Iceage, beloved Danish teen-punks of the blogosphere, are back at it. After one hell of a debut year in 2011 (at least stateside), complete with the Pitchfork bump and loads of other hype, they have delivered the requisite sophomore album, and fuck me it’s a killer. That first record was confrontational and dark, and instead of teenage angst it boasted full-grown anger, the vocals teetering on the edge, the guitars strangled half to death. With this in mind, how fucking awesome is it that they named the second record You’re Nothing? Here’s a band that has somehow emerged from a Danish punk scene, been randomly selected to be the new Pitchfork indie-rock darlings, and was blowing rock journalist’s minds before their second U.S. concert was even in the books. They’re being treated like they’ve reinvented the wheel, but to me it seems like Iceage knows something everyone else doesn’t. The music they’re making is not without precedent and certainly owes a lot to many of their predecessors. It’s just that Iceage, unlike so many other rock bands, are willing to be uncompromising, to be violent, to be confrontational. They’re just kids, but instead of doing what everyone else is doing, they’re going to look you in the eye, punch you in the mouth, and sell knives at their merch table. And make a record with songs like “Ecstasy”, which feels like it might lose control and derail at any moment, or “Morals”, which boasts a grand piano and lines like “If I could leave my body then I would”, delivered without a sneer or even an ounce of hope. I heard an interview with Iggy Pop recently, and he called them “the only current punk band I can think of that sounds really dangerous.” Good enough for me, uncle Ig.
Speaking of dangerous. I wonder if Iggy knows about these guys. My mother gave this album to me recently, and I gave it a cursory listen maybe once before forgetting about it entirely. One afternoon my external hard drive with all of my music on it suffered a mishap and my iTunes library was instantly wiped. A decision had to be made, and since I have no money I decided I was just going to have to start illegally downloading a whole shitload of new music. Fortunately, Mom’s copy of Honeys was still sitting in Dropbox. In less than a month this became my favorite album of the year so far. Holy shit. Opener “Bathroom Laughter” is just an all-out rager. It’s exciting. I just listened to it for the 25th time this week, at 8:50 in the morning, and I thought to myself “Goddamn. That’s how you start a punk album.” It’s fucking amazing. The album strikes a balance (I guess you could call it a balance) between uptempo rippers and crushing dirges, nearly all of them commentary on the mundane nature of an average life. One of my favorite moments is the part in “Cafeteria Food” when singer Matt Kosloff likens the feeling of finding out a co-worker has died to “winning the Super Bowl.” The whole song is basically about hating his office job and being completely detached from the ridiculous “normalcy” of everyone there. He sings in the voice of an average man filled with disdain for nearly everyone around him. Fucking awesome. The first song that caught me was “Health Plan”, probably the closest thing to a catchy song this band has ever done. It’s about mortality and the idea that it might be better to just die rather than to know that you are dying: “You wanna know my secret?/I stay away from doctors/yeah that’s how I stay fit/I stay away from doctors”. Kosloff’s self-awareness is remarkable. Throughout the record he continually acknowledges his role in so-called “average” life (he’s an insurance claims adjuster by day) while simultaneously questioning his own life. On “Romanticize Me” he muses on the fact that he’s a shitty lover and a terrible partner in general, and anyone he’s with is going to have to “take all my faults/and twist them in your head/til I look like a sweet and thoughtful man/romanticize me.” “Male Gaze” laments the treatment of females in rock bands, with a big nod to the fact that he himself is guilty of perpetuating this. All of this is framed by a constant musical assault. This band sounds ugly and it’s absolutely perfect. If they got any more out of control it would be unlistenable, but if they dialed it back at all they’d be neutered. Pissed Jeans knows what they are doing, and it’s certainly working for me.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Abandon All Life, the gnarliest and loudest album I’ve heard this year. I don’t listen to this one if anyone else is around. When I first got it one of my roommates came home while I had it on and he had this to say: “I just don’t understand why you like this. With the whole punk thing, I get it, like, aggression, release, energy, all of that shit. But this is just a whole other level. I don’t understand.” He’s right, of course. I couldn’t figure out how to explain it to him. When attempting to write about a band like Nails, I’m sometimes tempted to say things like “Well, if you like metal and hardcore, you will probably like this, and if you don’t, you won’t.” That’s the easy way to describe it, and I think it’s certainly accurate, but certain hardcore albums deserve to be acknowledged as standouts. In some ways this music is the last frontier of guitar music; it’s divisive, it is not for the faint of heart, and it’s difficult to pretend to like it. This is far more aggressive and violent than your average metal band, and though I can’t understand the lyrics, I doubt he’s singing about how much he loves his girlfriend. I mean, the fucking album is called Abandon All Life. This is some dark shit, and Nails evokes that feeling expertly. Certain types of people will find this incredibly satisfying to listen to, and it takes less than 20 minutes for the album to utterly rip your face to shreds and abruptly come to an end. It’s a savage beating, but it’s incredibly cohesive and smart. The title track features a completely unexpected and hilarious breakdown as well, and it’s a surprising moment that gives the impression that Nails know exactly what they’re doing. They’re aware of how extreme they are, but they aren’t afraid to make you laugh for 15 seconds before getting back to the task at hand, which is destroying everything in sight. Abandon All Life fucking rules. That is all.
This is a weird album. I really love Wavves, mainly because they’re unapologetic stoners who are perfectly willing to make it known that they learned how to play guitar because they liked Blink-182. King of the Beach was, on the surface, a great pop-punk album, but it was actually sort of weird once you got into its back half, and Afraid of Heights takes that idea even further. This band can pull off a straightforward rock song extremely well, providing big guitars and catchy choruses (“Demon to Lean On”, “Afraid of Heights”), but this record is full of unexpected songs. “Cop” is apparently written from the perspective of a gay man whose partner has just killed a police officer, and it’s a jangly, sunshine-y song with acoustic guitars and background string arrangements. The impressive thing is that songs like this don’t really sound out of place. They’re trying a bunch of new things here and nearly all of it is working. Part of that is due to the fact that classic Wavves habits are clearly dying hard. Much of the lyrics deal with the haunting, nagging fear of being alone, of being bored and useless and misunderstood. What makes Wavves stand out from the crowd of other bands that do this is the fact that they can do it repeatedly without sounding whiny or immature, and they can back it up with solid arrangements. My current favorite song on the album is “Gimme a Knife”, which boasts a very catchy chorus that goes “I loved you Jesus/you raped the world/I feel defeated/guess I’ll go surf.” What the fuck is that? Nathan Williams continually delivers lines like this with a straight face and the assumption that you know what he’s talking about, and if you don’t, well, you might as well just go fuck yourself. I like that.
