With the task of assembling a weekly radio show no longer a regular part of my life, my relationship with music has definitely shifted in some unexpected ways. I've been (happily) languishing in
temporary-retirement mode from the WFMU airwaves since last summer, so instead of the constant off-air worries regarding which of a record's tracks could be used in a particular set of songs for the radio, I'm back to listening to albums in their entirety and digesting them as more singular works. Since signing off from my weekly airslot, I've enjoyed being able to listen more carefully through the zillions of sub- and counter- cultural artifacts I've acquired over the last twenty five years of adult life. I suspected there would be a lot of tracks I'd missed the first time around, and my suspicions seem to have been validated by the many great sounds I've blundered into lately. Most of them have been splendid
reminders of why I ever sought reward in the realms of music and art in the first place, so for the purposes of supporting this rather ambitious claim, I'm including several MP3s at the end of this post.
First of all, I should warn everyone reading that I might have the crappiest record collection of any WFMU DJ in recent memory. And by "crappy", what I really mean is "most devoid of things that are very rare or cost me a lot of money." Perhaps shockingly, this is due more to my constant discarding of things I haven't listened to in a while than it is my arguably pedestrian musical tastes. As anyone who lives in a city will tell you, finding affordable apartments with enough room for an ample music collection isn't easy, and won't earn you any sympathy down at the Realtor's office or in the hinterlands of Craigslist. In my case, this ongoing dilemma resulted in the first of several materialist freakouts of my 30s in which I skimmed through thousands of records and applied the following criteria:
Granted, this practice had been primed much earlier in my life. As a kid, I would routinely save money for new records, bring them home and tape them, and then return to the record store the next day to trade them in for still more new records. This was fairly common practice for people of my generation, and plenty of us still have boxes of rapidly decomposing cassettes in our closets right now to prove it. So before you get all bent out of shape and critical, let me assure you that I've regretted ever falling into this practice since my highly-coveted 7 Seconds / Prong cassette got eaten by the tape deck in my '81 VW Rabbit many years ago. Suffice it to say, malfunctioning equipment isn't the sole culprit in my long road towards a music collection that's almost completely devoid of nuance. Plenty of other good records that I did keep original copies of were lost along the way simply out of lapses in judgment, passing indifference, or during periods of financial duress. (The one and only time I resorted to selling records on eBay was to finance the purchase of a Hugo Boss suit for my wedding, and I would like to publicly thank Johnny Thunders, the 13th Floor Elevators, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and the many other diamonds in the rough that I hawked on that particular occasion. I haven't looked back once, and the suit has repeatedly come in handy in ways that I'm pretty sure the first Pop Group LP never would have.)
Other musical purges have been decidedly less focused, or even lazy by comparison. Aside from pandering to the changing times (maybe it's not as crucial to own all of the Gas Huffer CDs as it was in 1996,) the first instance of really swinging the axe on my own music collection was motivated by the disgust I felt for storing records in the bathroom of my cramped studio apartment. Being too lazy to bother selling them at the record fair, I opted for some karmic payback and promptly delivered a large assortment of mostly punk 45s and LPs to the home of a teenage kid who was involved with the local college station at the time. Upon my arrival, I essentially told him:
Please take these. They have served me well, but it is time that I move on to other pursuits. You can give away the ones you don't want or donate them to the radio station. But please do not sell them.
How well this arrangement worked out for him isn't for me to say. (Though he did seem pretty floored at the time.) But I got to shed some guilt and vault myself into a better living situation, so I have no regrets in that instance. Granted, some of those singles would have come in handy as fodder for my more recently-hatched Anti-Static podcast, and some of the other ones are probably worth a lot of money now, but you know how it goes.... When you get down to the level of thinking about your records as a commodity, their loss is really just another version of your uncle's disposal of his Reggie Jackson rookie card, or your sister selling her original Barbie for a buck at a suburban yard sale.
Music is a very personal thing for me. You may think that I have crappy taste -- and I'm willing to admit that I might -- but you have to agree that I picked the perfect medium to express my opinions and preferences. (Read that last sentence as: When I'm on the radio, I can't hear you cursing at me.) In public settings, when surrounded by people who are way outside of the WFMU realm, I make it a point to never assume the role of the haughty music snob and instead I just keep drinking and politely pretend to be intrigued by their talk of Amy Winehouse or The Killers. In such cases, it's not the mainstreamy-ness of the artists that I take issue with, but the lack of interesting details which are summoned up in any discussion of them. (The cultural relevancy of artless pap notwithstanding, I'm just not interested in the Hollywood star system, and by default, those who appear to be a part of it.) To that end, whenever I'm suddenly surrounded by normaloid office-drones who are discussing music, I find that deploying phrases such as "yes, I know what you mean" provides waaaay better mileage than saying things like "I really admire Bill Laswell's production work on some of the early Wordsound releases. Are you familiar with the song 'Feel my Disease' by Spectre?"
