianos plink and pound, tribal-sounding chants rumbling in the background. For no reason, voices and instrumentation sometimes change keys, plummeting/ratcheting up the tension. So much going on that you barely even notice how little there is in the way of guitar work- more for emphasis than anything else. Beautiful, haunting, skittish.

I like “Another Desert, Another Sea” a bit more than “Chief Assassin,” because I’ve listened top the former more times, although it must be said that the latter was my introduction to the band. It boggles my mind that “Assassin”, this fairly unorthodox, complex album, was released on Geffen. Who was the A & R guy that thought it would be a good idea to sign Three Mile Pilot? Did some schlep really think that this band who are fucking near impossible to even WRITE ABOUT was going to recoup? He musta been related to the band or incredibly idealistic/naïve (I know, I’m one to talk).

Three Mile Pilot- Songs From An Old Town We Once Knew

Double disc set of b-sides and rarities that I found for the princely sum of three bucks at some second-hand store in Seattle. There are some duds, as is usually the case with odds n’ sods productions, some droners. For the most part, though, this is a cool comp that showcases the band’s many strengths: unorthodox vocal harmonies that push the already hysterical-sounding lyrics to a newer level of dementia; lilting percussion-based art waltzes, jazzy Dire Straits-sounding guitar ramble over simple, three or four note counter leads. There’s something to be said for cohesion, but there’s also something to be said for salivating fanboys.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Craig Ryder: 1969-2005

There are strange things done in the midnight sun, By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen strange sights, But the strangest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.
And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”
Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.Yet ‘taint being dead--it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.
There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.
Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;” . . . then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen strange sights, But the strangest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.

-Robert Service

T, I (Magic number: 42)

that dog.- Totally Crushed Out!

Man, what a treat this disc is- a bargain basement closeout from my record club days that I never paid much attention to.

This reminds me of my first ‘band’, Feed The Cat Spam, if we had, you know, learned how to play and stuff. Lyrics are bare, confessional, and no frills- there is absolutely zero bullshit to be had about boys, relationships, boys, and relationships over sheets of dichotomy, uh, GUITAR, accented by cello. Sounds pretty dumb, I know, especially when I go out of my way to shed light on signifiers that are clichés when performed by a lesser band, but this record kicks major ass and probably would have been one of my favorites if they’d been around in like 1990. I’m not sure if their other stuff is as boy crazy as this record seems to be- maybe it’s a concept album, I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter, to be honest- I’m sufficiently impressed by the innocent gusto and Roches-like inflection of that dog. so that’ll track down the rest of their catalogue and find out for my bad self.

that dog.- Retreat From The Sun

More than a month passed between that last review and this one. A month- can you believe it? Before I flew to Texas I was poundin’ down the home stretch, in this groove where I was sitting down and writing for like two to three hours a day, as impressive of a period as I can remember having since I was clankin’ away at my novel a few years back. Since my return, I’ve lazed around for a while, started to get back into the swing of things, then had one of the craziest, balls-to-the-wall social weeks I’ve had in years, and here I am once more, tired and achy, once again aware of how fragile routine can be, how fickle the muse is, all that bullshit.

I tracked this record down at a local used place after returning from Texas. When I took it up to the counter, the guy looked at it for a sec, then at me, then his eyes rolled up and to the right, a sure sign that wheels were turning.

“Petra Haden, right? She did that ‘Who Sell Out’ record.”

I nodded my head. I suppose I’m lucky to have found it when I did- sounds like the a capella Who record has spurned a bit of a that dog. revival. Good for them, I say.

‘Retreat From The Sun’ is a slightly less boy crazy collection of songs than ‘Totally Crushed Out’, as you can probably intuit just by looking at the respective titles. Bigger production helps the band out- the (surprise!) vocal harmonies shine and stick out, further accented by the punky-but-non-threatening guitar work and Ms. Haden’s cello. There’s occasional shades of the Rentals, Ms. Haden’s Moog side project with one of the dudes from Weezer. A total gem that yields treasures at every corner.

Thingy- Songs About Angels, Evil, And Running Around On Fire

Rob Crow has one of those names that hollers cred to a certain teeny slice of the indie underground: ex-Heavy Vegetable, ex-Physics, current member of Pinback (which means associations with Three Mile Pilot). A hell of a resume if you’re down with the bands in question; total gibberish if you’re not- a party stopper, total Fagan material.

