Monthly Archives: November 2009

Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary

Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Jordy: It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been four years since this album dropped.  I remember hearing it that fall of 2005 and thinking “This is exactly how I want rock to sound: fast, hooky, dark, and triumphant.”  Isaac Brock earned his short keep as a Sub Pop A&R man and producer with this record and, in that light, I can only hope that his last four years’ energies haven’t been wasted on mere Modest Mouse albums.  He found this band right when they needed it.  They sound hungry.  (Not that they made any money necessarily.)

The opener “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son” is a real ass-kicker and introduces the listener to Spencer Krug’s two greatest offerings: really cool yelping vocals (which aren’t nearly as Tiny Tim-esque as some haters might assert) and pounding keyboard grooves.  I was sticking my waxy earbuds in everyone’s face that October saying, “You have to hear this shit!”

I’ll leave some of the other highlights to Glenn but not before I claim the two greatest back-to-back tracks of the indie era.  “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”  features Krug’s very best lyrical turns powered by high swirling organ and en invigorating la-la-la chorus and you’d think you couldn’t get higher.  Until the next track.  “I’ll Believe in Anything” is nothing less than a glorious stomping hymn in earnest praise of, well, Anything.  Incredible.  This pair still gives me chills after hundreds of listens.  The songs are truly durable in their form and sentiment.

Glenn: Durable is right, Jordy. I must admit that at first this album struck me as just another indie rock record. “Bound Arcade Pornographers, Broken Social Pitchfork….meh.” That stuff is good but it gets…old. It was about six months later that I found myself humming “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” and “Grounds For Divorce” to myself, trying to keep my balance on the snow-slick streets of Chicago in winter. These are solid, catchy songs.

For me, this is a record that sounds like warmth in the midst of cold. I’m not sure why, exactly — perhaps because I first loved it in winter — but it might have to do with the sound of struggle on the record. While the band is a well-oiled groove machine (what indie rock is this furious and yet this danceable?), the songs seem to grapple their way upward from real pain toward sunlight and joy. And not in an emo way, either. When he says, “I need sunshine,” you believe him. Triumph, indeed.

One more thing: remember all those “Wolf” bands circa 2005? That was funny.

4 Essential Tracks:

“You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”
“Grounds for Divorce”
“Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”
I’ll Believe In Anything

Buy it

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Filed under 2000s, Rock

Nirvana: In Utero

Nirvana:  In Utero (1993)

Adam: I was 12 years old and my family was on vacation in Florida when I saw the news reports on TV in our hotel saying that the singer from a band I was vaguely familiar with had killed himself.   I was just beginning to be interested in rock music in 1994, and after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I wasn’t allowed to own any Nirvana albums.  I had to get my Nirvana fix from the radio and from a mixtape a friend gave me later that year which included half of Bleach and half of In Utero.  I used to listen to it through headphones on the school bus and in the back seat of our minivan.  I listened to it a lot in the winter of 1994-95, and for a long time after that, listening to In Utero reminded me of winter.  I still haven’t heard the other half of Bleach, but I bought In Utero a few years later and I listen to it every now and then.  My inspiration for writing this post was the recent media attention surrounding the DVD/CD release of Nirvana’s set at the 1992 Reading festival.  I bought the DVD, and it is great because it documents what a Nirvana concert was like when the band was at the peak of its popularity. Continue reading

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Filed under 1990s, Grunge, Rock

Rick Moody on Steve Winwood

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

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The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground

Velvet Underground

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

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Filed under 1960s, Rock

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks

VanMorrison_AstralWeeks

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?

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