small fall 2014 update
some things I’ve written recently:
some things I like recently:
the new whirr album
new york city
wagonmaster.com, the official online home of wood-paneled jeep wagoneers
small fall 2014 update
some things I’ve written recently:
some things I like recently:
the new whirr album
new york city
wagonmaster.com, the official online home of wood-paneled jeep wagoneers
I interviewed some incredibly charming bartenders about their love of Campari to unearth the reasons why it’s so beloved, even through it’s crazy bitter and used to be made with crushed-up beetles. Read the story on VICE here.
I also got sent to Bonnaroo to eat as much as I could physically muster, and I made it pretty far! Click the link to follow me on my insane caloric journey as I dodge teenage breasts, watch Lionel Richie drink Gatorade out of a wine glass, and down approximately 300 margaritas.
Here’s what I’ve been letting myself feel to, while standing up straight and walking down the street like a girl who’s back.
1. The Replacements – They’re Blind
I never listened much to Don’t Tell a Soul until I found it on cassette a few weeks ago and thought to give it a whirl in spite of the fact that it’s the least-discussed Replacements album. But when this song wafted out of my pink Panasonic, I loved it’s doo-woppy sound and soaring chorus. It could be sung by the Zombies or the Miracles in a different era, but it’s with Paul Westerburg’s throaty, warbly voice that it really turns to magic.
‘Cause they’re blind
They hold you too close to the light
and I see what they only might if they’d learn
but they’re letting you burn, ’cause they’re blind
2. American Football – Never Meant
The special part about this song is its perfect encapsulation of bittersweetness. It’s as pretty as it is sad, as musically complex as it is melodically simple. I think that this one will stick with me forever; it has for 14 years and counting.
3. Underworld – Born Slippy Nuxx
Dirty numb angel boy
In the doorway boy
She was a lipstick boy
She was a beautiful boy
And tears, boy
And all in your inner space boy
He had hand girls, boy
And steel, boy
He had chemicals, boy
I’ve grown so close to you, boy
And you just groan, boy
She said come over come over
She smiled at you, boy
This song is difficult to dissociate from Trainspotting, so let’s not dissociate it. Let’s suppose that it comes in tandem with the last scene, when Renton has decided to turn his back on his junkie criminal tendencies with a final act of selfishness; stealing the bag of money from his miserable friends and running off to better himself because he know that they won’t. Now I don’t want to say that this is an admirable act—even he agrees that it’s deeply messed up. But this is the song of empowerment, of doing what’s best for yourself even when to others it may seem wrong. And that, well, that feels really good.
4. Washed Out – Paracosm
Listening to this song at high volume through decent headphones feels like getting a massage on a raft that’s floating down a secluded river lined with flowers. It’s a warm wool blanket that wraps around you when you most need it. And the fadeout is an homage to Slowdive’s “Shine,” which is another perfect anthem for unfurrowing your brow.
5. Cocteau Twins – Sea, Swallow Me
Pure, glassy, sparkling beauty. Nothing more, and nothing less. It reaches inside of you and touches your skin from the inside out. But unlike Paracosm, which is incandescent and embracing, this one is a cold mist. That’s all you need sometimes—a chill to wake you up.
6. John Maus – Cop Killer
Turn to this weird darkwave cop-killing anthem for a dose of sinister camaraderie with a fellow renegade. It’s as though John Maus knows just the absurdity of being the professor-turned-electronic musician who is advocating one of the most frowned-upon crimes possible. We all get some dark thoughts sometimes, don’t we?
7. The Cairo Gang – Shivers
The Cairo Gang have a lo-fi, smoky noise that turns croons of hurt into spirals of psychedelia. Through a stained glass window, after all, everything is fragmented into gentle, glowing color. This track is a cover of young Nick Cave’s band Boys Next Door, and through their simple interpretation it is made lusher, more rural and rugged. It’s hard to believe that the original is 35 years old, but it fits in just as well here as long as there’s still a corner to lean up against, a place to narrow your eyes like you’ve got a bad one coming.
Do I really hate cats? Probably not. But I can tell you one thing; I don’t fit in with serious cat people. I went to New York’s first cat café for VICE and interviewed happy kitty lovers who stood in the rain for 5 hours so that they could pet cats … but never visit animal shelters.
Public service announcement: every major city has tons of animal shelters with dogs and cats that would LOVE for you to visit and kick it with them. They’re chilling in their kennels all day, gazing longingly through the chicken wire, praying that you’ll take them for a walk or scratch behind their ears or even talk to them in that high-pitched voice that makes your significant other cringe. You don’t need to get drenched in a lemming line for half your day just to say what’s up to some animals.
This is completely unrelated, but I cannot iterate strongly enough how good the new Afghan Whigs album is and how much pleasure it is bringing to my workday.
So many of my friends of the rock ‘n’ roll persuasion dangle on either side of what the Whigs do, either opting for something a little more grungy and mainstream or snottier and less accessible. But for God’s sake there should be a fantastic band playing heavy soul music right now and this is it, even after all those years. Emote a little.
More writing when I’ve recovered from turning 28.
Why do people make New Year’s resolutions? They’re conceived in a state of undoubted drunkenness, when one is feeling ultimately miserable from holiday indulgence and begging for some sort of self-affirmation that you will lose 10 lbs or “date better guys” or whatever. What people should really be making are birthday resolutions. Birthday resolutions strike when you’re already in a state of hyper-awareness about getting older, can look back with better accuracy at all of the stupid things you’ve done in the past 365 days, and hopefully capitalize on the idea of “wisdom” with “age.”
