11 months, and 148 records ago, I considered closing up shop here at Vinyl in Alphabetical because I wasn’t sure if I should spend time writing stuff about the records I just bought at the record store. I had completely caught up with my record collection, but ultimately, I decided to keep going, and being that I have a job with a bigger disposable income, I have somehow accrued nearly 150 records since then. I obviously found that I had things I could write about those albums; some more than others, obviously. But still; I was able to keep going for 11 months and 148 records.
As of this ZZ Top album, I have now, again, caught up with my record collection. I have nothing left to write about. Except for a quip about how the one guy in ZZ Top sans beard is named Frank Beard, and how ZZ Top fucking shred, I am not sure I even have much to write about here.
But! I am not quitting. I have plans to hit this incredible pawn store in the U.P. next week, a place that boasts literally 30,000 records for sale, and plan to walk out with arms full of shit. I am just going to take some time off from this blog. Maybe the rest of this month; I’m not really sure. I just realized I’ve written—or gotten my friends to help write—about 447 records in 23 months. That’s 19 a month. That’s too many.
446. Wham!'s 'Make It Big' (Short Story By Ian Charles Garner)
Hey y’all: I have something special lined up here today, which has been cooking since about January. As you may or may not know, I used to be a part of The Continuing Tales Of… a thing where music writers wrote short stories “inspired” by songs on classic albums. Since then, I’ve really wanted a writer to write some short fiction “inspired” by an album in my collection, and when I got to thinking about WHO I wanted to write it, I had only one answer: Ian Charles Garner, known to the Internet as the always ribald Sweatpants Papi.
If you’ve ever read Ian’s Twitter feed—which you should, now—you know it’s one of the snappiest, funniest, toughest, places on all of Twitter, and it’s full of little details about Ian’s life: the men he’s chasing via Grindr, the bulge in the pants of the cashier at Starbucks, and the lunacy of whatever new thing he’s gotten himself embroiled in on Twitter. I had a feeling that if I gave Ian free rein to turn this into an erotica—and assigned him an album as weird as Wham!’s Make It Big—that he’d deliver something risque and totally perfect. And he did. It’s below.
444. Soulja Boy's 'Souljaboytellem.com' (Written By Drew Millard)
Happy Independence Day, y’all. I hope everyone is doing Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonations over a pit of read meat while rap music plays loudly in your immediate vicinity. To celebrate America in the most perfect, this Tumblr-centric way I possibly could, I had my friend Drew Millard do a track-by-track deep dive into Souljaboytellem.com, the first album by American Patriot Soulja Boy. Drew has been my Internet friend since he was a college graduate trying to break into #viral #content, and now he’s a grown ass dude who works at Noisey and who writes shit that can send the NY Rap Community into fucking convulsions. I guess I’m saying Drew rules and you should follow him on Twitter.
On October 2nd, 2007, the world was irrevocably changed. On that day, the President of South Korea walk across the DMZ into North Korea as a gesture of goodwill towards Kim Jong Il. And, uh, because MOTHERFUCKING SOULJA BOY PUT OUT HIS FIRST RECORD.
It is called souljaboytellem.com. Because the world is full of miracles, if you type “www.souljaboytellem.com” into your web browser, you will automatically be redirected to Soulja Boy’s twitter account. Because Soulja Boy is the best, Andrew asked me to write about his first album. Though it’s not his best album (that’d be the criminally unheralded The DeAndre Way), it is definitely his first. And, in case you were wondering, Soulja Boy has been a motherfucking innovator since day one. Let’s take a trip down souljaboytellem.comlane.
Soulja Boy and Mr. Collipark, the guy who produced a gazillion Ying Yang Twinz songs plus “Ms. New Booty,” rehash the introduction of Pinky and the Brain. “FROM THE INTERNET TO MAINSTREAM,” Soulja yells. But Soulja—the internet is mainstream. Time is a flat circle, Kermit meme, etc.
Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)
This song is basically “Y.M.C.A.” for our generation, except awesome. Soulja Boy is the true example of disruption in the tech sphere.
I never had a sidekick, but Mr. Collipark cooks up a Marsian snap beat to make me really fucking jealous I never had one. This might be an early example of #Branded #Content, or maybe Soulja Boy was just super amped he suddenly had money after coming from nothing and decided it was easier to articulate that feeling of intense, unknowable relief through defining himself by the products he was now capable of owning. Either way, this song slaps.
Snap and Roll
Pales in comparison to “Party Like a Rockstar” by Shop Boyz, but at least Soulja Boy is super open about the fact that he’s trying to create both a snap-rock song, as well as a dance for said snap-rock song.
AT LAST, THE TRAGIC FIGURE THAT IS ARAB REARS HIS HEAD. Arab was Soulja Boy’s best friend, but then Arab got tired of being his friend and stopped rapping with him. This song is dope because it sounds like DJ Mustard will eventually rip the beat off.
Let Me Get ‘Em
Seriously, the beats on this record are fucking out of this world. If this had come out right now, people would be freaking the fuck out.
This is a song about butts.
So, we must confront the glaringly obvious. “Yahhh!” has not aged well. On the other hand, it’s still really fun to wave your hands in someone’s face while screaming “YAHHH!!!!”, so what the fuck do I know.
Pass It to Arab
I want to move inside of this beat. I seriously forgot how incredible the productions on this were. This one has this weird little flute-whistle thing, an 808 drumbeat, and then the sort of bass that sounds like you’re just beating a trash can against the side of a tin building. You could argue that Soulja Boy should have tried harder at rapping on this, but you’d be missing the point and I’d have to wave my hands in your face and yell “YAHHH!” at you.
Sadly, not all songs on your debut album can be fun bangers about new dances you’ve invented. Article 1, Clause 17.5 of the Music Industry Handbook clearly states that you’ve got to have at least one song on your debut album explicitly for the ladies. Fortunately, this one’s pretty dank, and it’s the only time on the album Soulja Boy shows you he’s just as adept at rapping at whatever lyrically ass lyrical rapper you like, nerd.
This is basically a 2 Live Crew song, and that is decidedly a good thing. I actually just went on Pirate Bay and downloaded this, because I’m DJing a party tomorrow night and I’m gonna play like five songs from this during my set.
The most martial, menacing soundscape to ever start with, “Man I just got my report card today, mane. I looked at it, it had all F’s on it. I took it back to the teacher, told her, ‘Throw some D’s on it!’”
Yet again, Soulja Boy innovates, this time by using the term “thirsty” in a rap song years before hipsters could use it on Twitter.
Don’t Get Mad
All good things, including souljaboytellem.com, must come to an end. Fortunately, Soulja Boy drops some lyrical miracles to remind you of all he’s accomplished. Probably the most honest line he’s ever written is, “It’s amazing what I did with a mic and the internet.”
443. Kanye West and Jay-Z's 'Watch the Throne' (Written by Trey Smith)
Hey y’all, I’ve got another guest writer on the blog. This week it’s Trey Smith, better known to Twitter users with good taste as Slimi Hendrix, covering Jay and Kanye’s maligned-for-the-wrong-reasons Watch the Throne. Like I said, if you’re not following Trey, why are you even on Twitter. He’s the visionary behind this incredible Tumblr, and one half of the Poor Home empire. Anyways, here’s Trey:
There are two types of people in the world:
1) Those who see Watch The Throne as a disgusting display of gluttony and excess.
2) Those who see Watch The Throne as motivation.
I remember there being a segment of the population that was unhappy about the album when it dropped. I get not liking the music or thinking they could’ve done better, and those are arguments I’ll listen to (won’t agree though). I’m talking more about the ones who saw some deep moral problems with the project. “They’re assholes for releasing this during an economic crisis.” “Kanye and Jay are praising false idols and setting a bad example.” “There’s Illuminati subliminal messaging in every other track that will make your pets try to fellate you while you sleep.”
It’s cool to think that way and all, if that’s what you want to do, but chill out and consider some stuff for a minute. These are two guys who decided to get together and celebrate the hard work they’ve been putting in for a combined number of years that’s possibly longer than you’ve been alive. They bragged about their material goods and accomplishments and snorting drugs off of other human beings, but they also reflected on where they came from and dreamed of a better future for themselves and others. Not exactly what I would consider vile and revolting, but to each his or her own.
“But why are they so special that I should even care?” Well, these are guys who’ve kept themselves not just relevant, but on top of the most competitive genre of music for some time. They’ve gone to war with Nas, 50 Cent, George Bush, and Taylor Swift and come out with undefeated records. You can’t even beat Flappy Bird, fuckboy/girl. (fuckperson?) They earned the right to put this album out. So if you’re in that first group from the original point, maybe take a deep breath and think about what’s really going on with your life where you’d try to paint the successes of others in a negative light. Jay and Kanye are showing you what hard work, good taste, and the right vision can lead to on Watch The Throne. Do yourself a favor and pay attention.
Few other related thoughts:
- They should play “Niggas In Paris” during every graduation ceremony. Especially kindergarten graduations.
- I wish The Neptunes would spend the next half decade or so only making beats like that “Gotta Have It” one.
