Twenty Years On: February 2002

I started to look for the word count list for my work on A Division of Souls around this time, but either I hadn’t started writing it down, or I’ve misplaced the calendar organizer I used. I’m going to assume the latter. Anyway, a cursory look at the timestamp on some of my old files shows that I’d started the rewrite in November of 2001 and by February 2002 I was somewhere around Chapter 6. (It’s also right around when I stopped using MS Write and finally started using Word, having gotten a copy of it from my sister.) This means that I was still early in the game but feeling much more confident about my work.

If The Phoenix Effect was me happily reveling in claiming myself an author, A Division of Souls was me taking my craft seriously and having a lot more faith in the quality of my work. And pretty much every single album from here on in was going to be a writing soundtrack.

Mistle Thrush, Drunk with You, released 1 February 2002. I’ve mentioned this band a few times in the past; they were a semi-shoegazey Boston band whose singer was a good friend of my former record store manager, and their three records are great listening.

The Church, After Everything Now This, released 5 February 2002. This record felt like a slight change from their more experimental 90s output, somewhat returning to their old-school reverb-heavy sound but minus the jangle. They remain one of my favorite alternative rock bands, even if I don’t get to listen to them nearly as much as I should.

+/- (Plus/Minus), Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album, released 5 February 2002. A side project of the band Versus, their sound is much more angular math-rock but retaining their high-level energy and catchy melodies and rhythms. It might sound a bit strange at first, but it really grows on you.

Craig Armstrong, As If to Nothing, released 19 February 2002. Armstrong is more known for his movie scores (and “This Love”, the song he did with Elizabeth Fraser) but every now and again he’ll drop a solo album full of gorgeous music that really should be in movies. This one got some serious play during my Belfry days!

Tanya Donelly, Beautysleep, released 19 February 2002. Donelly’s second solo record is not quite as bouncy as her Belly work and not quite as twitchy as her Throwing Muses work, but there are some absolute gems in here including the lovely “Keeping You”.

Boards of Canada, Geogaddi, released 19 February 2002. At the time, this was a band I’d heard of (I’d seen their cds at HMV during the time I worked there) but never heard, so I went into this record completely cold. A good thing, because this ended up being on my top ten releases of the year! And yes, another album on the Belfry heavy rotation.

Buffalo Daughter, I, released 19 February 2002. Another ‘heard of but never heard’ band for me at the time, this was a great introduction to the band’s semi-electronic experimentation, full of songs both wonderful and strange.

Death Cab for Cutie, The Stability EP, released 19 February 2002. A follow-up to 2001’s The Photo Album, this EP features some extremely moody (even for them) tracks including the twelve-minute epic above, and a great cover of Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love”.

Clinic, Walking with Thee, released 25 February 2002. Clinic always reminds me of those 60s garage bands with lo-fi production and weird melodies that lean towards Beefheart and Zappa, only they stay this side of outsider music. Not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out.

Alanis Morissette, Under Rug Swept, released 26 February 2002. Forging ahead and refusing to return to the angry tension of her breakthrough record, this is an album about maturity…or at least making an attempt at it. It’s very much a laid back record and there’s some really great songs on it.

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Stay tuned for March 2002!

Twenty Years On: January 2002

Welcome to another series of Twenty Years On, in which I go through a year’s worth of favorite songs, singles and albums that were favorites then and are still favorites now. So where was I at this point back in 2002?

I was most likely down in my parent’s basement — yes, even in the dead of winter, unless it was too cold — working hard on writing A Division of Souls, which I would finish later in the year. By this time I had my daily schedule down to an artform: I’d leave my job at Yankee Candle sometime around 2pm (my shift started at 6am); on Wednesdays I’d drive over to the Amherst/Hadley area and do my comic book and CD runs, and get home in time to watch Tenchi Muyo! on Cartoon Network before dinnertime. After dinner I’d head down to the Belfry (though I don’t think it earned that name until much later in the year) and spend a couple of hours writing and listening to my new cd purchases.

This was an important time in my life in terms of writing, as I’d finally reached a level of quality I was happy with, and that I was hitting at least a thousand words a night. I was also writing consistently, nearly every single day without fail, even weekends. I loved the project I was working on — one that I would plan out during slow times at work to make the actual prose writing flow much faster — and I considered it some of my best work to date.

