Here are my listening choices from the drive to L.A. last Thursday, while driving around in L.A., and from the return trip on Tuesday:
• Nick Lowe, Greatest Hits
• The Coup, Steal This Double Album (reissue)
• The Wedding Present, Seamonsters
• Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic
• Gene Vincent, Greatest Hits
• Tujiko Noriko, Make Me Hard
DRIVE AROUND L.A. METRO AREA
• Japanic, Red Book
• Enon, High Society
• Tom Waits, Closing Time
• Prince, Dirty Mind
• Wire, Send
• Mojave 3, Spoon and Rafter
• Jawbreaker, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
• Matmos, The Civil War
Thought I'd let you off that easily, did you?
Now comes the annotated version of the list, with random reflections and relevant links.
I've selected a song from each album that stood out for me at the time and which will subsequently end up on a playlist. If anyone out there is curious, I'll gladly play you ten seconds of any song over the phone, provided you promise not to download it during the listening process. Contact me privately with any such requests.
Wherever possible, I've included links to sites where you can get songs by the artists here legally. The primary source -- labels work too, but searching can take a long time -- is Epitonic.com, which you should all visit and take full advantage of now, while you can, since I fear that it's not long for this world. Subsequent links to Epitonic take you straight to the page for the artist in question. Note this list of similar artists on the right side; I've found great music by browsing there.
Another resource, though even more dated than Epitonic, is the Internet Underground Music Archive or "IUMA". You can still find things there.
Some of the artists for whom I don't provide links have songs or whole albums available at the Apple iTunes store, currently available only to Apple OS X users, but soon debuting for Windows.
• Nick Lowe, Greatest Hits - "Cruel To Be Kind"
Purchased at a Borders in Chandler, where I stopped on the way up for tacos at Chipotle and Starbucks for the road. It was one of their "British Hits for $9.99" selections. I felt like I needed to jump start the trip with something new. I had the single for "Cruel To Be Kind" back in my just-having-moved-to-Maryland days of misery in which I would listen to American Top 40 with my rather unusual friend Douglas Ribe from down the street. It had a scratch that made the song hitch for a sec right as the initial drums kick in.
I was surprised how country most of the songs were, though I'd heard some individually. There are some really great sounding tracks from his late 70s days.
• The Coup, Steal This Double Album (reissue) - "Swervin"
I didn't buy this when it came out, then regretted it after I went to buy it and it was out of print. I'm glad it was reissued. It manages to sound "street" -- in contrast to most political hip-hop, even Public Enemy at times -- without losing the self-reflexivity and big-picture analyses that elevate it into teaching. My friend Steven Rubio wrote a great review of the record when it first came out.
I'd rather you buy the album than steal it. But if you want to hear this song, added to the reissue, where I first heard it, it's part of Punk Planet's Housequake MP3 "album" of alternative hip-hop, track #5 to be specific.
• The Wedding Present, Seamonsters - "Dalliance"
I discovered this band kind of by accident, because they were referenced a lot in the British music press I was reading in the late 1980s. I got Bizarro and really liked it. Later, I learned that my first-year-of-grad-school housemate Josh Weiner -- a poet and all-around great guy -- was really into them. He got Seamonsters first. He was a big fan of Steve Albini dating back to his pre-Big Black days, when Josh was an undergrad at Northwestern and was thus really excited that Albini had engineered -- never use the word "produced" in reference to Albini -- the record. It sounds wonderful under the right circumstances, but the massive contrast between quiet and loud passages -- an Albini trademark, as on his treatment of PJ Harvey's Rid of Me -- really taxes your speakers and ears.
The first song "Dalliance" is a perfect example. Also, I have an alarming tendency to use the word in the title when discussing relationships, which makes it, um, more poignant.
• Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic - "Modern Kicks"
As I noted yesterday, I have a review of this record in the current Phoenix New Times.
The production isn't much, but it's better, for my money, than the similar-sounding early albums of Green Day from a decade ago
I was listening to this as I drove into the Palm Springs/Indio area, with the usual enormous relief, after the vast, empty stretch after Phoenix.
• Gene Vincent, Greatest Hits "Woman in Love"
I tend to prefer Buddy Holly to Elvis -- sorry, Steven -- when I want my 50s fix, but went for this one instead this time. The first few songs, with the mannered vocals, are probably the best, but the rest give you a great sense of the pop-cultural sensibility of the era.
