Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A program for mass constipation in the form of an old mixtape review

Back for more! I'm tearing the hell out of June like it's 2005. Rebirth, indeed.

Enough about me. Let's talk about my past. I'm new to this retroactive self/music criticism so I'll provide some context. By 1996 I had been listening to WZBC for two years and felt I had a good grasp of the underground music scene (honestly, I was right). That year I took a co-op job at what used to be Digital Equipment Corporation (since bought by Compaq and then HP, I think) so was in the car forty-five minutes each way to and from Acton. Definitely got nice and cozy with the likes of "Psychotic Reactions," "Mass. Ave. and Beyond" and other great WZBC shows, but sometimes I needed to control the playlist. (It's remarkable what a great invention the iPod is.)

So I was making mix after mix, mostly for myself, which is a little sad except for the fact that the girls in my life ranged from unpredictable to blasé. I was mercilessly selfish about my music anyway. I had a friend at the time who tended to glom onto certain favorite bands of mine and attempt to ruin them for me—luckily he could always be trusted to slink back to Alice in Chains. And though I didn't date a whole lot in college, I had no confidence in any girl's ability to like what I did. One of them played that Bush album early on, for crying out loud. I didn't want to be rude so I pretended it was "OK" when she asked. Then she admitted to wishing she had "cool" taste in music like I did, and I almost broke up with her on the spot. It's ridiculous to be envious of another person's taste in music, or taste in anything, because taste by definition is personal. Why aspire to something just for show? Should I force feed myself a lobster just because it's popular, even though I don't like it? So anyway, yeah, I hated that she liked Bush, but I'm glad she liked something, as opposed to not caring for music one way or another. I felt no need to introduce her to different music… and it's a good thing, since she dumped me a few weeks later anyway. My heart was broken for a solid weekend! But whatever, I did the legwork, spent the money at Newbury Comics (remember when they sold music?) and spit out a mix every few weeks or so for—more or less—this guy. All thanks to these two clowns who haven't been in my life for a dozen years.

Today I present Interrupting Cow Blues, about ten deep into my career and the first I really nailed. It must have been early 1997 because I've only got one song from that year and eighteen from 1996. (That year's inferior Shaft vs. Godzilla provides the recreated-from-memory artwork above because ICB didn't have any for some reason. It beats the abstract photographs of cassette tapes I originally posted. Mass Art tuition well spent!) Something that jumps out though is I have absolutely no hip-hop, which is strange because I was listening to a lot at the time (before and since as well). Guess I was in a straight rock & roll mood that day. And whatever you call Chokebore.

Side A
Brainiac – I Am a Cracked Machine
Shellac – Killers
Guv'ner – Coitus City
My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow
Girls Against Boys – Vera Cruz
Cibo Matto – Birthday Cake
Railroad Jerk – Bang the Drum
Polvo – The Purple Bear
June of 44 – June Leaf
Man… or Astro-Man? – Planet Collision
Make Up – International Airport
Yo La Tengo – Autumn Sweater
Halo Benders – Don't Touch My Bikini
Dandy Warhols – Ride

Side B
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Can't Stop
Stereolab – Percolator
Beat Happening – Pinebox Derby
Chokebore – Cursor
The Nation of Ulysses – Diphtheria
Quivvver – Mermaid
Guided by Voices – Watch Me Jumpstart
Dub Narcotic Sound System – Robotica
Six Finger Satellite – Padded Room
Retsin – Loon
Unwound – Corpse Pose
Jonathan Fire-Eater – The Beautician
Combustible Edison – Solid State
Boss Hog – I Idolize You

The title refers to my favorite joke of all time: "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Interrupting cow." "Interrupting cow wh–" "Moo!" I told so many people that joke that I unwittingly told the person who first shared it with me. And so I got the blues for running out of laughter targets. (Second favorite joke? "Three musicians and a drummer walk into a bar.") So what? So let's dance!

A1. Brainiac – I Am a Cracked Machine1
Love starting with "I Am a Cracked Machine," one of my favorite songs from Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, which is one of the best albums of 1996 (and still in my regular rotation). Excellent job by me. A friend of mine saw Brainiac at the Middle East Upstairs (I'm not sure where I was) and told me they had a ton of technical problems during the set before closing with this. By the end of it they had obliterated a keyboard out of frustration. I'm glad they went the irony route there.

