Monday, April 15, 2019

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2018

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2018

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings

Christ, this has taken an eternity even to start not working on.

I. List + Links (TD;LR crowd)

Fairly complete playlist here. Missing: Philip Glass, The Tirol Concerto; "Cheree" by Big Business; "Amulet of the Weeping Maze"; "Shadows" by Blood Candy; and maybe most gallingly, "London Town" by the Nocturnes.

II. Fat's Diary Action

One of the things that dominated my musical year was using live shows to drive what I listened to. In the run-up to my buddy Dan's visit to my town to help me (and thousands of others) party down (see below), I spent a lot of time listening to a lot—I mean a lot—of Wolf Parade. Their show that night was phenomenal, and I recreated the setlist on a streaming platform I won't link to here, for reasons I'll get to later. But mostly I didn't listen to that set too many times, I just bashed my way through their records over and over again. The new, or anyway the then-new, one Cry Cry Cry is incredible and gets all the fullest recommendations. I mean, so are and so do the others. But shit, you probably know those already.

That was January. Also in January, I figured out my No. 1 use for a popular streaming platform: thinking of tapes I used to own and making playlists of them. (This started when I didn't want to rebuy tapes, and strengthened with the discovery that my tape deck had become one with the infinite, unbeknownst to me.) The tape-recreation project that sold me on this idea was the Hell On Wheels Tour Sampler, which I was given free at the Sound Warehouse in Aurora, Colorado, somewhere in the mid/late '80s, almost certainly when I was buying a live Whitesnake cassette. Anyway, this project reacquainted me with two songs each by three bands: Grim Reaper, Helloween, and Armored Saint. My basically contemporary notes:

  • Grim Reaper: just DUMB
  • Armored Saint: much better than I remember, but no ... song(s) happening here
  • I think that the only good power metal is deeply ridiculous. I.e., power metal that isn't at least somewhat ridiculous can't possibly be good. "Future World" is, absolutely, both somewhat ridiculous and very, very good.

So there you have it.

(A pair of friends meeting for the first time!)

However, streaming absolutely sucks ass, for reasons technical, economic, and other, as I quickly discovered when I decided I wanted to recreate my favorite Procol Harum cassette from years gone by, called simply The Best of Procol Harum, but which consisted primarily of songs that just absolutely couldn't be found on the streaming platform I was using. So I just bought the fucker on the secondary market and put it my car and all was well. This isn't a great story, I recognize that. But if I can generalize for a second, it turns out that now and again digging out something you haven't thought about in a long time can be a really enriching experience, and it also turns out that listening to early Procol Harum songs like "Homburg", "Quite Rightly So" and "Shine On Brightly" completely rules. (Adverb rock gives me the Yes effect, is maybe what I'm getting at.)

Several years ago, I saw an SF Ballet performance set to Philip Glass' Tirol Concerto, which was probably the most enjoyable piece of minimalism I've ever heard. For some reason, I find it almost unbearably emo, and I love it preposterously much. Amusingly, it is not available on the streaming platform I currently enjoy, but is only findable on the shitty one I used to use.

I also listened through the Killdozer catalog, but it came and went kind of quickly for me this time around. If you haven't heard Killdozer, you definitely should! If you have, you're probably okay for now. But give it a try for yourself, see what you think about how much you need around right now.

Similarly around that time coming and going more or less quickly were the Roxy Music record Country Life and the new Vince Staples. Much later in the year, the new Big Business Tour EP dropped, but I find I have trouble remembering it when I'm not listening to it, except for the wall-of-heart loud ballad "CHEREE", which closes the EP and makes me happy every time I hear it. I pre-ordered the new album, The Beast You Are, but I haven't heard it yet. I spent a couple weeks listening to a lot of Thin White Rope again, which was fun: that was my 1989 or so, just mainlining "Red Red Sun", and again my 1994 or so, obsessed with "July" and "Exploring the Axis" "the Three Song" and "It's OK" and a dozen more. This time through the archive, I decided I mostly agree with the critical consensus, which seems to cohere around the idea that Moonhead is the best, most consistent collection.

Tinzeroes convinced me to give another shot to the Aesop Rock record The Impossible Kid, and it had some moments that brought tears to my eyes in the car, but mostly it kept sending me back to Skelethon again and again. Finally the (then-) new (-ish) EMA, Exile in the Outer Ring started to click with me, largely due to the insanely good outtakes record and in particular the sick af tune "Dark Shadows".

