(The Teriyaki Beef Steak Nuggets aren’t bad, though.)
When I was a kid in New Jersey, shopping for tapes at Wall-to-Wall Sound or Beaky’s at the Quaker Bridge Mall (judging by their eerily identical layouts, inventories, and employees, the two stores were owned by the same corporation), I often marveled at the extensive selection of albums by the band UFO: a good two feet of wall space devoted to what seemed a good dozen different records I’d never heard of, all of them with evocatively rockin’ titles like Force It and No Heavy Petting. Their spines were identically blue, de rigueur for any Chrysalis Records release (the tapes by Blondie, Jethro Tull, and Ten Years After were blue, too), and, even though they were sealed, they were all $3.99. And yet even $3.99 seemed too steep. Zeppelin, I would buy; Rush, absolutely; Aerosmith and AC/DC, surely, and clearly UFO churned out the same low-octane junk rock that I dug at the time. But there was something sad about those UFO tapes, a sense that whatever it was they were kicking, they were kicking it a little more desperately, and in decidedly smaller venues. They seemed to be the kind of thing my Greek cousin, who had posters of Rory Gallagher and Rainbow in his Athens bedroom, was into.
Twenty years later I’m on my knees, scrounging through the slush pile at the end of a summer day, and I come across Chrysalis’s new Best of UFO (1974–1983). Even now I’m not taking these guys seriously: I figure I’ll leave the CD on my coworker’s desk, and the next morning we’ll have a good chuckle about how lame UFO are. Dusting myself off, heading back toward the copy department, I run into the editor in chief.
“What’ve you got there, Will?” he asks pleasantly.
I choke when I’m around this man. I’ve had the chance to speak to him maybe four or five times in the last year and a half, and it’s limited to quips and witty rejoinders, neither my forte, and I always manage to sound like a dolt.
“Oh, just some UFO,” I say.
“UFO? Who the hell is that?”
For as long as I’ve worked here, I’ve wanted to write about music; here was my modest chance to impress the magazine’s top dog with all the junk I’ve been stuffing into my head all these years. Who knows—if I’m slick, maybe the vacant music-blogging spot could be mine, snatched from the expectant jaws of some editorial assistant ten years younger than me. I could’ve at least told him that UFO was a hard-rock band from the 1970s anchored by a dude named Michael Schenker. I knew that much. A decent bluff.
I laugh dismissively. “I have no idea,” I say, by which I hope to imply, I’m way too cool to know about this crap. He laughs, too, and walks away. I stand there, alone, next to the coffee maker, holding my free copy of The Best of UFO. Conversation squashed for a cheap laugh. I should’ve known that my shitty attitude toward UFO would one day come back to haunt me.
My mother doesn’t really watch TV anymore; instead, every night she plays hand after hand of Bridge Baron on an ancient laptop, with satellite channel 6030—the godforsaken Sirius Coffee House—in the background. There’s a lot of Jakob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Josh Jakobs, Dylan Richter. You know, pantyboys singing damply through their panties. One night I could stand no more and showed her that there were other satellite radio stations out there, too: Left of Center, The Vault, the all-Bruce one, and so on. After an extensive, hot-air-filled lesson on how to operate the remote, I left her listening to some Springsteen show from ’93.
When I came back half an hour later, she was still sitting there under her blanket, tapping away at Bridge Baron, only now she was rocking out to the most propulsively smokin’ jam the four walls of my family’s TV room had ever witnessed; wedged between ultratight-trouser vocals and 120 hammering beats per minute, there was a totally sick riff splintering, melting, then miraculously reconstituting itself at what must have been at least the six-minute mark. I think you know where this is going.
My mom had found Sirius BuzzSaw: Classic Hard Rock. And she was diggin’ herself some “Rock Bottom” by UFO. And, I’ll be damned, I was too.
The Cool Kids
The Bake Sale ( XL, 2008 )
Unslushed because: Cool artwork.
Factors not initially considered: It’s a rap album. A very popular rap album, in fact. I don’t know, I guess I thought it’d be bratty pop or something.
