Songs of the Year 1996

She said it’s cold
It feels like Independence Day
And I can’t break away from this parade
But there’s got to be an opening
Somewhere here in front of me
Through this maze of ugliness and greed
–The Wallflowers

Songs of the Year: “Novocaine for the Soul”, the Eels; “One Headlight”, the Wallflowers

Runners Up: “What I got”; Sublime; “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Smashing Pumpkins

Honorable Mentions: “Old Apartment”, Barenaked Ladies;  “California Love” Tupac, Dr. Dre

1996 was the year that I dropped the transmission on the Ford LTD station wagon; but it is still filled with memories of music playing in that car. I can see the road I was turning on to when Sublime’s “What I got” was playing on the local radio station for the first time. I can remember where the snow was falling when I first heard the terrible and memorable lyrics “The world is a vampire / sent to drain …”

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I broke up with a Girl over Limp Bizkit: Music. Status. Identity.

Note: I find myself beginning a chaotic and promising semester. I can’t say I won’t blog as much, but I can say that it won’t be as consistent. I can also promise that after two years of writing pretty heavily, we may re-post some oldies (but goodies?) on and off. Here is one of my favorite (because every horrible world is true). Yes, Bakhtin and Limp Bizkit. 

“There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the boundless future). Even past meaning, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all)—they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue…Nothing is absolutely dead.” –M. M. Bakhtin
“I did it all for the nookie / C’mon / The nookie / C’mon / So you can take that cookie / And stick it up your, yeah!!” –Fred Durst

I once broke up with a girl because of Limp Bizkit. Seriously. And this wasn’t some ephemeral or disposable relationship. We had been a couple on and off for over two years throughout high school—which is, in high school terms, practically being married. How did this happen? What does this say about me?

The mid-nineties were a heady time for music lovers, especially for adolescent malcontents. Before the debuts of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten when alternative music went mainstream, college music stations, independent record stores and word-of-mouth were the primary avenues to “coolness” for those who were otherwise barred by ability, class or disposition from conventional approaches. Even more crazily, for a brief period the worlds collided—in the mid-nineties, nerd chic was all the rage. At my high school, football players new Weezer’s “Sweater Song” and cheerleaders wore Dinosaur Jr. Shirts. Which, of course, made isolating and securing the “cool” that much more difficult. Today, the internet, with its damnable democratizing power, can put anyone “in the know” within a few mouse clicks. Social networking disperses “cool” like fluoride in public water. Does this dispersal make it too diffuse? How do geeky adolescents gain the higher ground any more?

Even after Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” won a VMA and bands like Butthole Surfers and Jane’s Addiction were in the day-to-day rotation on MTV, there were still subsections of alternative music that remained on the margins. Sometimes, late at night, you might catch a They Might Be Giants video; but seminal bands like the Pixies and real warriors like Fugazi were still part of the realm of the select few. During these years, what and who you listened to helped to define who you were; or, whom you chose to allow people to know you listened to was an important part of the creation of self-identity. To be lame was to listen to anything in the top forty.

My circle of friends was organized by the (1) aesthetics of the obscure and unknown (Red House Painters), (2) the almost-cool but turning mainstream (Green Day), (3) the ironic but still earnest obsession (Elvis), (4) the almost lame but sort-of acceptable mainstream (Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler), (5) ‘connoisseurship’ (Pre-1990 R.E.M.; U2’s Boy but not Joshua Tree and certainly not Achtung Baby), (6) the geeky but cool (Dead Kennedys), (7) the intentionally offensive (Gwar) and then me. I couldn’t commit to one pose long enough because of my fear that any purchase on ‘coolness’ was temporary. So, I decided to hate everything (or at least almost everything).

Wanted to be Frank Black, but was really Fred Durst

The girl in question in this story just loved music—she could listen without irony to Madonna and Michael Jackson in 1994 (which, for those of you who don’t remember those days, was an accomplishment). But she also espoused the insider’s pose of knowledge as she proudly claimed to have bought Live’s first album before they were cool or as she included Fremke and Smashing Pumpkin B-sides on mix-tapes. I guess in the end it was my own continual uncertainty and insecurity that did us in. If someone loved everything and showed no disdain when it came to music, how could her opinion on more important matters (read: me) have any significance?