- For some reason “Made In America” and “Murder To Excellence” make me think Frederick Douglass would’ve been a good rapper.
- “I Can’t Stop” is perfect standing on furniture music.
- Kind of amazing that anybody will still let Swizz speak a word on songs after he said “My beats go hard like fuck you dicks” on that Good Friday track.
- “Racks on racks on racks/Maybachs on bachs on bachs on bachs on bachs/Who in that?/Oh shit, it’s just blacks on blacks on blacks” is arguably the best thing to happen in a rap song in the 21st century. “Your weed purple, my money purple.” is a close second.
- “New Day” is an even better song if you imagine Kanye is talking about Chief Keef in his verse.
Trey Smith’s plug lives in Eskilstuna. He’s on Twitter—@slimihendrix
1. It feels impossible that Yeezus has only been out for a year. It simultaneously feels like it’s been much longer and much shorter. I feel like I’ve listened to it 300 times, and have heard it for 5 years.
2. I am still unsure why this thing is so divisive. No wait, I am: because rank and file Kanye fans are literally the worst. Their entire function is to hate everything he’s done since College Dropout. Which allows them to overlook the greatness that is staring right at them. They’re the reason J. Cole outsold Kanye. J. Cole is a sales juggernaut because the average hip-hop record buyer is the worst.
3. I actually did a weird thing for Noisey where I proved people have hated every Kanye album, even if they wrote in their reviews of the first album that he was an affront to rap. Then they wanted the first album again. Then they wanted the second album again. And so on. It was a fun exercise, and also it makes you realize that real live lunatics review albums on Amazon.
4. Last year, I wrote the review of Yeezus for Potholes in My Blog, and after that, it sort of derailed my album review career. I reviewed only 3 more albums last year, and haven’t done any since last December. Writing the Yeezus review made me realize I wouldn’t always have such meaty albums to chew on, music that made me want to write album reviews, music that felt Important. Basically, I realized that after 7 years of pretty continuously writing album reviews that I am more or less finished doing that week in, week out. I don’t have it in me to get it up to write about something unless I’m super passionate about it anymore. I have limited free time, and honestly, I have a better time listening to Florida Georgia Line right now than listening to new indie rock or whatever. I don’t miss reviewing at all; I’m focusing on writing articles for Noisey that make people go “Why are you covering this?” I live for that now.
5. Because I listened to Yeezus the first 20 times while driving around the Upper Peninsula, I actually associate a lot of it with being in the woods. “On Sight” is not a futuristic lazer stabbing to me now; it reminds me of driving 70 on the way to Laurium and passing old Copper stampers. “Bound 2” reminds me of driving through the Res while considering buying cheap fireworks.
6. Speaking of being on vacation in the UP: The last two years, two major albums have leaked right when before I go up there. Two years ago it was Channel Orange. Last year it was Yeezus. I am looking at the release calendar and disappointed that it doesn’t seem like anything comparable will happen this year.
7. Working with a bunch of college kids, it’s always hilarious when albums really take off with them way after the hype cycle on URL dies down. In this case, I remember spending a week in August doing a clothing inventory with Murphy, who had just discovered Yeezus. “Did you know how good this was,” she asked. I was like, “Uh, yeah.” And she rolled her eyes like always.
8. It pleases me to no end that the cover for this bootleg is just a low-grade pic of the CD in the case of the CD version.
9. I was one of three music critics to vote for “Send It Up” as one of the year’s best songs last year on Pazz & Jop, and the only one who thought it was the best song off Yeezus. I still stand by that, firmly. It’s the best song on the album, straight up. I also stand by picking M.O. as the 10th best album of 2013.
10. I suppose since it’s a little past the year’s halfway point, and Yeezus was my favorite album last year, I’ll share my favorite albums of the year so far:
441. Outkast's 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik' (Written By Luis Paez-Pumar)
Busy week on the blog y’all. Here’s another guest writer: My man Luis Paez-Pumar came through with this piece about Outkast’s debut album, which is good timing, since Outkast are at every festival of note this summer.
On June 6th, 2014, I was in attendance for an honest-to-goodness Outkast live show. Andre 3000 and Big Boi, reunited as they have been across a plethora of tour dates this year, blasted through 25 songs, spanning their entire career (“well, actually, they didn’t play anything off Idlewild,” says some asshole). It was, to me, a beautiful and communal experience, with my section of the massive concrete jungle that is the Governor’s Ball main stage bopping to every song, singing along as if we were back in 2004, when Outkast was the biggest thing in music. From “Hey Ya” to “SpottieOttieDopalicious”, I had no complaints about the level of enthusiasm from that slice of sweaty New York. No complaints, that is, except for a 4-song chunk in the middle of the set. A chunk dedicated entirely to Outkast’s debut volley, the game-changing and booty-shaking Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
First with “Hootie Hoo” (recently referenced rather bizarrely, in the movie Neighbors), through “Crumblin’ Erb” and the title track, and finally with the sweet serenade of “Player’s Ball” (shout out to Sleepy Brown’s guest vocals, replicated in their entirety on stage, as the man wore the most luxurious of black and purple silk pajamas), it was as fantastic as the crowd was silent, and that hurt the most. It’s understandable that fans may pick up Outkast from ATLiens and go from there; it’s less understandable that the energy level dropped so precipitously. The debut album made it all happen; without the success of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, there’s no double-platinum. There’s no Grammy. There’s no “X album is good, but it’s not a classic like Aquemini (hi, Kendrick). That’s because on their first album, Dre and Big broke the rules of what rap could sound like and, at the same time, gave Atlanta a sound all of its own.
And really, that’s what makes the debut album such a special endeavor: the mastery that these two teenagers (teenagers! when I was 18, I was falling asleep on my friend’s couch while playing Guitar Hero) have over a city’s sound can’t be understated. Whereas every album since then has sounded otherworldly and forward-looking, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is very much of the moment, where the heat rose from the streets and into the homes of mainstream White America.
Millions of copies carrying the heartbeat of the South flew around the country like “Bombs Over Baghdad” before that song was even remotely possible. My friend Rembert said it best in his must-read Stankoff 2011 : “To quote another Outkast song, ‘I hope that you’re the one… If not, you are the prototype.’ ‘Southernplayalistic’ is actually the one and B.O.B. is the prototype.” By extension, the album that gets its name from that song is the foundation for a career that, while at times uneven and reckless, can’t be rivaled by anyone in terms of creativity and deftness.
So, when this duo…these guys come out and perform “Hootie Hoo” or “Player’s Ball” to a crowd wanting more “Ms. Jackson”, it does hurt to see. Not because they’re not real fans or whatever bullshit fake-gatekeepers might throw out. No, it hurts because this is some of Outkast’s best work and, perhaps more importantly, some of their most essential tracks. It also is exhibits A through F for people who think Big Boi slouches and lacks talent in comparison to his stranger ATLien brethren; please, back all the way out of here with that nonsense. I’d venture so far as to say that General Patton outshines Three Stacks on this album, giving him a more comfortably and appropriate soundscape than he would ever have again. Big Boi, despite being from Savannah, is the Atlanta heart and soul of Outkast, full stop. And while Dre would help take them off into the cosmos, you can’t undervalue the human soul that runs through Big Boi’s verses.
One final thought: in this age of Spotify pick-and-choosing tracks, I still can’t help but listen to all of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in a row when I get the craving for it. As an album, it flows flawlessly, with no track seeming superfluous. In fact, I could deal with it being a touch longer, which is not a feeling I get for any other Outkast record (even my personal favorite, ATLiens, could lose about 10-15 minutes). I took a drive the last time I was back home in Miami and put on the whole record, and it brought me back to riding around in high school, breaking my car’s bass while shouting HOOTIE HOOOOOO.
It may not have been a Cadillac (for the record, it was a maroon Grand Cherokee), but for about an hour, I felt like I was a few hundred miles north, in the real South, feeling the concrete heat and the booming beat wash over me. I was about as young as Outkast was when they recorded Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and for that hour, they took me on a trip through a very different life. Vivid and enthralling, I could only keep on listening. 20 years later, we’re still listening.
Luis throws his hands in the air and waves them like he just don’t care. He’s on Twitter right here.
438. Kanye West's 'Graduation' (Written by Alex Hancock)
Hey y’all, it’s me again. I’ve got another guest writer on the blog; Alex Hancock, who’s written for Mostly Junk Food and Noisey Canada, among other places. He’s one of the most consistently funny dudes in my Twitter feed, and I was totally unsurprised when he asked to write about a Kanye record. Here’s Alex on trying and failing to write about GRADUATION
When Andrew told me I could write for this blog, I immediately chose a Kanye album because I figured it would come naturally. I’ve listened to his music for 10 years. I’ve followed his life religiously for five years. He’s my favorite musician of all time. Easy, right?
Yet, it didn’t come naturally. He wasn’t easy to write about. The only subject I’m really good at writing about and I had nothing. It was frustrating, to say the least. What the fuck should I write about Kanye West?
