406. Peabo Bryson’s ‘I Am Love’

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. 

405. A$AP Rocky’s ‘Live Love A$AP’

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.   

404. Future Islands’ ‘Singles’

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 WaterThey 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.   

403. Bette Midler’s ‘Beaches Soundtrack’

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.

402. Zola Jesus’ ‘Stridulum’

1. It is 2010, in the summer, and I am at a Zola Jesus “farewell” show at the Frequency, because Zola Jesus has a good Pitchfork review now, and she’s going to be leaving Madison and not living here anymore. I think it was the practice show to here going out and opening for like, Wolf Parade. I loved this EP, and I couldn’t believe she lived in my city; it’s not often artists with Internet Fame are available for me to see in a small bar 5 blocks from where I live. 

So I am at this show, and I realize this is mostly a show for the coolest of Madison’s cool urban elite to be seen, and I am definitely not one of them. I am wearing my oversized Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt, and I am struck with a deep case of not fitting in. Then Zola Jesus herself comes up to the bar right next to me to get some water. It turns out she is 5 foot 2, and it would take roughly 3.5 of hers to approach my body size. I feel like Hodor. I don’t say anything, I just look at her like an idiot. Then some girl with two earplugs squeals and comes up to her, and hugs her, and I step away from the bar and try to disappear into the wall.

Zola Jesus goes on tour, moves to L.A. and does shows at the Met. I go home and listen to “I Can’t Stand” in my sweatpants and eat a frozen pizza.  

2. It feels weird to be writing this now, because I technically planned this to be post 300, and for this record to close out this blog. I wrote that top part more than six months ago when I was prepared to pull the plug on this. I’ve gotten more than 100 records since then, and I can’t imagine closing this now. I guess thinking about shutting this down and not writing memories and feelings about my record collection made me realize that this is cheaper than therapy, and I still “get something” out of doing this. I will continue for the forseeable future. I think Jamieson Cox said that writing for your personal Tumblr fulfills something in you that you can’t get fulfilled writing for assignment, and I agree with that.

3. It is 2013, and I am in the second row of a Run the Jewels show at the Memorial Union Terrace. El-P had announced on Twitter the morning before the show that he’d be brining a special guest, and my friends and I spent a lot of time wondering who that could possible be. Then Ben went to pee in the bathroom, and he saw Zola Jesus hanging out in the Union, and we all realized she’d be singing with El-P on “Works Every Time” like she did on Conan that one time.

As I am watching El-P bang through “DRNS OVR BKLYN” and I look to my left and there is Zola Jesus. She is dressed in all white, is dyed blonde, and is she is still 1/4 of me. We make eye contact and I give her a thumbs up. She looks at me and nods. Then she gets onstage and sings and I never actually see her again. She’s too short to see behind the behemoth I am standing behind (he is roughly 6 Zola Jesuses) and she gets off the stage on the other side.

Zola Jesus goes back to L.A. I go back to my apartment and listen to I Can’t Stand” in my pajama shorts and no shirt and eat a frozen pizza. 

4. I have been having this fear lately that I am actually more “charming,” more “dynamic” and definitely more “interesting” as a person who is writing something—either texting, or tweeting, or G-Chatting, or DMing, or e-mailing—than I am in person talking and interacting. I feel like I can’t express myself properly or in a satisfying way to people in person, and that I come off as aloof, or detached, or less than the semi-articulate version of myself people can interact with in the form of three dot bubbles on an iPhone. I often can’t tell people how I really feel—about them, about things— in person as well as I can over the information super highway.

And this got me thinking about how sad that is, really. I feel like maybe only 3-4 people know the 100% real version of me, and everyone else in my life know the version of me delivered over a digital space, coupled with awkward real life interactions. Basically, I sometimes feel like my life is one long first Internet Date.

I don’t know if there’s an easy solution—or any solution, really- to this or not. 

401. Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

1. A few weeks ago, I wrote a concert review/thoughtpiece for Noisey about making the conscious choice to see Kacey Musgraves instead of Neutral Milk Hotel, a decision that confounded my friends (quote Matt: “Kaaaaccceeeyy Musgraves? Who is that? What? A country singer?” quote James: “fuck you”) but which really required no debate. Despite owning In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and being a member of Madison’s indie rock blogging cognoscenti, I never even considered going to see a band I liked when I was 19 over a woman who made one of my favorite albums last year. It wasn’t even a decision, and I think I came close to explaining why that is in that piece. 

2. Since about November, I’ve been reclaiming my pop country roots in a way I don’t think I would have ever considered a life possibility. From the ages of about 5 till 11, I listened to pop music—whatever was on MTV and VH1—and pop country. I have life memories related to Alan Jackson singles. I remember listening to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take The Girl” on a cassingle a bunch as a kid. I remember being in the back of the van on car trips and singing every song on No Fences with my entire family. I have seen more country music videos than you can imagine, because watching the CMT countdown on Saturday mornings has been my mom’s Saturday ritual since about 1995. 

But for a combination of reasons—wanting to set myself apart from my parents, wanting to establish myself as someone “too serious” to listen to country music, wanting to separate from the “hicks” in my school who listened to country and wore cowboy boots, despite living in nice houses far away from farms, building a #personalbrand—I stopped listening to country music all together. I never gave it any time in my listening schedule.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: quitting full time music blogging opened me up to being able to ONLY listen to shit I wanted to, instead of shit that could allow me to pay rent. And I can actually slow down and appreciate shit without having to jump to the next thing always. So after spending like 4 months this year playing Florida Georgia Line’s debut album after getting into them via Nelly and “Cruise,” I’ve been on a major pop country binge.  

Which I guess led to me spending the last month pretty much only listening to the new Dierks Bentley album (which rules), the Eric Church discography (rules even more), Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Florida Georga Line, and Luke Bryan. I wish I could explain why I’m so way back into country music, but part of me loving listening to those artists is that I am not forced to intellectualize it. I can just enjoy mouthing the words to “Bourbon in Kentucky” while I walk around campus and not caring about what it means that I have gotten more enjoyment from Dierks Bentley this year than anyone else really. 

I am not sure where I’ll end up with this pop country renaissance, but I know that I’m going to be buying tickets to Country USA, a country festival in my hometown, to see Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, in June. 

398. Bill Withers’ ‘Still Bill’

It’s 8:15 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and my sister just sent me a text that includes the link to a Buzzfeed article (21 Inevitable Truths You Learn By Having An Older Brother) and the text:

“LOL, too true. Love you bro.”

It’s only the second time we’ve talked since late January, when I last saw her as she was driving like a bat out of hell out of Madison racing back to Oshkosh because she was getting evicted from her apartment. It was the first time in three years that she’s come to see me—I’ve seen her when I’ve gone home, but mostly in brief 10-15 minute visits my parents and I liken to tornados—and the third time in that same time frame that my sister has been evicted from an apartment. This time, it turned out her “best friend” and roommate had only paid rent for four of the nine months they lived in their apartment, and had hid the eviction notices and late rent notices from my sister. This is the second time this exact thing has played out, though last time it was her “best friend” Amanda who played the hide the eviction letters con. I seriously couldn’t make this up.

“Hahahaha. Nice.” I text back, knowing that this, like every time my sister contacts me, is not even remotely close to WHY she wants to talk.

“Did mom tell you me and D found a new apartment???” she texts next.

My stomach sinks. Doesn’t She remember what happened last time? How she woke me up from being drunk (at 6 am, still) after we had partied all over Madison, and had maybe the best 12 hours we had has as adult siblings, and how she was bawling and screaming, and yelling that she couldn’t believe that another one of her friends could do that to her? Didn’t she remember making me call my mom and dad to tell them she was being evicted and she’d have to move back in because she was too embarrassed? Didn’t she remember crying the whole way out to Matt’s house to pick up her car, and asking me “What am I going to do?” over and over again? Didn’t she remember me telling her “You need to just stay with mom and dad for a while, and save a bunch of money. Then go to culinary school like you’ve been saying, and get your fucking shit together”?

