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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.