Just looking at that number range makes me cringe, but I’ve recognized several things that have kept me from updating consistently during this round. First, including only unfamiliar material was a mistake. I thought that if every song was a candidate for an entry, I’d end up writing more often, but the opposite occurred. Whereas in previous iterations I was able to contextualize the new material within the bounds of my regular listening pile, the endless unfamiliarity of this round never gives me a chance to collect my thoughts. After one song ends, I’m immediately considering the next.
Second, some of the included albums didn’t catch on as much as I hoped, which I’ll elaborate upon in a minute. Assuming that I’ll enjoy an album based on a text description or critical response often works, but it also leads to records that I should enjoy but for whatever reason just don’t click. The Pop Group, I am looking at you.
Finally, not listening to my iPod consistently has prevented any particular artist from having a huge impact. In addition to my previously mentioned battles with the cassette adapter for my car, I’ve also been driving significantly less. Without a daily commute to rely on, I’ve gone up to two weeks in between listening sessions. I also only had one long drive during this period and that suffered from the ol’ cassette adapter barely playing the left channel of audio. Considering that I will not have a commute in the foreseeable future because of telecommuting, I’m going to forgo the remaining 379 songs and focus on my Record Collection Reconciliation project.
While closing up shop on this round makes it seem like this attempt was a complete failure, my record collection disagrees. It looks like I’ve grabbed albums from Boys Life, Brian Eno & David Byrne, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Iggy Pop, Keith Jarrett, Panel Donor, Pere Ubu, Raekwon, Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground, and XTC that were either on this list or inspired by inclusions, and that doesn’t include artists like the Cocteau Twins, Colin Newman, and Kraftwerk, in which cases I expanded an already existing artist collection with an album that wasn’t on this list. I hopefully made that as convoluted as possible, but the moral is that this project introduced me to new records and I tracked some of them down for a closer look.
To close out this project, I’m going to keep the following albums on my iPod for non-forced random listening, perhaps even to hear in their entirety.
Mekons - Fear and Whiskey: While I own a still-unplayed copy of Mekons’ 1988 release So Good It Hurts (RCR awaits), I wanted to include the Mekons album most sources cite as their best. I’ve heard eight of the ten tracks so far, but British take on the American Southwest in “Trouble Down South” is just too good to remove.
Last Days - Sea: While I enjoyed Last Days’ 2007 album These Places Are Now Ruins enough to include “Swimming Pools at Night” on my year-end mix, its 2006 predecessor is simply a stronger album. Longer tracks like “Your Birds,” “The Norwegian Sea,” and “Fear” pull closer to post-rock than the ambient approach found on many of the shorter tracks, but it’s the balance between these two elements that strikes me. The soundtrack to late night summer reading, I’m sure.
Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx: I recently picked up the 12" single of “Ice Cream” and “Incarcerated Subjects,” neither of which had come up yet in the randomized playlist, but I’m more interested in hearing those songs within the context of the album than jumping on that single. Considering my ever-growing fondness for GZA’s Liquid Swords, I’m kicking myself for not checking both of these records out at least five years ago when I asked Merrye Curry to pass along rap recommendations.
Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus: I’ve enjoyed whenever Mingus, Davis, Monk, Coltrane, Hancock, and Dolphy have come up during the course of iPod Chicanery, but actually putting on one of their albums has been difficult. I picked up Mingus Ah Um from RRRecords a few months back, but I should give his other album from this round a little more time to sink in.
The Saints - Eternally Yours: After being floored by the Rocket from the Crypt-like blast of “Know Your Product,” I kept an eye out for any additional Saints songs that came up. While only the similarly titled “No, Your Product” equals the introductory salvo, I’ve definitely enjoyed having the energy of this Australian punk band to counteract some of the more trying moments of this round.
Edit: I decided to also keep Mouse on Mars' Autoditacker, Boys Life's Departures and Landfalls, The Pupils' self-titled LP, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Colin Newman's A-Z and Not To, Bark Psychosis's Hex, Nas's Illmatic, and Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet on my iPod.
Opening Bell: After starting things off quietly with the title track from Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s Ambient II: The Plateaux of Mirror, I got the croaking bass of Smog’s “Natural Decline” from Rain on Lens. While I like a reasonably rocking Bill Callahan song as much as the next guy, it wasn’t until that track ended and Nas’s “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)” came on that I felt like this project had really started. I’d put off listening to Illmatic despite its lofty status in “best rap albums” discussions, but “Memory Lane” quickly informed me of what I’d been missing.
