I know I’m putting myself in the minority by picking this over “Doolittle” or “Surfer Rosa” (totally ace albums, to be sure…and probably “better”), but for some reason this has always been my favorite Pixies record. Some say they were running out of ideas, but to me it sounds like they went out in top form. “Alec Eiffel” is one of the most thrilling songs in their impressive canon. I’m sure I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and I never get tired of it. Frank Black/Black Francis sounds absolutely bonkers on 99% of the album, as if he’s receiving schizophrenic transmissions from all those UFOs he is so fascinated with. Seriously, his weirdness was beginning to reach Roky Erickson levels of nuttiness, where before he was maybe just on par with David Byrne (haha). “UMass” is one of the greatest sardonic songs about “intellectual” college students ever recorded (“We’re not just kids/to say the least/We got ideas/to us that’s dear/like Capitalist/like Communist/like lots of things/you’ve heard about/and redneckers/they get us pissed/and stupid stuff/it makes us shout…”). Their fantastic cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” seems tailor made for the Pixies’ noisy melodicism. “Letter to Memphis” has some of the catchiest guitar riffs Joey Santiago ever played, as well as one hell of a vocal melody. Damn the band if they didn’t follow this up with the arguable highlight of the album: “Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons”, a subtle pop song that ascends heavenwards (or to Mars, I guess). Fool the world.
2008 went down as one of the better years in my quarter century of existence, fortunately full of more highs than lows, even if I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to conquer (Mt. Everest, Great American Novel, nirvana, fountain of youth, a basic understanding of quantum physic moonwalking—a science I’ll develop in 2009, I promise). I got to try my hand at DJing a couple of times (thanks to Will and Nick’s equipment and charitable sharing of stage), saw Radiohead twice, lived a lifetime in the course of a few Chicago daze and nights, took part in countless impromptu dance parties, witnessed my friends make incredible music and art, spent my first full year outside of a classroom finally able to devote free time to re-educating myself, survived eleven months of weekend boozing and another month of palatable sobriety, and made cacophonous noise with friends under a starry sky in a place properly called Happyland. I also was dumped by my girlfriend somewhere within all of that, but the fact that I was too busy having a rapturous time to get nostalgically down says something about the power of living in the now.
If LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” was the soundtrack to 2007, what was the noise of THIS year? If I had to hang 365 days worth of feeling on less than five minutes of funk (the groovy rather than the mopey kind) I guess it would be Cut Copy’s “Strangers in the Wind”, especially the latter half of that song, when the dreams of a year are compressed and phased and shot through with enough endless onward hope to catapult me into another 8,760 hours. Unlike “All My Friends”, “Strangers in the Wind” was not my favorite song released during the year (I’m not sure I even have one), but like “All My Friends” it was able to capture the mood of 12 months. Five years ago a part of me questioned whether I’d burn out before I made it to my silver anniversary. I’m pretty confident that I can easily handle the next 25. Thank you to everyone who helped make the past year a great one. These moments passing will be there indeed.
It’s better to bump hard and burn out. Thomas Bangalter and Alan Braxe have gone on to wax funkadelic in other k-holes since, but even in all the Daftness and Braxe Traxing have they ever topped this shit? Taken rhetorically or debatably, it is a question chopped into fine powder when this track plays. And that’s the thing: this still plays without being played out. In the headlong whoosh toward the New that is Dance Music, this is no small point to be made. At least once a week I’m blown away by some new house or French touch or dubstep or minimal or _________ track and within a couple of months I’m usually over it. Let me remind you that this song is ten years old, which in dance floor years is a century, and when neon blow fiends are doing the all night boogie woogie to this anthem it’s akin to someone unwrapping a Super Nintendo tomorrow and spilling their eggnog in ecstasy. Here’s to keeping all hopped up on Stardust in 2009.
What I’ll be getting tomorrow from Netflix:
“Man on Wire”
“Captain Beefheart: Under Review”
“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (haven’t seen this one since I was a young chap)
“The Wire: Season Four (Disc One)”
Call and Answer
Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?
I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”
We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.
Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.
How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?
Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.
Primal Scream has one of the most fitfully brilliant and regularly frustrating discographies of any band in the past 20 years. After two so-so albums, the band finally struck a vein with “Screamadelica”, winning the inaugural Mercury Prize and beating out Bobby Gillespie’s former band, The Jesus and Mary Chain, in the process (Gillespie was once their drummer). It was a game-changer barely a notch below the same era’s “Nevermind” and “Loveless” in terms of scope and influence, deftly blending rock and roll swagger with the hip sounds of house music. “Higher Than the Sun” remains a high point in music history. To be obvious: the band’s narcotic intake was pretty legendary.
The band inexplicably followed that success with the Stones-aping “Give Out But Don’t Give Up”, which to most was a disappointment. “Vanishing Point” moved back to a more agreeable sound, and is a minor triumph, but no one was really prepared for the band’s next move.
The news that reclusive My Bloody Valentine wunderkind Kevin Shields had been added to the lineup as a semi-permanent member was pretty exciting in itself, and “XTRMNTR” was an exhilarating success. The band sounded newly focused and energized, and this is one hell of an adrenaline rush. “Swastika Eyes” (it appears on the album in two forms; The Chemical Brothers’ mix being marginally less successful than the Jagz Kooner one) is a thrilling barnstormer, controversially criticizing “American international terrorism” but still managing to crack the British singles chart. “Kill All Hippies” is a slinky, sexy groover with a cheekily confrontational slogan for a song title. That leads into the album’s strongest track, “Accelerator”, which easily ranks as one of the most propulsive pedal-to-the-metal rock classics of all time, sounding like a mutant collision of The Rolling Stones at their hedonistic best, in the red “Raw Power”-era Stooges, and pure amplifier fuckery. It has surely put a strain on my car speakers. “Keep Your Dreams” shows the band is capable of moments of beauty within their maelstrom. Closer “I’m 5 Years Ahead of My Time”, while not the band’s best, is a well-deserved boasting of the band’s forward-looking panache. After an album this compelling, the guys deserved a victory lap, because they were certainly running circles around the younger cats. Too bad they haven’t released anything this great since, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.
Hopefully he asked for a new set of batteries:
Life lessons from Fraggle Rock, as always: