This is my first legitimate post in quite some time. I felt the urge to write again today, and I often do…but I’ve been ignoring it in favor of more shallow pursuits. This is something that has happened to me over time, mostly due to the isolated nature of my job. The general lack of social activity has caused me to neglect my voice a bit. I’m finding that when I do write, I express frustration and hopelessness more than any other emotion–towards the general state of the world around me, in which I barely even participate.
But that isn’t really reflective of the present. This past year has been a milestone. My wife and I moved to Oregon, driving the entire 2,500 miles from our former home of Athens, Georgia, which will always be a special place for both of us. We had never driven across the country, and thankfully, our cars made it with little more than a leaky tire. And one of my takeaways was that the states I appreciated the most were the ones about which I previously had the lowest opinions, Nebraska and Wyoming being my two favorites. The physical space, or the endless mass of mountains in front of me on the interstate, made me feel small. It made me feel like nothing else existed beyond it. I didn’t understand religion in the South, but it made me think that I’d understand religion if I grew up there. I’m glad I didn’t grow up there. I prefer knowing that so much more exists outside of those vast, empty spaces. But, they were beautiful.
We bought a house. I feel very lucky to be able to have escaped renting. It took me about 10 years longer than it took my parents and wiped out the bank account in the process, but it was a very meaningful step. Buying and owning a home is an entirely new venture, and I’m clueless about it, but eager to learn.
I’ve yet to figure out my place here, but I’m more determined to find it now than I have been in years. I’m starting to understand the importance of a sense of purpose, which is, again, something I’ve neglected. Working at home is a blessing and a curse. And my work doesn’t seem like my purpose–maybe that’s part of the problem.
My first step towards this goal is giving less of a fuck. Having less of a filter. Less of an inhibition towards stepping out of my comfort zone to do or say something that I have the urge to do or say. To listen to more Run the Jewels, because that is the type of energy that motivates me to do those things.
I’ll end with that. I wouldn’t say this set really captures the spirit of this blather, but it captures the liveliness I want to have intrinsically. And I’m just really into RTJ right now.
Run the Jewels – Live at Austin City Limits – Austin, TX – 10/14/17
1. Talk to Me
2. Legend Has It
3. Blockbuster Night Part 1
4. Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)
5. 36″ Chain
6. Stay Gold
7. Don’t Get Captured
8. Nobody Speak
9. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)
10. Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters
11. Thursday in the Danger Room
Today, Neutral Milk Hotel announced that their upcoming tour will be their last for the foreseeable future. I’m still hoping for one last Athens date, maybe on their way up from Florida in mid-May, but I think I can say I’m satisfied with what has been a solid four-year return for Jeff Mangum. Although we’ll likely never hear new music from him–at least not anything that sounds like NMH–his reemergence was a gift to those of us who didn’t discover his music after the turn of the century. And if the Pixies’ also recent return is any indication, the new songs likely wouldn’t meet expectations and would ultimately tarnish the legacy.
So much has been said about this “legacy” of Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s an intensely personal one for a lot of people, people like me who discovered the album by chance or through word-of-mouth. By a longshot, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is my best musical discovery. It was the summer of 2004 when I was rooting through a bunch of burned CDs my sister had obtained from her high school friends. She was far more popular than I ever was, so many of them were given to her. That pile of CDs probably also included The Shins, Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, The Strokes, and others that you’d expect to see in a pile of CDs owned by a suburban white high school student in the mid-00s. I don’t know who provided her with ITAOTS, but it seemed out of place and piqued my interest. I’d heard of Neutral Milk Hotel, lauded on one of the internet forums I frequented at the time, but those were the same people who took Pitchfork as gospel, so I really didn’t care what they were into.
ITAOTS came at just the right time for me musically, a time when I was more adventurous and growing out of the pop-rock of the late 90s. It was also a time of great change, just before my first semester away at college, just before my first serious relationship, and in general, a lot of social growth. I fell in love with this music just as I was falling in love with a lot of things. The weird thing is, a lot of people have very similar stories about finding this band. This is what I mean by this legacy and how intensely personal it is. Everyone has a story about how they found the music of Neutral Milk Hotel, because it’s not something we heard on the radio, TV, or even Pandora, YouTube, or Spotify. It just kind of showed up somewhere, and blew our minds that we hadn’t heard it before. And at the risk of sounding like a mid-00s indie rock cliché, it changed our lives. I may have grown cynical about some things in my thirties, but the influence of music on my life is one of those idealisms I can’t give up or grow out of. It’s linked so heavily with certain time periods of my life that I can’t deny its influence.
Just over four years ago, I met my wife, shortly after I had moved to Athens. We had been chatting online for just a few weeks and agreed to meet at a show at the Caledonia. It was a bold move among several other bold moves I had taken in the months prior…all of which were some of the best moves I’d make in my life thus far. After the show, I gave her my copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Not the burned copy, the one that I had bought myself because I couldn’t stand that the CD-R wasn’t burned with gapless playback (a major no-no for this album). She had never heard it. It was another beginning, another renaissance and love in my life that started with this album.
