Obscene Kiss

Liars – Broken Witch

Aphex Twin – shiny metal rods

Zombie Zombie – The Thing (Main Theme)

All three of these songs lie somewhere on the spectrum of terrifying music. “Broken Witch,” to me, is about human possibility, modified humanity, the extremes of what can happen to people and because of people (still probably the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard). “shiny metal rods,” like much of the music on SAW II, seems pre-human. “The Thing” theme, on the other hand, is post-human.

[Buy They Were Wrong So We Drowned]

[Buy Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II]

[Buy Zombie Zombie Plays John Carpenter]

Centripetal Gods

Farben – Parada

Jan Jelinek in full Farben flow. Textstar was a masterpiece, freakishly evocative for a collection of micro-soundcraft singles collected together into an album that still feels like worlds of exotic music condensed into a single LP (condensed, in this sense, from original forms of matter into the most solid solid imaginable. Obviously, even a decade later, I still can’t talk about that album coherently). New Farben is a cause for celebration, and this Xango EP (or single) is bewilderingly good, particularly this track, “Parada,” which is slightly reminiscent of Black Dice circa-“Creature Comforts” or “Miles of Smiles,” (more the latter), but with many more disparate elements, more bizarre percussion, more wilderness. Jan Jelinek, like Sasu Ripatti, is one of those genius types who can tackle pretty much anything, any style, and produce something both worthwhile and diverting.

[Buy Xango]

Functional Fit

Head Wound City – Street College

Did you even know there was a band whose members included Nick Zinner, Jordan Blilie, and Cody Votolato (also dudes from the Locust)? Head Wound City. I like the name, but it also brings to mind innumerable Seinfeldian questions, like, Does the city give you the head wound when you move there, or do you have to have a pre-existing head wound to live there? Questions which are interesting to no one. “Street College,” on the other hand, is FASCINATING and brief, the soul of wit in less than a minute. Jordan sings like he does on most of the harder Blood Brothers tracks, with a deep scream, and there are about seventeen distinct movements, musically, within the fifty-seven seconds of this song. I imagine that’s a lot like what a street college would entail: essential instruction, delivered quickly and in dense lessons.

[Buy Head Wound City]

Parthenon of Candles

Garbage – Milk

Garbage, around the release of “Version 2.0” (could not be a more dated title unless it was called “NetGarbage”), in what must have been the result of some marketing executive’s coke-blizzard brainstorm, offered a free email service through their website. The email (get ready for it) was called ‘garbagemail.’ This was when, I think, only Hotmail and AOL were big players in the email game. I saw this and signed up for an email address, not knowing really why I was doing it or what I would do with this new email service. Around the same time, Radiohead launched their new website, which featured their message board. This message board looked like nothing I had ever seen. The band sometimes popped in for a few minutes to answer questions from people on the board, and the frenzy of activity was indescribable. Imagine maybe a dozen stock tickers that spit out only super-earnest questions about the lyrics to songs, all-caps screams, impolite demands for advice, and pledges of undying love. Also the stock tickers are fighting amongst each other for attention. It was like that. I used my garbagemail account to correspond with other Radiohead fans from that message board, and though I lost touch with 99% of those people, I still wish I had access to those emails. Someone at A&M must have caught on to the fact that offering a free email service as a way of promoting a band was probably not the most sound business move, and they shut it down.

[Buy Absolute Garbage]

Hardest Ever Ablutions

Young People – Collection

In a weird world, this song would be the national anthem for a small, canyon-rift country full of purple sunsets and arid breezes. Katie Eastburn’s delivery is passionate, but at the same time her voice sounds almost detached from the music, as if she were singing from the stage and the band was playing on the floor below. But there’s no way you can ignore the sounds on this track: everything is so urgent and relentless, with tremolo-picked and slightly distorted guitar, sympathetic bass, and a rhythm pattern that jumps ahead of itself at every turn. ‘Collection’ is a short, simple song (one and a half minutes running time), but it’s a great example of a small and perfect piece of music.

[Buy Young People]

Darkling Thrush

Remain & Mlle Caro – Heat

Watching a special today on physics and our general understanding of what happens in and around black holes, I realized: science is a much a distraction for us as music, literature, drama, and visual arts. Scientific pursuits might as well be classified as one of the great human diversions, because just like the others–but for entirely different reasons–science will never be finished. It’s tempting to think of science as following a kind of linear progression (with occasional jumps), where we refine our knowledge of old discoveries and continually make new ones and get closer and closer to understanding the material and otherwise natures of reality. Tempting, but ultimately probably wrong. Sometimes it feels more like a sisyphean task we’ve set for ourselves in order to kill time until there is no time.