When someone’s presence is influential in your life for a decade, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment to write about. It’s ethereal, all-encompassing, like trying to pick out one thing to tell a first date to describe who you are in your entirety. Should I just write about Graduation? Should I write fanfiction? Should I write about how a movie of Kanye watching Pacific Rim would be the best thing anyone would ever see?
No, those wouldn’t do it justice. So here I am, at the precipice of uncertainty, which is strangely what we’ve all grown to love about Kanye. His constant desire to create and change, his ability to be both captivating and polarizing, his creative genius. All of these things we’re uncertain of, we don’t really understand, but we trust him because he’s him. Nothing really makes sense, but he makes them make sense, if that makes sense.
Whether it’s mad corny or not – I really don’t care if it is – Kanye has been incredibly influential in my life. It’s true and it will always be true. At one point, I considered ripping my bottom teeth out and replacing them with diamonds and that’s a true story. He has an uncanny way of inspiring by just being himself. His music, his interviews, his old blog (R.I.P.), his love for Kim and Nori. Everything is a never-ending cycle of creative inspiration we could all learn from and become better people for it.
Whenever I feel bogged down by life, I’ll turn on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or one of the other six, classic albums he’s made. Or I’ll check out the conversation he had with Sway and watch him ascend above his body, nearing god levels. Or I’ll turn on his proposal to Kim. Or I’ll watch the Runaway short film. Or I’ll read the interview he did with Caramanica.
It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s like he said when he sat down with Zane Lowe, "Go listen to all my music. It’s the code to self-esteem. It’s the code of who you are. If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me. You’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time." That’s the thing about Kanye West – he’s dope.
Oh yeah, Graduation is awesome and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is the greatest song of all time.
Also, Here is a picture of me rap squatting on top of my hotel in Chicago after the Yeezus Tour, paying tribute to our one true lord and savior, Kanye West.
Alex Hancock likes Kanye West. Like, a lot. He’s on Twitter——@hancxck
One day I’d like to interview the person who decides the covers of bootleg vinyl editions of albums because who in their right mind would decide to put this Maxim cover as the cover of House of Balloons? Is it that the original cover has full arieola that they couldn’t just use the original? Or are they that worried about copyright infringement, even though they’re literally selling a bootleg vinyl copy? And why add the fake signature?
All I know is is that I carried this album through the Philadelphia airport, and I had to turn the cover inwards because I was too embarrassed to be having this out. Shouts to having a weird sense of shame that doesn’t prevent me from buying this, just being embarrassed about holding it in public.
I’m not sure when I first heard George Strait, but I know that I danced with a girl in 6th grade at a dance to “Check Yes or No,” and by then everyone knew George Strait, and the kids who only listened to country would call George Strait “the best ever” and things like that. He was another artist that my mom listened to extensively, but I’m not sure she had anything other than a greatest hits album.
So with that in mind, I bought this sealed copy of #7 for, hilariously, 7 bucks, at my local shop this weekend. This apparently isn’t considered one of his best albums; it’s agreed that his first 6 albums are the classics. I haven’t listened to any of those, or a full George Strait album at all till now, and let me tell you: the kids who said he was great in 1997 were totally right.
His voice is so lilting, so hurt, so full of yearning. His songs can sometimes veer towards the saccharine, but stuff like “It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You” and “My Old Flame Is Burnin’ Another Honky Tonk Down” are such perfectly constructed odes to different points on the love spectrum. This album made me listen to only George Strait for the last 3 hours, so I guess there’s that. Peace to George Strait. I’m gonna go listen to “Honky Tonk Crazy” for the 20th time today.
1. A year and 146 albums ago, I briefly wrote about Steely Dan’s Aja, an album I had heard my entire childhood from a laying down position in the backseat of my parents’ minivan. After my mom read that post, she told me they never had Aja at all; they only had the Steely Dan greatest hits album, the CD version of this vinyl copy I bought here. And that makes sense; I know my sister Hannah and I used to know all the words to “My Old School,” and that’s not on Aja at all.
Steely Dan is a band that I suspect I’ll be listening to until I die. I’ve been listening to them for the better part of 25 years, and I have too many sense memories tied up in shit like “Deacon Blues” and “Reeling In The Years” to stop now.
2. I for one hope that the soft rock revival that seems like it could pop off actually happens, because I feel like I’m well-suited for a reappraisal of stuff like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Crowded House, Simply Red; all the music my parents listened to on car rides for my entire youth. It’s music I’ve been re-listening to lately; there’s something security blanket esque about listening to stuff that soundtracked different periods of your life. Now I know what it’s like to be one of those people that only listens to the Beatles.
3. Steely Dan are playing a huge show at the performing arts center 4 blocks from my house in August. I wanted to buy tickets for my mom, dad and I, but they were $95 each for the literal last row of the theater. This had me feeling two types of way: 1. I can’t fucking believe people would pay that much money to see Steely Dan. 2. I really wish I had enough money to see Steely Dan and get my parents nice things.
434. V/A: 'A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records'
I know it’s “cool” to pretend like you hate Christmas music and how it’s “the worst” and “OMG I CANT BELIEVE THEYRE PLAYING CHRISTMAS MUSIC IN OCTOBER ALREADY” but I feel like if you can’t acknowledge that this, the Phil Spector produced Christmas album, is one of the best albums of the ’60s, any genre, you are playing yourself. The production is perfect, and it’s harder than 70% of metal. The version of “Sleigh Ride” on here by the Ronettes is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s flawless. I once made a CD-R that had this on it, and I listened to “Sleigh Ride” 30 times in a row while delivering pizzas. I bought this at the end of May, and I listened to it 3 times in a row even though it was 80 degrees out. I am looking forward to being able to spin this at Christmas.
This story is technically about Big Willie Style, but this is my blog and I make the rules. I feel like I may have written briefly about this before, but again, this is my blog homie, you decide yours:
When I was in sixth grade, we learned how to write letters, which is a hilarious thing now, because I don’t think I’ve written more than 3 letters my whole life. My 6th grade english teacher did not see e-mail coming, and none of us did, really. Anyways: they taught us how to teach letters in 6th grade. As part of this, our teacher had us write letters to a celebrity of our choice. It didn’t matter who; basically all that mattered was us finding an address of a celebrity to mail a letter to.
We worked on these letters for like 3 weeks, and we worked in pairs with the person we were randomly seated next to in pairs. My partner was a girl named Adita Ringwala, a striving 4.0 student, and one of only two Indian girls in my Wisconsin middle school (her cousin was the other). Adita stressed out like crazy over the letter; she took two weeks to decide who to write to, because she didn’t really “know who she liked enough to mail a letter to.” During the third week, we had to have our partner edit our letter, which meant that, unlike every other pair in the class that fantasized about what would happen when they’d send their letter to their celebrity, and imagine free trips and free stuff, I’d be finding out who Adita was sending her letter to for the first time.
It was to Will Smith.
And in the letter, Adita wrote a super long letter (it was like 3 pages) about how inspiring Will Smith was to her, and how he was her favorite musician (Big Willie Style had just come out), and how he was the greatest actor alive on earth. She talked about how she felt when she saw Independence Day, and how many times she called into the radio to request “Men In Black.” I didn’t know what to say about her letter, because unlike everyone else, she went way over the minimum letter of one page. I remember just being shocked that she’d be so open with a celebrity, and write something meaningful; she was one of those over-achiever kids that seemed like they didn’t have much of an internal life other than “I have to get straight A’s.” But she did. And she spent a lot of time thinking about what Will Smith meant to her.
I often wonder if she even remembers writing that letter (I haven’t seen her since 8th grade when her and her parents moved away), because I know I can’t consider anything Will Smith related without thinking about how I once had to copy edit a letter a sixth grade girl from Wisconsin sent to Will Smith. I don’t even know if she got anything back from him. I just know that it feels weird to mock anything Will Smith related, even this ridiculous album I bought for $12 at the record store because it was too unreal to pass up, because I remember what Adita wrote in that letter.
Postscript: I ended up sending mine to George Lucas, and mostly I asked if Chewbacca was going to be in the yet-to-be released prequel movies. His assistant sent me back a letter and said she couldn’t tell me. But she sent me 3 Chewbacca trading cards, so it was cool.
My best friend Matt went to Europe with his girlfriend Danielle last month as a “Hey, it’s probably the last time we can both take off for 2 weeks together for a while” trip, and when he was there, he proposed to her on a mountain in Austria. They’ve been dating for like 7 years—four of which I lived with them—and yet she was still totally surprised.
The lead up to the proposal was probably more stressful for my mans Matt than anything he’d ever done. I had to be his sounding board for basically every idea he had—I nixed the getting married in Europe because Dani’s mom would have been pissed—and to calm him down when he started having doubts about if Danielle would say yes or not (I mean, they’ve lived together for 5 years, if she said no, he would have needed a new place to live). Before I knew it, I was thrust into best man duties, and then I realized I am suddenly the age where I could be having to plan bachelor parties and talk to two of my friends about wedding venues. It’s something I’ve expected, of course; Matt and I have been best friends since the first day of first grade. There was no way anyone else COULD be helping him pick out a ring or who would be the first person he messaged after he proposed. But still; it feels like yesterday we were being dorks and playing Halo in my teenage bedroom. Now tomorrow Matt and I are going to convince Danielle she doesn’t need to let her mom have any say in the wedding at all. Getting older is weird.