Blank-stared non-recognition comes at scarcely a better price, let me tell ya. (Note: I don't really talk like that anyway, even around FMU people.)
So even though I haven't been doing regular radio shows lately (save for some fill-ins for Captains Acapulco Rodriguez and Tom Scharpling), the platters have been spinning with the same insistence as ever. And as mentioned above, with so much of my recent music listening time being applied to my own records, a few New Favorites from bands I previously regarded as Old Standbys have definitely made their way to the tip of my conscience. As such, I am delighted to give them some attention here:
The Television Personalities have been one of my favorite bands ever since I taped the song "How I Learned to Love the Bomb" [Real Audio] off the radio during the summer after (gasp!) 8th grade. I've spent the ensuing years buying anything with their name on it, the real nuggets of which are collected on the outstanding Yes Darling, but is it Art? singles collection. After years of running this CD on repeat in my house, only very recently did the quiet pleasures of the song "Favourite Films" make themselves known to me, and I urge every last one of you to scatter off to the local record store immediately to begin feeding the sickness this MP3 will hopefully inspire within you. [Listen]
Lungfish are another old favorite from years ago who have also come back in a big way for me. Although I was originally critical of the tremendous number of samey-sounding releases they foisted upon the underground, more recent scrutiny has revealed a number of songs that stand far above those that I used to regard as their best. This one has a measured tone that reminds me a lot of the one and only time I ever saw them perform live. It was at Maxwell's -- a rare Sunday matinee for the Hoboken venue -- and I remember it being a day very much like the ones that we've been having here in WFMU country lately: Cloudy, gray, unseasonably cool, with random squalls of rain rushing through without warning. All I really remember about the show is the sparse but captivated crowd who seemed drawn to the stage out of some desperate, borderline-therapeutic need. It's like we were all there as a result of our complete exhaustion with the rote act of existence, and the bleary-eyed stillness of this music was to be the last echo of our redemption....
That's when a big box of the headlining band's t-shirts fell on my head and rather handily shattered the mood. But no matter -- The dreamlike memories of the moments leading up to that are duly served by this song ("Creation Story") from the band's great Rainbows from Atoms album on Dischord Records. [Listen]. I believe the t-shirt incident ultimately required the purchase of a heating pad to apply to my wounded neck on the walk back to the PATH train.
Washington DC's Vile Cherubs are a band with an appealing mystique about them. The legend states that they existed on the fringes of their city's deified post-hardcore scene, but played a truly weird mix of snotty garage rock and swirling psychedelics, way before such practices were deemed cool by music scene glitterati. More importantly, they were all barely out of high school at the time that most of their recordings were made and since their only releases were self-produced cassettes, it took years for anyone to catch up with them and issue a proper retrospective on CD. In 1993, an unknown label based in Albuquerque issued the best of these recordings as The Man who has no Eats has no Sweats, which promptly went out of print and became impossible to find. Mercifully, a label called Afterburn Australia has re-released it with some additional tracks, all of which I'd imagine are as exemplary as "Rose Garden". [Listen]
(Vile Cherubs fun fact: the band features Tim Green, who furthered his musical chops in excellent bands like Nation of Ulysses, the Young Ginns, and most recently, as a member of WFMU darlings Citay! Other members are now involved with the Golden Bears.)
On the plunderphonic tip, I have long been an admirer of Steve Fisk, as much for his production résumé (which includes artists ranging from the Wedding Present to Soundgarden to Negativland) as for his involvement in the brilliant instrumental band Pell Mell. Since 1982, he's also released a string of weird and wiggy experimental records with an accent on cut n' paste juxtapositions and the kind of tape manipulations that made his involvement with Steven Jesse Bernstein's spoken word album such an artistic benchmark. Most recently (2001), his 999 Levels of Undo album blew my knickers off with admirable efficiency. In particular, the song "Where's the Fire?" has earned a lot of turntable time in these parts lately and has gotten me hoping that some new material might be forthcoming. I would go so far as to risk a limb for a chance to see Pell Mell perform live, now that I think of it. [Listen]
I've been enjoying a lot of new stuff lately too, some of which are things I've heard spun by my trusted radio compadres. Records by Burial, Kurt Vile, Chris Joss, and James Pants are all on my most-favored list at the moment, and I've also been arguing for the greatness of the new Bruce Springsteen record to anyone who'll listen. No foolin', it blows doors off of any of the rock records to cross my desk in the last year or so, and I'm a firm believer that any artist who can deploy fierce and evocative numbers like "Radio Nowhere" [Real Audio] alongside career-best milemarkers like "Girls in their Summer Clothes" [Real Audio] is one whose best work might still be ahead of him. I'm thrilled to report that I'll be finding out this summer during the E Street Band's short series of concerts somewhere in the swamps of East Rutherford. Can I get an amen from the IBJ ?