Here are my BIRTHDAY RESOLUTIONS (28TH YEAR OF LIFE)
1. IT IS MANDATORY THAT I END MY ADDICTION TO SUGAR
This one is the most serious. My friend’s 90-something Korean grandmother told me that when you eat sugar, parasites grow inside of you and munch happily on all of the candies and cookies and lovely treats that you stuff into your face. Even though I believe this to be … false, to put it lightly, the very concept of it has disturbed me for some time. I am absolutely, unequivocally, physically addicted to sugar. I find ways to sneak it into everything and for my birthday two of my friends made me the most delectable s’mores ice cream cake that my lips have ever beheld, so I will have to begin as soon as the cake is gone (which will likely be in 24 more hours). There is no other way.
2. LEARN HOW TO USE TWITTER
The other day some obnoxious troll commented on a post that my boyfriend had written for a relatively popular music website, and went on some ridiculous rant about how writers should be ignored if they have less than 1000 followers on Twitter. Obviously, I disagree with this strongly and wanted to vomit all over my keyboard at the site of his comments. But, like the Korean grandma sugar-parasite legend, it still stuck with me in spite of its obvious lack of factuality. Working in media, one needs to, at the very least, try to be less averse to all things Twitter, since there seems to be a collective idea that it’s “integral” to “modern culture.”
3. BE LESS SARCASTIC
I just realized this one while typing out why I should learn how to use Twitter. But honestly, as someone who vouches for earnestness so earnestly, I should be better about practicing it.
4. STOP BEING A WUSS
My former roommate was reading a self-help book titled The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. One day, I was leafing through it and read a considerable portion about what can be learned from Stoics, a formal philosophical practice that entails placing less emphasis on the demand for “true happiness” and more on developing tactics for managing uncertainty, regret, and insecurity. It mirrored what another friend told me he learned from Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking; accept times of mild to moderate discomfort and unpleasantry. Welcome them, and recognize that you can survive them. Understand that all experiences are finite and that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen, and, even if it does, it likely isn’t something you can’t withstand. And even if you die—well, we all do. This is actually a very liberating thought, and one that I am trying to integrate more into my daily experiences rather than leaning on complaining and avoidance.
5. START DRESSING MORE LIKE AN ADULT FEMALE AND LESS LIKE A TEENAGE BOY FROM 1994
Just kidding. I’m going to wear overalls and band t-shirts all summer.
Pardon my inexcusable lapses in updating. Now that I’m not entrenched in a snow fortress, desperately attempting to thaw by consuming only hot toddies and ramen, I’ve been (thankfully) spending less idle laptop time.
I have three new stories up on VICE from the past week or two:
If you had told me when I was 15 years old that I would be casually chatting on the phone with the guy who made Dude Ranch, Bleed American, and everything else I viewed holy as am emotional, “alternative” adolescent with a penchant for drum fills, I would have just about died oh my gawd. Let alone that the same dude was the drummer of Drive Like Jehu, a post-hardcore band that is oft-lauded as “seminal” amongst us “-core” miscreants. But even as a 27-year-old, I definitely felt a massive rush of nerdy satisfaction from hearing Mark Trombino casually mention, in his own voice, that he produced those albums. Anyways, now he makes awesome donuts and I interviewed him primarily about that.
For this sucker, I dug deep into the academia of marijuana brownie history to get to the root of how little old ladies became the prominent icons of weed treat ‘lore, starting with Alice B. Toklas and finishing with San Francisco’s own folk hero Brownie Mary.
This one was a little old thing called an assignment, though no complaints other than that body odor issues will now be forever Google-associated with my name. And now even worse since I just typed that out on my own blog. But anyways, broccoli and garlic and meat might be making you stink, but you should probably keep eating broccoli and garlic and stop eating red meat because obviously and now even the UN says so.
Thanks for reading and I’ll have more to say soon than just links, links, and more links. My brain is crowded. Honest.
Everyone told me that I would hate winter on the East Coast. My poor father was certain that by mid-November I’d be calling nightly, begging for a ticket back to our perma-65-degree corner of California. To be fair, I thought I would too—two years in Washington state had me practically on the verge of suicide. A choking, damp grayness never seemed to lift; my shoes always felt like they’d been sitting in a leaking refrigerator. But the East Coast has a different kind of cold that doesn’t seem to wrap itself around you … it seems properly old, intentional, romantic. I’ve actually been sort of swept away and charmed by the leafless trees and the whiteness and the scarves and all.
For Thanksgiving, I visited my aunt Sarah and her family in a small town in Massachusetts, one that the Native Americans once entirely burned to the ground and left only a single barn standing. I threw rocks on a frozen pond with my 60-year-old uncle, who insisted that we eat the chocolates that we’d brought for Sarah before even making it to her house because he felt “hypoglycemic.” Seemed legit.
We went for long walks around her neighborhood and saw a beaver swimming under ice. I had never seen a beaver in person before; they’re big and slick and alien-looking. The woods around her house are Blair Witch-y and were covered in crispy leaves, which produced a thick crunch with every step of my boots, and are littered with stumps from where beavers feasted on tree bark to the point of destruction.
I wished for snow. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve looked out of windows every place I’ve ever lived and just wished for a quiet, pure white blanket of snow. There’s some music in this world that you know just won’t sound good unless it’s snowing, and some thoughts that you can’t extinguish in their longing. And so, finally, it snowed.
I didn’t know that it makes everything glow like dawn, even at 3am, transforming even our dirty Brooklyn streets into something entirely innocent and peaceful and blank.
I woke up on Saturday morning at my friend Mark’s house and it took me five or ten minutes to glance out the window, and there it was again, piling up, and Mark put on Kate Bush and she sounded really great right then, at 10am with a dog sniffing my ear and his roommates drinking coffee and all of this snow.
