Category Archives: Rock

“Ex-Ravers”

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Zach Hill
Face Tat, 2010

More toe-cutting and thumb-busting today with an idiosyncratic Zach Hill banger. This is the stuff I love most, when experimental artists wrangle their sound into something vaguely resembling songwriting. Face Tat is full of this approach — nontraditional electro/rock hybrids with verses, choruses and weird lost bridges. The pop-friendly pieces are all here, you just gotta look for ‘em. Hill is best known for Hella and Death Grips but his solo material has always been my favorite, and I still play this one regularly 5 years on.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Ex-Ravers.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”

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Thee Oh Sees
Floating Coffin, 2013

When I decided on Thee Oh Sees for today’s tune, “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” was the first song that came to mind. It was also the last song I wanted to use, not because it isn’t deserving, but because it’s the one track anyone even remotely familiar with the work of John Dwyer is guaranteed to have heard. In fact, it became something of a mini-hit upon its 2013 release — as much of a hit as Thee Oh Sees have had and likely ever will. There’s no denying the charming, smart/dumb hook at the center, and gun-to-head, this is probably the track I’d pick for uninitiated listeners looking for a quick fix. Today I’m gonna assume that’s you. Do you like a little sweet with your sour, some candy with your crush? Does that kaleidoscopic cover art freak you the fuck out while simultaneously piquing your interest? Does it conjure mental images of jawbreakers, sweet teeth, cavities and bloody fingers scraping bass guitar strings? Are you interested, at all, in well-recorded, overdriven garage rock played by experienced professional musicians who know the genre inside and out? Have you given up on chasing trends, chasing lost youth, chasing money or career, chasing anything but the elusive self-conception of whoever and whatever you truly are? Well then, well then. Have Thee Oh Sees got a song for you …

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Toe%20Cutter%20-%20Thumb%20Buster.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Farmhouse”

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Phish
Farmhouse, 2000

This isn’t a post I wanted to write, and not just because it’s about Phish. As a fan of The Dead and other assorted jam acts, I don’t have an aversion to the band like some do. Phish’s output as a recording entity is fine, just fine: inoffensive, technically accomplished, whitebread like nobody’s business. And I can see the appeal of their live shows and the community that’s grown up around them. But listen, they’re … they’re just not for me. And like little else in life, I can state this fact with integrity knowing I’ve put in the time thanks to Scott Aukerman and Harris Wittels’ hilarious and now-departed “Analyze Phish” podcast. Wittels, as you may be aware, passed away two weeks ago at just 30 years old, leaving behind not only his popular podcast and a respected career as a writer and comedian, but perhaps the thing he loved most of all — Phish itself. Wittels aficionados know he was a devoted “phan” who followed the band on tour when he could. He also made no secret — on the podcast, in interviews — of his heavy recreational drug use, how it went hand-in-hand with the concert experience, how it inevitably crept into his daily life. The problem is clear now, of course, in the light of day. All the anecdotes that used to amuse listeners have betrayed darker meaning in the wake of his passing. But life marches on — Harris’ memory, and his work, and the music he loved are still with us. Here’s to you, Harris … I didn’t know you personally, but you mattered just the same. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Did you want me to write about the song too? Well listen, it’s a fine song, just fine … a kind of weird, knowing (I think) mash-up of “No Woman No Cry” and “Let It Be.” About as safe as 21st century songwriting gets, I suppose — and in a world like ours, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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“I Don’t Want It”

