“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” – J.D. Salinger
New York City is a mystical Eden of cool. Everyone dreams of one day walking its urine scented alleyways and lulled to sleep in the dulcet tones of car horns and street talk. Crocodile Dundee crossed the globe to get there. The Muppets took Manhattan by storm. The Gremlins selected the City to reproduce. King Kong claimed it as his and a poorly though out Godzilla attempted to hatch its brood in Madison Square Garden. It’s the city that never sleeps and home to all our fictional dreams. And, chiseled into high school curriculum across the country, the quintessential New York novel perfectly captures that monster of adolescence that lives in every cynical jab or sarcastic quip. We are all a little bit broken. We are all a little bit wounded. We are all nursing hidden wounds. We are all a little bit Holden Caulfield.
James Brown – Down and Out in New York City
They Might Be Giants – New York CIty
Billy Bragg – Help Save the Youth of America
Piebald – We Cannot Read Poetry
Hot Water Music – Radio
small factory – For When You Cannot Land
David Bowie – We Are the Dead
Matt Skiba – In Your Wake
Belle & Sebastian – A Century of Fakers
Violent Femmes – Good Feeling
Neutral Milk Hotel – King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
Sebadoh – Total Peace
Mazzy Star – Look on Down from the Bridge
The Mountain Goats – Brisbane Hotel Sutra
Regardless of how you spent the last 365 days, it was an amazing year for record collectors and aural addicts alike. Volume knobs across the world discovered their breaking points and speakers smoked more than your bizarrely inappropriate uncle.
Punk, garage, psychedelic, and just plain ole skin slamming rock’n’roll, 2015 held lesser years upside down and stole their lunch money. Vinyl gave us highly listenable, collectible, and inconvenient modes of blaring tunes.Digital gave us the ability to make mixes that never end. And cassettes even showed their despicable little face around the playground after the thrashing they took in the late 90’s. It was a great year to dance and celebrate sound and come out the other side alive.
Here’s to a great 2016. In the meantime, here are my selections for the best songs of 2015. Thanks for helping make this show what it is and remember to Rage Well.
Isaac Rother and the Phantoms – Somebody Put a Hex on Me
The Juke Joint Pimps – A Thing You Gotta Face
The Jackets – Wheels of Time
C.W. Stoneking – The Zombie
Marcel Bontempi – Dig A Hole
The Legendary Shack Shakers – Dig a Hole
King Automatic – Plan B (Adopt a Lapdancer)
Beach Slang – I Break Guitars
Thee Oh Sees – Lupine Ossuary
The Creeping Ivies – Witch House
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Cooking for Television
The Blue Beats – Toxic
Holly Golightly – What You See
King Khan and the BBQ Show – Killing the Wolfman
The Mountain Goats – Werewolf Gimmick
Becky Lee and Drunkfoot – I Wanna Kill Myself
Screaming Females – Hopeless
Courtney Barnett – Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To the Party
The Mountain Goats – Heel Turn 2
William Elliot Whitmore – A Thousand Deaths
I’ve been toying with the idea of just letting my iPod choose the setlist for a long while now. For a piece of tech I never really wanted (and still am not madly in love with) it does DJ pretty well. Whomever wrote the algorithm for selecting songs seems to have a similar mix-creation mind. Rarely do I have to fast forward songs of skip tracks…of course, it could just be I love my music collection that much.
Either way, I got in late last night from Ogie’s Trailer Park and, not ready for a 2am visit to slumberland, decided this was the evening for a full force sonic assault. I’d like to think it worked.
This show is different from most in that it’s fairly popular stuff (there’s even some hip-hop) and I didn’t spend hours weighing each lyric for tone and mood. It just is what it is: an experiment.
Give it a listen. Play the home game and send me a copy of your set list.
Email – thenovelsound @ gmail (dot) com
Feel free to send review copies, photographs, recommendations, or general praise!
Jeffery Lee – The World/Inferno Friendship Society
Plan B (Adopt a Lapdancer) – King Automatic
You Make Me Sick – The Trouble
Wraparound – Cocktail Preachers
Let Me In – Flat Duo Jets
It didn’t Come Easy – Thee Headcoats
Public Service Announcement – DJ Danger Mouse
Boys on the Docks – Dropkick Murphys
Get Up Off That Thing – James Brown
Maxwell Murder – Rancid
Lockdown – Fugazi
Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine – The White Stripes
Ball and Chain – Social Distortion
Genesis 19:1-2 – The Mountain Goats
Garlic Chicken and Shots – Robert Johnson & The Punchdrunks
Sound System – Operation Ivy
Bankrobber – The Clash
Leaving Jesusland – NOFX
Come Back Lord – Reverend Beat Man & The UnBelievers
Come Back Down – small factory
Blue Jeans & White T Shirts – Gaslight Anthem
I consider the noise and the funk pretty well brought on this episode.
