Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Monday, March 27, 2006

High Fidelity

Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: American Analog Set
Albums: From Our Living Room to Yours, Late One Sunday & the Following Morning, Promise of Love, Songs of Hurt & Healing, and Set Free
Source: Bought new (FOLRTY, LOS), bought from the band (POL, SF), record-store freebie (SOH&H)

If art imitates life, then more often than not my life seems to imitate Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I still remember reading the book for the first time on a NJ beach, at first laughing along with the comedy before finally closing the book with a kind of fear: this was more or less a How To Operate Brian Manual. It wasn’t until much thought that I realized we were supposed to feel bad for Rob; I was pretty much just identifying with/rooting for him. It was kind of like how I felt at the end of most Woody Allen movies when I was young – each time, I was sure he’d end up happy, so I signed up for his team, and each time Woody was the one who was wallowing in some sort of despair by the end.

But it’s not all bad. Some High Fidelity moments are pretty damn good, including my introduction to the American Analog Set. Though this took place three years before the movie version came out in 2000, I got pulled into this wonderful group in a dead ringer for a scene in the film. At the end of a day during my mobilization at AOL’s Digital City Philadelphia, I went into one of my favorite haunts, the then-next-door Third Street Jazz and Rock.* While browsing the racks, an amazingly hypnotic, gently melodic drone began playing. And it played some more. And some more. Finally, after several minutes, I went to the desk, asked the guy, “What the hell is that?” It was all nine minutes of “Magnificent Seventies,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if he dropped the disc in a bag and rang up From Our Living Room to Yours without even asking. When I saw the scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack consciously sucks in customers by putting the Beta Band on the sound system, I felt pretty sure that his Third Street Jazz counterpart had made me as an AmAnSet mark and reeled me in.

A double dose of thanks for doing so, too. Not only have I consistently enjoyed pretty much every AmAnSet tune I’ve heard since then, but they saved my sanity twice: Within a week after 9/11/01, the band had a gig at the Knit (one of the first after the attacks on the nearby, still-smoking WTC). Lee and I went, and their gentle, barely-there rocking lulled us into a sense of, if not safety, certainly some much-needed comfort. Fast forward to a couple of years later, when AmAnSet, who have now relocated from Austin to Brooklyn, are playing at Southpaw on my 31st birthday. The wife of one of the guys I invited dragged along her friend Eileen, suspecting she might be able to work a little matchmaking magic. We’re introduced, and my first, totally honest reaction to this lovely stranger is, “Oh, I’m sure we’ve met before.” And I meant it, too.

SISOSIG? As they say, "Fuhgeddaboudit." This stuff stays. It's repetitive, the evolution from disc to disc is minimal, and I love every note of it. After all the AmAnSet has done for me, I am in no position to turn them out into the cold.

*On a mostly unrelated note, I would be remiss if I did not briefly comment on Philadelphia’s wonderful and much-missed Third Street Jazz. In high school it was one of the first “real” record stores I ever encountered, and from then until the day it closed down in 1998, its rows of records, tapes and discs – along with its friendly and way-knowledgeable staff – made every trip there a pleasure and an education. Shit, Sun Ra himself used to drop off his homemade records there and nowhere else. If this sounds too much like a commercial for the joint, then I plead guilty to loving this brothel of musical pleasures and spending many of my dollars there almost immediately after having earned them.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Smells Like Team Spirit

Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Scott Amendola Band; Gregg Bendian’s Interzone; Nels Cline
Albums: Believe (SAB); Myriad (GBI); Destroy All Nels Cline (NC)
Source: Bought used (SAB); promos (GBI & NC)

My dad is a sports nut. Not as extreme as some, to be sure (e.g., to the best of my knowledge he’s never painted his face in team colors and gone to a game), but his office is decorated with Brooklyn Dodgers and New York (football) Giants memorabilia, and he’s more apt to quote the wisdom of Vince Lombardi than, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Which is not to paint him as a meathead – my dad’s probably one of the smarter people I know – but rather to indicate that sports is, for him, the well of wisdom from which he often draws. (Kind of like music and/or The Simpsons for me.) As such, many of the lessons of my childhood included healthy doses of the idea of teamwork and its importance to the commonweal. (There was also “Perfect practice makes perfect,” his own improvement of “Practice makes perfect,” which I had to be a bit older to see the tautological implications of.) Individual achievement was important – witness his collection of baseball cards by present and future Hall of Famers – but in the end, if the team lost, the enterprise had come up empty.

