I'm still as compelled by this album as I was upon first hearing it in 2004. I did a tour on drums for the band Weird War and while I sincerely wanted to play with them because I loved their music (and their previous tour employed a drum machine), I was really excited when I found out all the dates were opening for the Walkmen. At this point in time the Walkmen had played two shows in Detroit…one at the Gold Dollar and one at the Magic Stick. I saw them at the Magic Stick show with approximately twelve other people and when upon meeting the band told them I was at said show they couldn't believe it. That show was before their first album was officially released, they were selling their "black" and "white" 12-inch records at the merch table that night but I bought the early copy of Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and while not completely impressed by it, felt that they were still a band I needed to keep paying attention to.
So the tour was amazing…not only was it a blast listening to Ian Svenonius' ramblings every night, all while I'm trying to keep a straight face, but the guys in the Walkmen could not have been any nicer. I used Matt's drums the entire tour. They let me engage them about Jonathan Fire*Eater. We both reveled in the absurdity of a horrible Valentine's Day gig in Northern California (the city escapes me). Their soundcheck in Pomona was comprised solely of Fire*Eater songs (tour highlight for me). The whole time, I paid attention to their show but don't know if I ever really got it or found myself engrossed with it. Not until a week or two after the tour had ended did it click for me. It was winter in Detroit. It was gray and depressing. It was the first winter in memory where I wasn't attending school. It was a very transitional time. The tour with the Walkmen felt like some briefly perfect balance of things…music, life, travel. As that tour faded more and more to just a memory I found myself turning towards Bows and Arrows more and more. While I could say it for just about any album on this list, I will reserve it for just this one…it is perfect. Paul Maroon being a criminally underrated guitarist is only overshadowed by Matt Barrick being an even moreso underrated drummer. Those two are instrumentalist team-players to the core. They are the heart and soul of that band. The fusillade guitar attack of "The Rat" is unnerving. And yes, that song seemed classic the instant they first played it…it was everyone's favorite before the album was even released. Coupled with Hamilton Leithauser's universally understood lyrics and what you have is a masterpiece. Lyrics like
"When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw
Now I go out alone, if I go out at all"
Are so pure, so devoid of flourish or style or intent. I like to say that the Walkmen are a musician's band. Maybe it's my way of explaining why they're not massively popular. But little things like the bass on "My Old Man" how it thuds on one note for nearly the entire song and just when you thought you'd figured it out, Pete Bauer slyly throws in two extra notes at the 3:55 mark, as if he's only trying to see if you were paying attention. That, to me, is a musician playing for other musicians. Other things like the opening song and the first words on the album, "What's in it for me" while seemingly benign, to me feels like a seething indictment on modern culture and this generation. Followed by the words "I came here for a good time and now you're telling me to leave" is simplistic beauty. The lyrics all have a conversational quality to them, to the point where it's hard to imagine them being tooled or worked on and not just phrases plucked from actual conversations. To find inspiration in the every day, or even just to make it seem like you did, is heavenly.
I once wrote about this album that it was "sad, angry, pleading…everything an album should be" and while all the blabbering above suggests otherwise, that's really all you need to know.
- Dan Sartain Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes Swami Records (2003)
I searched out this album because of Everett True's review of it in Careless Talk Costs Lives. I was mainly intrigued because Dan and I are roughly the same age and I couldn't fathom how he was already releasing his third album at only 21 years old. No store in Detroit had this album in-stock. I had to special order it. I vaguely remember Brian Smith (my then-editor at the Metro Times) saying he'd heard it and that he "didn't get it" or something equally as clueless. I should've taken that as a sign. Anyway, what Sartain does on the Serpientes album is puts it all out there for the listener. The image you get of Dan Sartain by listening to this album is EXACTLY the Dan Sartain that exists in real life. There is no characterization, no marketing, no subterfuge. He lays himself out on the line and everyone benefits because of it. The "Walk Among the Cobras" trilogy here is gut-wrenching. When Dan bellows
"You don't know what it's like to be alone
And you don't know how it feels
To have the cobras snapping at your heels"
I tear up. It's clear that Sartain knows exactly how this feels and his earnestness makes me question the validity of any of my own feelings. Dan Sartain speaks powerful stuff. The secret weapon on this album is Beehive and the Barracudas as his backing band, a shit-hot group that never got their due. While all of Sartain's songs are consistent, this album seems to have been recorded/captured/performed with something that seems missing from the rest of his. Dig that "Leeches Pt. 1" is the best song the Misfits never wrote and it took some rockabilly kid from Alabama to do it. I did two tours playing drums for Dan and the songs off Serpientes were always my favorite to play. I find it weird that I didn't hear this album until six months after it was released. When I finally got that silvery disc in my cold grubby hands it felt like it was made just for me. Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes will forever be timeless.