There isn’t much left that hasn’t been said about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Push the Sky Away is their fifteenth studio album. What’s incredible is that these guys have the energy to do it again, and the dexterity to do it the way they have. 1997’s The Boatman’s Call was a mellow record, but not like this one: you won’t find a song like “People Ain’t No Good” on here. And it’s certainly a stark contrast to 2008’s Dig, Lazarus, Dig! It’s interesting to hear Cave hit some tender notes, as one of my earliest experiences with his voice was listening to him hiss out lines about anal rape and murder on Murder Ballads, an album recommended to me by my father, an album that could give your average adult life-altering nightmares. Instead, Push the Sky Away is filled with beautifully minimal instrumentation, arrangements that perfectly frame Cave’s lyrics, which are at times stunningly poetic. “Wide Lovely Eyes” features a tense metronomic tick-tock and a breathy, florid ode to his wife. “Jubilee Street” has an incredible arrangement that swoons into some perfect strings and could be described as downright gorgeous, which is one of the last things I ever thought I’d say about a Bad Seeds record. There are bizarre curiosities everywhere, and somehow they are handled with a reverence and a dark subtlety that’s hard to describe, hence the genius of this band. Much of “Higgs Boson Blues” wouldn’t be out of place on an On The Beach-era Neil Young record, and Cave moans “Who cares what the future holds?” Who cares, indeed. For now I’m content to pick apart the bones of Push the Sky Away, and to explore all of its dark corners.
I didn’t know what to expect with this one. Frightened Rabbit signed to Atlantic after their last record, 2010’s excellent The Winter of Mixed Drinks, an album that expanded on the jangled singalong heartbreak of its predecessor, adding soaring choruses and a more polished, fleshed-out form of self-deprecation and fragility. I worried this next record, being on a major label, would be too radio-ready and would end up being a polished chunk of shit. Jesus, was I wrong. There is certainly a higher production value at play here, but instead of feeling like a sloppily exuberant break-up record, what we have here is a serious examination of man’s faults and flaws, desires, and a few skipped heartbeats for good measure. This band has matured dramatically, and it’s insanely obvious. Much of this record is clever and methodical at the same time, a sort of calculated genius that can’t be forced. Scott Hutchison has always been incredible at wrangling amazing lyrics out of situations we’ve all been in (mainly break-ups and drinking our feelings), but on this record his metaphors hit home more effectively. “I have never wanted more to be your man, and build a house around you/I am just like all the rest of them/sorry, selfish, trying to improve.” Holy shit. They’ve always been a good band, but at times it seems like Pedestrian Verse is the sum of all of their good parts. “The Woodpile” is one of the catchiest songs ever, providing heart-swelling romance that’s enough to melt even the blackest, iciest of hearts (“I’m trapped in an abandoned building/come find me now/we’ll hide and we’ll speak in our secret tongues”). “State Hospital” packs a serious emotional punch (“her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs”), but it’s some of the songs on the back half that are more inventive and surprising than you’d think, and end up nearly stealing the record. “Nitrous Gas” is a serious exercise in darkness and melancholy, boasting lines such as “I’m dying to be unhappy again” and “If happiness won’t come to me, hand me the nitrous gas”. It doesn’t hurt that it sounds like he’s standing motionless in a completely dark room while he’s singing it. “The Oil Slick” has a swooping little guitar line and one of the funniest lyrics on the record: “Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write”, a brilliant nod to the first single from the last record and a welcome slice of self-awareness. This album has cemented a solid place in my heart this year, and it doesn’t hurt that Frightened Rabbit put on one hell of a live show.
That’s it so far. It’s worth mentioning that the album art for each of these is pretty fucking sweet, so be sure you take a second and take that shit in. I know there are more amazing albums to come this year, and I’m looking forward to adding to this list, obviously. Diarrhea Planet has a new record coming out next month, for starters, and it promises to be the fountain of youth in the form of a four-guitar shred-fest. I can’t fucking wait.
A while back, I spent a pretty serious amount of time working on one seriously excellent playlist. Every few weeks I would add or subtract something, trying to get it perfect, walking around with it in my headphones almost everywhere I went. I was very lonely. I believe I started it around February or March of last year, the middle of a rough period and right before the shit really started hitting the fan, but also right around the time the weather gets extremely nice in Austin, where I was then residing. Long story short, when I moved back to Massachusetts and started getting back into kick-ass mode and working on long-neglected shit, this became my summer darkroom mix as I arduously developed the 2+ years of film I’d accumulated in a shoebox which my friend Greg described as “both a treasure chest and a nightmare.” Along with Pujol’s United States of Being, A Place To Bury Strangers’ Worship, and of course Slayer’s Reign in Blood, this was my soundtrack to summer productivity. I also burned a copy for each of my parents for Christmas. I figure if I still like it this much I might as well sit here in my pajamas and write about it. I still don’t have a job.
Anyway, this one’s for sunshine and long solitary walks. This one’s for when the leaves come back and for when the plane takes off. Here is the stream.
1. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WE ARE FLOATING IN SPACE – SPIRITUALIZED
Ok so I guess this one starts with a total downer… again… but Jesus this is a beautiful little number. It’s the title track from one of the best albums ever, an album that I certainly used to help myself through some tough times, and while this one feels like a bummer the lyrics are actually pretty positive. I guess if you know the background it gets a little heavier. Jason Pierce, Spiritualized’s main dude who loves to sing about heroin and Jesus and needing help from Jesus because of the heroin and because life is hard and also drugs, well, he was dating the band’s keyboard player and she went off and secretly married some other dude. The singer from The Verve, according to Wikipedia. You remember “Bitter Sweet Symphony”? Yeah, you do. So, it’s her voice leaving the answering machine message at the beginning of the song, which makes it a little bit more of a rabbit-punch to the heart. Homeboy is clearly floating in space because of her, the heartless bitch. Anyway, Pierce recovered and made a whole bunch more successful albums and probably a pile of cash and nobody really cares about The Verve anymore, so… win? Anyway, this is a great song. This is one of those songs it’s totally okay to cry to because at least it will be an epic cry.