As for music, I really had no idea what the year would bring me. The previous year did have its share of great records, but it didn’t completely spellbind me. My year-end mixtape felt a bit forced and meandering. But I kept an open mind, armed with my copies of ICE Newsletter and CMJ magazines. January ended up being a pretty good release month considering it was usually a wasteland of small indie releases and leftovers.

bis, Fact 2002 EP, released January 2002. A four-track EP of cover songs original from Factory Records, it’s more of a curio than a collector’s item, but it takes the label’s early dance tracks and makes them even dancier and bloopier. (This is now available on the 2014 deluxe reissue of their Return to Central album.)

Osymyso, “Intro-Inspection”, released January 2002. Mash-ups had been around for a good couple of years by this point, but while most of them had been relegated to white label limited releases and played in the clubs, by the early 2000s they were being uploaded and shared online for everyone to hear and add to their own mp3 collection. This particular track subverts the usual mash-up by mixing the first few bars of a staggering 103 songs in a brisk and mind-blowing twelve minutes. It’s supremely clever and all kinds of fun.

Various Artists, I Am Sam soundtrack, released 8 January 2002. While the Sean Penn film was not a success, the soundtrack, which features all covers of Beatles songs (Penn’s character is a fan) is an intriguing collection featuring bands and musicians such as Rufus Wainwright, Michael Penn, The Vines, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan and more.

Concrete Blonde, Group Therapy, released 15 January 2002. After a seven-year breakup, the original Napolitano-Mankey-Rushakoff trio reunited to release a laid back and boozy album recorded in just ten days. It’s not as punk-infused as their earlier records, but it’s just as strong.

Nine Inch Nails, And All That Could Have Been/Still, released 22 January 2002. A half live, half studio album produced during the tour for 1999’s The Fragile album. Like most of his 90s records, it’s a bit of a tough listen given how raw and chilling most of his songs were at the time, but it’s also a really interesting collection, especially with the Still portion of ‘reconstructed’ versions of many of his best-known songs.

Sneaker Pimps, Bloodsport, released 22 January 2002. The third SP record kind of came and went before anyone noticed (and for the most part was ignored by the US, considering their second record, 1999’s Splinter, didn’t even get released there), but it’s actually a really solid record. They’ve already moved on from their echoey trip-hop sound of 1996’s Becoming X (and dropped former singer Kelli Ali) and become more trippy alternative. They would break up in the next year with lead singer Chris Corner starting IAMX, but in late 2021 they surprised everyone (including me!) by releasing a new album entitled Squaring the Circle.

Violet Indiana, Casino, released 22 January 2002. This was a short-lived but lovely-sounding duo featuring Robin Guthrie (ex-Cocteau Twins) and Siobhan de Maré (ex-Mono, the UK one that did “Life in Mono”), and their brief output of only a few albums and singles provided a lovely backdrop of chanteuse-like balladry and dreamlike pop.

Cornelius, Point, released in the US on 22 January 2002. I know I’ve posted this video many times in the past, and mentioned this record as well, and it’s one of my favorites of this era. This was the Japanese musician’s fourth record but his second readily available in the US, and it’s a wonderful record brimming over with wonderful creativity. It’s an album you should listen to with headphones to get the full stereo experience. This was the first 2002 CD that I had on constant rotation during my Belfry writing sessions.

The Anniversary, Your Majesty, released 22 January 2002. Another example of getting into a band just as they release their last record? Perhaps so, but this was a great indie rock record that reminds me of The New Pornographers. A bit odd but extremely melodic and fun.

Various Artists, The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack, released 25 January 2002. Say what you will, I really enjoyed the spooky Richard Gere monster-conspiracy flick, and unsettling tomandandy score is quite an interesting listen. Low provides the end-credits track “Half Light” that fits the movie’s creepiness perfectly. [tomandandy even borrowed their track “Not That Kind of Girl” from 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire for a recurring theme.]

Chemical Brothers, Come With Us, released 28 January 2002. I don’t think this band has ever quite topped the success of 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, but that doesn’t really matter when your output is so consistent and consistently creative and clever. This record felt more like a kicking-back, groove-in-your-own-head sort of album and it’s enjoyable from start to finish.

