Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues (The Cape Verdean Blues, 1965)
Horace Silver was one of the greats, a jazz innovator who made music that was as fun to listen to as it was to think about. He co-founded the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, in the process becoming one of a handful of players and composers who could lay a claim to inventing hard bop.
Silver died toady at age 85, and I miss him already. That stuff above is why he was important, but when I think about my connection with his music, his significance to jazz doesn’t really enter into it. I love what his mind did with the basic ingredients of bop. He wrote some astonishing melodies, and his arrangements were always clever and thoughtful. On his best-known tracks, like “Song for My Father” and “Sister Sadie,” he used his horn sections to play tightly written tunes that sounded casual and free, a little like a conversation where everyone’s on the same page about something.
He got that sound from listening to jam sessions at his childhood home in Connecticut. His Cape Verdean father would have friends over, and when they played together, it was mixed with people talking, and the playing was loose. He only ever once directly referenced his paternal ancestry in a song title, on this track, and he gave the song an insistent rhythmic pulse that pushes along the horns a little more strongly than he might have a few years earlier.
This is maybe not the best track to illustrate it, but Silver was an amazing piano player. This song features some of his great rhythm playing; he could play percussive and funky, but he could also pull back to reveal a lighter touch. His 1959 LP Blowin’ the Blues Away features some of his most inspired solos, and some of the playing on that record is just about as good as jazz piano gets.
Silver was, like most jazz vets, a constant mentor to younger players, having himself been discovered by Stan Getz. Louis Hayes, Hank Mobley and Blue Mitchell all learned on the job in his band; I don’t think it’s an accident that each player was himself immensely lyrical.
Silver lived a good, long life and was musically active for most of it, though his legacy was sealed even before he recorded this song. I’m sure I’ll be listening to him a lot over the next few days.
This one’s for Chad Channing. Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, but Channing won’t be inducted with them, in spite of playing drums on all but three songs on Bleach, their debut album (Dale Crover played on the other three).
I don’t know what weird politics are at work at the Rock Hall that govern who’s inducted with a given band and who isn’t, but it seems to me that Channing at least deserves some credit for being an important part of the band’s history, even if he wasn’t around when they took over the charts and, yeah, changed everything.
There are other people who played important roles that aren’t in the Hall—the most egregious omission I can think of is that Bob Welch was left out when Fleetwood Mac was inducted; if it wasn’t for his stewardship of the band, there never would have been a Buckingham/Nicks version of it. Leaving him out ignores the band’s history. Channing’s not that pivotal, but snubbing him still feels cold.
I wonder what Kurt Cobain would think of all this. I didn’t know him, obviously, but he seemed like the kind of guy who would have gone up to the podium and brought all the people the Rock Hall left out—Channing, Crover, Pat Smear, maybe even Jason Everman—with him just to make a point. He also probably would have been conflicted about the honor in the first place, immensely gratified and proud, but also uneasy about being lionized or sewn into a pat narrative.
That’s basically what halls of fame do, though, and it’s also why, as fun as it can be to mull over what warrants inclusion in such as institution, halls of fame will also never really be useful as a record of culture. As much as it sucks for Channing to find out he’s been overlooked (there were rumors he’d be inducted before he got the news, and he sounded excited), I hope he can at least take comfort in the fact that, 25 years after he helped make Bleach, I still listen to it, and so do thousands of other people. And his drumming is just perfect for the music.
Hi Joe - just gave you a shout-out on Twitter because I really liked your Tinariwen record review on Pitchfork from a few weeks ago. Check out my blog on international music: Sugar Knights (sugarknights-dot-net). I think we're into similar things. I used to work for a National Geographic world music television channel in Europe and helped set up a Nat Geo record label in the States a few years ago. Keep up the good work!
Scott Asheton died the other day. I’ve hardly written anything here this year, but I couldn’t let that pass without some sort of tribute. Asheton was the drummer for a lot of bands, but the one that really matters is the Stooges.
Formed in Ann Arbor in 1967, when the band hit the Detroit rock scene, it was truly something different for its time. Iggy Pop gets a lot of the credit for that. He was hte wild frontman, after all, and it’s pretty much impossible to spend much time around someone who’s been on the Detroit scene for more than 20 years without hearing some sort of weird story about him.
But Iggy getting shirtless and bloody and confusing the hell out of people is just a fraction of what made that band special. Asheton and his guitarist brother Rob each brought a sound to the band that hadn’t been heard before, and on record, where you can’t see any of the flailing, their presence is arguably greater and more important than Iggy’s to what the band left behind. (Dave Alexander was great too, but it’s honestly harder to carve out a space that’s totally your own as a bass player.)
I wanted to feature a track from their second album, because Don Gallucci’s production on Funhouse really puts Asheton’s drumming right in your lap, dry and unadorned. “1970” in particular is Asheton at his best, holding down a shuffling rock beat, but doing it in a way that simultaneously grounds and contributes to the sense of chaos and madness at the heart of the song. He rarely just pounded out a straight beat (ironically, the tightest conventional rock beat on the whole album is on “Loose”).
His drumming created the sense that everything could fly apart at any minute, but that we were going to keep surging forward as long as it held together. It was a little like the rivets on an airplane wing rattling out of place as the pilot barely avoided catastrophy by sticking a rough landing. If you wanted to be an effective rock drummer after Scott Asheton, you had to learn more tricks than just throwing in a fill here and there.
Asheton was great at what he did. He was influential—Mogwai even named an album after his “Rock Action” nickname—but he was also the kind of musician other musicians liked to work with, as evidenced by his extremely long CV. He’ll be missed.
Vusi Mahlasela: “When You Come Back” (When You Come Back, 1992)
This song always makes me think of Nelson Mandela. I don’t think it’s really about him, but the chorus—“they’ll be ringing the bells when you come back/they’ll be beating the drum when you come back” just seems to resonate with his release form prison and the end of Apartheid, the latter of which occurred two years after this was released.
I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it when Mandela died, but I’ve given his life a lot of thought in the time since, and while there were many things to admire about him, I think I’ve settled on one thing that makes him truly great to me:
He walked away.
Revolutionaries rarely make good leaders after the battle is won. ”But… but George Washington!” I can hear my fellow Americans saying. Here’s a little secret about the American Revolution: the people who took power were the people who were already in power before the war. They were statesmen before they were revolutionaries, and that isn’t the case with most revolutionaries.
Most revolutions are lead by people who start on the outside looking in. Their goal is the erasure of some sort of injustice, and that was certainly the case with Mandela-as-revolutionary. Examples abound, however, of those who overthrow a corrupt regime replacing it with one just as corrupt and wrong. Castro in Cuba is one example; Iran’s 1979 revolution is another, and those are fairly run-of-the-mill examples of the oppressed morphing into oppressors. They don’t even touch the Pol Pots and Maos of the world.
Mandela was not like these people. He swept into power in South Africa’s first free election. His election could have been a coronation. he could have taken for himself a great deal of power. But he didn’t. He stewarded the country through a difficult transition, and then he turned down the chance to run for president again and capitalize on the value of his personality and the love people had for him. He refused to encourage a cult of personality or any kind of tribalism, generalized black-white tribalism or otherwise, and in so doing, he laid a real foundation for lasting democracy.
