Thursday, April 23, 2009

Album Review: Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career
Rating: If after listening to this you still have testicles, you're doing okay.

Now that the phenomenon of internet music discovery has been well established, I recall that years ago I fortuitously came upon Camera Obscura in just that manner while perusing the bands listed on the Concrete’s site. But I bought My Maudlin Career at Permanent Records in Chicago on none other than Record Store Day, so a little “In your face!” to the digital music hand that fed me.

I consider Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of this Country as an album that was part of a personal revival in my interest in the rock scene a few years back. It came alongside my discovery of other fantastically wimpy rock bands like Belle & Sebastian and Rilo Kiley. I fell hard for their poppy, sappy sound and their penchant for melodrama. After completely overdosing on it for months, I stashed it away for years and once again have been listening to it recently when I heard that My Maudlin Career was forthcoming. I’ve decided that it has staying power and thus made me excited for their next release.

The album opens with a catchy and arguably their best number, “French Navy.” The next track flows nicely into the dreamy “The Sweetest Thing” that starts with back-up singers woo-woo-wooing and tambourines shaking. It makes you want to don a polyester, flowery 1960’s dress and take your sweetheart for a moonlit walk. Funny how music can whisk you away to a time and place you’ve never been to. A light country rhythm and slide guitar accompanies “Away with Murder” and closes with a melancholy violin. We get a mid-album break with “James,” a meditational, heartbreaker of a song. It definitely has a whiff of Belle & Sebastian. I was a bit disappointed with the closing track, “Honey in the Sun” because I think it was too reminiscent of “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” from the previously mentioned Let's Get Out of This Country. It did not give My Maudlin Career the epic, sweeping closure that “Razzle Dazzle Rose” gave Let’s Get Out of This Country. This may be a bit nit-picky, but I felt the closer should have been “My Maudlin Career” for it being the title track and its echoy grandeur. Camera Obscura has once again nailed down the art of retro pop and it can be delivered to you in a beautiful watercolor album cover should you choose to go non-digital.

But above all what stands out in My Maudlin Career is Campbell’s vocal styling, the band’s true piece de resistance. Campbell’s steely, paucity of expression belies her church-like voice. It’s fragile and also very soothing. In concert she sings like a reluctant member of a choir, and only shows occasional hints of anguish that indicate she actually is feeling something. It’s quite refreshing given the multitudes of stage acts out there that often detract from musicianship.

After listening to My Maudlin Career ad nauseum, I notice I keep on reaching for the heavy handed bluesy rock of the Black Keys. You do run the risk of getting oversaturated with the girliness of Camera Obscura. So this review is a caveat for all the manly men out there. I have yet to meet a man who offered up that he likes Camera Obscura. So while you might not buy into this music all that much, at least you can woo your next rock babe at your nearest dive with this material.

Shaping today’s rock music landscape you have at one end the cataclysmic, experimental jangle of Animal Collective and the introspective poetry of Elvis Perkins at another. On some vastly different part of the spectrum lies Camera Obscura with their simple formula: one lead singer/songwriter performs structured songs with a tame band. This Scottish band plays nothing up with that classic reserved, across-the-pond attitude. But if you strip away all the existential shit that we often tie to a band’s worth and just listen to this bittersweet orchestral pop, it’s really quite enjoyable.

--Audrey Wen

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Walkmen--Webster Hall, New York City

Up until last year, the Walkmen were a band that I just kind of liked. I thought their first two albums were pretty good and don't think I ever listened to their third (the one with the horns) or fourth (that Pussy Cats covers album). The only time I sort of saw them live was at the 2006 Pitchfork Festival, where I paid about a quarter of my attention to their set while waiting for (I think) the Futureheads to play on the other stage all the way across the park. The Walkmen have played many shows in New York since I moved here later that year, but I never felt like I had to see them.

That all changed with You & Me, by far my favorite album of last year and one that I consider to be pretty close to a masterpiece. It's rare that I have the chance to see a band play in support of an album I love so much. I think that's because my favorite albums are growers, and I never fully appreciate them until whatever tour supporting them is through. So when I saw that the Walkmen were headlining a one-off show at Webster Hall in NY before their tour with Kings of Leon so soon after the release of You & Me but after the initial tour in support of it, I immediately bought a ticket.

