Back in the early days of internet, before the heady days of six-hour memes and drunken Priming, we all had shitty internet connections. Music had made the leap to the CD format but the analog cassette was still very much alive and well; in 1997 the CD burner was still a several-thousand dollar machine. The MP3 was still a twinkle in some programmer’s eye, downloading music was an exercise in torture, and downloading a movie was right out.
The mailing list, however, was very much alive and well, and the Pavement mailing list was probably the only one of which I was ever actively involved. It was, really, one of the best communities of people that I’ve ever been involved with of which I have never met a single member. (Edit: Along with the Grandaddy mailing list; memories…)
The cassette in question here comes from a random person on that mailing list, a fellow enthusiast of Pavement who went by the moniker “For Solemn Avalanche”. Whatever email address I had at the time is long lost and I can find no further records of any of this, but somehow, someway, this kind soul made me this awesome mix.
I was a a fan of Pavement already– and obviously, or I wouldn’t have been on this mailing list to begin with– but this tape was crafted with care. I remember an exchange, where FSA asked me what my favorite songs were, to ostensibly find some live versions to put on this tape for me. A lot of my favorites were newer songs and so there wasn’t a hell of a lot of traction there but in the end it really didn’t matter. I got this tape and I listened to it. A whole lot.
As I walked the streets of Eugene everyday, it became the soundtrack of my life and deepened my love for this band, encouraging me to dig deeper into their oeuvre. And you know, some of their best tracks really are the b-sides? I sometimes wonder how intentional this is.
Later that year, I got the chance to contribute back to the mailing list. We had decided to make a shirt among us and I had already designed for myself a hand-crafted Pavement silkscreen the year before in art class. I submitted the design and, somehow, it won the vote. A kind fellow named Rob (from the Boston area, if I recall) had a number of them printed up for anyone who wanted one. He also took a set of the shirts for the band and gave them to the guys at a show. It’s too tattered to wear now, but I still have the shirt.
The tape, in similar fashion, broke a few years back. I repaired it, but it won’t ever be quite the same. I don’t even have a device right now that will play a tape, so I couldn’t listen to it anyhow. But it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten from a stranger. Thanks, For Solemn Avalanche.
April 12th, 2015
3. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
All my friends are disappearing
All my letters are in codes
All I ever think and feel
In your shadow, it erodes
-“Ducking and Dodging”
The follow-up to last year’s amazing Light Up Gold expands the group’s sound without losing the wit and quirk at the core that makes them interesting. It’s a front-loaded album, kicking off with rockers “Bodies” and lead-off single “Black and White”, both songs which I initially enjoyed, then glossed over, then really grew to appreciate after a time.
I remember, in particular, hearing “Black and White” for the first time. We were in our cramped hotel room in downtown Chicago our first night there having just gotten back from finding a sports bar at which to catch the Blazers game. We turned the television on, as much to drown out the sound of the city as to ostensibly watch anything. Some late show was on– Seth Meyers’ show, perhaps– and the musical guest du jour was playing. I hadn’t heard the song but, a bit incredulously wondered aloud, “Is this Parquet Courts?” It was in this way in which I heard the last minute of this song, not quite knowing what was going on. It’s not a great story, but there it is.
PC has a knack for making a song that is at once very repetitive but also endearing (“Always Back In Town” is exhibit A here). They also have a penchant for taking something great and then totally fucking it up. My second favorite track on this album is the laconic “She’s Rollin”, a lazy, summery tune, totally pleasant for about four minutes. That’s when the harmonica from hell kicks in and the next two-and-a-half minutes become increasingly unlistenable, an audio endurance test perhaps best compared to the ending of Velvet Underground’s “I Heard Her Call My Name”. (If you don’t know the song by title, it’s that one track on White Light/White Heat that you are always tempted to skip over once the outro starts in.)
While grabbing the above quote from my favorite track on the album, “Ducking and Dodging”, I learned that the song is actually about “…Stalin and the KGB and the fear that they loomed over Soviet composers like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev”. So that’s intense. There’s a lot going on here.
RIYL: Pavement, Television, Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, Parkay Quarts
2. Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser
I am always naked in my mind, tryin’ to reconcile with a towering dark side
The only dress I wear is my shadow on the wall
File this one under psych/alt/folk/pop. If the turnout at the Wonder Ballroom for her last show is any indication, Nicole Atkins is criminally unknown. But if you’ve never heard of her, her third album is a great place to start. This came out early in the year but it stands as Atkins’ most accessible record as well as one of the best records front-to-back that I’ve heard in some time. Decidedly more funky and less folksy than its predecessors, the songs here are catchy but not cloying; fun, but not overly self-aware. It’s good songwriting that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
As individual songs, there is not a dull entry among them; as a whole, and sequenced as they are, it’s simply a great album. Yeah!
RIYL: Neko Case, Cotton Jones, Regina Spektor
1. Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea
My friend walks the same path every day
Stoop to stairwell, cognizance to coma
Ignoring best he can
An inconvenient reality
The consequential chore that unfolds in the naked sprint from screen to screen
Scrolling binary ghettos for escape for reminders
– “Content Nausea”
Content Nausea is not a perfect record. Half of the songs on here are short, straying instrumental transition pieces with little inherent interest. “Slide Machine” sounds like a song I would write or have written which is, perhaps, not a compliment to anyone involved there. The cover of “These Boots” is probably my least favorite cover version of a song that I’ve heard in the last year (with Spoon’s languid cover of “I Just Don’t Understand” a close second) because both are extremely straight covers, which— why? There are also a fair share of aimless instrumental tracks and general weirdness. But if you put out a second album in a single year (albeit under a slightly different band name), you get a lot of latitude.