A2. Shellac – Killers2
This Shellac song is from The Lounge Ax Defense and Relocation Compact Disc, a 1996 compilation that is exactly what it sounds like. I guess they couldn't have sold enough of these because the club still closed down a few years later. And I sold the disc awhile ago too (salvaging this and three or four other MP3s). I dig this song and have been getting into Shellac again. They're so goddamn tight! It's exciting. "I side with the defenders!" Nice progress so far.

A3. Guv'ner – Coitus City2
"Coitus City" is from a series of split singles eventually compiled and released as the soundtrack for some movie called Screwed. I know nothing about it, except that it once upon a time must have been called Porn because that was the name of the original single series. Super-catchy song for the three-spot (where a lot of album sequences seem to lay the first single) except it's mega-filthy. "Tweaking my speed bag the way that I taught ya." I love it. Not to be overlooked is the near-nonexistent break between "Killers" and this—a practice designed to suffocate each second in an effort to milk every millimeter of that tape. This quick transition sounds great.

A4. My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow2
My Bloody Valentine. I'm not adding to the eighteen-plus years of blather about how blah blah blah they were/are. Suffice it to say, I think I included this song because I liked it (still do, sigh) and because I was days away from selling Loveless. Now I want to puke whenever they're mentioned—we've come a long way. Next.

A5. Girls Against Boys – Vera Cruz2
Nothing against Girls Against Boys, but I saw them open for the Jesus Lizard once (still one of my favorites) and all this does is underscore the fact that I excluded Yow & Company. Worrisome and shameful. Possibly because I had all their albums on tape already? Anyway, GVSB's "Vera Cruz" was great live and is still a good song. Sort of slowing things down a little. See what I mean? I really knew what I was doing with these things. Sad follow-up: House of GVSB is currently in a pile of discs I plan to sell, right next to their earlier Cruise Yourself. I have ripped most of the tracks, though, and am going to hang onto Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby. They're a great band, I just think their songs are better broken up. That's why "Vera Cruz" works well on a mix.

A6. Cibo Matto – Birthday Cake1
Cibo Matto's Viva! la Woman is in another pile next to the one of CDs to sell. This pile is of stuff I probably will sell, but only after listening and harvesting the good songs. I'll keep most of this one, I'm sure, and certainly "Birthday Cake." You have to bounce to this. Wasn't it in Brain Candy too? Appropriate, since the best line from that movie is "Can you get me something to eat before I chew my fucking hand off?" and this whole album is about food.

A7. Railroad Jerk – Bang the Drum1
This is definitely the fun portion of the tape. I first heard "Bang the Drum" on WZBC during one of those Acton drives and was hooked. Aside from the Blues Explosion and the Jesus Lizard I'm afraid a lot of the straight-up rock bands I was into were pretty dry and self-important, so discovering Railroad Jerk (on their third-and-a half album, so what?) was fresh air. This song moves the joy along but I hope I brought in some weightiness soon. (Alas, One Track Mind is in the harvest pile too, though maybe I'll end up keeping it and selling The Third Rail instead.)

A8. Polvo – The Purple Bear2
No weight here. "The Purple Bear" is a straight-ahead pop song that Polvo did so well. If I knew better I'd write coherently about how they had the most wondrous distorted-but-not-really-distortion sound available. I sold Exploded Drawing quite awhile ago now, but not before the birth of MP3s because I was clever enough to hold onto this song and a number of others. It was a fairly ambitious album, if I remember right, but clearly by this point the Polish guy was writing better songs than the Helium-screwing guy. (How's that for analysis?) Also, if I wanted to sell my copy of Today's Active Lifestyles on eBay I could apparently get $40 for it, since it has the tigers image that was later pulled. I'll keep that in mind and tell the whores to watch out.

A9. June of 44 – June Leaf ø
In case you were wondering, I still like everything I've heard so far. "June Leaf" is the first misstep, and the first song I no longer own in any capacity. Don't know why I didn't choose the same album's "Anisette" or the earlier "Take It With a Grain of Salt" instead, maybe they were already compiled or introduced time constraints. I should have just skipped June of 44 entirely—they have a handful of good songs and all, but definitely queue up in the dry-and-self-important line and aren't really worth it. "June Leaf" takes too long to get going and doesn't do anything once it arrives—slow boilers generally don't work in a mixtape format. The Polvo-to-June of 44 transition is sort of organic, I guess, but the song no longer does it for me. Check minus.

