About a week and a half ago, my internet hetero life-partner CJ declared that it was about time to pick our top albums of 2009, considering “unless Neutral Milk Hotel backs Public Enemy on a surprise LP next week, [we] should be set.” After a few minutes, we decided on a Top 8. Tonight, we present our individual choices for the Bottom 4. The following are mine:
#8: “Summer of Hate” by Crocodiles
Do you know how much I like this album? I like this album so much I had to go back and listen to a few tracks from it because I couldn't for the life of me remember what they sounded like, outside of the fact that if you Google “Summer of Hate” and “Summer of Hate” + “Jesus and Mary Chain” you'll end up with roughly the same amount of blogs written by people with roughly the same north Brooklyn hair and ZIP code. The album is good, referential, noisy, throwaway pop. I don't care that I can't remember what most of it sounds like, what I care is that I remember how I felt listening to it: cool, and in touch with the feel of a certain sort of transgressive pop music, the novelty of which is long-lost for my generation.
#7: “The Pains of Being Pure at Heart” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Field Mice are a band almost twenty years gone from us, but they're still clearly loved. At least by the Pains. Their sound is definitely dirtier than you'd expect twee-pop to be, but there's a certain crafted, dainty sincerity about it; the absolute inverse of the sort of nostalgia gleefully banged out by Wavves, for instance. This album is a taffeta ribbon made of television static. It is a rare band that, in 2009, can film a video on Super 8 and have the feel match the song so precisely you have no idea (outside of the clothing and a brief glimpse at a Sidekick) when, exactly, after the dissolution of the Velvet Underground, this album was released.
#6: “Flight Paths” by Pocketbooks
To contrast the previous, this is an album of crystal-clarity. Every track is produced in the musical equivalent of deep focus – perfect for the concrete nature of the lyrics, and the facileness of the singers. The songs do something it seems pop music has become afraid to: tell stories. There are beginnings, middles and ends, interspersed with dialogue and letters. “Flight Paths,” is, at its best, sprightly and safe. The only welcome and genuinely retreat into suburbia I have ever had. Much like an electroclash fan listening to a Boards of Canada album for the first time and wondering when the beat will drop (I'm looking at you, 19-year-old me,) listening to Pocketbooks, jaded ears will want for the prick of the knife behind the sweetness that hovers evenly through songs about death and heartbreak. Fortunately, the wound never comes, and “Flight Paths” remains 11 tracks of magical retreat.
#5 “Passages” by Maserati
I wrote about Maserati earlier this month, mostly in the context of the untimely death of their drummer, Jerry Fuchs. Speaking of the album (although it is more a collection of releases found previously on splits, and a few remixes) as a whole, I have to say it is the first post-rock to genuinely overwhelm my senses since Godspeed You! Black Emperor's seminal “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” Certainly, the actual feel of the album is entirely different: this is no grave dirge to mankind; if anything it is a call-to-arms. GY!BE makes you feel as if you're slowly climbing a mountain, Maserati, appropriately enough, feel like a Formula One race. You get in the car, you wait for that slow tick of the lights, and right the hell off you go. The technical aspect of the guitar and pedal work is sensational – until I saw them live, I had no idea they didn't use any synths. Every noise you hear is either a processed guitar or drum. "Passages" is raw drive, taking the motorik beat from a reference to the 70s to a expression of the contemporary.
Now that you have read my picks, go on and read CJ's.
I can honestly say that I am not a member of that fraternity of sad folks who feel genuine grief over the death of someone they had never met, nor were ever likely to establish a genuine relationship with. Celebrity deaths do not usually trigger any sort of emotional response in me, outside of “well, ain’t that a shame.” There have been two exceptions to this rule. Both involved entertainers who I had seen at the prime of their abilities.
(Note: I changed the video to this one from the original, which, now that I have audio, wasn't that funny. Here is the original, just in case.)
I saw Mitch Hedberg live during my senior year of high school. I found myself going to comedy clubs at a regular basis around that time, for reason I can’t specifically recall. Maybe it was an unconscious attempt to relieve the pressures of 9/11, which started off the school year, and my own, unrelated, depression, which was coming to a head. I was there with a few friends, including whom I met that night and would later date for a few brief moments. She would later live in a dorm room that was, at one point, Lenny Bruce’s old hotel room, if you wish to bring this around full-circle.
Mitch was fantastic. Just as good as the one CD he had out at the time, or any of his specials. He took joke requests and was, generally, totally on the ball. Two years and change later he was dead. I was living upstate at the time, not doing too hot as far as living a reasonable life goes, and it hit me harder than I wanted it to. I had seen the man do his thing, and clearly enjoy doing his thing, and now he was gone forever. The haunting didn’t help…
I had been working at a Jimmy John's franchise in Ithaca, New York. Jimmy John's is a slightly-“classier”-than-Subway sandwich shop, found primarily in college towns. Mitch Hedberg did their radio ads. One night, a few days after his death, I was working the graveyard shift. It must have been a little past one in the morning when the ad came on. I froze. You’d think someone would have bothered taking the ads out of rotation, but I guess a contract is a contract.
That’s the Mitch Hedberg story. Here’s the second one: Gerhardt “Jerry” Fuchs, 34 years old, died in Brooklyn on Sunday. I’m not going to get into the details of his death because I do not feel like I have the right to comment on them. Here is where I found out (there are more links inside to tributes, etc.) What I can say is that Jerry Fuchs was probably one of the greatest drummers I had ever seen live. I saw the latest band he was in, Maserati, open for Mono a few months before I started this blog. Here’s a photo from the show:
Notice something odd? Jerry, the drummer, is right up front with the band. Most bands I see push the drummer right behind the other members, or way in the back. This was a gesture of palpable respect that I appreciated, as someone watching the band, considering his abilities.
When I found out that he had died, I, again, felt pangs of pain. Not because I had lost a “friend” or someone I respected as a person, but simply because the light of a man of extraordinary ability was put out way before its time. It wasn’t drugs or suicide, but a stupid twist of fate that robbed us of him. I doubt I’d have felt anything at all had I not seen him blasting away at those cans like he was truly, genuinely, born to do it.
Well. So long, Jerry.