Ghostface vs. Wu Tang: I’d skimmed The Big Doe Rehab and 8 Diagrams, but I hadn’t given either record a dedicated listen. Hearing Wu Tang’s “Take It Back” and Ghostface’s “Supa GFK” back to back followed quickly by Ghostface’s “Slow Down” made it clear that these records would be in dialogue throughout this project. The main thing I’ve noticed so far is how Ghostface’s incorporation of R&B vocals on “Slow Down” works better than Wu Tang’s attempts on “Stick Me for My Riches,” even though I enjoy the verses of that Wu Tang song enough to overlook my concerns. Still, I may end up leaning toward 8 Diagrams in the production department since I wasn’t expecting the woozy RZA solo track “Sunlight,” but it held up well enough on its own.
Strange Remembrace: Though I’d recently picked up T. Rex’s The Slider on vinyl, I hadn’t listened to the second side yet and was pleased that “Buick Mackane” rivaled the songs I’d already heard. But what struck me about hearing a song from The Slider was remembering that my English 101 instructor (and erstwhile Rectangle guitarist) Matt Mitchell assigned a poem on this record in my freshman intro to poetry course. I imagine that I have the course packet floating around somewhere, but I’m a bit frustrated that Googling hasn’t come up with anything yet. I remember enjoying that poem but thinking “Yeah, I doubt I’ll ever get a record from the ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’ band.” Oops.
Post-rock You Say: Despite Simon Reynolds coining “post-rock” in its honor, I’d never given Bark Psychosis a solid listen. Three songs from Hex have come up so far (within seven tracks, no less), with “The Loom” being the most memorable of them. I was at the laundromat at the time and had to compete with some blaring piano from a Spanish-language soap opera, but the subtlety of the track still came through. “Pendulum Man” was a bit too ambient for that environment, but it made sense in connection to the more fleshed-out “The Loom” and “Absent Friend.” At the very least I have another reference point (along with Talk Talk) for the Ghost Wars recordings that have come out so far.
If I Had Any Doubt…: …about The National’s Alligator living up to my fondness for Boxer, “City Middle” erased it.
Best Song of the Round: The Saints’ “Know Your Product” is clearly a precursor for Rocket for the Crypt, but it’s hard to think of any RFTC songs that were as melodic in the horn accompaniment.
If I didn’t have things like “topics of discussion” and “expanding my horizons” to consider, it’s entirely plausible that my listening pile for a few months could be comprised purely of mid 1990s indie rock. Yet I have the nagging desire to institute another round of iPod Chicanery, which will launch once I finish loading up my Nano with a few more albums.
This time around I will not be “going back” to any albums. To the best of my knowledge, I have not listened to any of these albums in their entirety. Roughly two-thirds of these albums were released prior to 1990, which given my normal listening habits is a monumental achievement. Many of them are mirrored in my growing vinyl collection. Rap, jazz, and 1970s and 1980s post-punk are well-represented. Since I am not currently commuting anywhere on a daily basis, I’m going to try my best to listen to my iPod in my living room and on my computer, although this may actually detract from my focus on the project. I will once again try to post every fifty to one hundred songs, which should be easier now that I don’t have any “comfort tracks” to lean back on. I won’t keep myself from listening to other records during the project, but I will try to keep this habit to a minimum.
I have a feeling that this iteration of the project will be profoundly trying, so bear with me.
My initial hopes of updating this process every 100 songs have been utterly destroyed by the nagging hands of paper writing, playoff hockey, and graduation, but with tracks 295 through 643 in the rear view, now’s as good of a time as any.
Redeeming Record: While Tortoise’s self-titled debut didn’t prove itself up to my car-oriented listening habits, including their 1998 release TNT in this round turned out to be a wise decision. While I’ve always found the record to be a bit long, particularly in comparison to my favorite Tortoise release (Millions Now Living Will Never Die), it’s hard to slight any of the individual tracks from TNT as being anything less than compelling. Hearing the Steve Reich influence in “Ten-Day Interval” was especially intriguing given the continued appearance of sections from Music for 18 Musicians, but the song manages to use that interlocking approach in conjunction with decidedly Tortoise elements like the subtly smooth bass line. While “Ten-Day Interval” stuck out, it also differentiated itself from some of the other TNT tracks to appear in this span, like the aquatic funk of “The Equator,” the electronic pulses of “Jetty,” and the smooth glide of my favorite song from the album, “Everglade.” I’ll have to listen to the whole album again and see if it now surpasses Millions as my pick for the band.
Okay, I Get It: After hitting myself in the head last round over not hearing Turing Machine’s “Rock. Paper. Rock.” earlier, “Bleach It Black” had to come on and pulverize its way to my heart. Zwei and A New Machine for Living have been bumped up my purchasing queue. Please stop making me hurt myself.
Beyond a Novelty: After seeing this clip for Reggie and the Full Effect’s “Mood 4 Luv” a month or two ago, the Fluxuation songs from his last three records made it onto my iPod. Fluxuation is James Dewees’s satirical ’80s new wave guise, but these songs tend to surpass the “serious” music on his records. “Mood 4 Luv” came up at the end of my drive back from a post-grading trip to Walden Pond with two of my fellow English graduate students. Thankfully, Vicki and Jocelyn seemed to enjoy the inanely infectious song more than many of the other random selections from the trip. Dewees would be wise to make his next album a pure Fluxuation effort, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen.