He left behind a country with a hell of a lot of real and pressing problems. But he did not do the weak thing and make it about himself. He made it about the country and the future, and that is why I’ll always value him. He was someone more leaders and revolutionaries should learn from.
One of my favorite jazz bandleaders died just before Christmas. Yusef Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga in 1920, but grew up in Detroit and built the foundation of his career in the city’s underappreciated jazz scene (Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, the three Jones brothers and Paul Chambers all came from that scene, and Miles Davis weathered one of the toughest parts of his career there).
Lateef was an expressive and imaginative tenor sax player, but unlike most jazz musicians, who really work on mastering their voice on a single instrument, Lateef built an identity as a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute, oboe, and over a half-dozen non-Western reed instruments. Those non-Western instruments figured prominently in his adventurous and pioneering experiments in early world music on albums like Eastern Sounds, Prayer to the East and Into Something.
Coltrane was among the many who listened to those albums and took notes—the two never played together that I know of, but I would’ve liked to hear that. Lateef did play with many others, though, appearing as a sideman even long after establishing himself as an influential and capable bandleader. He played for both Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Grant Green, Olatunji, Art Blakey, and Les McCann, among many others; he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s thoroughly woven into the fabric of jazz made from the 50s through the 80s.
Over that span, he evolved capably, as did all the best leaders. His 1969 LP Yusef Lateef’s Detroit, looked back to his formative years playing in that city when it was at the peak of its might, with tracks named for the neighborhoods he spent his time in and the streets that defined his travels. “Eastern Market” is named for the huge farmer’s market just northeast of downtown (before I-375 was built and ripped their guts out, some of the city’s most thriving black neighborhoods were just south of this area).
I buy vegetables at Eastern Market a few times a year, and it still has the bustling, free-for-all feeling suggested by the shouted vocals at the end of this track (the guy who runs it, Dan Carmody, is an insightful thinker about the relationship between food and community). Really, listening to the whole LP as a Detroiter conjures the city, and even if it looks back to a time when the city’s fortunes were much different, it still isolates the feelings that make the city special.
Lateef’s arrangements reflect the rhythmic, psychedelic music that the city had become famous for producing. The band includes a 19-year-old Chuck Rainey on bass, with a cameo by Cecil McBee, Ray Barretto on congas, Bernard Purdie on drums, and guitarist Eric Gale. Lateef gets funky on the flute and throws in some inventively arranged strings, too; it’s soul jazz where the combination doesn’t neuter either one.
This was the kind of synthesis Lateef could pull off. He knew how to pick a band and shape the music around it. Listen to the space he gives Purdie here. Everything is loose-limbed and grooving. The album ends with Lateef on tenor, playing through the standard “That Lucky Old Sun” with incredible depth of feeling, almost as if to remind that he was a hell of a straight jazz player as well as an experimentalist.
Lateef spent a lot of his later career teaching jazz at universities. He died at his home near Amherst, Massachusetts, where he taught as UMASS and Hampshire College. He was 93. If you care at all about jazz, give this guy a few thousand moments of your time. It will be worth every one of them.
Suede: It Starts and Ends With You (Bloodsports, 2013)
Sometimes, the best new things are old things. Suede is my wife’s favorite band, and we listened to them a lot in the summer after high school and during college. Over the years, they’ve come to be one of my favorite bands as well (I initially rode only for the Bernard Butler era, but these days I think the post-Butler stuff at its best is just as good; they simply became less consistent.
Suede came back this year, which was not a surprise, as they’d toured in 2010, and there’d been rumblings abut a new album for some time. What was a surprise is how good the album they made was. “It Starts And Ends With You” was one of my favorite songs for the year, and it hangs with anything from their classic era.
it is also essentially the epitome of a Suede song. Brett Anderson’s vocal line soars toward the title refrain, but every verse starts out much more downbeat, and Richard Oakes’ guitar line behaves like a second voice, conversing with it.
One of the funny things about Suede is the way that element of their sound stayed consistent even when they switched guitarists. Oakes was a huge Suede fan and learned some of what he knows from listening to Butler, but he has a different way of playing the same basic style that makes the band’s music a little more candy-colored.
I always thought A New Morning was only okay, and not much of a way for such a great band to go out. Bloodsports is a hell of a way for a band to come back, and it makes me hope they’re not done.
Jaipur Kawa Brass Band: Yeh Kali Kali Aankhen (Dance of the Cobra, 2013)
Before I heard Dance of the Cobra, I had no idea that northern India had a brass band tradition. It does, though, dating back to the colonial era. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, and this band plays at all manner of public and private events there.
Pretty much everything they play moves like a rocket, and all you’re hearing is brass, percussion, vocals and an occasional Indian woodwind. The percussion is a mix of native and Western instrumentation—I’ve always loved the sound of ensemble percussion playing, where each player’s rhythm locks in with the others to form an unstoppable wave.
I like how the brass carries rhythm as well—I’ve always loved Balkan horn ensembles for this same reason (check out Fanfare Ciocarlia for a contemporary example). I have a few American marching band competition LPs that I don’t listen to casually like I do Jaipur Kawa, but I love the sound of those as well. There used to be a brass group in Chicago (no drums) that would set up on a street corner and just groove for an hour, and I’d always stop for them.
I love that groups like Jaipur Kawa are getting their chance on record these days, thanks to labels like Riverboat. How they were chosen over their many colleagues I don’t know—right place/right time, perhaps? I’d love to be able to hear them in the context of the many bands they share the circuit with.
1. Savages: Silence Yourself 2. Thee Oh Sees: Floating Coffin 3. Neko Case: The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight… 4. Julia Holter: Loud City Song 5. Sigur Ros: Kveikur 6. Suede: Bloodsports 7. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan: UZU 8. Vieux Farka Toure: Mon Pays 9. Bombino: Nomad 10. William Tyler: Impossible Truth
11. The Knife: Shaking the Habitual 12. Arctic Monkeys: AM 13. Laura Veirs: Warp and Weft 14. Los Campesinos!: No Blues 15. Ex-Easter Island Head: Mallet Guitars Three 16. Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time 17. A Hawk and a Hacksaw: You Have Already Gone to the Other World 18. In Solitude: Sister 19. !!!: Thr!!!er 20. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
21. Man Man: On Oni Pond 22. The Ex & Brass Unbound: Enormous Door 23. Omar Souleyman: Wenu Wenu 24. Kanye West: Yeezus 25. Eleanor Friedberger: Personal Record 26. Akron/Family: Sub Verses 27. The Marcus Roberts Trio: From Rags to Rhythm 28. Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork 29. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City 30. Etran Finitawa: The Sahara Sessions
31. Rokia Traore: Beautiful Africa 32. Devendra Banhart: Mala 33. Kinski: Cosy Moments 34. Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 3 35. Mikal Cronin: MCII 36. Dodos: Carrier 37. Califone: Stitches 38. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak 39. Retribution Gospel Choir: 3 40. Primal Scream: More Light
41. Low: The Invisible Way 42. The Men: New Moon 43. Flaming Lips: The Terror 44. Arcade Fire: Reflektor 45. Wolf People: Fain 46. Destruction Unit: Void 47. Eksi Ekso: Archfiend 48. Jose James: No Beginning No End 49. Iron & Wine: Ghost on Ghost 50. Ken Stringfellow: Danzig in the Moonlight
Julia Holter: Horns Surrounding Me (Loud City Song, 2013)
I like a sound that breathes. It’s almost as if spaciously recorded music leaves room for me to grow into it—if nothing else, it agrees with my ear.