This has nothing to do at all with Remain & Mlle Caro’s excellent “Heat,” outside of the fact that it’s interesting to think about how certain sounds will evoke certain emotional states almost immediately, and part of that, I think, must have to do with the physical circumstances of the sound’s effect on our body (Alex Ross’s “The Rest Is Noise” has a nice section where he talks about pleasing vibrations vs. painful or irritating vibrations) and the other part is probably accounted for by something like musical nurture; memories of other sounds, sensations or movements associated with those sounds, etc. Even if I knew how to precisely articulate all those things, I still wouldn’t be able to explain exactly why this song appeals to me so much.

[Buy the Heat/Rogue single]

A Half Decade Ago

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Yellow Missing Signs

I first heard Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin in the spring of 2005, due entirely to the proselytizing efforts of Ryan at Catbirdseat, who went on to release a split record from SSLYBY and Michael Holt on his Catbird Records label (three of the songs from that split appear on “Tape Club”). “Broom,” the band’s debut album, was what I heard, and I loved it immediately. That record, in case you haven’t heard it, is sweet, quiet, and intimate, full of songs that feel immediate and accessible in a way that most things don’t. Those songs are remarkable not only for being so good and so entertaining, but also for being companionable, if that makes any sense. They come across as songs made by a friend, for private listening. And one of the things that most impressed me about that album was the fact that there’s an aspect of ‘the everyday’ in the lyrics–at that time I was mired in ‘the everyday’ part of my life–and so those songs made sense, and offered both a sort of escape from and a different perspective on the things that transpire day-to-day. Two years later, when my family’s house burnt down, SSLYBY’s “House Fire,” which you’d think would be merely a painful reminder, gave me a great deal of much-needed consolation. At no point in listening to this band’s music do you forget that it is made by actual people, and I think that’s an important part of what makes their stuff so good. [If you haven’t heard “Broom,” definitely do yourself a favor and go out and get it.]

“Tape Club” is the band’s new release, and it’s sort of a musical analogue to a poet’s Collected Poems: unreleased tracks, demos, singles, songs kept among friends and family, all put together here. 26 SSLYBY tracks, taken from music made at the beginning of their career up to recent recordings. “Yellow Missing Signs” is one of the latter, and is a slight departure, musically, for SSLYBY, since the keyboard is the primary component here. The band continues its generous treatment of (somewhat to extremely) unpleasant topics by singing about an unsolved crime in their hometown. “Yellow missing signs/faded from all this time/I need to know/where’d you go”. Catchy songs with tragic lyrics exist elsewhere, but do not, to my mind, demonstrate the same level of urgency and compassion as “Yellow Missing Signs,” just another example of how special this band is.

[Buy Tape Club]

Sophists On Sophistry

Chad VanGaalen – Do Not Fear

If you’re familiar with the guitar tone used on Women’s “Public Strain,” then you’ll be familiar with the dominant sound of Chad VanGaalen’s “Diaper Island.” I don’t have enough facility with the vocabulary used to accurately describe guitar tone (dry, thin, fat, bright) to get into anything resembling technical reportage, but however the guitars are modified on those two albums, I can’t get enough of it. It’s a sound that connotes elegance and imperiousness to me; imagine guitars wearing House of Habsburg-style military uniforms. I like too that this feels like it’s barely a song: a handful of chords, simple percussion, a run-on sentence at the end.

[Buy Diaper Island]

Ecru Octagon Moon

Duran Duran – Ordinary World

The second album I ever actually owned, as in bought with money I had earned, Duran Duran’s “The Wedding Album” was a huge part of my 7th grade life, and “Ordinary World” was the biggest part of that album for me. If it’s possible to mainline yearning, then this song was my first experience of that. Strictly speaking, I didn’t have a whole lot to yearn for: I had clothes, shelter, food, friends, a decent collection of baseball cards, and an incipient relationship with a girl in my class. Not bad, really. But this song, for whatever reason, made me vulnerable to new dimensions of dissatisfaction: I wondered why my life wasn’t full of dramatic, windswept, rainy episodes with forlorn women (or, at that time, girls), and why I wasn’t tormented by loss and longing. Also contributing to this was the four-tracks-later bomb of “Come Undone” which, when coupled with “Ordinary World,” served to propel me into a frenzy of mid-pubescent Romanticism, which led to many long solo walks around my neighborhood, and into the habit of reading nineteenth century literature (this was the year I took “War & Peace” out of the library for the first time and read the first 100 pages, intermittently and uncomprehendingly, for the next three years). I loved “Ordinary World” because it felt so adult back then–it felt like a token of the future, and it was, to some extent–and I still love it, for reasons that don’t involve imagined scenarios of windswept tortured drama, but because it’s retained its mystery so well. It still feels like a window on another time and place.

[Buy The Wedding Album]