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Reviews: Fuck Buttons' Slow Focus

Fuck Buttons' Slow Focus

It’s been four years since Fuck Buttons’ last LP, the ceaselessly enthralling Tarot Sport, and I was starting to wonder when or even if the next one would arrive. Aside from a requisite remix 12” for “Olympians,” their interim output all arrived via Benjamin John Power’s solo project, Blanck Mass, whose 2011 self-titled LP explored the arpeggiated drone landscape populated by Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. That style offered a comfortable distance from Fuck Buttons’ rhythmically driven transcendence, but last year’s fantastic White Math / Polymorph EP added beats and energy, ultimately residing much closer to Power’s main gig. Couple this proximity with the fact that both Blanck Mass and Fuck Buttons had songs chosen for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and suddenly a permanent switch in priority becomes less far-fetched.

All such theories were instantly invalidated by Slow Focus’s lead track, “Brainfreeze.” The first twenty-five seconds reorient listener expectations with a hammering, tribal beat before any of the anticipated synthesizers arrive. As if that beat weren’t pummeling enough, reinforcements join the left channel, sloshing my brain from eardrum to eardrum. And yes, the synthesizers do arrive, a bewildering, maximalist array of seagull squiggles, slow-motion turbulence, machinist progressions, and the skyward-aiming glimmers that highlighted Tarot Sport. But at no point did I forget the chain of body blows coming from the drum tracks, even when they drop out mid-song for a much-needed breather.

Fuck Buttons could have easily employed this template throughout Slow Focus, thereby reestablishing the dividing line between it and the less punishing Blanck Mass and stepping forward and away from Tarot Sport, but the six tracks that follow “Brainfreeze”—provided you succeed in pulling “Brainfreeze” off repeat—revel in subverting expectations. “Year of the Dog” cuts the beats out entirely, employing a rapid-fire rendition of Blanck Mass’s arpeggios to unsettling effect. Lead single The Red Wing” (sadly not a spoken-word narrative from Steve Yzerman in the vein of Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder”) sways sensuously on an unrushed hip-hop beat, even when the foundational synth kicks into overdrive. “Sentients” reminds how well Fuck Buttons have sublimated the noise impulses of Street Horrrsing (i.e., the unintelligible yelling) into ear-turning oddities. Its 8-bit enemy chomping and half-buried feedback tangles add to, rather than overpower, the song’s John Carpenter soundtrack atmosphere. “Prince’s Prize” borrows the funhouse-mirror distortion of Clark’s “Totem Crackerjack.” The appropriately named “Stalker” spotlights the darker tones running throughout Slow Focus with its ten-minute lurk, demonstrating the palette shift from Andrew Weatherall’s often-gleaming production values on Tarot Sport.

If not for its closing track, I’d argue that Slow Focus purposefully sidesteps the immediate bliss-out of “The Lisbon Maru” and “Olympians,” but “Hidden XS” delivers one final narrative-denying blow with its propulsive beats and upward-arcing melodies. It’s both a fist-pump and a tangible exhale, the polar opposite of the cranium-crushing “Brainfreeze.”

I haven’t mentioned the fact that Slow Focus marks the first instance of Fuck Buttons eschewing a name producer (Mogwai’s John Cummings, Weatherall) in favor of handling those duties themselves, in part because there’s no discernible drop in fidelity or inspiration. What this decision does indicate is how the group has gone from being defined by outside sources, whether producers or the wildly divergent names dropped in reviews of Street Horrrsing (Prurient, My Bloody Valentine, Suicide, etc.), to firmly existing within its own realm. It’s more natural now to compare Fuck Buttons to their peers, their side projects, or their past material than to locate them within a broad field of reference points, even if a few of those still pop up. Slow Focus doesn’t offer the same mind-melting revelation of fulfilled promise that Tarot Sport did, because it can’t—I approached it knowing full well what heights they’re capable of reaching. Instead, “Brainfreeze,” “The Red Wing,” and “Hidden XS” excel at exploring unconquered terrain within a defined realm. Subverting expectations may lack the sexiness of surpassing them, but it’s an essential trait for long-term success. Consider my fears of Fuck Buttons’ priority or lifespan completely assuaged.

Reviews: My Bloody Valentine's M B V

My Bloody Valentine's M B V

I half-joked on Twitter last weekend that there should be a 22-year moratorium before writing about My Bloody Valentine’s M B V, exaggerating the vast difference between the wait to receive and the wait to critique. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the major outlets to disregard my edict. Some reviews rolled in Sunday morning—“I’ve listened to it three times and I was super high the first two but here goes”—before I even got a chance to hear the album. (Moral: Always bring your laptop on trips in case My Bloody Valentine follows through on their long-standing threat to finally release a new record.) Most took three or four days, like Pitchfork’s 9.1 Best New Music tag. Anything longer than that felt remarkably patient, like Chris Ott’s piece in Maura Magazine (subscription for iPhone/iPad only). By Friday, I was willing to break the edict myself for one simple reason: I wanted to write about M B V, even if finality of opinion is impossible now (or ever).

The central point that rang out to me, over and over, as I listened to M B V on repeat this week, was that it’s undeniably My Bloody Valentine. A significant percentage of my record collection owes intellectual royalties to Loveless—so many titles that extract a part of its appeal, cross-breed it with a newer movement, slavishly copy its technical approaches—but M B V reminded me more of what those bands lacked, not what they offered over this long-overdue return. That Kevin Shields’ guitar work can remain both inventive and familiar is a testament to the master, given how many others have explored his terrain. That Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s hushed vocal smears remain singularly intoxicating is an equal surprise, since that style was ripped off almost as often with far less notice. M B V initially stood out as a lazy title, but its shorthand is appropriate; at last, the other side of the “MBV meets” equation is empty.

Yet MBV needs to be (re)defined. Debbie Googe’s interview with Drowned in Sound can be read as liner notes for M B V, confirming that she didn’t play on the album, that the drums have been “added and then taken off at least once” (with Jimi Shields getting the first crack before Colm O’Ciosoig redid them), that Bilinda Butcher came in to do vocals but nothing else. All of these facts seem like eye-openers until I confirmed that virtually every one is a repeat of Loveless’s recording. Googe didn’t play on that record, Butcher didn’t play guitar on that record, O’Ciosoig’s drums were a mix of loops and live performance. (He did author the soundscape “Touched.”) Loveless took nineteen studios, whereas M B V took twenty-two years, but at their essence, they’re both Kevin Shields solo albums.

