Monday, May 18, 2015

In which we multiply by three and divide by four

This may be my shortest playlist essay yet ("more probable than not"). I poured everything into those goddamn Super-Biffys after we lost Chloe. Considering the starts and stops since that post's infancy in 2014—I'd originally planned it as a literal January 10 anniversary piece to 2010's wasted clickbait opportunity—I'm pleased with the results. It was fun to beat up on notable fucktards Peter King and David Wallace-Wells again, and is there such a thing as too much Charles Napier? Surely not! Live-blogging the draft was beyond me and another year of Ten Commandments jokes will have to wait. (No need to order ESPN for a day, it turns out. They and the NFL Network streamed coverage of the first round over the Roku.) Then there's the continuation of a Patriots' fucking triumph once I dodge the outrageous Deflategate madness (I warned you, but this punishment is out of hand) and finish re-watching the best Super Bowl in years. Plus another short story in the works, emphasis on "short." Har! Har! And Beefheart. Oh, Beefheart.

In high school I took a basic computer literacy/programming class using one of those blue-background Commodore 64s. One thing I remember was constructing a Canadiens logo out of rectangle keystrokes and goto-ing it around the screen. Epic! We also (possibly in a different class) learned how to insert clipart into "Word" documents (or the 1991 equivalent)—I latched onto an odd black-and-white illustration of a yak and used it to play with planar relationships and scale whenever the lessons slowed. Eventually I printed a dozen copies with the legend "Congratulations, it's a yak" and handed them out to friends. Sure, young man, ignore your interest in graphic design a good decade early. You could have saved yourself a lot of headaches.

Have I achieved midlife crisis? Will I live to eighty-two? In case of doubt, I relive the past and introduce a new yak friend. Congratulations! (And you thought we were having another baby.) Gone are a dozen tracks but only thirty minutes of music. This edition sequenced itself without fuss and I will not ruin the flow just to fill out a five-year mold. It'll save my reader (!) a few bucks anyway. Dig that sweater!

1. Jaime Brockett – The Legend of the USS Titanic
Thirteen minutes? "I'm gonna mooove you, baaabaay!" Past inhibitions of "alas it's too long even for me" are exorcised in full as Jack Johnson returns to declare "I'm black alright, I'll never let them forget it" and dance the eagle rock like it's going out of style. You want another toke, cap'n?

2. Kiss – Strange Ways
I saw Kiss with Hector and Ivan last Summer and kicked myself for not loading an appropriate playlist onto my phone so we and our open containers could listen in the parking lot of whatever Great Woods is calling itself now. Internet service around Mansfield is spotty at best and Ivan's cloud let us down hard, which is why I will never stop hoarding "hardcopy" MP3s. Anyway, "Strange Ways" was not part of the set, of course, but it's a great Ace song with a good (for once) Peter vocal. That night, Paul and Gene leaned heavily on Creatures of the Night, of all albums, in what I suppose was an embrace of the formal fracture of the Ace-less (boo!), Peter-less (yay!) era. "Still nowhere near as good as an anonymous handjob on the bus." Oh, Pitchfork. What once was.

3. Death – Politicians in My Eyes
A. and I enjoy yelling at Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot during Sound Opinions once a week in the car. Greg is OK (David Yow's repeated mockery of his calling all Jesus Lizard songs "Blah-Blah-Blah" is worth a listen—"just so happens the son of a bitch is a goddamn mouth breather") but Jim is one of those (like me) who thinks he knows everything about everything and then (not like me) refers to "Rain" as the A-side and "Paperback Writer" the B-side. It's also clear that neither of them actually listens to rock & roll for pleasure, only so they can ask "Hey, have you heard of this band Death?" Well, I hadn't, so thanks guys! And those jazz tips two weeks ago were… something else? Lastly, might I suggest Johnny Cash's "The Ballad of the Harp Weaver" for 2016's Mother's Day show. Apologies in advance if its tragic (though inspirational) parable isn't whiny enough for John Lennon and Roger Waters. What were you thinking?

4. DJ Shadow – Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain
Ur-T. Rex outfit Tyrannosaurus Rex, featuring "Steve Peregrin Took" (god bless the sixties), make an appearance two and a half minutes in with 1969's throwaway "Pon a Hill." DJ Shadow is the first to find value in its seventy-five noodling seconds. Took moved on to productive relationships with the Mick Farren/Twink sect I will likely poke at with more urgency now that the "electric Miles Davis" box has been checked. Relax: only two instrumentals this year.

