Friday, March 30, 2007

Much Music
I've been going through one of those phases recently in which I've acquired a lot of new music. ("Assload" may or may not be the appropriate technical term here.) In early March I bought about 5 used CDs for $23 or so on St. Marks Place in Manhattan, around the same time I bought the new Arcade Fire LP online, last Saturday an old friend I saw at a wedding gave me a copy of her band's disc, and last Sunday I passed a guy on Court Street in Brooklyn who was evidently moving, and selling all his old CDs. I bought eight for the grand total of $30.

The first bunch included the following:

Radio 4--Enemies Like This
Bruce Springsteen--18 Tracks
Son Volt--Straightaways
The Who--30 Years of Maximum R&B, Disc 1
The Who--30 Years of Maximum R&B, Disc 3

Of these, I've only listened closely to the Springsteen and Son Volt albums. "18 Tracks" is an enjoyable oddity, released in 1999, with outtakes and alternate takes from different stages of the Boss's long career. There are acoustic versions of "Growin' Up" and "Born in the USA," studio cuts of live favorites like "The Fever" and "My Love Will Not Let You Down," some fairly conventional rockers. Son Volt, Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo project, sounds basically like an older and more mellow UT; he hasn't kept up with the weird brilliance of his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), but it's pleasant listening that seemed perfectly suited for the Sunday night when I first put it on.

Radio 4, which I have on here as I type this, is yet another band from my home borough of Brooklyn. They remind me of the Hoodoo Gurus, an Aussie pop/post-punk band from my youth, but with less humor and more danceability. The two Who CDs were steals for what I paid for them, including a lot of the band's classic tracks (I've long wanted "The Seeker" in particular) as well as some weird stuff like Pete Townsend screaming at (I think) Abbie Hoffman to get the fuck off the fucking stage.

My friend's band is Beware the Blunted Needle. I got to see them in NYC about a year ago, and the live show put their first recording to shame. The disc that Abby gave me last weekend is much, much better--it sounds great, the songs are better represented, and the whimsy and fury of their live performance is represented. BtBN sound a little like Helium and Sleater-Kinney fronting Camper van Beethoven, with half the musicians on 'ludes and the other half on crank. Check them out at the link above. Unfortunately, I think they've stopped, but they deserve a wide hearing--and, happily, in this internet age it's not impossible they could get one.

I don't really have much to say about Arcade Fire that hasn't been said elsewhere. They seem like pretty annoying people, frankly, but their sound is unique and powerful and it's compelling to see them still putting things together. I worry that they might suffer the U2 curse of taking themselves too seriously to the point where it screws with their music, but this album, Neon Bible, is really pretty good.

Which brings me to the killer haul from last Sunday. For $30, I bought these eight discs:

Sonic Youth--NYC Ghosts and Flowers
Jane's Addiction--(first album, live)
Phantom Tollboth--Beard of Lightning
Public Enemy--It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Joy Division--Unknown Pleasures
Pixies--(double live CD, 12/18/04)
New Order--Substance

A couple of these--the Jane's and New Order--were upgrades about 20 years in the making, of things I copied on blank tapes from friends when I was a teenager. The live Pixies CD is great sound quality; the PE and Joy Division are classics that I'd just never bought. (It's both funny and a little upsetting to remember my suburban white-boy reaction when that Public Enemy record first dropped, also about 20 years ago [!]. It seemed they were scary black dudes who, it was rumored, hated Jews. To me now--years after first coming to like PE, but never previously having any of their albums--it just sounds heroic.)

The other ones are more interesting and surprising. I have most of the Sonic Youth catalogue, but this album had never really interested me. I was under the impression that everything SY had done since about the mid-'90s sounded the same... but this one is by far the most interesting of the recent bunch, still quiet and tuneful but much more experimental in terms of the song structures and lyrical content. It reminds me of how exciting it was to hear "Daydream Nation" back in the day.

Sebadoh is a band I've known about for as long as they've been around, but I'd never liked any of the songs I heard. Those must have been aberrations, though, because this CD is great. It's a little more subdued than the classic Dinosaur Jr stuff from which I'd known Lou Barlow, but raucous enough. This album is from 1994, so I have no idea if Sebadoh still sounds anything like this.

Phantom Tollboth is the freak of the bunch. This evidently was a prog/punk band from the late '80s, almost like the Rush half of Living Colour's sonic mindspace. They released this album, "Power Toy," in 1988, and it disappeared without a trace. Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices loved these guys, though, and he convinced them to let him write new lyrics and sing new melodies over these songs. The result sounds freakin' fantastic--if you liked mid-period GbV (Pollard plus Cobra Verde, the "Mag Earwig!" era lineup) but felt like it wasn't quite what it could have been, you'll love this.

All in all, one of the better $30 I've ever spent.

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