It was also four years ago this week that Mangum played a surprise gig in Brooklyn, marking the first time he had publicly performed NMH material in nine years. I couldn’t help but think that his return was a sign that I was in the right place at the right time with the right person–a feeling I really needed to feel at that time in my life. Of course, we had the opportunity to see Jeff and the band several times over the past few years, albeit in the face of some tragedy and what was ultimately a trip that I regret. Still, the shows were a gift. And it felt just like I had imagined it would, particularly since they made an effort to play the same kinds of venues that they played in the late 90s.
So, a risk is taken when you fuck with the “intensely personal legacy”/wonder/idolatry that a lot of people have with a band that they love–particularly Neutral Milk Hotel, who were assumed for years to never return. The question that I’ve noticed arise several times over the past four years is, “Did the magic fade now that so many more people have had the opportunity to see them?” For me, nothing changed, except that it’s provided a closing chapter to a time period that was so heavily influenced by their work. I’ll love their music forever, but there is now nowhere new for it to go. Every song on ITAOTS is haunted by a place, time, and feeling that I officially no longer want to be replaced by anything else. By now, I’ve read the 33 1/3 book several times over and analyzed every note, noise, and blooper on the record. And now, I’ve seen it performed in front of me, mere feet away. An absolute gift. If Jeff decides to put out new music (which I believe he would have by now if he ever intended to), I’ll listen to it, but I don’t need anything more.
Fare thee well, NMH.
I’ve been holding out on posting this because it’s pretty much my last fun./The Format recording that I have yet to share. But, I haven’t felt compelled to post much else lately. Oddly enough, most of the few visitors who stumble upon this blog find it through a search for said band(s). It’s still difficult for me to believe that this band has blown up as they have; as I’ve said here earlier, Some Nights has grown on me as I appreciate the songwriting, but the slick, top 40-ready production is boring and cheesy. I can’t defend that album as much more than a guilty pleasure. Even so, this band still shines live, as much as they did ten years ago when I first saw them at The Masquerade (as The Format, of which fun. is just an extension–as much as Sam Means’ musical sensibilities are missed.)
I can’t remember how I found this one, but it’s a very clear soundboard recording (from an HD broadcast, I believe) from the Some Nights era that, again, demonstrates how it’s difficult not to enjoy yourself at a fun. show, as long as you put any pretension and cynicism aside, which has always been a requirement to enjoy Nate Ruess’ two main projects. My musical taste has matured since a decade ago, when the ’90s pop-rock influenced debut from The Format, Interventions + Lullabies, was spinning in my ’94 Toyota Camry CD player and on my click wheel iPod, and maybe it’s just nostalgia that recalls my first year of college, but I still pay attention to these guys. I don’t take them as seriously, but maybe I really wasn’t ever supposed to.
Sam Means’ first full-length is definitely something to look forward to, though.
fun. – Live at New Pop Festival – Baden-Baden, Germany – 9/14/12
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1. Carry On
2. One Foot
3. All the Pretty Girls
4. Why Am I the One
5. At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)
6. It Gets Better
7. All Alone
9. The Gambler
10. We Are Young
11. You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones Cover)
12. Some Nights
The fall thus far has been a season of change, with the start of a new job and new possibilities that come with it. This includes the ability to live pretty much anywhere in the country, but it’s looking like I’ll still be in Athens for a while longer, with which I have no problem. Though I am very much looking forward to traveling: I get to go to back to the UK this spring for the first time since my college trip, which is definitely a perk. I can’t wait to walk the streets of London again.
The new Interpol record El Pintor has had a lot of spins from me lately, and I’ve actually re-discovered their two post-Antics records, which have some great moments that I didn’t recognize before. Nothing is as good as Turn on the Bright Lights, but Our Love to Admire, which I initially deemed sub-par, does have one of my all-time favorite Interpol songs, “Pioneer to the Falls.” The 2010 self-titled album was critically panned, and it is their worst, but songs like “Try It On” and “Barricade” give it a few strong points. El Pintor isn’t quite a return to form, but it’s good–definitely their best work in some time. The single “All the Rage Back Home” is one of the strong points, as well as tracks “My Blue Supreme” and “Breaker 1,” which sounds like it could have been a solid TOTBL b-side.
I’m looking forward to seeing them at the Tabernacle next month–I don’t trek over to Atlanta for very many shows anymore, but this one should be a good time, if this recent live performance is any indication.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YetfPqvPkfA
I discovered Elliott Smith in college, and for a while during my undergrad years, I listened to Elliott almost exclusively. I spent a lot of time in my campus apartment bedroom listening to music and avoiding my roommate; it was an overdramatic/melancholy time in my twenties that felt like it came too late. I’ve always felt that I age slower than others. I still feel that way today, as I have absolutely no desire to procreate despite my Facebook feed being full of persuasive arguments to do so. My first serious relationship was not until my early twenties. (High school was a wash and a forgettable time overall.) That is to say that my first serious breakup was also in my early twenties. Elliott Smith’s music was so perfect and so fitting for that time in my life, even though I only felt faux-depression and this was a guy with much more of a legitimate reason to exhibit the feelings in his music. I’m almost embarrassed to reflect back on my early twenties because of how long it took me to stop being a teenager.
