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The Haul: Roxy Music, Ornette Coleman, Wipers, Brian Eno, Gang of Four, Regulator Watts, and King Kong

89. Roxy Music – Roxy Music LP – ATCO, 1972 – $6.50

Roxy Music's Roxy Music

Part of the delay involved with publishing these entries in chronological order is that certain albums need longer to sink in than others. I’ve pulled out Roxy Music’s 1972 debut LP a few times, listened to it all the way through, and thought “That’s a great album, but I’m at a loss for what to say about it.” It’s considerably easier to digest a Gang of Four EP or a Regulator Watts LP in one sitting since they’re in more specific genres that I’m familiar with (post-punk and DC post-hardcore, respectively), whereas my experience with glam-rock is limited to big names like Bowie, T. Rex, and Roxy Music / Brian Eno. When I checked out online reviews to see the critical appraisal of Roxy Music, I came across this sassy Robert Christgau review:

From the drag queen on the cover to the fop finery in the centerfold to the polished deformity of the music on the record, this celebrates the kind of artifice that could come to seem as unhealthy as the sheen on a piece of rotten meat. Right now, though, it's decorated with enough weird hooks to earn an A for side one. Side two leans a little too heavily on the synthesizer (played by a balding, long-haired eunuch lookalike named Eno) without the saving grace of drums and bassline. B+

That is some serious burnsauce on Eno, a personal attack that of the kind I got in huge trouble for doing in a live review during my Signal Drench days. (Specific reference: saying that the male bassist of an indie-pop group, Mondo Crescendo, looked like a female Matthew Sweet. The female singer of that band, also the bassist’s girlfriend, did not respond kindly to this aside, and compared my review to the Spanish Inquisition. Was it mean? Sure. Was it true? Yes.) Similar pain for Kari-Ann Muller, the female cover model, who later married Mick Jagger’s brother. I agree with most of the discussion of the aesthetics of the album—its glam sheen is artificial, sure, especially Bryan Ferry’s curious vocal trills, but it’s mesmerizing in its off-kilter way. I prefer Eno left to his own devices, but the synthesizer on side B isn’t distracting. Overall, Roxy Music is more consistent than Stranded, but none of the songs stood out to me as much as “Street Life,” “Mother of Pearl,” or “Song for Europe.” I suspect after a few more listens, “Re-make/Re-model,” “Virginia Plain,” and “The Bob (Medley)” will equal those favorites, but I’ve accepted that my appreciation of Roxy Music will be a very gradual process.

90. Ornette Coleman– The Shape of Jazz to Come LP – Atlantic, 1959 – $6.50

Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come

It’s embarrassing that I’ve gone this long without picking up a copy of The Shape of Jazz to Come, the first jazz album that gave me the sense of “I’ve got it!” that I kept hoping would hit me when I picked up a classic from Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Looking back, it’s strange that this album hit me, since I’m sure that part of its appeal is being able to recognize the jazz conventions that it casts aside, but perhaps the prior emphasis on chord patterns was my stumbling block.

Translating my eureka moment to words is a rather daunting task, so I’ll just mention a few things that still stand out to me. 1. The connection between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, especially on “Lonely Woman,” is astounding. It’s hard to imagine that Coleman could have pushed jazz in this direction without a partner who could speak his newfound language. 2. The beginning of “Peace,” which is far quieter and harmonious than the two tracks which preceed it, could not embody its title more. 3. Billy Higgins’ drumming is constantly active. When he gets a drum solo at the end of “Focus on Sanity,” it feels overdue. 4. Much is made of the lack of a pianist providing a chord structure, but Charlie Haden’s bass lines are more than enough of a foundation. Between Haden and Higgins, I never feel like Coleman and Cherry are flying completely off the rails. 5. The very idea of unpredictable melodies seems impossible, yet strains from this album are still running through my head. That’ll do for now.

91. Wipers – Land of the Lost LP – Restless, 1986 – $12.50

Wipers' Land of the Lost

I’d never run across a non-reissue Wipers LP before this trip, but I had my choice of a just-in copy of Land of the Lost for $12.50 or a regularly filed copy of Follow Blind for $9.50. I chose Wipers’ fourth album over their fifth for a few reasons—the cover’s a thousand times more interesting (reminding me of Men at Work’s Cargo, an album I pored over as a youth), the music’s closer in style to 1983’s Over the Edge, and Mark Prindle gave it eight out of ten to Follow Blind’s mere six of ten. Two more points! That’s only $1.50 per point.

Typical to mid-80s Wipers, side A is filled with blues-y hard-rockers like the title-track, side B is filled with more slow-simmering fare like “Nothing Left to Lose” and “Different Ways.” I prefer the latter, since there’s a broader spectrum of guitar tones, and Greg Sage’s guitar tones are what hooked me on the Wipers. Prindle’s dead-on about weaknesses of the album—it’s just not as creative, as inspired as its predecessors, and some of it comes across as Wipers-by-numbers. Since that issue intensifies on Follow Blind and Sage’s other late 1980s releases, Land of the Lost may be the second-to-last Wipers LP I buy. (Someday I’ll get Is This Real? and give it a real shot, but I’m not in any rush.) Too much of Sage’s post-Youth of America output chooses to mirror the less interesting half of that record (“Taking Too Long,” “Can This Be,” and “Pushing the Extreme”), rather than the epic guitar explorations of the title track, “When It’s Over,” and “No Fair.” I’m sure there are good songs on The Circle and Silver Sail, but Land of the Lost seems to be the start of the descent.

93. Brian Eno – Music for Films LP – E.G., 1978 – $9.50

Brian Eno's Music for Films

After my overwhelming enjoyment of the recently purchased Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, I was eager to continue filling out my collection of Brian Eno’s ambient releases. I had my choice between Music for Films or two different copies of the Eno/Cluster collaboration Old Land (which, as I learned later, is a compilation of the highlights from their two previous LPs, 1977’s Cluster and Eno and 1978’s After the Heat), but I opted for the former because I knew what I would get. As it turns out, that might not be the best thing.

Music for Films is comprised of eighteen short pieces intended to be the incidental music for imaginary films. Maybe my imagination was lacking today, but few of these songs are particularly evocative. I’d much rather hear some of the shorter instrumentals from Another Green World (“The Big Ship” especially), some of which were included in the original pressing of Music for Films.