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Ween
Quebec, 2003

I’ll open with a full disclosure, which will doubtless turn all true Ween fans away immediately: I came to Ween ridiculously late. Like full-on, post-official-breakup late. I also realized pretty quickly in my deep-dive into the holy core of Weendom (Chocolate and Cheese, The Mollusk, this record)—and here’s where I lose (or else satisfy) those fans still hanging around only to see what an ass I make of myself—that while plenty of tracks are downright great, others either pale in proximity or else annoy after repeated listens. This is the risk, after all, that novelty runs, is getting old. (Sidenote: The exception is The Mollusk, an absolute masterpiece of weird, eclectic, experimental joy, complete with things braised in sand, drunken-brogue sea shanties, and whales with polka-dot tails (the astute reader perceives a theme)). Setting that aside, I’ll reach back to my first exposure to Ween, about a decade ago at a Santa Cruz house party where Quebec was playing. Until that moment I’d always believed Ween to be responsible for “Teenage Dirtbag.” Anyway, years later, as cheesy, as pop-centric, as downright obvious as the song may be, “I Don’t Want It” still hits me harder than anything on The Mollusk. Many consider Ween a joke band, and I’m not sure I can fully argue with these people. Serious bro-humor indeed abounds, and I shudder to imagine the frat contingent at a Ween show circa 2004. “I Don’t Want It,” though, is Everyman’s Ween. It could even be (and here’s another shudder) your Dad’s Ween. There’s no dick jokes, no drugs, no weird sonic fuckery, no arcane references to midcentury Ethiopian emperors, no oh-by-the-way thrash-rock asides. Just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo and we’re done. I mean, for all I know the whole thing could be an in-joke designed to root out the clueless idiots like myself—its luscious (banal?) McCartney background “ahhhhh”s and (put-on?) wistful lyrics are certainly suspect. But remember, we’re alone here; the true fans have all shuffled back to their darkened living rooms and their bongs, and, shit, you guys, here comes that guitar solo, and . . . ahh, yes. Yes, there we go.

My friends, you’re welcome.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20I%20Don’t%20Want%20It.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Music is My Radar”

blur
Blur
The Best of Blur, 2000

Blur were always more of a singles band to me. I’m hard-pressed to name an album I love all the way through, but at a moment’s notice I could probably write a list of 20 great songs spanning their entire career — “Girls and Boys,” “Tender,” “She’s So High,” “End of a Century” and “Coffee & TV” would be just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s fitting that when it came time to bang out the requisite greatest-hits bonus track in 2000, “Music Is My Radar” was unsurprisingly awesome. They pulled off a neat trick with this one: the bounce of their early, class-conscious pop crammed right up against the later experimental stuff. And I want to get excited for the new album too — after all, Graham Coxon is back for the first time since 1999. At the very least I’m sure we’ll get a few more gems to add to the collection.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/18%20Music%20Is%20My%20Radar.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Out of This World”

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The Cure
Bloodflowers, 2000

I love tracking down little-known gems from big-name, established artists. Bands only become “iconic” after they’ve put in the work; I’d guess it takes three or four records widely acknowledged as “great” before any group can qualify. Underground acts on par with Suicide or Shellac — to name two very random examples — are influential, but the sum of their respective outputs isn’t enough to justify elder-statesmen status. As it turns out though, icons are in no short supply. I don’t think anyone would dispute that The Cure are an iconic band and have been for decades, both for their distinctive sound and their fantastic run of classic-era material. In 2000 however, after the commercial air ball that was Wild Mood Swings (an album I still love), Robert Smith and company were invisible to all but the hardest of hardcore fans. Bloodflowers was conceived as the bookend to two earlier critical favorites, Pornography and Disintegration, both of which represent the band at its darkest. As you might expect from any product of equally hubristic conceit, Bloodflowers does not live up to its pedigree. But just try to tell me “Out of This World” isn’t wonderful. Tell me you can listen to all seven minutes without falling under the familiar morbid sway of all the band’s best material. Tell me the guitar lead doesn’t pluck heartstrings you forgot you had. Late-era treasures like this seem to arrive at exactly the moment their creators need them most. For fans, they serve as a reminder that greatness is not simply something that happens.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Out%20Of%20This%20World.mp3]

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“Done”

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Built to Spill
There Is No Enemy, 2009

If you had asked me, say, 15 years ago which of my favorite ‘90s-era guitar bands I’d still be obsessed with all this time later, I wouldn’t have guessed Built to Spill. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely in thrall to the band’s quirky blend of Neil Young guitar rock and panoramic pop-psychedelia — particularly the “Holy Trinity” of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like a Secret — but those records felt distinctly grounded to their era. Pavement or even Modest Mouse, to me, stood the better chance of surviving the decades. But something about the earnestness of Doug Martsch — the wide-eyed, almost childlike puzzlement in his songs — rings truer for me now. And I know of no other traditional guitar band that’s covered more musical ground over the years while remaining fundamentally unchanged at the core. Seriously, throw on something from Ultimate Alternative Wavers after “Done” and you’ll see what I mean. I made a rule when I started TBSYHAD that I’d never repeat an artist, but 90-some posts later I’m breaking it for Built to Spill.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20Done.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Sway”