I never wore headphones until I moved to New York. In my previous life, my designated music-listening time was in my car, which I will admit that I miss terribly even though I often just went on drives for the sake of leisure (“greenness” be damned). In San Francisco, I’d ride my bike to work in less than ten minutes, usually so deep in my own head that I could barely hear anything—maybe the birds if I was paying attention. It has only been when trying to cope with the cramped cacophony of the NYC subway system that it has appealed to me to tune things out. But I’ve come to like it, pumping in your own soundtrack while speed-walking across platforms or chasing up and down staircases. It makes it awfully easy to pretend you’re at the end of a film, and any second, a lost lover will come running after you in a last-ditch effort to make things right. Any minute now.
But these two things, snow and headphones, go very well together. Maybe the novelty will wear off, but right now this is when I feel the most human; walking at night under the glow of street lamps that bounce gentle, glittering white onto every surface, feeling like a song is following me in fog.
I made us all hot buttered rum and I’m going to cut a giant hole in the wall with a chainsaw and fill it with logs and make it into a fireplace. We’ll all lay on the ground in front of the fire very close together, our faces only inches apart, and tell each other all of our secrets.
We’ll wake up late in the morning and laugh that none of us noticed each other, all falling asleep at the exact same time.
It’s 11.11. Make a wish or forever regret it. Wishes are like lottery tickets—maybe they’ll pay off, maybe they won’t, but if they do you’ll be glad you invested.
So, onward. At this point, seeing blue-haired, two-bunned, Kate Mossy birds floating around on street corners (combat boots a’ clompin’) or walking into a dive bar to find it entirely flanneled have become entirely commonplace experiences. The Nirvana nostalgist movement has been steadily growing since 2007ish and may have finally reached its pinnacle. Last night, I walked into a party of fully grown’s and there were upwards of half a dozen girls in crop tops and mom jeans.
Why is 90s nostalgia so rampant at this moment in history?
I have some theories.
Theory 1: Manifestation of childhood idols and ideologies. Generation Y/Z (older “Millennials,” pardon my vocab) grew up listening to “alt rock” and watching My So-Called Life. Our malleable little brains were conditioned to drool over Zack Morrises, Jordan Catalano’s, and River Phoenix’s (maybe the occasional Layne Staley [RIP] on a bad day). But then we were swept away into the early 2000s and the horrors of überfemme boy bands, ill-fitting Express tops in orange and magenta, low-rise flare jeans, frosted tips, etc. How and why the hideous trends of “the Britney era” arose, we may never know. Soon after came the proto-hipster, wherein trucker hats, bandanas, skinny jeans, gauged ears, and Suicide Girls took over. But now that has been washed away too (except in LA, mysteriously), and those of us who were mentally indexing House of Style and Beavis & Butthead at age seven have suddenly come to and found ourselves 25-30 years old, in the position where suddenly we are the ones who dictate what is found on the pages of NYLON or music blogs.
Our creative minds have been wiped Men in Black-style by the low frequency radiation emitting from our cell phones into our skulls, and we find plaids, angora sweaters, and ying yang paraphernalia to provide strange vibes of comfort—to evoke simpler times before Chris Hansen was needed to stop 30-year-old men from distributing six-packs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to preteens.
Theory 2: Sincerity. Well, wishing for sincerity.
As we collectively emerged, blinking and disoriented, from the aforementioned “Britney era,” we were so repulsed with ourselves for giving so much money to Abercrombie & Fitch that we slipped into a sort of fugue state revolving entirely around irony. See: all of those American Idol contestants who became famous just for sucking (cough William Hung cough), resurgence of Native American headbands even though we all know it’s kind of offensive, VICE Do’s and Don’ts seeming to deliberately select people with mental health issues as “Do’s”. Mullets and bowl cuts were in vogue; just think about that. I theorize that we all became starved for honesty during these years, as we no longer had to consider what we actually liked—there was simply preoccupation with finding stupider and stupider things to “like” and more and more subcultures to appropriate. This is why Tumblr was invented!
But we’re tired. Perhaps a little weary of pretending that every single Aaliyah song was a masterpiece (although that’s not to discount her actual musical triumphs) or that anyone actually even watched Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger besides the occasional wife-beatered beer guzzler who worked a night job and became addicted to daytime television. Really sick of the Chuck Norris thing.
Our lives basically became as phony as the infamous Lexicon of Grunge. And after at least half a decade of arguing back and forth about the nature of irony, we now wish we could just be dorks again and reclaim the right to like whatever we want without having to weigh whether we really like it, or we just like what it stands for as a bookmark in pop culture history. By “we,” I might be referring to hipsters, but seeing as hipsterism is merely a grab-bag term used for anything trendy these days, I will say young adults as a whole.
Conclusion: Maybe it’s C) all of the above. But I believe that this is a good thing. There will always be “coolness” and there will always be phoniness, and those two concepts will always have a complex relationship. But to wake up and just enjoy things because they feel good to you—well, that’s learning how to be happy. It may be silly to project our thumb-sucking longing for childhood innocence and excitement onto the 90s, since they were just a decade like any other, but we can still seek a little bit of solace in a song that we’ve known all the words to since we were 11. Obviously, this week’s playlist will be all songs from the 90s, and I genuinely like all of them, ya lamestain.
1. Nomad—Devotion (1991)
In the Bay Area in the late 90s, there was this pretty incredible time capsule of a radio station called Z95.7 that played loads and loads of Eurodance hits—I mean, all of them. Real McCoy, La Bouche, White Town, Corona, Culture Beat, you name it. A few years ago my friend Jackson started a night in SF djing that stuff, and it was like the freshest breath of fresh air—straight up Dentyne Ice commercial status. Because its fun! What’s fun anymore? Maybe because the nose drugs were so pure and rampant back then or because people weren’t yet finger-scrolling Facebook drones, but listening to this stuff feels like getting cuddled by an entire litter of Pomeranian puppies. More about this in my favorite Vice article of all time, “RAVE AND HARDCORE YOUTUBE COMMENTS WILL RESTORE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY“. Ugh, it’s just great, the whole thing is great.