5. Shellac – Dude Incredible
Dude Incredible beat out Ty Segall's Manipulator (check back later) for last year's Biffy® in a photo finish. For now, at least. If I had a nickel for every edit I've made to that list I could afford up to two new carbon monoxide alarms. "Riding Bikes" and "All the Surveyors" were contenders in this spot but the title track's opening riff is this album to me, hearing it over and over as I decided "Yes, I will play Dude Incredible again." Easy to do at thirty-three minutes. Steve Albini was on Kreative Kontrol before its release and, at Vish Khanna's request, offered single-word "encapsulations" of all nine tracks. "Dude Incredible" produced "Monkeys." The Miracles weep.

6. Jimmy Smith – Main Title From The Carpetbaggers
A coworker recently made an eighties mix for another (younger by a dozen years) ignorant to anything outside of recent history's top forty. Now he randomly inserts names like Echo & the Bunnymen into conversation just to get a laugh. It works every time. Since I'm unqualified to recommend what people mean when they talk about "eighties music," despite entering 1990 as a high school sophomore (the evidence is there in my old playlists), I followed through on a drunken boast/threat to make the two of them a sixties mix that ballooned quickly into a four-disc boxed set. Over five hours of action! The collection was called Earth, 1960–1972 (I allowed a loose stylistic guideline) and it took about ten minutes to collate. Source material overflowed and Jimmy Smith's "Main Title," collaborating with Lalo Schifrin (whose Bullitt is one of my favorite soundtracks) on 1964's The Cat, made the cut there and here because it's action-packed and gorgeous. Our sweet, sweet Chloe even traveled back in time to pose for the sleeve. I miss her daily.

7. Johnny Thunder – I'm Alive
Of Village Green fame? Johnny Thunder's (not Johnny Thunders's) raw "I'm Alive" was featured as well, alongside non-Volume 7 tracks by Donovan, the Bar-Kays, Sweetwater and several blasts from the Biff! Bang! Past! The portion most likely to be skipped was a forty-five-minute stretch of John Coltrane's "Africa," the Mothers of Invention's "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" and Iron Butterfly's… yes… "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on the "weird" fourth disc. I await the Elephant's Memory non sequitur with glee.

8. Digable Planets – 9th Wonder (Blackitolism)
"So Butterfly, is this a sequel to '8th Wonder' or something? Some-body-let-me-know!" "Nah, Doodlebug, it's a commentary on the black man's—or woman's, sorry Ladybug!—place in American society." "Hmm." "Yeah, right?" "You mean it's not a sequel?" "Dude, it's not a fucking sequel." "Can we emphasize that somehow? Like a subtitle maybe?" "Hmm…"

9. Almighty Defenders – I'm Coming Home
Germany 2009? Bullshit. Peru 1968. Wikipedia calls the Almighty Defenders "a supergroup consisting of members from the Black Lips and the King Khan & BBQ Show" as if families sit around the dinner table listening to "Fish Fight."

10. Kurt Vile – The Hunchback
"Expect something from Vile next May as I dig into his discography following the show. It will be Loud Song No. 1 'The Hunchback' or Loud Song No. 2 'Freak Train.'" Correct! Though I thought I'd pick the EP version rather than this… peppier?… one from Childish Prodigy. After killing at Turn It Up and financing many beers at the Northampton Brewery (G. was with grandparents) we stumbled over to Pearl Street, experienced the most ridiculous pat-down since the fall of the Berlin Wall and wound up behind J. Mascis for a spell while our ears turned to mush. I wish Kurt would ditch the studio drum machine—his full-band live sound runs circles around anything I've heard on the albums.

11. Neutral Milk Hotel – Little Birds
This one is tough to listen to. It makes me consider fatherhood and what it means to be responsible for someone who isn't quite ready to learn about, never mind be confronted by, the evils of the world. Bullying? Rape? Terrorism? What can I do to combat any of that? When G. awakes crying I tell her she is safe. When she screams after seeing a spider on the car window I tell her she is safe. "I just want to swallow up and promise to protect them." Yes. Above anything in the world, I want her to be and feel safe until the end. The alternative would break all hearts.

