Chrisma: Chinese Restaurant (1977)
I have to thank the proprietors of Zamboni Soundtracks for turning me on to a lot of really up-my-alley stuff this year. This was one of those recordings the path towards the discovery of which Zamboni lit with their tireless, tasteful tune torch-bearing. According to that blog, this husband and wife duo was signed to Polydor Italy by Vangelis’ elder brother and recorded in Vangelis’ home studio in 1977 while the big “V” (this is a play on the fact that Vangelis is a diminutive form of Evangelos!) was out of town with the aid of Vangelis’ equipment and his usual studio engineer. Welcome to information.
Vangelis— he of Chariots of Fire and Bladerunner soundtracks fame— his last name is Papathanassiou. What the fuck hath God wrought?
Synthy and rhythmic music recorded between 1970 and 1983 is my favorite. Welcome to declarative statement.
I like Ms. Christina Moser’s cool assurances on track “Black Silk Stocking” that if you “Put your hand inside it she’ll show you where to find it,” and “When she is not talking be sure she wants some rocking.” I like a lady who knows what she wants and doesn’t make it confusing for the vendor. Those European girls. They’re so ideal.
Dillinger Four: Civil War (2008)
How is it that I haven’t written anything about this at any point until now? Ever since the first time I heard them— 1998’s Midwestern Songs of the Americas— Dillinger Four has always been my ideal image of what a punk band should be. Poppy but with that galloping punk drumbeat, pedagogical in that Stiff Little Fingers vein of “You think it’s like this, but really it’s like this” with the alternately angry/sad subtext: someone’s a fuckhead and/or exasperatingly dumb and everyone is going to suffer for it.
The band has put out 5 records in 10 years, 1 a year from ’98 to 2000, one is ’02, and then this triumphant return to form after a 6-year break in 2008. The songwriting and the music is possibly better than anything they have put out to date— the song structures are poppier and more complex than straight-ahead punk. The “Get a fucking grip on yourselves before we’re all fucked” message is flavored with a carpe diem wistfulness. As they beg the listener to learn the lessons life presents them, they return constantly to the theme of mortality- though they do not relent, there is the disappointed niggling suspicion that, as life stretches out further behind and the future is uncertain, nothing is getting any better.
Don’t confuse this wizened punk attitude with the endlessly self-perpetuating Jesus Christ pose of the martyr, however. As I have taken care to mention, they are unrelenting in the clarity of their message. Relentlessness is the optimism that denatures any trace of martyrdom in hopelessness. Relentlessness, not nihilism, is punk.
Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)
These guys have a schtick and a repeated lexicon that revolves around an idealized golden colonial past. They use words like “shelter” and “give thanks”, and “stonecutter”and praise a strong work ethos and a simple life of labor and benevolent patriarchy to the heavens. They worry in song about bandits. They thoughtfully soothe their “young bride”. It’s funny, but the music, as much of a put-on as it is, is still somehow a convincing illusion in spite of itself, a very effective piece of faux ’70s nostalgia that transports even the most hardened cynic. They’re also excellent musicians.
+/- Xs on Your Eyes (2008)
Quite the quiet tour de force. This was one that emerged at the end of 2008, that I know I listened to extensively, but for some reason didn’t include on either my nearly-were or best-of 2008 list. What kind of a jerk was I? Did I think I was keeping them all for myself? I saw them just this past year opening for the other act these Baluyut boys have been in since they were unplugged from the umbilical cord, Versus, and +/- were head and shoulders better than the band that spawned them. This album is some kind of apotheosis. With acts like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart infatuating the kiddies just long enough for those hipsters’ brain cells that were taking note of the act to die in an avalanche of tight clothes and cocaine, these ’90s veterans came out with the best overwrought and jangly ’90s record ever written. It was like an instructional seminar led by the hand of God, with the hand of God on drums, the hand of God on guitars, and the hand of God on vox. Slow-burning and long-playing. Kind of like the universe.