2. Slowdive—Machine Gun (1993)
There’s this passage Mary Karr’s teenage memoir Cherry about her first kiss with a boy she liked.
“There’s a TV commercial for some thick green shampoo that they drop a pearl in to show how rich and heavy it is, the pearl falling through this heavy green goop. And that’s what John smells like. Prell, it’s called. All of the cut grass in the world gets mashed into a bottle of this stuff. And the time we move into is that slow-fallling, underwater shampoo time. John does not hold my elbows like he’s scared to get too close. He makes a cage of his arms I step right in (colt in a corral, I think). He tilts his head and says with a breath like Juicy Fruit right before he kisses me, ‘Is this okay?’ Before I can say yes, we bump teeth a little, then he’s breathing the Juicy Fruit right into my mouth, my lips, and his lips come closer till the softnesses match up.”
And that’s basically how I feel when I listen to Slowdive. Slow-falling, underwater shampoo time.
3. Sebadoh—Skull (1994)
Lo-fi indie that still sounds really good. Oh, Lou Barlow. Between this and Dinosaur Jr., we really owe you one. I wish that this song wasn’t about smoking heroin, but I think that it is. I’m just going to keep pretending that’s it about a late-night crush at a hazy party. I always fall for the songs about being gentle. Gentleness is underrated.
4. Third Eye Blind—God of Wine (1997)
The cult of Third Eye Blind continues. Have you ever notice that if you mention any song of this album, even the non-singles, you’re guaranteed to make someone stoked? It’s because this is a front-to-back perfect record. I couldn’t conceive of music that better evokes, cornily or not, the experience of a young, sometimes-drunk, sometimes-high, struggling, loving, fighting 20something in San Francisco (reformed as I may be) (and somehow I loved this record just as much when I was 11 years old and had never experienced much of anything). I acknowledge the insolence of Stephen Jenkins and his personal goal of alienating all humans on the planet. Writer Marc Hawthorne describes his guilty-pleasure love of Third Eye Blind thusly: “It’s like living with the shame of having webbed feet, then meeting other people with webbed feet, and inevitably every time you get together you end up talking about webbed feet. And loving every minute of it.” And he’s right! Every time this record comes up in a group setting, I find someone else amongst us who is equally obsessed with it, and we literally just sit and pore over how good every single track is. “Good,” I know. You may disagree. But you can’t take “God of Wine” away from me.
(Note: If I could, [and I guess I technically could, but I won’t] I would also include “The Background,” “Losing a Whole Year,” “Motorcycle Drive-By,” and “Narcolepsy” here since they’re equally worthy in my eyes.)
5. Starflyer 59—A Housewife Love Song (1996)
Is this band Christian rock? If so, can we not talk about it? Not that there’s anything wrong with Christianity. Also let’s not talk about the video for this song, because it reminds me of, like, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. So instead, let’s talk about how this song has a really thick ugly awesome anchor riff and I like how the vocals are pretty much entirely whispered in contrast. The end!
6. Peter Gabriel—Steam (1992)
Back in the early- to mid-90s, my mom used to buy my siblings and me all of these VHS tapes of random Claymation and computer animation short films because my mom is awesome and actually wanted us to develop “creativity” or whatever. One such tape was called Festival! and was just a bunch of really weird little clips of CGI stuff that now looks hilariously janky but at the time was considered state-of-the-art, and amongst the clips was this super off-the-wall, super sexual Peter Gabriel music video that caused a lot of confusion and curiosity for me. Maybe Peter Gabriel is way more subversive than he gets credit for. “In Your Eyes,” moving, love it, John Cusack does too. “Solsbury Hill,” great. But this song and its accompanying video are where his freak flag seriously flies. Between his over-articulated, wide-eyed expressions and the abundance of pseudo-nudity and Freudian imagery, it’s like an acid trip into the mind of the oddly paternal ex-singer of Genesis. And if you’re curious, here’s an excerpt of more stuff from Festival!—it’s art, bruh, and pretty seapunk. You should absolutely, definitely watch it if you already have enough free time to read my dumb blog.
Remember 2002? Cool, me neither. So when I found this mixtape that I made when I was 16, I couldn’t resist popping it in and seeing what I was listening to 11 fateful years ago. It serves as a cultural relic of an adolescent girl with angst flying in one million directions, lured simultaneously by breakdowns and twinkly bits and gross greasy screaming dudes, bordering on the cultures of 2nd wave Midwest emo, post-punk, and the tail end of grunge and (the dreaded) nü-metal.
Put simply, I was of the emo/indie persuasion. I wore scarves when it was 72 degrees outside, had iron-on patches from Interpunk all over my Dickies messenger bag, and head-surfed at Saves the Day shows. Take it or leave it. If you are averse to this moment in history, you may not want to continue.
Grasping to commandeer the notion of coolness, teenagers like my 2002 self are predisposed to leave behind artifacts—snakeskins—of their ever-shedding tastes. Let’s have a listen.
1. Rainer Maria – Ears Ring
You know, this band is not bad. The singer has the swagger of Karen O., albeit less shiny and more likely to be found at a barbecue in Wisconsin. I feel like if this came out today, people would still be fairly receptive to it—it holds up well in the post-iPhone era. I also love the diner vibes in this video—so trademark of this era. People were just sitting in diners until 3am on the regs, sweating in cardigans studded with 1″ buttons. I think I spent about 40% of 2001-2005 sitting in a fucking Denny’s.
2. Coldplay – Clocks
I know, the word Coldplay strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of hip people. But hear me out. This album had just come out. The only previous impression that we had of Coldplay at this point was garnered from the tepid, somewhat adorable “Yellow.” So cut me some slack. How was I to know about Gwyneth, or Apple, or GOOP? How was I to know about Viva La Vida? I repent, but in all truth, in 2002 this song was considered tolerable at worst. Side note: I’m in a café right now and they’ve played a flamenco version of this song twice since I got here 45 minutes ago.
3. Braid – Do You Love Coffee
Like several of their contemporaries (Joan of Arc being the clearest example), Braid were secretly a math-rock band. Weird time signatures galore coming from these fools. However, this isn’t even close to being their best track. Should’ve picked “A Dozen Roses” or “Forever Got Shorter.” I was just flailing my way through the Polyvinyl discography.
4. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – A Perfect Teenhood
I was about to remark that this band was super-underrated since they seem to have disappeared into obscurity, never to be mentioned again in the American Apparel era, but then I did some research-Googling and discovered that Source Tags and Codes got a 10/10 on Pitchfork, and actually, they were probably overrated at the time. Whatever drugs they were on in the early 2000s were doing incredible things for them, although on second thought it would be hard to imagine them turning out well-adjusted after a decade or so of their habits (the refrain at the end of this song: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” etc.)
5. Pedro The Lion—Let Down (live Radiohead cover)
In high school, I was one of those Radiohead freaks who drew the Amnesiac minotaur all over my binders and bought bootlegs of TV interviews with them and stuff. And also, Pedro the Lion was at the peak of their folky sadcore baritone Christian indie act, and this cover is decent. The patience to listen to shaky live tracks of your favorite bands seems to wear thin after age 22.
If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop and the cultural hysteria of the early 2000s to show through somewhere in this post, this would be the place. Remember Orgy? Yes, that Marilyn-Manson-covering-Depeche-Mode-sounding act from the Family Values 98 tour, better known for their asinine cover of “Blue Monday”? Anyways, this was their original hit, and the hook should probably be reworked into a Skrillex song or something. Unsurprisingly, the video involves “technology” and the lead singer wears all white and plenty of liquid eyeliner.
7. Deftones—Knife Party at the Niko
Wild horses (or white ponies) couldn’t drag me away from liking this song, even as a Certified Adult who schedules her own dental appointments and saves money and mails things the day I intend to. Yes, the vocals are pretty quintessentially nü-metal (aside from the shrieks and wails of Rodleen Getsic toward the end, which fall somewhere between orgasmic and terrifying) but the chorus is colossal, and on a note of pure nostalgia, my friends Draper, Greer, and Victor and I used to buh-LAST this song out of my Ford Explorer every time we drove home from a hardcore show at The Pound (RIP). I remember once reading a critic calling Deftones “the Radiohead of metal.” Metal as a whole genre, maybe not. But this is like, shoegaze metal.
8. The Used—Maybe Memories
Imagine if your last name was already McCracken, and it was pretty much written in stone that all of the kids at you middle and high school were going to call you “crackhead,” and then your first name was also Bert, and you were a Mormon from Provo, Utah who took a turn for the worse at age 15 and became a methhead. This is your band! You’re the lead singer! It makes perfect sense. This music is like a can of Xtreme Exploding Cheese & Chili Pringles, embedded with market-researched flavor crystals specifically formulated for teenagers who shop at Hot Topic.
9. Elliott Smith—Between the Bars
This mix was made when Elliott was still alive and seemed so promising—it’s strange to think that it’s been 10 years since his death (as of only a few days ago). I don’t care how much of a cliché he is at this point; I loved his music with every hair on my forlorn little head and still do. I could listen to Either/Or at any time of any day and still be just as charmed by and heartbroken over it as I was the first time I heard it.
I’ve been around downtown LA a bit lately and thought about what a weird, seedy place it was—and continues to be, but not nearly as bad these days with all of those galleries and fancy lofts and whatnot—and how that was where Elliott used to hang out, strung out, looking to cop dope, feeling shitty. I really don’t think that anyone in music has filled the void he left. These days, popular “indie rock” is all of this safe, blasé, Starbucks-friendly crap, Arctic Monkeys and the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, and not to say that those bands have zero merits or that I wish that indie rock was still filled with self-loathing junkies but for Christ’s sake, where’s the edge? And I don’t mean like “Black Lips edge” where it’s like, “wooo, we puke and get naked on stage and we’re so shocking!” I mean representing the human condition in all of its beautiful, ugly, jagged little facets. I’m going to stop now and move on to the next song. RIP Elliott, when I lived in LA I would drive by the wall from the Figure 8 cover every day.
10. At the Drive-In—Hourglass
I feel like if At the Drive-In were invented now, I might find them incredibly annoying, but it wouldn’t be possible for them to be invented in 2013 because that would be like going back in time and killing your parents, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty sure their influence extends much further than the direct reach of their music. This ~*~sLoW JaM~*~ from In/Casino/Out is poetic in the cubist, haphazard way that only Cedric Bixler et. al. can be.
11. Joy Division—Love Will Tear Us Apart
Perhaps the most puzzling part of this mixtape is how the hell I was listening to Joy Division, The Used, and Orgy all at the same time without any sense of one being significantly better than the others. You’d think that after hearing a post-punk masterpiece like this I would have considered abandoning everything on Victory Records. But admittedly, I think I just discovered Joy Division from Trainspotting and Donnie Darko, both of which I was watching on a bi-weekly basis between 2002 and 2004.
12. The Ramones—Blitzkrieg Bop
Teenagers gonna listen to The Ramones. They will start with this song or maybe “I Wanna Be Sedated.” In the words of Sully from Degrassi: The Next Generation …
No surprises here.