I went to the show straight from work and was wearing a suit, which felt strange. I thought about leaving the jacket part of the suit at work, but realized that I needed to use its many pockets for my chattel, so I was one of those guys at a concert in a suit. When some other dude walked past me also wearing a suit while I was ordering a drink, we exchanged looks like "we both suck, but whatever." Suit solidarity, bitches. Anyway, I downed a few $8 Stellas and found a good standing spot to wear a suit and watch the openers. The first band to play was Brooklyn's the Antlers, a pretty standard three piece if you replace a bassist with a keyboardist. Their first song was an instrumental dirge that immediately put me off because I hate those bands that just go on stage and fight the audience with noise and feedback (see Black Dice). But after that first misstep, they emerged with a short set of very solid songs that the crowd seemed to enjoy. Next up was the critically adored Beach House, who are clearly very good, but also very boring. One of my friends described them as like Grizzly Bear (another very good, very boring band), but with a chick. That's just about right.

The Walkmen came on at around 10:15 and opened with a song I'd never heard before, which means it was either a new or one from album three or four. There was whistling in it. After that first number, lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, dressed in some sort of Member's Only looking jacket, explained to the crowd that it was the first time in a while that the band had played together and that they were going to play some new stuff. After noting that the next song was not one of the new ones, the familiar opening of "The Rat" put everyone on notice that, rust be damned, the Walkmen came to play. A quick word about "The Rat." Holy shit, that song is so good that I can't even think of what to say about it to do it justice. Apologies to "Hey Ya!" and others that I can't think of now, but "The Rat" is the best song of the oughts. If any band ever made a song as good as "The Rat" and did nothing else for their entire career, it would have been a successful career.

The rest of the setlist was really good. They played "Louisiana," "On the Water," "I lost You," and a lot of other tracks from You & Me. The first set closed with "In the New Year," which sounds better live than on record. The band returned for an encore of "Donde Esta La Playa" and an understated and gorgeous "New Country."

The Walkmen have great stage presence and put on a very, very good show. Leithauser is clearly the focus as he cuts an imposing figure on stage and has a perfect leaning-back-and-belting-it-out rock stance. The great thing about the stance is that its not an act - I think he actually needs to lean back to physically get some of those screams out. It's fun to watch - looks like he really tries. I bet he looks the same singing in a studio. The other star is drummer Matt Barrick. I always thought the drumming on the band's studio output was above average, but seeing this guy play live is something else. He is unbelievable. He can deliver driving, rolling beats ("The Rat") but can also be precise and improvisational (basically all of You & Me). I think he's the reason why You & Me reminds me in many ways of a jazz album. The greatest compliment I can bestow on any drummer is to compare them to Can's keystone Jaki Leibezeit. On You & Me, Barrick does just that.

About four or five songs into the show, Leithauser told everyone that he had turned 31 the day before (tax day) before the band broke into a very sweet, very light version of their first hit "We've Been Had". Standing there thinking about how this guy on stage turned thirty the same year I did helped me realize why I love You & Me so much: with that album, the Walkmen absolutely nail turning-thirty-angst. You & Me is filled with regret and hope (almost entirely summed up in "I Lost You" and "In the New Year"), which are precisely the same emotions I felt last October. This concert served to confirm that the Walkmen have made their masterpiece. I think the reason why it's not universally realized as such is because you have to be a little older to fully appreciate it.

--Jim Powers

Photo by Jim Powers

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wilco--The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Two nights ago (I'm admittedly under-motivated), Wilco kicked off their string of spring and summer tour dates with the first of two shows at the Pabst Theater in my home city of Milwaukee. It was their first show as a band of 2009.

And, despite frontman Jeff Tweedy admitting they had “spent a lot of time not practicing,” in the weeks leading up to the show, I don't believe there could have been a single person in the audience that left without loving Wilco at least a little bit more.

After a burrito and a chilly spring bike ride to the downtown venue, I settled in to my plush seat within a few songs of the start of the opening band, A Hawk and a Hacksaw. If you are unfamiliar (I was), the band is fronted by Neutral Milk Hotel's former drummer Jeremy Barnes, and has previously toured with Beirut and Olivia Tremor Control. From what I can gather, the group's lineup varies, but consistently features Barnes and a female violinist.

On this particular Tuesday night four people took the stage. Barnes stood at the far left, playing his accordion, using some kind of small, extremely narrow kick drum with tambourines attached to the top for percussion, singing for one or two songs, and talking to the crowd when appropriate. On stage in a straight line next to him stood the violinist, a trumpet player, and a baritone player.