My main issues with M B V stem from this point—the drums are often seem like an afterthought, the bass is frequently challenging to locate. There’s a buried percussive pulse and a vague bass throb to the womb-like opener “She Found Now,” but if you finish hearing the song with anything other than the vocal coos or the careful swoops of the guitar in your memory banks, you must be Debbie Googe or Colm O’Ciosoig preparing for the next round of tour dates. The mid-tempo shuffle of “Only Tomorrow,” “Who Sees You,” and “If I Am” could pass for an under-rehearsed live band, but keyboard lullaby “Is This and Yes” only picks up a neighbor’s kick drum sound-check. “New You” is the sprightliest pop song on M B V and its up-front bass line is a major reason why. Much of the percussive attention on the album steers to the last three songs, which eschew the pretense of live drumming in favor of pounding (“In Another Way”) or swirling (“Wonder 2”) drum loops. This approach recalls Shields’ remix work in the late ’90s, which jumped on jungle and drum ‘n’ bass trends (see remixes of Mogwai’s “Mogwai Fear Satan” and Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater” for starters). The stuttering, headache-inducing “Nothing Is” marks the only point when one of Loveless’s descendents overshadows the legitimate follow-up for me; I’d rather hear the metallic repetition of Glifted’s Under and In (the side project of Hum guitarist Tim Lash).

It’s tempting to imagine M B V with a more prominent, more considered rhythmic foundation, but that impulse just redirects into the decades-old Loveless fan-fiction competition. If you want My Bloody Valentine with a sturdier, more forceful rhythm section, there are bands for that itch. If you want My Bloody Valentine with contemporary drum programming, there are bands for that itch. If you want My Bloody Valentine with no drums at all, there are bands for that itch. You can spend years—literally, I have spent years—tracking down those alternate permutations of MBV’s sound, and the most confounding aspect of M B V’s existence (reminder: a new My Bloody Valentine album actually exists) is reconciling decades of genetic experiments with the re-emergence of the real thing. Sometimes those experiments were successful, even to the point where other reviewers think My Bloody Valentine didn’t have to follow-up Loveless because the Lilys or Sugar or whoever else actually did.

I can understand if that roadblock cuts off some people from appreciating M B V, but repeating my central point, I’m overcome with relief that what I’m hearing is undeniably My Bloody Valentine. Even if “She Found Now” is a dream, it’s one I’ll feverishly try to document upon waking, but always fail to capture. “Who Sees You” lopes without urgency, but it’s to allow Shields’ woozy guitar lines proper room to sway. Yes, the lyrics of “If I Am” are nearly impossible to pinpoint, but that point doesn’t stop me from humming the vocal melody hours after hearing it. “In Another Way” may be propelled by a cyborg drummer, but its combination of aggressive riffs and floating melodies could outlast the throttling loops by hours without wearing thin. All of these moments reassert what My Bloody Valentine offers then and now, an inscrutable pairing of the vague and the specific, the tangible and the intangible.

Let me be perfectly clear, even if My Bloody Valentine themselves discourage the practice. M B V is neither Loveless’s equal nor superior. You don’t have to squint hard to see its flaws (and implying that they’re even present on Loveless can be seen as sacrilege). Unlike Loveless, it’s plausible that a few of My Bloody Valentine’s challengers surpassed M B V. But what they did not do was make M B V irrelevant or ineffectual. It still surprises, and not just through its mere existence. It still demands more listens from me, and not just because of its historical importance. It’s an album loaded with qualifying statements (“for a reunited band,” “for such a long layoff,” “for being from a different era”) that somehow sheds these statements. By the close of “Wonder 2,” I’ve stopped comparing M B V to my rolodex of descendants and focus only on the record at hand. That’s the achievement here, and it is by no means a minor one.

One final consideration: What if M B V opens the floodgates? Terrence Malick took twenty years to follow Days of Heaven with The Thin Red Line and has since been slowly accelerating his rate of output, with a shockingly large slate of projects on the horizon. That’s my desired result: Kevin Shields, ceaseless tinkerer, becomes Kevin Shields, creator of finished products. M B V’s existence in 2013 shocked me, but the release of two more My Bloody Valentine albums in the calendar year would not.

Reviews: Me You Us Them's Post-Data

Me You Us Them's Post-Data

One of my earliest memories of a home-run band comparison was Parasol Mail Order’s catalog description of Paik’s 1998 debut album Hugo Strange as a cross between Polvo and My Bloody Valentine. Those bands were titans of my late ’90s listening habits—not that I’ve abandoned those predilections—and I watered at the mouth at the promise of a new group combining Polvo’s tunings and My Bloody Valentine’s textures. When I heard Hugo Strange, I immediately understood where the comparison came from, but also grasped that there was more to Paik’s woozy instrumentals than a genetic splicing of those two aesthetics. (This point was hammered home by Paik’s superbly sprawling 2002 LP The Orson Fader and its tidier 2006 counterpart Monster of the Absolute, both highly recommended.) If only all such tantalizing comparisons could bear such fertile fruit.

Perhaps it’s déjà vu, but more than a decade later, Me You Us Them signals the same touchstones. The specters of Polvo and My Bloody Valentine cast spells on their 2010 debut LP Post-Data. You could hear opening track “Any Time,” check the properly formatted citations of Polvo’s queasy riff-bending and My Bloody Valentine’s gossamer shine on the lead guitar, and chalk it up to a perfect hybrid. But that song’s clear vocal melodies, which culminate in an earworm of a falsetto chorus hook, break the equation. Much like Paik, the merger of My Bloody Valentine and Polvo is only a starting point for Me You Us Them.

Post-Data offers plenty of other head-turning points of comparison. “Re-Entry” starts out by pairing jet engine swooshes with “ba-ba-ba” vocal hooks, but its half-shouted chorus recalls Pinback’s more energetic moments. The chorus of “Pretty Nettles” could have slipped onto Self’s Subliminal Plastic Motives. The wistful shoegaze of “Wish You Luck” hits the sweet spot of late ’90s groups like All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, while the loping arcs of “Drugs” mine similar terrain as contemporary acts like The Depreciation Guild. “Big Time” and “iQuit” step through the haze for urgent indie rock, complete with tricky guitar breaks. The group’s self-titled song layers guitar and keyboards over a nearly spoken-word delivery reminiscent of DC’s great Candy Machine. “As of Now” hits the cool stride of Sonic Youth. In case it’s not obvious, all of these comparisons are flattering, recalling broad swaths of my record collection.

