It's all a mystery
This album reminds me of driving. It was one of the first I listened to in my 5+1 disc changer in my 2002 VW Beetle, and the first album I loaded onto my Kubrick-style 3rd gen iPod. In that car, turned up, CD sound--it just filled the space, in the car, between my ears. It gave me a lot of heart, too. I'd listen to "I don't know how a man decides what's right for his own life" as I drove 45 minutes each way to a job I really needed to leave, and I'd drum that unbelieveable drum beat from "In the Morning of the Magicians" on the steering wheel while I sped down McCormick Boulevard. I remember a New Year's Eve show with this, the ultimate New Year's Eve band, and how still we found confetti in our apartment from that show in April of the new year. These guys knew how to bring it and they also knew how to dial it back, and I really think this album did an excellent job of curtailing the jammy weirdness and promoting the songcraft, themes of love and of actively living, and that incredible drumming of Drozd, into a poppier album than most of their career. Some of my favorite events growing up were things that I referred to as "pep rallies for yourself," and this album really does make you reflect but eventually celebrate, a process I'd say that Coyne pushed--for a while at least.
It's amazing what near-death can do to creativity. Here's a man who made this weirdo freakout music and who also would tell you about the time he almost died at Long John Silver's. He nearly lost a bandmate to a spider bite and another (or maybe the same one?) to heroin, and came back with two albums' worth of clarity before heading back into overmuddled, extra dense work. Yoshimi is nearly 10 years old now, and listening to it makes me think about how much this band meant to be for a period there, and how they just sorta...faded from my view. Many of their fans would not think of Yoshimi as an important album; some might even say it's not even a good one. But that's also the beauty of music, and maybe one of the reasons I always wanted to be in a band: even if only a few people, even if only five hear it, and one of those people have a really intense experience with it, it means something.
Stereo, my baby baby baby baby baby
In which Pavement transforms from the cool older brother to Beck in his "Loser" stage into Radiohead's dreamy good looking cousin
I searched for years for a vinyl copy of the first R.E.M. LP, Murmur, on vinyl. My requirements were: I wanted it to be cheap, and I wanted the original release (partly because of my Hi-Fidelity-style collector's mentality). Or at least not a remastered or fancy resissued version (though, y'know, the recent fancy reissue was something that I put on my Amazon Wish List. I don't mind if other people spend that kinda money for me!), because I'd read so many reviews to know that part of the early-R.E.M. charm was that the vocals were buried/oddly mixed, and I wanted the Authentic Experience.
So after two years of striking out and a few months of eyeing that there fancy re-issue, I finally just hit up ebay, bid on the thing, and got it for about $15.
And it's great.
And no only is it great, I am finding myself absolutely unable to get Catapult out of my head. And I'm thinking that "Shaking Through" might shoot to my top ten all-time R.E.M. songs, just on the basis of the catchy, goose-bump-inducing, absolutely-built-for-singing-along chorus.
And I love this. I love that this album is from 1983, and it's from a band that I love, but about 10 years prior to the R.E.M. period that I know. I love discovering this stuff. I love hearing "Talk About the Passion" and "Radio Free Europe" in their original context.
It's just really great. I don't know what took me so long.
*I am probably at least a 65% proponent of the "hey, the internet is great and all, but it kinda ruined the hunt for things, especially music" theory. I can remember trying for years to find a copy of the ska version of "The Freshman," but once I was able to start downloading music, I nearly instantly looked for, and found it. It's still good, but I still look for the 7" now and again. I suppose I could find it on eBay.
Whatever and Ever Amen
I finally got my copy of the re-issue of the incredible Ben Folds Five album Whatever and Ever Amen the other day, after watching it rot on my Amazon Wish List for years. It's so cheap now that it's insulting, for such a great album to be bargain-binned out like this.
This album exists on a tape that was so beloved that even my good buddy Nate talks about it. One side had this album, the other had the Promise Ring's Nothing Feels Good. I flipped that shit into the Ford Tempo so many times. I remember entire moves—from college to the “home” that was my mom's new apartment, back again—where all I did was throw this in my old stereo and flip it over and over. I still don't know the full lyrics to “Evaporated,” because the song always cut off during one of the “oh God, what have I doooone” lines. It always trips me up.
Whatever and Ever Amen also has “Brick,” the biggest Ben Folds song until “Landed” became an unlikely 2005 hit. I go back and forth about finding out the origins of lyrics to my favorite songs. One side of the coin is that knowing The Sunset Tree is heavily autobiographical makes it even more powerful of an album—the best of the Mountain Goats catalog, in my opinion. On the other hand, songs like “Brick” make me not want to compare the narrative to real life events; maybe I'm stupid and that's why I didn't know what he was getting at in the song, but really, I think it's more that the song can mean a lot of things and I hate singing it and thinking of what it's supposed to be about.
I remember that moment in 1997 when this album and this band was everywhere. It spread around campus so quickly, seemingly coming out of every dorm room that fall of my sophomore year of college. Musical theater majors would bring the house down by covering “Selfless, Cold, and Composed.” My closest friend would baffle me by being someone who listened to them when he was still in high school. I wonder if bands can do this anymore; are there albums that just blow up like that now, or is it all just singles and Gaga and BitTorrent on campuses now?
I'll always love this one. “Kate” will forever make me laugh about using the words “cake” or “Nate” instead; “Battle of Who Could Care Less” will always be catchy as hell; and this will always, always be one of the best albums ever to sing along to in the car. And that needs to be the barometer for more good albums: driving away, wind in your hair, friends singing along, who the hell cares where we are driving?
One album a day says it better in three words: "plonky piano pleasure"
Read part of a 1997 review of the album on my new "reviews from when they came out" tumblr