- Kelley Stoltz Below the Branches Sub Pop (2006)
While Antique Glow is what originally grabbed my ears, Below the Branches is flawless in every way. In a weird way, Kelley actually let me pick the track listing for this album. He'd sent me a handful of cd-r's of different mixes and sequences and outtakes and after awhile I think he'd become a bit overwhelmed by it all. I remember writing to him "you have to open with 'Wave Goodbye' as it's the build-up and launching point for the entire album" or something to that affect. I didn't know Stoltz actually went with my track list until after the album came out. When I asked Kelley about it he said "well, I figured you know this songs better than anyone else" I was a little unnerved when he said that, but after having toured as his drummer and having lived these songs, I truly feel that way now. "Prank Calls" tugs at my heart with…
"I got you, you got me,
and though our love may never truly be free,
it's much cheaper than the price of gasoline"
But "The Sun Comes Through" is what completely wins me. While rehearsing for our Euro tour I stayed with Stoltz in his apartment. One night he spent the night at his girlfriend's and told me to feel free to crash on his bed that eve. I slept like a baby and when I woke up I noticed that of the two windows in his room, one had a curtain that didn't completely obscure the light. As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes I was absolutely overjoyed to see the sun come through the window on the right. My fascination comes from the main lyric of the song,
"And the sun comes through the window to the right"
- Liars They Were Wrong So We Drowned Mute (2004)
There was no mistaken Liars sophomore album for their debut in what is arguable the most dramatic shift in approach between records by ANY band ever. A concept record about witches, this album is seriously a life-changing record in my book. From the raunchy digital hook in "There's Always Room on the Broom" and its peaceful "oooh-ooooh-oooh" vocals to the wicked-catchy syncopated drums that propel "Broken Witch" (and are still being aped by Pantano and I at soundchecks) this is an album that the Dirtbombs, as a whole, adored. Rolling Stone gave this record one star and I guarantee you in ten years this will be cited as a landmark, watershed, game-changer.
- Whirlwind Heat Flamingo Honey Dim Mak (2004)
Ten one-minute songs, written and recorded in a day and they run the full gamut from subdued whisper pop ("The Bone") to spazz punk with one of the sickest drum beats of the decade ("The Meat Packers") to elect-faux hop stealing its title from an obscure Adam Mackay SNL digital short ("The H is O") to rubbery Beck-indebted bass sludge ("Muffler") to forlorn pump organ lament ("Lazy Morning") and they ably cover all their bases and it took me longer to write this than it did to listen to the album. Hands down the best 10" record of all-time.
- Sonic Youth NYC Ghosts and Flowers DGC (2000)
With recent sentiment for Murray Street rising I could very easily be writing about that one here. But what puts NYC Ghosts and Flowers at the head of the SY class for me is the words. For an album to claim influence/dedication to or from Beat poetry is one thing, but to actually achieve it is another. The lyrics to every song on this album could exist solely as poetry and be as equally as captivating. Criticism against this record runs rampant with such claims as "they sound like they're playing without listening to each other" and to me, that seems to be an ideal musical approximation of the Beat style. This is not a tuneful or catchy album. It is musical art.