93. Gang of Four – Yellow LP – Warner, 1980 – $4.50

Gang of Four's Yellow EP

My Gang of Four collection is telling: there’s the wheat (their first three LPs: the superb Entertainment!, the solid if dry Solid Gold, and the mixed bag Songs of the Free) and the chaff (a needless remix 12” for “I Love a Man in Uniform,” their 1984 live album, At the Palace). Most GO4 sections are filled with the latter, whether it’s their 1983 album Hard, its accompanying single for “Is It Love,” or that ubiquitous “I Love a Man in Uniform” EP. Yellow, a 1980 EP that was included as bonus tracks for the reissue of Entertainment, may very well be the last piece of wheat left out there, unless the Another Day / Another Dollar EP suckers me into buying some live recordings along with its two exclusive songs.

Of Yellow’s four songs, two appear in re-recorded form on Solid Gold, although “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time” fits in with Entertainment!’s razor-wire aesthetic. “He’d Send in the Army” works better with Solid Gold’s comparative heft. The flip side features two older songs, “It’s Her Factory,” a melodica-heavy song that drags a bit, and the ironically chipper “Armalite Rifle,” which ranks as the highlight of the EP. Mixing the old with the new is less enticing nearly 30 years later, but between “Armalite Rifle” and an excellent version of “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time,” I got my money’s worth.

I’m still never buying Hard.

94. Regulator Watts– The Aesthetics of No Drag LP – Slowdime/Dischord, 1997 – $4.50

Regulator Watts' The Aesthetics of No Drag

Credit the strength of Kerosene 454’s At Zero for me taking a chance on another peripheral mid-1990s DC group issued on Slowdime/Dischord. I wish I could also credit Hardcore for Nerds’ remarkably thorough exploration of the Hoover family tree for this purchase, but I found it after the fact. It did remind me that: 1. I should really check out Hoover already; 2. I’m familiar with Abilene, another Hoover offshoot; and 3.Hoover bassist Fred Erskine was excellent on the instrument in June of 44 (his vocal turns, however, were less than stellar). Only Hoover singer/guitarist Alex Dunham is present in Regulator Watts, although drummer Areif Dasha Sless-Kitain did a tour of duty in fellow DC post-hardcore merchants Bluetip.

The Aesthetics of No Drag is filled with such trickle-down DC economics; from its stylish Jason Farrell (of Bluetip and Retisonic fame) designed artwork, to Alex Dunham’s occasional vocal proximity to Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and Girls Against Boys’ Scott McCloud (only on “Pemberton Red,” but it’s a telling rumble), and to the immediately evocative jagged riffs, Regulator Watts is a DC band through and through. The opening track “Mercurochrome” shows absolutely no mercy with its relentless blast of noisy post-hardcore fury, but later songs like “The Ballad of St. Tinnitus” take a more dynamic approach, punctuated of course with strangled guitar lines and shredded vocal cords. The atonal edge of these songs wears on me after a while, but the trickles of melody tide me over. Regulator Watts stress the hardcore half of post-hardcore, whereas I prefer the post-, but there are enough moments of convergence to name The Aesthetics of No Drag a worthy buy.

95. King Kong – Me Hungry LP – Drag City, 1995 – $6.50

King Kong's Me Hungry

King Kong’s a strange, near mythical figure at the fringes of 1990s indie rock, a downright curious Slint offshoot whose descriptions in The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, the All Music Guide, and message boards all emphasize a goofy, childlike approach to music and a stylistic kinship to early B-52s albums, i.e. the exact opposite of Spiderland’s refined atmosphere. I knew I wouldn’t find any of the post-rock featured on more prominent Slint offshoots like The For Carnation and Papa M (hell, drummer Britt Walford plays on the Breeders’ Pod), but curiosity got the best of me. I had to check out what Tweez-era bassist Ethan Buckler left the group to pursue.

Well.

Me Hungry (deep breath) is a concept album/opera about a caveman and a yak confronted with the oncoming ice age, a cave woman, and a sabre-tooth tiger. Amy Greenwood’s likeable female vocals narrate the story, but Ethan Buckler sings all of his lines in character, meaning that you hear a lot of “Me fear the sabre-tooth tiger” sung with a straight-face. The stripped-down rhythm-and-blues backing is strangely austere and downright compelling on the instrumental beginning to “The Crow,” but it mostly serves to move the whole caveman opera along. I’d usually complain that such novelties should be limited to a seven-inch—ideally an etched, single-sided seven-inch—but me require character development and plot, so I’ll let the LP length slide.

For most Homo sapiens, Me Hungry is best viewed as that curious footnote you never get around to referencing, but if you must hear one Slint-related concept album about a caveman and a yak… uh… good luck finding any other options.

The Haul: Obits, Flight of the Conchords, Enablers, Bill Callahan, Tim Hecker, Low, Nas, Hüsker Dü, Pavement, Patton Oswalt, Swell Maps, Wipers

I’d looked forward to the second annual Record Store Day for months, holding off on a few purchases because of the inevitable sale on vinyl. Last year I rushed from the Harvard Square location to the Newbury Street store in the hopes of crossing as many key titles off my list, but this year I opted to bring that list to the bigger location and press my luck.

What makes Record Store Day special for me? It’s not the throngs of people in the store at opening on a Saturday. It’s not the live performances spread across the chain’s various locations. It might be the countless vinyl exclusives, but as I found out later, they’re not as exclusive as I anticipated. Here’s the biggest treat: I had to get a basket. I can think of only one other scenario, which I’ve yet to discuss in full, where I’ve had to grab a basket for record shopping. Even with my list in hand, I still went through every record, pulling out every single option and adding to the bulk of my haul. Perhaps the best part was deciding which albums to buy and which albums to pass up at the end, since yes, I did have a budget, and yes, I managed to stay within that budget (even though I also picked up used copies of The Dark Knight and Mad Men Season One on Blu-Ray). There’s something profoundly satisfying about leaving a record store with a heavy bag sagging at the handles.

While I stayed focused on the albums, Record Store Day definitely seemed like more of an event this year. I got to the store at 10:07 am and a few of the exclusives were already snapped up. The range of people at the store was refreshing—thirteen year-old kids excited about buying Iggy and the Stooges vinyl, fifty-year-old guys with their wives picking out all of those grossly overpriced audiophile reissue pressings (“Hey do you want What’s Going On?” “Yes! Pull that one for me!”), and plenty of twenty-somethings like myself. The best moment came when I was standing next to a father with a stroller who was flipping through the T section and came across a 13th Floor Elevators LP. He made an unintelligible grunt of excitement before pulling the LP out and putting it on top of the stroller. That is what I hope everyone gets out of record shopping and Record Store Day reminds people that those moments occur, all the better.