Look at the title of the album- warped humor that would probably fit on the same shelf as like Mike Patton, Ween, and/or Zappa. Thingy is more serious than Ween, composing their own material rather than (expertly, okay) vamping on other genres. The material in question is dense, occasionally intimidating and sometimes spung (you remember, right? spoken/sung) like Zappa’s stuff, although Thingy is never as bloated or self-satisfied as ol’ Frank was. As far as the Patton comparison goes, Crow and co-vocalist/conspirator Elea Tenuta have nowhere near the range, though they do bind and spin these wonderful harmonies. It’s easy as hell to fall into the trap of taking yr. bad self way too seriously if you’re a musician, I think, especially if you specialize in this super technical post-rock. Things never falls into the trap- tongue firmly in cheek even though the virtuosity is plainly evident. Twenty-four short, silly, great songs that kick all sorts of ass and have been amazingly overlooked.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Magic Number

I find myself doing and thinking silly things regarding sports and clothing. You know the drill, I'm sure: wear the wrong hat and your team loses; sit in the wrong place and the quarterback fumbles.

For the past few weeks, friends of mine and I have been trying to figure out the Red Sox magic number- the combined number of Sox wins and Yankee losses that would ensure a playoff spot. Got it pretty well susses out, then the Sox fell out of first the other day.

This web page now has a magic number, as well: the number of reviews I have to write before its completion. Hopefully me listing off something I have control of will help to change something that I don't, dig? Sitting in the right chair with the right hat.

So, in the early hours of September 25th, the magic number for this page is 45.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Swiz- No Punches Pulled

Swiz record review, punches pulled:

This compact disc compiles the life work of Washington D.C.’s Swiz, an underappreciated band from the late eighties. Impassioned, gritty vocals, melodic post-core guitars and a solid rhythm section on this seminal re-release. Crucial!

Swiz record review, no punches pulled:

I’ve said it probably a half dozen times over the course of my reviews (most recently in my Soul Side review): location, location, location. It’s all about when you get into a band, how many other acts of the same ilk/genre you’ve already heard. In my case, I backtracked, dug up the corpse of Swiz after reading ‘Dance Of Days’ to check out the all-star lineup: Shawn Brown after his brief stint in Dag Nasty, Nathan Larsen before Shudder to Think, and, most importantly, Jason Farrell before Bluetip and Retisonic. By the time I found Swiz, I had heard approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000 records that followed the same blueprint. Swiz may have come first and paved the way, criticspeak punches pulled blah blah, but it didn’t make me feel anything except one review closer to the letter Z.

Talking Heads- Remain In Light

I keep waiting to wake up one day and find that I have a mature, developed appreciation for the work of the Talking Heads. Jesus, everyone always speaks so highly of them, lauds them and heaps them with such import that I feel like it’s just a matter of time before some switch just clicks and I finally, fully get it all.

I’ve been thinking about it for a good while, listening to the record over and over again. Some of the lack of connection comes with some of the sounds the band plays on ‘Remain In Light’- honestly, I can’t stand some of the drums, the congas. The whole world beat thing drives me bananas, I confess. Totally without rational explanation, but that’s how we roll, dog. (Growing up in New Hampshire probably has something to do with it.)

Having said that, though, the Talking Heads do make sense to me more as time passes. ‘Once In A Lifetime’, the hit, is the obvious reference point here- there are days where I totally wonder how I landed amongst the bunch of malcontent art freaks that I roll with, how I came to live in this fantastic neighborhood, how I got my particular worldview, grinding it out and actually finding the courage to start getting it all out there so the rest can fall into place.

Davis Byrne’s lyrics remind me of Radiohead- the scathing yet detached paranoid screeds against how things are supposed to be vs. how they actually are (or how they appear to be, at least). Some of the sounds (yes, some of the sounds I can’t fucking stand, I admit it) must have sounded pretty damn revolutionary when this slab was dropped in 1980- the jittery bleats of guitar morse code, the echoes, keyboards, even the percussion. Fine.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Swans- Children of God/World Of Skin

Anyone who can do any hallucinogen and listen to both of these records without losing their mind should immediately be enrolled in either the Marines or the space program, no shit.

There’s two varieties of sinister on this record- the bludgeoning heaviness of repetition, Gira shouting his bare, grinding epithets about damnation and regret, voice scraping low registers as Jarboe spins her gorgeous, warbling siren’s call, luring the freaks closer to the stage only to be driven into the ground like so many railroad spikes. The other half is composed of the pretty, minimal screeds that Jarboe delivers with grace and beauty. It’s the dichotomy, the same trick that like the Pixies and Nirvana used, loud/soft for max effect. Thing is, though, that Swans weren’t doing the trick in the confines of songs- they chose to hit you with a loud song, then a soft one, etc. over the course of an album. The schizophrenia of the act makes them so much stronger, impactful, jumping from allure to savagery in zip flat.