Maybe it’s this team-spirit grounding that has made me into someone who places great importance on the line-up of musicians for any given band and/or record. For instance, I’m more likely to think of Miles Davis’ timeline by the members of his band than the style of music they played.

In the case(s) of these three discs, for each one it was all about the team. The common element is Nels Cline, a guitar player of deeply impressive originality and breadth of ability who appears on each of the albums. I’ve seen/heard this guy do everything from gentle jazz to improvisational freak-out to straight-up punk rock. He’s currently adding his skills to Wilco, and I’ve heard that the whole team’s game went up a notch when he donned the Wilco uniform. He’s got his guitar, his pedals and his talent; all he needs to know is the team context, and his imagination will run wild.

Believe, a session helmed by bandleader Scott Amendola, came to me through a well-timed recommendation: the Downtown Music Gallery’s weekly e-mail blast wrote it up the day after I’d seen violinist Jenny Scheinman play a stunning gig at Barbes that involved a room packed with string players, all working together in conducted improvisations. When I heard that she was on this record, along with Nels and Tortoise/Chicago Underground axe-man Jeff Parker, I knew what I needed to do. After a lucky bit of eBay’ing, I had this disc, and it quickly became a favorite; everyone I’ve played it for has loved it, and its experimental/melodic/loose/structured/jazz/rock sounds are in my ears pretty often.

The other two were more accidental. After writing up Atavistic’s “Unheard Music” series for Harp magazine, the label sent me all their stuff for a year or two; both Myriad and Destroy All were part of that sizable haul. Both are pretty good, too, but not for everyday use. I learned that for sure with Bendian’s disc: when a woman I was listlessly wooing by lending her CDs mentioned that she liked jazz with vibes in it, I foolishly made this one the next loaner. Sure, Bendian plays vibes, but they’re run through noisy pedals and an avant-garde sensibility, supported by Nels and his drummer brother Alex in full-on-intensity mode. She gave it back with a sour look on her face and a comment something like, “Um, it was a little much.” Needless to say, that was the end of the wooing.

But both discs are good for noisy-ish moods – they have structure and coherent personaes that are less violent than lots of noise can sometimes be, each creating different kinds of amp-driven washes of sound and rhythm. Plus, I know my boy Nels is part of the team, and I know that often makes the squad a winner.

SISOSIG? What kind of team player would I be if I knocked Nels off the squad? He’s a reliable scorer with a flexible game, who both supports the team and takes it to the hoop every time. (See Dad? Your sports metaphors were not entirely lost on me!)

This Just In

Neko Case
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Neko Case
Album: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Source: Bought new

While it’s true that I’ve slowed my pace of buying new additions to The House That My CD Habit Built, I’m not going to be able to stop entirely. In the interest of semi-comprehensive semi-completeness, I figure I should make short mention of newly acquired discs. I just picked up Neko’s new one, and while it’s too soon to tell how deep it will burrow into my psyche, right now all indications are that Fox Confessor is going to be a long-time keeper. The title certainly helps: Especially since the publication of Victoria Renard’s deeply alluring nude photos of Ms. Case, “Fox” and “Neko Case” have had deep associations in my mind. Oh, and the music, songs and singing on this one are top-notch, too…

Sunday, March 19, 2006

To the Tropics

Ambitious Lovers
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Ambitious Lovers; Arto Lindsay
Albums: Lust; Prize
Source: Bought used (Lust); Promo (Prize)

(Boring Technical Note: It’s rapidly dawning on me that, at this pace, I will get through the entire Beast sometime during President Chelsea Clinton’s 2nd term in office. As a result, anywhere I can speed things up a notch – like by putting both of these Arto-led bands in a single entry – I think I will.)

Lee’s girlfriend Jenn is part of a Mix-CD Club, by which members put together mixed discs for all the other members, one a month, for the sheer geeky fun of it. One thing she’s noticed is that, especially with the more hardcore Music Nerds involved, they tend to make mixes that follow what she calls “that intentionally-multigenre'd structure you probably know all too well from music aficionados.” In other words, everyone makes sure to show off the breadth of their eclecticism, even if truth be told, half of their favorite songs are by the Rolling Stones.

I am, to an extent, as guilty as the next geek – I’ve got a few things in the collection that are mostly just genre-specific investigations that I may not have fallen for entirely, but I am somewhat loathe to get rid of since I figure I “should” get it. In other words, for everyone who faithfully buys all of the Ethiopiques discs at Other Music, I bet there are more people who display them than listen to them.