• Tujiko Noriko, Make Me Hard - "Give Face"
I left Vincent on for a second go-round because I was too preoccupied with the crazy middle-of-the-night freeways of L.A. to change the CD. The left lane seems to vacillate between 60 and 90. When I got off the 105 and wrapped around to head south on Sepulveda -- I was going to nap in Manhattan Beach while waiting for Kim and Skylar's plane to arrive -- I put this on. It worked very nicely along with the dawn light.
You can get a song from another album of hers on Epitonic.
DRIVE AROUND L.A. METRO AREA
• Japanic, Red Book - "Problem With A German Name"
There's one Japanic song available, for slow downloading/listening, on IUMA.
I heard tracks from this one twice. The second time, all three of us were in the car, headed for the Getty. Kim noted its intense early-80s feel. It was John Brady who told me about the band, when he visited us in April, 2001.
The first song, in addition to being very funny from a lyrical standpoint, is so good at capturing the relation to dated technology I wrote about in my feature on Enon.
I fear, however, that I will be more likely to associate the song, not with the fun day at the Getty, but with the Giants screwing up in the 11th inning of Game Two against the Marlins. When I went to get coffee the next morning, it came on as I started the car. Jose Cruz Junior, a name that will life in inSFamy.
• Enon, High Society - "Pleasure and Privilege"
We listened to this on the way to the Getty, after Japanic. When the first song with vocals by Toko Yasua came on, Skylar said, "I know this voice." I guess she was playing attention when I played Hocus-Pocus around the house.
The more vivid experience, however, was listening to the music in an effort to keep Skylar awake after our all-day Disneyland escapade on Sunday. Kim didn't want her to doze before we got back to our wretched Buena Park hotel. Since there were no supermarkets nearby, Kim stopped on the way back to get milk at a Starbucks on Beach Boulevard. I sat in the car with Skylar, playing a game with her new and already much beloved Jack Skellington -- from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas -- doll in which she would make a scary face and he would hide, then reappear to be scared again. The rapid-fire quality of this song made the task of sleep deprivation a lot easier.
There is a another song from High Society and three songs from Enon's first album Believo! available on Epitonic.
You can also get a song from their new album Hocus-Pocus on the temporary Touch and Go Records site.
As mentioned in a previous entry, I wrote a feature on Enon for the Phoenix New Times.
• Tom Waits, Closing Time - "Martha"
The first time I put this CD in, after leaving Disneyland Monday afternoon, it led to an argument. Kim thought I was annoyed that she'd asked to me to remove Enon from the CD player. But I put in this record as a peace offering, since we listened to the first track together the evening of Skylar's birth, in the hospital. When she didn't seem to recognize that my selection of this record could only be a peace offering, I got really annoyed. We turned the CD player off. After a little while, we realized that we were all very tired from all the fun we'd been having and moved on.
That night, though, when I left Kim and Skylar to sleep in our room so that I could go to Amoeba and maybe visit Greg Jackson, it was still in the car. At first I was on the cell phone, checking in with Beth, as I'd promised, and calling Greg, who had mysteriously failed to be reachable over the weekend, when we had intended to meet up with him at the Getty Museum.
When I learned that Greg was free, I decided that Amoeba would have to wait and drove straight to Pasadena. On the way, I turned this record back on. I love the scary, Schuykill Expressway-like Pasadena Freeway -- the 110 -- between downtown and its terminus, with all the tight turns, "on ramps" that require cars to stop dead and wait, and unpredictable means of egress. But it was especially great as I listened to Waits, who is totally L.A., but the L.A. of Charles Bukowski and Mike Davis's description of skid row and Bunker Hill in City of Quartz. The freeway only grazes that area, but it feels old and easily romanticized like the characters in his songs.
• Prince, Dirty Mind - "Uptown"
This is one of the records I bought in Germany and couldn't bring back because I had such limited room in my luggage. I've always meant to replace it with a CD, but never found it used when I thought of it. I've spent the last few months looking for it used or new in Tucson, but without success. So I made sure to get it at Amoeba in Hollywood.
I've had the tape of the LP for car listening over the intervening years, so it's not like I'd forgotten what the album is like. But somehow it's over-the-topness really hit home this time.
God, has there ever been a guitar pop song more pure than "When You Were Mine"? It's perfect.