Post-Data closes with its standout track, “Loving like Lawyers” (which they recently performed as a seven-piece, accompanied by fellow New Yorkers Appomattox). Starting out with pounding drums, then adding tremolo-heavy guitar, longing vocals, and a slippery bass line, “Lawyers” offers no obvious points of comparison, just a surplus of confident songwriting. The song head-fakes a fadeout at 2:48 before launching into a soaring, texture-laden outro. “Loving like Lawyers” acts as both a summary of what preceded it and glimpse into Me You Us Them’s possible future. (I underscore possible, since “Research,” their scream-laced contribution to a 2011 split single with Bloody Knives, is a wonderfully unexpected left-turn from the majority of Post-Data). Returning to the Paik parallel, if Post-Data is Me You Us Them’s Hugo Strange, I cannot wait for their Orson Fader, when those initial touchstones have completely vanished, leaving only own signatures behind.

Me You Us Them’s Post-Data hasn’t strayed far from my listening pile, especially in the car, since I first heard it a few months ago. That’s high praise—I will never underrate an indie rock record with intriguing riffs and compelling hooks, since those are increasingly few and far between. Perhaps that’s why Post-Data recalls so many ’90s groups; that was when I spent plenty of time with each album because my financials (and the lack of file-sharing) dictated it. Now it’s all by choice, and I’d simply prefer to hear Post-Data again. Allow me to take a mulligan and slip Post-Data onto my top albums of 2010 list.

Mogwai Discographied Part Seven: What Happened After the Storm

If you'd like to catch up, part one covers Ten Rapid and the 4 Satin EP, part two covers Young Team and Kicking a Dead Pig / Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes, part three covers the No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) EP and Come on Die Young, part four covers the Mogwai EP and their entry in the Travels in Constants series, part five covers Rock Action and My Father My King, and part six covers Happy Songs for Happy People and Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003. This time I cover the infuriating mix of overblown expectations and moderate rewards of Mr. Beast, its two fans-only singles for Friend of the Night and Travel Is Dangerous, and their soundtrack for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Mogwai's Mr. Beast

Mr. Beast – Matador, 2006

Highlights: “Glasgow Mega-Snake,” “Auto-Rock,” “Friend of the Night,” “Travel Is Dangerous”

Low Points: Nothing egregious, but I’ll name “Emergency Trap” and “I Chose Horses” as the weakest links

Overall: After the underwhelming Happy Songs for Happy People, my expectations for Mogwai were at an all-time low. Yet Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, managed to perk up my ears by calling the forthcoming Mr. Beast “probably the best art rock album I've been involved with since Loveless. In fact, it's possibly better than Loveless.”

Better than Loveless, you say?

Now McGee’s both a hyperbolic fellow and Mogwai’s manager at the time, so the logical inclination is to take a statement like that with a grain of salt, but damned if it didn’t get my hopes up. Sadly, Mr. Beast is no Loveless. That point of comparison is absolutely baffling to me, since Mr. Beast is a tidy, effective condensation of what Mogwai’s done to date, not a vast leap forward. Not a genre-defining classic. Not an aesthetic touchstone for decades to follow. McGee’s claim did a massive disservice to Mogwai, since it stresses what Mr. Beast lacks and glosses over its strengths.

Mr. Beast’s strengths and weaknesses boil down to a single word: professionalism. Mogwai’s songs have never been so carefully honed, so diligently arranged. Back on Ten Rapid and Young Team, Mogwai were not nearly this meticulous. “New Paths to Helicon (Pt. 2)” is wonderfully minimal, just a few guitar lines winding together over a casual drum beat. “Tuner” is intimate and hushed. Stuart Braithwaite’s mumbled “Talked to cats for a while” is chillingly lonely. “Tracy” finds heartbreak in the spaces between the glockenspiel melody. Even their towering achievement, “Mogwai Fear Satan,” is built around three chords. These songs aren’t marvels of individual technical achievements (although Martin Bulloch slays on “Satan”), but they’re effective compositions. Yet as each album passed, those gaps were shaded in. They wrote more intricate arrangements, incorporated all five members equally, and brought in more collaborators. They became professionals.

By all means, Mogwai should be taking their craft seriously on their fifth proper LP. They should be professionals. If they’d continued to wing “Katrien” knock-offs, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. But this professionalism can be hard to love. The simple gaps and open spaces are few and far between, providing fewer jumping-off points for my imagination. Dusted Magazine’s scathing review of Mr. Beast closes with the assertion that, unlike Loveless, “there is no mystery - everything is on display.” While I don’t share Jon Dale’s spite for the material (or his considerably more esoteric taste in music), I can see his point. Post-rock, theoretically at least, requires such mystery. The usual absence of vocals/lyrics means that there’s no dominant interpretation of what the song is about. Instead, you fill in those gaps, provided that they exist. That’s the brilliance of “Mogwai Fear Satan” and the limitation of Mr. Beast.

Perhaps if Alan McGee hadn’t mentioned “art rock” or Loveless and instead claimed that Mr. Beast is Mogwai’s most rock-rock album, I would have initially viewed the record differently. There may not be a ton of mystery, but every one of these songs has something to offer and they all fit together as a solid album. Piano-driven opener “Auto Rock” is a forceful restructuring of Rock Action’s “Sine Wave,” recalculating its graphical plot into a straight diagonal between X and Y. The pounding drum beat is savagely effective. “Glasgow Mega-Snake” is a compact rocker with their meanest harmonic-laden riffs to date. “Acid Food” merges the hushed Braithwaite vocals and lap steel of “Cody” with the drum machines and gurgled electronics of Rock Action and Happy Songs for Happy People. “Travel Is Dangerous” is their most straightforward vocal indie rock song, closest to Aereogramme’s charging rockers. It’s hard to imagine Braithwaite having the confidence to pull “Travel” off on any prior Mogwai release. “Team Handed” improves those mid-tempo Come on Die Young songs with a longing melody and intrusive electronic touches. “Friend of the Night” frames one of their most polished piano melodies with blurred guitar and humming synths. The melancholy “Emergency Trap” floats by pleasantly. At 3:34, “Folk Death 95” is the tidiest condensation of Mogwai’s dynamic range here, hitting both the carefully arranged valleys and the textured guitar noise peaks. “I Chose Horses” features spoken Japanese vocals from Envy singer Tetsuya Fukagawa (who apparently traded his appearance for the right to completely rip off “Helicon One” for Envy’s “Further Ahead of Warp” from Insomniac Dose). Album closer “We’re No Here” is a bruising, six-minute evocation of the violence of “Like Herod.”