One of the genres the aficionados never seems to miss is the Brazilian/Tropicalia that is all the rage amongst those in the know. Arto Lindsay, who came up in the extreme-noise wing of NYC’s No Wave scene (he bashed his guitar strings in DNA and the first version of the Lounge Lizards – Oh, the things I know!) went on to embrace his roots in Brazilian music in various ways. Both as a member of the Ambitious Lovers and under his own name, Arto makes Brazilian music that also has some Noo Yawk skronk and funk to it, making it just so.

Truth be told, I like both of these albums quite a bit: they’re rhythmically enticing in a way that, say Paul Simon’s ethnomusicological experiments rarely quite are, and the songs & melodies are generally pretty captivating. I’ve seen Arto do this stuff live, and it’s gently but decidedly enthralling.

And yet…(there was clearly an “And yet” coming, right?), how often do I find myself thinking, “What I could really go for now is some South American music, but filtered through a downtown experimentalist sensibility”? Not too often, I confess. But I think I want that to change – whenever I pull out records like these, or some of the scant Afrobeat I’ve got scattered here and there, it makes me really happy, and it feels like something I could grow (read: mature) into. Jenn’s looking to start a new mix-CD club that avoids the intentionally-multigenre'd structure, but maybe it’s a good thing to get a dose of those other genres more than I do.

SISOSIG? I have to admit that going in, I assumed these would be on the Go pile. But giving them a fresh listen and a good think, I think I’d be better served holding onto them. There may be a day when I’m not reaching for noisy pop quite as often (heaven forbid!), and records like these should do the trick nicely.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Completely Nostalgic

Alloy Orchestra
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Alloy Orchestra
Album: Silents
Source: Promo

One of the reasons The Beast has swelled to its current size has to do with the fact that I am both somewhat of a completist AND a total sucker for nostalgia. I like putting all the pieces into the puzzle, and I'll be even more enthusiastic if the final product keys up a good memory.

As a result, it turns out I've been fooling myself a little about this disc. The Alloy Orchestra is a three-piece group that writes and performs original scores for old silent films. They use all sort of synthesizers and weird junk-percussion, all in the service of modernistic msuci that doesn't feel out of place with films like 1915's Lost World and the 1922 vampire classic Nosferatu.

On top of that, the keyboard player is Roger Miller, who is also one-third of Mission of Burma, a nearly perfect rock band with a great sound and a lot of patience. So this album not only brought back memories of great Alloy performances (like Lost World at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and Buster Keaton's super-excellent The General in Prospect Park - man oh man do I love silent films with live music), but it helps make my Mission of Burma collection just a tad more complete.

Except that it only barely does the former, and the latter not at all. Of the five short film scores included on Silents, I have seen exactly one (Lost World). So it's mostly memories of having seen the group, not any of these particular pieces.

And lo and behold, when I took this off the shelf...Roger Miller ain't on it, neither. Seems he took over for Caleb Sampson, the keyboardist on this disc. Not a note of Mr. Miller's, and very few notes I've seen along with the film.

SISOSIG? After reviewing the evidence, I'm afraid the jury has sentenced this one to death row. Not that I need the nostalgia and/or completist factors to enjoy the music, but the truth is this music is amazing with the films...and good, but not great, without it.

History, In Order

Mose Allison
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Mose Allison
Album: The Best of Mose Allison
Source: Traded for a book

One of the ways I'm blowing my own mind just a little as I go through The Beast has to with the fact that I seem to be able to remember the circumstances behind the acquistion of nearly every CD here. I mean, there are over 1,500 pices, and while I'm sure I'll hit a few blind spots, as of right now it's all clear as day in my mind how they came to me. Contrast this with the fact that I do not know the number for my savings account (I memorized my checking account number, and that seemed good enough), and you can see where I might be a little alarmed.

I'm not really surprised, tho - I've always had a talent for retaining ridiculously trivial information, seemingly at the expense of "useful" stuff.

In fact, the first few years of The Beast's existence were underwritten by a feat of trivial memory. From the time of my first CD purchases the summer after 8th grade until somewhere around my junior year of college, I had The Beast arranged by order of purchase. It probably started out as just a lazy move (put the next new one at the end of the shelf), but it turned into a semi-OCD thing as the collection grew into the multiple 100s, and I not only still kept them in purchase order, but I knew where each piece went.

No, for real: when it would get boxed up to be moved, I could (and, of course, would) put it back in "order." Friends in college who were onto my system would try to fool me by rearranging things when I was out of the room; I would come back, and get it all back where it should go.