You want to know an amazing record I have been listening to since I heard one song on KALX like 10+ years ago? Little Teeth Child Bearing Man. It's almost all great, but my favorites are "Good Girls and Boys" and "Between My Ears" (called "Behind My Eyes" the first time I heard it). You should also listen to "Amulet of the Weeping Maze". I like it, and so do my neighbors.

Finally gave Deafheaven a shot—or maybe Deafheaven finally came through with a seriously amazing song! Either way, if I were going to have a song of the year (I don't think I will?), it might well be "Honeycomb", which is purest, purest candy. The follow-up single was similar, but cranked my crank somewhat less, maybe because it didn't have straight-up pop-punk chords (at literally like 4:20 in! (okay, it's 4:12/4:13)) and hair-metal leads (right after that, 4:39) over the now-standard lush shoegaze/bedroom-metal guitar textures that have been taking my breath away since I first heard Jesu Earth, "Song 6", on a tape my buddy Darren made for me so I'd have something to listen to when I was packing boxes at the warehouse. Anyway, this song is about as good as music got in 2018, and it's nearly as good as the Helium song of the same name, and I don't know any compliments anyone can give that are any better than that. (NOTE: I once looked up a Deafheaven lyric. Never again, extremely NOT RECOMMENDED.)

Around this part of the year, I was really starting to suffer under the yoke of Twitter: corroded, miserable, edgy, argumentative, restless and hopeless all the time. A podcast I liked gave me a very, very concentrated feeling of ... Twitter, and the way I couldn't bring myself to stop listening to it, even as it made me corroded, miserable, edgy, argumentative, restless and hopeless all at once helped clarify my need to quit Twitter, which was good, but not as good as a song they used as interstitial music, Japanese Breakfast's "Diving Woman". Another great thing about this band is how high they rank on the "makes good music, also writes good stuff to read" scale. Would I listen to a podcast that was just Michelle Zaurner and Andrew Falkous reading their most recent articles and playing a couple songs? Probably. Definitely.

I tried out the new Abstracter and all the Abstracter I hadn't previously heard / loved, and decided I'd stick with the Abstracter I'd previously heard / loved. For those of you who didn't read the earlier love notes to Abstracter, that means Tomb of Feathers and Wound Empire. I also had a pretty long moment with the Baroness record Blue, which I checked out from my local library, which is pretty fucking cool. Definitely a rad way to find out about things! Also I was whining to my buddy about how I wished there were Iron Maiden records I hadn't heard before, at which point he gently pointed out to me that I hadn't actually bothered to listen to literally any Iron Maiden records other than Live After Death, and recommended Book of Souls, which I had actually seen the tour of, and which IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. There just isn't anything like Iron Maiden, and "The Red and the Black" is a perfect Iron Maiden song, both distilled and expanded in incredible ways. Thanks, Pierre Idiot Trudeau.

There's just not such a thing as too much—nor even enough!—Emma Ruth Rundle music around and to hand and playing, and so I ran down her early project The Nocturnes, and there I found "London Town", which is about as good as music gets, to me, in my ears. Sort of a When the Levee Breaks for 90s kids, god that's a stupid thing to say the song is amazing however.

When I'm not listening to music sometimes I go to the movies, and sometimes it turns out that those two things can be sort of combined, and so at some point in the summer Noodles and I betook ourselves to the ol' beer theater and saw Stop Making Sense which made me a Talking Heads fan. Nothing can really compare with that, but the songs are great regardless; they just gain a lot of power from the live performance.

I rarely get to listen to the radio at my place anymore, which kind of sucks. But every once in a while, I remember in the car, and things get good. One morning on the way to the day job, I heard a couple bands that I really liked: Blood Candy, doing "Shadows" and Maktharveskan, doing a song I can't remember and didn't write down, but it hardly matters because about half of their catalog is stunning, perfect raucous pop, and the other half is also wonderful. Best starting songs are probably "Antabus" and "In My Dreams". The latter is big melodies that don't stop, the former is the same but also with a lyric containing the words "in my room", and one of the iron laws of pop music is that songs containing the words "in my room" are always better than songs NOT containing the words "in my room". It's where you listen to music: you need music about that, it's just science. (Also recommended: Vomit Launch. Bad name, some great songs.)

