Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Canon #3

The Pixies - "Debaser"

This is the song that made me want to start this column. One night at a bar, I had an intense discussion with my friend, Josh, concerning "perfect album openers." Once we both agreed upon "Debaser" as one of the great "album openers," the conversation quickly transformed into drunken praise about how perfect this song is period. Hell, I could write an essay on why The Pixies were a perfect band. I'm talking about the fact that you can play "Debaser" on repeat ten times in row after being familiar with it for ten years and it still sounds fucking unbelievable. I can't imagine my life without that bassline, that forever-bouyant riff, and the joyous declaration of "I wanna grow up to be a debaser!" I don't know what the hell a debaser is, but I wanna be one too. The Pixies had an uncanny ability to be simultaneously abrasive and superbly melodic. On "Debaser," their melodic nature seems bent on overthrowing their abrasive, weird side, but, you still couldn't call them a "pop" band.

At some point, "Debaser" (and The Pixies as a whole) ceased to be just a song I loved and became part of my being. You can call me nostalgic and hyperbolic, but, I could care less. Judging from the crowds at the recent Pixies reunion tour, I seriously doubt I'm the only fan who would make such bold and ridiculous statements. I saw them play twice on their 2004 reunion tour, and, I could have almost cried I was in such ecstacy. At the first show, I stood about ten feet from Joey Santiago's Marshall stack and I couldn't hear out of my left ear for two days. It was one of the best days of my life.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Katie Did It! Katie Did it!

Animal Collective - Live at the Bowery Ballroom (3/25/06): This was my second time seeing Animal Collective. By the second song, it was readily apparent that this band's live show had become even tighter and more feral in the year since I first saw them. I'm not sure I can properly articulate the experience of seeing Animal Collective live - the AC you see live is not the AC that you hear on record. Sure, all the trademark idiosyncrasies are there - the ethereal glissandos and echo-drenched guitars, the pounding tribal percussion, the childlike chanting/shouting, and ambient found-sound samples. They're all just presented louder and more gnarled. I think I can speak for the entire crowd that night when I say that AC's sound just consumes your senses, envelopes you like a womb, and makes your body convulse like a raver mad-high on E. Seriously, the bowery ballroom felt like an exorcism that night - it was intense and beautiful. There was not an "arms-crossed, standstill" in my sight - just nodding heads, contorting spines, and twitching legs.

The setlist was evenly split between new songs and old songs. The new songs played definitely continue in the vein of Feels and some of them seemed to employ more percussion and electronics. Then again, it was such a tidal rush that it was hard to tell which instruments were making which sounds. However, one new song, "Peace Bone," featured only Panda Bear on drums and The Geologist on his electronic-gizmos/laptop while Avey Tare and Deakin chanted in unison. It was jubilant and brilliant. The old songs played were Flesh Canoe, Grass, Purple Bottle, Banshee Beat, and We Tigers (which was beautifully segued into from Peace Bone).

To make the night more celebratory, it was the last night of the tour as well as The Geologist's birthday. For the occasion, there was a birthday cake brought out by his girlfriend and the entire crowd sang him "Happy Birthday" (he was bashful and grateful). After the brief B-day break, the band launched into a barn-storming version of "The Purple Bottle." It was utterly captivating and ended the night on a perfect note.

*I also want to note that this was my first concert since moving to NYC; and I can't even express how much more pleasurable it is seeing a show without being engulfed in a cloud of smoke.*

Monday, March 27, 2006

Here's a "My Obscure Favorite Album" trump card... You're Welcome

In the summer of 1974 a desperate and drug addled Alex Chilton crawled into Memphis’ Ardent Studios to create one of the most harrowing and avant masterpieces in rock history. Much like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, Big Star’s Sister Lovers evokes the spirit, imagery, and expressionism of the 1920’s surrealist movement.
After the release of the Chilton controlled Radio City, Big Star founder Chris Bell left the band and began recording as a solo artist. Before Bell's untimely death in 1978, he managed to record an albums worth of material that was posthumously released entitled I Am The Cosmos. However, he made no contribution to Sister Lovers.
Thus, with the exception of drummer Jody Stephens (who takes over lead vocals on the sublime “For You”) and producer/multi instrumentalist Jim Atkinson, Sister Lovers is basically an Alex Chilton solo album
1974 found Chilton battling with severe clinical depression and overwhelmed with frustration due to Big Star’s lack of success and recognition. Moreover, after being screwed over and misled time and time again, Chilton harbored an extreme distrust of the recording industry in general.
So, what did he do? He created pop music’s spookiest, most depressing, and strangest album during a time when Olivia Newton John and the Bay City Rollers were ruling the pop charts. Even now in 2006 Sister Lovers feels contemporary in a way that other “ahead of their time albums” like Velvet Underground and Nico and Pet Sounds do not.
Do to its perceived lack of commercial appeal; Sister Lovers was shelved until 1978 when it was released in England. It wasn’t until 1992 that Sister Lovers obtained a nationwide US release. And the music…. Oh the music! Sister Lovers’ orchestral flourishes, sardonic lyrics, droning electric guitars, walls of distortion, erratic acoustic strumming, and touches of world percussion foreshadow everything from Joy Division to shoegazer and My Bloody Valentine to the more recent “freak folk movement”
Sister Lovers is perhaps the most underrated and influential piece of American pop/rock music. Truly essential.