At any rate, as my best man gift, Matt bought me some records at a tiny store in Innsbruck, Austria, including the Earth Wind and Fire record from earlier, and this, what he thought was the original version of Sticky Fingers but since Matt doesn’t actually know how to tell a rarities European bootleg from the real deal, he copped me this. The fact that I can tell the subtle differences between 10 different things that say Sticky Fingers on the cover, and he cannot, and he can spend hours thinking about wedding rings and planning the perfect proposal while I roll my eyes I think is sort of indicative of our relationship. We are both obsessives, but never about the same thing. But we’re the kind of friends who will lug records around the globe for each other, and for that I am grateful.
431. Tom Petty's 'Damn The Torpedoes' (Written By Susannah Young)
Hey y’all, I have a guest writer #onhere again this week, and it’s Susannah Young, who was previously on this here Tumblr writing about Harry Nilsson last October. I had an unwritten law about wanting to have my e-friends only contribute once here, but I knew that when I bought a Tom Petty record Susannah would write an incredible piece on it, and on Petty in general. And she did. Someone needs to hire her to write essays about Tom Petty as a job.
Listen up, naysayers, non-dads, people who have never tasted Mountain Dew: Tom Petty is one of the greatest songwriters in human history. If you think otherwise, I promise I’ll try to respect you as a person but I will never truly trust your opinions from this point forward.
Tom Petty is the kind of Florida Man who might brag about how one time he poked a sleeping alligator with his toe but you know he’s lying because he still eats dinner with his mama every Sunday.
Tom Petty is your uncle at your graduation party getting sorta drunk and spouting nuggets of wisdom that absolutely floored you at the time but later you saw everything he said printed on the inside of a greeting card at Dollar Tree.
Tom Petty didn’t front when the Strokes admitted to ripping off “American Girl” to write “Last Nite” because he doesn’t need to snatch your trust fund cash to feel secure about his place in the rock pantheon. Tom Petty can write circles around all of you, forever and ever amen.
And the characteristics that comprise Tom Petty’s brand of low-key genius are, fittingly, nothing crazy. They’re the same set of skills that make ALL great writers great writers: the discipline to write concisely, the ability to make the few words you choose paint complete — and completely evocative — pictures.
Consider “Free Fallin’”’s bridge, the point in the song where Petty dives headlong into his inability to love a #basic lady (you like horses AND America? wow, tell me more) the way she deserves to be loved: “I wanna glide down/ Over Mullholland/ I wanna write her/ Name in the sky.” Such a concise, expressive and immediately relatable way to convey exactly how it feels to be stupidly in love with no proper way to show it. See, even using other words to describe that bridge sounds dumb. I mean, what would you rather hear from the person who loves you? “I am stupidly in love and have no proper way to show it?” Or a passionate plea to scrawl your name in 50 ft. letters above the city?
Even when Petty’s lyrics get simple to the point of sounding generic or reductive, he has a knack for using music to snare the sentiment and lift it to a higher plane. My favorite Petty song, “Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid),” is a great example: too-simplistic language reduces the object of his unrequited love to a series of kinda boring/played out Hard To Get Lady tropes: She likes to keep him guessing! She’s got him on defense! She’s a little bit of mystery!, etc. The arrangement ACTUALLY lends the song — and by proxy, the song’s subject — complexity. It has loud-soft dynamics that DO keep you guessing; the bassline snakes through the background, content to be noticed or ignored; guitars peal like church bells to break the tension. It’s bare bones and intricate at the same time. It’s the perfect complement to an ode to a flighty heartbreaker. It’s perfect.
Tom Petty’s ability to find the shortest route between Point A and Point B also lends him the extremely #rare gift of waxing nostalgic without sounding disingenuous, emotionally manipulative, or muddying the water with too many specifics and details. The latter always feels especially out of place in songs that look backwards. We rarely have the presence of mind to mine the moments of our life for significance as they’re happening to us; thus, memories of our past experiences tend to be rendered using broader brushstrokes. So while part of the ache you feel in moments of reflection stems from the knowledge that you’ll never again be in that exact same place feeling the exact same way, a lot of that ache comes from knowing there are aspects of even your most cherished memories that you’ll one day forget. That there’s nothing you can do halt the process of loosening your grip on your past. That a little detail about you and your history slips away with each passing minute.
The way Tom Petty writes about nostalgia captures all of that, all of what it actually feels like to yearn for the past: hazy impressions punctuated with moments of real clarity, a blend of recollection, reflection and a desire for reinvention. “Even the Losers” is maybe the best example of Tom Petty’s ability to write memories the way they appear in your mind’s eye: enough detail to paint a complete picture if you rely on your imagination to fill in the gaps that exist between when you lit that cigarette, when you looked up at the stars, when you parked your car on that overpass.
Which brings me to my last point: that great art always make you feel unstuck in time as you’re experiencing it. When I hear Tom Petty, I’m never fully present. In my mind, I’m listening to these songs the same way I first heard them: winding through the mountains in my dad’s ancient 5-speed Accord that gained but never lost its wet dog smell, Full Moon Fever in the cassette deck, it’s sunny and hot and humid and I’m listening and hoping one day I have lived life in such a way that I have a similar backlog of experience and memories to reflect upon, and that I’m one day gifted enough with words to share my experiences with people in a way that makes them care.
Susannah Young is probably listening to Tom Petty and drinking a Dew with your dad right now. She’s on Twitter—@susannahyoung
1. There’s a moment, somewhere in the split second between the first “dum bum” of the synths of “Lapdance,” where I can remember what it was like to be 16. I remember the feeling of being independent, but feeling utterly helpless. I remember the thrill that came with doing stupid shit with my friends. I remember peeling out of my parents’ driveway, pushing their green Plymouth Voyager to the max, blasting “Lapdance” at irresponsible levels, and driving off to engage in whatever light vandalism and criminality an 11 p.m. curfew could foster. I remember working a bullshit job in the kitchen at a bar/driving range, and what it was like to learn that “adults” could get high while at work and still function, and that food you steal from a kitchen you are working in will always taste the best. And that your favorite song when you are 16 seems like it will be your favorite song forever.
"Lapdance" was the first song I listened to alone in my parents’ van when I got my drivers license almost exactly 12 years ago(!), and I can’t listen to In Search Of without remembering that day: my dad tossed me the van keys the Saturday after I got my license, and told me to go have fun. I went and picked up Nick, and we went and saw the first Spider-Man movie. We listened to “Lapdance” on repeat the whole way there and back.
2. Whatever happened to Lee Harvey?
3. I think it took me two months after buying In Search Of… to actually listen to the whole album; a lot of CDs were like that for me back then. Since then the album has had a preferred place in my personal canon; a perfect album full of music that still sounds like the future, even now that Pharrell is finally accepted as one of the top 5 biggest musical entities on earth, since he started making music for moms. Part of me wonders what would have happened if this had blown up way bigger than to an audience of weird kids—shouts to Odd Future—like, if “Brain” had been the “Happy” of 2002. Would Pharrell be getting this second wind? Would N.E.R.D. have tried again and again to make a huge record but come up short every time? I think that’s part of why this got reissued on vinyl recently; it brings up a lot of interesting career arc questions.
4. I really hope that the “vinyl resurgence” leads to a bunch of popular albums from the early-mid 00’s like this getting reissued. I can’t even imagine what I’d pay for a vinyl Word of Mouf. And I can’t imagine finding them at stores; I about fainted when I saw this, as I didn’t know the rumored reissue had actually already happened. Thankfully, people in my hometown weren’t into buying this as I was.
429. Nelly's 'Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention'
1. When I introduce myself to people who are vaguely aware that I sometimes get paid to write content for the Internet, I have taken to introducing myself as “The Internet’s Nelly Expert,” owing to the fact that I wrote two 1500-word plus thinkpieces about him last year, and also that’s the dumbest thing I can think of to call myself. But a part of me is also sort of proud that I was able to convince my guys at Noisey to let me make three figures writing about a rapper no one thinks of critically anymore. My new goal for my music-writing career is to write as many articles as I can that draw Facebook comments like “Who fucking cares?” and “Why are you guys writing about this?” I think that’s been going well in 2014.
2. Even though I am “The Internet’s Nelly Expert,” I’ll admit I had never heard Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention in full, because I am of the opinion that Nellyville and Country Grammar are unfuckwithable classics, and Nelly was doing unnecessary facelifts on his music as he was trying to win back street-level rap fans who saw him as a pop star first, rapper second. I was unsure if this “street” remix album even existed in a physical form; I’ve only heard it on the Internet. So imagine my surprise at visiting the record store in my hometown this past weekend, and seeing a vinyl copy for the absurd price of $9.99. I felt like I just robbed the store blind. A rare-ish Nelly album for under 10 bucks? Sometimes I can be convinced in the existence of a benevolent god. God is at the very least a City Spud fan.