It was almost a sad day when I decided it had to be alphabetized. The truth was I was probably topping over 500, and it was just getting hard to find stuff. Still, there was something nice about being able to look over the history of my musical acquisitions, to be able to see phases and new loves and old standbys all laid out chronologically. They formed a sort of personal history that, all these years later, I don't think I'd be able to put back into place.

This disc came through a rare trade. Lee wanted my copy of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and he offered this up in exchange. All I knew about Mose Allison at that point was that my beloved Pixies wrote a song about him ("Allison," from Bossanova); between that and Lee's recommendation, I was sold. Once I listened to it, I knew I had met a new love to file into the boxes of my musical history book.

(P.S. - I also have a semi-funny Mose story. One year my folks took me to see Mose play at Zanzibar Blue for my birthday. He was seated at the bar as we squeezed into the club. When we got to the table, my dad claimed not to have noticed him, even though we'd practically bumped right into him. When I described what Mose was wearing, Dad looked at me with surprise and asked, "You mean to tell me Mose Allison is white?")

SISOSIG? A keeper by a long shot. Mose is a guy with lots of highlights in a long career, and a good-sized best-of suits him well. All of his biggest tunes - "Your Mind is on Vacation," "Your Molecular Structure," "I Don't Worrry About a Thing" - are hear, plus a few keepers that aren't as famous. At 20 tracks, it's a just-right dose of this seventh son of a seventh son.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Get It? Got It? Good.

Artist: Geri Allen
Album: Eyes...In the Back of Your Head
Source: Promo

I don't feel like I'm bragging when I say that it's the rare album that totally stumps me. And I'm not talking about albums that take some time to open up in my ears - I've worked with "growers" like Versus' The Stars Are Insane that didn't instantly yield their depths to me, and some of my favorite discs take a little time. Most of Yo La Tengo's catalogue takes years to fully unfold, and I swear it took nearly a dozen spins through Bill Frisell's Blues Dream before I even noticed the horn section.

But this Geri Allen disc just has me stumped. I've listened to it many times since getting it in 1996. I've seen her live (comped at Zanzibar Blue for previewing her appearance there), I've studied up on her (she's married to trumpeter and Miles Davis protege Wallace Roney, for instance), I dig the other musicians on the disc (Ornette plays sax twice, her husband helps out, and Cyro Baptista adds his particular percussive flair) and I've even got another record of hers that blows me away - The Year of the Dragon, with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. I mean, how hard can this be?

But when I listen to it, I just don't get it. Sometimes it sounds formless, sometimes it sounds crowded, sometimes minimal and sometimes quite beautiful. I just can't seem to get my head around it, slip inside the record and get carried away by the music. In fact, I just listened to it the other day, in preparation for this entry...and I can't recall a note of it, with the exception of Baptista's odd, shaking percussion on one of the early tracks.

I've worked with Geri and with this disc, and I'm no further along than I was in '96. What gives?

SISOSIG? I'm torn - on the one hand, I've had it with this album, which has had a decade to grow on me; on the other, I've had too many experiences where I didn't "get" a disc until much, much later. I'm tempted to keep giving this one another shot (and another...), but I'm also ready to pack it in and move on. Any thoughts on which way to go here?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Under Cover

Artist: Air Miami
Album: Me, Me, Me
Source: Promo

The best thing about promo copies of CDs is obvious: they're free. Sure, you may have to do a little work in exchange for them (very little, a lot of the time), but you save $10-20, and usually get paid on top of that.It's the sweetest scam going, if music is what you like. And it is what I like, fo' sho'.

But if what you also like is the disc's packaging, then sometimes with promos you're SOL. Many record companies scale back the packaging on promos in one way or another, from minimal carboard sleeves (in lieu of the standard jewel case) to blurb-happy black-and-white covers that trumpet the disc's myriad qualities in lieu of showing off the cover art. The reasons are clear, and hard to argue with.

For a packaging fan, it can be tough. This promo copy of Air Miami's sole long-player came in the drab, monochrome cover seen here. Contrast it with the "real" cover art here, and you can see what you're losing with the promo. But the truth is that sometimes you really do get what you pay for - I got to forego the purchase price that "civilians" had to shoulder, and all I got in return was a phenomenally fun album of jangly indie-pop (courtesy of 2/3 of the latter-day lineup of Unrest) that never gets stale or boring, delivered in a cover that is both.

SISOSIG? Cover-art issues aside, this album is just great. Its baker's dozen tracks are all too brief, and all too good to pass up. (It is worth noting that while everything here is fab, none of it even touches the heights hit by Air Miami's debut 7", the under-two-minute burner "Airplane Rider.")