Drive-Thru Records. Drive-Thru Records. More Drive-Thru Records. Everything on that label was a shaken-and-poured cocktail of pop punk, emo, and radio rock. Also, my college roommate told me recently that he pseudo-interned there when he was 15 and felt like maybe the married, 40-something guy who ran the label was sexually interested in young men. I guess that this makes Drive-Thru the Penn State of late 90s/early 2000s pop punk labels—widely popular, but with a dark underbelly. Finch is actually doing a multi-leg reunion tour for this album (What It Is To Burn) this very moment … which I will definitely not be attending.
14. Bright Eyes—Sunrise, Sunset
This year was the peak of BRIGHT EYES HYSTERIA. Every alt/indie/emo girl was in love with Conor Oberst, carving his name into their forearms with ballpoint pens; every alt/indie/emo dude was getting that Oberst-pioneered Kate Gosselin prototype haircut with the devilock and the short spiky back.
The following is an image that I actually used on my Livejournal during this era. Why I keep these things, I don’t know.
Okay though, at umphundredth listen 10+ years later, Oberst is a decent (if melodramatic) lyricist and the only thing that has aged really poorly about Bright Eyes is his warbling, tears-in-eyes voice, which is simply too much to pipe into headphones or car stereos on our morning commute. Like, cool, we get it, you’re affected.
15. Cursive—The Night I Lost the Will to Fight
But on the other side of the Saddle Creek coin, we have Cursive, who seemed to have achieved poignancy without preciousness. Domestica, the band’s concept album about a dyfunctional relationship/possibly the Brook Shields child prostitution movie Pretty Baby, is rugged, ugly, whispery, grating, scabby, tender, throbbing, and still really good. It harnesses the Nirvana/Pixies methodology of alternating loud-quiet-loud-quiet to keep you waiting, wanting, and exploding. Is it for teenagers? Maybe. But a lot of good music is/was. Plus, they were pretty great live.
16. The Movielife—10 Seconds Too Late
“THE SMILE JUST MELTED OFF YOUR FACE AND STAINED YOUR SHIRT.”
It’s hard to say whether punk is dead. At the time, I certainly felt “punk” listening to this snotty, snare-heavy ode to love-hating someone and yourself. But what is this? It’s not quite the bojangly, gang-vocally fun-time carousel of pop punk, nor the loathful cries of emo. This is the pterodactyl that came out of the cultural-genetic soup of the early 2000s—kind of like a bird, kind of like a dinosaur, but really just a weird-looking accidental hybrid.
17. Smashing Pumpkins—Set the Ray to Jerry
Still just one of the best songs ever, in this girl’s opinion. Wrote a longer essay about my ongoing, shameless love for this band on Deaf Forever, my old rock ‘n’ roll blog with Laura—”Slackers with a Vision,” if you care to read it. In that post (from a coupla years ago) I describe this song thusly:
Mostly driven by bass and some purring drums, this is a sexy, quiet one. … Definitely an end-of-the-night, about-to-make-out, low-lighting jam. Also definitely seeing the Cure’s huge influence on the band here.
Le sigh. Still hits me.
18. Bedroom Heroes—Second Hand
This must have been a Napster find, because these days this band cannot even be Shazaam’d. Perhaps a rare OOP hybrid of post-rock and emo? Think Dredg. Vocals are so very soft, so so soft, softer than Aubrey Drake Graham. It’s hard to know what I was ~*~so emotional~*~ about during this time that made this kind of stuff sound good, especially considering that at the time I was mostly just drinking Smirnoff Ice and smoking Marlboro menthols with my friends in 7-11 parking lots, making out with the junior boys, eating Caesar salads at California Pizza Kitchen, and trying to build liquid eyeliner finesse. Hormones!
19. Engine Down—Pantomime
Highly forgettable but not terrible post-hardcore band from Richmond, VA. Basically Sparta, but without the cred of having members from At the Drive-In. Got a 7.5 on Pitchfork—my, how tastes have changed. Zero emphasis placed on having decent vocals during this era.
20. System of a Down—Aerials
Oh, hell yeah. Why does everyone nut so hard over Rage Against the Machine and forget about the mania of this band? Is it because they fear the nü metal? Perhaps. No music genre got stuck with a worse rep than nü metal, mostly because it was home to the consistently reviled Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Like Deftones, SOAD was lumped into this category because they were pissed off and had deviant facial hair and proggy bass lines, but their political commentary was legitimate and nuanced, and they weren’t privileged white boys bitching about getting dumped a la Fred Durst.
21. Radiohead—Lift (live)
Moar Radiohead. Always with the Radiohead. From the days when they were still guitar-driven, this one wouldn’t have been out of place on The King of Limbs or even In Rainbows if it had had a little rearrangement.
22. Thursday—I Am the Killer
Oh, Thursday. Every emo owned and ruminated on Full Collapse, whether they would care to admit it or not. Though not a bad album, it was the lowest-common-denominator record for every teenager in 2002 who listened to punk, indie, emo, alt-rock, post-rock, you name it—basically any kid who was dying their hair black. Does it hold up? I wouldn’t be the one to tell you, because the nostalgia it conjures in me is too strong to be able to identify whether its shrieks, screams, cries, murmurs are relatable to post-Arcade Fire teens and Gen-Y-ers. What will become of this music? Is it doomed to ridicule, or will Geoff Rickly and Tim Kasher be living (hopefully) legends to our own spawn?
Tough to say. But if you were there, you were there.
Please pretend that this entire post was in the official font of 2002:
Lou Reed died today.
I’d be lying if I said I remember the first time I heard Lou Reed’s voice. But the last time was just yesterday.
His name flew around my household throughout my childhood; my dad, who in his younger and cooler days was a rock promoter, has a large, hand-drawn poster of him on his office wall that reads “Take a Walk On the Wild Side.” As a young child, I didn’t recognize any of the faces in my father’s clusters of framed photographs and flyers. All I really knew was that the mural of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell in the garage scared the bejeezus out of me.
