Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sleepytime music

Most nights, I have trouble sleeping. Some strange people would attribute this to overzealous caffeine consumption or general laziness throughout the day, leaving me with an unnecessary store of energy by nighttime.

While those things may be contributing factors to my sleeplessness, it's all ignoring the main problem. I just can't turn my mind off most of the time. In order for me to even dream about catching a wink of sleep, my thoughts need to wander down pathways of nonsense and absurdity, which can't happen if I'm obsessing about whatever's going on in real life.

So I usually put some music on in my headphones to fall asleep. And I've learned from experience which music always facilitates the state of mind I need to be in to achieve unconsciousness.

Firstly, it can't be music that's too quiet. If it is, my mind stupidly makes an effort to hear it, and keeps me awake. Repetitive songs tend to work better too. Think of them as mantras, chanting you to sleep.

Here are my go-to albums to put on while I lie awake for hours:

Pink Floyd - Meddle
It's my favorite Pink Floyd album and the one I've fallen asleep to more than any other. I think it's the way it starts with their hardest-rocking song ever, then segues into one of their prettiest acoustic guitar songs. Check how the wind noises are the only thing that connect the two songs:

R.E.M. - Fables Of The Reconstruction
This one works every time. It's got this weird baroque Southern gothic vibe that R.E.M. never really attempted again. Which is a shame because they could've forged an entire career out of this sound.

Benton Falls - Fighting Starlight
I talked a little about this album in another post. What I didn't mention was the incredibly potent barbiturate properties it has. It's pretty much all languid tempos, jangly guitar picking and relentless unhappiness. In waking life I'm hardly ever in the mood for that, but when I crave sleep, I crave this.

Stereolab - Switched On
Sometimes you just want to get lost in waves of pleasant sound.

Chantal Kreviazuk - Colour Moving & Still
This one song alone can get me to doze even when I don't want to. And if it doesn't work, I'm still glad I listened to it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks

Title: Blood On The Tracks
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1975
Had since: 2005
How I got it: A Greek fellow by the name of Spiros Katsas sent me a bunch of CDs one time. This was one of them.
Why I have it: Because it's Dylan. He's kind of necessary.

I actually never cared much for Dylan. I had Highway 61 Revisited on cassette once, and it was good. I used to have Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde and a random bunch of tracks from his Greatest Hits CD too.

All good stuff, right? Right (Except Blonde On Blonde -- I couldn't get through that one). His albums are so full of classic songs that it starts to seem absurd in a way that's comparable only with the Beatles, but in his case it's more impressive because he was just one guy.

Maybe that's what put me off of him for so long. His legacy is so weighty, it's like there's no way to just sit back and listen to this music on its own terms, removed from the context of rock history and groundbreaking lyricism and the man's own enigmatic public image. Just how do you approach the greatest songwriter of the 20th century? How do you accept that a guy with such an ugly singing voice created such beautiful songs?

Anyway I'm over most of that now. This is the album that sort of helped the puzzle come together for me a bit. Each song is outstanding in its own right and demonstrates his range as a songwriter, which is weird considering every song is basically about the same thing, but that's part of the appeal. This guy was just a master at capturing very specific emotions and distilling them into song form. The songs on this album convey everything from contented resignation to fond reminiscing to bitter venom to guarded optimism -- all the emotions people go through when a relationship ends.

That's the Dylan that interests me. If you're turned off by the idea of him, like I was back when I associated him with his political/protest songs, think of him as more of a humanist. It's impossible to listen to an album like this and not feel like he tapped into something universal. That's what we look for in music (and most art forms) anyway -- connection.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drive Like Jehu - Yank Crime

Title: Yank Crime
Artist: Drive Like Jehu
Year: 1994
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Big Daddy's in Provo
Why I have it: My first exposure to this band was a song called "On A Rope" by Rocket From The Crypt.

I loved this song when I was 15. But at the time, I had no way of knowing that lead singer/guitarist John Reis used to be in a band called Drive Like Jehu.

When I first heard about them, it was in connection to the 90s emo scene, and specifically in comparison to Fugazi and Quicksand (who I already loved) and being an influence on At The Drive-In (which turned out to be an overblown claim).