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Breaking Up Ain't Hard to Do (With the Right Soundtrack)

Artist: The Afghan Whigs
Albums: Gentlemen; What Jail is Like (EP)
Source: Bought used (G); Promo (WJIL)

In college I was a creative writing major, but that was mostly practical (seriously - aside from math/science, writing is sort of the closest you can come to learning a practical skill at a liberal-arts school), and my minor was religion. But I would have probably preferred it the other way 'round: I was, and continue to be fascinated by religion, about the stories we tell about the world and the rituals we create to deal with that way of seeing the world.

I am a man of rituals, for sure. The one that's pertinent here is The Break-Up Music Ritual. When I went through a romantic break-up, major or minor, I had a set of records I would listen to. The order I listened in didn't matter (and entree into the ritual playlist was open - my mind was not closed to a new, excellent break-up record), but the ritual was more or less the same: Instead of trying to make myself feel better with counteractive emotional input (ie, listen to happy songs to cheer myself up), I would heighten the feeling, rev it up until it crystalized and became exquisite. Somewhere in there, I'd have a moment of catharsis, with a soundtrack. Then I'd feel OK.

The list went something like: Husker Du's Flip Your Wig (plus usually Warehouse, for good measure), The Mountain Goats' Sweden, Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, Superchunk's Foolish, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, any album by Scrawl, and the platter at hand: Gentlemen, by The Afghan Whigs.

Each of those records had a role to play in the process; some are blindly angry, some heartbreakingly sad, some defeated, some drawing a semi-articulate triumph out of inarticulate rage. Gentlemen is just plain mean, with singer Greg Dulli taking on the role of the guy who's had the girl, fucked her, fucked her over and moved on when she ran out of whiskey. He knows what he's doing, doesn't apologize for it, and even gets off singing like he's the wounded one at the end of the day.

I could never be that guy, but it sure was cathartic to channel him for 40 minutes or so. It always helped, and for that I am forever grateful to this record; plus, these days I can just enjoy it for being a set of great songs, played with cutting skill and put across just right by all involved.

And of course, here's another thing to be thankful to Eileen for: she loves me for real, and I'm confident that I won't need my Break-Up Music Ritual again.

SISOSIG? Both keepers, I'm afraid. Gentlemen was there for me when I needed it; what kind of guy would I be to ditch it once I no longer required its services? A guy just like Dulli, I guess, but like I said - I ain't that guy. The EP is good fun, too - some live Motown covers, a take on an Ass Ponys tune, and the killer title track.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Thank-You Notes

Artist: Cannonball Adderley
Albums: Somethin' Else; Know What I Mean?
Source: Promo (SE); Bought used (KWIM)

My wife, Eileen, is very good about writing thank-you notes. After we got married, I constantly heard from people how astonished they were at the speed with which we dispatched our thank-yous (and personally written; no cookie-cutter notes here). It's a good trait, and one I don't resist when she works to instill it in me.

It's easy to think to write a thank-you note when someone gives you a thing; there is a physical transaction made, and you know to refer to the object. But what about when someone turns you on to a great band or a near-perfect record? It's a "gift" that, oftentimes, will stay with you longer than the china placesetting or decorative knick-knack will...but I can't think of a single time I've written a thank-you note when someone has given the gift of a stellar recommendation.

Lee is probably my closest friend, one of those long-serving soldiers who I continue to meet anew as we grow older together. I've known him since college, and we've never lost touch or been out of each other's lives since then. He was the best man at my wedding, and I look forward to being there for his (whenever that may be), and having him there when we have kids, when we become old (or at least older) men, and whatever else is ahead of us.

One thing that has always been a bond between us, from the beginning, is music. In our 30s, we can still count on each other to head out to a show or get excited about a band. In college, when I was just starting to get into jazz, Lee was a buddy who was already steeped in the genre, and so I casually sought his advice. Right off the bat, he pointed to Somethin' Else as one of his favorites, and told me to give it a listen. I did, and dammit if he wasn't right on the nose. It was just a quick tip, but also a gift that has kept on giving for more than a decade now.

The other Cannonabll Adderley disc I own is also kind of a gift-tip from Lee. He gave me a book about the making of Miles Davis'Kind of Blue, and one of the essays talked up Know What I Mean? as a stellar piece of post-Blue modal jazz. I eBay'd it, and dammit if this one wasn't right on the nail, too.