“Nope.” I text back “How much is rent?”

“We’re gonna move into a huge place. It’s only $800 a month with everything included.”

“Can D afford it?”

“Oh yeah, no problem.”

“What happens if she doesn’t pay rent again?”

“I move out.”

“You know that’s not how it works, right? You’ll still be liable to pay rent there.”

“It will be fine. Why are you worrying? I’ve got this.”

“Well, I’m pulling for you, I guess.”


Basically that’s code for, “I know you know my life is kinda fucked up, and I remember what happened last time. And I remember that you remember that this has happened before. I know you think I have poor choice in friends, but I refuse to believe that one of them is doing me harm. I am only texting you as a courtesy, because I am supposed to keep you up to date on my life because we are brother and sister. And while I am thankful for your concern, I am going to do what I want because I am 25 and you should stay the fuck out of my life.”

If only it were that easy.

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397. Smokey Robinson’s ‘Warm Thoughts’

1. Sometimes you buy a record because it is the “best” by an artist. Sometimes you buy a record because it has your favorite song by an artist. And sometimes you buy a record because the cover is unbelievably awesome, something you can’t believe exists. That is the case with this one. I’m trying to buy a record by every artist mentioned on “Slow Jamz” and needed a Smokey album, and I saw this and decided he’s my new style icon. Catch me at the club next November wearing this outfit.

2. Best piece of trivia about this album? It features a song co-written by David Soul, better known as Hutch from Starsky & Hutch.

3. “Let Me Be The Clock” was actually a hit song, but it feels like a lost classic. It’s such a perfect soul song. It’s inspiring that Smokey could basically be on the classic rock end of his career and crush something as effective as this. Shouts to Smokey Robinson:

396. Shabba Ranks’ ‘X-Tra Naked’


2. Of all of the #musictwitter debates that drive me absolutely fucking insane, the biggest one is where people #wellactually you about liking artists with questionable personal ethics/decisions. Mostly because I think this outrage is 85% manufactured, but also I think when you become an adult you realize that art and the artist are separate. Chris Brown beat Rihanna, but he also makes insanely catchy, and sometimes even “good” music. R Kelly is very likely a sexual deviant, but “Trapped in the Closet” is a classic. These things are not mutually exclusive, even if the Steve Hydens of the world would like you to believe that they are. It is not like R. Kelly sings about having sex with underage girls, or Chris Brown about proper punching form.

And not to mention that the selection of artists it is OK to have “hangups” about is hypocritical and probably vaguely racist. John Lennon hit women and cheated on his wives consistently, and no one ever says that’s a reason to not listen to Revolver. Jimmie Page carried on a relationship with an underage groupie for years, and no one has used that as a reason that his solo on “When the Levee Breaks” “sucks.”

If you spend anytime considering any art of any kind, you need to separate the art from the artist. Which is something that comes into liking the music of Shabba Ranks, because dude spends time on wax and at live concerts denouncing homosexuality. In fact, those views probably cost him his semi-ascendant fame in the ‘90s. But still, even though I find his personal views about homosexuality abhorrent, I am able to listen to this without wilting like a flower over him maybe not being a very good guy.   


4. I’ve talked a couple times on here about how I don’t listen to reggae—as a matter of practice, basically—and I’m realizing that dancehall might be the only Jamaican music I actually LOVE instead of just appreciate. X-Tra Naked is better than any Marley record to me, it’s better than any reggaeton record, it’s better than Peter Tosh. I think a lot of it has to do with Shabba being the personification of swag, of his confidence, and basically everything that Fergenstein raps about on the chorus to “Shabba.” He has basically no fucks to give on record, so much so that you could tell me he’s rapping a dictionary or giving directions to a McDonald’s in Kingston and I’d believe you.

 Listening to this made me realize that Shaggy was basically the worst possible version of Shabba.

 5. There are artists who yell their own name on record, and then there is Shabba Ranks. He’s the G.O.A.T. He uses it as a verb, a noun, and as an exultation. He’s the best.