Every one of Mr. Beast’s songs is, at the very least, good. Some are excellent. There are no regular skips. No clear missteps. No padding. Mr. Beast has the best start-to-finish flow of any Mogwai album. Yet all of the prevailing critiques—it’s not a grand statement like Loveless; it lacks the open spaces of their finest works; there’s no overwhelming standout—are entirely valid. I’ve gone back and forth between these perspectives again and again during the course of writing about the album, rewriting it countless times to try to nail that internal back and forth.

It comes down to a simple realization: when I think about Mr. Beast, I like it less; when I listen to it, I like it more. That split is at the heart of criticism, the divide between higher-level thinking and gut reactions. Usually I find a healthy middle-ground, but Mr. Beast defies such finality. It’s either a disappointment in comparison to Mogwai’s finest works or a unique entry in their discography. If you can take McGee’s claims with a grain of salt and carry less baggage for Mogwai’s early work, it’s more likely to qualify for the latter status. Perhaps once I stop trying to write about the album, I’ll join you there.

Mogwai's Friend of the Night

Friend of the Night and Travel Is Dangerous – PIAS UK, 2006

Highlights: “Auto-Rock (Errors Remix)”

Low Points: “Like Herod (Live)” is better elsewhere

Overall: I’ve lumped together the two import-only singles from Mr. Beast, even though they have never been compiled as such. (You’ll have to wait until 2016’s deluxe edition of the album for that to happen.) Friend of the Night features two original b-sides, whereas Travel Is Dangerous offers two remixes and two live tracks. In 1997 I called these things CD5s, but apparently Travel Is Dangerous qualifies as an EP. We’ll see about that, Mogwai.

The two b-sides from Friend of the Night are perfect companion pieces for Mr. Beast, but not quite good enough to merit padding that album’s tidy runtime. “Fresh Crown” combines gentle piano, drum machine, and carefully pruned guitar feedback into a lovely package that ends all-too suddenly. “1% of Monster” pulls a familiar melodic pattern out of whirring noise and heavier drum pattern, recalling a more controlled version of “Superheroes of BMX.” Is it strange that these songs remind me most of earlier Mogwai b-sides?

Mogwai's Travel Is Dangerous

On the surface, Travel Is Dangerous is considerably less essential. Two remixes and two live takes, one of which is of “Like Herod,” which you can find in excellent versions on both Government Commissions and Special Moves. Yet the Errors remix of “Auto Rock” is a personal favorite, a natural incorporation of Mogwai’s stoic piano opener into Errors’ dance-friendly electronic post-rock. Hopefully it encourages you to track down Errors’ two LPs and EP, all released on Mogwai’s Rock Action label. Acid Casuals, a side-project of Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals, provide a playful remix of “Friend of the Night” that floats by calmly. As for the live tracks, I have little need for another take of “Like Herod,” while “We’re No Here” isn’t noticeably different.

“Fresh Crown,” “1% of Monster,” and the Errors remix of “Auto Rock” are all fine, but let’s be honest: neither of these singles offers anything as revelatory as “Superheroes of BMX,” “Small Children in the Background,” or “Stanley Kubrick.” Don’t feel any rush to track them down. Waiting until 2016 might be a prudent decision. In the meantime, check out Errors.

Mogwai's Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait – PIAS UK, 2006

Highlights: “7:25,” “Half Time,” “Black Spider”

Low Points: “Terrific Speech,” “Time and a Half”

Overall: I’ve spent less time with Mogwai’s soundtrack for the documentary film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait than any of their LPs. Its initial import-only release postponed my purchase of the album, only to later learn that the vinyl would never come stateside. I got a burned copy of the similarly import-only film from a friend, but my lone viewing of it didn’t floor me. Had I been a bigger fan of soccer/football at the time, perhaps it would have made more of an impression. But Mogwai’s soundtrack works best in conjunction with the film, not separated from it, so listening to it as a stand-alone album is an uphill battle.

This soundtrack’s foremost limitation is simple: it only shows the reserved, often minimal side of Mogwai. The “Rollerball,” “Burn Girl Prom Queen,” “Helps Both Ways,” “Emergency Trap,” “New Paths to Helicon (Part Two)” side. I enjoy that side of Mogwai’s music, but not exclusively. Think back to the stretch of Come on Die Young that lingers too long on mid tempos and clean guitar lines. I needed variety then, and I need it even more now. Mogwai’s Zidane soundtrack is 74 minutes long with the emphasis on long.

Repeated musical themes makes perfect sense for a film, but as an album, such repetition is tiresome. Here you have “Black Spider” and “Black Spider 2.” “Terrific Speech 2” and “Terrific Speech.” “Half Time” and “Time and a Half.” These aren’t vastly different versions. They reuse the same melodic phrasing, the same minimal arrangements. In the case of “Terrific Speech,” I was tired of its warbling organ, distant drumming, and repeated arpeggio the first time around.

Taken individually, however, many of these songs impress. “Black Spider,” originally a Rock Action outtake, recalls the quieter passages of Come on Die Young with its delicate guitar lines, but it’s the most melodically haunting piece here. The fuzz of “Wake Up and Go Berserk” envelops its acoustic guitar picking and stray piano lines, casting aside Mogwai’s usual adherence to structure. “7:25,” a Come on Die Young leftover, passes its layered guitar lines through a warm glow (and thankfully only runs 5:13). “Half Time” turns haunting guitar feedback and introspective piano into a mesmerizing semi-crescendo. “I Do Have Weapons” won’t make any hearts race, but its careful arrangement of back-masked notes, guitar arpeggios, and organs is charming. Put these five understated songs on an EP and it’s suddenly a regular spin.

The elephant in the room is the untitled hidden track that follows “Black Spider 2.” Its twenty-two minutes could be viewed as an ultra-elongated version of “It Would Have Happened Anyway,” but the formless drone has few other points of comparison in Mogwai’s catalog. A quieter version of the climax to “Stereodee,” perhaps? Eventually a pounding drum finds its way through the mist and a single organ line clears things out, but soon enough the washes of guitar noise return. This piece is more akin to Tim Hecker’s ambient noise symphonies or Sonic Youth’s SYR2 than Mogwai’s regular material. Unlike Hecker’s best work, I can’t imagine returning to this untitled track with much frequency.