Unexpected Epic: I knew that DJ Spooky’s Optometry was likely to be a mixed bag, but I’ve largely liked its mix of contemporary jazz and electronic treatments / structures. The eleven and a half minutes of “Sequentia Absentia (Dialectical Triangulation I)” went by faster than some of the album’s comparatively shorter tracks, at least until the song gradually disintegrates in the final few minutes. By switching between grooves without returning to a chorus (for that, see the beat poetry of “Asphalt (Tome II)”), “Sequentia” manages to be far less irksome than some of Spooky’s more overt genre collisions.
New Favorite: While I won’t quite assert that Smog’s “Teenage Spaceship” surpasses “River Guard” as my pick from the excellent Knock Knock, the song definitely hit me as I drove up Vassar Street. “Loomed so large on the horizon /
So large / People thought my windows / Were stars” cuts to those distant memories of being in high school and driving around in my Taurus station wagon, thinking vaguely about my future. (You know, graduating from college, getting married, that sort of stuff.) “I was a teenage smog / Sewn to the sky” lingers on that notion before fading out, letting the memory slip away just as easily as it came. While not the same as the rattling “We are constantly on trial / It’s a way to be free” line from “River Guard,” the casually nostalgic lyrics of “Teenage Spaceship” are equally evocative.
Not Actually a Skit: GZA’s “Hell's Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304” may start off with a low-key rap skit, but at the 1:27 mark the insistent synth line comes into the mix, launching GZA’s focused flow. I’ve been thinking about the role of the chorus on rap songs, particularly because of Kool Keith’s consistent botching of them, but “Killah Hills 10304” thankfully sticks with the verse. If anything, there’s the remnant of a chorus echoing off in the distance from the vocal loop that appears a few times, but it never fully takes over. Given the strength of the production, I don’t see why it would.
Most Calming Moment: After a spending most of an atypically relaxing drive up to Reading listening to Stars of the Lid’s “The Daughters of Quiet Minds,” the first song from their wonderful And Their Refinement of the Decline came on. Though the title of “Dungtitled (In A Major)” doesn’t quite match the graceful crests of the song, it did make me laugh a bit as I checked my iPod to make sure the song did in fact change. Listening to the horns turn into feedback drones as the melody of the song gently faded out was an excellent soundtrack for browsing records.
Most Trying Song: I’ve largely enjoyed RZA’s Bobby Digital in Stereo, particularly “B.O.B.B.Y.,” “Bobby Did It (Spanish Fly),” and “N.Y.C. Everything,” but “Domestic Violence” didn’t click when it came up on random. The production of the song certainly measures up, since the piano line is both driving and melancholic enough for the chaotic violence of the song, but hearing RZA and Jamie Sommers yell at each other near the end of the song took me out of my comfortable Sea and Cake zone. Going back to the song for this write-up, however, gave me a new perspective on the song. While the “Your daddy ain’t shit” section still drags a bit too much for my liking, RZA’s verses are virulently focused, with lines like “Bitch to be a nurse you gotta go to school first!” jumping out with their emotional baggage.
I Will Remember: I included Medications’ self-titled debut EP in the mix, since it’s a solid release with a bit more consistency than their full-length, if it doesn’t quite match the high points from Your Favorite People All in One Place (“Pills,” “This Is the Part We Laugh About,” “Surprise!”). My biggest issue with the EP is that I can never remember which song has my favorite moment, a melancholic part when Ocampo sings something like “Aye na” before switching back to the band’s urgent math-rock. I remember hearing it as I passed over the Charles River, looked down at my iPod and noted the song, but naturally, when returning to the play list it took no fewer than three guesses to determine that said section is part of “Exercise Your Futility.” I blame Medications for keeping their songs fresh by combining somewhat divergent parts so fluidly that hearing the first minute or two of the song doesn’t rule out such a change of course. “Exercise Your Futility,” check.
I’m taking a much deserved and needed break from secondary readings on torture to recap the highlights of tracks 104 through 294. Yes, it didn’t take me long to break my aim of reporting after every hundred tracks, but I ended up making a mix CD of the highlights from the first 200 tracks (I’ll try to compile the MP3s at a later date) instead of recapping them as I probably should have. Still remarkably light on long songs, so I’m moving along at a quick clip. I don’t anticipate this pace lasting.
Blast from the Past: It’s been some time since the last vestiges of my Hum ultra-fandom wore away; I’m now down to the occasional run-through of the finest moments of You’d Prefer an Astronaut (“Little Dipper,” “Why I Prefer the Robins,” “I Hate It Too”) on muggy summer nights. Dropping Electra 2000 in the playlist revived some of those old feelings, however, and it’s particularly appropriate that “Winder,” a song from which I derived my first e-mail address and AIM screenname, clicked the hardest. For all of the slightly wince-inducing vocal performances strewn about E2K, it’s easy to forget the genuinely heavy, shifting guitar riffs and Matt Talbot’s great moments of detached insight. In giving such structural priority to its charging riffs, “Winder” stands out as an energized album-closing jam, at least until the excellent bonus track “Diffuse” made it on album’s the third pressing.