Upon further review: The Cool Kids don’t take themselves too seriously, offering rhymes in the following vein (from “A Little Bit Cooler”) :
So I’m sittin’ on the couch, holdin’ the remote, flippin’ channels, I’m a rebel
Eatin’ a bowl of them Fruity Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles, Fruity Pebbles
How gangsta is that? Not gangsta at all
Aw, you judgin’ me, dogg? Please, you shop at the mall
Self-deprecating (their publishing company is called I’m From The Burbs), sometimes funny, but hardly hilarious. The problem is that the beats are super-spare, ideal as a contrast to dramatic storytelling but drop-dead boring if the words are about day-to-day banality. If this is the aural equivalent of driving around the neighborhood all night with absolutely nothing to do, it’s definitely not the soundtrack to it: On nights like that, you’d probably want to pump something that reminds you you’re alive.
1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
by Tom Moon ( Workman, $19.95 )
Today we have a book, which is a Slush City first regardless of what’s been said in our various business proposals. But it’s not, like, a real book. Rather, it’s the kind of book I like best: a thousand-page list of essential albums, in this case “a listener’s life list” that’s part of the 1,000 Before You Die™ series. I wonder what else I can only have a thousand of before I bite it.
If you’re a serially specialized music fan, there’s no way this book is going to satisfy. Its emphasis is on the well-rounded collection, a thousand titles across every genre. I can only imagine the snorts of derision that, for instance, even intermediate classical fans would direct toward the superficial selections here; obviously, you could have 1,000 transcendent classical albums alone. Well, I can kind of imagine the snorts of derision, because I emitted a few for some of the rock choices: Mother Love Bone? Ritual de lo Habitual? Dig Your Own Hole by the Chemical Brothers? Dust by the Screaming Trees, which isn’t even their best record anyway?
Ah, but that’s not the point. I derived a little meaningless validation by finding some of my favorites (Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating in Space; Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain) and yawned along with the usual sacred cows (Astral Weeks, The Ramones, Exile on Main Street…why not St. Dominic’s Preview, Road to Ruin, Let It Bleed?), but when I really pored through the book, I was also able to put together a nice wish list of genres I’m not too familiar with, especially world music, which this book handles well.
After the jump, the 41 recordings I hope to hear (although ideally I’ll get to do some other stuff too) before I die.
Strange Symmetry EP ( Suicide Squeeze, 2008 )
Unslushed because: The lyrics looked kind of cool: I liked “Take me to the bank, I’ve gotta beg for a loan/A three-year lease with the option to buy a brand-new skull.”
Factors not initially considered: The glum overall financial outlook has led me, on the one hand, to wonder whether any of this stupid crap matters. But on the other hand, it has created, unquestionably, a new mood—and unfamiliar moods are best explored and amplified by good music.
On further review: Music can illuminate confusion. Barring that, music can take something boring and make it confusing: At least confusion is more interesting than boredom. Past Lives takes the latter road here, plowing through five songs that feel like twenty. And if it’s also the marginally lower road, it’s pretty great if you feel like screaming. Over a frantically racing, sometimes grinding transmission, the band buttresses its angular, shouted art punk with some surprising hooks—the lyric above, from “Skull Lender,” is a great little bridge—and flourishes (Waitsian marimba chug on “Beyond Gone,” groove mekanik on “Chrome Life”). Whether I actually like it is beside the point: If I don’t like the way I’m feeling right now, Past Lives are all too happy to up the uncertainty. I guess that’s comforting in its own way.
This thing, which sort of looks like a snowshoe, or maybe a dog sled for chihuahuas, has been in the slush cabinet for more than a year now, awkwardly butting against the pile of CDs and occasionally, to my frustration, sending them scattering. I had really come to hate it, not that I knew what it was. But the other day, in the great 2008 spirit of understanding our enemies so that we may one day love them, I hauled it out and gave it a little attention. (A diagram explaining how to use it is helpfully woven into its straps.) And damned if it didn’t feel pretty good to stretch out those pitifully coiled hammies of mine! Better still, I mentioned it to my squirrelfriend, who can run for freaking ever, and she was all, “Hell yeah! Bring that thing home!”
My hope is that we may see redsquirrel’s more thorough product review in the comments section sometime soon.
At first I thought they were coasters. (Although, generally speaking, anything can be a coaster.)
But the Glass Gripper literature kept entreating, “PROTECT YOUR PIECE!” And by “piece,” they didn’t mean my coffee table.
They meant 420 party implements! Or “meditation accessories,” if you prefer. The literature continues:
I designed this product after breaking and chipping many of my glass pieces on tables and counter tops….Once applied you can really hear and feel the difference, there is no more clinking noise when you place your piece down, and no chance of breaking or chipping it.
