.

 

Afternoon of Albums

Reflections on the music I listened to this afternoon, and the afternoon albums of two friends.

Neutral Milk Hotel. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

About half the songs are like deer left dead on the side of a road, and as you drive by at 1 in the morning on the way home from breaking up with your girlfriend, because her drinking over the death of her father has made her impossibly distant, you stop and suddenly you don't know whether possibly you hit the deer, the one you're looking at a few feet from the bumper, yourself. It could have been you. You can't remember. That's how some of the songs are, especially on the 900th listen. The other half are real toe-tappers, songs like your best friends are coming over to make puppets with you, and you're going to do a puppet show for orphans sometime next month, a good cheer, let's “put on a show to cheer up those orphans” spectacle.

“Holland, 1945”, About Anne Frank, I think. Before that:

From the title track, with plenty of musical saw.

Or look at it this way: this is an album about a man who really screwed up his life, so he went to live in a cabin where his grandfather used to hunt, just a shack, really, and he's been there for nearly three years, working it out, with just a few chairs, and some books, and a fireplace.

About six months ago a bear tried to get into the shack, and he killed it with his grandfather's gun. Then he smeared the windows with bear fat, making everything translucent and dim.

He has a stack of those cheap napkins you get from dispensers at a diner. Every song on this album is like taking one of those napkins and rubbing off a little bit of the bear fat. Every time he listens to a song he rubs a little more off. At first it only gets cloudier, and he sees even less. Then the bear fat starts to come off, and he has tiny round portholes on the world. Finally, months later, he's gone through all the napkins, and the windows are clear as the sky. He sees they've built a road right up to the edge of the cabin, and he decides he might as well go home, face what happened, and redeem himself.

You fall in love with Jeff Mangum, while you're listening. You want to get him a glass of water, make sure he's comfortable on the sofa, not talk too much, there's not too much to say, and when you do talk, try to get the conversation around to whether he's working on a new album or anything, but not put any pressure on, because he's done plenty, let him know how grateful you are.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Shins, Oh Inverted World

The Shins. Oh, Inverted World.

Tony Bennett to Neutral Milk Hotel's Frank Sinatra. The Shins are on Sub Pop records, which is too bad, as they should be on Screaming Tiger Head albums. Screaming Tiger Head does not exist, but if it did, they would have an actual tiger in the corporate offices which could be used to eat bands who fucked up. Soul Coughing would be a good tiger snack. The Shins would be motivated to continue their output of excellent songs by the risk of being devoured by the STH tiger. The Tiger would be named Ted Nugent, and everyone would hate it.

I don't think this is the best band in the world, but it might be one of the top 120. There are only a few holes in these songs, and the holes are so small you'd have to grease them so ants could march through. The holes are only there because the people in the Shins are trying hard to write songs and play instruments and make the lyrics dense, warm, flowing, and engaging, so there's risk there, and they pull it off about 28 out of 30 minutes. Not bad. Still a 4.0.

This is a pop album, and the songs feel (do not sound) like Tony Bennett's “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, or the SMILE sessions from the Beach Boys, or the White Album. Sometimes it sounds a little like the kind of music you'd write in the den of your folk's house in the Copper Springs development outside of Albuquerque, and your dad is a senior manager at Value Footwear corporate headquarters, but usually it sounds like the music you'd write after going out with some friends to a pretentious coffee shop and seeing this girl you used to date in high school behind the counter, getting out of there, dropping off your friends, and driving to the crest of a hill, getting out of your car, and stretching on the dry grass, watching for meteorites. “Caring is Creepy” is one of the best songs in 10 years, and The Shins don't even take themselves that seriously. I hope they don't start to, because they could be good like Beatles good, plus they have a fine, fine Web site. They're playing in Hoboken next month and I will be going to that show, I think.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Shins, Oh Inverted World

INXS. Kick.