2. SO FAR AWAY – A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
I wanted the next song to just unexpectedly deck you right in the fucking face so you’d snap out of it. I think this works. The Washington Post once called APTBS “the most ear-shatteringly loud garage/shoegaze band you’ll ever hear”. Awesome. The first album of theirs I acquired was called Exploding Head, which meant I was automatically into it before I’d heard even one note. Anyway, this one is from their EP Onwards to the Wall, which came out last year and was met with a rather indifferent critical response. Apparently it’s too soft compared to their prior efforts. I disgree; I can’t figure out how to get this band to stop being inexplicably louder than the rest of my iTunes and you can pretty much rest assured that if you ever saw them live your hearing would be fucked for at least a week and quite possibly forever. I like the percussion on this one. It’s sort of quaint, and the noodling guitar line wandering through it is also kind of cute, and his voice is a little druggy and shoegazy but there’s still all that monster feedback stuff and the breakdowns are pretty cool and basically what I’m trying to say is that this song slays.
3. LONDON DUNGEON – MISFITS
Ah, the Misfits. Everyone knows about them, as the crimson ghost and Glenn Danzig are still pretty ubiquitous, but I wish I knew more people who I could sit down with and just have a chat about the old Misfits. Not the new, bullshitty metal “Misfits” camp-act that is somehow allowed to continue using the name, but the lo-fi horror-fest of darkly simple songs adorned with Danzig’s beautiful croon. I mean, the man could sing. I’ve always thought “London Dungeon” was a beautiful song. One time I was at the record store with my Mom and I made her buy a copy of Earth A.D. on vinyl and she never said anything about it and I wonder if she likes it. Mom? Can you hear me? Is anybody out there?
4. THE FIRE OF LOVE – THE GUN CLUB
On Valentine’s day last year Dee Dee (Dum Dum Girls) and Brandon Welchez (Crocodiles) (we’ll get to both of them later) released a playlist of songs that defined their marriage, which was ultra-cute and also super disgusting, but this song was on it and that’s how I discovered The Gun Club. This song is so raw, and somehow the singer finds a way to sound like he doesn’t give a shit but also like someone is tearing him apart inside simultaneously. Musically, it has this indescribable swagger and simplicity that is from another time and is totally out of this world.
5. VENUS – TELEVISION
Everyone says Television is a seminal rock band that’s super important and I get that, sure, but I’ve always had a hard time getting into them. Mostly because I guess they’re supposed to have informed a lot of punk music or something and I usually think of punk music as a lot angrier and well, more awesome than Television but then what do I know? And who cares? I find myself drawn to “Venus” for a variety of reasons, mostly because it’s so oddly catchy. Also, it’s hard to argue with Richard Hell’s voice. Or his name, for that matter. God, what a badass. I guess Television is pretty alright.
6. I WANNA BE ADORED – THE STONE ROSES
This is just hands-down one of the best pop songs in the history of the universe. I spent something like a month walking around with this on repeat last spring. I go through a Stone Roses phase every now and then and they’re always brand new again. Once I had a sociopathic girlfriend and she put one of their songs on a mix for me and I think that’s the first time I heard them. Now I can’t listen to that song because it reminds me of her getting wine-drunk and throwing a chair at my head and also it kind of sucks, frankly, but mostly I think of all the times I blissed out to this song while walking through airports to make connections. This offered a nice break from all of the crazy black metal and death metal I usually used to make my connections. Even a veteran headbanger like me can only take so much, you know?
7. HITCHED – THE KILLS
Ah, the Kills. This is an older gem. I find this song to be very evocative, and I always picture it soundtracking the opening montage/credits of a road movie. Something like True Romance combined with Paris, Texas, that kind of vibe. Lots of long desert highways, a big old convertible, cowboy boots and cigarettes with your feet on the dashboard and the stereo cranked. This song belongs on an old-school jukebox in a dusty roadside bar.
8. TRANSMISSION – JOY DIVISION
A classic. Writing anything more about Joy Division would be an exercise in futility, but this song fits. I will say that this song reminds me of a guy I knew when I was a kid, a guy who was one of my parents’ best friends, a guy by the name of Patrick J. My dad did a radio show on a local community radio station on Friday nights for much of my childhood, and Patrick had the late-night Friday slot after him. They were tight bros; I know they partied together a lot and definitely got baked and went on the radio together a lot. I don’t remember much about Patrick’s music as I was too young to be paying attention, let alone listening to the radio at midnight, but I do know that he was the obsessive type when it came to music, which is something I can certainly relate to. Patrick passed away unexpectedly and far too young on Christmas eve a few years ago, leaving behind two kids and a wife and a sizable record collection. My dad and a couple of the other Friday night DJ’s from back in the day got together to put together a tribute show for Patrick, and in the process of compiling the playlist my dad brought a bunch of Patrick’s CD’s back to our house. I pawed through them and ripped several of them to my laptop, and that’s where I got my entire Joy Division collection. It might be obvious, but Joy Division reminds my dad of Patrick and this song mentions the radio, so there you go.
9. BLANK GIRL – DUM DUM GIRLS
This is one of my favorite duets. Here we have the aforementioned Dee Dee and Brandon. Cute. Dum Dum Girls are certainly influenced by many of the bands on this list, and I like the fact that they are referential and reverent without being imitators. I’ve waxed poetic about Dee Dee’s voice before and I’ll do it again. It’s just so pretty.