Julia Holter’s music breathes so much that it is basically a big lung. She’s now made one of my favorite records of the year two years running. I can just get lost in these things and not care—why would I want to find the way out when there’s so much interesting stuff to take in?
"Horns Surrounding Me" is just incredible. The way she weaves the brass through that throbbing rhythm is entrancing, and the rest of it brilliantly uses layering. When she sings the title, I love that there’s no countermelody, just this smear that implies enclosure even as it echoes into the distance.
Loud City Song has other amazing tracks and figures to be in the rotation for a long time, but this song’s power is singular. I don’t think I’ve heard it the same way twice. I sort of hope I never do.
At the moment I was asked to make the list, these were my 50 favorite songs of 2013.
1. Thee Oh Sees: I Come from the Mountain 2. Neko Case: I’m from Nowhere 3. Suede: It Starts and Ends with You 4. Julia Holter: Horns Surrounding Me 5. Dieuf-Dieul de Thies: Na Binta 6. Bombino: Amidinine 7. Kanye West: “New Slaves” 8. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan: “One” 9. Arctic Monkeys: Fireside 10. Savages: City’s Full 11. Califone: “Frosted Tips” 12. Laura Veirs: “Sun Song” 13. Queens of the Stone Age: I Sat by the Ocean 14. Eleanor Friedberger: When I Knew 15. The Knife: “Full of Fire” 16. Sigur Rós: “Brennisteinn” 17. Janelle Monáe: PrimeTime 18. Los Campesinos!: Cemetery Gaits 19. Devendra Banhart: Für Hildegard von Bingen 20. Kinski: Last Day on Earth 21. Mystical Weapons: “Colony Collapse Disorder” 22. Man Man: Pink Wonton 23. Veronica Falls: Teenage 24. Yellowbirds: “Young Men of Promise” 25. Destruction Unit: “Evil Man” 26. A Hawk and a Hacksaw: “You Have Already Gone to the Other World” 27. Boris: Elegy 28. The Men: Half Angel Half Light 29. Arcade Fire: Reflektor 30. Dodos: Destroyer 31. Eksi Ekso: All Hail the Alchemist 32. The Ex & Brass Unbound: Last Famous Words 33. Iron & Wine: The Desert Babbler 34. Sidi Touré: Mali 35. William Tyler: Hotel Catatonia 36. Jaipur Kawa Brass Band: Yeh Kali Kali Aankhen 37. John Grant: Black Belt 38. Kingsbury Manx: Future Hunter 39. Low: Plastic Cup 40. Vampire Weekend: Unbelievers 41. !!!: One Girl/One Boy 42. Omar Souleyman: Mawal Jamar 43. Sky Ferreira: You’re Not the One 44. The Wee Trio: Space Jugglers 45. Daft Punk: “Get Lucky” [ft. Pharrell] 46. Primal Scream: 2013 47. Sloan: It’s In You, It’s In Me 48. Kisses: Up All Night 49. Samuel Yirga: Yeh Bati Koyita 50. ADULT.: New Frustration
Thee Oh Sees: I Come From the Mountain (Floating Coffin, 2013)
I still love rock and roll, dammit. I spent a lot of this year with old hard rock—there is something about the sound and feel of those recordings that just gets me. The 60s and 70s in general, I guess, when recording was an ill-defined frontier and mistakes still made it onto big-budget records.
Thee Oh Sees have been around for a while—I saw them at the Pitchfork Festival in 2012 and they were great; up to that point, I’d never given them a second thought. Their earlier records still haven’t clicked with me, but Floating Coffin just hit the spot in 2013 and became one of my favorite records. I stuck this song at the top of my tracks list because it’s just about everything great about hard rock all in one place.
It’s a little psychedelic, a little heavy, a little unhinged, a little melodic, a little pop (the organ!); I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else call in hard rock, but by my standards, standards formed by absorbing all kinds of old stuff like Stray and Captain Marryat and Odyssey and Stone Garden, that’s exactly what it is.
This track made me happy. Those wild riffs, that frantic bassline, the drums that are just keeping up with the tempo, the hi-fi backing vocals set against the lo-fi lead vocal… all of it just adds up to something badass and fun and catchy and alive. I think I needed it in my life in 2013. It’s something I’m likely never going to stop listening to.
I don’t ever know what to listen to. That sums up 2013 in music for me.
I finished grad school this year, and in June, my son was born. Between holding down jobs, taking classes in the evening, helping to care for an infant, and freelancing, pleasure listening got crowded down to a stray hour here, time for a few songs there.
I heard a lot of things once this year. New music and old music new to me alike. And every time I had those hours to listen to something of my choosing, and I felt paralyzed. Perhaps my accumulation of sounds finally caught up with my capacity to mentally sort it (my full iTunes library counts over 200,000 tracks). I might hit play on one Kate Bush album and not hit stop until I was halfway through the third Kate Bush album. I’d be working the whole time and barely hear a song—it was more like absorbing an essence through background immersion.
When it came time to make those year-end lists we all have to put together, I had no clear-cut number one for either my album or track lists. I just sorted things in a way that felt sort of right. I think both lists were more female this year than ever before. And both were also more devoid of things that a lot of my colleagues rallied around in a big way than usual.
I spent a lot of the year checking out things that were getting buzz and feeling baffled as to why. It was as though I drifted onto another aesthetic page, or perhaps everyone else moved to a new page and I was still sitting on the old one, feeling my age more than ever as my back ached from rocking a newborn over and over again every night.
Becoming a parent shatters your sense of what you know and hijacks your identity. Mine before Sam was born had me out of the house a lot, volunteering here and there, running a student organization, going to urban planning conferences, and keeping up as best I could with music while continuing to explore its past.
Now, I am home when I don’t have a very pressing reason to be out of the house, such as work or a vital errand. I am tired all the time, far more than I was when all I was doing was taking nine credits in a masters program and putting in 14-hour days between work and class. I have had thoughts at night when my son would not sleep (this is nearly every night) that I did not think I was capable of thinking, because exhaustion and frustration are a combination that wears you down.
So I fell behind a bit. This Tumblr dried to a husk in the fall. I had to spend a lot of time figuring out which bits of the old me could reasonably survive parenthood, and no matter what I did as a father, I never felt like it was ever enough. I imagine that feeling persists.
This was 2013 for me. It was a good year even though it tested me and left me worn out. About all I ask from 2014 is a little more sleep.