If life were comprised of a series of commercials, then:

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM, MAN IS ON THE FLOOR SCRUBBING

MAN: When I am washing away the filth that accrues over all the surfaces of my apartment, I put on this CD (holds up KICK) before I begin cleaning. Nothing motivates me like the tuneful, hard-driving pop rock of “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside”.

CUT TO shot of gorgeously handsome man autoerotically asphyxiating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: It's unfortunate that when I listen to this music now I think of how Michael Hutchens died.

CUT TO shot of giant Australian cane toads mating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: And I think of this documentary I saw about Australian cane toads. Anyway. I'm cleaning my apartment because I'm hoping my date will come home with me.

CUT TO title card with words “HOPELESS LIFE ENNOBLED ONLY BY THE PLEASURE OF MUSIC AND THE SOLACE OF FANTASY”.

MAN: But even if she doesn't, at least the bathroom's clean.

TITLE CARD: KICK CD COVER, WITH CALL TO ACTION (TBD).

MAN: When I am washing away the filth that accrues over all the surfaces of my apartment, I put on this CD (holds up KICK) before I begin cleaning. Nothing motivates me like the tuneful, hard-driving pop rock of “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside”.

CUT TO shot of gorgeously handsome man autoerotically asphyxiating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: It's unfortunate that when I listen to this music now I think of how Michael Hutchens died.

CUT TO shot of giant Australian cane toads mating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: And I think of this documentary I saw about Australian cane toads. Anyway. I'm cleaning my apartment because I'm hoping my date will come home with me.

CUT TO title card with words “HOPELESS LIFE ENNOBLED ONLY BY THE PLEASURE OF MUSIC AND THE SOLACE OF FANTASY”.

MAN: But even if she doesn't, at least the bathroom's clean.

TITLE CARD: KICK CD COVER, WITH CALL TO ACTION (TBD).

.  .  .  .  .  

Jackson Browne, Saturate Before Using

Jackson Browne. Saturate Before Using

This is a great album, and all of the songs are beautiful, and I sing with them and feel as if I am at the dock saying goodbye to someone just as I realize that I really will miss them, or as if I'm walking the roads in upstate New York, younger than I am, living on stale bread and music. I know I lose indie cred for loving this album, but indie cred is worth less than the Argentine peso.

I wish someone would create Indie Dollars. The basic unit of currency is the Bloody Valentine, which is backed by the Burma. There are 4 Elliot Smiths for every Bloody Valentine, and 25 Mazzy Stars per Elliot Smith. 10 "Valentines" is the Kim Deal and 20 Valentines is the Kim Gordon. So, say, when you buy your ticket to a Sonic Youth show, you get 5 Kim Gordons in return, and when someone starts to ask you what music you like, you can just pull out a Kim Gordon and buy them off rather than have the same empty conversation about which bands you like, and lay off implying that your choice of musical tokens makes you a more interesting person. It doesn't.

Now that I've blown any cred cover I might have, here's all of it: I like Tea for the Tillerman, The Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, Nothing Like the Sun (especially “Fragile”), Violator, and The The's Dusk. And every Steely Dan song, as well as some Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and even The Moody Blues, and some Journey. If you sit me down with an Alan Parsons Project album, I might like that too, depending. Plus I like wine from a box and I enjoy movies with Julia Roberts in them and movies where cars chase each other and one of the cars explodes, and I cried at Titanic.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Sixty Neins, A Fistfucking Work of Staggering Drunkenness

I called Scott Rahin and left him a message asking what he was listening to today. He emailed:

Today I'm listening to The Sixty Neins, A Fistfucking Work of Staggering Drunkenness. This is a concept album about a man named Will Bacon whose parents die, so he ties their bodies together to make a raft and christens the raft the Irony. Then, with his unwilling younger brother, he sails them down the Mississippi, gathering increasing amounts of press attention as he goes; he becomes a huge media reality-TV rafting-on-your-dead-parents event. When he gets to the gulf he's met by an MTV TV crew and claims (lies) he was forced at gunpoint to become a celebrity. It's sort of Tommy meets Huck Finn, but the songs alternate between drum and bass electronica and grindcore. There's an okay drummer who is apparently an Ada programmer for the DOD in real life. The bassist is a librarian and the guitar/mix guy is a bartender. Musically it's a sort of amusing disaster, but the concept plays out well.