I’ve enjoyed bringing radio friendly mixes back to the world. Richard Slouch (Gutbucket Esoterica at WMUH 91.7) is a hero for letting me take over his show and be the white sugar filling to his enormous Twinkie of garage rock and roll.
I also owe all y’all a special thanks for tossing in your two cents for what tracks work best. In August, we hit the final episode as students return to the airwaves and Sir Slouch is relegated to the primordial darkness where he belongs. I’m bitter sweet about the final episode. It only seems like a short while ago that I was getting setlists and vinyl ready for the world. But all good things…and I’m a bit melancholy today. Radio hang-over.
If you want to add a request of an end of summer tune, feel free to drop a line – no unreasonable request denied. I will butcher your name. I promise.
The Fratellis – Dogtown *
The Surfin’ Gorillas – Summertime Surf
The Undertones – Here Comes the Summer
The Pandoras – Hot Generation
Descendents – Silly Girl
Naked Raygun –Hips Swingin’
Pine Hill Haints – Can I Have Your Board When You are Dead
The Thermals – Now We Can See
The Mountain Goats – Choked Out
Tornadoes – The Popeye
The Mohawks –Beat Me Till I’m Blue
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis – Honolulu Rock a Roll a
Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the Trueloves – I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can
Black Joe Lewis & Honeybears – Big Booty Woman
The Bluebeaters – Toxic
Les Paul and Mary Ford – In the Good Old Summertime
Dinosaur Ghost – Jeff Goldblum
The Inciters – Hurt
Isaac Rother & The Phantoms – Mima Mounds
Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightnin’
Omar & The Stringpoppers – Shakes
The Kinks – Love Me Till The Sunshines
In 2009, The Mountain Goats released Life of the World to Come, a melancholy album which found its roots interpreting Bible verses. Fans trusted singer/songwriter John Darnielle to avoid Christian rhetoric and preachiness and were rewarded with a dozen tracks of surviving heartache, loneliness, and death. In Beat the Champ, Darnielle once again asks fans to trust him as he delivers thirteen tracks about wrestling.
Of course, in the past twenty some-odd years, the songs are never really what the songs are about. Darnielle is a poet invested in word play and the subtle malleable flow of language. Beat the Champ, on the surface, focuses on the early days of professional wrestling and its bloody and pre-Hulkamania rawness. It’s an album whose premise can be as alienating as religion. But, just as wrestling itself is a gimmick of violence and melodrama, there exists something under the mask of Darnielle’s lyrics.
In “Choked Out”, The Mountain Goats deliver one of the most rocking studio tracks in the post-Tallahassee years. It’s an adrenaline rush of of a number about surviving against the odds and pushing beyond one’s limits. “Heel Turn 2” and “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” harken back to older songs in The Mountain Goats’ catalogue, with the latter sounding like something vocally culled from one of the early cassettes . Hell, even “Foreign Object” echoes an obvious refrain designed to be an encore sing-a-long; but, mark my words, the real crowd thumping will rise for the “ba ba da da” filler at the end. Beat the Champ exists as a culmination of sounds from decades worth of experience.
Overall, it’s a fantastic album. TMG seem to have found their groove with the full backing band sound of horns, slide guitars, and piano, but something itches at the back of my mind. After several albums with this advanced sound (advanced from brutalizing an acoustic guitar and singing about Anglo-Saxons), there is an ‘adult contemporary’ feel in this new direction. The lyrical complexity still makes Darnielle one of the greatest songwriters of the last fifty years, but the music itself is strange in that there is no real genre to it. Tracks jump from acoustic strummers, piano crooners, crowd-pleasing rockers, and Tin Pan Alley showtunes.
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” – Mark Twain
I’ve been away too long, gang, and I’m sorry for the absence.
Death is a strange beast and we all have our own manner of mourning. For me, it’s by making lists and listening to music.
There is a thesis out there that music was created to tie us all together. Songs bind us and help define our emotions – they work to express the things we can’t and allow us to share the things we feel. You can only tell so many people that things suck before folks get tired of hearing it – music doesn’t care. In fact, it welcomes you to song, moan, holler, scream, and express yourself.
10. Deuteronomy 2:10 – The Mountain Goats
It’s a hard thing to realize that you are the last of your kind. We all die and time erases us from its collective memory. In this track The Mountain Goats build a beautiful dirge from the point of view of various extinct species.
8. See That My Grave is Kept Clean – Blind Lemon Jefferson
Originally recorded in 1927, this plea for remembrance has been covered by dozens of blues artists and pop musicians. My favorite is the scratched and mutilated vocals of Lou Reed with its heavy fuzz guitar lurking in the background like the grim specter of Death itself.
