Twenty Years On: 2001, Part II

Easing into Q2 of 2001 here, I had my Wednesday errand down to a science: log out of work at 3pm, head down Route 116 from Sunderland to Hadley to pick up my comics at Hampshire Mall, then drive into the center of Amherst, park at the central common, and walk over to Newbury Comics (which was across from the Town Hall at the time), where I’d buy that week’s new releases and maybe a box of Pocky and some blank tapes for mixtape purposes. It was my way of relaxing after a long day of moving boxes.

We had a relatively tight team at YC. A good portion of us were smokers at the time and would head out to the back picnic table near the rear truck drivers’ entrance — this was before all the smoking bans went into effect, so as long as we weren’t directly in front of the door, no one seemed to mind. Bruce and I used to hang out there chatting about music and other things while WHMP played over the loudspeaker above the door. The job itself was hard work, but at the time we all enjoyed it, especially since we were now in a HUGE shipping department three times the size of the one we’d been at previously.

Plunderphonics, 69 Plunderphonics 96, released 3 April 2001. I think this predated the mashup craze by a year or so, if I’m not mistaken. It initially intrigued me because it’s on Seeland, Negativland’s label, so it had to be weird and experimental in a really fun way. John Oswald’s aural experiments aren’t for everyone, but they’re often clever and sometimes hilarious. This particular track is twenty-four versions of Richard Strauss’ opening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” played at once and turning into a slurry mess that, ironically, sounds like the Ligeti piece played during the headtrip light show near the end of 2001.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, BRMC, released 3 April 2001. Bluesy, shoegazey, and just amazing. I’d been intrigued considering the lead singer was the son of Michael Been (the lead singer of The Call, an 80s band I loved). It’s an album that should be played loud.

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001. I mentioned this band a few posts ago. It’s a pity they disappeared as quickly as they arrived, because they were fantastic! They captured the ferocity of Curve and the sexiness of Garbage, and even had a bit of the musical nerdiness of Failure. I still pull this one out and give it a spin now and again.

Stereophonics, Just Enough Education to Perform, released 17 April 2001. A band that has more of a following in the UK than here, this is a super moody but wonderful album that took them in a much darker and louder direction. “Mr. Writer” is such a great eff-you to their music critics that like the sound of their own voice more than the music they reviewed.

Elbow, Asleep in the Back, released 7 May 2001. An auspicious beginning for a band that would consistently release brilliant and beautiful music over the next two decades. Their debut is a quiet and meandering affair compared to later albums but no less amazing. They remain an “I will buy anything they release” band for me!

Tool, Lateralus, 15 May 2001. “Schism” was the bassline of the summer, felt like. I’d hear this on the hard rock stations, MTV, the alt.rock stations, and even on the college stations. I heard the song everywhere. They’re a band that tend to have a lifetime between releases, but this was well worth the wait.

Stabbing Westward, Stabbing Westward, released 22 May 2001. A 90s band I’d always enjoyed. They had that NIN blizzard of sound and anger to their music just like a lot of alt.metal bands, but they pulled it off with consistently amazing tracks. This album got a lot of play in the Belfry during my writing sessions! Also one of the loudest bands I’d ever seen live.

Radiohead, Amnesiac, released 4 June 2001. The second, moodier and creepier half of Radiohead’s strange foray into experimentalism, this one doesn’t quite stand up as well as Kid A does for me, but it does have its great moments.

The Cult, Beyond Good and Evil, released 22 June 2001. I’d always been a fan of this band but never quite got around to acquiring their albums for ages. I finally started with this one when it came out, and I was not let down. It’s HEAVY AF and loud as hell, and I love it. This one also made it through multiple plays during Belfry writing sessions!

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More to come!

Twenty Years On: 2001, Part I

It’s summer of 2001, and my team and I are breaking in the new shipping lanes at Yankee Candle’s newly minted shipping warehouse. I’ve been with the team maybe six months or so, having switched from second shift late in 2000. I was still getting used to not being at HMV anymore, having changed my music store alliance to Newbury Comics in Amherst. I was getting paid better (and finally getting out of debt). And most importantly, I was down in the Belfry writing A Division of Souls almost every night.