Myself, I'm working on a song called “She Just Wouldn't Listen”, about an abusive man who lives with a deaf woman, and another called “Angela's Omelet,” about poor starving Irish boys who kill and eat their mum.

Myself, I'm working on a song called “She Just Wouldn't Listen”, about an abusive man who lives with a deaf woman, and another called “Angela's Omelet,” about poor starving Irish boys who kill and eat their mum.

.  .  .  .  .  

Rebecca Dravos takes a moment from her job at the Large University Library to write:

Phil Ochs, There But For Fortune

Phil Ochs, There But For Fortune. A greatest hits. Politics with emotion, just right, you ever see the footage of him standing on a car at Berkeley, singing? Meant something, more than Bono standing up with Paul O'Neill in Africa. And even though his cover of The Highwayman is hoke in spots, I still think it's beautiful, really felt all the way through. (Is it a cover when you're setting a poem to music? Is there some German word for it, Gepoemschaftmusicsetziert or something?)

This one is good to cook to, I sing and stir. The real test as always is the pets: Elephant doesn't notice, but Rockstar seems to like “I'm Not Marching Anymore” and a few other songs. The cat likes it, I like it, the dog is unmoved, so 2 stars out of 3.

If you come for a walk through the park Thursday afternoon I'll let you give Elly biscuits, an incredible privilege you understand.

This one is good to cook to, I sing and stir. The real test as always is the pets: Elephant doesn't notice, but Rockstar seems to like “I'm Not Marching Anymore” and a few other songs. The cat likes it, I like it, the dog is unmoved, so 2 stars out of 3.

If you come for a walk through the park Thursday afternoon I'll let you give Elly biscuits, an incredible privilege you understand.

The only girl I've ever loved
was born with roses in her hair.
But then they buried her alive
One [eve] in 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone.
Now she's a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with rain.

“Holland, 1945”, About Anne Frank, I think. Before that:

And one day we will die
and our ashes will fly
from the aeroplane over the sea.
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see.

From the title track, with plenty of musical saw.

Or look at it this way: this is an album about a man who really screwed up his life, so he went to live in a cabin where his grandfather used to hunt, just a shack, really, and he's been there for nearly three years, working it out, with just a few chairs, and some books, and a fireplace.

About six months ago a bear tried to get into the shack, and he killed it with his grandfather's gun. Then he smeared the windows with bear fat, making everything translucent and dim.

He has a stack of those cheap napkins you get from dispensers at a diner. Every song on this album is like taking one of those napkins and rubbing off a little bit of the bear fat. Every time he listens to a song he rubs a little more off. At first it only gets cloudier, and he sees even less. Then the bear fat starts to come off, and he has tiny round portholes on the world. Finally, months later, he's gone through all the napkins, and the windows are clear as the sky. He sees they've built a road right up to the edge of the cabin, and he decides he might as well go home, face what happened, and redeem himself.

You fall in love with Jeff Mangum, while you're listening. You want to get him a glass of water, make sure he's comfortable on the sofa, not talk too much, there's not too much to say, and when you do talk, try to get the conversation around to whether he's working on a new album or anything, but not put any pressure on, because he's done plenty, let him know how grateful you are.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Shins, Oh Inverted World

The Shins. Oh, Inverted World.

Tony Bennett to Neutral Milk Hotel's Frank Sinatra. The Shins are on Sub Pop records, which is too bad, as they should be on Screaming Tiger Head albums. Screaming Tiger Head does not exist, but if it did, they would have an actual tiger in the corporate offices which could be used to eat bands who fucked up. Soul Coughing would be a good tiger snack. The Shins would be motivated to continue their output of excellent songs by the risk of being devoured by the STH tiger. The Tiger would be named Ted Nugent, and everyone would hate it.

