In contrast to books, my music list for this school year is comprised of the albums I repeatedly listened to. Not all of these were necessarily new to me but rather pieces I found myself consistently listening to while driving, shoveling snow in the driveway, at home while washing dishes, etc.
We Started Nothing- Ting Tings: Colorful, bouncy pop fun. Good stuff to listen to in the car with the family.
16 Lovers Lane (extended edition w/ bonus tracks)- Go-Betweens: This is kinda like “Raisin in the Sun” for me in that the original 1989 album is a cult classic but I think it should be more widely recognized. Not a single track of the original ten is anything less than excellent and the crop of outtakes from that era, while not as fully produced, includes many more gems. Robert, Grant, Amanda and Lindy- thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Marquee Moon, Adventure- Television: The soundtrack of many sessions of shoveling the driveway this last winter. Listening to these albums reaffirms my love of the sound of electric guitars. As D Boon once said, “Fuck Eric Clapton.” No offense, Eric, you’re pretty good and all but Verlaine is truly God of the six-string.
Trans-Europe Express, The Man Machine, Computer World- Kraftwerk: While at my in-laws over the Christmas vacation, I found myself rocking my two-month old infant son Spencer to sleep by gently dancing with him to the metronomic pulse of “Europe Endless,” which kicked me off onto a mini-obsession with these Hessian synth-pop architects.
Compilation- The Clean: A recent listen to The Verlaines’ “Juvenilia” convinced me to take a chance on this other New Zealand band also formed in the ‘80s and when I found a 2-disc anthology of theirs in a Newbury Comix for about 12 bucks, I had to try ‘em out. Although I found their songwriting to be merely consistent without their catalogue featuring much in the way of classic standout songs, they are such a good, exciting band to listen to. Plus like my own Humbert, their songs were brief in length, they accomplished a lot with meager recording budgets and none of the three members really had a truly strong singing voice (technically speaking); considering my admittedly warped sense of aesthetics, those aspects just make me adore them more.
69 Love Songs- Magnetic Fields: As the title indicates, there are a LOT of songs on this three-disc set but so many of them are truly wonderful. I like the eclecticism of the styles, both in terms of songwriting and production, I love the variety of lead vocalists employed, the diversity in instrumentation, moods and genres but really, there is a staggering amount of awesome songs to be found here. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scratch your head in wonder, you’ll be able to sing along with some of the choruses the very first time you hear some of these songs, while others will slowly reveal their virtues over time like melodic time-bombs, not to mention you’ll find almost every expression of love possible, from romance to obsession to tenderness to heartbreak to lust to spirituality to bitterness to hope to anxiety to frustration to the excitement of possibility to friendship to sexual deviancy to longing to devotion to stupidity to enlightenment to fury to witty repartee- I’ll shut up now.
The Fame- Lady Gaga: My wife plays it in the car here and there and although it’s not the kind of thing I would seek out on my own (same could be said of Ting Tings, I suppose), there is quite a smattering of awesome tracks on this album. The four hits (Just Dance, Poker Face, Love Game and especially Paparazzi) are all catchy, interesting songs that would still stand up outside of the fancy 2009 high-profile high-budget production sounds they are swaddled in. Beyond those four standouts, the quality drops considerably but there are still a good three tracks that could’ve been dance hits for more minor artists.
Twelve Steps- Rehab, Massachusetts: This album is chock-full of simple but often profoundly beautiful marriages of lyrics and melodies sung with understated passion, delivered with expert sympathetic backing where each musician involved is serving the songs masterfully. The story woven throughout the twelve songs is as complex as it is compelling and captivates the listener so well, I almost feel like this should be on my list of novels too but that would be doing an injustice to the powerful beauty of melodies like the stunning “19 Days” and the gorgeously sad “The Light of Your Ways.” Singer/songwriter Thane Thomsen and his cohorts find many ways to express the desperate ramifications of addiction throughout the record so that not only do the ballads achieve their purpose of haunting the listener but when it needs to rock, as on “A Pint of Salvation,” for instance, rock it does. The chorus in that last one is insistently pleading and breaks your heart but also provides (provides) a textbook example of a perfectly realized melodic/lyric hook. Maybe the only mis-step is an instrumental towards the end that just doesn’t add much to the proceedings thematically and the unfortunately harsh acoustic guitar string squawking between notes is grating to the ears. But who cares really on an album this wonderful? I have to remind myself how lucky I am to be part of the Valley scene where great art like this exists for such a small but fortunate audience.
Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.
Modern Times- Bob Dylan: I was a few years behind the times in getting around to hearing this one (it’s from 2007, innit?) but it’s an ironic title anyway, as the music included therein is anything but trendy. The ballads on it, both the heartbreakers and the croony tracks alike, are the highlights for me but I’ll concede that I’ve come to dig some of the bluesy rambles as well.
Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, Ballad of Easy Rider, Untitled, Byrdmaniax, Farther Along, Live 1971- The Byrds. One of my guitar students hails from Nashville and he and I found ourselves espousing our admiration of Clarence White, which set me off on a kick listening to these late-era Byrds albums over and over again, some of which I already knew, others I picked up recently. I’ve already mentioned my high regard for Tom Verlaine’s guitar playing but I’m just as in awe of Clarence White and although each of them could appropriate different styles of playing at the drop of a hat, it’d be impossible to confuse them. I’ve always maintained that I can’t really truly love a guitarist as a player simply based on their guitar playing but that I also have to admire them as songwriters (like George Harrison or Richard Thompson), or as in the cases of Verlaine and White, as players who play songs, not notes, and yet still impart the tunes they play with their own distinct style without overwhelming it. Does that make any sense? I’ll shut up now.
Relocation Tactics, Are You Gonna Kiss or Wave Goodbye?- Spouse: My God, that “It=Love” is one of the coolest pop records I’ve ever heard IN MY LIFE. More good Valley stuff that I’m blessed to be able to know. Beyond these records showing off an excellent band with a cache of delectable tunes, there is also the sheer awesomeness of Jose Ayerve’s singing to enjoy.
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out- Yo La Tengo: This one has overlapped into the next “year” of listening. I recently ordered four more of their albums from the inter-library loan program (thank you, Brian!) to augment the three of theirs I already have. Although this record is known for conveying such a lovely mellow mood overall, ironically my favorite hard rock song I’ve heard of theirs so far is “Cherry Chapstick,” the only track on this album to feature a heavy sound blended with an upbeat tempo. Nonetheless, although Ira Kaplan’s guitar skronkfests in the middle and outro are delightful, the song boasts a helluva catchy melody and the lyrics strike their own perfect note as well.