10. DUM DUM BOYS – IGGY POP
Alright, here are a couple of connections. First, and most obvious, is the fact that the name Dum Dum Girls is a reference to this song. Second, and more depressing, is the fact that The Idiot, the Iggy record that this song is from, was supposedly sitting on the turntable when they found Ian Curtis (Joy Division) hanging from his kitchen ceiling. The Idiot is a fucking untouchable record but it is incredibly depressing in places and can sometimes feel like a slog to get through all at once, so that little tidbit only makes it darker, but this song makes me think of nostalgia. Sure, it’s a little bit woozy and slow, maybe a little druggy sounding (we’re talking about fucking Iggy here, so… duh) but it’s all about Iggy missing his bandmates from the Stooges, and in the process, looking back on the crazy days and how crazy they all used to be and how “things have been tough without the dum dum boys.” Anyone who tells me they like Lou Reed’s insufferable heroin music gets pointed to The Idiot. Waaaaay better. Also, as a side note, I like Iggy Pop so much that I fully plan on naming my first dog Iggy. Or my accidental first-born, but here’s hoping for a dog, amirite? It’d be a shame to waste a name like that on a kid. Especially since it would make a lot more sense to name them Yoko.
11. FEELS LIKE WE ONLY GO BACKWARDS – TAME IMPALA
This was a last-minute addition as I was preparing this fucker for Christmas gifting. I go back and forth with Tame Impala. On the one hand, if I want to hear John Lennon’s voice over a trippy arrangement, I’ll just go listen to Sargent Pepper. On the other hand, a handful of their songs inexplicably grab me. This would be one of those songs. I can see how this would be a nice laid-back summer jam. I can also see how a stoner might cradle their bong, curl up in the old beanbag chair, and mentally high-five their stereo while listening to this song.
12. GLITTER – NO AGE
Whenever I hear a band described as “noise-pop” I go into a spasm that involves trying to throw up into my own ears and then playing air guitar to Slayer for two hours, but this band allegedly fits that bill and this is a fucking awesome song, so fuck me, I guess.
13. PSYCHOCANDY – THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
Here’s one of the heavy hitters. A bit of a tamer number from this period of their career. I listen to the Psychocandy record a whole lot, and I have been for a couple of years now. Whenever I do, my roommates wonder what the fuck is wrong with me and how I could possibly be enjoying a British wall of feedback. I try to save it for when they aren’t home, but realistically they just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Maybe they haven’t heard this lovely little ditty. My friend Dino introduced me to this band when I was a freshman in college. He made me a mix CD for my birthday called “Rainy Day B-Day Jams from Dino” and it was filled with all kinds of depressing shit. That mix single-handedly informed a lot of my tastes when it comes to the tunes on this playlist we’re plowing through together right now. Shall we continue?
14. CHEREE (REMIX) – SUICIDE
Suicide would be on the weirder side of the spectrum of bands that Dino introduced me to, and this is honestly one of the easier songs to listen to. I remember going to Jelly’s here in Worcester with him once when we were both around 18 and had VASTLY different tastes in music. The kid was years ahead of me and almost definitely still is. On that particular outing, I think I bought Monster by R.E.M. and Jane Doe by Converge, a combo that still makes me laugh out loud. Dino bought the Suicide album and a fucking Deicide album. He put Suicide in on the way home and I was all like “what the fuck is this shit” so he put the Deicide album on and my face literally blew off and shredded to pieces, splattering the backseat with a fine patina of gore. I’ve respected his taste in music very highly ever since.
15. LOVE SONG – THE CURE
I think a younger version of myself would have thought this was just the wussiest shit ever. Now I’m older and wiser blah blah blah everyone knows the Cure are great. This gets stuck in my head all the time.
16. A THOUSAND ROADS – PARTS & LABOR
Here is another jarring change of gears. I generally try to avoid that when making a mix but “Love Song” is a little too sweet sometimes, and even I need to be shaken awake from time to time. Parts & Labor (RIP) were a highly underrated and totally great band from New York City. Their records sound like nothing else, and this is from their final one. My mom actually got me into them, because for an old lady she sure does have her bony finger on the pulse. Sorry mom, I’m worried this write-up isn’t going to be “funny” enough and thus have resorted to cheap tricks and insults. All bullshit aside, this song deserves a thousand fistpumps and will deliver an eternity of satisfaction if you just play it loud enough.
17. FROU-FROU FOXES IN MIDSUMMER FIRES – COCTEAU TWINS
This song is totally fucking weird. I don’t even have any idea why it is that I like it. I mean, it’s catchy, but what the hell are we listening to here? It turns out the singer doesn’t even sing actual words, she just makes noises that sound like words and somehow form a melody. I’ve been informed that this is something that songwriters do when they’re working out a melody, but to have that be your endgame? Imagine being the singer of a band and showing up to practice and being like “you guys, I finished the lyrics for that song we’ve been working on! You know, the one we all decided to call ‘Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires’! Yeah! It’s all total fucking gibberish, it’s going to be great!” If I was in that band, I’d tell you to go back to your parents’ house and ask your mom to pick up the homeschooling where you left off, but then again, if I was in a band that sounded like this I’d probably dig it. I don’t know why I’m being such a dick about this. This song inexplicably rules.
18. ALL MY HATE AND MY HEXES ARE FOR YOU – CROCODILES
You may recognize the man singing from the Dum Dum Girls duet earlier. You may also recognize the overt Suicide influence at play here. I find this song to be especially beneficial for those days when I’m angry at the world. It’s sufficiently relaxing and transports me away from the turmoil in my head, while the title and the lyrics satisfy my seething rage in a relatively gentle manner. I could see this playing over the end credits of my theoretical road movie I mentioned earlier. If the movie has an unhappy ending. Which it probably does. Hail darkness.
19. SEA WITHIN A SEA – THE HORRORS
Yup, The Horrors again, but bear with me–this is the best song they’ve ever done. Before Primary Colours was released they were this goth garage-y punk band that didn’t really display a whole lot of originality but was still awesome, and then they announced that they would be releasing a new record. THEN they put this mega-song out as the first single. The balls on these guys, I swear. For starters, “Sea Within a Sea” is a pretty long song. Never mind the fact that it doesn’t have a chorus, only a fully switched-on synth breakdown that takes the song out into lovely oblivion. I’ve seen them live twice and this song is the highlight of the set without fail. I mean, I’ve heard stuff that sounds sort of like this before but no fucking way have I ever heard anything like this. Again, my mom bought me this record on vinyl for Christmas last year because she is a champ, despite her ongoing ascent into elder status. My mom should really have a music blog. I think she’s nervous about putting her writing out there, but nobody reads this besides her and my dad, so it would basically be a cute little mother-son activity. She’d spend the first month gushing about Superchunk but I think that’d be totally OK.