Three-quarters of the way through my year, a work assignment broke the hell out of my routine: I went some miles away, to a city not mine, to work on a strike with workers I don't usually represent or work alongside, for a few days. One night, in the hotel room, just ... needing ... something, I paid for a music streaming service, which I had never done before, relying on ad-supported versions (and complaining wildly about them the while). My first downloads were Yes, Fragile, and some Talking Heads, salve and fuel, respectively. (I also watched Super Troopers at least twice in that hotel room, but we don't need to talk about every single little thing I did or did not do on that work trip.) Having access to a more convenient and controllable form of streaming than picking a station and methodically tuning it or trudging through duplicate versions of individual songs to create playlists one song at a time was a lot of fun, and offered a lot of freedom.

Unfortunately, I'm not very creative, and not very used to freedom. (Thanks, society!) So mostly what I did was think of things I hadn't heard in a long time and listen to them again. That was probably the theme of the year. But anyway, I revisited the incredibly good jangle+reverb-intensive hard pop Caterwaul, which had absolutely dominated a year or two in high school for me, with huge vocal melodies, gorgeous flouridated fog banks of guitar noises, and just enough shrieking to keep it all interesting for a young AC/DC fan like me. Turns out that early-90s me was wrong, and Portent Hue is not better than Pin & Web, tho both are excellent and heart-expanding. Think early R.E.M. with some Kate Bush / Siouxsie Sioux vocals, maybe? From Pin & Web, side one as a totality gets a high recommendation: if you remember the echoey 80s at all fondly, you will find something to like here, from the lighter, airier "Hummingbird Whir" (prom music in some gothier alternative universe (season one of the OA, maybe?)) to the faster/harder core Caterwaul moments of "The Sheep's a Wolf" and "Dizzy Delirium". But the best is the hopscotch-melody of "Not Today", which absolutely, positively, should have been a hit on some chart somewhere, and still should. Mostly I like my guitar rock a little dumb, but Caterwaul gives me doses of guitar rock that are clever and interesting (and insane howling vocals that earn the shit out of the band name help a lot, too (and so do the weird mandolin-heavy songs that still seem vaguely ... Shakespearean?)). Probably 20 years after I first heard them ("Alex' Aphrodisiac", off of Portent Hue, on the college station I could hear from suburban Denver), I think I might still be the biggest Caterwaul fan I have ever met.

New Windhand, Eternal Return, dropped and made me SO happy. Just such a monumental, mammoth piece of work, heavy enough to crush, but beautiful (not pretty) enough to buoy. As repetitive in its own way as Philip Glass, and as good at never ending up boring, the whole record is more varied than it sounds, and even the very, very long songs don't make you wish they were shorter. I spent much of the year actually singing along to this record. I may not know what any given song is about—I'm fairly certain I don't!—but I know that raising my voice to, maybe, harmonize along with "I wish you would I wish you would I wish you would I wish you would" again and again made me a happier, and maybe better, person this year. Sometimes you just got to tell the motherfuckers, motherfucker, I wish you would. And if you happen to have grinding churns of guitar underneath you, so much the better.

With streaming and stretching out into the past comes weird rabbit holes and unexpected enjoyments. Having always cordially loathed Trans Am, I naturally spent a couple months listening to little else. The first record (self-titled), mostly, but also no little Surrender to the Night. The first record is just fine background music, and later songs like "Motr" and "Carboforce" are lovely Krautrock with like, New Order lifts here and there, and sometimes that is a really good thing.

It would be literally illegal for me to do a Fat's HEAVY TUNES roundup without inordinate quantities of Emma Ruth Rundle, so it turned out that On Dark Horses was a slower grower for me than some of the past records, but even before I had gotten my heart fully around what was on offer, I went to bed as often as not with "a life spent ... uneasy" rolling around between my ears from "Fever Dreams" or "they say what doesn't kill you will just keep you alive" from "Dead Set Eyes". It's maybe a slightly less dynamically varied record than a couple of the previous ones, but there's her amazing melodic guitar textures everywhere and her giant choruses, just oceanic waves picking you up and doing what they will with you. Great record.

At the end of the year, I discovered Tangerine Dream. I like Tangerine Dream. Kind of a LOT. Similarly Lana del Rey. I started with the first record, which I had never listened to. I had long thought "Video Games" was one of the greatest singles of my lifetime, and after spending a while with Born to Die, I am convinced that (a) I was right about that, and (b) it's not even the best song on side one: "Blue Jeans" is the best song on side one. (It's a better song, but it's not a greater song: cultural impact matters, and pop is always a little paradoxical anyway.) Anyway, best one-two punch I heard this year, probably.) Her songwriting is next-level to me: probably no record on this list does more to convey and create specific moods, images, and the sense of a coherent, consistent vision.