A10. Man… or Astro-Man? – Planet Collision2
Yup, "Planet Collision" is a Man… or Astro-Man? song alright. (Though I think they dropped the ellipsis by this time?) It's a good song too, but pretty shoe-horned on here. I suspect I needed something short in order to fill out the side. I was pretty particular in constructing in that I basically knew the songs I was going to use, but the order was open to whim. And usually the fine folks at TDK would bless each side of your ninety-minute cassette with an extra minute and a half, so a little improvisation was required. A generic two-minutes-and-change MoAM song, bookended by some old sci-fi dialog of course, did the trick. I wish I'd gone with the "Television Man" cover instead.

A11. Make Up – International Airport1
"Airport! Airport!" I still loooove the Make Up. "International Airport" is from the fake live Destination: Love. Excellent short rave-up near the end too. Everything about this band is phenomenal. I've even hung the "Substance Abuse" sleeve on my cubicle wall. Q: How cool am I? A: Very.

A12. Yo La Tengo – Autumn Sweater1
My introduction to Yo La Tengo was I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. Years later I remain baffled by the title, but it's either my favorite or second-favorite (after Electr-O-Pura) album of theirs. I showed some real restraint in burying "Autumn Sweater" toward the end of side one, because it was one of my absolute favorite songs of the year. Still like it a lot too. These guys stylistically are all over the map and it's awesome how well they pull everything off, particularly once James McNew became a full-time member. Perfect song. Funny story, when I was working in Stoneham there was a girl who had a crush on me… and on every single guy who ever walked through those doors. But I happened to be the flavor of the moment. Anyway, she asked to borrow this CD and I loaned it to her for what turned out to be months. I was New York pissed. She's the type who thought irritating equated cute, so she was always getting on my nerves on purpose, thinking I'd wear down and realize "Wait a minute, I love her!" I'll tell you what put a stop to that though: I drove a red-hot Corolla two-door then and was very particular about the position of the driver's seat, and that it never be adjusted because I had it set just right. This one time I drove a few of us to a Chinese place up the street for lunch–I always volunteered to drive because one of the other girls was an internationally recognized terrible driver, as in I'd feel nauseous within a mile–and the annoying girl sat behind me. When we returned to the office I wouldn't let her exit on my side because that would have meant moving the seat. She thought I was joking so she reached for the lever and I slammed the door in her face. To quote Mayor Quimby, I could not have been happier with the way that turned out.

A13. Halo Benders – Don't Touch My Bikini2
With the Halo Benders, Calvin Johnson makes his first of three appearances here (really, no room for the Jesus Lizard at all?). He must have forced himself on me the way he did to all those K bands. "Don't Touch My Bikini" was a big WZBC hit the Summer of 1994 when I first discovered the station—it's a fun little song. On paper you think this band would sound like a fifty/fifty mix of Beat Happening and Built to Spill and that's exactly what it is, plus some boingy sound effects. I'm curious to know if they even record together or if Calvin goes in after to layer nonsense vocals onto fully formed Doug Martsch recordings. Either way I like this one, even if they could have severed a minute out of the middle there somewhere. Our A-side is getting a little tired and I'd have welcomed all efforts to tighten it up. Good thing this is second-to-last.

A14. Dandy Warhols – Ride2
Is there a sillier band than the Dandy Warhols? Posing nude in the liner notes, selling songs to The O.C., accepting roles as receivers to Anton Newcombe's giver. And the fucking name. And the fucking singer's name. Still a catchy song, and I'll hang on to it even though the CD is going away. Maybe if I draw red lions on the cover I can make another $40 for those whores.

Entr'acte. I will say I know how to close a side, since "Ride" ends perfectly as an "Ahhhhh… let's regroup" transition.

B1. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Can't Stop1
With that said, "Can't Stop" is a mistake. The sound is raw enough compared to the slick Dandies, just not overly raw as to be a deliberate shift in tone. Oh well. I like the song, it has a great riff, but it's an awfully weird choice for a mixtape. The Blues Explosion were my favorite band at the time (Orange still slays) and I had a whole mess of songs to choose from. Must have felt compelled to pull something from Now I Got Worry since it was their latest at the time. Whenever I hear something from this album I flash back to my senior year of college, living in a great duplex near Symphony Hall in Boston. And I mean flash back in that I flash straight to the exposed-brick wall of the small dining room where I kept the stereo, because I played Worry a lot. I think I was trying to convince myself that it was as good as Orange and Extra Width when it was not (and is not—in fact, "Love All of Me" is the dullest thing Spencer has ever done). So back to "Can't Stop": I do love the Iggy shout-out "'Cuz your girlfriend still loves me," and maybe that was enough to favor it at the time. But something like "Skunk" or "RL Got Soul" would have worked better.