Two gifts, and I've never gotten around to the thank-you note. Well, better late than never, right? Thanks, buddy - you didn't put these in my hands, but you got them to me nonetheless, and that's a hell of a gift.

SISOSIG? If anything, I don't have nearly enough Cannonball records; having fewer would be a crime against the state. These two are near-perfect, and a joy to hear every time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gigs & Flyers

Artist: Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Albums: In C; Born to be Wild in the U.S.A. 2000
Source: Bought new from the band

My man Mike Watt says everything can be divided into "gigs and flyers" - if it's not a gig, then it's something advertising the gig. He includes records in the "flyers" category, opining that a good record just makes people want to see the live show.

This tossed-off bit of Watt Wisdom is essentially an inversion of years of music-biz gospel: in the pre-recording days, live musicians were employed by sheet-music sellers to get people interested in the paper product, and what latter-day band in its right mind goes on a tour that isn't "promoting" the new album? Most people see the gig as the flyer for the product, and would probably stare at Watt cockeyed for suggesting otherwise.

I'm not really sure where I stand on the subject. For every Yo La Tengo or Superchunk - whose live shows are both works of art in & of themselves and serious P.R. for those records - there's a band like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (whose gigs render their records irrelevant) or The Spaceheads (whose records make infinitely more sense after you've seen it happen live). But either way, I just know I love live music - there are shows that are years behind me (Mountain Goats @ the Khyber; Lounge Lizards @ Tramps; Herbie Hancock @ U.Penn; Jonathan Richman @ TLA; Mekons @ the Bowery Ballroom) that I can still feel vibrating through me, gigs that sold the band and the record and the idea that the world was OK, better than OK, for a little while.

These two discs highlight the effects of live music in a pair of nutshells. The first, In C, I bought directly from the band after a mind-warping set at 2002's Terrastock in Boston. The Acid Mothers Temple is, to put it simply, a group of outer-space Japanese noise-hippies who live together in some sort of commune (reportedly), take the stage in weird wizard costumes (certainly) and whip up an unholy guitar-heavy noise that is either total fucking godhead or total crap (absolutely).

At Terrastock, they hit the godhead smack dab in the middle of its third eye. I was mesmerized, transported and just plain rocked to pieces by their sound and look and overall effect. Nothing could have stopped me from plunking down some cash on a bit of their oddly-titled merch, and this one included a long take on Terry Riley's classic minimalist composition "In C" plus a pair of long-form AMT originals ("In E" and "In D," of course). Not a word is said or sung in any of the tracks, but the whole thing speaks near-messianic volumes, and I'm taken back to Boston every time I hear it.

Born to be Wild in the U.S.A. 2000, on the other hand, sticks an unbearable concert experience directly into my frontal lobes. A year after Terrastock, AMT was playing a gig around the corner from my apartment, on my birthday. It was too perfect to pass up, and I dragged my Music Buddies, Lee and Debbie (more on them TK) to see it and celebrate with some good ol' fashioned Japanese noise wizadry. Before they even took the stage, I headed to the merch table and picked this one up, figuring it would be OK. After all, they were magical beings or some such thing.

Then Psychic Paramount, the opening band, hit the stage and played one of the most singularly unpleasant sets I've ever witnessed. It wasn't even bad - it was just punishing. The noise went straight through to your bones, earplugs felt like they were made of dried banana peels, and the whole thing dug a deep pit in all three of our stomachs. By the time AMT was up, we were already too noise-damaged to care. When the Temple cranked it, the sound was just painful instead of transporting. "If it's too loud, you're too old," they say - but I was young enough to know the difference between loud and an audio assault. No one made it to the encore.

The capper came the next day (or whenever I'd properly recovered) as I put my new CD in the player. It's a poorly recorded live disc, of lesser quality than lots of perfectly repectable bootlegs to be had. And, of course, the gig it's a flyer for is a circus of pain, something I'd rather forget than be taken back to via CD.

SISOSIG? I'm gonna have to split the difference on this one: In C is an all-time keeper, the kind of thing I can both age with and stay young through; Born to be Wild..., on the other hand, has got to go. It's taking up valuable space on the shelf and in my psyche.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: Abunai!
Album: The Mystic River Sound
Source: Promo

When people talk about music's relationship to memory, it's almost always in the context of remembering love (lost, gained, abused or abusive) or pining for lost youth (read: young love). I'll be getting to plenty of the former, for sure, but this one seems to more immediately strum the chords of the latter.