Tabu Ley Rochereau et l’Orchestre African Fiesta: “N’daya Paradis” (1964)
One of these times, I’m going to break a hiatus on this blog for something other than an obituary post. But not this time. Tabu Ley “Rochereau” died last week at the age of 76. Born Pascal-Emmanuel Sinamoyi Tabu, he took his stage name, Rocheraeu from, of all places, a French general, Pierre Philippe Marie Aristide Denfert-Rochereau, the “Lion of Belfort.”
This was the colonial era, so young Congolese boys who got the privilege of going to a decent school learned about European aristocrats and battles. Rochereau probably stood out to young Pascal because he was the only French general to do anything but fail during the Franco-Prussian War, holding Belfort against a vastly superior army.
Rochereau put himself on the map in Kinshasa (then called Leopoldville) as one of the singers in L’African Jazz, the band of Le Grand Kallé Joseph Kabaselleh, the man most people consider the father of modern Congolese music (Franco and OK Jazz first recorded for a label he owned).
The dance orchestras of the day generally had a front line of several vocalist, who would trade leads and harmonies as needed, and among African Jazz vocalists, Rochereau stood out. He had a voice that seemed to drift over the music, light and sweet. As a lead singer, he was nimble and warm, and on the harmonies he added a drizzle of honey every time he sang.
He and the great guitarist “Docteur” Nico Kasanda left African Jazz in the early 60s to form their own band, African Fiesta, and that’s the group that recorded this track in 1964. It’s probably my favorite recording of his. The spacey slide guitar sets him up so nicely, and this is a great vocal performance, commanding but light.
The men who did the most to turn Rocehreau into a star, Kabaselleh and Nico, both ended their careers early, but Rochereau kept going, putting new bands together for over thirty years. He changed his stage name to Tabu Ley during the Mobutu years, and went into exile in the late 80s, continuing to record until 1997, when he joined the cabinet of Laurent Kabila, the first post-Mobutu president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He bounced around government posts for much of the last decade and a half of his life.
Type these words into your music library and name the first song that appears
Happy: Aberdeen: Handsome Drink (from the album Homesick and Happy to Be Here) Love: A: I Love Lake Tahoe Hate: Abus Dangereux: Funk au Chateau Light: Aaron Martin: Lightning in Meadow Grass Dark: Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO: Dark Star Blues Good: The Abyssinians: The Good Lord Bad: Abadi Al-Johar: Musiqa Smile: Adorable: Sunshine Smile Cry: Adrian Borland & the Citizens: Crystalline Girl: Abe Manuel & the Louisiana Playboys: Country Girl Boy: (same as above. Next:) Accolade: Natural Boy
The Velvet Underground: “Rock And Roll” (Loaded, 1970)
When I told my wife Lou Reed had died yesterday, we had this moment where I’m pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing: “That’s crazy. Lou Reed can’t die.”
That’s not a joke about him surviving his lifestyle in the 70s. It’s more the sense that Reed is so much a part of what the world looks and sounds like today that it’s hard to imagine all of it without him. He had a public image unlike anyone else—the dude was so cool that everything he did looked like a pose, but it was actually just him being himself.
Reed was never comfortable just being agreeable—he’d push back at interviewers and critics and pretty much never gave a stock answer or said what you figured he’d say. He could seem ornery for the sake of it, he intentionally made one of the most unlistenable albums ever produced, and he could be maddeningly inconsistent from project to project, but the underlying humanity of his work was never far from the surface.
I think that’s why “Rock & Roll” is my favorite Lou Reed song, with VU or otherwise. His songwriting was illuminating, and hell, it’s probably the only exposure a lot of people have had to drug culture, drag culture, and the thought processes behind modern art. This song ties all of that together without bothering to get into the details.
"Her life was saved by rock and roll" is essentially autobiography—music was the thing that lifted Reed out of a life that included being forced into shock therapy to "cure" his bisexuality and put him in the driver’s seat. In some ways, the song seems light, almost a lark, but I think that everything else Reed ever wrote about is embedded within it. With VU, Reed was one of the people who did the most to stretch the definition of rock and roll, and I think that all the drugs and lives he wrote about were facets of his own definition of rock and roll. All of it was rock and roll. All of it was what saved him.
The girl in the song hears the music, and her life is saved. Reed claimed that rock and roll was his god, so salvation here can assume a sort of literal meaning if you want to read it that way, but I think there’s room in this song for anything, from a particular type of music to movies to painting to hiking to whatever else might be the thing that gives your life direction and meaning, to be your rock and roll, the thing that saves you.
A Flock of Seagulls: “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (Listen, 1983)
I’ve had this song in my head for days. It hopped in there unbidden, and in retrospect I can see that I got to it on a tangent. I have a four-and-a-half-month-old son, and in my quest to keep him entertained, one of the things I’ve taken to doing is playing harmonica for him.
This is not to say I know how to play harmonica. But I do own two of them, them, so I’ll blow into them and make up little, slow melodies. His mind seems a little blown by the noises I can make. Anyway, last week as I was blowing into the harmonica, I worked out the hook from Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express,” and I’ve been playing it every time I take the harmonica out.
So I’d be hearing “Trans Europe Express” in my head, but it kept morphing into this—I’d never noticed how similar the two synth melodies are before. Even the drum programming on the Flock of Seagulls song owes a little debt to late 70s Kraftwerk. I imagine the Flock were familiar with Kraftwerk—after all, pretty much the entire New Wave and New Romantic movements in Britain trace back to Kraftwerk’s appearances in the U.K.
I’m not accusing them of being derivative, though. I mean, big deal. What I do love, though, is how they take basically the same melody that Kraftwerk made so studied and cold and turn it into a big, billowing ball of emotion, just about the polar opposite of Kraftwerk’s roboticism (though I have to say, Kraftwerk’s attempts to make emotionless music often were profoundly melancholy in spite of themselves).
I don’t think A Flock of Seagulls were a great band, really, but they made two good albums, and the three or so highest highlights, “Wishing” included, are truly great songs. At a minimum, though, the band was more than a stupid haircut, and it annoys me that they’re often remembered as much for Mike Score’s coiffure as anything they did musically. Maybe they were asking for it a little bit, but if you can make something as powerful as “Space Age Love Song” or “Wishing,” you deserve better regardless.
Call-and-response, as a musical form, has a rich history in many parts of the world. In Christianity, the “antiphon” is a form of hymn in which the choir and congregation echo or answer the leader. Some believe that this practice may even have its roots in antiquity, in the Psalms of the Israelites. A similar format characterizes the Indian style of classical vocal music known as “Jugalbandhi,” and call-and-response is a pervasive characteristic of sub-Saharan religious ritual and civic life, as well as in the diaspora.
Ween invokes this global legacy to examine contemporary existence through a lens of ancient heritage. While the modern slang definition of “cheese,” meaning money, may cause the song to first appear only as a subtle critique of Western capitalism, the true meaning is far deeper: One must fully consider the historical universality of the song’s form to understand that this modern definition must be contrasted against cheese’s original implication of “sustenance.” In culture as well as language, Ween observes, we increasingly define ourselves around abstract notions such as economic success, rather than in the physical world. Ween laments this moral decline, the loss of humanity’s tether to substance, asking again and again how it could be restored.