The obvious advice to hear Mogwai’s music in its proper context first by seeing the documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait may not have worked for me, but I still believe it’s the best course of action (especially if you’re fond of the sport). Do that, then come back to the soundtrack and pick through the debris for the winners. If you view this soundtrack as an excellent, mellow EP with some alternate takes instead of one long piece of music, you’ll be happier with the results.

Reviews: Me You Us Them & Bloody Knives Split (Triple Down, 2011)

Me You Us Them and Bloody Knives split single

Whether the gateway drug function of split seven-inches has been diminished by file-sharing and streaming media is up for debate, but even if it’s no longer the easiest way to encounter a few new bands, the format can still work. Consider this split between Brooklyn’s Me You Us Them and Austin’s Bloody Knives, which has already prompted me to track down their respective 2010 full-lengths.* Both bands have been lumped in with the shoegaze revival, which fits Bloody Knives better than Me You Us Them, but neither band should be discounted as a stock “Fender Jaguar + Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan Pedal = Shoegaze!” act. That alone should pique your interest, but an interesting bait and switch on the part of Me You Us Them should maintain it.

Bloody Knives pull off a neat trick with “I Was Talking to Your Ghost”—as the drums, guitar fuzz, and especially bass speed along, Preston Maddox’s vocals float calmly overhead, seemingly disinterested by the racing pulse below. It’s not far off from Oliver Ackermann’s approach in A Place to Bury Strangers, but the lack of gothic overtones to Maddox’s vocals is refreshing. Bloody Knives’ 2010 LP Burn It All Down offers a bit more variety, hitting on the drum-machine dream-pop of early Cocteau Twins, the aggression of APTBS, and the 8-bit textures and bright melodies of the sadly departed Depreciation Guild. Burn It All Down is available for free download from Bandcamp right now. Keep an eye out for their upcoming remix album, Burn It All Up, which should be available from Killredrocket Records in the near future.

No shoegaze touchstones are needed for Me You Us Them's "Research." If you’d told me in January that I’d make a positive comparison to ’90s Amphetamine Reptile outfit Calvin Krime in a 2011 review, I’d assume that either Sean Tillman came out with an atypically aggressive Sean Na Na or Har Mar Superstar single, not that an unfamiliar band was mining similar territory. But the combination of abrasive screaming, driving three-piece rock, and a pressure-relieving melodic chorus recalls the Calvin Krime playbook. It’s hard to tell if the melodic lead is treated guitar or fuzzy synth, but either way, it’s been floating through my head the past few days. I don’t mean to sell MYUT short with the Calvin Krime comparison, especially since that band might not have pulled off this song’s bass-driven bridge or the buried vocals of “Will we ever wake up?” building into screams in the outro as deftly, but I appreciate revisiting the sound.

Here’s the real shocker: “Research” is an outlier in Me You Us Them’s catalog. I missed the boat on their 2010 Post-Data full-length, but it offers a striking mix of Polvo’s woozy riffage, Paik’s early guitar textures (especially Hugo Strange), and the Swirlies’ off-kilter melodies with a touch of punk aggression. In other words, it fits into a fine tradition of using shoegaze impulses in more muscular, less ethereal song structures. “As of Now” is a good starting point.

Considering that I’ve checked out both band’s albums and am particularly keen on spending more time with Me You Us Them’s Post-Data, you can easily chalk this split up as a rousing success. You can stream both songs over at Bandcamp and order the 7” from Triple Down Records or Killredrocket Records.

* The ability to quickly follow up on each of these bands is a welcome departure from the old routine of split singles, when I’d hear a great new band only to learn that their only other released tracks are on an out-of-print local compilation, their albums are only available in Denmark, or they’d split up before recording a full-length.

The Haul 2010: The Depreciation Guild's Spirit Youth

The Depreciation Guild – Spirit Youth LP – Kanine, 2010 – $10 (Harvard Sq. Newbury Comics, 9/17)

The Depreciation Guild's Spirit Youth

Built on a Weak Spot tipped me off to the Depreciation Guild and their 2010 LP Spirit Youth back in May, but it took me a while to stop dipping my toes in the pool and finally dive in headfirst. The Depreciation Guild has been lumped into the ever-expanding class of nu-gaze groups, but there’s a welcome classicism to their sound. Their influences stretch beyond holy triumvirate of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive to incorporate the C86/twee/indie pop that blurred with shoegaze in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s both in England (The Darling Buds) and the US (Velocity Girl). This relationship was standard operating procedure back then, but nu-gaze—a so-bad-it’s great genre title I can’t stop myself from using—has asked for some time apart.

I usually don’t complain about that temporary separation, since I love the pummeling muscularity of A Place to Bury Strangers, the math-rock trappings of The Life and Times, and the post-metal textures of Jesu, but the Depreciation Guild’s sugary vocal hooks make a perfect pair with ample doses of glide guitar. (M83 used to claim this territory, but Anthony Gonzalez’s fixation on John Hughes movies led him astray.) They’re bolstered by the occasional appearance of 8-bit electronics, most noticeable on the intro to opening track “My Chariot,” but this chiptune aesthetic never overwhelms Spirit Youth. Instead, the Depreciation Guild manages to sound simultaneously modern and retro, updating shoegaze without losing its original charm.

This precise balancing act extends to Spirit Youth as an album. The C86 side comes out most clearly in the up-tempo “My Chariot” and “Crucify You,” but tornado winds of guitar in “November,” “Through the Snow,” and “White Moth” assuage any cringing twee-haters. Given the Depreciation Guild’s association with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—singer/guitarist Kurt Feldman plays drums in the latter, guitarist/singer Christoph Hochheim joins Pains on tour as a guitarist—one might expect more of an emphasis on the vintage indie pop, but Spirit Youth never loses sight of either side.

The Depreciation Guild is currently on tour—followed by a tour by their aforementioned brother band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I’m looking forward to catching them at T.T. the Bear’s tomorrow night and seeing if their stage presence is as classically informed as their sonics. If you’re stuck at home, you can check out the first product from Kurt Feldman’s similarly titled gaming company, The Depreciation Guild, Inc. TileWild is an appropriately retro-futuristic puzzle game for the iPhone. Hopefully it's as fun as Spirit Youth.