3. This album is almost too crazy to explain. There is a remix of “Country Grammar” that is basically just “Country Grammar” with an E-40 verse. There’s a terrible remix of “Hot In Herre” that basically just triples the sound of the strumming instrumentation. There’s an insane version of “Ride Wit Me” that samples John Mayer, and one of the original tracks here—“Iz U”—samples the People’s Court theme music. Clipse are on a version of “#1” and Ronald Isley is on a version of “Pimp Juice.” “Batter’s Up” is here, too.
Which is to say, I think this album is incredible. The idea that Nelly went to a studio to try to make his music appeal to hardcore rap fans again, and failing so miserably, is so Nelly. It’s one of the reasons I find him compelling; even when he was on top, he was worried about what his fame would ultimately mean for him down the line. More or less, it meant him being the mid-level headliner at fairs, and opening for Florida Georgia Line this summer.
Nelly stays being the most tragic pop figure of the last 15 years to me.
427. Notorious B.I.G.'s 'Life After Death' (Written By Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy)
Hey y’all, it’s Andrew. I’ve got a couple guest posts coming down the pike, this one being the first. Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy is a writer from the U.K.—this blog’s first international contribution!—and he tackled the reissue of Notorious B.I.G.’s
At the end of the Notorious B.I.G.’s Behind The Music, a freeze frame lands on an image of the rapper mid-performance. The narrator informs us of the time, day and month he was pronounced dead. He then tells us, the audience, how old he was at the time of his death: twenty-four.
When I learnt this, I was twenty-two and it fucked me up. When I write this, I am twenty-six and the mind boggles.
Life After Death was Biggie’s second full-length record and his last. For an album that has a hearse on its cover and ends with a song titled ‘You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)’, it is not suffused with a sense of doom, nor is it wary of what is yet to come. This only makes Biggie’s passing more upsetting - he was just stretching his limbs here, warming up. What’s that Drake line about “my junior and senior will only get meaner”? Just imagine how mean Biggie would have been.
He still had room to grow as a human, of course. There’s some moments that come across as the thoughts of a young asshole with some growing up left to do. Things like calling Indian girls “Tonto” or spitting that “two dicks” don’t stick or associating with a guy who “kidnaps kids, fucks em in the ass, toss em over the bridge”. Think how his fellow BK champ Jay-Z changed with the times and grew into a kind of insufferable adult. It would have been a shame for us to take Biggie’s rapping for granted, but he had a lot of growing up to do, and it’s sad he never got the chance.
So what we have left is an overwhelming display of rap star clout – nearly two hours of it, spread across two CDs and three 12” discs, some of it essential, some of it not so much. Stevie J and his soap-opera pompousness pop up every few songs to soften and nullify the album’s rough edges; the fugazi glitz of ‘Hypnotize’; RZA lending some truly gross parping to ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’: these are all mistakes that drag the album down. And then the highlights, too many to name, a skilled balance of the radio-friendly and the brutish: ‘Ten Crack Commandments’ is a Hot 97 jingle turned into drug manifesto. It’s smart, funny and totally ignorant (that “two dicks” line is kicking about here), and it could have gone any of those ways for the artist behind the song. Alas, we’ll never know. Cherish this flawed behemoth.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy is sick of your CM Punk chants. He’s on Twiter—@danielmondon
426. Kris Kristofferson's 'The Silver Tongued Devil And I'
1. I’m not going to front and pretend that I’ve been a Kris Kristofferson fan forever; I bought this album on Saturday, and it’s literally the first time I’ve listened to his music. To me, he’ll always be Mace Montana, the circus leader from Big Top Pee-Wee, the jovial dude from one of my favorite movies as a kid, in which he is married to a person an inch tall. But I’m currently on a “listen to as much country as possible” spirit quest, and I saw this for $3 at my local store, and I took the chance.
It turns out Kris Kristofferson totally rules! He’s got a weathered, worn-in voice, and his songwriting is out of this world. Stuff like “The Taker” and “Loving Her Was Easier” are smart, detail packed, but ultimately super relatable. I’ve listened to this five times since I bought it, and it’s become my getting ready for work soundtrack.
2. The thing that I appreciated most about this record was that when I was making small talk with my mom this weekend—she’s at home recuperating from a surgery and is pretty lonely, so we’ve talked more this week than we have in the last three months—she asked what I bought at the record store recently. I told her this record, and she made the most guttural fan girl noise you can imagine. “Oh my god. I looooooved him in college. He had that song “Loving Her Was Easier.” Oh my god. I loved that song. Is that the record with him with long hair on the cover? Oh my god. He was sooooo great.”
Remember friends, your mom is still capable of freaking out about someone she loved in her youth. And she can surprise you with things you never knew she was in to. Shouts to moms.
In January, I saw Inside Llewyn Davis, and to say it knocked me the fuck out would be an understatement. It’s the best movie I’ve seen since There Will Be Blood, and I’ve watched it at least 10 times since that first viewing, including another time in the theater. The byproduct of me falling head over heels for that movie is that I fell way back into that period of folk music, namely Another Side of BobDylan, what I consider to be the first “great” Dylan album, the start of the four album, stone cold classic run he had from this to Blonde on Blonde.
This also led me back to probably the first Dylan song I ever thought was “poetry” or whatever when I was 17: “Spanish Harlem Incident.” It’s a raw nerve of a song, about falling in love with the idea of a girl as much as the girl herself. I’ve always preferred and loved this Dylan more than the political reactionary Dylan, or the classic rock, untouchable god Dylan. “Spanish Harlem Incident” was the first Dylan song that I listened to that felt like it wasn’t thinkpieced to death, wasn’t declared as a “masterpiece” wasn’t on some Rolling Stone list. And I think that’s one of the cooler aspects of an artist with the body of work Dylan has; there are multiple ways into their discography, and you can become a fan off multiple avenues.
Postscript: I wish I could post “Spanish Harlem Incident” here, but apparently it doesn’t exist in any YouTube form. Seriously; the Dylan original is not on YouTube at all. Sometimes the Internet fails you.
Sometimes you go to the record store and find something off your long-running list, and then sometimes you go to the record store and you can’t believe you’ve found a record you never even knew was out on vinyl, and going to record stores is cemented as something you’ll do forever under the hopes you’ll find something as great as that record again. This is one of those second ones: Bell Biv Devoe’s New Jack Swing classic Poison, a classic album that personified a whole genre of music and launched lowkey one of the best R&B songs of the ’90s. I am downright surprised that this has fewer than 5 million views on YouTube.
I’m not sure else what I have to add here, except that if you haven’t heard this entire album, get thee to Spotify on the double.
"We used to listen to that all the time growing up," the record store clerk told me last weekend, when I bought Highway to Hell. The implication on his end and his facial expression being “that shit was cool when I was 12, why are you spending $8.99 on that today?”
At first I was sort of offended, but then I realized it was the arc of my own relationship to AC/DC, but he was just a step behind.
When you are 12, AC/DC sounds like how you imagine the perfect band sounds like. They have songs about balls, hell, and dirty deeds done cheaply. They shred. They scream. They are a perfect band to get in trouble with your dad over the “appropriate volume for music in your room.” They’re the perfect classic rock gateway drug too: AC/DC leads to Zeppelin, leads to the Stones, leads to the Beatles.
And so you spend the ages of 12-15 convinced Back in Black is one of the best albums ever made, and then you turn 15 and part of being a real teenager is separating yourself from things you liked as a kid. When you see the kids you don’t want to be like wearing AC/DC t-shirts, you decide you want to listen to something else, and you end up listening to bands with names like Cold War Kids and Interpol.
But here’s the thing: AC/DC never changes. They are like a mountain. They are like a river. They are always there. And then you stop being stupid and get to the age when you stop caring about what people think of what you are listening to. And you eventually get back to AC/DC, who have been there the whole time, still shredding, still sounding like the perfect rock band.
And then you buy Highway to Hell and you spend an afternoon in your apartment doing air guitar to “Touch Too Much” and screaming along to “Highway to Hell” and you realize you were dumb, and you wasted a bunch of years of your life not listening to AC/DC regularly and you get mad when a record store clerk looks down his nose at you for buying an AC/DC record. Then you write about it, I guess.
My mans Trey has a new Tumblr where you can send him your child photos and he’ll turn them into rap mixtape covers. He did the above photo of me and my stuffed animals back in the day. Trey’s the greatest photoshop artist of his generation.
"Oh yeah, the album with her with the ice cream on the cover. I bought that during Christmas break in 1975, when I was home from UW-Madison. I took all the money I got for Christmas that year, plus what I had left over from financial aid—I got a lot extra that semester for some reason—, and bought myself a really nice stereo system for my dorm room. I went out and bought the stereo, and needed some records, and one of them that I bought was that Minnie Riperton album. She was great."—That was my dad when I told him I bought this Minnie Riperton album. Was there any chance I’d grow up to be a person who couldn’t tie record purchases into some story from my life?