All told, 2001 was a year of transition for me. I’d gotten serious about the writing (and the writing schedule), and a lot of personal changes were taking place. New friends, new outlook. Feeling much more positive than I’d been just a few years previous. And I immersed myself in a lot of different music that I hadn’t tried before.

Low, Things We Lost in the Fire, released 22 January 2001. I’d been familiar with Low for a couple of years — an HMV coworker introduced me to them — but this was the first album of theirs I’d picked up. I wasn’t quite used to the extreme quietness of this band, but they’ve become a favorite of mine over the years.

Rainer Maria, A Better Version of Me, released 22 January 2001. I’d started listening to WAMH 89.3 again as their playlist had once again resonated with me. (Or was it because they’d toned down the Pavement-esque indie rock that never really gelled with me?) I used to hear “The Seven Sisters” almost every afternoon on the drive home, so this was picked up during one of my many Newbury runs.

Crooked Fingers, Bring On the Snakes, released 20 February 2001. Same with “The Rotting Strip” — the afternoon DJ would play this partly because he loved how much it sounded like Neil Diamond singing Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s a slowish record, but it sounds great!

Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Piratespace, 20 February 2001. I think I had to special order this one from Newbury, if I recall. I was greatly amused that my beloved Sputniks had decided to resurface with new music, especially since their original 80s iteration saw themselves as futurists. It’s got its goofy moments — no big surprise — but it’s also got some solid and surprisingly mature tracks.

Duncan Sheik, Phantom Moon, released 27 February 2001. This is indeed a lovely album, and probably my second favorite of his, just past his 1996 debut. I used to throw this one on during the summer when the heat of the day was giving way to the cool of the evening.

Snow Patrol, When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, released 5 March 2001. A few years before they broke with multiple hit singles and featuring on Grey’s Anatomy and numerous other TV shows, this Glaswegian band had a few funky, offkilter pop albums worth checking out. Gary Lightbody’s vocal delivery was much softer at this point, but his lyrics were just as wonderful.

Love Tractor, The Sky at Night, released 6 March 2001. This Athens GA band had dropped off the map quite some time ago, so I was quite happy when they decided to drop a new album! They were always more about sculpting sounds than writing pop songs, and this record’s no different. And they’re currently alive and well on Twitter and soon to be touring!

Kristin Hersh, Sunny Border Blue, released 12 March 2001. This record’s a bit more laid back than her usual solo and Throwing Muses records, but I love its bluesiness, especially this track, which ended up on multiple mixtapes over the year.

Our Lady Peace, Spiritual Machines, released (US) 13 March 2001. This is definitely a weird album even for them — it’s somewhat of a concept album based on Ray Kurtzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines — but it’s got some of their best and most tense songs they’ve done. I’ve always been a fan of the band and I admit this one’s my favorite of theirs. And I’ve just learned that their next album will be a direct sequel to this one!

Gorillaz, Gorillaz, released 26 March 2001. Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since this animated band has graced us with its presence — and that Damon Albarn and company continue to drop great memorable tunes and hilarious videos! Even more so that they’ve become so popular despite their inherent weirdness!

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More to come!

One and done

Just listening to a few albums by bands that dropped one album and then…who knows what happened? But they’re great albums!

TKTTSM, TKTTSM, released 16 October 2012

Shaï nO Shaï, Human Condition, released 26 August 1997

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001

…and of course one of my all-time favorites:

The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990

Spare Oom Playlist, June 2021 Edition, Part II

Part II of June’s playlist is just as solid, and I had to leave a few out so I wouldn’t overburden you with far too many videos! Heh. Enjoy!

Danny Elfman, Big Mess, released 11 June. Elfman returns not with yet another soundtrack or a classical album but an actual rock album, his first one since 1984’s So-Lo. And just as you’d expect from him, it’s weird, off-kilter, and absolutely brilliant.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3000, released 11 June. It took me several albums to get into this weird psych rock band, but thanks to constant airplay on KEXP, I’ve grown to really enjoy them.