12. Lebanon Opera – Plave Perle i Kosti
Hoo boy. Allow me to cop out in the heavy aftermath with a song ("Blue Beads and Bones") in another language. I once followed the blog Vibrant Sound of Acid (a little on the nose) that was based somewhere in central Europe and is now replaced with a "blog has been removed" disclaimer. The contributors reviewed albums and made enormous ZIP files of copyrighted music available to download. Good idea? Sometimes they seemed to get permission from local (to them) artists, like Croatian outfit Lebanon Opera, but others? I guess they slept through the whole Napster era. Blogger's is a violent fist.

13. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Skunk
The Common Ground in Allston is not what it was. Gone are the old-timer Irish bartenders my friends and I could never understand. Gone is Booty, who is playing in Dewey Square outside my office next week as original incarnation the Swinging Johnsons, where Hector, Ivan and I might shout ourselves hoarse demanding "Highway to Hell." Christ, gone even is shepherd's pie from the menu. In their places are stools slightly too short for the bar and strapping, tattooed bartenders who refuse to flirt with gay patrons who instead flirt with me. All this I learned before the Blues Explosion show across the street last week, where the band slayed during a shorter set than they ever performed in their—and my—youth. It was mainly the new Freedom Tower ("Freedom Tower! Freedom Tower! Brighton, Massachusetts! Brighton? Allston? Boston? Massachusetts!"), of course, as well as 1996's Now I Got Worry. "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" It was fun to watch new fans scratch their heads over "Skunk," "Identify," "Wail," "Fuck Shit Up" and "Chicken Dog" while I shouted along to all the words. Seriously, me! All the words!

14. Jack Bruce – Boston Ball Game, 1967
Jack Bruce, hero, passed away in October and no one cared because Eric Clapton, super-fraud, shat out another fakebook two months earlier. While people (and institutions) with bad taste desperately reach for qualities that demonstrate Clapton's relevance (I maintain that the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers improved with his replacements and that Cream could have as well under Leslie West, admittedly disregarding the uninspiring West, Bruce & Laing collaboration), they should join me in exploring Bruce's post-Cream artistic success. I finally picked up Songs for a Tailor, celebrating Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg, and look forward to checking out follow-up Harmony Row plus his subsequent time spent with West, Bruce & Laing and the Tony Williams Lifetime. Such a rich, non-MTV Unplugged history, with nary a project disowned after a bad review in Rolling Stone.

15. Kim Chu-Ja – The Man Who Must Leave
I've downloaded several songs from the Shin Jung-Hyeon compilations Beautiful Rivers and Mountains and From Where to Where and knocked myself out trying to tag those fuckers. Shin Jung-Hyeon? Shin Joong Hyun? Donkeys? Yup Juns? The Men? Plus all the South Korean artists whose albums he guested on? It's hard enough sourcing Western songs, never mind ones with album sleeves I can't read. From what I can tell, Shin Jung-Hyeon and his band the Donkeys are supporting Kim Chu-Ja (Kim Choo Ja?) on the 1969 album Kim Chu-Ja With Shin Jung-Hyeon & Donkeys (der), even though I don't hear a woman's voice anywhere. I give up.

16. Chrome – Sun Control
The foreign mystery man above bleeds nicely into the foreign jibber-jabber at the front of "Sun Control." Chrome's magnificent underwater guitar and unearthly percussion is all over the classic initial albums The Visitation, Alien Soundtracks and, of course, Half Machine Lip Moves. Too bad they lost me after that.

17. Ex Hex – Don't Wanna Lose
Starting with Pirate Prude, I've been listening to Mary Timony for over twenty goddamn years. Twenty! I am forty years old. Forty! Ex Hex performed on Late Night With Seth Meyers last Fall, which reminds me that Letterman is retiring in two days. Two! (Drag.)

18. Crushed Butler – It's My Life
"Take nine? Fuckin' hell!" Guys, it was worth it! I love that it took them nine takes to reach this level of polish and fidelity. "I tink we shouldna done that." "No, man, no!" I agree, that was great! Nineteen fuckin' sixty-nine!