Overdue Notice: The ex-Pitchblende made a notable opening appearance at the Dismemberment Plan’s semi-infamous dance party at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago—Justin Chearno’s head was clipped by the head stock of the bass, but the math-rock continued, dripping blood and all. Despite tracking down those Pitchblende CDs, I never got around to picking up Turing Machine’s debut (A New Machine for Living) or the follow-up, Zwei, but hearing “Rock. Paper. Rock.” during a commute convinced me of my errors. I might’ve been happy if the insistent guitar line chimed along for the full seven minutes, but instead Turing Machine keeps shifting the elements, letting each of the instruments have the spotlight.
Most Bizarre Transition: The first two songs of this round were Ween’s “I’m Dancing in the Show Tonight” and Ghostface Killah’s “Clyde Smith” skit. The former sounds like a slightly demented children’s song, complete with pitch-shifted vocals and recital-oriented piano backing, while the latter is also pitchshifted, dropping Ghostface’s voice down to comically deep levels for two and a half rambling minutes. The break between the piano and the unadorned announcement that “My name is Knuckles, nigga” nearly knocked me out of the driver’s seat.
Best Transition: GZA’s Liquid Swords has met any expectations I had for the album, particularly because of the extended samples of dialogue. The gasping death that concludes “I Gotcha Back” segued almost perfectly into the quiet drops of rain beginning Juno’s “The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow.” While the tone is a bit softer in the Juno song, it doesn’t belie the oncoming shudders of guitar at the end of the track or the overall content of the song, which looks at death from an entirely different perspective. This conversation between the songs even surpassed my initial awe of the smooth transition.
Best Laugh: I tend to underestimate Steve Albini’s cruel sense of humor in favor of the sonic incision of his bands, but Big Black’s “Bad Penny” combining the industrial grind of that band’s finest moments with an overwhelmingly memorable break. “I think I fucked your girlfriend once... maybe twice, I don't remember / Then I fucked all your friends’ girlfriends—now they hate you” is delivered with blend of malice and wit particular to Albini, lacking only a fuller entry in the band’s tour diary.
Biggest Breakthrough: I’d heard a few Cocteau Twins songs before this round and a few more during the course of it, but it wasn’t until “Lorelei” came on that the band’s proto-shoegaze dream pop finally hit me. The processed guitar line floats along, propelled by an unmistakably ’80s drum machine, but Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals give the song its vague approximation of shape, whether it’s her indiscernible lilt, her breathy pulse, or her multi-tracked peaks. It’s hard to think of this song without thinking of it as a prototype for the pop songs on Loveless, but I hardly mean to demote it to a footnote in My Bloody Valentine’s history.
Pleasant Surprise: When Stars of the Lid’s “Tippy’s Demise” came on during the tail end of my commute to BC today, I was a little concerned about the typically minimal nature of their work being difficult to hear over the din of traffic. But “Tippy’s Demise” seems far less ambient than the other tracks I’ve heard from And Their Refinement of the Decline, swelling with instrumentation halfway through the song before receding away. Unlike a few songs from the new Eluvium record featuring fuller, more classically oriented arrangements, “Tippy’s Demise” doesn’t edge toward awkward sentimentality, only emotional directness. I’m beginning to worry about the purchasing pile I’ll have to deal with in the coming months.
I almost managed to write a summary before the first 100 tracks elapsed, but sitting down for forty minutes is a far more difficult task than I initially imagined. I, gulp, made it to 103 before I found some free time.
General Sentiment: I was rather astonished by how downright friendly the first ninety tracks were. Late in the loading process I found myself dropping a few tracks from semi-forbidden records, i.e. indie rock standbys and last round favorites, and it's astonishing just how many of these particular songs came up. The only Lefty's Deceiver song, one of three Stella Link songs, one of two Sixto songs, the only Clark song, one of two Castor songs, one of a scant few Faith No More songs, one of two Faraquet songs ("Call It Sane," of course)... I'm sure there are more than I'm forgetting. I had anticipated a much more challenging barrage to start the second round, but this array of familiar tracks was actually a bit disappointing.
Worst Transitions: This nomination is remarkably easy: anytime a section from Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians came up. First, the decision to opt for the many-tracked approach as opposed to the unwieldy 56-minute-long version ignored the fact that virtually none of these sections employ fade-ins or fade-outs. Second, sandwiching minimalist classical between Ghostface Killah and Killing Joke, between the Dirty Three and the Stella Link, or between Dinosaur Jr and Ween may seem interesting, but one one of those transitions (the lead-in to the Stella Link) wasn't jarring. It's absolutely nothing against the Reich piece itself, which I've enjoyed on every occasion, but I just don't see this problem getting any better.
