Tag Archives: blathering

Comfort food.

Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s my loquacity. But I’ve realized that habitually expressing my opinion is an easy way to pigeonhole myself. So when I’m frequently solicited for music recommendations, I feel pressure to offer mind-blowing suggestions. I feel like I have to live up to some imaginary perception as a tastemaker. Sometimes I just want to discuss songs I enjoy. Not necessarily the ultimate or epic ones. These songs* are my comfort food. When I first heard these songs in college, I knew I was home.

For that reason, I can’t really describe the songs or explain them. To me, they’re great as they are. Maybe they won’t be as revelatory to you as they were to me in college, but I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. (For your convenience, click on the links to open the songs in Spotify.)

“Black Velvet” by The Lilac Time

“Walls Come Tumbling Down!” by The Style Council

“Frost and Fire” by Everything But the Girl

“When Love Breaks Down” by Prefab Sprout

*I realized early on that I was probably born in the wrong decade. In most cases, I found myself more interested in influences of the nineties bands I liked than the nineties bands themselves. That love for historical context inevitably drew me to bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and The Bunnymen, etc. Bands that immediately preceded the big nineties alternative/indie rock bands. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not going to discuss those bands right now. (Besides, hasn’t enough digital ink already been spilled on them? I don’t know that I can meaningfully add to that discussion.)

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Episode 112: Go Easy

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Listening back through this show, I’m reminded how much I love the deep album cut. Maybe it’s my contrary nature that won’t allow me to enjoy the first few songs on a record (the accessible ones clearly aimed at some amount of radio play) or maybe I just like those moody songs that land after the album’s hype and hooks. Or, could it be those really are the best tracks on the album?

Whatever the case, it feels good to be back, blathering about the music I love.

  1. “Maple Trees” by Cascading Slopes (Towards a Quaker View of Synthesizers / Plastiq Musiq / 2013)
  2. “Four Long Years” by Wire (Object 47 / PinkFlag / 2008)
  3. “Sun” by Echo Lake (Era / No Pain in Pop / 2015)
  4. “English Subtitles” by Swervedriver (I Wasn’t Born to Lose You / Cobraside Distribution / 2015)
  5. “It’s Easy” by Robert Pollard (The Crawling Distance / Guided By Voices Inc. / 2009)

Radio Free Raytown – Episode #112 (07/01/15)

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All the Rage: Overdue Appreciation for Elvis Costello’s Criminally Overlooked 1994 Album, Brutal Youth

brutalyouthMy sophomore year of college was a disaster. My parents split, my grades nosedived, I changed majors twice and my great-grandmother (whom we cared for) was hospitalized a few times. Early that school year, my friend Byron gave me a tape of Elvis Costello’s supposedly difficult and mediocre album, Brutal Youth.

I found much for me to connect with in the music, but in retrospect, I can see that I got it a little backwards.  At the time, I was digging deep into the discographies of my Christian rock heroes, Terry Taylor and Randy Stonehill.  As a result, I initially thought Costello sounded like Taylor from an early-nineties Daniel Amos record.  Now, I realize that I got it the other way around; it’s Taylor who occasionally sounded like Costello.  I was also impressed at Costello’s old-timey, pre-rock songs on the album.  On songs like “Favourite Hour,” his wide vibrato reminded me of my grandfather’s own canyon-wide vibrato.  Basically, I hadn’t heard much like Costello’s music and attempted to fit what little I knew of his work into my small, but quickly-burgeoning, schema of musical awareness.

So anyway.  Lyrics are rarely the first thing to pull me into a song, but I felt a connection to Costello through his humor.  I still chuckle at the chorus of “London’s Brilliant Parade” when he sings, “Just look at me, I’m having the time of my life/ Or something quite like it.”  While the record may not have been an ideal introduction to his music, the lyrics are certainly indicative of Costello’s playfulness with dysfunction.  He doesn’t always portray himself as the good guy, and he treats experience with jest.  “I’m just about glad that I knew you once and it was more than a passing acquaintance,” he sings.  Then he adds, “I’m just about glad that it was a memory that doesn’t need constant maintenance.”  On (probably) my favorite song, “This is Hell,” Costello describes hell as the opposite of all good things.  In the final verse, he sings, “‘My Favorite Things’ are playing again and again/ But it’s by Julie Andrews and not by John Coltrane.”  I think his writing is probably an acquired taste for most, but it immediately connected with me.