46. Obits – “I Can’t Lose” b/w “Military Madness” 7” – Sub Pop, 2009 – $5.59

Obits' I Can't Lose single

I opted to buy these two exclusive songs from Obits instead of their full-length for a number of questionable reasons—the LP was more expensive, it hadn’t fully clicked with me, maybe these songs are better than the album cuts, hello, they are exclusives. Both songs sound like the 50s/60s rock of I Blame You’s “Back and Forth,” with the flip side having a very good reason for it, being a cover from Graham Nash’s 1971 solo debut. Both songs are good, but wouldn’t quite fit on the LP, and if I’m going to choose one cover to appear on that record, it’s the completely badass version of “Milk Cow Blues” that’s on it. I wouldn’t mind an EP of this style of material from Obits, however, since Rick Froberg’s voice is so eerily perfect for retro-rock.

Of course, I bought the full-length a few weeks later. I still need to track down the “One Cross Apiece” single, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of it and it appears to be out of print, so I may be out of luck on that one.

47. Flight of the Conchords – “Pencils in the Wind” b/w “Albi the Racist Dragon” 7” – Sub Pop, 2009 – $5.59

Flight of the Conchords' Pencils in the Wind single

After a lackluster second season, the Flight of the Conchords television series appears to be coming to a close. The biggest drop-off between seasons was the songs, since the first season benefited from their existing catalog of road-tested smirk-fests, even if the songs occasionally felt shoehorned into the plot of an episode, whereas the second season relied on freshly penned songs designed to fit into the context of the episode’s plot. Maybe they needed more time in between seasons to write songs, maybe they used up their most potent stylistic touchstones, maybe the novelty of a novelty group was wearing off, but by the end of the season I felt comfortable with a FOTC-less future, at least on HBO.

Still, I enjoy the first season’s dry humor quite a bit, enough to pick up these two leftovers from those episodes. “Pencils in the Wind” and “Albi the Racist Dragon” weren’t quite memorable enough to make the group’s self-titled Sub Pop debut, but I gladly picked up this single when I saw it by the register after initially checked out with my big Record Store Day haul. I blame the RSD exclusivity for this purchase, since I haven’t even picked up the album and that would have been a better use of my money, even though “Pencils in the Wind” is an enjoyably trite anti-racism ode.

48. Low – Songs for a Dead Pilot LP – Kranky, 1997 – $10.39

Low's Songs for a Dead Pilot

I made the mistake of trying to get into Low with their 2005 Sub Pop debut, The Great Destroyer, which starts off with a few atypically rocking songs, one of which (“Monkey”) reminds me a lot of Peter Gabriel—a reference point that works for TV on the Radio’s Young Liars, but not Low. I later checked out a few of their other releases, but the only one I actually own is a free remix single from their 2007 album Drums and Guns, which I’ve never list. My friend Scott encouraged me to give Low another shot, especially with vinyl reissues of their Kranky releases, and given his stellar track record with recommendations, I obliged. Songs for a Dead Pilot features one hell of an album cover and a song (“Landlord”) that Pinebender covered as a bonus track for the vinyl pressing of Things Are About to Get Weird, so it won out over their Kranky full-lengths. Dead Pilot is definitely closer to the standard Kranky aesthetic, taking some of Labradford’s skeletal songwriting approach and merging it with their existing slowcore style. Songs like “Landlord” and “Condescend” are commanding even with minimal arrangements. I’ll put their other Kranky releases (and their first few albums on Vernon Yard) on my want list, but those Sub Pop albums will have to wait a while.

49. Enablers – End Note LP – MidMarch, 2004 – $12.88

Enablers' End Note

It’s rare that I’ll find something I wasn’t expecting to see at Newbury Comics, but this import copy of Enablers’ 2004 debut LP certainly qualifies as a surprise. I got sucked in foreboding atmosphere of their 2008 album, Tundra, after Arlie Carstens of Juno/Ghost Wars recommended it, but I haven’t seen that album anywhere, so I was thrilled to pick up End Note. There isn’t a huge stylistic difference between the records—both set intense spoken word stories to jarring June of 44-esque rock, but End Note has more raw energy and Tundra has more delicate corners. You won’t go wrong with either album.

I’d love to see the band in concert, but their summer tour schedule is all in Europe with June of 44 drummer Doug Scharin sitting in on the skins. They should also have an EP out later this year with some new material, but going with the group’s tradition, it looks like the vinyl will be import only. Just another reason for a US tour, Enablers.

50. Bill Callahan – Woke on a Whaleheart LP – Drag City, 2007 – $10

Bill Callahan's Woke on a Whaleheart

Chalk this one up to completist urges. Woke on a Whaleheart features a few of Bill Callahan’s usual highlights on his first album not utilizing some version of the Smog moniker, but as an album it’s a strange lull after its exceptional predecessor, Smog’s A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. Whereas that record left behind some of Callahan’s typical strife for a measured perspective on his life, Woke on a Whaleheart feels lighter because of Callahan’s ostensible happiness. Giving Royal Trux’s Neil Haggerty control of the arrangements results in some ’70s AM radio moments and makes Whaleheart feel less like a Smog album and more like a new chapter, but the distracting arrangements of “The Wheel,” “Footprints,” and “Diamond Dancer” make me long for a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” ethos. It’s still strange that his first “solo” album sounds less like himself than those countless Smog releases, but the follow-up to Whaleheart thankfully corrects this concern.

51. Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle LP – Drag City, 2009 – $13.59

Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

After the letdown of Woke on a Whaleheart’s influx of 1970s AM pop/folk, Bill Callahan returns to form with the excellent, highly personal Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle. Calling it “highly personal” puts it in a strange realm for Smog/Callahan. I remember reading an interview in which Callahan stated that he was writing new standards—songs that would survive as times and tastes changed—a task he felt his contemporaries were not pursuing. It’s easy to hear a song like “River Guard,” “Say Valley Maker,” and “I Could Drive Forever” and understand his point; his songwriting tackles universal themes from the perspective of characters who’d understand those themes best. This approach allows other singers to perform these songs (think of Cat Power covering “Bathysphere” and “Red Apples”) without having to pantomime Callahan’s personality in order to retain the songs’ power. Yet Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle has some strikingly unique moments in which Callahan’s recent break-up with harpstress Joanna Newsom shows through. It’s not a traditional break-up album by any means, but it’s hard to imagine the billowing tension of “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast,” especially the refrain “Sweet desire and soft thoughts return to me,” coming from anyone else.