Swell- For All The Beautiful People

See my Supergrass review for why this CD doesn’t get pulled out too often. My particular copy has either been autographed by a member of the band or scribbled on by an infant- still doesn’t change the fact that I’d rather be listening to like “Under Pressure” than to a disc of atmospheric guitar-leaning indie pop, no matter how adequate it is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New stuff VI: Live shows

C4RT/Madman Films/Hopewell @ TT the Bear’s, 9/14
Why?/Deerhoof @ Middle East Down 9/15
Lucero @ Middle East Down 9/18

I dug through my files to no avail- couldn’t find the episode of my old Frame 609 series that details this one week when I went to like four shows. I know Sunny Day Real Estate’s reunion was in there, maybe a Discount gig, probably either Garrison or Hip Tanaka. I remember feeling completely spent at the end of that stretch of days/shows. Course, I was smoking a pack a day and getting like four or five hours of sleep a night. The week that just ended featured three shows in seven days (not to mention a few nights on the back porch, a couple nights with an old Boy Scout camp buddy and his actress girlfriend, and, of course, a few evenings with a British bachelorette party). Somehow, I managed to find the time to hang out until four every night AND remember to eat and sleep. Crazy!

On Tuesday, I arrived at TT’s a little before eleven, managing to miss the entire Campaign For Real Time set and thusly thwarting my plans to run a review of ‘em in this space (coming soon, fret not). I confess to only kinda paying attention to Madman Films during their set- they sounded like some new jack D.C. band trying to summon and filter the Minutemen. I mentioned the analogy to the singer after the show, on my back porch, and he confessed to being more of a fIREHOSE fan (which I thought was cool as shit).

I bumped into Linden from Hopewell before they went on and told him that he was going to be heckled. He smiled, said go for it, and did pretty well when I started giving him shit for playing the tambourine during one of the band’s songs. I thought they were pretty good- these huge, huge buzzing, droning anthems that would occasionally lurch in unexpected directions. The whole shoegaze thing, as far as I can tell, was about generating this wall of guitar swirl, then blissing out, man. It’s not a style that I’ve spent a lot of time with, so I don’t have an enormous bank of references to draw from. I do know that TT’s is a club that typically doesn’t do a lot to help the live sound of bands, but Hopewell still managed the good sonics and the aforementioned kinks in the formula to keep things engaging. I bet they smoke a lot of pot, and they dealt with the heckles well (you’d kinda have to be a huge pothead to get up onstage on a Tuesday dressed in all white save for cowboy boots).

Over to Middle East on Wednesday for Deerhoof with the Black Tank, M. Barre and the Dromgooles (sounds like a band). The press surrounding Deerhoof made me think that I was going to be seeing something radically different than I did. Everyone’s been talking about the band like they’re the nuts, this crazy band that spazzes out all over the place with the help of a cute little Japanese singer. Sorry, but when I’m told that a band is spazzy, I picture short blasts of intense bleat- I was thinking that I’d get something along the lines of like The Locust or Swing Kids. The bands that I’ve heard that have woman Japanese singers have tread on similarly spazzy ground- Melt Banana and the Boredoms, screaming their heads off, freaking the fuck out up there. So, though the band was playing this pretty weird, interestingly constructed and textured stuff, it was very rarely as heavy or freaky as I thought it might be, and the singer, instead of yelling, was CUTE. What the fuck gives? I mean, they were fine and all, but again, the hype and press the band has garnered made me think something much, much more coo-coo would be happening up there. I should go back and listen to earlier stuff, blah blah blah, I know.

The opener was this band called Why? Google searches for the band were frustrating as shit, as you can imagine (a lesson this scribe learned by naming his web page ‘A-Z 2005’, believe you me). My roommate mentioned them in a hip-hop context. While I was watching ‘em, I thought the band’s cohesive, kinda complex sound was reminiscent of Three Mile Pilot (though one of the guys from the band, when I mentioned this, had never heard of that act before. Dude, Fagen Kenobi!). The music wasn’t the usual fare for the kind of vocals that were being kicked- I’ve heard such vocals in enough situations and convolutions so that I tend to think that they’ve gotten past the point of being an homage or a theft and are now officially a Style Of Vocals (think about all the singers that aped Eddie Vedder’s throaty yowling after Pearl Jam blew up, f’r example). The dude from Why? does that lilty, heavily emphasized poetry-slam sp/ung vocal that first surfaced, in a much less self-aware form, in some of Camper Van Beethoven’s stuff, and was put through the wringer by Dismemberment Plan, Cake, and, most obviously, Soul Coughing. Unlike M. Doughty’s act, though, there was a frantic energy to Why’s music, none of the cool, unurgent loll of the Coughing. I’d check out more of Why?’s stuff if I could find it. Seriously, bands in this day and age have gotta be aware that innocuous names are only going to hinder them when the web searches begin. Trust me, I know.

Finally, Lucero downstairs at Middle East the other night, scant days after I posted my “why” review of one of their albums. After seeing the band play live, the act themselves make more sense to me, and some of the press- the original thrust of my argument- makes less. The crowd, for one thing, put things into context. Kids with way too many tats, Castro caps, plenty of black, studs- the crowds, in other words, that I would expect at a basement show. I recognized a bunch of people in the crowd by sight, and I haven’t been to a lot of shows lately- these are people from back in the DAY. They radiate like it was eighty-eight, kid!

