Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A song for every year of my life #10: 1986

Aside from my favorite heavy metal album of the decade, Slayer's Reign in Blood, not much happened musically in 1986 that captivated my interest. Wait, I just remembered. Don Johnson released Heartbeat that year. 1986 is the greatest year in music history.

Slayer's "Angel of Death" wasn't the only great song of 1986, despite my lukewarm feelings toward this particular year. "Pink Frost" by the Chills is worth anyone's time. So is this pajama jammy jam by one of my favorite bands in music history, Sonic Youth. "Expressway to Yr Skull" aka "Madonna, Sean, and Me." Ask your great-grandparents about that alternate song title, youth of today.

Alternate choice: The Go-Betweens - "Twin Layers of Lightning"
This is some beautiful, mysterious stuff. An underrated band with two wonderful songwriters who played off each other's strengths and minimized each other's weaknesses.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A song for every year of my life #9: 1985

Hey, look. Pitchfork stole my idea, though it took 15 of their writers to handle what this guy is doing alone. Even the introduction is slightly similar. I think I'll sue. Two unrelated entities have never been known to have a similar idea that wasn't that original anyway. It's never happened in history.

1985. Cultural changes happen gradually, but I like to think of 1985 as the year a lot of records started sounding shitty. I mean the production value, I don't mean the quality of the music, though plenty of bad music came out in 1985. The sound of most records recorded in the 1920s through the mid-1980s are pleasing to my ears. I'm not an audiophile that can tell you about microphones and speakers and turntables, but I do know what I like. These records, with some exceptions, serve the musicians and songs, have a dynamic range, have spaces between the notes, convey the time period without sounding dated, and have mood, atmosphere, and the indescribable essence that Neil Young calls "the spook." 1985 seemed to mark a turning point. Technology was used just because it existed, even if it damaged the work. The snare drum got too loud and echoey. The music got compressed with that early digital thinness. Albums were mixed too quiet in the early CD days and are now mixed too loud. The dynamic range is missing. The sound is too busy. Space between notes is lost. Atmosphere and mood are gone, replaced by simulations of atmosphere and mood. It's not all bad. There are still records that have come out every year since 1985 that sound great. A lot of indie records aren't overproduced, and a lot of hip-hop and electronic records use the technology in smart ways that fit the sound. Also, to be fair, a lot of mainstream pop and classic rock records in the 1970s were too clean and bloodless and overproduced and over-arranged. But some of the voodoo disappeared in 1985 and never came back. Where did it go? Did Don Henley steal it and lock it in a vault?

The Replacements - "Left of the Dial"
God, I love this band. I grew up in the Midwest, and The Replacements capture some indescribable invisible Midwest ozone aura. Separate from the hardcore scenes on either coast, ignored, landlocked, "flyover-state" (gag), raised on classic rock, turned onto punk rock, never had to abandon classic rock, just folded punk rock into the aesthetic, bored, drunk, bleary-eyed poets, hangover geniuses, juvenile delinquents, four reincarnations of Hank Williams covering the New York Dolls, embarrassed by how great their ballads were, here comes a regular. I'll be a regular at the Replacements discography until I'm dead. These guys are my Beatles and Monkees in one band. I don't even have a favorite record of theirs. Just throw their first six on repeat, over and over.

Alternate choice - The Mekons - "Chivalry"
"I was out late the other night/Fear and whiskey kept me going" is one of my favorite opening lines to a song. The rest of it's pretty damn great, too.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A song for every year of my life #8: 1984

Minutemen - "Viet Nam"
Nostalgia is bad, right? Let me reminisce. You have to learn to live with your contradictions. That's what makes everybody interesting and irritating. Minutemen are a band close to my heart. Self-taught, outsider dorks, not part of any scene but influential on many, personal, funny, inventive, timeless, minimal, bullshit-free, politically savvy without being preachy or humorless, real working-class humans. I love these guys. They're small-h heroes. There are no big-H heroes, no matter what TV tells us. This album came out in 1984. I first heard it in 1994. It's my second-favorite rock album, next to The Stooges' Fun House. I heard that one for the first time in 1996. I'm supposed to care about this week, why?

Alternate choice: Husker Du -"Pink Turns to Blue"
Another song from a double album on SST in 1984, produced by Spot. This is the prettiest song about heroin death since Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death." Every current indie band needs to listen to Double Nickels on the Dime and Zen Arcade and feel hot, blistering shame. You can be ambitious without being a twat. You can be funny without being a prick. You can use your goddamn snare drum once in a while. You still won't be this good, precious.