There are admittedly a few Smog/Callahan records that I need to spend more time with, namely Dongs of Sevotion and Wild Love, but this new LP already ranks among existing favorites Knock Knock, Red Apple Falls, and A River Ain’t Too Much to Love.

52. Tim Hecker – An Imaginary Country 2LP – Kranky, 2009 – $15.19

Tim Hecker's An Imaginary Country

I don’t read nearly as many record reviews as I did a decade ago, but I’ll make an exception for Dusted Magazine. Their aggregate taste is admittedly more avant-garde than mine, but the writing is still approachable. (Unless it’s Andrew Beckerman, whose reviews too often barter with the watered-down cultural criticism Pop Matters cranks out.) So when Michael Ardaiolo damned An Imaginary Country with faint praise, calling it a solid but underwhelming record that doesn’t challenge the listener like Hecker’s previous efforts, I had to give the album another spin before picking up the vinyl. His criticism came too close to my initial positive take on An Imaginary Country.

When I first heard An Imaginary Country, I was pleasantly surprised by the absence of the abrasive noise that occasionally came up during his last full-length, 2006’s excellent Harmony in Ultraviolet. In search of another background album to join the ranks of Stars of the Lid and the Dead Texan in my reading soundtrack pile, the swirling layers of Hecker’s latest seemed perfectly suited for this task. But Ardaiolo is right: An Imaginary Country is not as challenging as its predecessors, even if it’s more inviting. Thanks to dynamic tracks like “Stags, Aircraft, Kings and Secretaries” and “Whitecaps of White Noise I,” the placid valleys of “Blood Rainbow” and “Chimeras” seem more rewarding on Harmony. In contrast, An Imaginary Country comes across as one cohesive piece, existing within a narrower landscape. Does that make it a bad album? No. I’ve already listened to it more times than Harmony in Ultraviolet (which just got repressed on vinyl), and it is an excellent addition to my reading pile. What Ardaiolo’s review did, however, is give me a renewed appreciation for Hecker’s earlier albums, especially Harmony in Ultraviolet.

53. Nas – Illmatic LP – Columbia, 1994 – $8

Nas's Illmatic

Illmatic was another long overdue purchase of a stone classic from a non-rock genre. I’d previously listened to it a few times on MP3 and there simply wasn’t anything that made me think “Wait, this is a classic?” There’s a stunning lack of fat: no filler skits, only one guest appearance, lean arrangements that never sound thin. How many rap albums only have ten tracks? Without any nitpicking to be found, I’m left with only agreeing with overwhelming consensus, a practice that I don’t find much fun.

I’m sure this is a major reason why it takes me so long to pick up great rap, jazz, and classical records. If I pick up the classic album from a major artist, I’m likely just to join the chorus on praising it. If I go for their lesser work, such contrarianism might spoil the artist’s greatness. If I abstain entirely, I’m missing out on a key artist. In most cases, I’ll either end up buying a cheaper copy of a lesser work used or eventually purchasing the classic after countless false starts. Maybe “New Artillery Suffers through the Classics” will be next year’s dominant meme. (Goodbye credibility, if that happens.)

So, Illmatic. It’s really good. “Represent” and “Memory Lane (Sittin' in Da Park)” are instant favorites. Yep.

54. Hüsker Dü – Flip Your Wig LP – SST, 1985 – $8

Hüsker Dü's Flip Your Wig

If there’s a logical way to get into Hüsker Dü’s catalog, it’s their double album Zen Arcade, which everyone and their crazy uncle heralds as one of the finest albums of the 1980s. I tried to take this route by including Zen Arcade in a round of iPod Chicanery, but the Hüskers’ mammoth beast doesn’t work when put on random with a thousand other songs. (“Oh, ‘Reoccuring Dreams.’ I wonder what this one’s like.”) In lieu of this obvious course, I’ve chosen an entirely different, largely illogical path. Having been indoctrinated to Bob Mould with Sugar and some his less dour solo material, I opted to go backwards from there and pick up Hüsker Dü’s swansong, the mixed Warehouse: Songs and Stories on a whim. Now I’ve jumped past their other Warner Brothers full-length, Candy Apple Gray, in part because of its lower critical reception, in part because their SST albums are cheaper on vinyl, and in part because Ghost Wars did an acoustic cover of “Divide and Conquer,” and moved onto Flip Your Wig. Chronological order is for suckers!

Aside from a few Grant Hart stinkers (Mark Prindle nails how awful “The Baby Song” is), Flip Your Wig is a solid album, considerably better and more consistent than Warehouse. The aforementioned “Divide and Conquer” is a clear highlight, along with “Green Eyes,” “Games,” and the closing instrumental “Don’t Know Yet.” Perhaps the biggest improvement over the earlier Hüsker Dü albums I’ve heard is in Mould’s guitar tone, no longer a trebly razor-wire shred without recognition of the mid-range knob on his amp. I’ll spend some time with this album before retrying New Day Rising or, perhaps, Zen Arcade.

56. Pavement – Live in Germany LP – Matador, 2009 – $12.79

Pavement's Live in Germany

Matador didn’t do themselves any favors by issuing this Pavement live LP with the same cover imagebut in orange!—as the live LP included with preorders for the two-disc reissue of Brighten the Corners. Granted, both LPs are from their 1997 European tour, but since they’re both marketed to the limited-edition-seeking collector scum demographic, I’d expect more variety. I nearly second-guessed myself on whether I should purchase it before remembering that the other live LP had piss-takes on the band members’ names and song titles.

My other nitpick about these LPs is why they didn’t include this one with the BTC reissue, since it includes six Brighten the Corners songs and a rockin’ version of “And Then,” which popped up a few times in the bonus tracks for the reissue. (Not that I’m complaining; these rollicking, enthusiastic early takes on “The Hexx” allows me to avoid the dour version on Terror Twilight.) Still, they’re reasonably good live documents for a notoriously inconsistent live band, one I never saw, so I’m glad to own them.

57. Patton Oswalt – Feelin’ Kinda Patton LP – Stand Up, 2004 – $13.88

Patton Oswalt's Feelin' Kinda Patton

It’s rare that I’ll purchase a comedy DVD and rarer still that I’ll pick up a comedy album. Usually one or more of the following apply: the performance isn’t replayable; the performance discourages me from seeing the comedian live because that act will be all too familiar; the album suffers from missing visual cues; or the subject matter loses potency as it ages. Patton Oswalt’s managed to avoid most of these downfalls on Feelin’ Kinda Patton, the Patton Oswalt vs. Zach Galifianakis vs. Alcohol EP, and Werewolves and Lollipops, all of which I’ve listened to a few times, but the last caveat still applies here.