Worst Timing: I rarely take the T, but Brian Eno's "Zawinul" managed to come on during one of those rare trips on the red line. No matter how much I turned up the volume, I could only hear a faint echo of what I imagined is very well crafted ambient music. Straining to hear ambient music seems antithetical to me.
Best Timing: Though Cat Power's cover of Smog's "Red Apples" may have been more fitting for a particularly gray Boston afternoon, my walk around downtown was significantly more fun when the Stooges' "Search and Destroy" came on. I wished that I had rollerblades with me at the time (yes, skateboarding would hold more cachet, but rollerblading is what I'm good at) so I could skate around City Hall plaza.
Song Someone Else Enjoyed: I'm somewhat surprised that anyone could hear the music with six people crammed into the Corolla for a drive from Fenway to Inman Square, but my wife managed to pick out Shannon Wright's "You Baffle Me" from the forthcoming Let in the Light LP from the din of complaint. It's not too surprising that this Shannon Wright record has more crossover appeal than her last official album, Over the Sun from 2004, since that record's dark and violent swings from June of 44-esque guitar rock to claustrophobic piano ballads are understandably difficult to digest. If Let in the Light is Wright's attempt to move away from the dramatic scope of her last few records (a process started with her collaboration with Yann Tiersen), it appears to be a success.
Most Trying Moment: Dinosaur Jr's "Poledo" came on during a drive home, which I didn't mind at first, but when I had to start my next trip in the midst of lo-fi radio buzz, I really wanted Mascis to come in and start shredding the hell out of Barlow's seemingly aimless noise. Definitely a track that makes somewhat more sense in the context of the record, but not one that I'm likely to pick out.
Most Rewarding Stretch: As I mentioned, most of the first run was unexpectedly familiar (barring a few notable exceptions, particularly GZA's "Liquid Swords"), but in the last ten to fifteen tracks I've gotten some definite standouts. Dr. Dooom's "Leave Me Alone" bodes well for the rest of First Come First Served with traditionally strong verses, some excellent non-sequiturs (motorcycle helmet?), and a curiously insistent chorus. David Bowie's excellent "Be Me Wife" justified the inclusion of two of his late '70s albums. Bobby Hutcherson's "West 22nd Street Theme" utilizes an interesting rotation of the instruments' importance to the mix and a strong melodic thread. Finally, Edsel's "Fortune of Space" had a surprising horn part, a great chorus, and a well-crafted outro, all of which helped temper hearing a few of Edsel's stock transitional tracks earlier in the round. A solid run both in terms of individual songs and aesthetic variety.
I finally finished loading up my iPod for the second round of iPod Chicanery. This time there are 1251 songs lasting for 3.4 days. I’ve used the forethought this time of creating a “Continuing Random” playlist at the start that I’ll keep paring down as I update the project (which should be around every 100 songs).
So what ended up on the playlist this time? Part of me thinks it’ll be better to reveal the contents as they come up, but I’ll divulge a few of the picks now. I did a fair amount of research into which records I’ve inexplicably missed, which records fulfill genre holes in my listening habits, and which records will mix up the flow nicely, so those choices will probably be the ones that immediately come to mind.
Most Likely to Cause Car Accident: I decided to include Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline—all two hours of it—since it nicely bridges the gap between ambient and minimalist classical. The examples of those genres that I included for the last round, Eluvium and Philip Glass respectively, often made me relax during morning commutes, so hopefully that will be the result again, not fiery death.
Lungfish Selections: I’ve slowly been making my way through Lungfish’s impressive catalog and opted to include three releases that I’m only vaguely familiar with for this round: Artificial Horizon, Pass and Stow, and Necrophones. I can’t think of any other artist who eked three albums onto the iPod, but Lungfish displayed remarkable consistency with the picks of Rainbows from Atoms, Indivisible, and The Unanimous Hour for the last round.
Taking Cues: I ended up stealing ideas for jazz records to include from Floodwatchmusic, namely Miles Davis’s live album Agharta, Bobby Hutcherson’s Components (since Montara was not easy to track down), and John Coltrane’s Meditations. These are joined by Herbie Hancock’s Thrust, which I had picked up on vinyl a few weeks ago, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.
New Releases: I didn’t want this round to be all 2007 releases, but the new Battles, Narrator, Shannon Wright, 65daysofstatic, Twilight Sad, Pelican, Mary Timony Band, Caspian, Berg Sans Nipple, Errors, and Stars of the Lid albums all made it onto the playlist. My apologies to Wilco, Nina Nastasia, the Arcade Fire, Jesu, and Trans Am records and any other amazing records that manage to leak in the next three months. I’ll have to listen to you on my laptop.