Between my commutes to UMKC and the hospital to see my great-grandmother, I spent a lot of time in the car that year.  I remember one month in which it seemed like Brutal Youth was playing non-stop.  There are so many reasons for this that don’t make sense with digital music.  Sometimes only certain tapes would sound okay on my crappy car stereo, and sometimes I was so busy that I didn’t have time to grab another tape before I left the house.  But more often than not, Brutal Youth just felt right, and I know that I listened to the tape 100 times in one month alone.

When I started a band fifteen years ago, I chose to name it after one of the quirkier songs on the record, “My Science Fiction Twin.”  Not only does the name obviously identify me as an Elvis Costello fan, but it also reminds me of that formative time in my life.  I made big decisions, lost relatives and formed new relationships.  Some of whom remain good friends with me to this day.

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2013, so far.

Ian's been waiting all his life for the new My Bloody Valentine record.

Ian’s waited all his life for another My Bloody Valentine record!

Since the year is now half-empty (or half-full or whatever), a friend asked me for a list of my favorite records of 2013.  He felt that, apart from the new Yo La Tengo record, there was no real “slam-dunk” this year.  I courteously, yet vehemently, disagree.  So here’s a list of several records that captured my attention in the first half of 2013.  (The order here means nothing, I don’t want to rank them just yet.)  Let’s see if they stick around for my year-end list…

Thought and Language by Dead Leaf Echo

Dead Leaf Echo has been around a few years now and finally delivered the solid album that should get attention.  I tend to like any new shoegaze band, so an album like this, full of perfect and hazy pop songs, always gets my attention.

Fade by Yo La Tengo

One of the band’s best and most concise albums in a catalog full of “best” albums.  I love it.  A great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Yo La Tengo or life itself.

mbv by My Bloody Valentine

Pandemonium ensued the night My Bloody Valentine released its new record.  Kevin Shields hinted a week earlier that it was coming, but after nearly two decades since the band’s last record, I was skeptical.  It doesn’t overwhelm with shock and awe at first, instead the band takes its time.  Shields has delivered a fairly quiet record with some classy songwriting.  Until the end, then it gets crazy.

Iceage, performing at this year's Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City

Iceage, performing at this year’s Middle of the Map Festival in Kansas City.

You’re Nothing by Iceage

I went nutso a few months ago when Iceage released its second album and played at The Riot Room.  I kinda feel like it was as close as I’ll get to ever seeing Joy Division.  Not only is its live show amazing, but the new record is also fantastic.  A little more dry-sounding and mature than the last one, it’s also brief, demanding repeated plays.

The Next Day by David Bowie

I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every time I read the phrase, “Bowie’s best album since Scary Monsters,” to describe The Next Day.  It’s kinda maddening, really, considering how much good material filled Heathen and Reality.  (Sure, those weren’t totally solid albums, but whatever.)  This new record is awesome.  With each song sounding like a different stage in his career, it almost feels like a best-of collection, except that they’re all new songs.

She Beats by The Beaches

Fuzzy, Aussie band that’s spent far too much time with its Sonic Youth and Neu! albums.  Enough said.

Without a Net by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter turns 80 this year, but you wouldn’t know it by his playing.  Sometimes he deconstructs songs with reckless abandon, squawking away on his soprano sax.  Sometimes he composes super-ambitious, 23-minute pieces for a large combo.  At his age/stature, he could/should be the star of his own records, but Shorter seems content to step back and let listeners enjoy his insanely-talented band, as well.

The Terror by The Flaming Lips

Why am I even writing about this?  I’m not sure I even ‘get’ this record yet.  Dark, weird, lots of synthesizers and that one Suicide beat in nearly every song.  I think I just answered my question.

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