The guys in the band followed the same mold as the crowd- ink aplenty, patchy tour beards, work pants, chain wallets. Their songs carried some of that everyman grit that made John Cougar Mellencamp so big, except Lucero’s everyman doesn’t live on a farm in the middle of some cornfield- s/he lives in a group house and works some slacker job. They’re appealing to the kids that buy records on the No Idea label and missed out on the heart-on-sleeve that the Replacements and Jawbreaker were so good at. The latter, in fact, were covered at the show, albeit twangily and subtly. Lucero had every right to make a big deal out of covering a Jawbreaker song, such is that band’s mystique, but they didn’t- they just threw it in and if you got it, great. A quarter of the crowd did- not bad for a comp track (“Kiss The Bottle”, one of Jawbreaker’s best). I laughed my ass off when someone on the side of the stage yelled “We love Jawbreaker!” and the singer said “What are you, 34?” Perfect. The torch being passed, all that bullshit, through signifiers. If Lucero covered Merle Haggard in a serious manner and dressed more country, they’d be more country. But, they’re doing roots rock for the same kids that listen to like Grabass Charlestons and Hot Water Music.

(One last thing about the show- another Mary Lou Lord sighting. The last time I saw her at a show was when she walked out of the Lungfish show with her hands over her ears. This time she seemed to be enjoying herself a lot more, though for the life of me I have NO idea how or why she always seems to be wearing a big, poofy ski jacket, even when it’s like eighty outside. What up, Mary Lou?)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New stuff, V

Sleater-Kinney- The Trees

I bought two Sleater-Kinney records, both of which I liked very much, then was kinda like ‘whatever.’ Never had any interest in picking up anything else because I assumed that the two slabs I had would be a nice representational cross-section of their body o’ work. I never disliked the band- always thought they were very good. Just didn’t have enough invested in them to keep buying their new records as they came out.

Cut to me wandering around Newbury Comics before work one day, listening to this fuzzed-out dinosaur thud coming out of the speakers. I walked over to the registers and took a peek at the album cover propped up in the ‘now playing’ display. Huh, I thought, Sleater-Kinney.

The final straw in my purchase was Ned bringing it over (twice, now) for Making Monday Tuesday. Sitting on the back porch, checking out what I thought was a one-dimensional band pulling in all these other sounds and styles. Sure, most of ‘em are pretty easily identified (blatant Zep rips, White Stripes production, effects, etc.) but this is a band that I assumed was going to keep mining a sound that they got right after a few albums- Corin’s yowling tremolo, Carrie’s matter-of-fact spoken/sung thing, the rattling treble of hollowbodies and kinetic ping-pong riffs on top of mad scientist drums. Who the fuck CARES that the new sounds are easily identified? The important thing here is that they branched out, took chances, and managed to make a tough, sonically impressive album that fits in the quiver but still has radically different sounds than the earlier stuff. This is a monster of a record- I would happily stand corrected but the juggernaut rolled over my dumb ass and I can’t move. I thought it was going to be cute and twee. Shit.

(Addendum 9/20/05: Yo Corin- Using “Land ho!” as a lyric on your record’s first song is SO 2000. Unless, of course, you’re just Being A Criminal, in which case that shit = hilarious. Did you ever listen to Garrison, Corin?)

Monday, September 19, 2005

New stuff, IV

Lungfish- Feral Hymns

It’s been a tough couple of months. I’ve been assertive and proactive about making several different projects happen, which should make me happy and keep me busy. I’m busting ass to get everything done and it’s like the void grows larger with every increment, every step. I’m thinking way too much, getting too wrapped up in self-analysis and –doubt even though I have been going for it harder this year than ever before. It’s frustrating, walking around town feeling so critical of myself and my choices. I know that I’m on the right track with things, that I have to be patient- I’m a writer, for chrissakes!- but it’s really fucking hard because I want everything to happen RIGHT NOW and it’s not going to, not a bit.

Getting out of town, away from my desk was good for me, being in an unfamiliar place for a little while. I keep thinking about starting yoga, as well, trying to get some exercise to different parts of my body and mind. Haven’t made it yet, though- my days off are cluttered with errands, lists of tasks. I’ve been meaning to get started, but man, it always takes me so long to start new things- I psyche myself out by thinking too much on a day-to-day basis.

The reason I mention all this, of course, is because Lungfish has a new album. It’s fucking awesome- the same lilting, occasionally jarring riffs repeated for as long as they need to be while Higgs, between reciting lengths of platitude from memorized books of alien scripture, picks food out of his beard with hands covered with charmingly jailhouse tats. I’ve been hypnotized both times I have seen the band, like literally hypnotized, to the point where everything falls away except for the trench-like grooves the band lays down. Everything becomes calm and still, stripped- the kind of feeling that men have started cults around. Maybe I need to get myself a set of headphones that only plays Lungfish records- then I won’t spend so much time freaking myself out.