I'm probably a little too young to be reflecting on the days of my "youth," though what's youth but just yourself in the past? There was a moment in my not-too-distant past (Philadelphia, the late 1990s) that was a sort of perfect storm of music loving: I had steady work as a writer of record reviews and band interviews, which meant seemingly unlimited access to free CDs and concerts, and the side benefit of effortless access to information about bands and albums. It seemed like I barely had to put my mind to it; the press releases and promo copies and jibber-jabber with fellow rockcritters simply poured musical knowledge into my receptive brain.

That last element might be where the real yearing/pining thing comes in. During these years I had a little tribe of fellow music enthusiasts who were good friends and easy companions - anytime someone had an inkling to check out a band, it was simple enough to rustle up interest from at least one or two others. We didn't even need a reason, and there were points when I was probably out seeing bands two or three nights a week (Which didn't seem like much at the time, but now would feel crushing). We were young, mostly single and generally employed, which meant we had time, money and the enthusiast's drive to rock out at the drop of a hat.

One of my most frequent rock-club companions was Chris. He was a writer, a music geek with unusually open-minded ears, and a guy with one of the strangest senses of humor I've ever come across (and I say that after several years of hanging out with part- and full-time comedians...). He liked noisy music and loved giving nicknames to seemingly anyone and anything (I was "Barton," which came from an elaborate roundabout of jokes that started with guitarist Alan Licht and ended with Barton Fink). By the time we went to the Khyber to check out Abunai!, he'd already dubbed them "Abondanza!" From that moment on, there was really no point in referring to them as Abunai! with him, so why bother?

This band was its own kind of perfect storm. Part of the wave of new, noisy psychedelic music (ie, druggy, jammy music made by people more under the influence of Sonic Youth than Jerry Garcia), Abondanza! wrote folky-melodic tunes and rocked them with florid distortion and entirely reasonable harmonies. I'll admit that they were not nearly as good live that night as they are on this record (where each track is attributed to a different Boston-area "band," like The Tea Tokens or The Seven Seals - a move designed to delight rockist wordsmiths), but they projected a kind of youth-fueled joy from the stage that it was hard not to dig just being in the room with them. I rarely get to have a new band this good just drop into my lap, nor do I go out to hear bands like this as much anymore, and if that ain't something to pine for, at least a little, I don't know what is.

SISOSIG? (I think it's time to start abbreviating the titular phrase, if only to stave off the repetitive stress for a few extra days.) Finally, something to keep! This record is fun to hear, read and remember - what more can you ask for from less than an hour's worth of music? Abondanza!, indeed.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Submission to Subscription

Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Arist: Aarktica
Title: ...or you could just go through your whole life and be happy anyway (Bliss Out v.18)
Source: Subscription

It seems to have taken exactly two discs to land directly on proof that I am a big fat dork. Or, really, a regular ol' Music Geek. This CD is incontrovertible evidence of a weakness of mine: subscription series. Indie labels prey on people like me by creating series of super-special exclusive subscription-only records that you pay for up front (sucker!) and get delivered down the road. It's silly, it's a scam to get you to pay for something way before you have it, and I'm almost totally helpless in the face of it.

Darla's Bliss Out series is, I think, both the first and (maybe) last subscription series I've been a part of. I say it's the first because it was in 1998 or '99 that I send off $100 to Darla to join the already-in-progress series, by which each month for a year you got an "exclusive" CD of blissy space-rock created especially for the series. Nevermind that any old person with a few extra bucks could eventually buy each part of the series a few months after it came out - I would get it first and get them in order, and I think that means I'm special or something.

Fast forward to 2005, and I'd managed to get about eight of my 12 "monthly" Bliss Out discs (including this one). And of those eight, maybe half of them were stuff I dug (not really including this one). A couple of months before my wedding, I told Darla I'd had enough waiting. They settled up and sent me four older discs from the series, and I think I was a grown-up after that.

Should It Stay or Should It Go? At first, I was convinced that this one would have to stay - it was part of a "set," and the geek in me couldn't bear to break it up. But let's be real here: I started my subscription at #14, which makes me no kind of completist - I was just late for the party and got to have some of the crappy beer left in the back of the fridge while everyone else was pairing off and heading home. This disc is soft, sort-of-melodic drone, like half-baked Windy & Carl, and anytime I reach for it...well, I usually listen to Windy & Carl instead.

Two up, two down. This project is starting to frighten me - I think deep down, I figured I wouldn't actually decide to get rid of anything, and already I'm sending two to the gallows.