Mogwai Discographied Part Two: A Trance-Like State

Welcome to part two of Mogwai Discographied. If you missed part one, you can read about Ten Rapid and 4 Satin here. This time I cover their triumphant debut LP Young Team and the mixed bag remix collection Kicking a Dead Pig / Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes.

Mogwai's Young Team

Young Team – Jetset, 1997

Highlights: “Mogwai Fear Satan,” “Tracy,” “R U Still in 2 It,” “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home”

Low Points: “With Portfolio”

Overall: I ordered Young Team from Parasol Mail Order in early 1998, prompted by the glowing comparison to Slint. (The Cure and Sonic Youth were the other major touchstones, although far less tempting for me.) Like many of my music purchases at the time, I hadn’t heard a note of Mogwai’s music prior to receiving Young Team. My first taste was its opening track, “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home,” which begins with Mari Myren reading snippets of a show preview from Bergen, Norway—Mogwai’s first gig outside of the UK. Here’s the transcription, courtesy of the unofficial Mogwai site Bright Light:

’Cause this music can put a human being in a trance-like state, and deprive them of the sneaking feeling of existing. 'Cause music is bigger than words and wider than pictures. If someone said that Mogwai are the stars, I would not object. If the stars had a sound, it would sound like this. The punishment for these solemn words can be hard. Can blood boil like this at the sound of a noisy tape that I've heard? I know one thing, on Saturday, the skies will crumble together with a huge bang to fit into the tape.

Let me be perfectly honest. If I heard a band’s debut album in 2010 and the beginning of their first song essentially stated “Holy shit your mind is going to be blown,” it would be awfully hard for me to listen to that record objectively. Yet my seventeen-year-old self was far less cynical, so my response to that opening passage was awe and anticipation, not revulsion. And here’s the key: “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home” backs these words up. Damon Aitchison’s melodic bass line eases the song in from that spoken word introduction, then effortlessly navigates the crescendo. The guitars chime harmonics and carefully prune feedback before opening up with layers of shimmering, back-masked tones. Martin Bulloch’s drumming is bolstered by rhythmic clatter off in the distance. In comparison with Ten Rapid, Young Team is shot in glorious Technicolor.

It’s followed by the first of Young Team’s two mammoth compositions, “Like Herod,” which went by the apt working title of “Slint.” To call it a “live staple” is an understatement: live versions of “Like Herod” have appeared on four separate Mogwai releases. Its closest kin in Slint’s catalog is the untitled 10"—“Like Herod” is a cross between the uneasy tension of “Glenn” and the chaotic noise of “Rhoda.” As an example of the extreme quiet-loud dynamic, “Like Herod” is peerless, but it lacks the mesmerizing sense of melody that Mogwai deliver elsewhere on Young Team.

Despite not owning Young Team on LP, it’s easy to think of it as a double LP with proper sides of vinyl, especially the next three songs. The moody and atmospheric “Katrien” buries a conversational monologue within its tidal movements, but certain phrases pop up with clarity, specifically “I can no longer see, hear, or feel anything / I can see, hear, and feel everything simultaneously” during the song’s most pressing quiet segment. It’s followed by “Radar Maker,” the first of three shorter, piano-based compositions that act as buffers between the major compositions. “Radar Maker” is the quietest of the three, a restrained solo recital with echoes off in the distance. It simmers things down for the inviting melancholy of “Tracy,” which turns two prank calls involving a fake argument between Braithwaite and Aitchison into bookends for a restrained drama scored by a poignant glockenspiel melody and blurred guitar.

It’s not surprising that some material from Ten Rapid would be reconstituted for Mogwai’s proper debut LP, but “Summer (Priority Version)” is dramatically different from the original take. The dynamic range is similar, but the Young Team version is downright claustrophobic, filling out the open space of the Ten Rapid take with a dense arrangement of knotty guitars. Mogwai apparently think this version is rubbish (Braithwaite: "I think that we must have been on crack when we wrote it because it's crap"), but I’ll vouch for it as a natural part of the album. Whether I’ll do the same for “With Portfolio” remains unclear. It juxtaposes a minute of gentle piano with an onset of frantically panning noise, testing listeners’ patience and cranial fortitude. It is not a song I want to hear every time I play Young Team, but along with “Like Herod,” it’s the best indicator of the noise terror of their live shows. (It also works wonders in clearing out an ice arena after open skate.) Whether it’s more of a palette cleanser or an ipecac before “R U Still in 2 It” is up for debate, but it certainly wipes the slate clean before Young Team’s lone proper vocal. “R U Still in 2 It” marks Mogwai’s second collaboration with Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffatt (following “Now You’re Taken” from the 4 Satin EP). The delay-heavy guitar line, bass harmonics, and resonant piano chords ache with Arab Strap’s signature misery, but it’s the switch between Moffatt’s spoken verses and Braithwaite’s lonely chorus that locks the song in memory. What starts as a sing-along for a pub full of sad bastards—“Will you still miss me when I’m gone? / Is there love there even when I’m wrong?”—turns into a solemn admission by song’s end.

“A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters” is the fullest of the three interstitial piano pieces, beginning with an enthusiastic count-off (“1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 / 1 2 3 4 5 6 and on you go!”) and drenching its droning chords and cymbal washes in plenty of reverb. Make no mistake, however—this song works best as a lead-in for Young Team’s final track.

And what a final track it is. “Mogwai Fear Satan”is a towering post-rock epic that was immediately revered as a classic of the genre (and rightly so). As I mentioned in my review of Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport, “Mogwai Fear Satan” is the purest source of musical transcendence I know, a direct mode of transportation to a lush, idealized vision of the Scottish Highlands (or wherever else your mind’s eye takes you). I’ve never been able to accurately relate how “Mogwai Fear Satan” makes this trip happen, since its sixteen minutes are comprised of simple, tangible elements: an ascendant three-chord progression, Martin Bulloch’s fevered drumming, swells of feedback, bursts of distortion, Shona Brown’s flute, and the distant patter of tribal drums. Specific moments within the process are citable—the initial overdrive stomp at 1:45, the rapturous lull at 3:30, the stratospheric ascent at 5:18, the glorious euphony at 9:00, the woozy noise at 14:22—but the whole arc is required. “Mogwai Fear Satan” isn’t just my favorite Mogwai song, it’s one of my top five songs ever.