Album I’m Most Excited to Hear: Since getting into Philip Glass’s minimal work, I’ve been trying to track down other solid releases in this vein, and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians came up as the dominant example. I initially downloaded the 1978 ECM version, which was only one track and 56 minutes long. Well, as much as I like a challenge, I gladly opted for the more recent Nonesuch recording, which is longer, but is also broken up into more manageable sections. I’ve been absorbed by this album since downloading it, so I’m quite eager to hear how it mixes with the other material on the playlist.
Those are all the spoilers you’re getting for now. I haven’t even divulged which eight rap albums made it on—only five are Wu-Tang Clan related!
The first round of iPod Chicanery is done after nearly three months. In retrospect, I wish I had posted more frequent updates about the project, but that aspect was lacking my typical level of obsessive specification. This round counted for the final 261 of the 1164 total songs and seemingly went much faster than the previous rounds, but I can’t validate that with any sort of information.
Overlooked Facet: I really have to thank any of the people who sat in on this project as I drove around Boston. My wife took the brunt of it, but I’m guessing that at least ten other people suffered through the curious will of my iPod. Next time I’ll try to keep track of who has to listen to what.
Double Take: When I heard Slint’s “Glenn” on a gray morning, I thought that it fit perfectly with the uneasy cast of the Cambridge streets. That completely alien guitar line floors me every time I hear it, so when the song came up in the final hour of the project, I was worried that I might have comprised the integrity of the project. No, the issue was that the Slint EP had somehow made it onto my Nano twice, once as indie and once as post-rock. I’m somewhat surprised that I didn’t notice when “Rhoda” came up a second time, but the first time probably wasn’t within the prior few days.
Best Transition: I’m usually disappointed when two songs come in a row, but hearing Tungsten74’s “Guitar Solo and “Come Sweet Death” (two rare short songs in their catalog) back to back worked surprisingly well. Both songs may seem like transitional pieces on Aleatory Element and Binaurally Yours, respectively, but the precise layering in each track condenses their typical sprawl quite well.
Stealthy Long Song: I initially thought Philip Glass’s “Mad Rush” was another fine entry from Solo Piano that would pass by in about six minutes, but it kept going for almost fourteen. I was more surprised than dismayed, however, as I’ve become a fan of Glass’s piano-oriented work since picking up Glassworks on LP last year. I remember that particular commute taking much longer than usual, so “Mad Rush” may not have been accurate in terms of the title, but the song made the wait a bit easier.
New Favorite Song: I feel like I’ve switched favorite Lungfish songs every other day since finally getting into them this year, but “Fill the Days” from Indivisible has a great combination of a memorable riff and prototypically great lyrics. “Fill the days with significant waste / Fill the days with meaningful refuse / Fill the days with interesting things to say / Fill the days with gradual decay” has been running through my head since it came up on random (grabbing the LP in February hasn’t hurt, either), and though it doesn’t quite take the lyrical expanse of “Space Orgy,” “Hallucinatorium” or “Creation Story” into account, that perspective on day-to-day living is a bit more accessible (read: less shamanistic) to my existence. I don’t know why I never picked up this record after hearing a minute sample of this song on the Southern web site, but it’s better late than never.
New Favorite Album: I’ve come to realization that while the peaks on Speaking in Tongues make for most of my favorite Talking Heads songs, Fear of Music is a more consistent record in terms of songwriting and aesthetics. The afro-beat influence never overwhelms the post-punk nerviness. “Animals” and “Heaven” stuck out particularly during this round, but every song made me turn my head.
Join the Club: The lyrics on Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights are almost uniformly laughable. If not for the instrumental precision and Paul Banks’s delivery, I don’t know if I could stomach this record. I don’t know if I could make the same case for Antics, a record that lacks some of the solid album tracks like “The New.”
Worst Pause: Hearing Swirlies’ “San Cristobal de las Casas,” one of my work-out jams, on the drive to the Middle East for the Twilight Sad / A Northern Chorus show, got me drumming on the steering wheel, but pausing it halfway through to run out into the cold rain seemed unfair to the song. I had the final minute and a half waiting for me on the ride home, which meant that I started it up again in the midst of one of those galloping riffs.
Best No Pause: I got to hear Juno’s “Leave a Clean Camp and a Dead Fire” in its entirety on a run up to Reading last Friday. Thankfully I didn’t have to accelerate at the same measured pace as the song; I hit its high point immediately after merging onto 93 and kept it there (namely 77 on cruise control) until I reached my destination.
Unkind Perspective: None of the subsequent June of 44 records topped Engine Takes to Water in my view (although Four Great Points came close), but the bizarre beat poetry of “Pale Horse Sailor” has never sat well with me. Hearing it again and not being able to skip it made me remember how frequently June of 44 veered toward unjustifiable self-indulgence. “Sharks and Sailors” turned this sort of nautical fetishism into an actual song, so its aimless precursors should be retroactively erased.