Their songs were interesting and arguably unconventional, though they clearly channel styles that are hundreds of years old. I found them to be somewhat reminiscent of the Decemberists and Milwaukee favorite the Scarring Party. Something tells me they were not quite what most of the crowd was expecting.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed their sound, especially when coupled with the classically beautiful atmosphere of the Pabst. Barnes, like most performers I've seen at the Pabst, took a moment to declare his admiration for the theater, but received some negative feedback in the form of boos when he chose to state his opinion regarding the low quality of the beer.

If you've never been to the Pabst Theater, I highly recommend seeing a show there if you ever get the chance. It's a favorite venue of most Milwaukeeans, and the Pabst Theater Group (which operates two other venues) consistently does a good job bringing worthwhile shows to town. The Pabst was rebuilt after a fire in the 1890s, reopening 1895. It is a Wisconsin state historical site and national historical landmark. It was built in the style of a German opera house and features two large balconies above the main floor, gold painted molding, and a two ton crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Not only is the theater gorgeous, but its acoustics are better than most.

Tickets to both nights of the show sold out in a flash. I bought my ticket within minutes of the start of the pre-sale, and still wound up all the way to the left side of the stage in row Q. Presumably, everybody in the audience really wanted to be there. By the performance they gave, I believe Wilco did, too.

When Wilco finally took the stage, they went almost immediately into “Wilco the Song.” It took them a few songs to warm up to the excited, confident, well-woven way they would play most of their set, and this portion of the show felt to me like I was on an awkward first date with Wilco and the entire audience—nervous, not sure quite what to expect, but hoping for something great.

It was already during this first song that I discovered that the man standing next to me apparently believed himself to be Jeff Tweedy. I opted not to drink at Wilco (despite a 16 oz. Pabst costing a mere $3-ha, Alex), and my sobriety proved it difficult for me to ignore this man's awful and mostly inappropriate singing.

That aside, it wasn't long before I realized I was going to get more than I expected. During the second song, “Hummingbird,” Jeff Tweedy treated us to a little running man. After the third song, “At Least That's What You Said,” I began to notice how almost all members of the band were frequently changing instruments. And, during the fourth song, “Muzzle of Bees,” I noticed how their transitions between parts of songs left me wonderfully stricken.

I also noticed that just a few songs in, Wilco was rocking songs like most bands only rock their last of the night.

The band played a trio of songs off Yankee Hotel Foxtrot before Jeff Tweedy finally addressed the audience and delighted us all with his unassuming and amusing conversation. He had the privilege of throwing the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers' game the night before, and two of the band members ran in the sausage race that takes place on field during the seventh inning stretch at all Brewers' home games. Later in the night, Tweedy noted that his clothes smelled something like “mostaccioli schnapps” from the night before, and that he “didn't think it was fair that the chorizo had to run with a sombrero on.”

Tweedy also talked a little bit about the band's upcoming album, informing us that it was as yet unnamed, but they were leaning toward Hemispheres. He asked if anyone wanted to appear on the cover of the new album naked, because “none of us will do it”. He was kidding, of course, but he later invited the audience to line up outside the theater before the next day's show for pictures that will appear in the liner for the upcoming album.

After that it was right back to the rocking. Despite being somewhat desensitized to “Jesus, Etc.” because I've listened to it about a thousand times, I had goosebumps throughout it. Crowd favorite, “Handshake Drugs,” and one of my favorites, “A Shot in the Arm,” ended the official set.

But, obviously, we hungry Wilco fans were not letting them off that easily. When the band came back for their first of two encores, Jeff Tweedy was sporting a Brewers hat that incited the Chicagoans (there were many) in the audience to boo. To this, Tweedy pleaded, “Can't we all just get along?

The first encore was five songs, including, to my delight, “Theologians,” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.” I was impressed by the energy and skill that had gone into each and every song up to this point and the quality encore the band gave.

After a five song encore, I doubted there would be a second. But the audience spoke, and after quite a few minutes of energetic cheering and clapping, the band reappeared for a four-song second encore.

By the end of this encore, the band and audience both seemed to be in a state of satisfied exhaustion. The night ended with a lengthy and crowd-involved performance of “Kingpin,” where Tweedy subbed “Wisconsin” for “Pekin.”

By the end of the show I was in need of a smoke, so I quickly shuffled out the emergency exit that an usher had opened on the side of the theater. I stood on the sidewalk, relatively alone, checking my voicemail and enjoying my cigarette before starting the long bike ride home. It was during this time that I got to see Jeff Tweedy run from another exit of the theater to his tour bus, which was parked right in front of me.