Van Morrison- Astral Weeks.

So let me get this straight: this non-linear, rambling free-form album of Mr. Morrison babbling is considered a classic, a touchstone of beautiful, emotional expression, yet Jandek puts out FUCKING FORTY-TWO ALBUMS OF NON-LINEAR, RAMBLING BABBLE AND YOU PEOPLE THINK HE’S A HACK? Get your SHIT STRAIGHT! If Ol’ Van detuned his guitar you’d totally gush about how he’s “thinking outside of the box” and “Pushing the limits of artistic form and expression.” You know what would push the limits of artistic form and expression? If you all somehow managed to insert your own penises into your asses (before or after you pull your heads out, I don’t care which) and FUCK YOURSELVES!

Nah, just kidding. This one’s okay.

Friday, September 16, 2005

New stuff, III

First Strike- live at Damian’s, 8/20/05

The annual party, unblemished by rain. A bunch of little kids running around the kegs on the lawn. We all think we’re hot shit playing wiffleball, trying to throw curves and sliders. The peninsula doubles as the smoking area. Radios play classic rock. Fake and real meat on the spotless new grill.

First Strike was the first (and best) band of the afternoon. I told Earl and Damian how much I enjoyed the set afterwards; they both shrugged and assured me that they had in fact sucked, not fucked up enough to be really good. Okay.

Damian had walked out from under the confines of the band-sized tent, wearing this expression on his face like ‘hell yeah, we are totally rocking OUT!’ as he played the meaty bits of the pummeling soundtrack to the Worcester barbeque, with Ryan, stage right, providing the sauce. You could almost read the word balloon above Matt’s head as he played his bass parts with lips pursed:

“Okay, F. Now E. Now F. Now E. F. E. I’m doing good. Yeah! F. Uh, shit. Wait. Okay. E. F. E…..”

Bryce, back there, pounding away, pounding away, witnessing everyone doing there thing, ruefully laughing his ass off.

And Earl!

Spitting out raspy chunks of sandpaper in tones that would make any grindcore band proud, mic cord wrapped a full two times around his neck, swigging Beam during the quiet parts, staggering around, mouth agape. He knocks his own glasses off and (get this) DOESN’T PICK THEM UP, just keeps stumbling around, either in complete control of his fine motor functions, avoiding his missing specs with each step, or just not giving a shit.

Those guys all said they sucked. I’ll have to see ‘em a couple dozen times and weigh in.

Lucero- That Much Further West

A band with enough namechecks and buzz to make me walk to the register with a cheap used copy.

I can only imagine how sick fans are of both the notion of the ‘’ genre and the word itself. Jesus, I’m tired of it and I’m not even a fan of the genre- a few (mandatory)Wilco records, some Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash stuff providing meager old school cred, a couple issues of ‘No Depression’ buried underneath stacks of punk fanzines and cruddy Xeroxed show flyers in a box moldering away in a closet somewhere. That’s it.

Why does Lucero, a band that I think is very good, get the a.c tag? It can’t be because of the singer’s voice, because he sounds like Kurt Cobain (though Kurt’s well-documented fascination with the Meat Puppets isn’t a bad thing to mention in the context of this review). Sometimes the bass does the box-step, a well-known/used signifier, but there are other times when the band plays songs that clearly deviate from the formula. “Hate And Jealousy” would sound like Sabbath if it had different production. “Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good” is a song that could easily fit into John Cougar’s canon before he added the ‘Mellencamp’, plus it has drums that sound like “Footloose.” Talk about mixed messages!

Raw sheets of guitar bleed Replacements blood. The songs tend to be straight ahead and no-frills, evoking Rancid and the aforementioned Mr. Cougar as points of reference. Maybe the whole a.c. thing is because the band says so (if they do), or maybe it’s just that they’re the most countrified band around when they’re out on the road playing with punk bands.

In the time it took me to discredit all of the suppositions, I could have been listening more and worrying less, dig? Better sometimes to shed the bullshit, put the press release through the shredder and just listen. Some example I am.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New stuff, II

Deadguy- Fixation On A Coworker

I got a copy of ‘Fixation’ years ago, deemed it way too heavy for human consumption, and gave it to Joe, who listened to it like ten times a day. Nonetheless, I was down enough, at least in theory, to accompany him down to Worcester to see Deadguy play the second incarnation of The Space. They cancelled, and Doc Hopper headlined instead. Chris Pierce, when he got up on stage, said “I’ve seen Deadguy play every day for two weeks- they rule” and everyone wanted to cut him in the face. What an asshole.