The song’s progression implies that this critical link is gone forever. As the singer realizes the magnitude of this existential crisis, his inquiries take on an increasingly aggressive and desperate tone; he curses in frustration, and still is not granted an answer. Instead, the music cuts out abruptly, and the listener is left only with one last statement of uncertainty before being plunged into silence.
”—I don’t unequivocally praise anything as “the best” very often, but this take on Ween’s “Where’d the Mothafuckin’ Cheese Go At” by a user calling him/herself “googlymoogly” is the best entry on songmeanings.com.
"Pink Floyd: "Fletcher Memorial Home" (The Final Cut, 1983)
I heard a BBC story this morning about a 93-year-old veteran of the Anzio landing reaching out to Roger Waters to determine the place of his father’s death, the event that, though it happened when he was just five months old, seems to have been most instrumental to shaping his worldview and work.
Waters has spent so much of his creative energy working through his feelings about losing his father before he even got to know him that I had always figured he was familiar with the details of what happened. The list of Pink Floyd songs that either explicitly acknowledge this death or seem hover around it, exploring various angles of how soldiers die and why, is long:
"Free Four" ”Us & Them” ”When the Tigers Broke Free” ”Bring the Boys Back Home” ”Vera” ”Another Brick in the Wall part 1” All twelve songs on The Final Cut which is dedicated to him
The one featured here, “Fletcher Memorial Home,” is one of those twelve and is among the emotional peaks of an album that is either a wretched mess or a total masterpiece depending on how you approach it. The Fletcher in Fletcher Memorial Home comes from Waters’ father, Eric Fletcher Waters, who, as implied above, died during the Battle of Anzio during World War II.
Initially a conscientious objector, Waters reconsidered his position and enlisted when the extent of fascism’s evils became clear—among other things, Waters was a Communist, and he realized acutely that he would have been one of the many under Hitler’s boot heel if he’d had the misfortune to be living in a conquered country. He’d been an ambulance driver to that point; when he joined the army he was assigned to the 8th Royal Fusiliers, an infantry regiment with a history dating back to the 1600s, when it was among the first units to use flintlock muskets, called fusils.
Operation Shingle was the Allies’ attempt to break a stalemate in Italy by landing a force north of the Germans’ front line at Anzio, and it almost worked perfectly. The Germans were caught completely off guard, but when Roger Waters singles out generals for criticism in his songs (i.e. “And the generals gave thanks as the other ranks held back the enemy tanks for a while/ and the Anzio beachhead was held for the price of a few hundred ordinary lives,” from “When the Tigers Broke Free”), he is is referring both to the Allied High Command, which undermanned the effort, and Major General John P. Lucas, who failed to capitalize on the element of surprise and got his army bogged down in a slow, slogging fight that lasted months. It was during this fight that Eric Fletcher Waters died.
Enter Harry Schindler, the Anzio vet. He’d never heard of Pink Floyd, but he heard Waters speaking warmly of his father and was moved to find the report on the death of Eric Fletcher Waters. He got the report, including the map reference for the battle, and is now trying to get a plaque installed in the spot.
I don’t imagine Waters ever imagined that something like this would come out of all those songs, much less so long after they came out. The one song he put part of his father’s name on is actually not a very personal reflection; it instead sets up this memorial home as an assisted care facility for the 20th Century’s assorted war starters, with an emphasis on Thatcher, Reagan, and other then-current leaders, with the overarching implication that decisions made in capitals by people of power result in the deaths of people like his father. I wish I could say it had lost relevance with time.
I’ve been listening to Blur for a long time, at least since their self-titled album came out, and I guess I was a little familiar with them before that. But I’ve never listened to their earliest records (everything before 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish) until last week. I don’t know why. I like all the other stuff to varying degrees, though the last two albums are my favorites.
Anyway, I’m loving this stuff, and kicking myself for not exploring it earlier. It has the shiny melodies of their Britpop classics, Parklife and The Great Escape, with the rougher edges of their self-titled album—it sounds like they were paying a lot of attention to what was happening up north in Manchester, too.
"Bang" is the song I keep circling back to. It’s great, but it sounds so casual about it. I don’t know if that’s just Damon Albarn’s perpetual deadpan or what, but the songs I love best by this band almost always are the ones that sound like they just sort of fell out while the band was playing. I wish I’d realized there were a whole bunch of waiting for me to hear them sooner.
I glanced at a couple of pitchers’ stat sheets the other day, and I have to say, I think that, for all the statistical analysis that surrounds the game of baseball, there are a couple of pretty crucial ways of looking at a pitcher’s performance that are missing from the stat sheet.
The biggest one is IRS: Inherited Runners Scored. I want a raw number and percentage. It tells me not only how a pitcher performs but what kind of situation he’s most often used in. If all season long you inherited three runners, you’re probably not a reliever your manager goes to in big moments. For relievers, I actually think this statistic says more than ERA about your effectiveness.
#2: BR and BRS: Bequeathed Runners and Bequeathed Runners Scored. How many times did you screw the guy coming in behind you by letting a bunch of dudes on base? And how many times did they let you down by allowing those dudes to cross the plate? This stat would also apply to starters.
#3: RS: Runners Scored. So you let guys on base. It happens. But how many of them make it home?
#4. Finally, how useless is the Hold as a statistic? You can come into a game your team is leading by three, give up two runs, leave with a one-run lead and get credited with a hold. Man, you didn’t hold anything. You gave up two runs and gave the next guy a margin of error that much tighter. I think the Hold should be redefined: You came into the game as a reliever and gave up no runs, regardless of whether your team was on top or not. You also left no one on base who scored later when another pitcher was on the mound. That, to me, is a hold.
I’m sure WAR or RAW or GWAR or BLARG or some other encompassing statistic accounts for some of this, but I want it broken down so I can see it at a glance on the three or so occasions a year I look at a pitcher’s stats.
Electric Light Orchestra: “Fire on High” (Face the Music, 1975)
Where was I when I first heard this? Probably in my bedroom, maybe doing homework. The classic rock station used to play an edit that eliminated the spooky intro with the “Hallelujah” choir and the back-masked talking. I think this version was the U.S. b-side of “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” which came out three whole years after this was originally released as the lead track on Face the Music.
I knew and loved the edit for quite a while before I finally heard the album version, which WAQY would only play in the middle of the night. I guess they thought the intro played better in the dark. While I can’t disagree, I also think it’s madness to drop the intro, because the intro is freaking great.
That’s drummer Bev Bevan saying, “The music is reversible but time is not. Turn back.” It was a deliberate swipe at idiot religious nuts who were attacking rock and roll for containing hidden messages (they’d gone after ELO’s own Eldorado LP); I imagine a lot of FM stations delighted in playing it when it was was released for that very reason.
The song itself is pretty epic, in scope if not length, but I think that, unlike a lot of 70s prog and pomp rock, it was pretty well aware of its own built-in ridiculousness. It goes through the whole composition once with strings, and then does it all again with a choir on top, because hey, why not? The choir’s in the budget.