Quivers, Golden Doubt, released 11 June. I’ve been waiting for this record for months now, and it was so worth the wait. Full of their wonderful light jangle pop and intelligent songwriting that hints quite heavily on a Go-Betweens influence. It’s a sweet album you should definitely check out.

Garbage, No Gods No Monsters, released 11 June. Every time I listen to this record I think this is the Version 2.0 that I would have liked better. There’s a lot of synth and tech going on with these songs that’s similar to that second album from the late 90s, but they’re bolstered by the trademark heavy guitar crunch they’re known for. It’s kind of a weird, off-kilter record but it’s fascinating.

Eve 6, Grim Value EP, released 25 June. The last we saw this band was their 2012 album Speak in Code, so it was a surprise to see them resurface with a newer, grittier sound that shifts further away from what we’re used to. The tracks here are grittier, sometimes even leaning towards industrial in places, but they pull it off perfectly.

Lucy Dacus, Home Video, released 25 June. So glad to see her return! Historian was an amazing album and this one is just as great. She’s an amazing songwriter and she rarely ever holds back in subject matter (fan favorite “Thumbs” is…well, you just have to hear it.). I highly recommend pretty much anything she releases, including her work with boygenius.

Sault, NINE, released 25 June. Better hurry up and snag this from their bandcamp site, as this one’s only available for a limited time! (It’s only available for 99 days, which means you have until 10/2 to get it.) Still no idea who is in this band, but they’ve once again dropped a brilliant record of bluesy riffs and dancy beats.

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Hope you enjoyed those! And by the looks of it, there’s some great stuff coming out this month as well that’s already getting some repeat play here in Spare Oom. See you then!

Spare Oom Playlist, June 2021 Edition, Part I

Back again with another edition of new tunage popping up on my PC, and this time it’s a two-parter. June was absolutely chock full of fantastic singles and albums. There’s quite the mix here, some recorded pre-pandemic and some post (and some during it all!), and a lot of it feels refreshing, vibrant, and worth the long wait.

CHVRCHES featuring Robert Smith, “How Not to Drown” single, released 4 June. The band itself sounds refreshed, strong and confident. Really looking forward to the rest of this album!

James, All the Colours of You, released 4 June. This feels like a surprisingly cheerful album, more so than some of their previous records. It’s also much quieter than previous as well, but that just adds to a pleasurable listen.

Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend, released 4 June. The band returns after a four year wait with an album that sounds so unlike their previous two records…and yet retains their signature powerful sound. At times it’s dark and echoey like a Cocteau Twins album, only to follow up with a gritty, grungey pop anthem or two. It’s weird, it’s moody, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Crowded House, Dreamers Are Waiting, released 4 June. Neil Finn and Co are back with a new CH album that interestingly sounds a lot like a Split Enz album! While there are many wonderful Aussie pop tunes here that Finn is known for, the record is tempered with a quirkiness that hints at his old 80s band. Still an amazing songwriter after all these years!

Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee, released 4 June. Michelle Zauner has been having a hell of a great summer, what with her memoir Crying in H Mart fast becoming a critic and reader favorite, and dropping her third record as JB right around the same time. It’s full of wonderful catchy pop, and “Be Sweet” has definitely been an earworm here in Spare Oom. Well worth checking out!

New Candys, Vyvyd, released 4 June. A gritty alternative band from Venice, Italy, they channel the groovier parts of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with their bluesy riffs and echoey vocals and come up with something that’s equal parts gritty and psychedelic. I may have thrown this record on repeat once or twice during my writing sessions, and that doesn’t happen that often!

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….and that was just the first week!! We’ll return again on Thursday for Part II!

So may we (re)start

Still adjusting to getting back into my daily schedule after spending a week and a half away from it! Our vacation was very relaxing and I even managed to get some great photography in as well. The drive there and back was a bit exhausting (150 miles north, about half of it on extremely twisty roads) but everything else was totally worth it.