(Doc Hopper was pretty good, as they usually were. The most notable thing about the show was the opening band, the Huguenots, who tore my fuckin’ head off- the first screamo band I ever saw live.)

So ten years ago the shit was too heavy and I couldn’t handle it. Here in 2005, I have like ten records that are way heavier than this, and pretty much all of ‘em steal directly from Deadguy, who sound like they’re the source of all these chugga chugga-isms that have become clichés.

Death Cab For Cutie- Plans

This opening is pretty gratuitous, so get ready/bear with me:

Me and Amanda were settling into our seats at the Jandek show, right, when she spotted one of her friends sitting in the row ahead of us. We chatted back and forth as we checked out the crowd, ready to ironically roll our eyes if any sort of defense mechanism was needed. Let’s be honest here: pretty much everyone that was in the Scottish Rite that night was a huge dork, probably always packin’ some sort of self-depreciating line of bullshit or a pre-arranged witty defense retort. Plenty of practice, if you listen to music that is as obtuse and potentially alienating as Jandek.

So we were sitting there, waiting for the lights to dim, waiting for our man to grace the stage, when Amanda and her friend started to talk about the new Death Cab record, due to arrive in stores on Tuesday, two days after the show. (Advance copies, you know.) Amanda’s friend described ‘Plans’ as “sounding like Bruce Hornsby And The Range.”

I thought about the statement every day until I finally bought the record, close to a week after it came out. For one, I kinda like Hornsby- I thought the radio singles he put out in the eighties were pretty good, deviating from the formula in such a lame way (piano? Come on!) that the songs became so unhip that they transcended and became hip again, in that weird post-whatever kind of way that I probably beat to death months ago. Sorry.

Anyway, two: Probably a throwaway line that was meant as a dis on Death Cab’s ascension to the throne of Current Indie Band At The Top Of The Heap. Jesus, if you’ve been paying any sort of attention recently you’ve noticed the amount of ink the band has gotten- the release of their first major label album, songs being prominently on ‘Six Feet Under’ (which, for the record, was one of the most consistently dazzling, well-written shows ever- the finale had me sobbing alone in my room for twenty minutes, I shit you not), The Postal Service, etc.

After a dozen listens, I’m finally impressed by the strength of the analogy. I don’t think the new Death Cab album sounds like Bruce Hornsby, but that band isn’t a bad place to start at all- because of all the recent press, that thing has probably happened. You know what I’m talking about- bands getting a bunch of press, which alienates old fans whose attachment to the act hinged on the sort of elitism that only indie music breeds (see: Jawbreaker). The old fans who have dropped Death Cab from their favorites lists are total idiots. ‘Plans’ isn’t what I had expected at all- I figured the band would bust out the sort of sugar-coated pop nuggets that have been sprinkled throughout their discography, the songs that have shining hooks that sink claws into your dumb romantic gut. Instead, though, ‘Plans’ flashes the understated romantic ache that made ‘Transatlanticism’ the kind of record that you (okay, I) love listening to after midnight with the curtains drawn and candles lit, steaming cup of tea in hand.

You can totally be dismissive and blow the record off as unhip, or you can suck it up and admit that you’re into the band and their albums. When you’re driving alone and “Every Little Kiss” comes on, you don’t change the station- no one does.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

New stuff, I

A Frames- Black Forest

Caught these guys at Fallout Records in Seattle years back on one of my trips to visit Shelly. I remember their hazmat suits matching the herky-jerk of Devo. What I don’t remember from the live show is the sense of looming veil that hangs over the entire affair, this hysteria that ebbs from resignation to full-on lash-out furor as gritty technology usurps the human race and forces us all to work in the silicon mines, slaves to the machines and their need to reproduce, all as a steady beat dictates the pace of our mindless labor in the background.

Cave In- Perfect Pitch Black

Here’s how the city of Boston tends to work: Some band usually climbs the giant pile of trash/hype, sits on the throne for a little while, then falls into the slightly smaller pile right next to the original one- the second pile being heaps and heaps of bands who believed they were going to be the next big thing before first being underpromoted/poorly produced/whatever and then summarily and unceremoniously left for dead.

Cave In put out a bunch of records (including ‘Until Your Heart Stops’, which is one of the craziest albums this city has ever produced), each straying further from the act’s metalcore roots. They signed to a major label, put out an album that I thought was kinda okay (but never really listened to that much) and got dropped.

Well, they’re back.