That’s not to say that Elliott’s music is exclusively sad; he has plenty of happy songs and songs that examine a variety of subjects and emotions. But his voice was and is like nothing I’ve ever heard, and no matter how happy his subject matter or melodies, it sounds like all of his songs have this raincloud hanging over them. There’s certainly an unjust romanticism of mental illness in music and art criticism, but the way it comes through in his music really is nothing short of beautiful. Early on, I enjoyed more of his heavier produced material like XO and Figure 8, but it was his first posthumous album From a Basement on the Hill that helped me appreciate raw Elliott, and then my wife who encouraged me to give the self-titled album and Roman Candle more listens. And then there’s Elliott’s work in Heatmiser–which I’m tempted to describe as what it would sound like if John Lennon fronted Green Day, but somehow that sounds terrible, so I’m not sure, but it’s all just as brilliant as his solo work. In particular, Mic City Sons.
This live recording at LA’s Henry Fonda Theatre is one of his most shared live recordings and is my favorite for many reasons. First, there’s no band–it’s raw Elliott, with an occasional guest on percussion. It’s a set of over 20 songs, from his Heatmiser work, to Roman Candle, to Basement on the Hill. This rendition of “King’s Crossing” is possibly my favorite Elliott Smith recording. And this is also among his last live performances, in January of 2003. You can find this recording on a lot of places on the Internet, but I’m still proud to share it and I enjoyed reflecting back on what has made Elliott’s music so special to me.
Elliott Smith – Live at Henry Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – 1/31/03
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1. King’s Crossing
2. Memory Lane
4. No Confidence Man
5. A Passing Feeling
6. I Figured You Out
7. A Fond Farewell
8. Strung Out Again
10. Coming Up Roses
11. A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to be Free
12. Pretty (Ugly Before)
13. Plainclothes Man
14. Long, Long, Long
15. No Name #1
16. Division Day
17. I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out
18. I Better Be Quiet Now
19. Say Yes
20. Brand New Game
21. Shooting Star
I haven’t done the obligatory Format post in a while, so here you go. This is a special bootleg, though the quality is terrible. Essentially this is just Sam and Nate sitting on a couch playing new songs (most of which never ended up on their records) and a few covers at the Modified Arts space in Phoenix, which used to host local bands, but is now merely an art gallery. Actually they may still have bands; I don’t know.
A bit about “Threes.” This particular recording (actually there’s a slightly better one out there) is one that I listened to pretty obsessively for a couple of years. It’s about the most melodramatic song ever written about Nate’s troubled relationship that inspired Dog Problems. There are even allusions to suicide (“…I wish I could stab my throat / there goes your wife, your car, your home … the life I’ve convinced myself I want to own”), though it somehow manages to end hopeful (“Anita wakes to get ready for a day she’ll never regret / their love is what has kept me on my feet”). The B-Sides and Rarities version of the song includes some lyrical changes that I’m not too crazy about, so for that reason, this will always be my favorite version.
There are at least two or three recordings from this show floating around, but this is the only complete one I know of. If there’s a better one out there, please let me know. I’ve been trying to hunt it down for years if it exists. This can be unlistenable at times, but it’s the only time some of these songs were ever played for an audience. (Try to) enjoy. Credit and infinite thanks to the original taper.
The Format – Live at Modified Arts – Phoenix, AZ – 8/29/04
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1. Dog Problems
2. 7 Digits
3. Faith in Fast Cars
4. We Dance (Pavement Cover)
5. Good Time at Your Expense
8. You’re Not a Whore
9. Colours (Joan Baez Cover)
10. Bath (Harry Nilsson Cover)
11. Your New Name
I’m coming up on four years in Athens and settling in quite well at the new apartment on Milledge. Certain forces may pull me away from this town soon, but I’m finally at the point where things feel very familiar, but without shortage of potential new experiences. I’m starting to crave health more than ever. Social health, intellectual health, physical health. The fact that I’ve been here this long without making more friends is disappointing. Work duties often keep me out of touch with myself, though I don’t have an excuse for the two months I’ve had off this summer. And being in walking distance to Five Points gives me a purpose to walk, which I don’t always get in less interesting contexts.
The light in the outside hallway at the new place is always on, and I find a strange kind of comfort seeing it peek through the crack at the bottom of the door at night. Comfort keeps me inside far too often. I’ve always been a glutton for it. I can’t simply crave for experiences to be handed to me the way they were in college. I have much more freedom now, many more choices; they can be overwhelming, and it’s my new goal to not be so calculating. All of the best things that have come out of the past five years have been the result of taking risks. The safer choices would have led me down a much less happy route.
The soundtrack to this post is Japandroids. Post-Nothing had something like a 5% inspiration on some of the positive life changes I made a few years ago. Here’s a bootleg from that era. Credit to the original taper as always.
Japandroids – Live at Blue Lamp – Sacramento, CA – 7/29/09
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2. No Allegiance to the Queen
3. The Boys Are Leaving Town
4. Art Czars
5. Rockers East Vancouver
6. Heart Sweats / Darkness on the Edge of Gastown
7. Young Hearts Spark Fire
11. To Hell with Good Intentions