19. Mission of Burma – Learn How
Peter Prescott used to work at Mystery Train Records on Newbury Street. Maybe he still does, if it's still there. A looong time ago I sold a stack of CDs to him, took the cash over the store credit and made the mistake of browsing after the transaction was complete. What do you know, I found an Australian copy of Mudhoney's Let It Slide EP on blue vinyl. When I brought it to the counter I said "On second thought I'll take the credit" and he responded along the lines of "Tough shit." That's OK, he could never spell Customized anyway.

20. Flo & Eddie – I Been Born Again
More adventures in free music. I follow a music site (unnamed here, for fear of more "blog has been removed") that offers several downloads a week, mostly focusing on my 1968–1972 rock/soul/funk sweet spot. Lots of unknowns but also deeper cuts from established artists like Al Green and the detestable Simon & Garfunkle. Plus: Flo & Eddie, a.k.a. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles, whose "If we don't get credit we sue" attitude toward a four-second loop behind a minute-long interlude almost destroyed rap music. There is the smallest chance in the world that I will meet these… gentlemen… because I know people who are friendly with them but, if so, I hope to have a copy of 3 Feet High and Rising handy. The autograph request of all autograph requests! "I Been Born Again" is some good progressive rock and I'm immeasurably pleased that neither Flo nor Eddie will receive a red cent from me.

21. Michael Yonkers – Sunflower
"Sunflower looked at me eye to eye. Sunflower smiled a smile so wide. That it was the biggest smile that could ever be, I wanted to pick her and to take her home with me. But if I picked her she soon will die. So I decided to leave her thrive." Flowers are just about G's favorite things in the world and every stroll this time of year in New England is all "Look at those flowers, pink and purple and blue!" She's always picking dandelions (no chance of them not thriving) and handing them out to everyone with the expectation that it's all we ever need. Oh, monkey. You're the one.

22. Ty Segall – The Hand
Last year's Manipulator almost earned Ty Segall a second appointment with the dentist after Goodbye Bread (a recent retcon) scheduled the first. Segall's catalog is so intimidating but I dove in with Amazon gift cards a-plenty and feel good about our relationship. I enjoyed his interview with Marc Maron on a fairly recent WTF podcast where listeners learned that the answer to "How can he record and release so much material?" is "Because he comes from wealth and isn't inconvenienced by employment." The richest one percent produce ninety-nine percent of the country's psychedelic garage rock… something like that?

23. Circle Jerks – Live Fast Die Young
Supposedly a reworked "Cover Band" by Redd Kross. Why will I stick with Off! and never explore seminal southern California punk bands—outside of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks—like Redd Kross, the Adolescents or the Descendents? Let's ask Wikipedia. "The Adolescents have influenced many notable punk rock, alternative and hard rock/metal groups, including Bad Religion, NOFX, Face to Face, Good Riddance, the Offspring, Pennywise, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fu Manchu, Mudhoney, Blink-182 and the Vandals." This sentence, minus the Mudhoney exception that proves the rule, will soon be published as Bands I Would Like to Strike from the Record, Vol. 1.

24. Unwound – Said Serial
I had every intention of including something off of Repetition after downloading the bonus tracks from its deluxe reissue this year. "Fingernails on a Chalkboard" was sitting there with that look, you know that look. "Skkreee? Skkreeee?" Sorry, baby. I still love you.

25. Sir Lord Baltimore – Woman Tamer
"Woman is a man's greatest temptation! Oh! Capable of multiple ruination! When she sets your mind to believin'! Oh! That's when the proof can be most deceivin'!" Ladies and gentlemen, justification for all the bullshit we have to tolerate regarding Brooklyn this-and-that. Legacy and stereotype are sometimes the same and can be wonderful.

26. Belle & Sebastian – The Stars of Track and Field
"But when she's on her back she had the knowledge to get her what she wanted." There it is: the sexually suggestive line found in every Belle & Sebastian song written by Stuart Murdoch (you know, the good ones). I love the conjunction "but." It's a beautiful setup. You can sing anything after "but." "But… tits!"

27. Pridjevi – Pjesma o Drveću
"Song of the Trees" is another Vibrant Sound of Acid selection. Their compilations were spotty, with overly "branded" artwork featuring detailed in-house design attributions—it's never smart to diagnose and label one's own pattern of international piracy—but I don't know how else I would have discovered two Croatian gems this year.