Final Run: If not for Talking Heads’ “Electric Guitar”—an excellent song that transitioned poorly—the final two songs of the project would have been Mock Orange’s introspective “Old Man” and Eluvium’s “Perfect Neglect in a Field of Statues,” an amazing combination of statement and reflection, but the final three was still manageable.
It’s been some time since the last update, but the first entry should explain why. I’m down to 261 remaining songs spanning 20 hours, which seems remarkably manageable considering the 900 I’ve been through.
Biggest Realization: About halfway through this endeavor I recognized that the excitement of hearing unfamiliar songs at unfamiliar times had slowly dissolved into a new familiarity. Yes, I still have unfamiliar songs waiting, but they’re all from albums whose aesthetic I’ve accepted as part of the fray. I’ve realized that if I do this again (and I’m really thinking about keeping this going for at least one more round), I have to bump the ratio of familiar records to unfamiliar records far more to the latter, particularly on genre inclusion (i.e. more rap, jazz, and classical) and not include entire records for some artists so I can mix up the flow even further. I already have some ideas of records I need to include and records I need to dump, but if any readers have suggestions of records that I tend not to mention and might do well to include, I will probably use those suggestions for round two.
Strangest Grouping: Sandwiching a classically oriented track from Eluvium’s Copia between two tracks of Pilot to Gunner’s DC-styled indie rock threw me for a loop. I can understand one of those PTG songs coming up, but hearing two of the eleven tracks from Games at High Speeds in that scenario was just baffling.
Flashback: I threw Arab Strap’s Philophobia on the iPod, but I hadn’t ran into too many of its tracks until this round. I typically mention how strong Arab Strap’s dynamic rockers are—the live version of “Girls of Summer,” “Pulled,” “We Know Where You Live”—but I have to admit that the skeletal aesthetic blueprint of Philophobia fits the subject matter better than the fleshed-out arrangements of later records. Most of the songs succeed with thoughtful guitar lines and drum machines, so when flourishes come up, whether in the horns of “The Night Before the Funeral” or the twinkling piano of “Islands,” they seem like respites from the din of sexual frustration, not defining aspects of the sound.
Best Album Track: “Monkey Man” helped the slow process of seeing the Rolling Stones more as an album band and less as a singles band. I grew up on Hot Rocks and always appreciated that side of the band, but including Let It Bleed and Beggars Banquet (Aftermath hasn’t fared quite as well) in this round has helped bring some of those album tracks to the forefront. Next round I’ll include Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street.
Best Timing: I knew that Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “BBF3” would come up at some point, but not having listened to the group much since seeing them in 2000 and knowing the track’s eighteen minutes would take a significant chunk out of a commute made me a bit wary. Fortunately the song started playing during my ride home last night, a grey, dreary commute from Boston College to MIT in the midst of a light snow. It truly came into form when I had to navigate the narrow lanes of Memorial Drive, gazing over at the foggy abyss of Boston proper over the half-frozen Charles. Turning Boston into a post-apocalyptic wasteland was significantly easier than I imagine.
Worst Timing: Silkworm’s “Give Me Some Skin” is one of the group’s finest moments, defined by a cavernous drum sound and a particularly affecting Tim Midgett vocal performance. Yet hearing it on what appeared to be the first day of spring (spoiled a few days later by the above-mentioned snowfall) was completely antithetical to its strengths. “Do you think it took talent or vision / to be strung up on a pine tree in the snow?” just doesn’t sound right amidst the first blast of near 70 degree temperatures and a shining sun.
Most Memorable Double-Shot: I keep hearing about the Lungfish trance, but even though I feel like I “get” the band’s appeal, I hadn’t hit the trance until hearing “Cut to Fit the Mouth” and “Indivisible” back to back on a commute home. I ended up being honked at after zoning out at a traffic light on Cambridge Street, which bums me out since I measure my success as a Boston driver as having a good ratio between honking at other people and being honked at by other people. Those two songs don’t rock as hard as “Space Orgy,” “Mated,” or “Fill the Days,” but they have that mid-tempo Lungfish repetition that just sucks me in.
New Pick for Favorite Song: Cat Power’s “Metal Heart” from Moon Pix had long stuck out as one of the finer songs in her catalog, but I always leaned toward some of the singles as my favorite song. Hearing “Metal Heart” to start the long drive from Pleasant Valley to Somerville changed that, though, as I was completely absorbed by the subtly multi-tracked vocals as I passed by rural farmhouses and small towns on my way up the Salt Point Turnpike to reach the Taconic. “You’re losing the calling and you’ve been faking / and I’m not kidding” seems like the inverse to the firebrand dismissal of Juno’s “The French Letter,” that sentiment stripped of the threat of violence and given a slight hint of hope with “I was lost but now I’m found / was blind but now I see you.”