So it’s not perfect, but it is my favorite record of the year. I just cannot stop listening to it. A few songs in particular have their hooks deep in me. First and foremost, the fast-train-tempo title track which smartly and relentlessly skewers our self-obsessed social media culture and the lament of the loneliness brought on by technology. Holy hell, what a song. “Pretty Machines”, with its unorthodox riff, is probably one of those songs that gets these guys compared to the likes of Richard Hell or Television (in a good way) and it’s a catchy piece of music.
Then there’s “The Map”, which is to me reminiscent of one of my favorite tracks off of Silver Jews’ American Water (the one with the lyric “his sweaters had faces all over it, famous faces, knitted, all over it”). And, finally, the strangely enchanting harkening strains of “Uncast Shadow of Modern Myth”, a sprawling epic that is at least in part about Elvis, and in part about political corruption.
Few albums really grab my attention, musically, at a primal level. Even fewer of those make me actually think about the state of modern man, his place in the world, and exactly what all of our constant consumption of everything is doing to us, to our mental well-being, to our relationship with the world around us.
But then again, the best records are seldom perfect.
RIYL: Pavement, Silver Jews, Television, Velvet Underground, Richard Hell, Parquet Courts
April 12th, 2015
I’ll be brief about these and conserve my rambling for the top three and give these just a sentence or two apiece. I may stretch the definition of sentence through the extended use of colons, semicolons, dashes, and what-have-you, though.
#10. Spoon – They Want My Soul
My favorite Spoon album since Girls Can Tell, although I could do without the super-straightforward cover of “I Just Don’t Understand”.
#9. Sylvan Esso (s/t)
A pretty record: Frou Frou meets Regina Spektor, but bassier.
#8. Courtney Barnett – Split Sea of Peas EP
Billed as a “double EP” instead of an album, which speaks to its somewhat schizophrenic nature, but there’s some work here that is in turns clever and exciting; come for the catchy “Avant Gardener” and the turns of the tongue on “History Eraser”, stay for the soothing strains of “Anonymous Club” and “Porcelain”.
#7. Aphex Twin – Syro
Dense electronic music that provides the perfect soundtrack to blocking everyone around me out so I can get some real work done.
#6. Band of Skulls – Himalayan
Some great, straightforward rockin’, solid songs solidly performed, ain’t nothing wrong here.
#5. Raveonettes – Pe’ahi
I don’t know how I’ve never listened to any of their previous… six albums?! This is good, stuff, though: music for people who aren’t afraid of a little fuzz in their pop rock.
#4. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Chilling, heart-breaking, but not without a sense of humor, Van Etten’s distinct and powerful voice— in both a literal and a writerly sense— bring this thing together beautifully, and it just gets better with subsequent listens.
And we’ll stop there for now. Next up: #3! Is it that Taylor Swift album?
January 29th, 2015
Hawaii is one of those places that I always assumed would be pretty great but I’ve never had occasion to go there. This changed recently as friends of ours decided to get married on the island of Kauai just before New Year’s. Okay, twist my arm. I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking here.
We left a couple of days after Christmas. The travel itself was not too bad, despite the fact that the week between Xmas and New Year’s is apparently the busiest time of the year on the island. However, apparently our luggage did not make the hop from Honolulu over to Kauai. (Thankfully, though, it showed up on the next flight.)
The wedding was held on this lovely beach…
And that was, really, just the beginning. We went on a boat tour, we went to a luau on a nice little stretch of land that included its own Easter Island heads and goats, among other things. Pit-roasted pig!
We went on a boat tour and saw whales. Lots of whales! There was some male-dominance ritual going on, so they were pretty feisty. Pictured: lots of water. Not picture: any whales.
The following day, we went on a tour that included lots of muddy, muddy ATV driving; zip-lining across a canyon; and a nice little swimming hole with a waterfall. SNL alum Kevin Nealon and his family was in our little tour group, as well.
If you look closely at the above picture, you can see the clean spot where my seatbelt was.
There were windstorms for the last couple of days but we managed to get some good downtime just hanging out at the beach, as well. All things must end, but I did get one last look at Honolulu before we left:
In the end, it was a great trip. Party Cat was happy to have us back, though, or at least happy to find a new spot to hang out in once we returned.
January 12th, 2015
From Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005):
Harry: Umm, clearly I’m interrupting. I feel badly. Let me… What are you drinking?
Harry: Bad? Sorry… feel…?
Harmony: You feel bad.
Harmony: Badly is an adverb. So to say you feel badly would be saying that the mechanism which allows you to feel is broken.
Perry: Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.
Perry: Excuse me?
Harry: Sleep bad. Otherwise it makes it seem like the mechanism that allows you to sleep…
Perry: What, fuckhead? Who taught you grammar? Badly’s an adverb. Get out. Vanish.
October 16th, 2014