Anyway, it’s the beginning of a work week again, and even though it’s a short one it’s probably going to suck for most of you. I hope this little collection helps to chase the clouds away. It was so warm out when I started working on this thing in Texas, and now it’s super fucking cold, but my hope is that this is a little more sunshine-y than the last one I made and that it will help shepherd you toward bliss in some way. In my case, this little writing exercise I’ve been engaging in has helped distract me from the black hole of joblessness and helped me feel productive. I’m putting my morning coffee to good use. I hope you like it.
I’m wavering between calling this “January 2013” or “Bummer vol. 2” as many of you will probably be seriously bummed out by this quaint little sequence of songs. Some of it is dark, heavy shit, yeah, but it’s also very pretty and doesn’t bum me out. Quite the opposite. I understand that that’s mostly due to the fact that I’m fully aware that we’re living in a dystopian present run by greedy capitalistic opportunists and it’s only a matter of time before I start digging a bunker and stocking up on bottled water and canned food (fuck, I’m looking forward to it) and I fully expect to end up shooting my way out of a siege perpetrated by my newly cannibalistic neighbors someday and I’m not planning on having children because they’d probably complicate my chances of survival; thus, to me, these songs are basically just really pretty and I love them because they’re far more beautiful than what I just described. I’ve made my peace with all of this of course, mainly because I have nothing better to do these days than sit around and ponder the crumbling state of our humanity and fantasize about gnarly war-paint apocalypse heroics, but I can see how some of you positive types might get dragged down by an hour or so of depressing music as it probably reminds you of the shitty future you’re lying to yourself about on a daily basis. Anyway, winter sucks, especially January. There isn’t really anything to look forward to besides the end of winter, which is still a long fucking way away, but at least you don’t really have to feel guilty about not going outside. Thus I’ve soundtracked this month of misery and attempted to create a cinematic landscape of January songs. Use them as you will. Some are great for staying indoors and laying around to, some are good for napping/sleeping/pretending you’re in a coma, some are excellent for taking wintry headphone walks to, and some are just perfect for crying your eyes out in abject despair. I’m trying to think of a title for this mix that encapsulates the mixture of hope and desolation I’m trying to convey and I’m coming up blank so I’m just going to call this one “January.” This is a bit of a long one, but so is the winter, so just be patient and try and sit still and relax for once. The world isn’t going to end tomorrow. Here’s the stream of the mix.
1. NOVEMBER – MAX RICHTER
Since the goal here is “cinematic” I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with this lovely composition by German composer Max Richter. This is from his 2002 album Memoryhouse, which is one of the most beautiful records I own. I’ve always liked classical in the way most people like getting their tax return: yeah, it’s super nice, but I’m not going to obsess over it and take the time to understand the inner workings, it’s just a nice thing that happens sometimes, sort of like when an anonymous Samaritan warms the toilet seat up for you. Memoryhouse sort of changed that for me. I bought the record on a whim because I liked the artwork and some of the song titles and I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t just lie on the floor of my apartment and accidentally stare at the ceiling fan until it was over that first time. Beautiful compositions with some ambient sounds, field recordings, and spoken word scattered throughout. This is one of my favorites from the record. Peaceful but also quite satisfyingly epic.
2. IF WINTER ENDS – BRIGHT EYES
On the other hand, I can’t really say this is a beautiful song. This song is a fucking total bummer in a variety of ways. First of all, it’s late-90’s lo-fi Bright Eyes, which in and of itself is sometimes enough to make me want to punch someone. Second of all, all the song really does is drive home the emotional mindfuck that is Winter combined with Existentialism. “And so I drink to stay warm and to kill selected memories.” Jesus Christ, don’t we all, but most of us like to pretend we’re “socializing” or we “just really like beer” and don’t straight-up verbalize our semi-subconscious self-destruction. It only gets darker from there. I love this song, I really do, but it’s mostly only good for when you’re in a k-hole of self pity and want to curl up in a ball and explode simultaneously. Figured it was best to get this fucker out of the way early. You’re welcome.
3. SONG FOR A WARRIOR – SWANS
If you know anything about Swans/Michael Gira, you know that this isn’t exactly a sunshine and unicorns type of musical project. For example, people used to throw up all the time at Swans shows simply due to how fucking loud the band was. However, their more recent and reunited incarnation has been less about jaw-breaking brutality and more about uh… being a new version of Swans. I don’t know. I’m sure there’s some nerdy reviewer out there who’s already explained it better than I could. In any case, 2010’s mind-blowing My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky is required listening as far as I’m concerned, and this week I finally got my hands on their 2012 album The Seer. Holy fucking shit. It’s a jaw-dropping album, to say the least. The title track is over half an hour long. It took forever to get through the first time I listened to it but in no way did I want it to end. “Song For a Warrior” is one I keep coming back to for what I would think are extremely obvious reasons. Karen O takes the lead on vocals, with Gira coming in perfectly near the end. This song is devastatingly beautiful.
4. DIVE IN – THE HORRORS
I could talk about how much I love The Horrors again or I could just talk about how Faris Badwan’s voice is perfect for the winter and so is this song and I put it on this mix because I really want you to like it and I really want you to know that I like you, you beautiful snowflake.
5. BRAIN STORM (FOR ERIN) – MARK MCGUIRE
No, this isn’t the steroid-bloated, goateed meathead who hit a whole bunch of home runs back when I was a kid but rather the former guitarist for Emeralds who is also a solo artist. I don’t really know who Emeralds are. I think I tried to listen to them once and it didn’t work out for some reason. Whatever. In any case, this record came to me during a time of musical experimentation while I was living in Austin. By this I mean I was literally going to the record store and flipping through the “Experimental” section until I saw something with a cool cover and just buying it and going home and listening to it. Amazing, right? That’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to acting like a rich person. Several of these records obviously sucked esoteric ass and I was forced to swallow a loss and sell them back to the record store for like half of what I paid, which is why most people illegally download everything, but McGuire’s Living With Yourself really grabbed me, and it’s something I come back to every now and then when the mood is right. It’s pretty dreamy. The record is bookended with old recordings of Mr. McGuire as a child talking to family members, the artwork is all photos of things from his childhood, the song titles explicitly reference family members, and the music itself evokes a certain amount of nostalgia. The vast majority of it is guitar loops and guitar sounds. Normally I’m more of a “riff-inclined” sort of dude, but I think this song is sort of perfect for smiling wistfully and reminiscing about the innocence and soft golden light of yesteryear.