stones
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers, 1971

To watch them on stage or in interviews, no matter the era, they just come off like a bunch of rakes, right? But the best Stones songs harbor a tension within them: the pull of rock-life decadence vs. an acute sense of human limitation. Very few people will leave this planet having lived faster or fallen harder than The Rolling Stones. They’ve lusted and been loved, harmed and been hurt, and if anyone knows how it feels to live “that demon life” it is most assuredly Mick Jagger. But it wouldn’t mean a thing without the sting of regret — that most knowing, most human of sensations in the pit of every stomach. The voice that warns you when it’s time to leave the party.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Sway.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Become the Enemy”

lemon
The Lemonheads
The Lemonheads, 2006

Evan Dando strikes me as a guy who doesn’t know what to do with his own talent. He’s written some of the catchiest pop songs I’ve heard in my life, but nothing about the work seems effortless — for him or his fans. Following a run at the Boston punk scene, The Lemonheads morphed into a ‘90s alternative concern, and they landed a few radio hits back when those existed — “Into Your Arms,” “It’s a Shame About Ray,” a cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” There were a few more records and a healthy handful of songs I’ll take to my grave, and then they just kind of stopped. Dando had long been plagued by substance abuse rumors, and a scattered 2003 solo record did nothing to dispel them. The last time we heard original work was this self-titled record nine years ago. “Become The Enemy” — a catchy cut about relationship conflict — makes the most of its crack, this-album-only rhythm section (The Descendents’ Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez) and Dando’s smooth way with a melody. God knows how long it took him to write, or when we’ll hear from him again.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Become%20the%20Enemy.m4a]

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“Rano Pano”

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Mogwai
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, 2011

Will Mogwai ever call it a day? I ask not out of exasperation, merely curiosity. We’re a long way from prime-era post-rock and not coincidentally, from the band’s best work (think of those first four records, from Young Team to Happy Songs). What’s left is always good and sometimes excellent — if you know a more consistent living rock band on the planet, please name them — though it’s not hard to wish they were more eager to step out of their comfort zone now and then. “Rano Pano” marks a refreshing change of pace from most of the band’s recent work: rather than the usual serving of sleepy electronic rock, it’s just one riff, a climbing figure that takes exactly 20 seconds to complete on first pass, gradually picking up speed as it builds to a crushing conclusion. Not exactly Sleep-caliber stoner metal, but not exactly not that either. If they want to take things in a different direction next time, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Rano%20Pano.m4a]

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“Spiders (Original Version)”

wilco
Wilco
Live, 2002

The first time I saw Wilco live was in 2002 at London’s Astoria, on the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tour. They opened with this then-unreleased song, performed more or less as you hear it here, and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. Two years later, of course, they turned it inside out for A Ghost is Born, a recording that stands to this day as one of the most beloved and alienating tracks in the band’s catalogue. With time I’ve grown to love both versions equally, but there’s no denying the original’s mellow, hooky charm. One advantage here: the relative stillness of this live presentation leaves plenty of room for the lyrics, among my favorite in Wilcodom.

[audio http://www.jasongonulsen.com/wlco_2002-09-02_d1t01.mp3]
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“Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”

parkay
Parkay Quarts
Content Nausea, 2014

I feel comfortable proclaiming “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” the best Parquet Courts song to-date. (Er, Parkay Quarts, whatever — I guess the distinction on Content Nausea is really just the 4-track recorder, right?) Anyway, they saved it all for this song. It’s like hearing the last 50 years of guitar rock on one track: the skewed-heartland lyricism of Bob Dylan; the sometimes-sincere slack of Pavement; the blocky, amateurish guitar of The Velvets. Throw in some kind of abstract southern-Odyssey storytelling and baby, you got a stew goin’. I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly new about this, but it’s rare to hear it done this good. I like this look on Parquet — more of this next time please, less “Stoned and Starving.”