Seriously though, just imagine staring into a 7-foot-tall version of this at age six:
But anyways, when I began listening to music out of my own motivation at some point during the onset of puberty, I started asking about the photos.
“Lou Reed.” He’d pause, take an intentionally long drag of his Merit. “Great guy.”
Then my mom would chime in. “Really nice. Not weird.”
I had no idea what or whom they were talking about. (Later, when I read Please Kill Me, I would question how it could be possible that he was “not weird” or not generally a gigantic asshole, but I had no choice but to take my parents’ word at this point.)
So I probably first heard Lou Reed’s voice identifiably when I was about 15, around the time that I became both obsessed with Trainspotting and enchanted by a boy from New York who was visiting my friend Lucy. The three of us sat on a hill smoking clove cigarettes at dusk. His hair fell into his eyes and he wore big thick black glasses, which seemed uncommon at the time in spite of its contemporary ubiquitousness.
He asked what music I listened to, and I said something vague and teenage and awful, like “I like Saves the Day, but I also really like punk, but not so much skate punk as like emo, and hardcore, and indie …” But I remember that then I asked him what he listened to, this boy from New York City who seemed so worldly, and he said “The Velvet Underground.”
“But who else?” I pressed.
“… Just the Velvet Underground.”
He made The Velvet Underground sound like the coolest band ever. Based on his delivery alone, I couldn’t conceive of a single band that I had ever listened to my entire life that could possibly be as cool as The Velvet Underground. Even now, knowing what a complete and total mess the band was internally, how they were essentially just super fucked up narcissists who happened to create magical rock songs, I prostrate to Loaded, White Light/White Heat, and The Velvet Underground & Nico. And I watched Trainspotting and The Royal Tenenbaums about a thousand times in a row each, which featured Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and fellow Velvet member Nico’s cover of “These Days,” respectively.
And so my life experience changed rather quickly as I stopped listening to alternative rock and started listening to actual rock ‘n’ roll. I believe that I owe that completely to Lou Reed. Without him, I might have veered in the direction of My Chemical Romance and never turned back.
I saw him play once, in June 2003. When I told my parents that I was going, they were delighted that they had successfully spawned a daughter who appreciated the cultural fruits of their late 70s heyday, demented as that time may have been. Lou was a living legend who had shone his light on two generations of Pollacks. I wish it could have been three. His show was quiet, like a sermon. He was 61 at the time, after all, and just there to sing and play some guitar.
Just last weekend, I was talking with a friend about the strangeness of feeling personally affected by a celebrity’s death. We agreed that Elliott Smith’s death was of paramount hurt, and it was because we felt like Elliott gave us gifts, real gifts, gifts that are better than anything you’re going to pull from under a Christmas tree or out of an Amazon.com package. Through their music, Elliott and Lou had the ability to give us a sense that weird, amorphous feelings that we could never quite reckon with were not just our own. I don’t know why junkies seem to excel at that. Maybe because everything touches them so much that they feel they have to numb it with maximum-strength intravenous opiates.
I listened to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground in a thousand different contexts over the years. On long car rides and at parties, with lovers and with sad, strung-out friends who are gone now. I argued with an ex-boyfriend for a year over whether the Lou Reed version or Velvet Underground version of “Satellite of Love” reigns superior (I say Lou’s solo take, and stand by it), and once, in a print-making class, someone put on this song and literally every person in the room stopped what they were doing to listen to it:
Of course, Lou Reed was just a man with problems like any other. But what he gave us, the songs that he wrote and performed and all of the songs that they inspired in turn—they’re immeasurable and priceless.
Sincerity is awkward in the age of irony, but I just wanted to write for a minute about how my life was bettered because Lou Reed created things. We all die, but it’s sad when that day comes for someone who truly has done so much for us, even if he didn’t know it.
May he rest in peace.
“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.“—Brian Eno
“Modern music begins with the Velvets, and the implications and influence of what they did seem to go on forever.”—Lester Bangs
I skipped a couple of weeks of playlists because I’ve been very busy with very strange new occupations.
Since arriving in New York, I’ve become a yes person. Yes, I’ll write an article about GMOs for your website. Yes, I’ll part-time waitress at your Lower East Side restaurant. Yes, I’ll assist with your matchmaking business. There’s no room for no’s right now, and that feels good. Busy as hell, but doing something different every three hours every day of the week. I feel like a human petri dish full of agar growing a dozen different fuzzy multicolored little cultures. Still hoping that one will take over the others at some point, but right now this feels just fine, walking 40 blocks a day.
Here’s to trying to hustle.
1. Q Lazzarus—”Goodbye Horses”
Watched the Elijah Wood slasher flick Maniac this week, which was gruesome, super psychological, and legitimately eerie; something I wouldn’t say about many contemporary horror movies. On the other hand, the second half wasn’t very good. But like its better-known predecessor Silence of the Lambs, it has this really great 1988 dance ballad with one of the hookiest synth lines ever and that haunting, swaying melody. All I can think about is psychologically disturbed people slow-dancing to it with corpses, and yet it maintains its romance. Tried to do karaoke to it last night but sadly it was not to be found. Someday. Great article about the cultishness and legacy of this song here.
2. Drake—”Hold On, We’re Going Home”
I saw Drake’s performance of this song at the VMA’s and was like OH WOW, he’s SINGING and THIS IS NOT BAD and then I totally forgot about it until three days ago when Drizzy’s album leaked and a gent mentioned how amazing this song is. Oh god, yesterday I was so gluttonously agreeing—I probably listened to it 15 times in the last 24 hours.
Okay, may we briefly reflect on the ongoing legacy of Degrassi: The Next Generation? I was up on Aubrey Graham/Drake/Jimmy years before he even ended up in that wheelchair that everyone loves to put him on blast for.