1. I originally had a long thing written here, mostly about something I wrote last year that led to me being in a minor web fight for like 6 hours, because I didn’t present myself as well as I could have in a piece. This fucked me up for longer than I’d like to admit, but ultimately I think made me think harder about what I’m writing, and anticipating possible reactions to pieces before they’re posted, and while I’m writing them.
But also, writing it out made me realize that I put too much weight into social media interactions—because a lot of how I see “myself” is tied up in my social media presence—and ultimately I don’t care as much about that stuff as I did when the thing I’m obliquely mentioning happened last summer. And I honestly hadn’t thought about it in months, until I started writing up this album. I guess this is growing up, or something?
2. Anyways, this Rich Boy album is a personal favorite, an album that was decried in some corners of the Internet as the latest “He can’t rap, this sucks” album, but it’s a perfect time capsule for what rap was like in 2007. Polow Da Don was all over it. Rich Boy was a guy from Alabama, who once he moved to Atlanta, blew up.
But I’m also not sure I can “sell” him to anyone who’s not interested; Rich Boy’s music is something you either get and feel, or you don’t. He’s not gonna bring you in with storytelling or with sheer charisma; it’s gut level fun music.
3. I contend this is one of the best rap songs of all time. You’ve got slightly post-prime Andre 3000 and Nelly, peak The Game and Jim Jones, and whatever peak Murphy Lee.
When I was in high school, I ran in a posse of about 8-10 guys. My school wasn’t like the standard, line-in-the-sand breakdowns of social strata; in our group we had stoners, idiots, geeks, serious Christians and tee-totalers. All we had in common was that none of us was getting laid as much as we would have liked for 16-year-olds.
Anyway, there was this kid in our group named Alex. There was no question he was the smartest of us; he didn’t even get his first B in life until Pre-Calculus when we were juniors. Alex was one of those kids in school who is a part of your friend group, who you remember being at everything you did in high school, who you talked to every day for 4 years, who you ate lunch with every day, who you realize later you never actually KNEW. I mean, I had at least one class with Alex for four years, and we ate lunch with him at his parents’ house every day Junior year—he’d go home and we’d go pick up food from a grocery store—and I don’t think I ever learned what made him “tick” in the same way I did for Matt (still my best friend to this day) or Nick even (he was our group’s punching bag; we engineered a campaign to name him “Most Likely To Never Leave Oshkosh” in the senior yearbook). It’s not that I doubted Alex had a rich interior life—he purposefully didn’t hang out with us on weekends because he was trying to ensure a full ride to college, something the rest of us didn’t come close to; the kid had a weird determination even at 14—it’s just that he never showed it to us, his alleged best friends. I couldn’t tell you anything basic about Alex even; I couldn’t tell you what his favorite band was. I didn’t know his favorite movie—we did watch a Director’s Cut of Wild Things once to see nudity—or his favorite TV show. None of the bullshit you use to define yourself in high school.
So, one day, junior year, we’re hanging out towards the end of the first semester, that week before winter break where even the teachers know you’ve got no interest in school, so they let you have holiday parties and goof off. We’re in AP U.S. History, and our teacher let us play music off a boombox in the corner of the room—iPods existed at this point, but I knew only one person who had one—and the pop station started playing “Shake Ya Ass” the Mystikal single. We were all sitting around eating cookies and drinking soda, and that song was huge, even in its edited form. And then, suddenly, Alex starts rapping the whole thing. Verses, choruses, ad-libs, the whole thing. It was mind-blowing. Like, this kid without a discernible interest in popular music started slaying a Mystikal song.
I remember being incredulous. “Alex you know this song?”
"Fuck yeah I do. How do you not? It’s on MTV all the time!"
It was a weird glimpse into Alex’s private life, and in some ways, I’m not sure I “knew” him better than when I watched him blow away our AP U.S. History class doing “Shake Ya Ass.” It’s to the point where I can’t listen to any Mystikal song—even this album, which doesn’t even feature “Shake Ya Ass” and which I bought for $3 in Philadelphia—without seeing Alex and thinking about him, even though we haven’t talked in any capacity since the summer after freshman year of college. It makes me think about how while I thought I “knew” what Alex was like, I really had no idea.
I don’t know; I guess I’m having that weird nostalgia that comes with knowing you’ll never talk to people from high school again, which is exacerbated by the fact that it’s my 10th anniversary this year. I’m not sure if there’s even a party—I’m not on Facebook, so I don’t have contact with anyone except Matt from high school—and I’m sure I wouldn’t go. But I wonder if there is a party, and if they’re gonna play Mystikal and if Alex still knows all the words to “Shake Ya Ass.”
When I was in college—like every collegiate music snob who felt like they weren’t getting the attention from the opposite sex they deserved— I had a radio show on my college radio station, WRST. I called my show “Post Punk Junk”—an oblique Burroughs reference no one caught—and I played ’70s and ’80s post punk exclusively. This meant having entire shows of just Joy Division, Talking Heads, or Public Image LTD. One time I got suspended because I played a Fall song that had “fuck” in it like 400 times, and I hadn’t listened to the song before playing it, which was a huge faux pas. I had the 9pm-11pm slot on Saturdays, and I may have had 2 regular listeners who weren’t my parents.
I had read Rip It Up and Start Again the first semester of senior year, and of course, by second semester I had it all figured out. One day, I pressed play on Unknown Pleasures, and started looking around the CD library, and found a section that was actually properly genre labelled—the students of WRST had few fucks to give re: organization—and one of those was Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City. It was in the post-punk section, so I brought it out to play. I figured I’d play the first song and see how I liked it, and I ended up playing 3/4 of the record in a row on my show. It blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that there was a band from the ’70s I hadn’t heard of. And then of course, I found out their album came out in 2001. I took the CD home and never brought it back.
I sold that CD when I needed to pay rent a few years ago, so I was elated when I found out that Any Other City was being reissued on vinyl. It was one of 3 records I had to have on Record Store Day this year, and it’s still as revelatory as it was when I discovered it six years ago. It still sounds like 1979, and it still sounds like today.
One of the primary benefits of getting way back into country music has been that I’ve been educating myself on the roots of some of the poppier modern day country I’ve been listening to. That’s mostly meant listening to a lot of Waylon Jennings, the father of a lot of the “I can get wasted and be reckless, but I also have a lot of FEELINGS, man” country like Eric Church, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line.
And lucky for me, my main record store has a pretty deep Country selection, which never seems to get explored—I honestly didn’t know it existed until 2 months ago—so I copped this Waylon album, an album that has Hank Williams and Johnny Cash covers, and a song called “May I Borrow Some Sugar From You” that is about a man realizing that having coffee alone every morning is a pretty lonely way to live. It’s a great record, and I look forward to adding Waylon as an artist I need to buy every record I come across.
This album is the most sub-tweetingest album of all time: The Isley Brothers, R&B pioneers, spent most of the ’60s watching rock bands take their best music (like “Twist and Shout”) and turn it into pop-rock hits. So they recorded Givin’ It Back in 1971, an album that finds them covering James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Stills. That it’s probably one of the weaker Isley Brothers albums of the era is beside the point: They were gonna try to beat the rockers at the covering game. The fact that their cover of “Lay Lady Lay” actually charted was a bonus.
Sometimes, you hear an album is “unlistenable” or “nearly unreleasable” and you build it up in your mind as something that will crack open your cerebellum and reveal to you the secrets of “difficult music” and then you hear it, and it’s basically exactly as you imagined, not shocking, not crazy, not necessarily what it was billed up to be. That was the case for me with this—it should be noted, totally fantastic-album.
See, Sacred Songs was recorded back before Daryl Hall became a star with Hall and Oates, and he cut a solo album with Robert Fripp, he of the Brian Eno and King Crimson prog meltdowns. It was recorded in 1977, and Hall’s record label opted to not release the album, claiming it was “uncommercial” mostly because pairing soft rock R&B and prog rock seems insane (and awesome!) on paper, and it was in practice too. But then Hall became a star, and his label released it. The album stalled at #58, despite being awesome.
So, when I heard about this album from my man Craig Jenkins on his Year in Review thing for Pitchfork, I built it up in my mind as like a Brian Eno freakout album with Hall singing, but really it’s Fripp and Hall meeting each other halfway, with Fripp controlling his sonic meteor strikes, and Hall sprawling out and being less controlled than on his Hall and Oates stuff.
But I guess I’m complaining over nothing; this album ended up being the lost classic I thought it’d be, but less of a “you got R&B in my 12-minute-songs” kind of way. I guess I’m doing a bad job of endorsing this. Just go listen to this on Spotify.
I don’t know if there’s any relevant research, but i think I’ve been in enough record stores to say that there is no soul/R&B album more prevalent in the soul and R&B sections than the reissue of Al Green’s Greatest Hits. I’ve seen it in basically every record store I’ve ever been to, ranging in price from $19 to $40. It’s a record that if a store doesn’t have, you can tell they’re going out of business.
And for good reason; this is maybe one of the few “seminal” greatest hits comps; it’s perfect from start to finish, and sells Green as an all-time great better than his solo albums could. It’s the definition of a 65 and sunny day record. It’s the best.