So much of the comedic fodder—whether shock, bewilderment, or ire—for the last eight years came from George W. Bush’s presidency. Oswalt may not rely on Bush for material as much as fellow alt-comic David Cross or spoken-word stand-up Henry Rollins, but the first few bits on this album still cover the absurdities of the Bush administration. Was this material hilariously cathartic during his administrations? Sure. Does it hold up? Not really. I’d rather hear about gay retards, the follies of 1980s metal videos, or Carvel cakes.

58. Swell Maps – International Rescue LP – Alive, [1999] – $11.19

Swell Maps' International Rescue

I received and read Rob Jovanovic’s Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement this past Christmas. It’s a somewhat underwhelming history of Malkmus and company, floating by on too many readily available anecdotes and asking too few incisive questions into the group’s internal workings, but the zine extracts were a nice dose of nostalgia. One of the best cribbed pages was a list of Malkmus and Spiral Stairs’ favorite artists/records, most of which I’d already known about (you mean they like The Fall?), but seeing Swell Maps on that list reminded me that I still needed to give them a listen beyond the surf-rock instrumental “Loin of the Surf” from A Trip to Marinesville. I haven’t gotten that album or their other full length, Jane from Occupied Europe because those reissues are $25 apiece.

This Pitchfork review convinced me to try out International Rescue, a more recently compilation of their material that comes at half the price of their full-lengths. I’ve listened through it once and skipped around another time, but it’s hard to pull out highlights since a number of songs last little more than a minute, causing the album to blur together. (“Spitfire Parade,” “Vertical Slum”… I’m sure there are more.) Viewing Pavement as a pure conglomeration of their influences, the spontaneity of their early records is drawn from Swell Maps’ self-sabotaging approach to structure and momentum. A number of these songs sound like inspired piss-takes on punk-rock’s early days, a strange complement to Wire’s art-punk editing process. International Rescue isn’t going to supplant Pink Flag in my listening pile or encourage me to spend $50 on the reissues of their full lengths, but its slapdash approach is strangely endearing.

59. Wipers – Over the Edge LP – Jackpot, 1983 – $15.19

Wipers' Over the Edge

After picking up Youth of America on last year’s Record Store Day, I decided to grab the most recent Wipers reissue LP from Jackpot, 1983’s excellent Over the Edge for this year’s occasion. I’d been eyeing original copies on eBay for a few months, but eventually I realized that the record would earn a reissue, much like Is This Real? and Youth of America before it, and it thankfully hit stores in time for the big day. Next year I suppose I have to pick up Is This Real? to keep the tradition going, even if it doesn’t have enough post- in its punk for my liking.

It’s not difficult to separate Over the Edge from Youth of America; the songs are shorter, there’s more upfront intensity , there’s no dreamlike cloud hanging over the record, the guitar tones are more varied, and the rhythm section still takes a distant third to Sage’s guitar and emotional vocals. I still prefer Youth of America because of that dreamlike haze, but songs like the hard-charging title track, the desperate “So Young,” the downright mean “Romeo,” and the heartbreaking “No One Wants an Alien” and “The Lonely One” make a strong argument for Over the Edge. You won’t go wrong with either of them. The same can’t be said about their later records, but I’ll still pick up any LP copies I see in my travels.

60. Great Northern – “Houses” b/w “For Weeks” 7”– Eeenie Meenie, 2009 – $0

Great Northern's Houses single

Part of the draw of Record Store Day is the free stuff, but unlike last year when I picked up a free Wye Oak/Destroyer split single, this year’s lot is slim pickings. (The Elvis Costello pint glass was a better grab than any of these free records.) I imagine the labels came to their senses and realized they could make actual money off of these vinyl exclusives. I wish this was a single from A Northern Chorus, the recently disbanded Canadian group. Sadly, Great Northern don’t barter in A Northern Chorus’s layered folk-rock, opting instead for very familiar female fronted alt-rock on the a-side “Houses,” sounding ready for a car commercial, and ghostly atmospherics on the flip, “For Weeks.” The latter is interesting enough, perhaps because it doesn’t feature the pseudo-U2 rush of “Houses,” but it didn’t increase the odds that I check out the album these songs came from, 2009’s Remind Me Where the Light Is. Their Wikipedia entry reveals that guitarist Solon Bixler has spent time in both indie poppers Earlimart and Jared Leto’s suck-rock 30 Seconds to Mars, which is a strange combination for a guy now contributing songs to the Grey’s Anatomy playlist.

61. Paper Route / Barcelona– Split Single 7” – Universal, 2009 – $0

Paper Route / Barcelona split single

I picked this seven-inch off the free table because I mistakenly thought Barcelona was major-label slow-core act Spain. It was free so I didn’t give it a second, fact-checking thought, so as penance I have to sit through this major label “indie” split. I’m rocking the scare quotes because both of these bands sound vaguely like recent indie rock trends, polished up for modern rock radio. Paper Route’s “Wish” (from their 2009 album Absence) starts off with some 1980s Brit-rock drums and chiming guitars, making me think I might get a New Order clone, but once the vocals kick in the “American Coldplay” comparison comes to mind. Note to self: instead of relying on the lazy journalism of calling up-and-coming bands “the American Radiohead,” flip that around and call groups things like “the English Nickelback” or “Israel’s answer to Creed.”

Flipping the single over isn’t any better. Barcelona waters down Death Cab for Cutie’s recent sound even further, thereby eliminating anything interesting from the mix. I can’t remember a damn thing about this song and it just finished playing.

62. Various Artists – Record Store Day 2009 – Sony, 2009 – $0

Record Store Day 2009 compilation

Last year’s Record Store Day compilation LP featured one side of modern rock and one side of (alt-) country with an embarrassing hit/miss ratio (three country songs were passable, all of the modern rock was decrepit). Letting the above seven-inches take over for the unknown modern rock market this year, this giveaway compilation features a strange array of semi-popular acts promoting their recent Sony albums with a few head-scratchers thrown in for good measure.