7. There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
Morrissey manages to up the ante for depressed void-staring youth in one of the most specific death wishes ever: Fighting off the melancholy of a terrible home-life, the protagonist suggests that being crushed by a 10 ton double-decker bus isn’t such a terrible thing. Yeah, death is a common theme in The Smith’s music, but this track treats it with the fancy and foppishness of pure teen angst.
6. Rockin’ Bones – The Cramps
Ronnie Dawson’s original track gets a full Return of the Living Dead treatment in this scorcher. The heavy bass riff and zombie moan of the background singers gives this cover a supernatural feel that echoes the chain wielding ghosts of Rock’n’Roll’s grislier past.
5. In My Time of Dying – Blind Willie Johnson
Forget Led Zeppelin and listen to Blind Willie growl through this track as his guitar fights to keep up with his primeval growls and wailing. Johnson captures the true sounds of a man struggling with his mortality.
4. Dirt in the Ground – Tome Waits
“’Cause hell is boiling over
And heaven is full
We’re chained to the world
And we all gotta pull
And we’re all gonna be
Just dirt in the ground”
We all end up as worm food or fertilizer, but Waits makes it seem like it’s better than the alternative.
3. Death Don’t Have No Mercy – Rev. Gary Davis
Death is speedy and efficient. Escape is impossible and Davis delivers a morose and sorrowful, yet catchy, tune about our inability to remain free from Death’s rapacious grasp.
2. Death’s Got a Warrant – Georgina B. Pettibone
If you are lucky enough to own a copy of How We Got Over: Songs of Gee’s Bend – a collection of songs recorded by Richard Sonkin in 1941 from kitchens, yards, and quilting circles – then you will hear one of the most impressive songs about Death ever recorded. In it, Death is warrant officer and no matter where you hide, he will find you and bring you in. To hear it sung with the Southern- drawl infused harmony of Georgina B Pettiway and friends makes it sound as though its age old advice coming from your grandmother. Track it down.
1. Vertebrae – Christine Fellows
“Sunday traffic clears a path
We float inches above the road
Close our eyes and drive so slow
Like we never need to get home.”
Brace yourself before listening to this song. Fellows not only writes one of the most perfect songs ever, but flawlessly captures the post-funeral haze of returning home after that final good-bye in the moments before mourning begins. Death comes to us all, yet the hard part rests on the survivors.
There is, for those who may not know, a legitimate difference between a maze and labyrinth. A maze is a complicated series of twists and turns designed to allow its follower to choose a path and direction. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is a fixed path which leads to a definite center. The course is predetermined and the road easy to navigate. There is no promise, of course, that that labyrinth itself is an easy journey. After all, the most famous labyrinth, created by Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, was so complicated, he himself barely found his way out.
In John Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van(I’m counting his Masters of Reality 33 1/3 book as more of a novella), he has created the second greatest labyrinth. At the center of his tale is Sean Philips, disfigured from a violent accident, who is the creator of Trace Italian, a turn-based RPG played via the mail. The game allows Sean minimal, but essential, contact with the world outside and the ability to control the fate of those adventurous enough make the first of numerous scripted choices. Players enter a pre-constructed post-apocalyptic world set on finding refuge at the heart of a monolithic fortress called Trace Italian. However, when two stalwart adventurers, believing Trace Italian to be more than mythological, attempt to find it, Sean is forced to defend his creation and, in turn, retrace the steps of his past.
Like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Wolf in White Van takes various chronological leaps and slides which create a sense of distortion; like the pieces of a half-remembered life. Nothing in its place. The effect of this jumbled plot works both for and against the work. As a strength, it grips the reader and compels them to, like players in Trace Italian, mark their moves and push on, uncertain of what exists beyond the next turn. As a weakness, it can sometimes be too disjointed and sections need a quick reread in order to reestablish literary footing.
At the heart of the novel exists a beautiful tale of choices and actions. Each player in Trace Italian pushes on under the illusion that they control their own fate while traversing an essentially predetermined road. Sean reveals to us that no one will ever reach the safety of Trace Italian. None of us can ever change the outcome of the myriad of life’s puzzle pieces and no matter what order we assemble the fractured picture, the image will always be unchanging. But that is in the game. In reality, Darnielle suggests, those decisions aren’t as scripted. The reader’s journey to the center reveals something much more unnerving about Fate and pathways. But you’ll need to walk the labyrinth yourself to discover it.
