One our goals with this newishly re-booted So Well Remembered blog is to highlight excellent music writing around the web. Here’s today’s entry: a brief review of the new crop of Destroyer reissues.
“Destroyer is involved in the same exercise but in a different medium: world-building. Not a world in which there is necessarily a narrative to tell, but rather one in which patterns are created and fleshed out, a world in which connections are made between songs and albums, where characters and words repeat, and repeat often enough that they gain meaning with each repetition.”
Read the rest of the article here.
Destroyer’s Rubies has been a favorite for me since it came out, and this article explains why.
Posted by Glenn
Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night (1975)
Glenn: There’s a spot on I-77 between Fancy Gap, Virginia, and Lambsburg, just north of the North Carolina border, where the road rises sharply to summit the Blue Ridge. The interstate clings to the hills and winds along steep edges and narrow passes for 10 miles. The air gets wet up there — fog seems to rise out of the rock — and if you are lucky enough to be heading south and riding shotgun you can look southeast from the hills, out over the flatlands of Carrol County, Virgina and Surry County, North Carolina. It’s farms and gas stations and exurb subdivisions — very few lights — but at night, just after dusk, from the height of I-77, the long stretch of dark land sometimes looks like Los Angeles, as viewed from Mulholland Drive. A sparsely populated L.A., an L.A. without smog or skyline, without superhighways. You’ll have to trust me here. Because even though the rural counties of the N.C. Piedmont are nothing like L.A., this stunning view kindles something in the collective memory to remind you of the L.A. you know from movies, from books, from hints, from mid-’70s rock albums maybe most of all. The sheen and glamor, the nightclubs and stubble, the cocaine, the hazy smoggy dawns and the never-night of streetlamps. The stars holed away in the hills. This is what I think of when I descend from I-77 headed south toward home.
Tonight’s the Night captures all that.
Beck – Odelay (1996)
Glenn: Odelay‘s stylistic diversity, junkyard-dada sampling aesthetic, and anticipation of the mash-up have been justly praised. However, what strikes me 14 years out is the sheer range of moods Beck’s masterwork strikes. Is there any other record with this much emotional variety? From the goofball hick-hop of “Sissyneck” to the monster-movie drone of “Derelict” to the melancholy sigh of “Jack-ass” (a personal favorite) to the sheer fun of “Hotwax,” Odelay makes you feel joy, fear, sadness, confusion, and flashdance-ass-pants dance lunacy all in equal measure, sometimes in the same song.
Can – Tago Mago (1971)
Glenn: Deep funk you’d feel weird shaking your butt to. Crisp production, with oddly EQ’d drums — muted. Like what you hear with a head cold or a fever. Two long sound collages — one of which contains my all-time favorite 2 minutes of Can (that’d be the opening of “Aumgn”), and the other of which is made up of shouting, carnival blee-boop organ licks, and delay pedal fuckery. A distanced feeling throughout. So is this emotionless post-rock jamming more to be admired than to be enjoyed? Or is there blood in these grooves?
Jordy: There is vibrant life in these grooves. As my liner notes quotes keyboardist Irmin Schmidt: Can was like a “mighty, pulsing organism.” Similarly, I would define the “life” of Tago Mago more in biological terms. It has a regular heartbeat and bowel movements, for instance. (Excuse me while I abandon this analogy…) Continue reading
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (1985)
Glenn: Now is the time of the year that Rain Dogs makes it to the stereo and my girlfriend asks me, “Why does Tom Waits sound so romantic?”
Phil: I can’t speak to this one: all I can say is I hate this version of “Downtown Train” as much as Rod Stewart’s. And it’s a great song. You should probably ignore me on this post.
Jordy: I love these Island records. Some time around 1983, Tom Waits must have had some catharsis that moved him from bawling, grisly, gravelly nightclub croonings to surreal but often touching freak show poems. And Rain Dogs stands as perhaps his most “romantic” as Glenn’s girlfriend puts it. But before I get into those schmultzy tunes, I want to mention the edgier songs like “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Tango Till They’re Sore.” These songs continue the boozy standard Waits had set with Swordfishtrombones: weird and dubious characters, overplayed horns, solid, stripped-down rhythm section, all under Waits’ yowling.
The Band: The Band (1969)
Glenn: I should probably admit up front that until about six months ago I had no feelings whatsoever for The Band. Sure, they rocked it with Dylan, and I’d seen enough of The Last Waltz to be glad that punk rock was able to dispose of the coke-crusted cremains of dinosaur rock (seriously, there’s so much self-congratulatory bullshit smeared all over the celluloid that it’s hard to see what’s happening). But I’d never been interested in The Band’s music, per se. At best, they provided fodder to late-night acoustic guitar jams (“The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek”). At worst, they seemed to typify all that was wrong with rock: way-too-sorrowful ballads, pretentious romanticizing of rural life, too-earnest singing, “funky” but actually leaden drumming, bad organ solos (there’s a special place in hell for “Chest Fever,” ugh). I hated their version of “Long Black Veil” — and I hated that my brothers always tried to play their too-damn-slow version instead of the superior Johnny Cash version.
Suffice it to say that I was blaming The Band for things beyond their control. Just because one can hear the roots of Journey and Foreigner in “Chest Fever” doesn’t mean that The Band is to blame. In fact, they should be celebrated for their very real accomplishments and general awesomeness. I was blind, but now I see.
One of our goals with this new version of So Well Remembered is to highlight excellent examples of music writing, old and new. Here’s a brand-spanking-new essay that treats Steve Winwood’s shit-chestnut “Higher Love” as a gateway into grief, memory, and politics. The essay is a really wonderful illustration of the way that music can be both a sovereign work of art and a method of considering much larger ideas and emotions. Plus, it happens to be by one of my favorite writers, Rick Moody, and appears on one of my favorite new blogs, The Rumpus.