But I could never bring myself to shell out for the reissue, when I knew that eventually, I had to be able to find an original copy. And on Record Store Day this year I scored this, along with the RSD releases I was there to pick up. In all honesty, it’s probably the best thing I got at my spot on Record Store Day, that mess of too many people, too few records, and too many a-holes buying records to flip on eBay. Record Store Day has a lot of bullshit problems, and it doesn’t really help owners that much—they’re tied to low margin RSD releases—but when you score records you love like this, that stuff becomes secondary.
412. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's 'The Message'
I know that as “discerning music thinker” you’re supposed to loathe the idea of definitive lists of “The Best Guitarists” or whatever, because ultimately they are a cheap device to enrage people into buying content underpaid music writers have created. But here’s the thing: When you were a teenage kid pre-internet who wanted more music education than like, the local pop station could provide, they were a vital thing.
I remember watching a list of like “Best Hip-Hop Songs” or something when I was 14, and hearing about Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” and then writing that down to rent from the library. I copied a greatest hits comp, and for a solid week, set about learning every word from “The Message.” I remember being on a field trip that week, and just pressing replay on my CD walkman the entire bus trip and obsessing over the third verse, to the point where I still know this passage from heart:
You’ll admire all the number-book takers Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers Drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens And you’ll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers You say “I’m cool, huh, I’m no fool” But then you wind up droppin’ outta high school Now you’re unemployed, all null and void Walkin’ round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did Got sent up for a eight-year bid
I spent forever trying to understand all the references in here, and I think ultimately obsessing over something like this was what got me into rap the first place. And all because I discovered Grandmaster Flash through a Vh1 clip show. Shouts to VH1.
One of the perils of living in a town where the cheapest music is available at Wal-Mart is that as an over-eager 15-year-old, you are apt to accidentally select an edited version of a popular rap album, without realizing you just bought the worse possible version of something you spent your only $10 on. This happened with the first version of Jay-Z’s Unplugged album I bought.
Buying this E-40 album brought me back to being 15 and realizing the best words on “Girls Girls Girls” were edited out. I was too excited at finding E-40’s masterwork, his Ready to Die, his All Eyez on Me, his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, for $8 in a stone-floored indie record store in Philly, that I didn’t pay attention to the words RIGHT ON THE FRONT STICKER about this being totally radio playable and being edited. The album still rules, but listening to Too $hort be radio playable is considerably less than desirable. One day I’ll learn. Maybe in another 13 years.
1. Of the albums that make me want to live in a silk-curtained coke den in Saigon in 1978, this is the only one.
2. I saw Destroyer on this tour, and Bejar had to use lyric sheets for a couple songs, especially the epic “Bay of Pigs” and I remember a guy me and Ben talked to at the show was especially angry about this, claiming that Bejar was “lazy” for doing that. The more this guy complained about the low energy and the lyric sheets, the more I realized I didn’t give a fuck, because I couldn’t believe that this guy actually saw Bejar as some kind of rock star who should be playing like he’s fronting Kiss. All professionalism, no filler. And I guess I realized that I don’t expect that out of anyone—because who cares? I’m paying to hear songs I already love in a large room very loud—nonetheless a guy who seems like he tours only to bankroll more albums where he retreats into his own brain folds, to deliver obtuse poems set to Bowie tracks.
This was in 2011, and in retrospect it was then when I realized that I would not be an effective traditional concert reviewer, because I couldn’t force myself to have an OPINION on Dan Bejar reading lyrics for a song that is 15-minutes long. I still wrote traditional 400 word concert reviews till last summer, somehow.
5. I remember driving to work for like 4 months during the winter Kaputt leaked/was released, and that I could listen to “Chinatown” four times on my commute, and I did this 90% of the time because it gave my commute a solemn melancholy, which is fitting, since I was working a job I hated. Peace to Dan Bejar, serenader of the working man.
There are songs that are OK at karaoke and get some applause from a crowd, and then there are songs like this one, which when you do them flawlessly—which I have, like 7 times—people lose their fucking minds. I did this song at 1:45 on the night of my birthday party, and I hugged seven strangers in the karaoke bar because of it. I know Chingy gets more publicity for #stayingwoke right now, but I hope somewhere in St. Louie he knows that he made a song that is flawless to hear at 1:30 in a karaoke bar when you are black out drunk.
1. Pity Danny Brown: through no (well, some) effort of his own, he won an audience of EDM, mollywhopped dorks who have no stomach for his introspective, turned down (for substance) tracks, so he’s stuck in a rut where everyone—journalists, fans, other rappers—expect him to be stoned and wild all the time. It clearly wore on him for this album, which is split evenly between a turn down and a turn up, and if you listened to the turned up stuff, he was mostly warning that getting fucked up all the time was going to kill him.
His recent Twitter outbursts saying he quit drugs because he’s sick of the expectations are maybe a good step. But it worries me that he, like Heems of Das Racist, too, is going to spend a bunch of time in the next year or so torn up about what people expect from him, and wondering if he has it in him to deliver to a crowd in Iowa on a Tuesday that expects him to be Mr. Smokin and Drinkin. I think he is way more of an intellectual, introspective dude than people who wear neon tanktops and scream the words to “Blueberry” ever give him credit for.
2. The last time I saw Danny live was the night after he got a blowjob from a woman onstage, and I was assigned to review the show for the local alt weekly. I spent most of the day of the show panicked that something would happen that would require me to put on my Mr. Serious Voice in a live review. Like, I was so worried I’d have to try to pretend to have an opinion on that shit I had knots in my stomach.
Luckily, nothing happened, and my editor never had even heard of Danny Brown till I pitched her on the show, so she didn’t know to ask me to comment on it. But I can’t think of any other time I’ve been so worried for a concert in my life. I think this will keep me going to Danny Brown concerts for the foreseeable future.
I can’t decide if this makes me a hypocrite or not.
1. Whenever people ask me what my first concert was, 95% of the time I respond with a Sugar Ray concert I went to with Matt when we were 15. It was certainly the first concert I ever bought a ticket for myself, and it was the first concert I went to where I was totally disappointed by the whole thing. Me and Matt went expecting to make out with the myriad of high school girls who would be joining us at Sugar Ray, but it was basically high school repeated at an alternate venue. We stood on a bleacher together and made fun of everyone.
The biggest thing I remember about this concert now is that it featured the band Simple Plan as the opening act, and it was about 3 months before their debut album came out, and about a month before their first video hit MTV. The reason I remember this is that for an inconceivable month after their first album came out, everyone who was at the Sugar Ray concert pretended like Simple Plan were a transformative band and they were like the Beatles. They were suddenly everyone’s favorite band. Then people who weren’t even at the show started claiming they were and they knew Simple Plan beforehand. It was like the Sex Pistols show in Manchester in 1976, but in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 2002. High school pop culture was fucking crazy.
ANYWAYS, the real answer for my first concert is that I am unsure exactly which concert I went to first, but I know that there is a 66% chance it was Peabo Bryson. When I was 5,6, 7 and 8 years old, my parents would take me and my sister to the Christmas revue concert at the Weidner Center in Green Bay; at the time, the only performing arts center north of Madison in Wisconsin. It was the place we saw Cats 3 times and Jesus Christ Superstar. But every winter they’d book bigger acts on semi-package tours and they’d take me and my sister (who was 2,3,4 and 5). We are always the smallest kids, and my parents are still proud that other parents told them they couldn’t believe me and my sister sat still and enjoyed seeing concerts at that young.
So, I know that the concerts we saw were this:
1. Peabo Bryson, Roberta Flack and Melissa Manchester
2. Peabo Bryson, Roberta Flack and Melissa Manchester (we seriously went twice)
3. Lyle Lovett
4. Aaron Neville, Peabo Bryson, Michael McDonald, and Roberta Flack
I know for sure that the fourth concert was the last one, because I remember being old enough to be pissed that Michael McDonald didn’t do “What a Fool Believes.” But either way, I am pretty certain my first concert, One I Didn’t Buy The Ticket For Myself Division, involved Peabo Bryson in some capacity.
2. As he’s become more and more written in history as “The guy who sang on the Aladdin soundtrack” it’s been weird for me, because I feel like I’m alone amongst anyone I talk to about music in remembering Peabo Bryson. My mom loved him (more on that later), and we’d listen to a never-ending mix of Peabo and Luther Vandross when driving on vacations as kids. I remember taking naps as a kid that were soundtracked to a Peabo comp. He was ever-present in my early childhood and no one I know had the same experience. I guess I’m saying I’m thankful my mom has an impossible to pin-down musical taste, because otherwise I wouldn’t have bought a used Peabo Bryson record at an R&B-heavy record store in Philadelphia 20 years later.
3. My aunt Robin used to have a thing about negotiating with my uncle Steve about which celebrity she could sleep with, no questions asked. For some reason, I remember being part of this conversation with my mom and her when I was like 10 (I probably remember it because the reason I liked Robin was that she treated me like I was 30, and I always got involved in these convos), and my mom saying she didn’t even know who she would cheat on my dad with (Robin’s was Pete Sampras). I joked Peabo Bryson or Luther Vandross would be my mom’s pick, and though she denied it, she blushed really heavily. My mom has a schoolgirl crush on Peabo Bryson.