I’m focusing mostly on my novels at the moment so the blogs have slipped into secondary position for the moment. Pretty sure I should be back to normal by next week. See you then!

Favorite Albums: New Fast Automatic Daffodils, ‘Body Exit Mind’

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of my college days in the early 90s skimming over the sounds of grunge, instead focusing on Britpop instead. And one band that very rarely gets its due is the Manchester band New Fast Automatic Daffodils. They were never directly a part of the Madchester scene, as their sound veered more towards guitar-driven post-punk than the psychedelic grindy-organ sounds of bands like Inspiral Carpets or the Charlatans, and Andy Spearpoint’s loud, growly vocal delivery was quite similar to The Wedding Present’s David Gedge. [In fact, Grian Chatten from Fontaines DC sounds quite a bit like Spearpoint now, come to think of it.] They were just as groovy and noisy as the rest of them, however, and had their own loyal following.

Their second album Body Exit Mind dropped in October of 1992, just as I was starting my senior year at Emerson and I had somehow landed the position of music director at our AM station, WECB. Our airwave reach was laughable, but that wasn’t going to stop me from pretending that the entirety of the campus (and anyone nearby) was listening in. I latched onto this record super quick and I put multiple tracks into rotation over the course of that year.

They first popped up on WFNX’s playlist in September with the single “Stockholm”, which surprisingly hit the Top 30 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart in the US. It’s slow and stark, but it’s groovy as hell with a lot of great memorable lyrics (“No monster me, sadly no saint either”) that get stuck into your head.

Our station also acquired the Bong EP that came out soon after the album, and its title track also became a station favorite. Yes, partly because of the title (har har) but the “Ha-why-why-why-whyyyy” chorus would get stuck in your head every time you heard it. And it’s the perfect lead-off track to the album.

The teaser single “It’s Not What You Know”, set the tone for the entire album: this isn’t a blissed-out groove band, this is a band with thoughts and opinions about life. This was a band that had dropped the Madchester rave of their first album Pigeonhole and got serious. The album focuses a lot about the irritations of Not Being Where You Want to Be, which in the early 90s was exactly how we all felt at the time.

Things speed up with the odd and skittering “I Take You to Sleep”, about a man caught between mental stagnation and religious awakening and the ensuing problems deciding between one or the other. It’s a man looking for inspiration yet falling prey to ignorance instead.

My absolute favorite song on this album, however, has to be “Beatlemania”: not only because it starts off with a great bass riff, not that its title references my favorite band, but also because it’s just so freaking driven from start to finish. It starts fast and STAYS fast, even during the quiet verses held up only by the drums and bass and the occasional strum of the guitar. It’s a slow-build song that gets stronger and louder as it goes and by the end of it, you’re left breathless. It’s a song that is meant to be played loud.

Even the deep cuts like “American Money” (a growly screed about tourism delivered in a very Wedding Present-like way) and “Patchwork Lives” (a meandering Blur-like dive into suburban decay), Body Exit Mind goes out of its way to be not just topical but experimental, often sliding into minute-long segues (some no more than a few clunky treated noises, others wild and noisy jams). It’s a trip from start to finish.

This is also one of the few albums from post-college Boston days that I still listen to, to any significant degree. While some albums are great but now feel dated, and others were so overplayed that I lost interest after awhile, this album never strayed all that far from my cd player. In fact, this is most likely one of the first albums that became a staple in my Writing Session soundtracks, often giving it a spin in my shoebox apartment as I worked on what eventually ended up being the Bridgetown Trilogy. It’s not one I play incessantly, but when I do play it, I still enjoy the hell out of it.

Summertime

Summer Solstice is here! Not that that means anything weatherwise here in San Francisco, as our weather usually stays around the low 60s for the entire season. (In a way I’m glad I’m no longer heading to the East Bay, as the weather fluctuates wildly there: it’ll be low 50s early in the morning and almost 100 by day’s end. Bleh.)

Anyway! Here are some summer songs for you. Hope y’all have a good season!