Side A is primarily comprised of relatively successful indie-informed rock—not just the album tracks, mind you, but extended remixes or alternate takes! Yes! My favorite! Glasvegas’s live on radio version of “Daddy’s Gone” still sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain, snooze. Raphael Saadiq’s stylish but unaffecting modern soul is an outlier in this string of WFNX stand-bys, but “100 Yard Dash” is remixed just in case anyone questions its inclusion. Justice remixes MGMT’s “Electric Feel” but it still sounds like any other MGMT song. I haven’t heard the supposedly dance-oriented Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, but this remix of “No You Girls” is straight disco. None of these songs even remotely memorable, but I now look back at them fondly because…

…Black Kids’ “Look at Me (When I Rock Wichoo) (Kid Gloves Remix)” is the most annoying song I’ve heard in months. It makes me long for the soothing, unobtrusive sounds of Radio Disney. In comparison, Living Things’ tepid “Let It Rain” sounds downright palatable, at least until I saw that Robert Christgau compared them to Fugazi. Combine anger at George W. Bush with a little guitar feedback and the Village Voice thinks you’re Fugazi.

Side B leaves behind this slew of remixed rock. Q-Tip’s joyous rap-fusion “Even If It Is So” is pulled from his still unreleased 2001 album Kamaal the Abstract (the liner notes crediting his “Forthcoming… 2001 album” gets a painful laugh). It’s a welcome, surprising inclusion, since CD promos for the album have been floating around for years. Tiempo Libre’s Afro-Cuban Latin-jazz is an enthusiastic next track, but without the liner notes I wouldn’t have guessed “Tu Conga Bach” is from a concept record pulling melodies and harmonies from Johann Sebastian Bach called Bach in Havana. In spite of embarrassing companions like Black Kids and Glasvegas, Charles Mingus classes up the compilation with the yearning “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from the 50th anniversary reissue of Mingus Ah Um. (I’ll stick with the old LP pressing I bought at RRRecords, thanks.) Mingus’s presence allows me to site this embarrassing line from the Pitchfork review of the album—“ I’m sure I’m not versed enough in jazz to assess what it is that makes Mingus Mingus—which flabbergasts me on why Pitchfork and Mike Powell opted to review it in the first place. I’m embarrassed to admit things like that on this site; imagine if I had an audience!

After three different shades of jazz to start side B, what’s a more logical fourth track than… Willie Nelson? The stripped-down re-mastering job on Nelson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is both endearing and a blatant cash grab, removing the layers of unnecessary production from the original version for the new Naked Willie compilation, but how it fits in with this side is beyond me. Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” closes the side with some wretched country-inspired rock, sounding like Kid Rock’s understudies. No thanks.

Let’s recap: one great Q-Tip song, a fine Mingus song I already own, an intriguing exercise in Latin jazz, a handful of forgettable rock remixes, a Willie Nelson song, and two profoundly awful tracks. Better than I expected!

Record Collection Reconciliation: Wipers, Destroyer, Wye Oak, Kaki King, Eels, Choice Cuts

While I purchased more than five items between two Newbury Comics locations on Record Store Day, I'll focus on the free stuff for this post. I've previously mentioned my fondness for the Wipers LP, but it merits being mentioned again as the representative of the paid-for pile.

11. Wipers - Youth of America - Jackpot, 1981/2007

Wipers' Youth of America

Why I Bought It: After downloading the Wipers’ first three albums (1980’s Is This Real?, 1981’s Youth of America, and 1983’s Over the Edge) a month ago, Record Store Day justified my purchase of Jackpot/Zeno’s 2007 reissue of Youth of America. The reissue LP may be pricey, ranging from $15 (plus shipping) direct from Greg Sage to $20 at most retailers, but the quality is indisputable. In addition to being remastered and pressed onto a thick slab of black vinyl, Youth of America features the thickest sleeve in my collection, putting the paper-thin sleeve of Colin Newman’s Not To to shame.

Verdict: This marks the first time I’ve heard Youth of America in its proper running order*; the 2001 Wipers Box Set puts side B (“No Fair,” “Youth of America”) before side A (“Taking Too Long,” “Can This Be,” “Pushing the Extreme,” “When It’s Over”). Fixing the track listing addressed a prior criticism of the album—that the shorter songs pale in comparison to their epic counterparts—by presenting the album as an accelerating descent into a fever dream. Sage recalls, “The song [‘Youth of America’] itself is out of a dream I had about the future. A time where people ‘over breed’ themselves to the point that even the most simple thing had become the highest level of competition. The dream had such a sense of realism and intensity to it that I went overboard with the recording to symbolize it.” The title track does the best job of encapsulating this sentiment, but the end of “Pushing the Extreme” performs the crucial transition from the relatively straightforward first three songs to the structurally experimental second half. As Sage intones, “Now it’s one against the other / What’s this price we gotta pay?” over backward cymbals—the first noticeably showy production technique on the album—the atmosphere starts mounting, leading to the cataclysmic ascending guitar riffs of “When It’s Over.” More than three minutes of increasing instrumental tension pass before Sage speaks a word in “When It’s Over,” even letting the backing piano chords take precedence over his raging guitar. At the end of the song, Sage yells “We’ll be laughing / When it’s over,” closing side A on a most foreboding note. This track order makes those first three songs a necessary precursor to the snowballing intensity of what’s to come.

“No Fair” starts off in a half-speed haze, with Sage’s spoken vocals barely making it through the woozy guitar. But once Sage yells, “It’s not fair,” a rare bass solo pushes the song into high gear and the guitar overdubs start swelling. While Sage’s vocals and lyrics are solid throughout the album, Youth of America’s primary appeal is its layered guitar tracks, featuring nimble chord changes, swells of feedback, and memorable leads. All of these styles are on display in the title track’s chaotic, nearly freeform middle section. I’ll certainly gravitate toward the ten-and-a-half-minute epic on a given record, but the sprawling range of “Youth of America” defines the record’s reactionary brilliance. Unrelenting, mesmerizing, and yet still approachable, Youth of America is a terrific slab of wax.

*With regard to the album’s running order, all of the LP pressings have the stated order, the Wipers Box Set has side B before side A, and Sage’s own site has “Taking Too Long,” “When It’s Over,” “Can This Be,” “No Fair,” “Pushing the Extreme,” and “Youth of America” listed.

12. Destroyer/Wye Oak - Record Store Day Promotional Single - Merge, 2008

Destroyer and Wye Oak split single

Why I Bought It: Free in a Record Store Day goodie bag.