Planet Claire –The B-52’sfor Tess People From Another World – The Jive Five
Do-wop ditty about being saved from the ‘others’. A clever little metaphor wrapped in a perfect juke platter. The Chicken Astronaut – Five Du-Tonesfor Steve Smith Sharks Flying In – Flat Duo Jetsfor Liam Otten The Dentures In Space – Treblemakers The theremin holds only two purposes: alien sounds from B-movies and surf music. War Of The Satellites – The Ventures for Mark Brown Rocketship XL-3 – Man Or Astro-man?for Barney Dannelke
There is a ticking before ‘Amy aka Spent Gladiator, Pt. 1”, that signals the start of the Mountain Goats 14th LP. It’s a rapid series of about 15 wooden hits like a yard stick on a podium calling class to order. The urgency of the clapping breaks into John Darnielle’s punctuated guitar riffs and his uniquely nasal voice calling us to, “Do every stupid thing that makes us feel alive…Just stay alive.” To those who have listened to the Mountain Goats for any amount of time this isn’t some ridiculous YOLO crap, this is just a familiar tMG song with its aggressive ability to take the common place and push it beyond the ordinary: It is what makes tMG’s so wonderful and what makes this album the strongest since their switch to Merge Records.
Transcendental Youth revels in its use of common anecdotes and the familiar. Darnielle is not attempting anything new here (despite the amazing introduction of a horn section) and, in fact, brings back all of the familiar motifs of his early career. Case in point is the Waiting for Godot return of the character Jenny (in ‘Night Light’), who we last heard about on All Hail West Texas and before that ‘Straight Six’. Darnielle chants a dreamlike tale of a masked outlaw waiting unnerved by porch light for something, anything, to happen. It reminisces about a time when the pirate life was all that was needed, but now that the galaxy has turned its attention to the narrator an urgency boils over. The end may be nigh, but it never comes, and we are left waiting in the dark. These are the tales Darnielle, like author Raymond Carver, writes best. It seems, for now, we have moved beyond the autobiographic focus of the last two albums.
In “Lakeside View Apartment Suite”, John narrates another tale of junkies running dry. As in earlier tracks in tMG catalogue, we get tweakers fighting the ‘crystal clear connection’ of their surroundings, getting sick in sinks, and reminding us not to judge as ‘we are not the judge’. Instead, as Darnielle always seems to suggest in these tracks, we are witnesses and we should have mercy and we shouldn’t ignore the messages on the door.
“White Cedar’, ‘Until I’m Whole’, and ‘In Memory of Satan’, are beautiful tracks which harken back to older tunes and, it bears repeating, that this is welcome. I feel safe in my generalization that most the Mountain Goats fans are meticulous followers of the lyrics and, more-so than in the past releases, Darnielle is in fighting trim.
Blow for blow, Parts I and II of Spent Gladiator are the real strength of this album. Darnielle’s repeated call for us to ‘just stay alive’ and go down fighting seem less like a singer going through the motions of recording vocals and more like a friend grabbing us by the shoulders and giving us a directive: Give nothing for free and ‘stay in the game’. The metaphors fly fast and loose in ‘Part II’ with each one being something you wish you wrote. Hell, Darnielle goes so far as to channel Vonnegut and demand we ‘maybe even spit blood at the camera.’ This is what I signed on for when I became a the Mountain Goats fan. Let others talk of Peter Hughes’ bass, John Wursters’ amazing drumming, the introduction of horns, the piano, the vaguely show tune feel of the final track – I’m here for the stories.
In the past 12 hours, I’ve listened to Transcendental Youth six times. You should to.
Reading this interview is like watching the scene from Cool Hand Luke where Dragline is beating Luke and everyone is screaming for Luke to stay down – except you are cheering for Dragline. And hoping Luke dies.
The fact that MTV even posted this spectacle is just a showcase of their arrogant assertion that print is dead and nobody reads their damn site.
The most poignant part of this interview however comes early when said interviewer asks John about guilty pleasures.
“You recorded an amazing cover of Ace of Base’s “The Sign” back in 1995. But you haven’t done a cover like that in almost fifteen years. What are your musical guilty pleasures these days?
I don’t have any guilty pleasures. “The Sign” was not a guilty pleasure for me. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like music, it’s fine. You shouldn’t feel guilty about listening to anything.”
As a bit of a digression, the interview strikes a chord with me as I have oft rallied against the concept of guilty pleasures. It started with a Chuck Klosterman essay from the November 2004 issue of Esquire in which Klosterman rails against the term suggesting, “…that the only people who believe in some kind of universal taste—a consensual demarcation between what’s artistically good and what’s artistically bad—are insecure, uncreative elitists who need to use somebody else’s art to validate their own limited worldview. It never matters what you like; what matters is why you like it.”
This article is eye-opening and drives home the fact that we should not be concerned about what others think or how we are viewed. The choices we make are ours: Warts and all.