I feel like I should have a notebook with me in the car so I can jot down notes on songs as I commute back and forth, since that would make the process of remembering a week or two of listening significantly easier. I’ve now listened to 412 of 1162 tracks, leaving me more than a third of the way through the project/ordeal. I would be much further along if I counted the times when I’ve left the iPod running in the car for a few hours, but I wouldn’t have much to report on with those runs.
Damning Double Shot: I’ve been particularly wary of songs from Accelera Deck’s Pop Polling after sitting through “As Always” on a drive home, but I was actually excited when “Ferric,” perhaps the best song from the record, came on during a morning commute. This excitement did not last, however, as “Lips,” one of the other two dreaded tracks from the LP, immediately followed it. Whereas “Ferric” mixes pointillist guitar pinpricks and compelling swells of fuzz, “Lips” wavers in and out of its largely aimless guitar feedback, waiting until the eighth of twelve minutes to gain even the slightest shape. Worse still: “Sunskull” and its blaring feedback assault still wait for me.
A Friendly Reminder: I never fell in love with The Moon and Antarctica and only liked half of Good News for People Who Like Bad News, but hearing “Doin’ the Cockroach” from Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West was a nice punch to the jaw. It’s hard to reconcile the rougher edges of this era of the band with the fact that Johnny Marr of the Smiths is now their guitar player, but I definitely prefer the looser, unhinged version of the band. Right after this song ended I had to fight a serious impulse to put on “Trucker’s Atlas” or “Cowboy Dan.”
Please Not Again: I picked a handful of the mid-80s R.E.M. LPs last year and played at least a side of Murmur a few times, especially enjoying “Pilgrimage.” I don’t know if I’d lose my focus by the end of side B, but hearing “We Walk” on a drive into campus one morning was brutal. I just can’t listen to certain songs—Enon’s “Get the Letter Out” immediately comes to mind—that have such dominant sing-song hooks without fearing a parasitic invasion of my memory. R.E.M.’s “We Walk” is now on that list.
Theory Jam: We read “What Is an Author?” in my Foucault seminar and the professor brought up the topic of mash-ups with regard to how recent shifts in technology have changed the notion of a static author in contemporary music. I remember bringing up how the democratization of the production of music via the dismantling of the label system could ultimately limit the budgets of artists and thereby change the conditions for cultural production, but after class ended I kept thinking about how different periods in the ’90s—the lo-fi revolution, the full exploration of the DJ, and the rise of electronica—affected notions of the author far more than the more recent mash-up trend. DJ Shadow’s “High Noon” is a particularly interesting case study, because it follows a more typical rock build-up and the synthesis of the various parts could be considered a makeshift band in a postmodern sense. (It’s impossible not to mention how well Juno brought the “actual band” aspect of the song to life on their cover of the song.) I’ve never been fond of mash-ups and “High Noon” illustrates why; whereas DJ Shadow extracts disparate pieces of music and combines them under a new structure and new aims, mash-ups only merge two existing aims, typically maintaining the structure of at least one of the songs. There’s no question as to whether DJ Shadow is truly the author of “High Noon,” whereas I’ve never felt comfortable calling any person concocting a mash-up much more than a remixer.
Realization: Kool Keith is my favorite MC, but after hearing a handful of tracks from Black Elvis/Lost in Space, it’s impossible not to note how weak his choruses are. He excels in verses, but almost every chorus from that record is a tremendous let-down, with the notable exception of “I Don’t Play” (which hasn’t come up during the shuffle). “Keith Turbo,” “I’m Seeing Robots,” and “The Girls Don’t Like the Job” would all be notably improved if the choruses were instrumental.
Best Timing: After listening to most of Slint’s “Washer” to start an early morning commute (it’s strange hearing anything from Spiderland in bright day time, especially “Washer” and “Don, Aman”), I need a boost and Mock Orange’s “Birds” was the best conceivable option. Still the most played song on my Last.FM account, “Birds” manages to be upbeat and enthusiastic without approaching being cheesy or grating, a rare accomplishment in my collection. It highlighted most of my commutes last semester, so I couldn’t imagine much better timing for the song.
Poor Record Choice: I put on Tortoise’s self-titled debut instead of my favorite release of theirs, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, thinking that I might finally appreciate it on the same level. No, not this time. Too many of the songs from Tortoise linger on their quiet beginnings for too long and leave the eventual groove before its logical time is up. I’m not giving up on the album, but it may need the confines of my living room to truly excel.
Best Transition: I actually saw this one coming when I looked back on the recently played tracks to write the above paragraphs, but hearing Juno’s “The Young Influentials” dissolve into Pinebender’s “There’s a Bag of Weights in the Back of My Car” improved my ride back from a Friday night get-together. Whereas Juno opted to follow up the emotional crest of “Young Influentials” with the bile-spewing “All Your Friends Are Comedians” on This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes, the quiet introspection of Pinebender’s glacial epic made for a smoother transition.