Verdict: Both songs are exclusive to the single, which is more than I can say for a lot of the other giveaways I grabbed. I’ve tried and failed to get into both Destroyer and Dan Bejar’s other gig, the New Pornographers, and “Madame Butterflies” won’t change things too much. It reminds me of an unhinged Shins song, opting for a bit of guitar feedback instead of a rhythm section, but Bejar’s slightly faux-British vocal styling gets on my nerve. You can hear this song over at So Much Silence. As for Wye Oak, I’m happy to have an exclusive track, but the skeletal arrangement of “Prodigy” has b-side written all over it. Jenn Wasner’s voice is compelling, especially when it’s multi-tracked later in the song, but I miss the layers of If Children. I can’t argue with free, but I wonder if Wye Oak would have been better served by including “Warning” or “Family Glue” on the single.

13. Kaki King – “Pull Me Out Alive” b/w “Zeitgeist” - Velour, 2008

Kaki King's Pull Me Out Alive single

Why I Bought It: It was a giveaway at Record Store Day.

Verdict: I’ve heard a bit of Kaki King’s early guitar virtuoso recordings, but “Pull Me Out Alive,” taken from her 2008 album Dreaming of Revenge, shares little in common with that material. Alternating between a tense, staccato verse and an open, airy chorus, Kaki King’s voice is capable enough, but the guitars do little underneath. I can understand wanting to transition into an indie rock sound, especially if the Foo Fighters are willing to bring you on tour, but “Pull Me Out Alive” sounds like far, far too many other bands. The flip side is a lengthy instrumental (not a cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ most recent effort) reminding of lite post-rock bands. Snooze.

14. Eels – “Climbing to the Moon (Jon Brion Mix)” b/w “I Want to Protect You” - Geffen, 2008

Eels' Climbing to the Moon single

Why I Bought It: Giveaway at Record Store Day.

Verdict: This single takes a song apiece from the Eels’ recent greatest hits compilation, Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1 1996–2006, and their recent rarities compilation, Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996–2006. Aside from radio singles and soundtrack entries, I’ve only heard Beautiful Freak, which had their hit single “Novocaine for the Soul” on it. Both of these songs fall in line with my estimation of post-Beautiful Freak Eels; “Climbing to the Moon,” taken from 1998’s downer supreme Electro-Shock Blues, is a low-key, yet not entirely somber song about someone being ready to die (and not in the glorious Andrew W.K. way), while “I Want to Protect You” is a comparatively upbeat love song. Both songs could certainly hit home given the proper circumstances, but merely seemed “nice” on this listen. Considering that those two compilations span three CDs and two DVDs, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to hear that much Eels, no matter how “nice” they may be.

15. Various Artists - Choice Cuts: 2008 Record Store Day Sampler - Universal, 2008

Why I Bought It: Free in a Record Store Day goodie bag.

Verdict: I initially wrote a detailed track-by-track recap of this compilation, which features a side of modern rock and a side of (alt-)country, but in lieu of retyping all of my hard work (unfortunately eaten by some nasty spyware), I’ll give the highlights.

Choice Cuts compilation

While the country side of the LP featured some nearly unlistenable entries into pop country, namely One Flew South, Hayes Carll, and The SteelDrivers, it also featured the compilation’s only salvageable tracks. Tift Merritt and Shelby Lynne are both passably low-key female alt-country vocalists whose songs’ comparative subtlety was a blessing. I knew of Whiskeytown, but I hadn’t heard any of their music and didn’t remember than it was Ryan Adams’ formative project. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the best song from a promotional compilation is from a decade-old album newly reissued, but “10 Seconds” pulled off a rocking bit of alt-country. I had to wonder if the inclusion of pop country songs was a ruse—“Well, I don’t think they’ll listen to an album entirely of pop country, but if we throw some songs in along with some alt-country, they’ll have to listen to it!”—but I’m hardly itching to hear any of those songs again.

The flip side showed just how dire rejects from modern rock radio can be. Black Tide and Switches have both opened for the Bravery, hardly an arbiter of critical success, but they’re each somehow worse than that factoid might suggest. PlayRadioPlay! has a simple horrible band name and owes some serious royalties to the Postal Service, but what else should I expect from a kid who got a major label deal as a senior in high school based on MySpace popularity. Ludo is a St. Louis-based pop-punk band whose song reminds vaguely of the Get-Up Kids, but their rock opera tendencies do not wear well. They have a five album deal from Island. Five albums!

The compilation’s low-point is undoubtedly Yoav’s “Club Thing.” If the mix of acoustic guitar, low-key club beats, and falsetto come-ons had the slightest bit of humor, it might be mistaken for a Flight of the Conchords b-side, but don’t let that be mistaken for a compliment. “Club Thing” tries to be both a cautionary tale and a direct route to his audience’s panties, but lines like “He knows he can’t afford / What it pays to enslave her / He’s got a hunger / For the sweetest of favors” only serve to give me the creeps.

Five of Ten

My current writer’s block is a bit confounding, since I don’t think there’s a particular reason why I should open up Microsoft Word, type a few lines, and then shrug my shoulders and close the application, but it certainly happens often enough. Instead of trying to come up with some tremendous conceit to get my blood flowing again, I’ll just expand my usual sidebar feature by writing about ten things I’ve enjoyed recently and hopefully working out some of my nagging concerns in the process. Here are the first five items—as you can see expanding those entries takes up a good amount of time.

1. Colin Newman’s “& Jury”: While my Last.fm account tracks a larger period of time, I typically pay more attention to the play count in iTunes nowadays, having switched over to the software back in September in order to expedite transfers to my iPod. Currently the most played track is “& Jury” from Colin Newman’s 1980 solo debut A–Z with a whopping 40 plays since February 10, 2008. Given my obsession with early Wire, I’m rather astonished that it took me this long to delve into Newman’s solo discography, but such reticence wasn’t entirely undeserved. As the review on Wireviews mentions, A–Z is decidedly hit or miss, with the misses being rather annoying, although I can appreciate the anti-single appeal of “B.” But “& Jury” is easily on par with my favorite late Wire tracks, particularly since its urgent chorus (“We are the judges too”) peels back some of Wire’s trademark detachment. “But for a moment I felt a need to be closer to the reasons / And what I saw I can’t describe, I understand / That we are the judges too” furthers that reading, but what’s exposed isn’t necessarily genuine emotion but the recognition that pure detachment has its faults and its limitations.