The album itself put me off at first. Half the songs are about nine minutes long, and the band rocks so hard throughout that it becomes exhausting to listen to. Over the top of this messy, noisy, chaotic rock there's this guy just screaming in an agitated voice. Two thoughts come to mind. First of all, what the hell was Interscope thinking when they signed this band to a major label deal? There's not one single moment of commercial appeal on the entire record. Second, how in the world did they come up with this sound? It's crazy yet controlled, equal parts power and precision, loud and violent but in a way that transcends genre qualifiers. The closest I could think to label it is "progressive hardcore", and that still doesn't quite work.

The point is that Yank Crime is a unique record, and it's easy to see why they broke up right after this. They did what they set out to do, and left it at that. The band has influenced countless people, yet no one will ever sound just like them. That, by itself, is the best testament to their lasting impact.

Last note: Before producing albums for bands like Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, Mark Trombino was one hell of a drummer. Listen to these fills.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to watch season 1 of In Treatment

At 9 discs and 43 episodes long, the first season of HBO's psychiatric drama series "In Treatment" is a daunting prospect. Add that to the fact that each episode consists of an entire therapy session with one of a recurring set of patients and you've got a show that puts you on notice immediately: this is not light viewing.

But as you follow this simple step-by-step guide and grow accustomed to the format, the investment you make into this American remake of the Israeli show Be'Tipul begins to pay off, in unexpected ways. So whenever your interest in a particular character begins to lag or the entire experience seems to lack reward, refer to the following rules:

1) Ignore Laura
This is hard to do, because they try to make her an important character for such a long time, but it's necessary. Just ignore her. She sucks. She's supposed to be this irresistible cauldron of sexual desirability, but the actress that plays her is neither attractive nor charismatic enough to pull it off. It's one of those cases where it's difficult to tell whether the problem is with the performance or with the writing. Whatever it is, the best thing to do is simply pretend she doesn't exist, especially on a show that is otherwise so brilliant.

2) Skip the episode with Paul's kids
Paul (Gabriel Byrne) is the therapist and main character of the show. We only see him when he's at work, or when he sees his old therapist Gina (Dianne Wiest) at the end of every week. Therapy is the man's life. We don't need to see what he's like as a father. And his daughter is played by Ann from Arrested Development (better known as "Who?" or "Her?"), which makes it hard to take seriously.

3) Watch out for Alex
Tuesday's patient Alex (Blair Underwood) seems like a macho military stereotype at first, so we are fairly blindsided to discover mid-season that we suddenly care more about him than any of the other patients. After killing 17 kids in an air raid and suffering a heart attack by pushing his body to its breaking point while training for a marathon, the man who disdains therapy at first turns out to need it the most. Watch out for him.

4) Enjoy Mia Wasikowska while you can
She plays Sophie, a young gymnast who may or may not have a history of suicide attempts. And she is such a talented young actress that it's only a matter of time before she becomes famous and starts doing crappy romantic comedies for bigger pay. She was already in Alice In Wonderland earlier this year. Her portrayal of a troubled teenage girl is one of the most convincing I've ever seen. Enjoy it while it lasts, because this kind of talent is a rare thing.

5) Give Jake and Amy some time
They seem like a tiresome "bickering couple" at first, with their disagreement over whether to terminate a pregnancy. But as their sessions continue, and especially as they each go one-on-one with Paul, both characters begin to reveal surprising depths, and the actors go to great lengths to make us care about them. In the beginning of the season, I found them to be the least interesting patients, and that did a total 180 for me by the end. In between are all the ups, downs, and middles of any human relationship, until their problems begin to seem universal and extremely sensible. They are both at fault for how far they've fallen as a couple, and yet it's almost as if there's nothing they could've done to avoid it.

6) Try to be patient for the next seasons
This show has got to be a pain in the ass to write and produce, and since it'll never find a large audience there's no pressing demand to make the episodes available right away. But they will be, in time. Just try to wait. It'll be worth it.

Down By Law - Punkrockacademyfightsong

Title: Punkrockacademyfightsong
Artist: Down By Law
Year: 1994
Had since: 1997/2007
How I got it: Borrowed/Greywhale in Provo
Why I have it: My brother and I went through a major punk rock phase when I was 14. In the summer of 1996 we bought the first "Punk-O-Rama" CD from Epitaph Records which included bands like Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, NOFX, Pennywise and Wayne Kramer. But the best song on this thing, standing out among this slew of angry, slashing guitar attacks was a cheery, sunny-sounding pop anthem called "Bright Green Globe."