- The Duchess and the Duke She's the Duchess, He's the Duke Hardly Art (2008)
On paper this is an album that completely turns me off. Somehow, this male/female duo managed to make "campfire punk" interesting without being sissy. Lyrics that weren't afraid to be honest, even if that meant being a little bit dreary and negative, coupled with complimentary acoustic guitars. People will only love this album more in the coming years.
8. the Breeders Title TK 4AD (2002)
I literally waited nine years for this album. Last Splash was the first CD I ever bought with my own money and I loved the shit out of it. I needed more Breeders. This record was nothing like I'd expected yet everything I was hoping for. The sinister vibe is there and Kim's vocals shine. With the amount of time spent on this record, there's got to be some outtakes kicking around, right? Give 'em up already.
- Tyvek Fast Metabolism self-released (2007)
The sound of a city rebuilding and crumbling at the same time. Only one song over three minutes, songs referencing microbiotics, and pre-industrial understanding and the dada-tastic "Can you drive a Honda like I can drive a Honda?" is the best musical question asked in decades.
- Sleater-Kinney All Hands on the Bad One Kill Rock Stars (2000)
While already a fan of S-K by the time this was released, I wasn't explicitly aware of its release. I was at the Border's in Grosse Pointe and just happened to glimpse this in the racks. Instantly in love with the tunes. "Milkshake and Honey" still gets sung in its entirety (to myself) every time I go to Paris. History nerd points for name-dropping the Monitor and the Merrimac in a song called "Ironclad." The one-two punch of the ominous title track coupled with the sugary-sweet pounce of "You're No Rock N' Roll Fun" is unbeatable. The cover is the only use of a found photo I've ever felt legitimate. Got to see four shows on this tour and the crazed college kids in Oberlin got a treat that eve, even if they didn't let S-K or the White Stripes into the house party later that night..
- Beck Guero Interscope (2005)
The first "Beck" album in a long time. Sea Change was aping Gainsbourg and Midnite Vultures earnestly pointed out the hilarity in nu-funk and even Mutations as much as I love it, felt like a left-turn. So the old standby of the Odelay-sound was the quintessential summer album.
- The Black Lips Good Bad Not Evil Vice (2006)
The fact that these guys are as big as they are is still mind-boggling. While not re-inventing the wheel, they take Garage music (in this sense I feel a need to capitalize) and own it. They were babies on the first album, confused on the second, poised for greatness on the third and fully actualized by the time they re-appropriated this nugget from a Shangri-Las song for an album title. To sample the Swamp Rats "I'm Going Home" and the Savages "The World Ain't Round, It's Square" takes equal parts genius and demented. "O Katrina" is timeless and "Bad Kids" is an anthem. I rest easy at night knowing that someone is pushing the Back From the Grave sound on the world's youngsters.
- Franz Ferdinand s/t Domino (2004)
There are no songs here that warrant skipping. Every one is a stone-cold solid jamfest.
- A-Frames Black Forest Sub Pop (2005)
A band that I'd followed straight from the get-go and completely surprised me with their wiz-bang of a third album. I love how the title track is on the album in three different formats, increasingly abrasive. The tones captured here are the height of ideal and should be taught in all your fancy-schmancy recording schools. Memorable songs from the last place I'd expect it.
- Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Pig Lib (2003)
Malk's entry in the guitar-god hall of fame should simply be this album. His guitar has a voice like none other and it sings like a choir. "Face the Truth" is equally as godhead, but he uses the word "elucidate" twice on that album and it patently rubbed me the wrong way. It struck me odd that the song "Dark Wave" was as synth-heavy as it was and when I asked Malkmus if it was in reference to the Lost Sounds who had earlier released an album called Black Wave that seemed to presage the sound of "Dark Wave" Steve neither confirmed or denied it. The guitar phrasing on "No More Shoes" is like manna from the heavens.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell Interscope (2003)
YYY's opened for the Dirtbombs in 2002 and played most of the songs off Fever to Tell that night. I ran a tape of their set from the soundboard without telling them and am infinitely glad I took that chance because I listened the shit out of that tape. While I felt that I liked the self-titled EP on principal, I always felt it lacked a certain something. That something is loud and proud and spitting in your face right here. Nick Zinner = guitar transcendance.
