I am Andrew Winistorfer and I am listening to my vinyl collection in alphabetical order and writing about it.
I think if anyone tells you they’ve listened to this more than once all the way through since 2007, they are full of it. This album became a right of passage for anyone currently between 24 and 32, despite all odds. But at this point, when you are an adult, and not trying to establish your personal brand re: indie bands, all you can hear here are the flaws. The fact that “John Wayne Gacy” is top 10 dumbest songs ever—you are not just like a guy who raped kids, and pretending you are dulls the horrible realities of his crimes. The fact that this is at least 20 minutes too long. The fact that the lit-school affectations of this project are cool and all—writing an album about a state— but they are also something that is so easy to parody it’s too easy of a joke for Portlandia.
That said, this is maybe one of the most memorable albums of the era of indie when it was possible for an indie dude to be enormous on the internet, but make virtually no impact in the real world. A few years after this, bands could make a living touring for Mountain Dew and selling songs to Lincoln, but the best thing Sufjan could do was soundtrack indie movies and be a star on Pitchfork. I think for a lot of us, this dovetails with the era that we got way into this kind of music, and Sufjan will always have a stake over part of our hearts.
So, while I might not think this is as good as I thought it was when I was 19 and just starting to believe I could prove how “different” I was by listening to indie rock, this is one of those albums I’ll carry in my collection until I die.
As a record collector, I don’t really “get” the 7-inch collector. I’d rather blow my racks on full LPs than on a bunch of singles, so I’ve bought like 10 in the eight years I’ve been a serious collector. This is one of them, and I mostly bought it because it was the last copy at my local shop on Record Store Day 2012, and because this is sort of what 7-inches are for. This song—the most ripping, badass track by St. Vincent—wouldn’t have fit on any of Annie Clark’s solo albums, so burning this off as a single makes sense. But it’s still kind of a toss-off purchase. It’s a great song, but this isn’t the most responsible use of $7 in my life.
When Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga broke big and became one of those tentpole indie rock albums of recent vintage that people consider “classic” a week after it comes out, there was a small amount of backlash where people who rode for Spoon since Kill the Moonlight were claiming that the band wasn’t for them anymore. And that was certainly true; seeing Spoon at Lollapalooza after this album came out was a surprising thing. There were thousands of people who knew all the words to “The Underdog” and the other tracks from this album. It was not normal to the personal Spoon experience; knowing only two other people who know of the band, and listening to it alone in your bedroom.
But unlike the other indie bands who took a turn for bigger audiences, Spoon didn’t change at all: They made another album with warped and weird pop songs that somehow can be as catchy as anything on the radio, and it connected with a larger audience. It was hard to begrudge them anything; they deserved it (yes Future Vandross).
The more interesting thing to me, related to this album though, is how hard away from this they took their next album, Transference. It was like Britt Daniel saw what could happen if you totally nail a hit single, and was like, “Fuck this, I’m out.” It sorta seems like this might be the last “we’re gonna make catchy, beautiful songs” Spoon record, and I might be cool with this.
I don’t know if I have much more to add here, except that this album has actually aged better than a lot of other albums from 2007. It still sounds relatively fresh, even after I’ve listened to this thing a million times.
I’d like to come here and pretend like I was up on the Internet, checking out indie bands, all the way back when I was like 15, on to the new shit before everyone. But I wasn’t. My window into music culture was Rolling Stone magazine, Spin, and that was it pretty much. I didn’t watch The OC, so I had no idea who Spoon were prior to 2005. And I found out about them in a pretty weird way: I was reading a Time magazine* in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, and they had a tiny blurb about new music releases in the culture pages. And the dude wrote a flowerly love letter to this album at the time of its release, calling it the album of the year, basically. The next time I was at the record store, I saw this on CD, and bought it.
Along with listening to the Black Keys when I was 18, listening to Gimme Fiction when I was 19 was probably the moment I became an “indie fan.” I fell head over heels for this album; I can’t listen to “I Summon You” without thinking of being 19 and being in love with this 24-year-old punk rock chick in one of my Political Science classes, and listening to that song over and over wistfully, like only a 19-year-old chubby dork could. “I Turn My Camera On” used to soundtrack my morning routine. I began telling everyone I knew about Spoon, and tried to find people who liked it as much as me. This lead me to discovering indie rock blogs like Pitchfork.
There are bands that become somehow untouchable and unexplainable to you; they become part of the deritrus of your pop cultural life, and you can’t comprehend a life without them existing somewhere in your frontal lobe, constantly on a loop. Spoon are one of those bands for me.
But another part of that is that those bands can’t ever top themselves at the exact moment they become “perfection” for you. So, while I can understand that some people ride for Series of Sneaks or Kill the Moonlight, or think Spoon peaked with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, for me, Spoon will never be better than the chorus of “I Summon You,” and Gimme Fiction.
*- This is the part I am shaky on. It might have been People magazine.
The five stages of grief of realizing that this album is actually a solid 6.5 instead of a solid 8.8:
Because of how history views the less famous siblings of famous people—as hangers on soaking up excess spotlight of their famous blood—it’s easy to sort of feel bad for Solange. She’s the little sister of a mega famous person, and she probably can’t get a word in edge-wise at Thanksgiving. I mean, how can you compete with a person who you shared a rec room with who now is playing the Super Bowl?
But, as True proves, sometimes it pays to be overshadowed. You can be left to make the kind of oddball, left-field, produced by Dev Hynes R&B that your sister never could. You could crib from the best of ’80s R&B, make an album that feels like ‘88, and surprise the living shit out of people. Beyonce is never going to blow as many minds with a new musical direction the way Solange did with this one.
Beyonce’s fans don’t want to hear this, but at this point, Solange has more room to do whatever she wants musically, and therefore, she’s more interesting. Not as a commentary about modern fame/celebrity or whatever, but as a performing artist, she’s crushing Bey.
I am in the middle of reading A Light That Never Goes Out, Tony Fletcher’s biography of the Smiths, mostly because the Smiths are maybe the most famous ’80s indie band I am the least educated on. I’ve listened to their records—enough to decide that The Queen Is Dead is the one I’d be willing to pay $20 Canadian for in a Montreal record store—but I haven’t dove into the sizable Smiths scholarship that exists in the music books section of the Amazon marketplace.
So, while I wish I could say more trenchant things than, “I really like this record, “Bigmouth Strikes Again” totally rules, and now I am reading a book about this band,” but sometimes that’s the way this blog crumbles.
When you start educating yourself on the history of punk in the U.S., you always eventually get around to Patti Smith. And you listen to her landmark debut, Horses, and you wonder, “This is punk? Television didn’t seem too punk, and this is even less punk. This sounds like classic rock.” And you maybe write it off for a few years, looking more towards the simplistic stereotypes of what a “punk” band “is.”
But then, over time, you realize that Patti Smith opening her major label-financed debut LP with “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” is probably the most “punk” thing that has ever happened. It’s more punk than Sid Vicious. It’s more punk than the Clash. More punk than the Ramones. It’s more punk than hating your dad. It’s more punk than putting a safety pin through your perineum. It’s more punk than a mohawk. It’s more punk than Richard Hell’s entire existence. It’s more punk than Black Flag, Circle Jerks and the Germs combined. It’s more punk than Punk magazine. It’s more punk than Nirvana. It’s more punk than dying of a heroin overdose while wearing a leather jacket.
And then you listen to this album again, and it all makes sense. Patti Smith is punk as fuck, and this album totally rules.