Got Myself A Gun

Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: A3
Album: Exile on ColdHarbour Lane
Source: Promo

CD #1, and already I feel like I have some explaining to do. This is one of many, many parts of The Beast that I did not pay for - in fact, I never even asked for. It's a promo disc, from my years as a music critic or music writer or whatever it should be called. Suffice to say I wrote things about music, and people (usually) paid me for it. May someone have mercy on my soul.

But show me a rock critic who says he isn't in it for the money, and I'll show you one who's a junkie for the Free Stuff pusher. It's the best part of the gig, really - you get free stuff, and you're already in a better mood before you even start listening and/or writing (more later on writing without much listening). Like the woman you don't really want to date anymore, but the sex is too good to give up, trying to stop writing about music is tough, because you know you're going to have to start paying for your junk again.

You'll also stop getting things like this A3 disc: music you'd never have paid for, but that you kind of dig once you hear it. This is from 1997, just as electronics were making their first serious inroads into slightly south-of-the-mainstream music, and you can hear that it's not quite there yet. But it's fun, catchy and cool - the last part, especially, because I got this in 1997, and a few years later, when The Sopranos hit the air, I instantly recognized the song over the credits: "Woke Up This Morning," which is track #3, and appears in a bunch of remixes on the bonus disc. Not the first (and far from the last) time that I was glad I hung on to something that I only sort of liked, because something in the grooves came in handy later. And by "handy" I mean that I got all excited that I'd heard the song and exactly zero other people cared even a little bit.

Should It Stay or Should It Go? One of my writing teachers in college preached the gospel of "knowing when to kill your children" - the painfull act of cutting out something that means something to you, because it's just not right for the piece. Which is a terribly overdramatic way of saying, if I want to hear "Woke Up This Morning," I can watch The Sopranos; otherwise, there's really no reason to hold onto this disc. I'ts good, but something I pretty much never reach for. First up, first casualty. Bye-bye, A3.

The Project

Now, as to why I decided to create "Should It Stay or Should It Go?" As with just about anything - from 99.9% of good pop songs to the Trojan War - it started with a girl. In the summer of 2003, I met Eileen, a lovely lass from Rhode Island who lived in Queens and was dragged to my birthday party in Brooklyn. We went out on some dates. Then some more. On Memorial Day Weekend of 2004, she moved in with Hubley J. Cat and me in Brooklyn. A couple of months later, Eileen ordered dessert at a nice restaurant in Cold Spring, NY, and found a diamond ring sitting next to her bowl of berries. On June 11, 2005, we got married, and thus far I'm just pretty damn happy that it's all gone the way it has.

But no one would believe me if I said it was all perfect. There's been one consistent bone of contention between us, and even bringing it up inevitably leads to an argument of some sort: my record collection.

See, I'm worse than a Record Collector - I'm a Record Geek. I just love the things. I mean, I love the music, too; but there's something I just can't get past, no matter how fast we hurtle into the MP3/iTunes era, about a CD, an LP or a 7-inch single. They're great.

I love them.
I love Eileen.
I'm in a love triangle, and something's got to give.

So I started trying to weed out the collection. But it's not easy. I don't have an exact count (yet), but in general I'd estimate I've got about 1,500 CDs, 200 LPs, another 200 or so 7-inch singles, a clutch of box sets, and some cassettes still in the back of my closet. I mean, I know people who have more records, sure, but that's not the point. The point is: I live in a New York-sized 1-bedroom apartment, and this stuff takes up a lot of much-needed space.

Plus, there's The Future. Eileen and I are probably going to move in the next year or so. And we're going to start in on makin' some kiddies. Big stuff. Hard to get my head around.

But here's something I can grasp: moving 2,000 records is an enormous pain in the ass. I've done it, even when there were fewer pieces, and it's just ungodly difficult and unpleasant (and I'm not even the guy lifting all the boxes - I'm just talking about packing and unpacking The Beast). So I need to get rid of some.

Thus, Should It Stay or Should It Go? I'm going to go through the whole thing, face The Beast, and figure out what stays and what goes. Sometimes it'll be one at a time, sometimes a whole chunk at a time, but I will get through it. And I'm going to do more than get through it: I'm also going to get into it, think about these CDs and LPs and such, try to figure out why each one seems so hard to even consider putting up on eBay or (perish the thought) just throwing away. And I'm going to do it here, in front of anyone who might want to follow along, as a way to help keep me honest. Or at least on track.

In the Record Geek Bible (aka, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity), Rob asks, "What's wrong with wanting to be at home with your record collection?" Too true, but I'm not alone anymore. There's a girl and the future, and I need to make some room for them.