A word of warning, though: if you are that dude who thought I was a hilariously pretentious piece of turd, you will probably dislike this essay.
Read it here.
Posted by Glenn
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground (1969)
Glenn: Let’s clear one thing up: “The Murder Mystery” is awesome. Anybody who disagrees hasn’t caught onto the Velvet’s project, which is to use drones, pulse, and deadpan-specific lyrics to create a trance that contains an entire world. Anything else the Velvets do — sing, change chords, play feedback, take speed, let Nico do her thing — is extra. While “The Murder Mystery” isn’t a typical Velvets song, it does have the elements I’ve just identified, plus a wild bouncy-piano-with-vocals outro.
After listening to the demos and live stuff from the Peel Slowly And See box (see below for a live “What Goes On” that kills), I’m convinced that the Velvets were after some kind of secret chord-pulse-noise mechanism that could transcend space and time. In other words, they were trying to be Can or Bitches-era Miles Davis, before Can or Miles dreamed a way to the astral plane. The thing is that the Velvets were also Long Island dopes who wrote folk-pop songs. The tension in their music is the tension between trying to get free and trying to keep together — the dichotomy Dave Hickey traces in his classic essay about the differences between jazz and rock and roll. Continue reading
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)
Glenn: I was lucky enough to meet magisterial bassist Richard Davis during college. When I asked Davis about Astral Weeks, to which he contributed genre-busting bass lines, Davis smiled down and said, “Oh, yes. Of course. Well, you know, Van was a mama’s boy.” And smirked. I’m not quite sure what Davis meant, but his pat response means he wanted to shed some humanizing light on Astral Weeks, as it is so revered. Davis is on record saying that Morrison didn’t know what he wanted from the musicians — or is it that Morrison couldn’t say what he wanted? Certainly the questioning delicacy of Davis’s bass, Connie Kay’s drums, and Jay Berliner’s guitar is what makes the record so unique. It sounds like a balancing act, as if no one is sure where these songs will go — except, that is, for Morrison. His singing is assured and forceful even as it is exploratory. And yet these adjectives don’t seem to quite do it. So: what is it about Astral Weeks?
Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (2000)
I had such high hopes for The Lonesome Crowded West. But it turned out to be a droney, overlong, emoish Pixies ripoff. I dug a few tracks, but soon filed it away and returned to Fugazi.
A few years later my friends were talking about “this great new band, Modest Mouse,” and the record they just picked up at Best Buy. I shrugged and picked up The Moon & Antarctica, but again, it was a little…well…iffy.
The production was crap. Many of the songs seemed just as slight as those on The Lonesome Crowded West. The singer still lisped. The double-tracked vocals canceled each other out. The guitars lacked tactility, the bass was muddled, the cymbals were too damn loud, the rest of the drums thuddy or inaudible, and when the band tried to rock it sounded like a bad car radio with the mids cranked and the high end rolled off. Plus the cover art (the old cover art, two disembodied hands shaking over some sort of lunar landscape) sucked. What, exactly, was going on here? Continue reading
The Velvet Underground – “I Heard Her Call My Name” from White Light/White Heat (1968)
Last night, after drinking a wonderful Sazerac cocktail, I heard Yo La Tengo play Durham NC. The cavernous acoustics of the Carolina Theater didn’t help the sound, but the show still split my mind. One of YLT’s encores was a noisy version of the Velvets classic “I Heard Her Call My Name.”
Back in ’94, Yo La Tengo portrayed the Velvets in the film I Shot Andy Warhol. Watch a clip (but no YLT) here.
Catch Yo La Tengo live
Buy the Velvet Underground
Posted by Glenn
Willie Nelson – “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” from Red Headed Stranger (1975)
What a beautiful song. Deceptively simple — or is that deceptively complex?
Has anyone seen the Red Headed Stranger movie? According to IMDB, Levon Helm was slated to appear, but literally shot himself in the foot prior to filming.
Anyway, let me know if it’s worth the trek to Western Washington.
Posted by Glenn
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory....sounds like a Flaming Lips song title, huh?
The Flaming Lips – “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” from The Soft Bulletin (1999)
A while back, Jordy and I were talking about songs with dense, complicated arrangements, and how that density can enhance the meaning and emotion inherent in the song. He mentioned the late-60s/early-70s Beach Boys — Brian Wilson was nothing if not a genius of overload.
But the first thing that popped into my noggin was this ditty from the Flaming Lips’ best record. In fact, it is not especially dense, but I think that every guitar strum, every echoey mellotron yawn, every cymbal ping serves to create a sort of rock-and-roll tone poem. Toward the end the song itself begins to disintegrate.
What dense complicated platters do you love to spin, and why?
Buy the Lips
Posted by Glenn
The Books – “That Right Ain’t Shit” from The Lemon of Pink (2003)
I think I can speak for my fellow SWR-ians by saying that the Books fucking rule. I heard them live once on a wintry night in Chicago; I was shushed during the boring-ass opening act by an overweight beardo hipster; the Books killed; in a blissed-out stupor I talked with one of the Books afterward. The cellist. His accent was too thick to understand. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t have it. (Later, Jordy asked me, “Is that what you call him? Is he a Book?) Their live set, to be sure, was fantastic. The kind of show where time disappears.
At any rate, our pal Rob tipped me off to the fact that the Books are working on a new album, to be released in the next year. In the mean time, they’re touring. I missed ‘em in NC; don’t make the same mistake.
Buy the Books (or just any old book, I recommend Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan)
Posted by Glenn