Rich cobbled together a disc of new demos, rarities, etc. from the internet. If the songs that are on my disc serve as any indication, the new release (which came out yesterday) should be a hell of a treat- the band plays songs that are technically complex like some of the older stuff, with new sounds and less swipes at Big Rock (plus there’s a bunch of songs which feature good ol’ fashioned screaming, like they used to do back in the day. Right on!). Not to say that the new material doesn’t sound like Rock- the new stuff sounds a lot more smart, more honest and less pandering than the major label debut. They picked themselves up off of the scrap heap of broken aspirations and walked back to where they were before.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Austin, Texas 8/27-30, 2005

I’m so fucking spoiled when it comes to traveling. I live in one of the easiest pedestrian cities in the United States, and, as a result, sometimes forget that the rest of the country isn’t anywhere near as tightly wound as my home (or me).

The first day of any trip is a haze: new settings, old friends, lack of sleep. I had been out drinking with some of the camp posse after work on Friday night, then talked to K. on the phone for a while when I got home. Just like that, five o’clock rolled around, my normal bedtime, except I had to get up at seven-thirty. Totally conked out on both flights before arriving groggy in Austin. I had the good sense to leave my contacts in their travel case, opting to skip sandpapery nap eyes in favor of wearing glasses. I wandered around the airport in a state of corrective lens dystopia before Amanda called out to me. Hadn’t seen her since the winter, but it didn’t even matter as we hung out and talked and filled each other in on what had gone down. Happenings, finds.

I napped, went out to dinner, checked out this huge house party. Chatted with the locals (about football, mostly) and developed an intense relationship with Lone Star, the national beer of Texas. Castro caps, plastic cups, a DJ playing Modern Lovers in the cavernous main room. 128 when it’s dark outside, all the kids mouthed as I stood on the side watching.

The next morning, Amanda drove to the record store that she works at, handed me the keys. She’d be done by 6:00, leaving us plenty of time to get to the Scottish Rite for the Jandek show.

A hundred degrees outside. Little humidity, but still- a hundred is a hundred. I walked down a largely abandoned Sixth Street, stopping in most every storefront I could find to get some AC, find relief from the brutality of the weather. I drank a few bottles of water, ate some lunch, still felt dizzy. Fuck it. No walking once I got back to the record store.

The streets ran in numbered order, instilling a sense of direction that was able to override my utter lack of directional bearings- I only got lost a few times, minor instances all. I drive so infrequently that getting behind the wheel still makes me a little nervous initially. After a little while, though, it all comes back, just as it does with old friends- driving a car is just like riding a bicycle.

Amanda’s CD changer cycled through discs as I bumbled my way around town- ‘Ill Communication’, Mission of Burma, Devo, and this one disc that I kept going back to. Cleanly produced, loud/soft radio friendly emo-ish stuff, but with soul. Like they were a touchstone, a linchpin rather than an ape.

“Knapsack,” Amanda said when I picked her up. A band that she had recommended to me like ten times this one summer when she still lived in Boston.

The next day, I dropped her off, drove around some more- managed to get only nominally lost driving to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library listening to Devo and (yes) Knapsack, again. All presidential libraries are essentially the same, I think- the history at the beginning to put things into perspective, which bleeds right into the man when he was young, then right into the administration itself. Still had a good time, tripped out on the paper teleprompter roll from LBJ’s “I shall not seek and will not accept” speech, smiled when the guy behind the front desk told me that our blizzard-wracked winter was penance for the Sox winning the Series.

Back at the record store to pick up Amanda, rush hour traffic, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.” Running late, topical stress atop a calm that I hadn’t felt for months. An air-conditioned car during rush hour with a stereo, everything left behind, if only for a few days.

A keg of beer when I arrived- promotional perk of the day at the store. I wandered around, had a few, talked to strangers about the Red Sox. Knapsack was unavailable, so Amanda pointed me in the direction of The Jealous Sound, the singer’s new band. More of the same polished dyn-emo with up-front lyrics and surgical musicianship. I checked all of the usual spots in the used bins, looking for a few elusive Lungfish, Three Mile Pilot albums. A new band, that dog. , has been added to my used bin scour- an act that is largely out of print. Their singer, though, Petra Haden, recorded an a capella cover of “The Who Sell Out”, which landed in my grubby little hands. All the parts- guitar, drums, bass- sung, with album notes by Mike Watt. Dork heaven.

Before I left, Amanda burned a copy of the Knapsack record for me, handmade a cover. It’s barely come out of the CD player since.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The home stretch

So here’s how we roll:

I’m going to be cleaning the mental junk drawer for the next couple weeks. Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll be posting some pieces regarding to my trip down to Texas, then for a little while after that I’ll be covering some records that I’ve bought since this project started. There will be a few live reviews, hopefully some guest reviewers (the kind that don’t involve psychic help, you’ll be pleased to know), and then the rest of my alphabet. (Oh, and I may have a few tricks up my sleeve- cross those fingers).As of this writing I’m about twenty records away from listening to everything- I’m totally floored that the time (and my record collection) has gone so fast.

As always, thanks for reading. Here we go!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

See you in September!

A.B.C. is going on vacation for two weeks. I'm going to be flying to Austin and then New Orleans to see Jandek's first two United States shows.