I like the harpsichord/anthemic guitars bit, but the part that really grabs me these days is the bit where Bevan’s drums crash back in and they are just way too loud. And there are violins and cellos squiggling around just trying to get out of their way. The guitars in that part have a really odd sound, too, like there are about a hundred acoustics all playing the same thing, but a little out of sync so it turns into a big wall of strumming.
This was released long after the heyday of the instrumental hit, but it got stuck in a lot of classic rock playlists on light rotation anyway. I’ve tried to figure out if that means anything about what it took to have an instrumental hit in the mid-70s, but about all I can come up with is, “make it sound cool.” Which Jeff Lynne and company dutifully did.
I spent the day at a conference in Kalamazoo, and on my way back to the Detroit area, I passed two billboards for a radio station with this sentence fragment as the main text:
"Music that makes you feel good."
Sounds simple enough, but I wonder if the copywriter who put together the phrase gave any consideration to just how unsimple and subjective it really is. There are cans of worms inside cans of worms lurking within it.
Aside from the fact that different people obviously have different music that makes them feel good, how do you even define feeling good? You might feel good at a party, I guess, or at the beach, or in your car, driving fast in a beautiful place with nowhere to be. But sometimes the best feeling in the world is feeling sad.
Do they account for that?
Bottom line: I have no idea what kind of music that station plays.
The Four Tops: “I’ll Turn To Stone” (Reach Out, 1967)
I was thinking about the Four Tops earlier today, mostly because this song was stuck in my head. First, the Frou Tops did something kind of amazing: they were a group with the exact same four members—Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs and Duke Fakir—from the moment the group was founded in as the Four Aims in 1953 all the way to 1997, when Payton died of liver cancer and Lawrence Payton, Jr. stepped in to fill his spot.
Today, Fakir still tours with a group called the Four Tops, though the other three have all left us. But nearly 50 years as a group is a feat—has anyone else done that? You could argue that because they usually weren’t the authors of their material the group had less potential for friction and strife than a lot of bands, but I don’t think it makes much difference. It’s not as though they didn’t have their ups and downs.
For one thing, they went from ‘53 all the way to 1964 before “Baby I Need Your Loving” gave them a hit and a national profile. They were just another hard-gigging group trying to pay the bills before that; when they first joined the Motown roster in 1963, they were assigned to the marginal Jazz Workshop imprint and spent most of their time doing backing vocals for other artists.
The Holland-Dozier-Holland team put them on the map—“Baby I Need Your Loving” was just the first in an amazing run of hits that made them legitimate stars in the mid-to-late 60s. And then Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown with an acrimonious battle, and suddenly the group was adrift. They were huge in Britain, but second to the Temptations in the US, and for a while they were getting kicked cover versions of other people’s hits. Their takes on “Walk Away Renee” and “If I Were a Carpenter” are fine, but they’re several notches below “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and the record-buying public agreed.
They had a last hurrah at Motown in the early 70s, making the Still Waters Run Deep LP with Frank Wilson and scoring a giant hit in the UK with “A Simple Game,” on which their backing band is the Moody Blues, but they didn’t follow the label west when it left Detroit in 1972. Their ABC LPs are mostly pretty good, and their disco-era LPs on Casablanca yielded a few minor hits, but the group was mostly forgotten by general audiences at that point. They spent the rest of the career essentially as a legacy touring act.
During their biggest hit-making years, when H-D-H were still at the helm, they recorded a ridiculous number of amazing songs that were never even released as a-sides. “I’ll Turn To Stone” is one, squirreled away on the Reach Out LP. It’s pretty much what I think of when someone says “Northern Soul.”
This song moves so easily it’s hard not to imagine a roomful of kids in Wigan moving right along with it. The Four Tops’ alternate history begins with this, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “I Got a Feeling” and “I’m Grateful,” and you can keep digging from there. I sort of wonder if Jeff Lynne heard “I’ll Turn To Stone” in ‘67, because a little more than ten years later, he wrote a song for ELO that seems to nod to it.
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: “In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, 1962)
Yesterday was John Coltrane’s birthday, though I didn’t realize it until a friend of mine posted a scan of the original sheet music from “A Love Supreme” on Facebook last night (and then I saw a thing on my Tumblr feed when I checked it this morning).
As it happens, I listened to Ole yesterday, just by coincidence. That album is something like a pivot to his spiritual jazz phase, and I really like it a lot, but here’s my thing with Coltrane: as much as I love A Love Supreme and Ole and most of Kulu Se Mama, I really think he was at his best as an interpreter of ballads.
I’ve read a lot of fan thoughts on Coltrane recently, and a lot of critical writing about him, too, and this is not a common opinion, form what I can tell. He is most often praised for his innovation, and especially for his dense “sheets of sound” style of soloing, which he took to some pretty out-there extremes on records like Om, Ascension, and Interstellar Space, albums that I don’t enjoy listening to at all.
On the other hand, listen to him on this collaboration with Duke Ellington. It seems like an improbable pairing at first blush, and in many ways it is—they represent different eras and schools of jazz. Ellington mostly worked with large ensembles and was a competent but unspectacular instrumentalist. Coltrane worked in small combos and was a virtuoso. Both were visionaries—one for the band, the other for his instrument.
But it worked. The two played this session as a quartet session, with some tracks featuring Coltrane’s regular bassist, Jimmy Garrison, and regular drummer, Elvin Jones, and others featuring bassist Aaron Bell and drummer Sam Woodyard (Woodyard was in Ellington’s band). This song, oddly, features Bell on bass and Jones on drums, but they’re mostly just staying out of the way.
Ellington does what he does well on the piano, playing a memorable, airy theme not that far off from Money Jungle's “Fleurette Africaine,” which may be his finest moment as an instrumentalist. Meanwhile, Coltranedoes something he was extremely talented at, which was taking a recognizable and rather simple melody and coming at it from a dozen different angles, taking it apart so he can look inside of it and show its essence (the version of “My Favorite Things” on the album of the same title is the crowning achievement of this approach). His tone here is supple and gentle and basically sublime.
When Coltrane played a million miles an hour, that level of control he had was always evident, but the level of control was also one of the things that was foregrounded. You were, in part, listening for it. The music had a “damn” factor, as in “damn, what did he just play?”
"In a Sentimental Mood" does not have the damn factor, and it doesn’t need it. The control he has over what he’s playing is amazing, but you have it start analyzing it to even notice it. I think it’s sort of interesting that, for me, the music that Coltrane presented as though it was tapping into some thread of the universe (Om, Ascension, etc.) is the stuff that sounds the most man-made, while stuff like this is the music that feels like it’s a part of the air and always has been.
Different strokes for different folks, of course, but that’s the Coltrane I love most.
The question was: "Hey, what do you think of the band Rush?"
Here are the responses, and some of my responses to those responses:
Dialectic: “Eh. They’ve been around for, what?, 20 years at least? It’s just not for me. Though, they do have that one good song.”
This is pretty much what most people I know think of them, though they’ve been around for more like 40 years.
Jonathan Bogart: “Mostly as a punchline, though I do honestly like several of their AOR hits.”
Here’s the thing about Rush: they seem acutely aware that for many people they are a punchline. And they seems totally okay with it. Legions of adoring fans probably soften the blow a bit. What show did they go on and attempt to play their own songs on Rock band? Was that the Colbert Report? Anyway, it was hilarious, and they were great sports about it.
Working for the Clampdown: “outsider perspective: I don’t listen to Rush but they seem more interesting than most of their 70’s hard rock contemporaries. also have to respect that they’re still doing things this late in their career that are interesting to their fans, I guess?”
This is a thoughtful response and a really good point. They’ve never stopped, and as much as they’re well past their commercial peak, they have a fan base that adores them and will follow them where they want to go, and they work hard to make that fan base happy, both on stage and when they release the occasional album. You have to respect that.
If you’re game for it, I’d love it if you listened to just one of their songs that’s not “Tom Sawyer” on YouTube and tell me your reaction.
Jonathan Bradley: “I tried to find sales figures to support my feeling they never got anywhere in Australia, then I stumbled on a message board thread with dudes fighting over whether Black Sabbath was more important than Madonna. Uh… I’m not sure I’ve heard Rush.”
Australia’s a long, long way from Canada, though I am guessing they have followers there as devoted as they do anywhere. Black Sabbath and Madonna are both important. Those dudes should quit arguing and listen instead.
This is one of the songs on the Cold Cassette I just posted. It’s kind of awesome.
I’m not really a Rush fan. I like a few of their songs, but there are people who love this band. Like, have posters of Neal Peart’s drum kit on their walls and would not hesitate to name them as favorite band. Which is cool, but I guess I never really got it.
Keep in mind, I say this as someone who listens to a lot of prog rock. And I think this might actually illustrate a sort of divide among prog nerds. There are those of us who home in on technical proficiency and complexity, and those of us who don’t really pay much attention to that and are really looking for interesting sounds, which isn’t quite the same thing.
That’s an oversimplification, as all dualities are, but based on what I’ve read in reviews on ProgArchives and RateYourMusic, it’s a good starting point for understanding how prog rock culture breaks down into subcultures.
So, Rush. The stuff of theirs that I tend to like is the stuff that everybody else also liked. “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio.” Their big hits. When I listen to “YYZ” I kind of feel like I’m being hit with a stick. It’s kind of neat that a band with stuff like 2112 lurking in its discography got so popular on the strength of super-catchy pop songs, though (Canadians: is it true that everyone in Canada is issued an insurance card and a copy of Moving Pictures at birth? I think I read that somewhere.). I wonder what the conversion rate is for people drawn to the band by “Limelight” into fans that go for the whole discography.
I dunno. Like I said, I’m not a fan, but I’m also not not a fan, though I find their affection for Ayn Rand distressing. Back in 1996, I only knew the hits, and I was curious about the band with the guy who played bass with one hand and keyboard with the other and had a voice like some sort of frog lady but knew how to use it pretty well.
Then Test for Echo came out and it became the first Rush album I ever heard (WAQY played the whole thing the night after it came out). It was over a decade after the band’s prime, and late work like this is often overlooked or discounted, but listen to this song. Geddy Lee is pretty much leafing through his rhyming dictionary on the chorus, and it still kicks ass. A lot of that is down to the part where the tempo kicks up and Alex Lifeson plays this simple guitar riff that just grabs you by the hair.
Plus, as unfortunate as that chorus is, Lee is in pretty good form on the verses, especially the first one, varying his melody, rhyme scheme, and alliterative patterns. His criticisms of media culture were already familiar, but hey, so are break-up songs and songs about partying your guts out and we give those a pass.
The Chambers Brothers: “Time Has Come Today” (The Time Has Come, 1967)
I remember the first time I heard this. The circumstances weren’t special—I was sitting in my room, listening to the radio, waiting for WAQY to get through the same Eagles and Led Zeppelin songs they played every day and give me something that wasn’t in the regular rotation. I did this almost every evening while I put off doing my homework until the last minute.
Then this came on.
That opening, with the echoing cowbells, the simple but effective guitar fanfare, and finally the drum fill that blasts us into the first verse, immediately struck me as different. They had a spooky, ramshackle quality to them that wasn’t common on classic rock radio, and that first verse…. I was hooked.
The four Chambers Brothers, George, Willie, Joe and Lester, has been performing for 15 years by the time this song came out. They originally toured as a gospel-folk quartet, then went electric after Dylan’s controversial show at Newport. Drummer Brian Keenan rounded out the new, electrified Chambers Brothers, and they developed a raw psychedelic soul sound, of which this song is the absolute apex, though they have a ton of other great tracks, and they have several albums well worth listening to.
That’s Willie or Joe singing lead on this song (I’m not positive which), and it’s his performance that turns the song into a comment on the tumult of the era. He sounds completely swept along on the tide of the song, spitting out the words as though this is his only chance to say it. This is even more pronounced when the song recapitulates a the very end.
The psychedelic breakdown, with the deceleration, wobbly percussion overdubs, and wild build-up, is the instrumental complement to that performance.
In way, this song is everything we were supposed to learn about the 60s—turbulent, psychedelic, exploratory, a little bit out of control. I think the fact that the guitarists aren’t anything like virtuosos (Willie and Joe had only recently begun playing electric) helps a lot. They briefly allude to “The Little Drummer Boy” while the drums go crazy in the background, but otherwise, it’s pretty much just ragged jamming.
This is, in the end, a song I just don’t think I could ever get tired of. It does too much too well and captures a feeling in the process that never seems wrong.
What’s your opinion on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic? Robert Christgau seems to be the only one who didn’t like it! Do you like it? Why (or why not)? I’m currently listening to it and I guess I’m enjoying it, but I’ve heard other hip hop albums that I liked better. For the ones who know better about…
Well, I’m not going to act like I know a ton about it, because I’m a dabbler in hip-hop, but one thing to consider about listening to an album like that now is that you’re listening to it in the context of everything it influenced, which is probably about half or more of all hip-hop released subsequently. It’s not my favorite rap album, but at the time it came out, it would’ve been in my top three.
Hi. I enjoyed your reviews on the Black Francis releases : SVN FNGRS, Bluefinger and Frank Black Fracncis. I would like to hear your input on the lates Pixies release EP-1 since PItchfork's Jayson Greene gave it a 1.0 rating. In think he was unfair and would apreciate any comment you can provide regarding EP-1 since I consider your reviews to be legitimate and frank. Thanks in advance.
Hi there. I actually had not had a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ve given it a few passes now in an attempt to make a good faith effort to answer this question.
First, a little perspective on my relationship to the Pixies’ music: I love Doolittle and Bossanova pretty much without reservation, I think Surfer Rosa and Come on Pilgrim are excellent, and for some reason, Trompe le Monde never connected with me. I have always been somewhat frustrated by that—Trompe le Monde isn’t that significantly different from what came before, and it’s got a lot of the aliens-and-seafood Frank Black lyrics that I love, but it just doesn’t click in my ears. “Bam Thwock,” the only other new song to be released by the reunited Pixies (when Kim Deal was still with them) was okay, but nothing revelatory.