6. GREY SCALE – FENNESZ
While we’re at it, Christian Fennesz was really my big discovery of the experimental phase. I was into listening to his stuff while I was on airplanes. I don’t really listen to it much anymore, but I do think Black Sea is a fucking great album and it’d be worth checking out if you’re feeling adventurous. A lot of Fennesz’s music exists somewhere out near the shoreline of “music”, out where the waves of “sound art” are crashing on the remote, desolate, windswept beach. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I’m going to leave it in to punish myself.
7. HALL – BATHS
Baths is one of those ultra-prevalent one-man bedroom-with-a-synth “indie-pop” deals that turns the offices over at Pitchfork into a forest of erections and normally makes my dick go frighteningly soft. Despite my sacred convictions, I’m drawn to this song. It’s really good.
8. YOUNG LIARS – TV ON THE RADIO
Here’s a blast from the past. I don’t really listen to TV on the Radio much these days, and I’d actually completely forgotten about this sexy little dystopia jam until I was idly scrolling through my iTunes this morning looking for potential ringers for this mix. Fuck me, this is a tear-jerker. One of the more perfect songs my “adult” self has experienced. When I was about 19 I was living in my first apartment, it was summertime, and I was between semesters and working a part-time job. When I wasn’t working I was on my kick-ass back porch with a couple of my bros and an eighteen-inch bong. The weather was nice, the weed was plentiful, and I passed out ultra-baked to this song on the regular. Incredibly, I still love it.
9. THE SEA IS A GOOD PLACE TO THINK OF THE FUTURE – LOS CAMPESINOS!
Don’t let that cute little exclamation point fool you, this song ain’t no picnic. Let me just pause for a second though and point out that in my humble opinion this song’s title is absolutely true. This one is cool because it’s lyrically complex and, as usual with this band, incredibly well executed. The arrangement is just perfectly evocative. Which is important. This is some heavy shit. I was worried this song wouldn’t fit, and I’m still not sure it does, but fuck it. Heavy shit always feels heavier in January, amirite? Once again, you’re welcome.
10. PEOPLE AIN’T NO GOOD – NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS
Nick Cave is a god. And his tenth studio album with The Bad Seeds, 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, is an interesting exercise in minimalism and heartbreak. Which is pretty much exactly what winter is all about, right? There’s nothing to do but drink as much as possible and wallow in sadness. When you need a little variety you can just stare out the icy window at the frozen shitscape and lose faith in humanity. This song is fucking perfect for that. Pull up a chair and pour yourself a tall whiskey. Fuck everything.
11. VARUD – SIGUR ROS
No English lyrics here, but trust me, this is about as wintry as it gets. There was no goddamn way I was going to make a winter mix without Sigur Ros. At this point I think they’re probably pretty well-known for their post-rock mega-jams, and if you know me at all then you know that this is a band I like to force on everyone I meet. It’s been that way for a while now. Anyway, they’re from Iceland, and I went to Iceland once, and this song is what most of Iceland feels like. FUCKING TOTALLY EPIC AND BEAUTIFUL. You almost can’t decide if you’d rather run up an icy mountainside in slow motion wielding a double-edged battle axe or just cuddle up in an opulent home-made sweater and write in your journal while drinking artisanal coffee as the sun sets over the countryside. Pretty amazing that a song could make you waffle between crushing an epic feat or being a total pussy. But it does. Side note: my Grandma is really into classical music and really good at the piano, so one time I made her a Sigur Ros mix and she was stoked and then she never mentioned it again after I gave it to her. So, maybe they aren’t for everyone. Or maybe that empty CD case I used was where I was hiding that little bit of weed I never could find again and my status as the family’s resident Godless Hedonist was just further cemented. I’ll never know.
12. AGONY – HANDSOME FURS
This song was only available on the “bonus-track” version of Sound Kapital, which was only available on iTunes and was only available WITHOUT the naked lady on the cover. I count three strikes, but fortunately the song itself is excellent and precisely what a Handsome Furs fan would hope for. You can see why it might not quite fit with the rest of the songs on the album, but I think it fits perfectly right here, nestled in the bosom of my January mix. Destiny fulfilled.
13. FALLEN – SLEEP STATION
Okay, we’re going to sob uncontrollably one more time. To make matters worse, get a load of this: this song is from the album Hang In There Charlie. Here’s a direct quote from Wikipedia:
Hang In There Charlie tells the story of two astronauts who arrive at a space station to discover it has been hugely neglected. When the astronauts protest, they are punished by NASA by being abandoned and left in the space station to die.
One can only assume that “Charlie” is one of these unfortunate astronauts. One can also assume that this song is being sung from Charlie’s point of view, considering they named the fucking album after him. Bleak, right? We can at least be thankful that Charlie here is being relatively poetic about his whole predicament. Because I think I’d probably turn into a panicky little bitch pretty much right away.
14. DON’T BOTHER THEY’RE HERE – STARS OF THE LID
I discovered this one recently via the excellent and hilarious Sad-Ass Music column on the Vice Magazine website. It’s from an apocalypse mix the writer made. I don’t know too much about this band but I do know that this track is very beautiful and relaxing and I don’t really find it all that apocalyptic, aside from the title. Also, I dig their band name. It refers to seeing little movies inside your eyelids when you close your eyes. Cute. I thought this would make a nice ending to our journey. Thanks for listening.
It’s Monday, which sucks for most of you, so I spent some time yesterday putting together a little something to get you through the week. We all have music that reminds us of a specific time in our lives. Most of us listened to utter bullshit while we were in high school. For me, much of high school was a carefree time music-wise, a time when band t-shirts and hoodies were important and the Warped Tour was the best part of the summer. We wrote shit on our chucks in sharpie. I had a triple-row pyramid stud belt and I had to alter the belt loops on my Dickies so it would fit. I wore tube socks with the stripes at the top with my shorts. It was all power chords and songs about girls and mosh pits and shows at the State Theater in Portland. I had yet to reach college, where I would be shocked to learn that much of my dorm’s population favored introverted horseshit like Elliott Smith and fucking Grizzly Bear. My tastes have evolved, duh, but I came of age on a certain era of rock n’ roll, a certain set of bands that are widely ignored and/or scoffed at nowadays. I have no regrets. Below is a selection of songs from that magical time. Here’s a link to a stream of the mix.