With such overwhelming praise for a single track, making the argument that Young Team remains Mogwai’s best album would appear to be an impossible task. But these ten tracks form a cohesive, exciting listening experience. Between the blissful overture of “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home,” the tense, dynamic explorations of “Katrien” and “Summer (Priority Version),”the haunting lulls of “Tracy” and “R U Still in 2 It,” the table-setters of “Radar Maker” and “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters,” and the monoliths of “Like Herod” and “Mogwai Fear Satan,” there’s a welcome compositional variety. More than anything else, Young Team thrives on a sense of exploration that later Mogwai albums lack. Here, they write the songs necessary to fill in the big picture, later they write Mogwai songs necessary to fill in the big picture. That’s a small but critical difference, one that will keep coming up with albums like Happy Songs for Happy People and Mr. Beast.

One footnote: Given its stature (and original US pressing on Jetset), Young Team earned a 2CD/4LP reissue from Chemikal Underground in 2008. In addition to remastering the quiet mix of the original pressing, the bonus disc added nine tracks of rarities and live tracks. Come on Die Young or the Mogwai EP than Young Team. “I Don’t Know What to Say” is an ambient mix of conversation samples and unobtrusive noise, excavated from the Radio 1 Sound City compilation. “I Can’t Remember” is a claustrophobic mix of piano, drum loops, and guitar that never breaks the tension. Their cover of Spacemen 3’s “Honey,” originally included on 1998’s A Tribute to Spacemen 3 alongside Low, Arab Strap, Accelera Deck, and others, displays an occasional tendency (seen next on Come on Die Young’s “Cody” and their Peel Session cover of Guns n Roses’ “Don’t Cry”) and surprising aptitude for vocal-driven romanticism. It’s the highlight of the bonus tracks. The remaining five songs are live recordings of “Katrien,” “R U Still in 2 It,” “Like Herod,” “Summer (Priority Version),” and “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Only “Katrien” and “Summer (Priority Version)” don’t appear elsewhere in superior live renditions. This disc isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice reward for the die-hard proponents of Young Team like myself.

Mogwai's Kicking a Dead Pig

Kicking a Dead Pig: Mogwai Songs Remixed / Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes – Jetset, 1998

Highlights: Remixes from My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, Kid Loco, and Hood

Low Points: Remixes from DJ Q, Alec Empire, and μ-Ziq .

Overall: Let me state the obvious: Kicking a Dead Pig and Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes are remix albums, so you should not expect across-the-board success. By my estimation, the average success rate for a remix album is at most 33%. A third of the songs are intriguing, but flawed. Another third are failures, either because the source material doesn’t work with the remixer’s aesthetic or because the remixer’s aesthetic is terrible to begin with. The final third gets it, and perhaps one or two of those tracks transcend the exercise and stand on their own. Allow me to test my math. There are twelve total remixes here—Mogwai’s own reworking of “Mogwai Fear Satan” appears on each disc—so in theory, there should be four in each pile. One final caveat: these discs came out in 1998, so you’re bound to encounter a boatload of dated electronic motifs.

I’ll start with the outright failures. DJ Q’s remix of “R U Still in 2 It” is the laziest of the lot, stripping the original down to its ghostly opening guitar line, then plopping a generic, club-friendly beat on top. Alec Empire’s take on “Like Herod” is a dumping ground of breakbeats apparently left over from Atari Teenage Riot. μ-Ziq’s hyperactive rendering of “Mogwai Fear Satan” piles on breakbeats, shifting synth chords, and atypical moog keyboard melodies, but nothing sticks. These three songs were downright painful to sit through.

More tracks fall under the middling, take-it-or-leave-it banner. Max Tundra’s scratchy remix of “Helicon Two” drifts through remnants of that song’s strong melodic character and a few anxious noise bursts, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Surgeon turns “Mogwai Fear Satan” into a buzzing drone symphony, like a denser version of Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet, but there’s a disappointing lack of melody. Arab Strap’s “Gwai on 45” runs through a few Mogwai songs, including “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Katien,” but never develops a theme beyond “club sampler.” On any given remix album there’s usually at least one remix that sounds nothing like the original, but manages to sound decent enough on its own, and this time it’s Third Eye Foundation’s “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters (Tet Offensive Remix).” There isn’t even a hint of the dominant piano part from the original. Twelve years ago Klute’s “Summer (Weird Winter Remix)” would have likely been deemed a success, but its dated breakbeat exercises bring down an otherwise good incorporation of the song’s melody.

Finally, the winners. Kid Loco’s “Tracy (Playing with the Young Team Remix)” is the unanimous winner of Kicking a Dead Pig, building a late night groove from the original version’s bass line. The change in mood from the hesitant, melancholic original to the chilled-out remix is seamless, with the new drum beat and swooping electronics making an enormous difference. It’s not necessarily better than the original, but it’s close. On the other hand, Hood’s reworking of “Like Herod” doesn’t quite stand on its own, but it’s an excellent companion piece. Whereas the original relies on its brutally violent climax, the remix’s droning strings linger on the song’s tensest valleys, refusing to relieve the tension. Mogwai tend to rework “Mogwai Fear Satan” in the live setting to trim down its sixteen minutes, but their mellow, nearly ambient take is no mere edit. The first half removes the drums, letting a heavily smeared version of the song’s chord progression float until the flutes finally join the (after) party. They get to take center stage for a minute before the bass drum begins thundering in the distance. Guitar feedback eventually overtakes everything else, bringing the remix to a close. Aside from Martin Bulloch’s furious performance, every major element from the original is present, but moved around so their effects are entirely new.

Mogwai's Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes

The most significant song on Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes is the My Bloody Valentine remix, both in length and in stature. At the time, a Kevin Shields remix was perceived as a tremendous endorsement, since anything new from his camp was cherished (see: his sublime version of Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater”). His remix of “Mogwai Fear Satan” is mammoth, running nearly the entire length of the original at 16:12, and it’s a masterpiece of texture. Alien guitar warbling? Check. Glorious electronic tinkling? Check. A womb-like recreation of the original’s flute lulls? Check. An eardrum-shattering blast of white noise? Check. There’s so much going on, so much to digest. The abrasive noise section is admittedly a bone likely to lodge in your throat, which is why this remix isn’t a regular listen, but I wouldn’t dare request its removal. It’s what the noise blast of “Stereodee” should have been. Of the outside remixers, only Kevin Shields fully grasped every aspect of the original song’s appeal.

