1. Poni Hoax - "Budapest": What the hell? Where did this come from? I must have downloaded it from somewhere, eh? It's all keyboards and drums, basically disco; repetitive, as might be expected, with occasional guitar, what sounds like a violin solo in the middle, synth stabs. I rather like it. Wikipedia tells me they're from France. The singer's voice reminds me of Martina Topley-Bird, who used to sing with Tricky (among other things). I'm thinking of her vocal on their version of Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos".
2. Fushitsusha - "Don’t be afraid. Even if your nerves snap, you can tie them to a fragment of the universe": Somehow, I've managed to acquire three Fushitsusha cds, and they sit in my collection gathering dust. I'd've thought Keiji Haino's brand of space rock/guitar squall would have been just my thing, but so far I haven't been able to find my way in. I keep thinking I should spend a little time with them, to see what's what, but I never seem to be able to find it (time). This particular track is fairly typical, I think, and is actually from the fifth various artist Wire Tapper cd, which I received upon subscribing to The Wire.
3. Six Organs of Admittance - "Close to the sky": Ben Chasny is among a group of great acoustic guitar players who have emerged in recent years (including Jack Rose of Pelt). In his Six Organs of Admittance he makes often beautiful music, combining his John Fahey-like guitar virtuosity with what sounds to me like influences from Indian music, such as raga, and electric guitar noise. The first Six Organs cd I bought was Dark Noontide, and I immediately took to its folk-drone sound; it fit in perfectly with much of what I was listening to at the time. I never thought of that record as especially "low-fi", though it was released on a very tiny label. But his last two excellent albums (and probably his two best), School of the Flower and The Sun Awakens, came out on Drag City, which is not exactly Columbia, and they sound fantastic by comparison. This song? Oh, right. This song is from Compathia, which immediately followed Dark Noontide, in 2003. I think it's his weakest album. Chasny's vocals are much more front-and-center, and the songs are less interesting. This one is pleasant enough; repetitive acoustic strumming, vocals; closes with a minute or so of acoustic noodling, before giving way, I think, to an electric guitar, or some kind of feedback, to finish.
4. The Walkmen - "We've Been Had": The Walkmen are ok. I never seem to want to listen to a whole album anymore. The vocalist reminds me, on record, of some exaggeration of Bono, which can be irritating, whereas when I caught them live (at the 9:30 Club in DC) he reminded me more of the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli. "We've Been Had" was the big song from their first album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. On that album they used an upright piano, which for the most part was replaced by synths or organ or something (I can't remember) on the second, harder rocking album. On this song, the piano meanders along in the background, and the effect of it is sort of haunting, like it's a toy piano. Incidentally, the Walkmen were formed out of two earlier bands, Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys. My only experience with Jonathan Fire*Eater was as a largely forgettable (in that I have no memory of it, other than that it happened) opening act for the Breeders, when they also played the 9:30 Club in like 1997. This was years before the Breeders finally released their follow-up to Last Splash, when it seemed like every year it was rumored that they had a record coming out, and Kim Deal was passing the Amps off as the Breeders, because no one went to see the Amps (who I liked just fine). (Deal, looking out at the packed 9:30 Club: "Which twelve of you were at the Amps show at the Black Cat?")
5. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - "El Monte": From the 2nd DFA compilation. Fairly short, dance music. Doesn't leave much of an impression.
6. The Mountain Goats - "Distant Stations". All Hail West Texas is probably my favorite Mountain Goats album. If I'm not mistaken, it was the last one recorded on a boombox, before John Darnielle signed with 4AD. I think the 4AD records are uniformly excellent, so I'm not one of those old-school fans who felt betrayed or something when he started to record in a studio and made albums that sound better--although I used to think that his stuff did just sound better as recorded through the boombox. It suited John Darnielle's nasal whine, and the acoustic guitar was more immediate. Maybe it's just that those earlier albums were perfectly suited to be how they were, or maybe it's just because I'm used to them that way (ok, that's probably why), but I think All Hail West Texas sounds great. As ever, it's the songs. Literate, precise, delivered with uncommon conviction: "I sang old songs from nowhere/Los Angeles, Albuquerque/Said a small prayer for the poor and the naked and the hungry, and I prayed real hard for you/I waited . . . for you, but I never told you where I was/It was you who taught me how to write this kind of equation [. . .]/You taught me how to listen to these distant stations..." All Hail West Texas is as good a place as any to start, if you've never listened to the Mountain Goats before (and, hey, he quotes The Notorious B.I.G. on "Fall Of The Star High School Running Back", which is pretty cool).
7. Primal Scream - "Blood Money". Xtrnntr. I really liked this album when I first heard it (which was a while after it had come out), but hardly listen to it at all anymore. I'd previously always felt quite safe ignoring Primal Scream, particularly when they were in their exceedingly boring Black Crowes-style, blooze rawk phase, and I'm more or less happy to be ignoring them again. They are a band that flits from style to style in a way that I tend, no doubt unfairly, to find suspicious. Here they are covering the same sort of ground, only more aggressively, that Radiohead covered in their two best albums, Kid A and Amnesiac. Kevin Shields was involved, so of course it was a big deal. This, I think, is one of the more successful songs, perhaps because it's almost entirely devoid of vocals. I could attempt to actually describe it, but I can't be bothered.