In truth, the relationship had been heading south well before the Limp Bizkit incident—I was going to college and, in my own mind, had stayed with her primarily because of convenience. But, when on some weeknight at her house I sat at the kitchen table and saw the brand new Three Dollar Bill Y’all$ still in cellophane, I lost it. Now, this was one album before the world learned about what Fred Durst did for the “Nookie”; two years before violence and sexual assaults at the nearly apocalyptic  Woodstock ’99, but from even my tangential knowledge, I knew that Limp Bizkit was musically impoverished, tonally challenged, wannabe hardcore.

To wit, I have no problem with hardcore, but without an ethical and aesthetic center, it is nothing but noise. Again, great artists don’t necessarily need to be musically talented. But, in retrospect, a phenomenon like Limp Bizkit was the death knell for mainstream alternative rock (if that oxy-moron makes any sense), the only nostrum for which was the several years of boy-band pop hell that descended around the same time. To give Durst his due, he was a great showman and his cover of George Michael’s “Faith”, for the time period, was genius.

In all honesty, at the kitchen table on that evening, I knew very little about Limp Bizkit. I knew I didn’t like the name; I knew I didn’t like the cover art; and I had a vague idea that ‘posers’ and ‘losers’ liked them. I asked the girl about it, perhaps hoping that it was a lame gift for or from a friend. But, to my chagrin, she said she bought it and added that she was really excited about it. I said “what?” She told me that they were “cool”. I don’t have the best memory about what happened next, but it may have started with “we need to talk”.

Of course, none of this reflects on me too well. And it shouldn’t. If anything, she was being genuine in pursuing what she liked regardless of external associations (and, regardless of my standards of ‘taste’). I was judgmental, narrow-minded and an overall prick.  I broke up with a girl over Limp Bizkit; all I can say to console myself now is that at least I didn’t “do it all for the nookie”.

On the Radio (Flashback): Superdrag, Sucked Out

Like this, but lamer

Like this, but lamer

Recently my brother and I were talking about his band and some of the troubles they have had forging a unified idea of what kind of band they would be and managing expectations about success, playing out and ‘ownership’. Anytime you talk to someone who is in a real band, they will talk some about the music and the sound, but push a little more and you will uncover some hard-felt anxieties and hurt feelings about serious issues like who comes late to rehearsal and who lugs the most band equipment.

See, as I told my brother, most bands fail. And they don’t fail because of lack of success (although that will almost always happen) but they fail because they are based on human relationships and uneven expectations. Just as romantic relationships thrive on desire and sex but founder on garbage day and dishes, so too the most beautiful harmonies are shattered by the mundane details of schedules, personality tics, and whose turn it is to wake up the drummer.

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On the Radio (Flashback): Second Acts, The Rentals, “Friends of P”

“There are no second acts in American Lives…” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Back in the 1990s when I was tooling around southern Maine in a rapidly deteriorating Ford LTD Stationwagon, I relished the pure joy of a few months of low-advertising and risk-taking on the local alternative rock station. One of the few things I remember about this period is the overwhelming airplay bestowed upon Weezer’s first album. Despite the overwhelming success of this debut, the band couldn’t stay together.  The bassist, Matt Sharp, departed and formed his own band, The Rentals.

For a brief period, it seemed like Sharp made the right decision. I remember cold winter nights, frost on the wind shield and touring around the back roads listening to the enigmatic and beautiful “Friends of P”:

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Labor-Day Songlist: Arbeitsmusik (Work-music)

In honor of labor day, here’s a blast from our not-so-distant past. What better to make us appreciate a day off of work than ruminations on the privations suffered in jobs present and past…

 
I could buy myself a reason
I could sell myself a job
I could hang myself on treason
All the folks I know are gone
Modest Mouse, “The Devil’s Workday”

Our friend the Historian’s vivid entry on his paper-route playlist and my brother’s musings on his forced music choices reminded me of a list of my own I started a while back. See, he and I are both older than our years. All of us who went to high school (and part of college) before google, before Napster, and before cell phones or text messages, keep part of ourselves in a world wholly foreign to siblings and cousins a mere five years younger. It is strange how time moves that much faster.

Before ubiquitous CD players, mp3 players and satellite music, the car was one of two places where you could find yourself subject to the whim of faceless disc-jockeys or the machinations of entertainment executives. (Some of us even drove cars that didn’t even have tape players.)