This song made a Down By Law fan out of me instantly. From the beginning, a shimmering guitar noise with a soft voice singing "Aaaaaah" over it, to the "AYYYYYYY!" scream that brings in the rhythm section and the drumroll that begins each verse, to the final, hanging "Nobody knows it allllll...." ending, I was hooked. Down By Law were exactly the type of punk band I was looking for. They even had a cool logo: An arrow cutting downwards through a rectangle, suggesting an aesthetic that breaks down boundaries and thinks outside the box.

So we borrowed (it is uncertain if we ever returned it) the disc from a relative of ours who liked cool music. And the full album was a bit of a letdown. There are at least five or six other songs as good as "Bright Green" on this thing, but they're buried amidst a bunch of formulaic punk and jokey filler, epitomized by a stupid cover of the Proclaimers' hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", listed simply as "500 Miles" here. It lacks the raw passion and musical variation of "Blue". Frontman Dave Smalley replaced the entire lineup of the band prior to this record, switching out former members of The Chemical People with guitarist Sam Williams III, bassist Angry John Di Mambro and drummer Hunter Oswald. The result is better cohesion as a unit, at the expense of exploration. "Blue" sounded like a band still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be -- the song title "Looking For Something" says it all. "Punkrockacademyfightsong" is the sound of a band settling into an identity, and for better or worse, it's the template they've followed ever since. I say "a band settling into an identity" is always for the worst, but those are my prejudices.

Down By Law - Hit Or Miss

Monday, September 6, 2010

Down By Law - Blue

Title: Blue
Artist: Down By Law
Year: 1992
Had since: 2001/2007
How I got it: Cheapo Music in Manoa, 2001; the Internet, 2007
Why I have it: When I was 15 years old, my brothers and I used to tape this bodyboarding show on public access called Launch. It was basically surfing/bodyboarding montages set to music, with short segments hosted by pro bodyboarders in between. The show (along with its pure surfing counterpart, H3O) was instrumental in getting me into punk rock, and it introduced me to bands like NOFX, Social Distortion, Gorilla Biscuits, Ten Foot Pole, Bonecrusher and these guys.

Down By Law were the fourth and final band for singer/guitarist Dave Smalley, after working as frontman for DYS, Dag Nasty, and All. His emotive, full-throated singing style favors drawn-out vocal hooks and passionate shouts. Although the band mostly hews to the standard punk template, they show off a little range and subtlety with the slow-motion stomper "Rain", the love ballad "Our Own Way", the meditative "Looking For Something", the weirdly funky "Break The Walls" and the acoustic "Dead End". These forays into decidedly un-punk territory, emphasizing melody over power, make this DBL's most solid album ever. In short, start here if you're interested.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner

Title: Boy In Da Corner
Artist: Dizzee Rascal
Year: 2003
Had since: 2007
How I got it: the Internet
Why I have it: Boy In Da Corner was one of the best-reviewed albums of the past decade. It's got a score of 92 on Metacritic and was included in several "best albums of the 00s" list. As a rap fan and a person who sometimes compulsively checks out things that receive all the critical acclaim, I had to get around to it eventually.

It's easy to see why people were so taken with it at the time. Rascal was 17 years old when he made it, and his flow -- ridiculous thick British accent and all -- certainly would've stood out among either the mainstream or underground of rap. And he was clearly talented. This ain't no SouljahBoyTellEm-type juvenile garbage. It's dark and weird and once in a while, it's funky.

I guess I just don't see what the big deal is. I hear a good hip hop album by a young dude who probably has more talent than restraint. But not one of the best albums of the last decade. Something about it lacks memorability. I doubt that very many people are still going to regard it as a classic ten years from now. It's enjoyable from time to time, but 92 on Metacritic? Really?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. - Bug

Title: Bug
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Year: 1988
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Borders
Why I have it: This and "You're Living All Over Me" were reissued at the same time (along with their debut) by Merge Records in 2005. I went back on forth on which one to buy first and finally bought "You're Living". After that, I had to get this one.

Prior to the reissues, the only CD I had by them was their "BBC In Session" album. It was a compilation that had some of their best songs on it, including this one, my favorite song of theirs and track 2 on "Bug":

The song just encapsulates everything I love about this band. It starts off slow and miserable, but when the singing comes in it turns almost hopeful, with the guitars just roaring full blast the whole time. Then in the middle it picks up and rages for a short guitar solo before returning to the original melody. I could honestly listen to it all day.