And I do hope that the font comes through. The “you can really hear and feel the difference” line is my favorite. It reminds me of how awed my friends and I would be, in our more carefree days, by similar innovations we came up with: the Grolsch-bottlecap “cigarette clip,” for instance, or SureGrip, the Bic lighter with red, yellow, and green rubber bands carefully wrapped around it. “Toss me SureGrip,” you’d say, and seriously, someone could hurl it from across the room, but YOU WOULD CATCH IT because of the proprietary “gripping” technology we had installed.
Only two bucks for each adhesive-backed piece of foam. Eight bucks buys you a sixer. Note: Item not necessary if you don’t plan on ever putting the piece down.
I got this via file sharing, not slush, but I felt like transcribing it here. This speech starts around the 5:30 mark. As you read, imagine the band in the background, endlessly vamping the two chords of “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Springsteen is all right, by the way. He gets my seal of approval—I think he’s groovy. You notice the way the critics turned on him, like, after they were on him, right? When he needed them, they weren’t there. Critics. What does Robert Christgau do in bed? You know, is he a toe-fucker? Man, anal-retentive—The Consumer’s Guide to Rock? What a moron! A Consumer’s Guide to Rock, man! I object to the fucking liner notes. Start studying rock ‘n’ roll? I can’t believe it. “Baroque Rock: A Study by Robert Christgau.” John Rockwell, man. Wow! You know how heavy it is to get reviewed by Rockwell, and he says you’re intelligent? Fuck you! I don’t need you to tell me that I’m good. “Mr. Reed.” You know, you say, “Oh, man, I’m in The New York Times, it said ‘Mr. Reed.’” Fuck you! Your doorman wouldn’t kiss my ass, man, I don’t give a jackal. He, right, he studies at Harvard, right—monologue—but dig this, man, opera! A fucking opera guy, man! And that’s the critic for The New York Times that makes and breaks the best rock bands that are very heavy and intelligent. Notice there are no colored rock groups? Certainly not in The New York Times with John Roberts [sic]—he wouldn’t go there, man, he comes to CBGB’s with an armed guard: “Don’t touch me, man.” And he’s a big dude. Somebody should say, “John, don’t be afraid.” And Christgau is like an anal-retentive. Nice little boxes. “B-plus.” Can you imagine working for a fucking year and you got a B-plus from an asshole in The Village Voice? And you don’t gotta take this shit. You don’t have to talk to the fucking journalists, man. And they get in for free, and the best seats, in case you’re interested—and there’s no way we can do anything about it. The club owners want the good review. So you get the asshole right up front, looking bored. He’s going, “When is this shit over, Marty? You got some coke?” Oh, boy. Anyway. I know you’re not interested in my problems: Neither am I….
Bottle Up and Go
These Bones EP ( Kill Normal, 2008 )
Unslushed because: Connecticut band. I’m always curious what it takes to rock Connecticut.
Factors not initially considered: They thank Yale, but after five tracks of picturing them as moonlighting philosophy majors, I realized they meant their producer Yale Yng-Wong, not Boola Boola Eli Eli.
On further review: Two-piece cockroach-rock outfit featuring overdriven guitar, hyperactive, occasionally off-the-rails drums, and in-the-red vocal yelping. Like Pussy Galore, this is the kind of retro-roots music that revels in sounding like dirt, and you might revel in it yourself, too, given the right mood. Music to get thrown out of a bar to.
Tim O’Reagan ( Lost Highway, 2006 )
Unslushed because: The name sounded familiar, and Lost Highway is usually a safe bet. My mom likes most of their stuff, too. That’s not a dig on Lost Highway: My mom’s a cool lady.
Factors not initially considered: This album came out two years ago. My mom might already have it.
On further review: A solid solo debut from former Jayhawk drummer Tim O’Reagan, who joined those jangly Minneapolitian harmonizers just after 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. Here, you’d expect music in the same honey-voiced vein, and for the first few tracks—the harmonium-introduced “These Things,” the strum-and-harmonica “Black & Blue”—you’d be right. But underneath the burdensome alt-country mantle, the Jayhawks were also highly effective pop writers: hooks, bridges, perfect choruses with perfect vocal arrangements. As this album progresses, we hear O’Reagan channel the Beatles, especially George Harrison, on songs like “River Bends” and “Girl/World.” Things get a little blurry toward the end, one song sounding a little bit like the one before it, and yes, perhaps it’s true that there’s more exciting music out there than the two-year-old debut from the Jayhawks’ nonfounding drummer. But if one of O’Reagan’s songs comes up on shuffle, you might be surprised at what a little gem it is.