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20Uncast%20Shadow%20of%20a%20Southern%20Myth.mp3]

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“Don’t Carry It All”

king
The Decemberists
The King is Dead, 2011

“We are all our hands and holders.” Would that it were true, right? Now I’m no Decemberists apologist — I generally object on lyrical grounds, finding Colin Meloy too precious for my blood about 80 percent of the time. But on a longer-than-expected drive from L.A. to Bakersfield to see an old friend in 2011, I needed something to take my mind off an impending breakup and “Don’t Carry It All” proved much-needed medicine. “A neighbor’s blessed burden within reason/Becomes a burden borne of all and one.” That’s a line I needed to hear then and an idea I still want to believe in, even when I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. The split happened a week later and I felt generally miserable for a few months, but then I got better. And like always, music was a big part of the recovery. This morning I was stuck at a light and needed something to take my mind off worrying about work. I grabbed a CD from the center console — a mix I’d made a few years back with a random name, “Saturday Songs” or something like that — and this was the first thing on it. I started skipping through the tracks and it soon became clear that these were the songs, the ones that helped pull me through a darker time in the not-too-distant past. That mix is the story of me moving on, and it started here.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Don’t%20Carry%20It%20All.m4a]

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“It’s All Too Much”

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The Church
A Box of Birds, 1999

I don’t know if there’s a right way to cover The Beatles, but I feel pretty strongly that The Church’s take on Yellow Submarine’s “It’s All Too Much” is one good way to do it. For starters, in the vast reinforced canon that is The Fab Four’s, “Too Much” is more curio than crowned, arguably the least-known song in the film. Second, it’s not like The Church’s version is even all that different from the original — it’s the same psychedelic attack only more, aided by a 30-year advance in studio technology. The guitars are bigger and more distorted, and there’s a bounce to the rhythm section that was missing in George Martin’s watery original mix, but other than that? No new tricks. Steve Kilbey’s multi-tracked vocals don’t even deviate all too much from George Harrison’s. So go figure: a great song by a great band can still be great even when someone else plays it. The trick, as ever, is knowing your lane.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/Church%20Its%20All%20Too%20Much%20Beatles%20cover.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Small”

third
Portishead
Third, 2008

Portishead crushed it with Third. Sure, I was a fan during their 90s run, which was really just three albums long (two studio, one live), but I could never have guessed at the staying power those songs would have. There was something in the music that felt intrinsically tied to its era, and sure enough, most of their peers have now been forgotten. But disappearing for 11 years proved to be a good career move. Third was something of a magic trick: a record so good it not only justified the wait, it made you forget about genre entirely. You can’t ask for more than that.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20Small.mp3]

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“Green Grow the Rushes”

rem
R.E.M.
Fables of the Reconstruction, 1985

I suppose song-for-song, Fables represents the slowest of early R.E.M. Certainly the darkest, the most mysterious. Perhaps even the most Southern, by which I mean it feels the most foreign to an American born elsewhere. It might also be the most inconsistent, but the highs are formidable (“Driver 8,” “Maps and Legends,” “Feeling Gravitys Pull”). Early R.E.M. holds a special place for me; the first five records make me nostalgic for a time and place I’m too young to remember, and there’s a sweetness to “Green Grow the Rushes” that feels eternal. It’s not hard to hear this music and imagine the world it came from, or to wish you knew it too.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Green%20Grow%20The%20Rushes.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Maidenhead”

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Protomartyr
Under Color of Official Right, 2014

You’re gonna swear you’ve heard Protomartyr before, and you won’t exactly be wrong. Punk like Detroit, post-punk like Wire, Ian Curtis like Ian Curtis (that’s Joe Casey on vocals), Under Color of Official Right successfully amalgamates a hand-picked assortment of rock flavors you’ve come to know and love. They’re not the first band to try this kind of thing and they won’t be the last, but the success-to-failure ratio is admirably high. You’re getting the sweet without the sour on “Maidenhead,” even with lines like “Shit goes up, shit goes down/What am I, a dead moose?” Bitter comes after and never quits: dedicated punk on “Want Remover,” modern resignation on “I Stare at Floors,” culture-baiting fight song “Tarpeian Rock.” The band’s willingness to bend angry to just the right shape is admirable, even when it’s a shape we’ve seen before. In some fields, dedication is prized above invention.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Maidenhead.m4a]