The other place? Work. Before I found myself in a life where silence was more common than noise in the workplace, where my voice was the sound that could most often be heard, I worked a series of jobs to pay for band equipment and long distance phone bills, to pay for college, and to put myself through graduate school. At each one of these jobs I found myself subject to the musical choices of others: a boss’ favorite radio station or CD.

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(Re-Play) Songs of the Year 1996

Do you ever sit around and wonder what you were doing or thinking about a year ago? One of the things about the internet age is that you can almost always come up with some documentary evidence to discover if not what you were thinking, then at least what you were saying you were thinking (or something like that).

With a blog, it is a bit more official. last year, around this time, I was thinking about the songs of 1996. So, in the spirit of all things being cyclical, let’s go back there again.

She said it’s cold
It feels like Independence Day
And I can’t break away from this parade
But there’s got to be an opening
Somewhere here in front of me
Through this maze of ugliness and greed
–The Wallflowers

Songs of the Year: “Novocaine for the Soul”, the Eels; “One Headlight”, the Wallflowers

Runners Up: “What I got”; Sublime; “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Smashing Pumpkins

Honorable Mentions: “Old Apartment”, Barenaked Ladies;  “California Love” Tupac, Dr. Dre

1996 was the year that I dropped the transmission on the Ford LTD station wagon; but it is still filled with memories of music playing in that car. I can see the road I was turning on to when Sublime’s “What I got” was playing on the local radio station for the first time. I can remember where the snow was falling when I first heard the terrible and memorable lyrics “The world is a vampire / sent to drain …”

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Heat, Heat and New Music

So, my brother recently talked about the heat (and not that basketball team from Miami). Our northern homeland has hit the 90s for the first time this year and he is undone by it. He asked me in the post how I, a scandinavian by birth and a Mainer by upbringing, survive the deadly temperatures of my permanent exile.

My last few weeks have been dominated by this and the sun

My last few weeks have been dominated by this and the sun

The answer? I don’t. I reverse hibernate. We stay inside. We have air-conditioned cars. We avoid direct sunlight like vampires. You never really get used to 110 degrees. You learn to avoid 110 degrees. So, I keep the lights off, drink lots of water, and wait for the fall to return.

Yet, the trade-off is that I have not only failed to gain any real capacity to manage the heat; I also have lost any ability to cope with the cold. So, now, I am a man without a place.

As my brother has intimated, the past few weeks have been busier than I planned, but it is not all work. I recently took up basketball again and have been wasting an embarrassing amount of time being very bad at a sport. And hurting. Oh, and drinking a lot of water.

So, here’s a delayed response to the Only D’s New Music:

The Neighbourhood

I am not quite sure why they use the –our spelling, but that besides, they remind me a bit of a blend between the Walkmen and Dishwalla, except if the members grew up listening to a lot more hip-hop. I don’t know if any band after Weezer can have a song about sweaters. So, there you go. This song made me think of two other songs I would rather hear. But, as the Only D puts it, there is some interesting blend of genres here. I don’t know about soul-revival, but I do think that as more and more future-artists grow up listening to all music genres, there will be more unquantifiable blends like this.

 

Weezer, “Sweater Song”

My college band covered this song.  I don’t know if we did a good job of it. I am sure, however, that you didn’t need to do a good job to get the crowd to like it. This is a great sing-along-song. Weezer sensed their talent for this and went from pretty harmonies to straight up yelling the chorus with their next album’s single “El Scorcho”.

 

The Walkmen, “We’ve Been Had”

Members of this band were in the short-lived but hard-rocking Jonathan Firestarter. I was so excited for this album. I love the old-timey yet slightly trippy feel of the combination of the piano rote and the vocals. I still think that the music business was way too 1990s radio and MTV focused for this band to be successful. Just a few years later, Arcade Fire was tearing up the world; five years after that, Vampire Weekend was huge. Listen to this song, you can hear some sonic influence for those bands. Maybe I need to listen to this album again.

 

The Dear Hunter, “Dear Ms. Leading”

I both love and do not love puns. I think that the name of this band is a little lame. That’s beside the point.  The music of this band reminds me of Incubus or some of the lesser tracks of A Perfect Circle. I wanted to turn the track off after 60 seconds, but I listened to the whole thing. But hey, if you make it to the third minute or so, you get treated to two very different guitar solos—different styles with some interesting production. My brother, I think you will like that part. The vocals? Uninspired and uninspiring.