When we were at the second Peabo concert, my mom paid for us to sit in the third row. She swooned along with the army of middle-aged women who were screaming at Peabo when he looked into the crowd. I just realized I was part of my mom’s ultimate dream to lure Peabo Bryson as a new husband. I’m OK with it.
As I’ve gotten older—and it’s how my mind works, really—I’ve come to mostly associate music with specific memories, rather than how the music makes me feel or whatever. I can’t really recapture what it was like to listen to Meteora every day in 11th grade, but I can remember driving around on a sunny day at lunch on time, listening to “Lying from You” and screaming and laughing with Matt and Nick about dumb shit and eating Burger King.
When I listen to this, the first mixtape from A$AP Rocky, I remember listening to the entire thing while sitting hungover in the Notre Dame in Montreal, missing Wisconsin, wondering if I’d be able to score with that the radio programmer from L.A. (nope), and thinking about how God might not exist, but his houses on Earth are fucking awesome. I remember being worried about French directions on city busses, and smoking too much hash the night before my flight home and worrying I was going to be detained by homeland security. I remember seeing M83 in a weird monolithic art studio thing, and I remember trying to explain A$AP Rocky to a Belgian music writer.
And now, that I’ve bought a bootleg vinyl copy of this, I’ll always remember where I got it; Repo Records in Philadelphia, on a trip that included me and Graham going to MoMA, to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and to Barcade to meet Irene. I’ll remember waking up Irene’s roommates with Lil Boosie at 3 am, and showing up at a fancy bar for a birthday party for a girl I’d never met dressed in a Bray Wyatt T-shirt. I’ll remember Wrestlemania, and grilling steaks on a perfect Saturday, seeing a Flyers game, and rap squatting at the Liberty Bell.
I hope that my memory holds up as I get to old age, because I can’t imagine not being able to remember this stuff thanks to records. I guess as long as I keep them, hopefully I can keep the memories too.
1. I am standing in the entrance vestibule at High Noon Saloon in Madison last Thursday, trying to duck out of the freezing rain, and I am packed like a jean jacketed-sardine into a space for four people with 9 people. The two couples on a double date in front of me are talking about Future Islands, a band who just blew the fuck up at SXSW and on Letterman (more on this later) but who are playing a sold out show for 400 people for the super reasonable price of $12. The tweedier, more Warby Parker-loving dude in this posse starts spitting his game to his girl, and to his girl’s friend’s boyfriend, about how he’s a huge Future Islands fan. The other guy has never listened to them and asks, “What do they even sound like?” Warby Parker, wearing a Smiths t-shirt, says “well, they’re called indie rock, but really they’re sort of “synth post pop punk”” and my eyes roll like cue balls on a marble floor.
But here’s the thing: if this show had happened sans Letterman and sans SXSW, there is no way a pretentious dude is getting laid off his barf-inducing description of Future Islands’ music to a potential mate. They went from being a band who could hardly sell out Madison’s smallest rooms, to being a band that could pull in scenesters in second tier Midwest markets.
This is becoming successful as a band in 2k14.
2. Apart from Odd Future being on Jimmy Fallon right when they blew up, it’s possible there’s never been a more impactful musical performance on a late night show than Future Islands on Letterman this month.
It got mentioned in every review, and it became a meme on Letterman. And for good reason; it’s one of the most magnetic, entrancing live performances I’ve ever seen on TV. The beating on the chest. The dancing. The emotions. It’s masculine but it’s sensitive. It’s great.
The major question I got after seeing them live is whether or not Sam Herring actually dances like that at shows. And the answer is a resounding yes. He bopped. He dipped. He beat his chest. He pantomimed lyrics. He howled. He screamed. He danced so hard, he literally ripped a microphone cord, forcing a stop in the show. It was a hypnotizing show, and they did every song you’d want to hear, including the best stuff from On the Water. They lived up the the hype, more or less.
3. Singles is one of the year’s best albums, an emotional, widescreen, beautiful album. It’s my favorite album of this year, by a decent margin. Here’s my top ten so far this year, since the first quarter of 2014 is over.
1. Future Islands: Singles
2. Eric Church: The Outsiders
3. Kool A.D.: Word O.K.
4. Migos: No Label II
5. Pharrell: G I R L
6. 100s: IVRY
7. YG: My Krazy Life
8. St. Vincent: St. Vincent
9. Dierks Bentley: Riser
10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata
4. I’ve been trying to figure out why I am so entirety into this band—and have been since 2011—and I think ultimately it’s that Sam Herring is the most relatable front guy for any band in indie rock. I can’t imagine myself singing for Interpol, or singing for the National, but I could see myself singing for Future Islands. He’s just a regular guy who has a lot of FEELINGS he’s getting out in these kind of big sophomore poetry anthems, and I feel like if you are of a certain disposition this person could have been you. I hope this band becomes super huge, more than any other band out right now.
I haven’t had a real birthday party since I was 15. Once the accepted “let’s all sleep at each other’s house and eat pizza and fast forward to the part of Highlander 2: Director’s Cut with the naked vagina without waking up my parents” cycle stopped in high school, I never knew how to wrangle my friends together to celebrate what I considered as something slightly narcissistic. “Hey guys, let’s get together and celebrate the fact that I have survived another 365 days and drink some beer” has never been something easy for me to organize. Not that I’ve really tried, I guess. The vestiges of being an unpopular dork throughout college had me wary of even trying, afraid that the people I’d consider friends would rather drink alone than at a party in my honor.
So my birthday parties since my teen years have been decidedly lowkey—most of them have consisted of me and Matt going to see a movie and eating pizza—or comically anti-birthday parties—when I turned 24 I went to Minneapolis to see 2 concerts in two days with Graham, and he didn’t even realize I was there because it was my birthday until two weeks later when he logged on to Facebook to see all the birthday mentions on my Feed. My 21st birthday party consisted of me buying a 12 pack of Heineken and going to the casino. I don’t even particularly feel bad about any of this; that’s just the way it’s been forever.
That was, until this Friday. Matt and Danielle (and Danielle’s friends Ilse and Kevin) kept talking about how they wanted an excuse to go to karaoke, since it’s something I’ve been doing, on average, once a week since October and they couldn’t believe that fact. Also, they wanted to see if I was bullshitting about being such a regular there that I don’t get carded, and am in a Cheers-like first name basis with the employees. So, I floated the idea of going out on my birthday, but since I am going to be on the East Coast, it morphed into us going out on March 28 (my birthday is April 6). And since when I usually go to karaoke, I bring 10-12 of the college kids who work for me, I figured I’d invite them too. And then I invited basically everyone I know in the Madison Metro area.
And so on Friday I had the greatest birthday party of my life. At various points—the dinner, the pregame at my apartment, the karaoke bar—25 people in total came out (ironically, Ilse and Kevin didn’t come at all). I did something like 10 songs, and stayed at the karaoke bar till 2:30 in the morning. There were a lot of memorable things that happened. Tyler showed up to the pregame with a Nalgene full of Fireball that he was drinking on the bus. Dan brought a full bottle of peach Burnett’s that only he drank. Courtney showed up to the karaoke bar with a container of fries that served as the rally to make it to bar close. Ben drank too much and threw up and fell down in front of the bar, and Matt had to walk him home and tuck him in at 11 o’clock. Me and my whole staff singing “Sugar We’re Going Down.” I finally convinced the Russian exchange student to come out to a bar with us. I took a lot of stupid Vines and Instagram pictures when I was drunk. I paid $10 to jump the line and do “International Player’s Anthem” a second time. I woke up still drunk at 7 am and made me and Ben waffles out of cinnamon rolls.
It was the best birthday party I’ve had since I turned 5 and my dad spent a whole day turning our deck into a pirate ship.
But the best part was getting this record from James and Murphy, two kids who work for me, and probably the two I’ve become most close to since I started as their boss 16 months ago. They went looking for Smashing Pumpkins—it was a joke, “It’s 2014, I shouldn’t have to listen to Smashing Pumpkins anymore” I told James once—or Fall Out Boy—for unexplainable reasons, I am going through a serious Fall Out Boy phase as a near-28 year old—but Murphy picked this one out because it was hilarious in and of itself, but also because it has “Wind Beneath My Wings” and that’s a funny thing to get a boss at your bullshit college job. Along with the bag of turnips—the party was called “Turn Up for 28” and they know I love puns—and a card James made compiling my saddest/funniest tweets (sample: “Sext: I just cried while clipping my toenails”), it was an unexpected and meaningful gift, even if it was a joke.
I guess I’m saying I feel pretty grateful that I’ve lived another 365 days, and that I have the kind of friends/co-workers who will turn up at karaoke bars to sing “Holidae Inn” at 1:30 am with me, and that maybe it’s time to give up the idea that I am a person who can’t get people to come to parties in his honor, and that birthday parties are actually really great, and I should allow myself more of them. I didn’t think that birthday parties could be life affirming, but this one totally was. Things are pretty great right now.