Crate-Digging Quick Takes – June 26, 2010

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

 

I’ve been doing this project for a while now, starting in early 2009, listening to my earbuds as I wandered around the streets of London. When we started the Critical Masses, I started the project over with the idea to flesh out what I had already done, and learn even more about the music in my collection. Of course, I’m coming across some records that I don’t necessarily want or need to delve super deep into. So here I present five records that I’m skipping over for feature status, in Quick Take form. Of the five, I highly recommend downloading the Dan Deacon EP – details on that below.

 

Muse – Absolution

(Warner/EastWest, 2003)

During the 2010 Fifa World Cup (USA! USA!), it seems particularly appropriate for someone like Muse to lend their talents to the marketing campaign – I haven’t heard them, mind you, but this English power trio makes perfect sense for the season. Their huge, overbearing stadium anthems would present the perfect background for drunken hooligans beating the crap out of each other. Lunkheads. And even though I have no idea what sort of absolution they’re singing for (or really what anything means on this album), I find myself in a love/hate relationship with them. You know, they’re catchy, and they sound like Radiohead, and their instrumentation is Smashing Pumpkins thick. That can’t be all bad, right? All snark aside, there is at least 2/3 of a good album here. Even though they’ve essentially worn out their welcome by featuring a song (not from this album, though) in almost every promo for the horrific first few episodes of the television show V – you know, the ones with that double downbeat at the end of the promos where Morena Baccarin does that weird alien double-blink. God, I miss Firefly. Television programming and marketing lunkheads.

Pedro the Lion – Achilles Heel

(Jade Tree, 2004)

Good ol’ Dave Bazan: you can count on him to be utterly depressing. It always sounds like he needs a hug, you know? It’s kind of draining – picturing his drooping, downcast face, pathetically holding out his arms – you know what, I’m all out of hugs. Go hug Chris Ivey, David – he loves hugging. We call him “the hugmonster” here at Critical Masses. I’m just … no, I just can’t. No hugs, David. As if he wasn’t sad enough, this is the final Pedro the Lion album before Bazan retired the name and went solo, but I just felt kind of meh about it. It starts off promising with “Bands with Managers” but some of the storytelling tropes just don’t work. And I really have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to Pedro the Lion – although, if they come up on shuffle I can listen to them on occasion. I feel kind of the same way about Bright Eyes – I never want to actively listen to them, but when they pop up here and there, it ain’t so bad.

Dan Deacon – Acorn Master

(Psych-O-Path, 2006)

Dan Deacon has this weird discography before Spiderman of the Rings, which you can download here for free: www.dandeacon.com/mp3. It’s full of noise and tone experiments, but Acorn Master really showcases Deacon’s playful noise/pop side – kind of a surprising discovery in the midst of all the tone-bending and musique concrete. The first and last tracks are beautiful little tone movements, orchestral melodies in miniature (“Two Friends” and “Breast Cake / Penis Sleeve,” the latter an example of Deacon’s childish potty humor). “Big Big Big Big Big,” “It’s My Fault,” and the awesomely titled “Moses Vs. Predator” showcase the master at his catchy best. He even reworks the classic “Splish Splash” Deacon style, with crazy pitchshifted vocals – a surprisingly appropriate cover choice.

Smashing Pumpkins – Acoustic on 99x

(unreleased, 2000?)

So this isn’t an official Smashing Pumpkins release or anything. I have quite a few of those. This is just a little 5-track radio show right before Machina came out. Four of the five songs wound up on Machina, and here, where it’s just Billy Corgan and an acoustic guitar, we get sense of the tracks’ innate tenderness, as well as a glimpse into how fully formed his songs are before he brings them to the rest of the band. The chords are full, dynamic, and varied, the tones warm – it’s almost like Billy doesn’t need a band. And while I’ve always liked the acoustic Pumpkins moments, the only real drawback here is the lyrics. The whole “Radio, play my favorite song” bit is one of those rock clichés that Billy tends to fart into his lyrics – since when did anybody’s radio play anyone’s favorite song? Not while I was growing up. And certainly not in 2000. So I don’t know why he dwells so much on it – although the repetition of the word “radio” is kind of euphonic. I guess we’ll give him a pass on that one, but it means nothing. I do hate “Rock On,” though; talk about the clichés. This should never have been recorded, and is exhibit A as to why Billy needs a censor, or a foil. The fifth track is “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” which is a little long and limp in acoustic form. Oh well. Despite my minor complaints, this is actually a pretty good little session.

At the Drive-In – Acrobatic Tenement

 

(Flipside, 1996)

Of these five recordings, Acrobatic Tenement is the only record to which I listened for the first time. I’m really only familiar with later ATDI, so to hear their first album in that context was kind of a letdown. The band is really indebted to their indie-punk and emo influences here, in particular the Midwestern scene (Squirrel Bait, Bitch Magnet, Cap’n Jazz) as well as those in D.C. and Chapel Hill. It strange hearing Cedric Bixler yelp before he had control over his voice, such as on ATDI’s Relationship of Command or his work in The Mars Volta. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, as well, is content to hammer out lean, gangly chords with what sounds like nothing more than his amp’s built-in overdrive as embellishment. It’s a nice debut, but underwhelming after being introduced to At the Drive-In’s superior output.

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