I don't think this is the best band in the world, but it might be one of the top 120. There are only a few holes in these songs, and the holes are so small you'd have to grease them so ants could march through. The holes are only there because the people in the Shins are trying hard to write songs and play instruments and make the lyrics dense, warm, flowing, and engaging, so there's risk there, and they pull it off about 28 out of 30 minutes. Not bad. Still a 4.0.

This is a pop album, and the songs feel (do not sound) like Tony Bennett's “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, or the SMILE sessions from the Beach Boys, or the White Album. Sometimes it sounds a little like the kind of music you'd write in the den of your folk's house in the Copper Springs development outside of Albuquerque, and your dad is a senior manager at Value Footwear corporate headquarters, but usually it sounds like the music you'd write after going out with some friends to a pretentious coffee shop and seeing this girl you used to date in high school behind the counter, getting out of there, dropping off your friends, and driving to the crest of a hill, getting out of your car, and stretching on the dry grass, watching for meteorites. “Caring is Creepy” is one of the best songs in 10 years, and The Shins don't even take themselves that seriously. I hope they don't start to, because they could be good like Beatles good, plus they have a fine, fine Web site. They're playing in Hoboken next month and I will be going to that show, I think.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Shins, Oh Inverted World

INXS. Kick.

If life were comprised of a series of commercials, then:

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM, MAN IS ON THE FLOOR SCRUBBING

MAN: When I am washing away the filth that accrues over all the surfaces of my apartment, I put on this CD (holds up KICK) before I begin cleaning. Nothing motivates me like the tuneful, hard-driving pop rock of “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside”.

CUT TO shot of gorgeously handsome man autoerotically asphyxiating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: It's unfortunate that when I listen to this music now I think of how Michael Hutchens died.

CUT TO shot of giant Australian cane toads mating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: And I think of this documentary I saw about Australian cane toads. Anyway. I'm cleaning my apartment because I'm hoping my date will come home with me.

CUT TO title card with words “HOPELESS LIFE ENNOBLED ONLY BY THE PLEASURE OF MUSIC AND THE SOLACE OF FANTASY”.

MAN: But even if she doesn't, at least the bathroom's clean.

TITLE CARD: KICK CD COVER, WITH CALL TO ACTION (TBD).

MAN: When I am washing away the filth that accrues over all the surfaces of my apartment, I put on this CD (holds up KICK) before I begin cleaning. Nothing motivates me like the tuneful, hard-driving pop rock of “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside”.

CUT TO shot of gorgeously handsome man autoerotically asphyxiating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: It's unfortunate that when I listen to this music now I think of how Michael Hutchens died.

CUT TO shot of giant Australian cane toads mating.

INTERIOR SHOT: BATHROOM

MAN: And I think of this documentary I saw about Australian cane toads. Anyway. I'm cleaning my apartment because I'm hoping my date will come home with me.

CUT TO title card with words “HOPELESS LIFE ENNOBLED ONLY BY THE PLEASURE OF MUSIC AND THE SOLACE OF FANTASY”.

MAN: But even if she doesn't, at least the bathroom's clean.

TITLE CARD: KICK CD COVER, WITH CALL TO ACTION (TBD).

.  .  .  .  .  

Jackson Browne, Saturate Before Using

Jackson Browne. Saturate Before Using

This is a great album, and all of the songs are beautiful, and I sing with them and feel as if I am at the dock saying goodbye to someone just as I realize that I really will miss them, or as if I'm walking the roads in upstate New York, younger than I am, living on stale bread and music. I know I lose indie cred for loving this album, but indie cred is worth less than the Argentine peso.

