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iPod Chicanery Round Two, Part Three

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.

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