 

Porcupine Tree, “The Start of Something Beautiful”

Since I have been obsessing about band names lately, I have to say that I like this name. I like the proggy feel (even though it slightly seems like the band is stuck in the 80s). I think my brother will like the bass player. I have to say that I actually like the vocalist more than I like Rush’s. I can’t say that this band really reminded me too much of anything. The combination of adventurous and sometimes gimmicky yet complicated instrumentals with hyper-clear vocals seems to be a dead end from the early 1990s, but hey, as a creature of the period it is not surprising that I like it.

(This is the first track on the list that made me think about buying the album…)

 

Trampled by Turtles, “Wait So Long”

I should probably just leave the band’s name alone. I should probably also try to ignore the fact that The Only  is trying to get me to cop to liking the Mumford Sons again. Unlike my brother, I don’t love the fiddle so much; I also feel like this singer misses his dip when he’s singing and is one trucker hat short of an ensemble.

The banjo player can really play; the fiddle player can’t take Charlie Daniels or the Devil, but he might give either of them a gun for his money. A serious run for his money. I think that this song is probably pretty good, but there is a little too much going on—I don’t think that the mandolin adds too much; the vocalist is a little overwhelmed by the instrumentals—the melody just gets lost.

Yet, I will probably listen to another track or two. There is something about the band’s sense that seems intriguing.

 

Phoenix, “Entertainment”

I am actually quite happy that The Only D included this song and I think that this is a really good harbinger for the whole album (which I will already have bought by the time anyone reads this post). The last album was really good but it was missing a lower gear, if that makes any sense. On the last album, every song is fast and harder—the band too often makes up for melody with tempo and urgency. This song seems a lot more melodic.

Breeders’ Last Splash: A forgotten classic?

Hey, there’s nothing in my heart.
I’d rather be cool than be smart.
Hey, What I’m thinking of.
I’d rather be cool than be loved.
Here’s what I feel, Ba ba ba ba.
Just want a girl, as cool as Kim Deal.
–The Dandy Warhols, “Cool as Kim Deal” (1997)

Sure, start off a review of one band’s album with somebody else’s song. That’s rational.

 

I started out on this blog writing some reviews of albums that I considered classic with the intention of trying to explain what makes them timeless and not just tied to their trends and historical context. Recently, but without regret, I have focused a little more on contemporary releases. This doesn’t mean I have forgotten about some older albums—I have just been letting them ‘age’.

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Arbeitsmusik (Work-music)

I could buy myself a reason
I could sell myself a job
I could hang myself on treason
All the folks I know are gone
Modest Mouse, “The Devil’s Workday”

The Historian’s recent entry on his paper-route playlist and my brother’s musings on his forced music choices reminded me of a list of my own I started a while back. See, he and I are both older than our years. All of us who went to high school (and part of college) before google, before Napster, and before cell phones or text messages, keep part of ourselves in a world wholly foreign to siblings and cousins a mere five years younger. It is strange how time moves that much faster.

Before ubiquitous CD players, mp3 players and satellite music, the car was one of two places where you could find yourself subject to the whim of faceless disc-jockeys or the machinations of entertainment executives. (Some of us even drove cars that didn’t even have tape players.)

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The Best Defense is a Good Offense? To Emo or Not-Emo

This is a post of uncertainty. It is about a genre I think I know nothing about. Ignore it, if it seems senseless; set me right, if you know more.

Earlier I mentioned suffering reproach at the hands of a man with tattoos in his mouth for liking Wilco; during the same party I was also accused of liking Emo, as if this accusation alone could strip someone of any pretensions and aspirations of ‘coolness’. Years later, I still occasionally hear students mocking others for being ‘Emo’. At times I mock the Younger J for excoriating a girl for liking, nay, for being, Emo. Here’s the problem with these experiences: I have no clue what Emo is.

Aside 1: To the Younger J, your post is a fine illustration of why your success with the fairer sex has been rocky—your irascibility! One must sublimate the baser aspects of oneself for romantic accomplishment. Yes, I know you’ll claim that such an act is disingenuous, but I have a further claim: affiliations with social constructs like Emo, or in your case, not-Emo, are only skin-deep. Maybe the Emo girl was something more than her musical tastes; her avoidance of you certainly speaks of some integrity.

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