But even before I had that CD, the first song I ever heard by them was Bug's lead-off track "Freak Scene". Except it wasn't by them, it was a cover of that song by Blink-182. At the time I didn't know it was a cover and just thought it was one of their bad songs. Now I know it's just a bad cover of a good song. Their singer does a pretty fair impersonation of Dinosaur's singer J. Mascis though.

If I have to choose between Bug and You're Living All Over Me, after all these years, I wouldn't. It's too close to call, as both albums have the structural complexity combined with crushingly loud guitars and beautiful pop songwriting that makes Dinosaur Jr so great. I would say get both, but get Bug first. They are both essential.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me

(Editor's note: It's too time-consuming trying to lump all these CDs together, plus it's unfair to the artists. I'm going one disc per post now. Here's how I'm going to profile them.)

Title: You're Living All Over Me
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Year: 1987
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Borders
Why I have it: Always wanted to hear it. This album was impossible for me to find until it was reissued by Merge Records in 2005. I first heard of Dinosaur Jr. when I was in my second semester of college (this was 2001).

I remember thinking the name was cool, but I had no idea how appropriate it was. They were a band simultaneously ahead of their time and behind it. Later bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine copped their sound and aesthetic, while their songwriting style and guitar effects owed a debt to Neil Young, who's been old forever.

Back in 1987, reviving obsolete sounds wasn't considered fashionable. Dinosaur Jr. combined hippie-ish folk pop tendencies with bad acid-trip guitar pyrotechnics and the depressive vibe of goth and in the process became one of the most influential bands of the alternative/indie era. Everything old really is new again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 5: Static white sound

Codeseven - A Sense Of Coalition (PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS BAND. This one is just an OK-ish hardcore punk album, but their later stuff is this dark, futuristic electro-rock with the smoothest, most powerfully emotive male vocalist I've ever heard on the mic. I saw them live on accident -- they were opening for this other band I wanted to see -- but they impressed me enough that I picked up their 2004 release "Dancing Echoes/Dead Sounds" and it ended up becoming my favorite album of that year. I was listening to it around the time I met Wendy and it was one of the first bands I got her into. So the album has double-special meaning for me. Beyond that, the songs are experimental yet perfectly structured, they touch on a whole variety of moods and styles, and the singing is just otherworldly. LISTEN TO THIS PLEASE.)
Dancing Echoes Dead Sounds by codeseven

Converge - Jane Doe
Converge - You Fail Me
(There's a reason why their Web site is called "". Converge have earned a dedicated underground following over 20 years of playing their frantic hybrid of death metal and hardcore. Whether you love them and singer Jacob Bannon's banshee shriek or not, that kind of work ethic and passion deserves respect.)

Cows - Sorry In Pig Minor (This CD is all weird and experimental and silly, but it's also incredibly mellow. Therefore I'm hardly ever in the right type of mood for it, and even if I am, I still don't care for the singer's voice. Here's the best song from it.)

Helios Creed - Planet X
Helios Creed - On The Dark Side Of The Sun
(Psychedelic acid space rock. Guitar alternately sounds like it's melting, vomiting or exploding. Sounds awesome, but the songwriting fails to live up to the cool gimmick.)

The Cure - Pornography (Obviously The Cure are a great band and I need to hear more stuff by them. All I know by them is this and their greatest hits. Also I had Disintegration once but I deleted it. Oh the shame.)

Dälek - Abandoned Language (Newark is the worst city I've ever been to in my life. All urban blight, rampant poverty and industrial wasteland. When people talk about how crappy New Jersey is, they're talking about Newark. Dälek (pronounced "di-a-leck")are a rap group from Newark, and they sound every bit like it. Their beats are dark, ugly, noisy and full of bitterness. The rapping is slow, monotone and full of pessimism. For obvious reasons, they are one of my all-time favorite rap groups.)

Dave Matthews Band - Live At Red Rocks
Dave Matthews Band - Listener Supported
Dave Matthews Band - Everyday
Dave Matthews Band - Busted Stuff
(Their albums always contain at least one flat-out killer track that, for whatever reason, you'll never hear on the radio. Here's one of them.)