So, EP1. It is clearly not on the level of their best work from their original run. I don’t think anyone reasonably could have expected that—they are different people and a different band now as a result. I’ve never been one to think that “not what they used to be” = “not worth bothering with”, though.
I will give Jayson the full benefit of the doubt here—I know him, and he is a good writer and great person—and say that I think I understand his disappointment. Anticipation is a funny thing. It can set you up for disappointment no matter what is handed to you. The Pixies mean a lot to him, more than they ever did to me, so we’re clearly seeing this from different perspectives.
Anyway, it’s not really that bad to my ears. I think “Another Toe” is a little bland, at least until Joey Santiago has a chance to do his thing toward the end. “Indie Cindy” works a lot better when Black started singing and stops doing that weird, awkward sing-talk thing he does at the beginning.
"What Goes Boom" seems the obvious bid to make a crazy Pixies song, and I think it fails to click with me in much the same way as Trompe le Monde—the ingredients are there, but I don’t find the meal very satisfying.
And that leaves “Andro Queen.” I really like this song, actually. It is not anything like what I might have expected from the Pixies, but considering “What Goes Boom,” that might be its greatest strength. It moves forward, considers the present moment, and generally treats the whole arrangement less like a chance to recapture something and more like a chance to make something new.
I completely understand why someone digging the band coming out and tearing up “Debaser” at its reunion shows might hear something like “Andro Queen,” which really is different from anything else with the Pixies name on it, and think, “what is this bullshit?” But I kind of like where it takes them. One note to Black, though: it’s unlikely that the rings of Saturn are really gassy. They’re mostly ice crystals frozen solid in the cold vacuum of space.
I don’t ever think about what rating I would give a record unless I absolutely have to because I’m writing about it for Pitchfork or DownBeat, so I don’t know what I’d assign it, but for me, it’s definitely not all the way down in the dumps. For Jayson, it was.
Some of the difference in the way opinions form undoubtedly stems from the way we manage our own expectations. I think I expected relatively little from this, and so I was able to be pleasantly surprised that they weren’t just xeroxing the past.
I must have missed this one while this meme was going around. Better late than never…
Am I a fan: Yes, absolutely, unequivocally. His ‘n’ Hers—-> We Love Life is a brilliant stretch of albums. I like a little of their pre-His ‘n Hers output too, most notably “Countdown,” “Being Followed Home,” “Death II,” “The Mark of the Devil” and a track from their first BBC Session in 1978 called “Turkey Mambo Mama” that is just awesome.
First song I heard by them: ”The Fear.” I bought This Is Hardcore after reading a review of it, having never heard them before. I liked it and “The Dishes” (“I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials”), but “Party Hard” was the song that really hooked me. I knew when that opening blast hit that I was going to be buying other Pulp albums.
Favorite song: That is next to impossible to say. “A Little Soul” is one I think gets overlooked. “Lipgloss,” “Like a Friend,” “Bar Italia,” “Party Hard” and “Disco 2000” are all right up there, too.
Seen them live: No, but I have seen Jarvis Cocker solo. He was pretty great.
Favorite member: I guess it has to be Jarvis—he’s at the center of their whole universe, though I do think the other members from the 90s lineup all brought something distinct as well.
Am I a fan: No, but not because I don’t like them. It’s just that I’ve only heard about five of their songs. I do like what I’ve heard and now have a strong urge to download all of Hunting High and Low.
First song I heard by them: Their theme for The Living Daylights.
Favorite song: "Take on Me." It has the great rotoscoped video, of course, but moreover, it’s just a really good song. The chorus is indelible, and the way it goes through the singer’s whole range (I’m trying not to look anything up for these answers, and I don’t know his name), starting low and ending high, is ingenious. But the verses are catchy as hell, too, which I think is something that gets overlooked in a lot of songwriting.
Seen them live: No. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance.
Favorite member: Someone from Norway. I don’t know their names.
Am I afan: Yeah! the first record of theirs I bought was Technique, eons ago, and I was stuck on that one for a while. I liked it okay, but it didn’t demand I plunge further into their discography. Then I heard “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Temptation,” “Regret” and one of the umpteen versions of “Blue Monday” all at once and I was like, “damn, how have I slept on these guys?” By the way, I like Technique a lot more now than I did then, dated keyboard sounds and all. I bought that one first because it was the one with the checkmark on All Music Guide. All Music Guide!
First song I heard by them: “Fine Time,” because it’s the first track on Technique, and I’d never heard them before I bought the album.
Favorite song: Is it boring to say “Temptation”? I’m boring, I guess. “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Everything’s Gone Green,” “Age of Consent,” and “Regret” are all close behind it in line.
Seen them live: No. I don’t know when the last time they toured the states was.
Favorite member: Peter Hook. I play bass, and no one plays bass like Peter Hook. He has his own sound in a way very few bass players do.
Am I a fan: Definitely. I would count them among my favorite bands, and further within the small subset whose music I’ve so internalized that I hardly ever listen to it any more. Which is not to say I don’t—they’re certainly a frequent appearance on my shuffle, and Kid A, The Bends, OK Computer and In Rainbows will always be among my favorite albums. I was a prog nerd in high school, and OK Computer was one of the records that helped me break out of the past and get interested in current music (though I bought the Airbag EP first).
First song I heard by them: I am guessing that I heard “Creep” without knowing what it was prior to this (I was almost completely checked out of current music then), but the first one I knew was Radiohead was “Exit Music (for a Film),” and that convinced me I had to check them out.
Favorite song: That is tough. “Let Down” is probably the best answer, but “Bulletproof (I Wish I Was),” “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “How to Disappear Completely,” “House of Cards,” “Airbag,” and “[Nice Dream]” are all in the running. Odd that as much as I love their rocking side and their weird electronic side, my favorites tend to be the quiet ones.
Seen them live: Yes, and it was tremendous. I saw them in 2001, in Liberty Park a couple of weeks before September 11th. The Statue of Liberty and the NYC skyline, twin towers included, were framed by the stage. The Beta Band opened and one of them encouraged audience members to assassinate George Bush. Kid Koala did a DJ set. Radiohead’s walk-on music was “Java Jive” for some reason. I wrote down the whole set list from memory after the show, and we bought bootleg t-shirts in the field where we parked after the show. I still wear two of them. The other one was so hideous and misinterpreted the band so hilariously badly that my wife and I still mail it back and forth to the friend we went to the show with every year at the holidays. One of the best shows I’ve seen and one of the best show-going experiences I’ve had.
Favorite member: Hard to say—I feel they each bring something distinctive. Thom can actually get on my nerves sometimes, especially lately—he just refuses to fully pronounce words. Jonny is probably my answer, though I sympathize with Ed O’Brien in an odd way—the guy keeps telling people they’re going to make a guitar album again and they never really do. Phil Selway is an underrated drummer, too. Colin provides a nice, stable center.