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Next up on TYO: February 2002!

The Official Eden Cycle Soundtrack

Or: Albums Wot I Listened to Incessantly While Writing the Trilogy in the Belfry, 1996-2004. It’s by no means a complete list, as I’ve left out a ton of albums that didn’t get nearly as much play but may have shown up in heavy rotation for a shorter time. I also didn’t list the albums that popped up during the revision years, which would probably be another long list in itself.

I’ve put them in semi-chronological order of release. These are still some of my favorite albums; I would highly suggest checking many of them out, perhaps finding a copy or two for your collection if you don’t have them already. It’s a wide mix; there’s electronica, alternative metal, alternative rock, and even a classical album or two. A lot of these albums still pop up on rotation when I’m working.

To be honest, it does feel kind of odd to finally be listening to a different style of music for my latest project. [Meet the Lidwells! is full of power-pop goodness, so there’s a lot of Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne involved, and a lot of listening to The Power Pop Show on KSCU.]  But I highly doubt I’ll stop listening to Fantastic Planet or Sea Change any time soon…

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Music from the Eden Cycle: U2’s Pop

Say what you will about U2’s Pop, it’s an interesting album to say the least.  It’s not quite an extension of their electronica-influenced albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa (or their foray into deliberate non-commercial territory under the Passengers moniker, Original Soundtracks 1) as it’s a deliberate side-step.  It’s twitchy in places, barren in others.  They freely admit that it was an unfinished album, a record they should have spent more time on, had they not had a major tour to prepare for.

It’s not their strongest, but I still enjoy it.  It kind of reminds me of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire in a way, as it sounds like a band in the middle of evolving.  I remember when it was about to come out while I was at HMV; the PGD sales rep (back when U2 was distributed by PolyGram) was obviously trying to upsell it because hey — Big Name Band, right?  But he knew he couldn’t quite pull it off.  He was let down by it, having felt it was one of their weakest albums.  Well…in the context of their career path, when you hit the stratosphere with The Joshua Tree and you keep getting more ridiculously popular, any move aside from UP seems like a step down.  And to most critics, this one felt like a severe misstep.

To be honest, I felt the exact opposite about it.  I was actually let down by Zooropa, having felt that album was more like Achtung Baby Outtakes Wot Weren’t B-SidesPop felt a lot stronger and more cohesive to me.  It ended up being one of the first albums that received heavy rotation during my first round of writing sessions when I started The Phoenix Effect.  I kind of liked its similarity to the Beatles’ White Album…it starts off pretty strong with “Discotheque” and “Do You Feel Loved”…and progressively gets stranger and darker as the album goes on.  The final track, “Wake Up Dead Man” is the polar opposite of its opening track; one is dense and trippy, the other is wiry and exhausted.  The whole flow of the album works perfectly for me.

This was precisely what I needed for my writing session soundtracks!  I wanted to hear something that was a little left of commercial, something strong but not singles-oriented, something that had ambience.  Something that inspired the tension that I’d need in the new novel I was writing.

My writing nook down in my parents’ basement (it wasn’t called the Belfry yet…that name wouldn’t come for another few years) was right near the bottom of the stairs, using one of my uncles’ old desks and one of my dad’s dusty rolling desk chairs.  I had my Windows 3.1 PC that I’d bought with my own tax return money and a big heavy CRT monitor donated by my sister.  I didn’t even have Word 97 at that time, as I don’t think it would have fit on the system…I wrote everything using the Write program instead, and that worked just fine for me.

When I brought my longhand work home from the Day Job, I’d sit down at the PC and start transcribing what I’d written.  This is pretty much where I taught myself how to revise; I knew I’d have to flesh out a lot of what I’d written, so I figured that was the perfect time for it.  I’d figure out what tone I was trying to capture with the prose and expand on it.  And sometimes, the instant revision would give me an idea of what I’d need to write the following day.

It was a learning process the entire time, and I knew I’d want a writing soundtrack to go with it.  Pop was one of the first, and pretty much stayed with me for a good number of years until the single novel morphed into the Bridgetown Trilogy.