8. Vashti Bunyan - "Glow Worms". Another very nice song from the decades out-of-print and recently reissued Just Another Diamond Day. Lovely folk music, acoustic guitar, of course, and Bunyan's soft vocals. The songs on this album often sound like lullabies to me, as I may have mentioned, but "Glow Worms" doesn't really.
9. The Vandermark 5 - "Stranger Blues". See my description of them from last time. This track is mid-tempo, less "free" than they often are. It comes from Acoustic Machine, my favorite Vandermark 5 album, or at least the one I know the best.
10. Built to Spill - "Untrustable Part 2 (About Someone Else)". I love this song. From probably Built to Spill's finest album, Perfect From Now On. Nearly nine minutes of guitar-rock glory. A classic rock anthem, but without the cock-rock lyrical nonsense. Some samples: "You can't trust anyone, 'cause you're untrustable/How can you trust someone you know can't trust you?" -"And God is whoever you perform for" - "I know you wouldn't be the way you feel if you could choose". But, oh the guitars! If only I could describe the gorgeous guitars! I've seen Built to Spill live twice, and the first time was one of the most transcendently awesome musical experiences of my life. This song in particular was spectacular and lifted me into ecstasy.
11. Sonic Youth - "Disconnection Notice". The first time I did one of these, a song from Murray Street, on which "Disconnection Notice" appears, came up. I said, "Murray Street is a great record, but it wasn't a comeback. They never went away." Which, while true, was kind of an annoying record-store clerk sort of thing for me to say. I was annoyed that their previous major release, NYC Ghosts & Flowers, had been so rudely treated. Well, it did get some good press, but mainly I'm thinking of Pitchfork's infamous (and stupid and ignorant) 0.0 dismissal (which was introduced with the tagline: "pretty much the worst thing ever"). But it wasn't just the review, it was the manner in which all of Pitchfork's writers, whenever that album came up, insisted on attacking it in passing or dismissing it out of hand, seemingly as part of some irritating groupthink, and that they still do, if the occasion arises. I recall one reference to the record as "an abortion" (!). But then Murray Street came out, jettisoned was the Beat poetry and overt avant-gardisms and angular guitar noise, more or less, in favor of more basic songforms, and it was all love and smiles and "return to form" and "blah blah Daydream Nation blah blah" and so on. And then with last year's even more direct Rather Ripped, it was more of the same kind of praise (and I loved the album, don't misunderstand), some still ripping on the earlier record, but also on the more experimental aspect of Sonic Youth in general, including the relatively tame but more meandering (and wonderful!) Sonic Nurse which came in between the two. . . . Ok. I'm rambling. My point is, to dump on NYC Ghosts & Flowers in the way it was dumped on, and then to jump all over the more poppy stuff, is to not get Sonic Youth. For one thing, I think that NYC Ghosts & Flowers is quite good, and it certainly repays multiple listens (which I doubt it got from many). But let's assume it is that bad. In my mind, to gratuitously dismiss a major artist's minor work, or even bad work, to claim that, now, here, finally they are doing what they should have been doing, is presumptuous and contributes further to the tendency to treat art as mere product intended to entertain, to divert. It seems to not occur to such fans that maybe NYC Ghosts & Flowers was necessary for Sonic Youth (again, this assumes the album's not good! But it is!), maybe the later, arguably better work would not have happened without it. Alright. Rant over. (Incidentally, I was trying to make a similar point, somewhere, in the post in which I argued that David Foster Wallace is not washed up.) The best piece on Sonic Youth I've read in recent memory was Michaelangelo Matos' review of Sonic Nurse, in which he demonstrates that he totally gets the ongoing Sonic Youthiness of Sonic Youth.
12. Joni Mitchell - "Little Green". This is from Blue. As is so often the case, I'd had this cd for a while without giving it proper time, until I met Aimée. She loves the album, and I'm glad, because I'm rather fond of it now, too. So far none of her others have appealed to me in the same way, but I'm still interested in finding the right ones.
13. Ghostface Killah feat. Megan Rochell - "Momma": This is excellent, heartfelt, personal rap. Very nice piano underscoring the loping bass and drums. Ghostface raps to begin: "It's not your momma's fault/it's your father's fault/it's your father's fault your mother is a alcoholic/Confusing the brain from the booze and the pain/And plus he cheated on her, beated on her, smacked her down in the rain/She lost her first child in '74 . . . " From last year's excellent Fishscale.
14. Latin Playboys - "Mira!": The first, self-titled Latin Playboys album is great--one of the best albums of the 90s, say I. It was a side project of Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez, and producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, with whom the band had been working. The album has a very pleasant, casual feel. This short track sounds like noises overheard on a busy street.
15. The Raincoats - "Fairytale in the Supermarket". I first heard of the Raincoats via Kurt Cobain's rambling liner notes to Nirvana's Incesticide compilation, managed to score a promo of the reissue of their first album, The Raincoats. I've only recently listened to it much (this appears to be a common theme). I like their ramshackle, ragged, barely competent sound. But it's getting late, and I've gone on long enough, so I'm not going to say any more right now. . .