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“Hallogallo”

neu
Neu!
Self-Titled, 1972

Two days in a row — let’s keep the ball rolling. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay any artist is to call their work “timeless.” Since we’re on the topic of Krautrock, help yourself to some classic Neu! today: same bat-time, same bat-country as Can. Here we have what may be the finest example of Motorik drumming in the history of music or drumming: a taut 4/4 timekeeper so cool it actually becomes the song — everything else is just well-executed window dressing. The last 40 years of popular music have conditioned us to the effect, but prior to the era it was rare to hear a rock sound so driven, so bloody-minded, so precise. These 10 minutes pass quickly; this record just turned 42. And in related news: time flies.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Hallogallo.mp3]

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“See You Later”

Mic_City_Sons
Heatmiser
Mic City Sons, 1996

This sounds dramatic and probably is, but I haven’t listened to Elliott Smith much since the day he died … and that was more than 11 years ago. I had previously been a serious fan, and to this day I’d still cite him as a formative influence (inasmuch as holds meaning for a non-professional musician), but the tragic, almost unbelievable nature of his death effectively ended my interest in revisiting his music. It became much harder to listen to his solo records (I still cite Either/Or as my fave) once it became clear that, yes, that was the real Elliott we’d been hearing in those songs: brilliant but addled, solipsistic, hopelessly addicted to love and other substances. It was one form of intrusion to merely hear this as a fan; quite another to realize that, emotionally at least, it had all been true. It became impossible for me to spend time with those old records without also feeling somehow complicit in one man’s disintegration. I am trying to express this with as little judgment as I can, and perhaps I am not succeeding, but the point is the man’s music simply meant too much to me for his life to not also carry equal weight. To lose one felt – for me anyway — like losing both. It was/is no longer my place to live in his world as a listener, but that shouldn’t stop you, or anyone really, from remembering his considerable gifts as a songwriter. In an ideal age, we’d all be able to hear a song like “See You Later” and it would feel like the first time every time, and the name of the artist would never be known, and we’d all be better for it. Because the music was truly special.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20See%20You%20Later.m4a]

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“Cuttooth”

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Radiohead
Knives Out single, 2001

Are b-sides even a thing anymore? I know, of course, that there will always be songs artists choose not to release on a grand scale, or even at all — there will always be throwaways. But as the traditional album format declines in relevance and songs matter only at face value — either $.99 or “free” to stream, and immediate enough to warrant repeat listens or forgotten on first pass — the playing field is leveled for both old and new material. A song becomes just a song, of interest to as many as want to hear it, with only the artist’s wishes providing context. In the new listening economy, b-sides mean as much as singles, as much as track 10 or 12 or 200, as much as radio. The songs either exist by virtue of being revealed or they don’t, and their commercial/critical fortunes rise and fall alongside all other noise. Radiohead’s two decades of b-sides outline a fascinating parallel history of the band — this is a group whose reputation was made in and because of the traditional album era, which itself enabled the b-side model as much as the singles format before it. Anything that didn’t make the cut on OK Computer or Kid A or Amnesiac was certainly intended by the band to be experienced apart from those albums. But today, an interested fan can listen back to those singles and EP’s featuring non-album material … and it’s all just Radiohead. And B-side Radiohead strikes me in general as less conservative, a little less measured, more willing to engage in traditional rock-band theatrics than the willfully obscured “final cuts” marked for canon. Witness “Cuttooth,” a piano-driven rocker that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Coldplay record from the same era were it not for its more adventurous production. I can scarcely imagine Thom Yorke & Co. sanctioning this track for The Bends, much less Amnesiac, their most experimental record. And of course they didn’t, they picked it for the scrap-heap, but here we are 13 years later and sure enough, it’s a Radiohead song. As a fan, I like it about as much as anything else they could’ve chosen to put on an album. The future audience may be unaware there was ever a distinction.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/2-07%20Cuttooth.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Nobody’s Perfect”

bazan
David Bazan
Bazan Monthly Volume 2, 2014

Dave Bazan may have given up on Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he’s ever going to stop singing about him. As the erstwhile Pedro the Lion, Bazan was Sufjan Stevens back when the decimal-rating system was just a gleam in Pitchfork’s haughty eye — a Christian indie rocker it was okay to like because he openly wrestled with his faith instead of extolling it. Then, after years of intimation, Bazan did the honest thing and ditched his nom de plume. The religion soon followed, but not the struggle. “The crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice,” he confessed on 2009’s Curse Your Branches. “All this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about you.” Five years later, his feelings may be settled but the subject is the same. The character in question this time is the Lord himself, who sheepishly admits that hey, maybe he was overreacting with that whole don’t-eat-from-the-tree thing … take Him back? Believers current and former will find a lot of meat on these ribs; atheists may continue to wonder why all the fuss.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Nobody’s%20Perfect.mp3]