28. White Stripes – Why Can't You Be Nicer to Me?
Paul Henry Ossy played electric violin here. I always wondered what that sound was. According to the liner notes, Dominique Payette played "the world's smallest violin" on De Stijl's earlier "Jumble, Jumble," further mocking my lack of draft coverage this year. Jack is a regular reader and I'll be hearing it from him for years. Kathleen too. Hey Kathleen. What's up?

29. Bar-Kays – Son of Shaft
G. and I heard this in the car once while mom was picking out a toaster oven or whatever adults shop for in Bed, Bath and Beyond. She asked "Can you put this on my playlist?" and I responded "Great!" before the Greek chorus advised "Shut your mouth!" So the Bomb Squad announced "We'll take it," Chuck D warned "Your general subject—love—is minimal" and the Turtles knee-jerked "Sue!"

30. Yo La Tengo – Deeper Into Movies
Fresh out of college, driving up 128 to my cousin's wedding in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Running late at eighty miles an hour in my date's Jetta. Recommended! Should have known I'd grow up to live on the North Shore (and to miss a manual transmission).

31. Donovan – I Love My Shirt
G., upon hearing this for the first time: "Daddy, what is this song??" It's been a mainstay on her playlist ever since and she always smiles when I sing "I love your boots, I love your boots!" Other regulars she insists on hearing every day, on top of the ones mentioned last year, are current favorite "Carrie Anne" by the Hollies, "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke, "Mary, Mary" by the Monkees and "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn & John. Regarding the last two, we heard "Young Folks" on Songza one afternoon and G. asked "Is this 'Mary, Mary'?" Listen to the first few seconds of each and you'll wonder the same thing. I am so fucking proud of her.

32. Birds – How Can It Be?
The patience in this song is astounding for 1965, an era when record companies routinely chopped ten-second stretches of Donovan and Pete Townshend guitar solos to make singles "more commercial" because they knew pop music fans to be low-attention-span idiots. "You will… ya-use me. You will… abuse me." Even the riff pauses to carefully consider its next move. I like the full-stop ending but a thirty-second fade would have been appropriate.

33. Deltron 3030 – Nobody Can
The only song I downloaded from the sequel to the best album of 2000. Do not put your money on a 2013 correction in Event II's favor.

34. Sweetwater – Compared to What
I love the distinctions within Woodstock: "first performer" Richie Havens, "first band" Sweetwater, "first overrated drunk" Tim Hardin. Nansi Nevins's vocal contributions really dropped off after Sweetwater's first album and I'm not sure why—I'll take her every day over Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. Shut up, Grace.

35. Comets on Fire – Blue Tomb
Hard to believe I got into these guys after reading a review of Blue Cathedral in the goddamn New York Times one morning in the Summer of 2004. Hours later I pissed on the Bronx (in a Yankee Stadium restroom) and then the Red Sox ended an eighty-six-year championship drought at the end of the season. Productive visit!

36. Guided by Voices – The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory
Wait a minute… no Six Finger Satellite this year? No Groundhogs? No Can? Am I on the wrong inter-net? One of several 6FS numbers would have made the cut were I to push ahead to forty-eight but I really do dig the "minimalism" of thirty-six songs. Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" also could have found a place after we heard it in the car and A. asked "What is this song even about?" "Well," I said, "he doesn't want to work on Maggie's farm anymore." You're welcome. Instead, another white man's afro bears a recorder and takes a bow with a melancholy Bee Thousand drone. Wikipedia says Robert Pollard found inspiration "after having an LSD-triggered psychedelic experience in which he perceived his own face in a mirror changing into his son's." Goddamn drugs.

Three-quarters the breadth, four-fifths the length: nine songs from the sixties (five from '69), seven from the seventies, two from the eighties, eight from the nineties (should be prevalent again next year as I continue to work through the purged), four from the aughts and six from the teens (five from '14). Three songs under two minutes and three more over nine. Take us out with a joke, honey. "Knock knock!" "Who's there?" "Banana orange pie." "Banana orange pie who?" "Cow poop!" God bless you, daughter. May you always be safe.

More furious madness: Volume 1|Volume 2|Volume 3|Volume 4|Volume 5|Volume 6