Okay, songs of the year: "Blue Jeans", "The Red and the Black", "Honeycomb", "Fever Dreams", I dunno. Doesn't matter, probably. What were yours?

III. Conclusatory Thinkery

Two things I don't want to talk about here, but do want to talk about sometime: (a) the bad streaming service debacle; (b) so ... I'm starting to feel like ... I ... don't really want to listen to men sing anymore? I've been thinking this off and on for a couple years, and I think the year-enders back this trend up, but I don't really know what it means, and I don't know exactly what to think or how to feel about it. Anyway, now it's down on paper, so maybe I can start the work.

IV. Previously in Years in HEAVY TUNES

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Those Who Don't Have An Interest Don't Deserve to Know

Tim Burton is my security blanket of nostalgia. The first movie I saw multiple times in the theater was Batman (1989, Tim Burton). And at this time there was a kid who lived on my block who was a couple years older who was obsessed with Beetlejuice (1988, Burton) and urged me to watch it—this was the first time in my life I became aware of a movie director. It was the first time I realized that if you found the elusive, something to get excited over kind of movie, it was possible to get more where that came from. This might be another convenient way of defining the auteur theory. Didn’t Fat and I once have a conversation where we agreed that auteur theory was more or less a shopping guide? Seeing Edward Scissorhands (1990, Burton) in the theater preserved Burton as the one director whose work I discovered during my childhood.

30 years later, the only film Burton has done that I am still in love with is Ed Wood (1994, Burton). I continually derive inspiration from the undying optimism, romanticism, and nostalgia of the weirdos who love making movies, and in glorious black and white. Also when I think of pathos my connotation is Landau’s performance in that film.

I have discriminating tastes in movies. I spend more time reflecting on what I respond to and how and why than I do making or watching movies. And between the greats and the sucks there are thousands in between. One group I’m still trying to categorize arise from my being a snob and wanting to fill the void left by wishing I could enjoy the lavish hundred million dollar spectacles from directors working in our current studio system, which is why I can’t pass up anything by Burton or Ridley Scott (and here I’ll throw in most Michael Bay). But I also need Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, Burton), Alice in Wonderland (2010, Burton), Frankenweenie (2012, Burton), and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016, Burton) because after all the depressing social or domestic drama, artistic innovation, crime genre darkness, western savagery, and explorations of sexuality, sometimes I just wanna feel like a kid again. And well, Sleepy Hollow (1999, Burton) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Burton) and Dark Shadows (2012, Burton) are just rad gothic fun.

Dumbo (2019, Burton) is an escapist fairytale that assures us it’s possible to find acceptance without fitting in. And the red and white candy-striped bigtop with its crowds gathered in the dark to see the big show is the same aspect of our culture that brings us into the theater—the sweets that Celine and Julie magically find.

HOLT FARRIER (Colin Farrell) returns from WWI missing an arm to his children MILLY and JOE, who are missing their mother. Most of Dumbo is about being patient and ready for your opportunity to find happiness, despite adversity. And the best thing going for the narrative is Milly’s passion for science and reluctance to use this as a means to perform in the circus as a common trait with Dumbo through which they form a friendship. For the macro narrative though we get MAX MEDICI (Danny DeVito) as an impresario who cares about his talent pitted against heartless, avaricious V.A. VANDEVERE (Michal Keaton), and it is their conflict that creates the arc of the film. Vandevere’s showbiz empire is called Dreamland, and its spectacular opulence ending up in flames before his very eyes is a fitting sight as Dumbo’s cautionary lesson.

And the narrative’s darker elements are why Dumbo feels like a Tim Burton movie. Eva Green as COLETTE, Vandevere’s bride, in an opportunistic marriage with a rich maniac that allows her to soar into new heights of fame and fortune only to realize there’s no safety net when she finally looks down is a strong metaphor. But also after Dark Shadows and Miss Peregrine’s, Green is now part of Burton’s stock company.

Dumbo plays it safer than much of Burton’s other work, but as a fairytale it has just the right escapist tone of coming of age joys and terrors to make you feel like the show was worth it.