La Düsseldorf: Individuellos (1981)
Another gem from Zamboni Soundtracks. The rock scene in Düsseldorf in the ’70s and early ’80s was a big influence on David Bowie and Brian Eno, who, I’m sure I read somewhere once, would meet now and again back in the ’70s and exchange records, let each other know what they thought was “hip,” cat. (For some reason, my ideal imagining of these exchanges sees the two rock icons cast as beatniks.) I haven’t been able to turn up that reference, though I can find a few places (here’s one) where Mr. Eno extols the virtues of communal rock drawn from a wellspring of European tradition and ideological foment.
In the interview linked to above, Eno mentions that Klaus Dinger, drummer for Neu!, had seized on the “krautrock” beat as the stripped down essence of the quintessential rock beat. It doesn’t really change all that much from song to song, but it doesn’t need to. After parting ways with Michael Rother at the end of the Neu! project, Dinger formed La Düsseldorf and put out three records between 1976 and 1983. They scored a hit in Germany with the single “Rheinita” off second album Viva!. Find the record online and check out the cover art to see where Brian Eno cribbed the idea for Coldplay’s last album cover.
This 1981 release, with its loud keyboard lines, overt optimism, and its frequent reliance on pure atmospherics, is a departure from the first eponymous album and the second one, Viva!. Of the two projects that emerged from the Neu! schism, I had always considered Michael Rother’s Harmonia to be the fork in the road that led toward virtue, with La Düsseldorf a great band that had ALL the percussion but lacked the soul and innovation Harmonia seemed to have taken with it. The brightness and weirdness of Individuellos turns that map around, though.
Dinger passed away in September 2008, so we won’t have the anticipation of any rumored new Neu! revivals to sustain us on our bleak stretches, but we still have the seismic, hypnotic optimism of his catalog. In this respect, one of the only, we can be grateful the Internet never forgets.
Pedro the Lion: Control (2002)
The year was 2002, the ’90s were well over, and Pedro the Lion were soon never to be heard from again under that name. Louder, more distorted than Achilles Heel, here we have songs of disappointment and reward from a guy who can’t seem to be happy with anything. The title of the record says it all- these are all little stories of the situations from which people suck their lives as pulp from a fruit, those situations that wouldn’t exist but for their absolute control of their destinies.
The American Analog Set: Hard to Find (2009)
I was lucky to catch this excellent band on their farewell tour in 2005. The band had released 6 records between 1996 and 2005 after their formation in 1994, a ten year run of hypnotic and subtle rock often relating the travails and inner vicissitudes of youth and interpersonal relationships. The pretty and brutal honesty of the title track of the record, “Hard to Find”, gives me pause to hold back tears every time I so much as think of it. This is music moving in the steady time signature of life, not of the world-time productivity cyborgs we’ve all become.
We leave marks on each other. We’re not interchangeable. Stop. Remember that.
The Go-Betweens: Spring Hill Fair (1984)
My friend Chifumi introduced me to the Go-Betweens sometime between 2000 and 2002. I don’t know which record, I don’t remember which song. The Go-Betweens have a wistfulness tempered by cleverness, a poppy tone tempered by impossible time signatures. Theirs is the sound of a cleanly amplified guitar or an acoustic and a few real things to say.
I don’t have a lot to say about this record in particular. I love the track sampled here. I love “Love Goes On” from 16 Lovers Lane. I really like the entirety of Send Me a Lullaby, their first album from ’81. I like this record that I heard the first time this year by way of someone dear.
Part Chimp: I am Come (2005)
Loud. Explodingly loud. Thanks, Todd.
Sebastien Tellier: Sexuality (2008)
I went back and forth on this album, and then I couldn’t stop. Right over the top.
How Dare You: Comfort Road (2008)
It was Sunday morning and I was at 1982, a bar in Gainesville, FL, for the final day of The Fest ’08, three days of punk and PBR marketing. This band was a splash of Aqua Velva on my puffy skin, and it was good to revisit them again and again this past year.
The Loved Ones: Keep Your Heart (2005)
Power pop/pop punk done right. All right, all right.