So, posts will resume on Monday, September 12th. My alphabet is almost done- when I finish, I've got some tricks up my sleeve, just you wait. I may/not have time to post from the road- feel free to check in.

(9/1/05: Flew to Austin on Saturday, and was scheduled to head to New Orleans on Tuesday. I'm safely back in Boston now.)

Friday, August 26, 2005


Supergrass- I Should Coco

So I had this one breakup that necessitated the splitting up of communal stuff. I got the gems of the coffee mug collection- “If You Were Not My Sister In Law You Would Still Be My Good Friend” remains a stunner to this day- but got shafted in the record department. For example, I managed acquire this Supergrass record. There’s nothing wrong with it: totally good stuff if you like trebly, snotty punk-y pop music that presages the Hives and bands of their ilk by almost ten years. However, there’s plenty wrong with it if you’re me and you think of an ex every time you put the record on, and there’s even MORE wrong with it when you’re me and you remember that somehow you gained a Supergrass album AND lost all of the Queen CD’s. Goddammit.

Super Sox ‘75

If you’ve been to my house more than three times, you can skip right over this review because you already know how much I love the 1975 Red Sox. You know because I forced you onto the faded booger green couch to watch the chapter of ‘Ken Burns’ Baseball’ dedicated to the team.

Jesus, what a bunch of characters they were- New Hampshire-born Carlton Fisk behind the plate, Rick Burleson at short, the aging but still potent Carl Yastrzemski, the amazing defense of Dwight Evans buttressing the rookie 1-2 punch of Fred Lynn and Jim Rice (best rookie duo ever, for my money).

And the pitching!

A few years back, my friends Evan and Tracy mentioned to me that they were going to a restaurant where Luis Tiant would be signing stuff. I joked that the sickest autograph ever would be El Tiante inscribing “Mike- Everything I know I learned from you” on a glossy and forgot about it. That shit couldn’t actually happen, you know? No fucking WAY! A week later, though, they produced an 8 x 10 with the dream inscription and I shouted in the middle of the restaurant. The guy who had hilariously spiraled and pirouetted his fat ass all over the mound with such success had autographed a picture for ME? Goddamn!

And Bill Lee? Forget it. The free-thinking lefty whose autobiography I read a zillion times before the age of 12, the guy who didn’t throw faster than eighty but always managed to beat the Yankees with an amazing assortment of bullshit junk pitches. Left the press scratching their heads to such an extent that he and his quotes have been entered into the canon around here (“I didn’t say I smoked marijuana- I said that I USED it.”), the man who I called shitfaced from the middle of the Longfellow Bridge the night the Sox won the series (just because I have his number doesn’t make me a stalker, okay? I’m an ENTHUSIAST!).

I can’t begin to understate the importance of the 2004 Red Sox- a team that we, as fans, left for dead so many times during the course of the season, the same team that rose up to provide us all with a conclusion that none of us would ever dare imagine. Seriously- if you asked any baseball fan to come up with the craziest, most unbelievable scenario ever, the optimal dramatic circumstances for the Sox to win it all, nobody could have come up with such a script as what actually happened. Everything after game three of the ALCS was pure porn for Sox fans, the craziest confluence of events anyone could ever imagine, such an unbelievable script that no one would buy it (which is why I’m immediately suspicious of any fiction writer who claims not to like sports in general, baseball in particular- some of that shit is just too good, too improbable). It meant so much to so many people. Hell, I’m getting a championship tattoo in a few weeks.

The reason that I mention the 2004 Sox is because prior to last season, the ’75 Sox were all we as Sox fans had to rally around. All of the famed missteps over the years hung over us like a sigil- Denny Galehouse, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, Aparicio, even Bob Gibson (though it must be said that the ’67 Sox never had a fucking thing to be ashamed about- that team was phenomenal in its grit and overachievement). The closest they came, the biggest moment of glory was game 6 of the ’75 series, still among the best games ever played (though I have to admit that I was stunned at both games four and five of the 2004 ALCS- amazed, in particular, that probably the two best games I have ever seen were played back-to-back, and that my team won them both). I have the whole of game 6 memorized. Hell, we all do- Lynn, Tiant’s fatigue, Geronimo, Carbo (!), Foster, Evans, finally Fisk. The single craziest chain of events ever, leading to the ball crashing off the pole that was recently bequeathed the man’s name, the biggest victory, up until recently, the Red Sox ever had. All of the events of the season, every scratch and hiccup narrated by Ned Martin, the man whose voice I grew up listening to. Jesus, this is one of those gushing reviews, and I’m going off about this spoken word baseball CD! Whatever, though. I checked the 12” version out of the library a dozen times as a kid, digested it and filed it under folklore, as so many others did. I’m so happy to have the remastered version on my rack.
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