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