Three, five, four. I promise you I didn’t tally those up before proclaiming the rule of thirds. Getting four viable remixes out of this lot is par for the course, even if the tremendous achievement of the My Bloody Valentine remix goes above and beyond. If you’re hoping for more diligent testing of this theory, don’t hold your breath; after enduring the entirety of Kicking a Dead Pig and Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes, it will be quite some time before I tackle another full remix album.

33 1/3 Books: Loveless and Double Nickels on the Dime

Although I’d previously only read one of the 33 1/3 books from cover to cover—Ben Sisario’s solid, if unspectacular tome on the Pixies’ Doolittle—I’ve had my eyes on a few of them over the last few months, eagerly waiting for the available time to read something other than critical theory. I skimmed through a handful of the books today at the Harvard Book Store, opting for entries on Loveless and Double Nickels on the Dime (which was written by my ’90s-indie-rock-lovin’ doppelganger, Michael T. Fournier). Despite running into Mike at the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square shortly after purchasing his book (“It’s funny I ran into you… guess what I just bought?”), I somewhat arbitrarily opted to read his book second, perhaps because I’d been waiting to read the other book for some time. Just like I’ve been waiting for a My Bloody Valentine record for some time. Imagine that.

Mike McGonigal's Loveless

Though the numerous delays that marked the slow-crawl publication of Mike McGonigal’s entry on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless are amazingly appropriate given the book’s subject, I worried about whether the book would justify the delays. Well…

McGonigal simply tries to do too much. I would have been happy with a detailed account of the recording sessions, but McGonigal skips between his memories of the band’s live show, the interpersonal discord, the label issues, the aesthetic touchstones (in a goddamn top ten list in the middle of the book), “where are they now,” the notable followers, a stripper dancing to “Sometimes,” his connections to the I Love Music board (really), and his short reviews of the songs. There’s a chapter essentially on Rafael Toral’s Wave Field. Loveless (the album) has such a massive mythology surrounding it that 117 pages isn’t enough to go in-depth about all of these topics, even if the inclination is that all of them (well, most of them) need to be discussed. Are there interesting facts in almost all of these categories? Sure. Would the book have been a more compelling read if he had cut a few of them out? Yeah.

Perhaps the cause of the book’s topical happy feet is Kevin Shields, who consented to interviews for the project but frequently comes off of as a frustrating interview subject. While he does his fair share of debunking myths and giving insights into this particular recording process, many of his answers deny one thing without filling in the actual information. When asked about lyrics, for example, Shields laughs about how massively incorrect the various online transcriptions are and then avoids giving any examples of the actual lines. There’s a myth to debunk and a myth to maintain, after all. The other members of the band give far less, if any input (Colm O’Ciosoig did not contribute). Yes, Loveless is Shields’ album, but hearing about his thought process from the others involved, especially Bilinda, is frequently insightful.

Rather than close the book with the dishearteningly vague possibility of a reunion/follow-up record (which he even notes wasn’t his original ending), series editor David Barker told McGonigal that a more upbeat ending would help the text. Oh. After that point, McGonigal gets self-referential about the project, recognizing that “I know this is a short book…” before stumbling onto Loveless’s critical legacy and then a final chapter on that Toral album. What is this, A.I.? I understand Barker’s impetus for a different ending, but having three separate, disjointed endings and discussing each as such is rather infuriating.

Despite the overly broad scope of the book, Shields’ gentle posturing, and the stuttering conclusion, Loveless (the book) still has moments that spur my genuine interest. Hearing briefly about O’Ciosoig’s illness, depression, and eviction during the recording process made me understand why he’s essentially a digitized ghost on the album. Reading about how Deb Googe had almost no part in the recording process clarified her later fronting role in Snowpony. Finding out about Bilinda’s dissolving relationship with Shields and her son from a previous relationship gave shape to her frequently amorphous voice. McGonigal had a fairly thankless role in writing about such a mystified album, but I wish more of the book had focused on the points of interest rather than baffling semi-tangents.

Michael T. Fournier's Double Nickels on the Dime

In contrast to an underwhelming entry on an album I love, Michael T. Fournier’s entry on the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime did exactly what I hoped it would: stoke my interest in an album I’m not nearly as familiar with. Between the conversational insights on the songs from years of listening, the discussions with Mike Watt, and the close readings of the songs’ topical and musical motifs, Fournier makes the forty-five-song behemoth seems entirely approachable.

Although the book’s organization (chapters on each side of the album, specific discussions of the songs in order) seems considerably more straightforward than the books on Doolittle and Loveless, this structure allows Fournier to establish the thematic ties of each side and of the record as a whole while keeping the focus on the individual songs. While Fournier encourages skipping around to read about your favorite tracks on the album, reading about them in the context of each band member’s side helps makes sense of how D., Mike, and Georgie each operated. Thinking about the record in terms of the “fantasy draft” (each band member picked the songs for their side and left the rest for the “Side Chaff” ) is endlessly entertaining for me, given my fondness for fantasy hockey, but it also establishes who prefers which songs and why.

This structure is held together by a deluge of information from a variety of perspectives. Thinking about who wrote which songs (many were contracted out to the band’s friends to keep things fresh), which bands influenced particular songs (whether funk or Wire), and the political commentary of specific tracks keeps the book moving along, but deeper insights like Mike Watt’s admission of the influence of Joyce’s Ulysses on a number of his songs made me sit up and take notice.

Fournier doesn’t dwell much on the band’s fate, avoiding McGonigal’s urge to append ending after ending. While I wouldn’t have minded a post-Double Nickels on the Dime summary after the final chapter, the book seems complete without it since Fournier contextualizes the album within the band’s larger catalog. The best course of action would be to watch the Minutemen documentary, We Jam Econo, to fill in the biographical gaps and to feel the sweat of the band’s live performances and then read the book to truly embrace the individual songs.

Michael T. Fournier’s Double Nickels on the Dime accomplishes the two feats all of these books should aim for: bolster my knowledge about an album and make me want to hear it again. After finishing the book, I wanted to skip through the record and listen to “West Germany,” “June 16th, “No Exchange,” “The Politics of Time,” “History Lesson Part II” and countless others while re-reading sections of the book. Oh, but I also wanted to listen to each side as such and then listen to the album as a whole. I can’t say that I felt the impulse to hear more than a few songs of Loveless again after finishing that book and certainly didn’t twitch to re-read the book itself.

I imagine that I’ll read a few more of the 33 1/3 books over the next few months (the entries on David Bowie’s Low, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., and Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand are all intriguing), but for now I’ll have to do with listening to Double Nickels on the Dime as I flip through the particular notes.