1. THAT’S YOUTH – ANTI-FLAG
This song just summed it up so well. Except I lived in rural Maine so we were never “just hanging on the corner after skating for a few.” Anti-Flag wore all kinds of studs and had crazy mohawks and I thought they were such gnarly full-on punks. I was crazy for anthemic stuff like this. In the process of putting this mix together I listened to the first half of the “A New Kind of Army” album and found that I still like it quite a bit. It’s been a while, but this is still a solid song. I learned it on guitar (more or less) and it was covered by Third Person, pictured above.
2. PRIVATE EYE – ALKALINE TRIO
Alkaline Trio were the first real touring act I ever saw live. They opened for Blink-182 and Sum 41 at the Worcester Palladium when I was 14 years old. I’ll never forget that show. My friend Gavin’s dad Hector drove a few of us down and we got a hotel room and it was just the fucking dream. I’d never heard of Alkaline Trio before but they stuck with me; at the time, I was a total sponge for bands like this. I still go back to them from time to time. “Private Eye” has amazing lyrics (“New Year’s Eve was as boring as heaven/I watched flies fuck on channel eleven”) and Matt Skiba’s voice is so raspy and awesome. I could have picked several different Alkaline Trio songs, but I still play occasional air guitar to this one, so there you go.
3. AS YOUR GHOST TAKES FLIGHT – SAVES THE DAY
Ah, Saves the Day. Such an emotional band. I wasn’t yet aware of the term “emo”, of course. It took some extra time for stuff like that to filter up to Maine, and I was still using Napster on a dial-up connection. My mom took me and a couple of my friends to see this band at the State Theater twice. At one of the shows Taking Back Sunday opened up, so it was like a double dose of teenage emoting. Later it turned out that the guitarist went to the same college as me and took photo classes from my professor. Anyway, get a load of the lyrics on this one. Can you say overwrought?
4. HIT OR MISS – NEWFOUND GLORY
Hello catchiness. I jumped around to “Hit or Miss” in my room a lot, which must have sucked for everyone as our house was super small. I was absolutely obsessed with this music video as well. Watching it now it’s hard to believe how insanely un-punk Newfound Glory was. I thought the tube socks and wristbands were just the shit. Not to mention the spiky hair. Good god. Regardless, this song does a more than adequate job of summing up the genre, and now it’s stuck in my head again for the first time in probably ten years.
5. BEST OF ME -THE STARTING LINE
This one is in a pretty similar vein. Warped Tour mall-punk. We didn’t really have a mall, so I guess I thought they were cool. I don’t have a whole lot of memories associated with this one, besides a particularly vivid one of being sixteen and having a brand new driver’s license. I was playing this song as loud as I possibly could in my mother’s Subaru, and I was on a particularly straight stretch of the Sedgwick Ridge Road. I decided to see how fast I could go; I remember redlining the car at 120 mph, the engine beginning to stall, and it taking roughly a mile to slow the car down. I scared the living shit out of myself and never tried it again, though I would still manage to wreck the car at a very high speed a few weeks later. For some reason this song will be forever associated with that memory. Sorry mom, I probably never told you that story. Ah, youth.
6. PUNK ROCK PRINCESS – SOMETHING CORPORATE
This song is actually fucking hilarious to me now, as it is one of the least punk rock things ever, but at the time this was an anthem. It summed up everything I wanted out of life at the time, or something, I don’t know. That fantasy of being in a cool band and having a hot girlfriend who was super into your cool band. Coincidentally, my girlfriend at the time was extremely taken with Something Corporate. I think she mostly had the hots for the lead singer (I’m not afraid to admit that the dude was a total cutie pie). Anyway, this band was sort of novel because the lead singer also played piano. Like, a real piano, not a keyboard. And sometimes during their sets he would get on it and play it with his feet. Because just playing it with his hands would not be very punk rock.
7. CROSS OUT THE EYES – THURSDAY
I still love Thursday, and I’m not afraid to admit it. They had a few solid albums, and I probably saw them live more than a couple of times. They were very important to me at the time, so a certain part of me still has a big soft spot for them. This was the first of their songs I heard and it was something of a revelation. For one thing, the lyrics aren’t about a breakup or a girl or anything like that. In fact, I still don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. Plus there is screaming. In hindsight this was probably some kind of gateway for a lot of the hardcore and metal I would eventually get into. I remember walking through the gates of Warped Tour one year and stumbling straight into Thursday’s early set and just going fucking wild. My face got smeared all over a fat dude’s bare sweaty fat back and I just kept on rocking. I miss those carefree days.
8. GREY MATTER – FINCH
This was probably my favorite band of the time. They were on Drive-Thru records (along with a few of the other bands on this list) which quickly became my favorite label, but I still think they were the best of the bunch. Their set at that first Warped Tour was so, so awesome. I knew all the songs and just screamed every single one of them at the top of my lungs. I used to make my mom listen to Finch as she drove me to school in the morning. I thought about putting “What it is to Burn” on here as it’s the classic and my band used to cover it expertly and with a whole lot of heart, but this one exemplifies their M.O. a little better. I think I probably copped a few of Finch’s lines for love notes to my girlfriend. I was so fucking cool.
9. HEADFIRST FOR HALOS – MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
My Chemical Romance’s fans are all fifteen-year-olds to this day, and they ended up being sort of an MTV arena-rock concept band kind of deal, gaining a lot of popularity around the time of that bloated and unforgivable piece of shit American Idiot album, but back when I was fifteen, they had just released this scattered, energetic and dark album called I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love and no one had a fucking clue who they were. Including me, until they were on the bill with Thrice and The Used at the State one night. I’d never seen anything like it; the singer was super drunk and kept grinding his crotch on the stage security’s heads, and their whole vibe was sort of theatrical. Not in a drama-club way (that would come later for them) but in more of a motorcycle gang way. I was into it. Anyway, this song still rules.