B2. Stereolab – Percolator1
To this day, "Percolator" makes me think of a particular intersection along that drive to Acton, right at routes 2 and 126 (where you'd turn to go to Walden Pond). I must have heard it for the first time right there one morning. (Funny that "Bang the Drum" reminds me of a spot a couple hundred yards eastbound, probably where I heard that for the first time.) I'd been familiar with Stereolab since Mars Audiac Quintet came out in '94 but "Percolator" is the song that made me a real fan. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is easily my favorite album of theirs—I can listen to "Metronomic Underground" for hours. "Percolator," also, is cash money.

B3. Beat Happening – Pinebox Derby2
Welcome back, Calvin! What was I thinking? "Pinebox Derby" is a good song but I really should have opened things up with Dr. Octagon or something (I like "Wild and Crazy" here). Anway, I'm not about focusing on past mistakes. This is Beat Happening in down-and-dirty mode—down-and-dirty for them anyway. I do like the guitar sound here and definitely prefer this style over the lesser "Indian Summer" stuff.

B4. Chokebore – Cursor ø
About those past mistakes though: Chokebore. Really? Misstep number two. Dull, repetitive, overlong, real momentum-killer. I hate when bands think they've stumbled across something oh-so-clever and just can't let it go ("indie" bands are particularly guilty). That describes every element here: the noodly little riff, the retarded crunchy riff, the megaphone vocals and the "slow" parts. I'm really annoyed with myself for including this. I pulled it from an Amphetamine Reptile sampler with cars on the cover. Clearly, excluding "Percolator," this B side is not winning again and again and again.

B5. The Nation of Ulysses – Diphtheria1
Ian Svenonius makes appearance number two with his Nation of Ulysses comrades. If you excise "Cursor" and make this number four then suddenly I'm not so hard on myself. Theses guys excelled at weaving in and out—their albums are so perfectly sequenced that I had to steal "Diphtheria" (from 13-Point Program to Destroy America) as my a chill-out track before getting loud again. I'm pretty sure Steve Kroner handled the backing vocals on all their stuff because this style of contribution is absent from The Embassy Tapes, recorded after he quit/was booted from the band. I think he is fantastic and really makes songs like this and "Mockingbird, Yeah!" stand out against contemporaries. (I don't know if the intention was to amuse, but "DEE-NIGH-YULL! DEE-NIIILE!" is amazing.) In one hand it's a shame these guys broke up after only two proper albums, but in the other we know that a band's first or second album is usually its best. I guess it worked out.

B6. Quivvver – Mermaid2
"She's a mermaid!" I think this version is different from the original single version I first heard in '94 or '95. I remember that being a little slower and probably better, but I only owned the re-recorded album version. Super fun song—I wonder how Quivvver didn't become mega-stars.

B7. Guided by Voices – Watch Me Jumpstart1
Pretty safe GBV choice, indeed, but I'm still enamored with the chorus. So grand and earnest that I want to cry whenever I hear it, and I don't usually go for grand and earnest things. I'm not talking about the words because I don't understand what he's saying, and if I did I wouldn't pay attention anyway, but the melody is beyond catchy. In-and-out harmonies too. I love this shit.

B8. Dub Narcotic Sound System – Robotica2
Ho-hum, Calvin Johnson again. I still enjoy this song but I don't know why I felt the need for some Dub Narcotic. It's a better song but sort of accomplishes what "Cursor" did earlier on by killing any type of vibe I was building. Practically an instrumental, and when an instrumental is the best song on a lousy Dub Narcotic album (Boot Party) then you might have an overbearing singer.

B9. Six Finger Satellite – Padded Room1
Thank god for Six Finger Satellite—"Padded Room" wakes this party right the fuck up. Every few weeks their four albums (and now the new/old/awesome Half Control) end up right back in my regular rotation (I love listening to them at work, for some reason) and there aren't many bands I'd take over them. Like Shellac, I get such a kick out of how tight they are. I like my roving sixties psych workouts as much as the next guy but I definitely have a soft spot for straight-ahead, focused, rehearsed volume. For when I die it will also be from severe exposure.

B10. Retsin – Loon2
What the fuck was I thinking by following 6FS with Retsin? Trying too hard for variety? When I die will it be from sincere cooing? "Loon" is a pleasant little song on its own but to cram it between two of the best rock songs of '96 is lunatic and unfair. A friend of mine once made out with Tara Jane O'Retsin backstage at a Rodan show so maybe this was a shout-out to him. Or I was justifying buying Egg Fusion in the first place. Frankly, I should have to justify buying something called "Egg Fusion" that doesn't cook me omelettes.