I wish someone would create Indie Dollars. The basic unit of currency is the Bloody Valentine, which is backed by the Burma. There are 4 Elliot Smiths for every Bloody Valentine, and 25 Mazzy Stars per Elliot Smith. 10 "Valentines" is the Kim Deal and 20 Valentines is the Kim Gordon. So, say, when you buy your ticket to a Sonic Youth show, you get 5 Kim Gordons in return, and when someone starts to ask you what music you like, you can just pull out a Kim Gordon and buy them off rather than have the same empty conversation about which bands you like, and lay off implying that your choice of musical tokens makes you a more interesting person. It doesn't.

Now that I've blown any cred cover I might have, here's all of it: I like Tea for the Tillerman, The Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, Nothing Like the Sun (especially “Fragile”), Violator, and The The's Dusk. And every Steely Dan song, as well as some Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and even The Moody Blues, and some Journey. If you sit me down with an Alan Parsons Project album, I might like that too, depending. Plus I like wine from a box and I enjoy movies with Julia Roberts in them and movies where cars chase each other and one of the cars explodes, and I cried at Titanic.

.  .  .  .  .  

The Sixty Neins, A Fistfucking Work of Staggering Drunkenness

I called Scott Rahin and left him a message asking what he was listening to today. He emailed:

Today I'm listening to The Sixty Neins, A Fistfucking Work of Staggering Drunkenness. This is a concept album about a man named Will Bacon whose parents die, so he ties their bodies together to make a raft and christens the raft the Irony. Then, with his unwilling younger brother, he sails them down the Mississippi, gathering increasing amounts of press attention as he goes; he becomes a huge media reality-TV rafting-on-your-dead-parents event. When he gets to the gulf he's met by an MTV TV crew and claims (lies) he was forced at gunpoint to become a celebrity. It's sort of Tommy meets Huck Finn, but the songs alternate between drum and bass electronica and grindcore. There's an okay drummer who is apparently an Ada programmer for the DOD in real life. The bassist is a librarian and the guitar/mix guy is a bartender. Musically it's a sort of amusing disaster, but the concept plays out well.

Myself, I'm working on a song called “She Just Wouldn't Listen”, about an abusive man who lives with a deaf woman, and another called “Angela's Omelet,” about poor starving Irish boys who kill and eat their mum.

Myself, I'm working on a song called “She Just Wouldn't Listen”, about an abusive man who lives with a deaf woman, and another called “Angela's Omelet,” about poor starving Irish boys who kill and eat their mum.

.  .  .  .  .  

Rebecca Dravos takes a moment from her job at the Large University Library to write:

Phil Ochs, There But For Fortune

Phil Ochs, There But For Fortune. A greatest hits. Politics with emotion, just right, you ever see the footage of him standing on a car at Berkeley, singing? Meant something, more than Bono standing up with Paul O'Neill in Africa. And even though his cover of The Highwayman is hoke in spots, I still think it's beautiful, really felt all the way through. (Is it a cover when you're setting a poem to music? Is there some German word for it, Gepoemschaftmusicsetziert or something?)

This one is good to cook to, I sing and stir. The real test as always is the pets: Elephant doesn't notice, but Rockstar seems to like “I'm Not Marching Anymore” and a few other songs. The cat likes it, I like it, the dog is unmoved, so 2 stars out of 3.

If you come for a walk through the park Thursday afternoon I'll let you give Elly biscuits, an incredible privilege you understand.

This one is good to cook to, I sing and stir. The real test as always is the pets: Elephant doesn't notice, but Rockstar seems to like “I'm Not Marching Anymore” and a few other songs. The cat likes it, I like it, the dog is unmoved, so 2 stars out of 3.

If you come for a walk through the park Thursday afternoon I'll let you give Elly biscuits, an incredible privilege you understand.

Links Related To Afternoon of Albums

2003 Oct 9 Obsessively Tracking Down Jeff Mangum
Journalist tries to track down the man behind Neutral Milk Hotel. Mangum doesn't want to hear about it, wants to be left alone, and the author says: "He's wrong, of course. It's not just his story....It's mine, too." Which is plain wrong. Jeff Mangum is not obligated to do a damn thing for anyone, thanks.»


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