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“How Do You Do”

600full-david-grohl
Dave Grohl
Touch Soundtrack, 1997

Dave Grohl: your new music sucks, dude! You’re in classic-rock hell now: too much actual singing, too many boring ‘70s weak-ass riffs. The Colour and the Shape still holds up, man. I know, because I listened to it this week right after streaming the new one, Sonic Highways, which … the less said about that title (or album art) the better. Tom Petty’s latest is named Hypnotic Eye, for crying out loud — it’s like you guys switched bodies. Anyway, there was a stretch of time after Nirvana in the 90s — a span of several years in fact — where you ruled as a power-pop songwriter. It was like the perfect blend of kind-of-still-grunge-but-cleaner and kind-of-moving-into-radio-pop-but-not-quite-there-just-yet. And then the same year as Colour, you flipped the script and scored a Paul Schrader indie flick, based on a book by Elmore Leonard. I mean: that’s pretty edgy, dude! And you wrote a great song for that movie, a song which almost no one knows but I’m lucky to have stumbled across in my dorm room c. 1999 thanks to Napster. “How Do You Do” is everything that used to be good about Foo Fighters all in one song, and it proves once and for all that you were what was good about Foo Fighters because you recorded it on your own. It’s catchy, it’s high-energy, the drums kill and like the best pop songs — from The Beatles to yep, Nirvana — it never wears out its welcome. In Your Honor, I’m playing this one on loop today. Everyone still likes you here — how could we not?, you’re our Dave Grohl, the only one we’ve got! — and we’ll keep rooting for you until you decide to call it a day. But seriously, dude. Sonic Highways?

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20How%20Do%20You%20Do.mp3]

Amazon

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“Honey Joy”

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Royal Headache
Royal Headache, 2012

Australia’s Royal Headache make scuzzy rock that’s most notable for its determination to break away from the genre. While there are no shortage of garage bands in this world willing to flaunt their love of Motown, very few sport a lead vocalist who sounds like he could’ve been a soul-music star in a parallel universe. Shogun (he goes by first name only) is that outlier, and the band’s biggest virtue: whatever soul is — and I’m not sure I’m qualified to speculate on the particulars, or that I’d even want to — it’s clear he has it in spades. Sometimes the music catches up to him and follows suit; sometimes it stands still in predictable punk fashion. Both ways, it works.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/11%20Honey%20Joy.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Waiting”

rentals
The Rentals
Return of The Rentals, 1995

At this point, I guess I’m something of a Weezer “truther.” Several albums and more than a decade removed from the band’s distinctly underwhelming Green Album return, there’s no logic or benefit to arguing that Rivers Cuomo’s post-Pinkerton output stacks up to past glories, because It. Just. Doesn’t. Cuomo’s written plenty of good songs since, but something was lost in those intervening years that he’ll never get back, and who the fuck am I to complain when I can barely play three chords? One strong theory though: Weezer lost more than a bassist when Matt Sharp left. The Rentals’ debut, released shortly after The Blue Album, was lower-fi and more keyboard-heavy, but otherwise sounded a hell of a lot like the work of a guy who played (and possibly even co-wrote songs) for Weezer. Sharp’s distinct background vocals snuck onto those first two albums, and in live performances, he was the guy who kept the energy up. So maybe he’s the Man Behind the Curtain, maybe he’s not — see yesterday’s Song for proof that Cuomo can still hold his own when he feels like it. More likely though, in some unspeakable sense, Sharp contributed to the band dynamic in such a way that things could never be the same without him. Because they weren’t.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Waiting.mp3]