10. THE TASTE OF INK – THE USED
Man this was a big deal when I first heard it. I wrote “The Used” on the toe of my shoe in permanent marker. As a kid in a very, very small town, this one resonated with me bigtime. Plus, I really loved the way the guitar sounded. I saw them a couple times when they were still totally fucked up and didn’t give a shit about anything, and they put on awesome shows, especially for a sixteen year old. It’s hard to listen to this now, as I can see how bad it actually is, but it gives me a pretty clear picture of how I felt at the time. This band went on to suck incredibly fucking hard.
11. FREE FALL WITHOUT A PARACHUTE – SENSES FAIL
Speaking of which, I thought this was just the tits in 2003. These guys were the same age as me and I couldn’t get enough of this EP when it came out. This was the stuff that verged on screamo that I was transitioning into at the time. Unlistenable now. He’s doing that emo-whine thing that makes every adult in the world throw up without even meaning to. Also, when you actually listen to the lyrics and consider the fact that they were written by a sixteen year old in his bedroom in suburban New Jersey, it’s hard not to laugh. I just googled some old interviews and at the time he claimed to be “really into Charles Bukowski”. What sixteen year old has the remotest clue what old Chuck is all about? Jesus fucking Christ.
12. YOU’RE SO LAST SUMMER – TAKING BACK SUNDAY
One of the titans of my emo experience. I thought these lyrics were the cleverest shit. “The truth is you could slit my throat/and with my one last gasping breath/I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt”. Holy shit. That one deserves a prize. I hadn’t listened to this in quite some time and it’s somewhat mind-blowing. What’s even more staggering is the fact that this band just re-united and is touring this material as we speak. I don’t know why this spoke to me so much in high school. I wasn’t nearly as much of a whiny scumbag as Adam Lazzarra, and none of the girls I knew were as conniving or as insane as the ones he’s singing about. Maybe high school on Long Island is just totally different. I’ll never know.
13. FAT LIP – SUM 41
Wow, I’d forgotten about this one. I’m not even sure how I thought to dredge it up. I had to download it. This is where the tube socks and wristbands came from. When I saw the video for this bad boy, I was like “I’m going to be a punk. I’m going to jump up and down on halfpipes and do crazy shit with my friends who will hopefully have weird haircuts.” At the time, this shit was just raw power to me. I played so much air guitar to this song. This was pop and irreverance at the same fucking time and it was beautiful.
14. SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES – THE ATARIS
It occurred to me while I was listening to this that when Kris Roe wrote this song he was probably too old to be writing lyrics like this. Jesus Christ. Anyone over 17 should cringe when they hear someone singing something like “I just want you to know I have a major crush on you.” I’m sitting at my kitchen table typing this and my roommate and I just both laughed out loud when we heard it. We’re still laughing. Still, quintessential pop punk song. I debated using “I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone” because when I was sixteen it really spoke to me as I had to spend every night alone because my parents wouldn’t let my girlfriend sleep over because we’d just spend all night touching each others goodies so I was always lonely, basically. In the end, this is a better song.
15. TRUE BELIEVERS – THE BOUNCING SOULS
This song is actually in the dictionary: “Anthem” (noun) see also – “Fistpump”. I loved this one. At the time it made me think of my crew and how tight we were and how the rest of the world just didn’t understand and never would. Sadly, when I listen to it now I’m picturing a bunch of frat boys in some shitty bar in Boston raising their beers in the air and hugging with their shirts off and uh, bonding or something. I wish that hadn’t happened. Now I’m sad. I’m going to think about how I used to try to BMX in an effort to erase that.
16. OLYMPIA, WA – RANCID
A bunch of us saw Rancid at Warped Tour once and it ruled. Rancid ruled. They were way more legit than most of the shit we listened to, but no less accessible. There was an actual punk spirit there, an actual glimmer of the Clash and Cock Sparrer and U.K. Subs and all that shit we didn’t know we should be paying attention to. Plus they weren’t just singing about girl shit all the time. They were singing about life. Punk life.
17. JOSIE – BLINK 182
Obviously Blink 182 is on this mix. They were my first headliners, those fabled titans of pop-punk standing right there before me on the Palladium stage over twelve years ago. I’ll never forget seeing the video for “What’s My Age Again” on MTV at my neighbor’s house for the first time. I was hooked right away. Here was a rock band that was actually good that wasn’t afraid to act like a bunch of teenagers, fart jokes and all. Obviously this type of behavior spoke to me. I mean, it still does. Last year my mom gave me a copy of Enema of the State on vinyl and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. This was the most important band of the bunch; before Blink I was probably listening to a lot of Korn and Limp Bizkit. Blink 182 opened the door for all of this other stuff, and played a pivotal role in my love of rock music. I mean, would Diarrhea Planet exist if it weren’t for Blink 182? I’m not sure. Anyway, rather than go with one of the hits from Enema of the State, I chose “Josie” from Dude Ranch as it was recorded before they found mega-fame and has always been one of my favorites.
18. MIX TAPE – BRAND NEW
Brand New is notable for a few reasons. 1, I still like the lyrics to this song. 2, I still listen to them in the winter when I’m feeling melancholy and when no one is around to hear me listening to Brand New. 3, this song was the first time I’d ever heard of The Smiths, and upon realizing that they were one of Brand New’s favorite bands, I had to hear them. I hated them then and I don’t really like them now. Fuck Morrissey. I digress. This band was one of the first to come along for me during this time period that would play the Warped Tour but would also have semi-intelligent lyrics that verged on the poetic. Also, whenever they came out with a new album it was always a lot different than the last one. I wasn’t used to stuff like that at the time. Anyway, Brand New is still pretty good, so fuck you.
19. INFECTION – RX BANDITS
Finally, one last Drive-Thru band. Rx Bandits were a little different as they had something of a ska background, but they were great live and this song is totally fucking catchy. I used to have a DVD from Drive-Thru records that had a bunch of live footage from some festival and when they played this song the singer from Finch came out and sang the bridge and all the subsequent choruses and it ruled. Whenever I got tired of watching the Something Corporate douche dance around on his piano I’d put “Infection” on and just headbang along to it. I wish I was still so easily satisfied.
Anyway, hope this helps with your shitty week. Stay young.