It’s only when seeing 14-year-old Aubrey pal around with Sean Cameron and Spinner Mason, taking middle school breezies out for Canadian milkshakes like it’s his job and giving them tender tongueless smooches, that you can truly appreciate the development of the Drizzy persona and the delightful novelty of him rapping “She just want to smoke and fuck / I said ‘Girl, that’s all that we do.'” (In “The Language,” not this track, which is the for-the-ladies R&B croon of the album.)
3. Desireless—”Voyage, Voyage”
When people wax about French New Wave, they’re usually talking Breathless, but don’t discount dark 80s dance music from the land of berets. Desireless was the cross-continent cross between Siouxsie, Human League, and Berlin. There was a time when I was fluent in French. Sadly, that time has passed, but I still find the language, especially when sung by a breathy lady, to be the equivalent of half a Xanax and a glass of wine. If you found yourself rewatching Megan Draper’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” o’er and o’er, here’s one for ya.
4. Ride—”Leave Them All Behind”
Embarrassingly, one thing that I got super excited about when moving to New York is the Topshop flagship store. Whether it was because of the impressive variety of angora sweaters and crop tops or just my unabashed materialism, I walked in and whirled around in wide-eyed glee like the kids in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
BUT I DIGRESS. I heard this in Topshop the other day. It’s been hard to leave behind my friends, family, and Sheltie-Corgi mix on the West Coast, and it was just really right for that moment. Which is all you can ever really ask for in a song, anyway.
Wheels turning around
Into alien grounds
Pass through different times
Leave them all behind
5. Lykke Li—”Silver Springs”
Angelic Scandinavian dark-pop dame Lykke Li covering one of Fleetwood Mac’s best and most earnest songs. Best song on this compilation by far, and the only one that does justice to Stevie and her brood.
WELCOME TO NEW YORK.
(I’ve heard that a lot the past few days.)
On Wednesday, I moved to New York. Well, to Brooklyn.
New York City is a place that I’ve long peered at with endless fascination, a hive of both strangeness and obviousness (like, they aren’t lyin’ when they say that it’s humongous, and there truly does seem to be an unparalleled concentration of pizza and saxophone players). Also, it is clearly the best place on the continent for people-watching.
When I was a kid, maybe six years old or so, I learned of Brooklyn through a combination of the Super Mario Brothers series and cop shows. My impression consisted of an assemblage of very large, very impressive brick buildings filled with brave, mustachioed, virile Italian men with caring grandmothers. When I told my mom that I wanted to live there, she laughed at my naïveté. Brooklyn was a different place back then, a far cry from the mixologized leather-bag craft fair and emporium of long-legged women with competitive sunglasses that it has become in the post-American Apparel era.
In my teen years, I developed a new mental archetype of New York based on my obsession with The Ramones and Lou Reed. This time, I imagined an endless sea of tough-talking ripped-jean ugly-hot 20something men flicking cigarettes into gutters, tinkering on drums in warehouses, breaking hearts, and generally being “cool.” You know, occasional knife fights, The Warriors, that sort of thing. This concept is actually considerably closer to the modern reality of Brooklyn, but with fewer shankings and face-paint gang wars due to Giuliani’s much-discussed transformation of da big apple.
I never quite shook the desire to “check it out,” and when my 27th birthday passed, it became clear that my opportunity to experience it—even in its current incarnation—wouldn’t last forever. So I quit my emotionally crippling job, packed up, hopped a plane, and here I am.
Here is a list of the emotions that I’ve experienced since I arrived: enthrallment, anxiety, terror, joy, depression, exuberance, wonder, fear, sadness, excitement, happiness, exhaustion, and mostly being totally overwhelmed by everything.
The day before I left to come here, I finished a mixtape that I had been working on for weeks for someone very dear to me. I had made mixes for this person before, but this one would be different; it would serve as a physical embodiment of our goodbye. I deliberated over the inclusion of each song, the flow from melody to melody, and the imagined experience of listening to this musical sequence in a variety of contexts, even if most of them are unlikely. I don’t know how often this person will listen to the mix that I made for them, but even if they skim it and bury it, I find comfort in having made it, in trying to please someone other than myself in spite of the pretty selfish act I’ve just committed; the act of following some strong but abstract whim and leaving behind many people that I love beyond words to join a crowded ant farm of hustlers.
Here are five songs that are found on that mix.
1. Julian Lynch—Terra
This is the opening track. I couldn’t remember where I had found this album or this song—I thought perhaps Julian Lynch was one of these cult-followed 70s songwriter types, a Chris Bell or a Nick Drake or something. Then I suddenly remembered today that the person for whom I made this mix actually introduced me to Lynch and that he’s contemporary—Pitchforky, actually. But the fact that this song is timeless enough that I couldn’t immediately recognize that should serve as a testimonial to its qualities. Something about it reminds me of Coltrane, or psychedelic-era Beatles, or looking at pictures of my dad when he was my age.
2. Beach Boys—Diamond Head
Aside from maybe Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” there is no piece of music more relaxing than this obscure, instrumental, hammock-swaying tune from the Beach Boys. An audible piña colada.
3. Lungfish—Fearfully and Wonderfully
This band is beyond underrated. The sense of straining, wanting, trying in every Lungfish song conveys a sense of masculine passion that I can hardly describe. I wish that this was always the second-to-last song at closing time.
It’s very interesting that this song is called “Joy” since its subterranean production seems to convey more of a tone of mystery, even a conversation with hidden subtexts, like staring at a lacy thing through a roughly cut crystal.
4. Fleetwood Mac—That’s All For Everyone
Does anything off of Tusk really need a footnote at this point? I don’t think so. But I will mention that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks went to high school three blocks from the house that I grew up in in Menlo Park, and that for many other reasons it was hard to put the Bay Area in my rear view mirror, even if it’s not forever. I really miss every lovely and terrible little thing, all the time.