I’ve tracked down most of Newman’s pre-1990 catalog and here’s the lowdown: A–Z is scattered, but frequently great; Provisionally Entitled the Singing Fish is an occasionally compelling entry into short Eno-esque instrumentals (think Another Green World); Not To has the closest connection to Wire’s 154, in part because some of its songs were originally meant for Wire’s fourth LP, but it’s also more consistent than A–Z, if slightly less sonically compelling; Commercial Suicide issues more synths, less percussion, and a more measured approach to songwriting, but its languid pace makes it difficult for me to make it through the entire album; CN1 is an odds-and-ends EP with a great vocal version of “Fish One” from Provisionally Entitled… called “No Doubt” (with vocal hooked based around the lyric “We all got awfully good at dying”); and It Seems completes Newman’s voyage into sequenced new wave with its great synth-heavy opener “Quite Unrehearsed,” but sounds far more dated than any of Newman’s other efforts.

2. Dexter: At the urging of my friend Jackie, I started watching the Showtime/CBS series Dexter last week. It didn’t take me more than five days to make it through the twenty-four available episodes, which is about par for my other speedy television catch-ups (Lost, Friday Night Lights, The Office). The first season was nearly flawless, as the writers balanced Dexter’s serial killer exploits, personal life (sister, girlfriend), professional duties as a blood splatter analyst for Miami PD forensics, and growing recognition of his past with aplomb. The second season had a less grounded plotline, reminding me of some of the lesser moments of recent Friday Night Lights and 24 seasons, but thankfully the resolution didn’t threaten the show’s future appeal. Michael C. Hall’s performance in the title role carries the series, but Julie Benz and Jennifer Carpenter’s respective portrayals of Dexter’s girlfriend and sister give the show depth. Some of the other characters seem more stock than they should, but there is a fairly large ensemble to introduce so perhaps that’s understandable. My biggest question is how much CBS has to edit out of the series in order to re-air the episodes—there is a great deal of blood and a good amount of nudity in the series—and whether fans of CBS’s flagship CSI franchises will appreciate Dexter’s connection to the forensics field despite its deeper bloodlines. In an ironic twist, I missed some of the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament watching the only reasonably good show on CBS on my computer. The third season starts September 30th, giving me something to look forward to a day after my birthday.

3. Wipers - Youth of America: The biggest problem with my current iteration of iPod Chicanery is that I included too many records that simply haven’t connected with me. The Pop Group, Suicide, Pere Ubu, This Heat, and other forays into post-punk haven’t provided the same level of interest as my previous favorites from the era. From the other end of the spectrum, my attempt at finally appreciating Black Flag hasn’t come to fruition, either. While I’m hesitant to say that I enjoy a limited spectrum of post-punk and punk/hardcore, since my tastes may very well evolve to appreciate more of the post- aspects of the genre, hearing the guitar-centric songs of the Wipers was exhilarating. Part of the excitement came from finally understanding where Zoom’s antsy guitar sound came from—I’d seen the Wipers used as a point of comparison in every Zoom review I’d come across, but never bothered to track down the originators until last week. Yet Youth of America has far more value than its guitar sound, since “No Fair,” “When It’s Over,” and the title track provide an epic counterpart to the other three songs’ comparatively lesser scope and place the Wipers (in my mind, at least) firmly in the post-punk canon. Youth of America has a nearly apocalyptic feel in those longer tracks, in part due to Greg Sage’s fondness for spoken-word narratives. I’ve listened to Is This Real? and Over the Edge as well and enjoy both of them, but Youth of America seems closer to the artistic statement records I relish so much (see: first three Wire albums). It’s great that Jackpot has reissued Youth of America and Is This Real? on LP, so hopefully Over the Edge is also forthcoming.

4. M83 – “Kim & Jessie and “Couleurs”: I’ve hesitated from slagging on pre-release albums in the idea that I’m far more concerned with helping people buy records than dissuading them from doing so, but M83’s upcoming Saturdays = Youth is enough of high-profile release that I don’t think my darts will puncture it too badly. I’ll start with the two tracks mentioned, since they’d make an excellent double a-side single if M83 had the stones for it. “Kim & Jessie” is kin to the last record’s twin singles, “Teen Angst” and “Don’t Save Us from the Flames,” but relates even more to 1980s synth-pop, particularly Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.” It’s no slight to say that “Kim & Jessie” could slip into Donnie Darko’s soundtrack if Richard Kelly’s nostalgia was less of a deciding factor. I’ve already read at least one site mention that “Couleurs” sounds more like a remix of an M83 song than the song itself, but I appreciate the sentiment. If I had to name the remixer, I’d guess Port-Royal, since “Couleurs” sounds enough like Afraid to Dance with less emphasis on crescendos and elongated fade-outs. “Needs more digital cowbell” would be a fine heckle if anyone sees them on their upcoming tour and bonus points if you can do it in French.

Now for the rest of the record. Whereas Dead Cities, etc. worked as an album because the non-singles blended into a greater aesthetic (My Bloody Valentine shoegaze as performed by analog synths), Before the Dawn Heals Us’s increased emphasis on vocals authored several wretched mistakes that crippled the album’s flow. Now Saturdays = Youth attempts to complete the move into a electro-indie band with a new female vocalist and a greater emphasis on rousing anthems like “Teen Angst.” Second single “Graveyard Girl” seems like it’s pandering with a spoken word discussion of what it’s like to be fifteen. “Up!” has the single funniest opening couplet in recent memory, as the female vocalist intones with utmost sincerity that “If I clean my rocket / We’ll go flying today.” The rest of the record tries with varying success to incorporate these female vocals into their synth-pop framework. If I gave the record more time, I’d probably enjoy “We Own the Sky” and “Dark Moves of Love,” but I don’t think I can put that much effort into another ill-fated attempt to revive new wave.

5. Kevin S. Eden - Wire: Everybody Loves a History: I’d argue that I enjoy a history more than most, since I tracked down this rather out-of-print biography of Wire that tracks their careers until 1990’s Manscape. The most surprising aspect of the book is how much of it (55 of 188 pages) covers Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert’s various exploits during Wire’s hiatus between 154 and Snakedrill. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I prefer Colin Newman’s more song-based output during that era, so I was a bit disappointed that nearly a third of my bathroom reading for the next while would be about Dome and modern art installations. It’s interesting to read about the divisions between the Lewis/Gilbert and Newman/Thorne camps that developed during 154, since that record is so clearly a product of internal tensions. Yet I would have preferred more emphasis on the first three records, since they’re Wire’s classics. Perhaps it’s merely the weight of the timeline that is the source of this frustration, since those records were produced in a three-year span and the book covers the decade that follows them. Everybody Loves a History, like many of the 33 1/3 books that have been released recently, is flawed, but worth checking out. If nothing else, it could be a great source of inspiration for a 33 1/3 entry for Chairs Missing or 154.