Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stuff I Listened To Last Week – 18 Sep 2010

Every time I listen to a record, I leave it next to the stereo. On Sunday, before I go back to work, I re-file them all. Below are the contents of this week's pile.

Oh, and one other weird note: apparently I now have a reader. Welcome to the shelf, K—.

Panda bearPerson Pitch
Because he gets filed with Animal Collective, that's why.

BlurModern Life Is Rubbish
A good album, but not a great one. If we're going to get into Radiohead analogies (and we are), this is definitely Blur's The Bends. The first album was the one-hit work of a group of also-rans clinging to the coattails of someone else's scene, while the second the unexpected work of a mature band with a distinct sound of their own. It announced them as a band to be watched, with the potential for greatness in the near future. As with The Bends, it came on the next album.

Incidentally, Blur is their Kid A and 13 their Amnesiac, but Radiohead doesn't have a The Great Escape.

Grand Funk RailroadGrand Funk Lives
Not a live album, as the title seems to imply, rather a comeback album from the early 80s. Not especially good. Reportedly a great album if you were a major GFR fan in the 70s, and every bit the comeback it was intended to be. Not sure why I have this. Nor why I listened to it last week. Lord knows I have some far better Grand Funk records than this.

Guided By VoicesBee Thousand
My brother was in town last week, and I happened to be listening to a pile of 7"es. He asked, "So they all just have one song on each side?" I said yes, usually, but showed him an exception: GBV's Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP, which packs eight songs into seven tiny inches. I played it and he thought the band was (a) hilarious and (b) pretty good. So I threw on this one.

What I love about this album, and what I think you can't truly understand the greatness of without knowing the context of the album in the band's career trajectory, is the way the band kicks in on the first song. The band had by that point spent nearly a decade self-releasing about a half-dozen albums that were roundly ignored. Then came Vampire On Titus, which got them a little bit of fanzine buzz, but not much more.

So they go to record the follow-up, knowing that at the very least someone's going to listen to it. They've got a bit of momentum from the last album, so they have to know that if this one's any good, the groundwork's already been laid for strong word of mouth.

So they're recording a number called "Hardcore UFOs", the arrangement of which consists of a verse and chorus accompanied only by a guitar, followed by the band kicking in full-strength for the second verse. But at the moment the band starts playing, the guitar cuts out completely. It sounds like it just came unplugged by accident or something. So do they do another take, try to get it just right? No. Not only do they keep that take, they make it the opening cut on the new album, their one and potentially only shot at the big time. God bless GBV.

Junior BoysSo This Is Goodbye

If you're using Windows, it's Alt+[Num]0134.

Led ZeppelinHouses Of the Holy
Used to be my favourite Zep record, now I'm not so sure. M—, the biggest Zep fan I know, hates "The Crunge" and calls Houses the first Zep album with filler. I think he may be giving III too much credit.

Incidentally, the title track appears on a different album (Physical Graffiti). I can't think offhand of any other title track-album title disconnects like that.

Massive AttackProtection
Massive's one of those acts whose first album was so amazingly great that they wound up setting the bar too high for themselves, so all subsequest records are seen as not living up to some impossible standard. Nas is like that too. He always gets bagged on for never matching Illmatic, but I mean, who could?

MinutemenWhat Makes a Man Start Fires?

Monster MovieEveryone Is a Ghost


RadioheadHail To the Thief
This, inarguably, is their Hail To the Thief. Or is this one their The Great Escape? Actually, both albums are their makers' respective Human After All.

Silver JewsAmerican Water

Spacemen 3Playing With Fire

The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of the Lid

The Stone Roses

Times New VikingDig Yourself
Two notes about this one:

  1. I ordered this direct from Siltbreeze and had it delivered to my office in New York, since that's the most reliable address I have for receiving packages. But I didn't realise how near my house in Philly is to Siltbreeze. Same ZIP code, in fact. So I had a bunch of records shipped from an address about a ten minute walk from my house to my office a hundred miles away, then brought them back to my house. I wonder if the Siltbreeze guy would let me just come pick up my next order. I'm told he works at the PREx on 5th Street.

  2. The production credits include the line "Lovingly fucked with by Mike 'Rep' Hummel". On the Guided By Voices live album Crying Your Knife Away, Bob Pollard at one point drunkenly (natch) asks the crowd, "Where the fuck is Mike Hummel?" Both bands are from Ohio. Same guy?

I was completely dismissive of this album when it first came out even though I loved Achtung Baby. I just found it on vinyl recently and must say I was completely wrong: this is an excellent album at best, a flawed but intriguing experiment at worst.

And it's also... their Kid A. Seriously, I was listening to this last week when this occurred to me. Then I got an email from K— saying he had read a bunch of old posts on this site and was taking issue with my characterisation of the Flaming Lips' Embryonic as "their Kid A". Funny coincidence.

But really, you can probably apply that tag to a lot of albums by a lot of different bands, and Radiohead's was both so shocking and simultaneously so good that it's become the gold standard for that sort of daring, potentially career-killing aesthetic move. But before there was Kid A, there was Zooropa.

The analogy works on a couple of levels. Both bands were at the height of their careers both in terms of commercial success and critical praise, having just released game-changing albums that would challenge their audience while standing the test of time as daring yet accessible artistic statements (Achtung Baby and OK Computer, in case you've forgotten, which you probably haven't, which, like I said about standing the test of time...). So they both release albums on which they subvert conventional songwriting by basing their songs around sounds rather than melodic hooks. The albums are greeted with skepticism at first, but ultimately come to be viewed as one of the best in each band's catalogue. There's further analogies you can draw here, but it's late and I don't feel like going on too long.

One other oddly coincidental note: both the previous albums were so iconic that they inspired other bands to parody their titles. David Bowie's Tin Machine have a live album called Oy Vey, Baby, and TV On the Radio's first demo tape was called OK Calculator.

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