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“The Angel and the One”

weezer
Weezer
The Red Album, 2008

“The Angel and the One” is a fascinating entry in the post-heyday Weezer discography. In sentiment and execution it’s something of a mid-life rejoinder to Blue Album finale “Only in Dreams,” widely acknowledged by people who used to love Weezer to be, like, maybe the best song Rivers Cuomo ever wrote. What’s interesting about “Angel” is just how closely it contradicts its forebear. Instead of a hapless, unknown, twenty-something dude praying for a shot at getting laid, we’ve got thirty-eight year-old rock icon Cuomo telling a groupie to step off. At the other end of his remarkable career, he’s no longer the nerd begging for attention, he’s the millionaire who’s had enough. And where “Dreams” was lyrically direct, a pure sentiment boiled down to purest form, “Angel” is high-minded, awkwardly phrased and almost comically overblown, ending with an unlikely benediction: “Peace, shalom.” But divorced from the words, the song soars — the music here is as strong as anything on the band’s first two albums, and Cuomo sings with such conviction it doesn’t really matter what he’s saying. No comment on that cover art though.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Angel%20and%20the%20One.mp3]

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“Bright Pavilions”

super
Superdrag
In the Valley of Dying Stars, 2000

Superdrag was one of those bands that just never got the timing down. Early on, when they were firing on all cylinders — the stretch from 1996 major-label debut Regretfully Yours to this album — the band could never quite drum up the attention needed to make a real splash, MTV’s embrace of the “Sucked Out” video aside. By the time they’d been around long enough to be missed they were already gone, and when they did finally come back with 2009’s Industry Giants, well, it was clear more than the industry had changed. I’ll posit that despite the tendency in later years to wear their influences on their sleeves, the band’s early sound was truly original: shoegaze guitars, Zombies-worthy songs, snarl on loan from God-knows-where and the inimitable vocals of John Davis. “Bright Pavilions” is one of the finest examples of the band’s craft, arriving late enough to know exactly what it’s doing and early enough to be truly great.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Bright%20Pavilions.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Treasure Plane”

oneida
Oneida
Secret Wars, 2004

Brooklyn’s Oneida live by no code. Anchored by the manic playing of drummer/singer Kid Millions, they’ve devoted their recorded output to exploring the furthest reaches of rock music, pushing the traditional band lineup about as far as anyone could reasonably expect. They’ve incorporated electronics, psych-rock trappings, krautrock jams, improvisation and more, and the breadth of their catalogue might be intimidating for the casual listener. While they’ve certainly released more experimental albums than Secret Wars, it remains their most open and accessible recording. “Treasure Plane” opens things up with vintage keys, warm distortion, and actually-quite-lovely, Lou Barlow-esque vocals. For a moment you might even be fooled into thinking you’re listening to Sebadoh, if Sebadoh recorded in a rusty dryer.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Treasure%20Plane.m4a]

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“Fuzzy Reactor”

boris
Boris & Michio Kurihara
Rainbow, 2007

What to say about “Fuzzy Reactor” that can’t already be explained by that title? It sounds like what it is: a swirling, psychedelic jam with a krautrock engine. This is my favorite track off “Rainbow,” the collaborative album from experimental Japanese band Boris and guitarist Michio Kurihara. Like the best ambient/incidental music, it has the power to make you forget you’re listening.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Fuzzy%20Reactor.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Take You on a Cruise”

antics
Interpol
Antics, 2004

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Interpol sure have a knack for terrible opening lines. “If time is my vessel, then learning to love might be my way back to sea,” and “Touch your thighs, I’m the lonely one,” are two of my personal favorite WTF lyrics in any band’s catalogue. And there are howlers like these all over Antics, the band’s sophomore album. “I’m timeless like a broken watch/I make money like Fred Astaire” kicks off “Take You on a Cruise” with a thud, but the music is so convincing the song succeeds anyway. This was the band’s great strength in their decade-gone heydey – instrumentals that shook even when the words were an afterthought.

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“Wharf Rat”

skull
The Grateful Dead
Skull and Roses, 1971

The Grateful Dead’s studio output is almost unfit for consumption — by me or anyone else. Despite their extracurricular proclivities, they were just about the whitest, squarest-sounding band in history, and studio sterility did them no favors. As I’ve gotten older though (I’m 33 now), I’ve developed a taste for their live recordings. Onstage they were squirmy, hardly controlled, often downright sloppy. And somehow that lack of discipline is what made them so appealing. Listening to albums like Europe ’72 or Skull and Roses, I sometimes feel like I’m hearing 5 or 7 or 9 dudes each playing in a different band at the same time. It’s the ultimate engagement, music as participation for both listener and band. That whole Deadhead thing makes a lot more sense now.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/10%20Wharf%20Rat.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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