This time around, though, it was the vision of a diverse, sexually ambiguous collective identity in "Uptown" that registered most strongly, perhaps because I was so glad to be in the super-diverse environment of L.A., as opposed to Tucson. And I thought to myself, "I wonder if that hipster neighborhood south of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis qualifies as "uptown," even though it's not north of the city center. Better ask Jonathan Sterne, native of that fair city.
• Wire, Send
There's nothing more rare in the world of popular music than a comeback record that not only doesn't suck, but actually makes you want to listen to it more than its makers' "classic" albums. Of the records in my collection, the only true comeback album that I've ever had the urge to put on with some regularity -- I'm leaving Neil Young and Bob Dylan out of this, since they never really went away -- is the Buzzcocks' Trade Test Transmissions. Even that one leaves me hankering for the "real thing" afterwards.
With this Wire album, though, the paradigm breaks down. I have been more inclined to listen to Pink Flag and Chairs Missing since Wire came back on the scene with the Read and Burn EP. But it's not a case of the new stuff not measuring up, since it's actually of a different order, if anything more overtly "punk" in its abrasivness than the band's first two albums.
I listened to Send while spending over an hour going only five miles in a suburb of Riverside. It's times like that when you realize that it might be a good thing to not live in California anymore. The music was a little too frenetic for my frenzied nerves, but what the hell.
Nothing to download, but the revived band's rather minimal site is still worth a look for all you historians of punk.
• Mojave 3, Spoon and Rafter - "Bluebird of Happiness"
Kim discovered Mojave 3's Neil Halstead first, went to the show at Solar Culture and brought back a Mojave 3 CD too. We both think it makes great road music. I got the CD from the Stinkweeds booth at Modified Arts, before the Enon show. Stinkweeds is a Phoenix-area institution, perhaps like Rather Ripped used to be in Berkeley.
Living in the Bay Area, I never bought CDs at shows, since I could get everything I wanted -- and 95% of the time "previously owned" -- at Amoeba, Rasputin's, or Mod Lang (for those pesky imports, easier to locate in a small store with knowledgeable employees). But now that I live in Tucson, where the record stores are decent but nothing to write lovingly about, I find myself buying 2/3 of the new releases I get in Arizona at concerts. This approach has the virtue of allowing me to support a band I like. More importantly, though, it tends to solidify my record-buying trajectory. Instead of mostly single-act purchases, I get deeper into a musician's catalog than I would have been inclined to get while in the Bay Area (except for my all-time favorites): I buy the previous album or a side project or something from a band connected to the performers in some way.
There are two songs from their third album Excuses for Travellers on Epitonic.
You can also listen to a single from the new album in RealAudio or download it -- for a fee -- as a "digital single" -- on the 4AD Records site.
• Jawbreaker, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy - "Boxcar"
I picked this record, which I hadn't listened to in quite some time, for two reasons: because one of my favorite undergraduates from last year, Helena Ribeiro -- now a grad student at CUNY -- was way into the band and because I've always associated Jawbreaker with a certain kind of "legitimate" Bay Area punk, dating back to the days when Chris's brother Tim used to talk excitedly about their 7 inches with his friend John.
I was struck by the presence of that seemingly ubiquitous "fake" English accent -- which I hadn't noticed before -- and by the low production values, almost as bad as on the Exploding Hearts record.
Call me an art rocker, but I prefer cleanly produced punk that sounds great played quiet and loud, especially in the hermetically sealed environment of our Passat wagon.
• Matmos, The Civil War - "Y.T.T.E."
One of the two Matmos guys, Drew Daniel is -- I think he's still doing it -- a student in the English Ph.D. program at Berkeley. I was retreating from public life in the department when he arrived, but met him at a function or two -- my friend Jillian Sandell first pointed him out to me -- and was impressed with his aura.
Later, my friend Joel Schalit started hanging out with him as a result of his involvement with the SF electronica scene. I bought a record of theirs and liked it. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Matmos was selected to tour with Bjork and became enough of a something to sign to Matador, my favorite label.
The collaboration with Bjork, reflected in some of the tracks on her Vespertine was a fruitful one, as was their album made of field recordings conducted during cosmetic surgery.
Their new record is quite different from that one, though. It's more expansive, wide-ranging. And a number of the songs feature Renaissance instruments alongside the blips, scratches, and thumps. It's truly superlative and will reward many repeat listenings.
You can download another track from this album from the Matador MP3 page, a great resource for legal freebies. Two other Matmos songs are available on Epitonic.