B11. Unwound – Corpse Pose1
Yes. Unwound's Repetition was a welcome bounceback after the somewhat lackluster The Future of What. That album grew on me over time but Repetition is immediately and thoroughly excellent. WZBC might have played "Corpse Pose" before the album was released since it was the single (in a slightly different mix that I don't remember) but I'd be surprised if I didn't trek down to Newbury Comics (seriously, remember when they used to sell music?) and buy it the day it came out. Great song, and though I prefer their first two albums and the earlier singles, this post-punky type of stuff still does the job. Sounds to me like that direction started on Future, reached its apex with Repetition and especially "Corpse Pose," grew a little stale by Challenge for a Civilized Society and then got old and dull with the monumentally overwrought (but not bad) Leaves Turn Inside You. "Lazslo" from a 2001 Troubleman compilation victoriously redeemed the band for me (not that I ever stopped liking them) but I don't know if it was recorded before or after—I only heard it after. (Not that LTIY was without great songs, but the overall sprawl—sixty minutes of music split over two discs… when's that a good idea?—really crimped my crack. "Scarlette" and its video were amazing but I could not have sold that album faster.) But anyway, yeah, apex and "Corpse Pose" are near synonyms.

B12. Jonathan Fire-Eater – The Beautician2
Let me check Wikipedia: yes, Jonathan Fire-Eater is American. Tremble Under Boom Lights is good, if slick, but the band's Anglophilia tends to get annoying. I'm surprised they didn't name themselves Jonathan Color-Favor so they could spell it Jonathan Colour-Favour. It's a good thing I liked "Cherry Red" so much (it was the first song I heard off this) because I certainly would have balked at the oh-so-English cover art with the oh-so-Wire band photos. And then they sprinkle in phrases like "night on the tiles" and name their singer Stewart Lupton. I have to admit it, though: "The Beautician" grooves along nicely for some pasty wannabes. The whole EP does, really. Who's the asshoule now?

B13. Combustible Edison – Solid State2
Combustibly Edisonic! I haven't used that modified adjective in far too long. Who would guess "Solid State" works so well here, fitting wonderfully after those fake English guys and setting up the finale. (It doesn't matter that I don't speak whatever language they're singing because I don't pay attention to lyrics.) I still have their first album and I bet I haven't listened to it in fourteen years. What's that about? Maybe I'm afraid of no longer liking it? Of course "Solid State" is gold, and anyone who disagrees is… well, they're probably OK I guess. But I dig it. I dig you too.

B14. Boss Hog – I Idolize You1
But Jon and Cristina idolize you, baby. A slightly tongue-in-cheek Ike & Tina cover is better than no Ike & Tina cover at all, but that's underselling the song. Big Jon Spencer makes a B-side curtain call and fares much better this time—terrific closing number. You can almost hear the nudity.

Término. Well that took some time. Worth it? I don't know, but it was fun to listen and write. Overall my original assessment was correct and Interrupting Cow Blues is a very good mix. I still like most of its songs and that can only mean I'm old and tired. Diffuse pastness rules!

I've denoted songs whose albums I still own with a superscript 1; a 2 means I've sold the CD but kept the MP3; null means it's dead, baby. The final count: twelve source albums still in possession (and this is significant because I'm in the middle of a second large-scale selling wave, though a couple of remainders are on the bubble); fourteen songs that live on as MP3s (so, fourteen CDs gone); and two songs I no longer like enough to possess in any capacity. Strong ratio—especially, I'm sure, compared to earlier attempts. "Hero" is a strong word.


Steve Forceman, P.I. said...

After keeping an eye on your blog for some time, I look away, & you put up several entries... Holy crap!

I'm glad you got the mix tape review up. You've been talking about it for some time, & I've been looking forward to it. Some really nice stuff--the stuff that I know. And you've written about it well. Tempted to try to recreate it. Nothing like a good mix, eh? There's something really satisfying about pulling one together. (I have only a couple I've made that I'm really happy w/.)

Meanwhile, your mug shot... A suggestion: use it as your profile photo. It'll make people think you've done hard time and are therefore a badass.

Jarrod said...

Yeah, I unloaded! So much so that I had to split it into two (originally the mugshot post was the intro to the review). It took a bit more out of me than I was expecting but it was fun. Also, if you google "mass constipation" my blog is the first listing that comes up. Success!

Any further progress on relating your adventures? You've been fairly steady from month to month lately.

Steve Forceman, P.I. said...

Hey man... You still out there?