- the Hives Tyrannosaurus Hives Interscope (2004)
Completely Swedish in its precision. The singularity of vision from these five guys is machine-like. Not sure if any band could touch them in terms of being a "unit" and the extra set of legs added to the back cover of this album was snidely brilliant. "Diabolic Scheme" wins for me because I still can't tell if they used a real or canned string section on it.
- Melvins A Senile Animal Ipecac (2006)
This is what I've always wanted two drummers to sound like. A band 20+ years into their career isn't supposed to make an album this great. New blood in the form of Big Business reinvigorates the tunes and "A History of Bad Men" is the pinnacle of heavy.
- BLOW The Bonus Album K (2002)
Recorded on a lark, to fill the merch table while waiting for her "real" album to be available, The Bonus Album is the crystallization of disparate thoughts and styles converging sublimely and in less than twenty minutes. A more beautiful voice may not exist and the a cappella "The Touch Me" is the ideal platform for it while "Jet-Ski Accidents" is achingly personal and revealing. I've still never heard the "real" album this was a bonus to and don't want to for fear of it failing to captivate.
- The Starlite Desperation Go Kill Mice Flapping Jet (2000)
The soundtrack to senior year of high school. What rock and roll is supposed to sound like.
- Reigning Sound Too Much Guitar In the Red (2004)
Every song a winner. Greg Cartwright's masterful marriage of words and guitar is frustratingly transcendent. Album title comes from the (former) organist's thoughts about the songs before he quit. Dork.
- Rage Against the Machine Renegades Epic (2000)
A good covers album should make you search out the originals. An amazing covers album is one where you prefer the remakes to the originals. So while I don't rate Rage's versions of "Kick Out the Jams" or "Down on the Street" better than the Stooges or MC5, and their "Street Fighting Man" is pale, they actually hold their own to Dylan's "Maggie's Farm." That's right, I said it. The updated instrumentation far better approximates the heft of the lyrical content. As for the rest of the songs, they ALL top the originals. Renegades suffered because it came out after the band had broken up. I know it's hard to say about a million-selling album, but it really is underrated. Take into account how many poor white kids with no clue this introduced to the Stooges and MC5.
- Clone Defects Shapes of Venus In the Red (2002)
Nothing is more punk than the lyrics "You'll never be down if you walk in God's light" My first-ever paid writing gig was doing the bio for this album and I gave myself bonus points for not using the word "punk" once while doing it.
- The Strokes Room on Fire RCA (2003)
Too much chatter about the first album, the second one with its reaching high school lyrics and identifiable "You Talk Way Too Much" is where it's at. They played three of these songs at their Radio City Music Hall show with the White Stripes and in the elevator after the show Ryan Adams commented that they "were like the new Smiths". I have no idea what in the hell that space-case meant, but those three songs (a faster "You Talk Way Too Much", "Between Love and Hate" and "The Way it Is") still resonate the deepest reaches of my heart.
- Jay Reatard Blood Visions In the Red (2006)
I just wish I could give the guy a hug right now.
- Weird War If You Can't Beat 'em, Bite 'em Drag City (2004)
Pseudo-intellectual dada funk from DC.
- Datsuns s/t V2 (2003)
New Zealand lays their claim to the invention of the "riff"
By the numbers:
Bands on here I've been on tour with: 12
Bands I've never met any members of: 2
Albums I'm thanked on: 1
Least Represented Years: 2001 and 2009 each with no entries
Albums not on my iTunes: 3 (Below the Branches, Pig Lib and Shapes of Venus)
Albums I'm certain I paid for (my initial copy): 6
Albums I own on more than one format: 19
White Stripes albums that would've made the list had I wanted to write about them: 3
Bands I've seen perform at the Magic Stick: 15
Bands I've pressed records on: 4
Bands I've asked to do records with: 7 (not including the 4 I actually did records with)