After Tuesday night's show, I really wished I had bought a ticket for Wednesday night.

--Jackelyn C. Wicklund

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Neko Case--9:30 Club, Washington, DC

The 9:30 Club was in high spirits last Thursday. NPR was in the house to cover Neko Case’s second and last soldout show at the venue. And so was NQL. (I don’t know how NPR hits the town, but I took mass transit from Adams Morgan, and let me tell you this, the characters aboard the 92 bus would give even those rascals back in Chicago that ride the red line deep into the night the Willies.) It was a classic contrast of styles. NPR often does live recordings of shows at the 9:30 Club to rebroadcast on their respected All Songs Considered program. NQL often attends live shows and complains about the price of beer.

I arrived just before the opening act and ordered a quick Budweiser which cost an unconscionable $6. I had no idea who was opening but I knew it wasn’t Will Sheff of Okkervil River because I would have remembered that. Imagine my surprise when Will Sheff entered stage right to modest applause. (I believe he was a fill-in for the original opening act, Crooked Fingers, who had to cancel.) Sheff played mostly new material, save for a great version of “Just Give Me Time” from Okkervil River’s Sleep And Wake-Up Songs EP. Everything else, other than Black Sheep Boy’s “A Stone,” came from their last two albums. Only about one-third of the audience seemed enthused, everyone else was chatting it up while waiting for the headliner. Sheff's songs sound better with his band than when performed solo, which says nothing other than the fact that the band that he fronts is amazing. Nevertheless, unexpectedly seeing one of my favorite songwriters perform a quick opening set for Neko Case is a pretty good deal. And I didn’t even have to go to Best Buy to purchase my ticket!

Neko Case took an annoying 45 minutes before hitting the stage with her fantastic band. She immediately apologized for wearing the same shirt from the night before. This is noteworthy because it reminded me of a time when I was debating with a few friends whether Neko Case is attractive. Keep in mind, this is a really stupid thing to even argue because she’s clearly very attractive. But one of my friends stated, “I don’t know, she just looks like the type of person who would have really bad body odor.” At the time, the statement was without merit and completely hilarious. Now, it might just be completely hilarious.

They opened with “Maybe Sparrow” from 2006’s triumphant Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Great song from an even better album. (Audrey Wen is going to rue the day she decided to bring Furnace Room Lullaby to the deserted island instead of Fox Confessor...) Some slight sounds problems were present at the beginning, but they were gone once we were three or four songs deep.

Not long after the sound improved, some guy yelled “Don’t Fear the Reaper!” I don’t know who the guy was, but he should probably refund a fraction of my ticket cost. For the rest of the show, Case spent a couple of minutes between songs talking about the “Reaper.” Not the song, the actual Reaper. She talked about making out with the Reaper, breaking up with the Reaper, getting back together with the Reaper, doing who-knows-what with the Reaper. If it sounds confusing and stupid, it’s not because you had to be there. It felt that way to me, too. I urge everyone to listen to the concert at NPR’s All Songs Considered just so you can see I am not exaggerating. She name-dropped the Reaper about 75 times. Is there an inside joke about the Reaper that I am not aware of? And if there is, everyone else must have been in on it. Case seems to have the uncanny ability to make everyone in her audience laugh any time she says anything into the microphone.

I probably shouldn’t be complaining. I have seen Case in concert before and know that the on-stage banter comes with the price of the ticket. She’s an engaging personality, but you start to get the idea that it would suck sitting next to her on an airplane. You’re trying to read a book; she’s trying to talk to you (not to mention the body odor).

In between talking about the Reaper, they decided to play some songs. The title track from her latest effort, Middle Cyclone, stood out splendidly. Same with “Margaret Vs. Pauline” from Fox Confessor. But the highlight from where I was standing was “The Tigers Have Spoken,” because it’s a great song, and the video screen behind the band had some interesting shots of a tiger roaming around and just looking cool. It’s rare that I’ll watch a video screen instead of the persons in front of the screen performing the music, but that’s what I did. I believe before the song she mentioned that it was dedicated to the Defenders of Wildlife. But it may have been after the song, I don’t really remember because I was thinking about the Neko Case live album The Tigers Have Spoken, and how before the second track Case states, “This is a Buffy Sainte-Marie song,” in a sort of southern drawl that would make even Loretta Lynn blush. So, during her between song banter, I started trying to figure out if this was some sort of pose, or if she really talks like that. I don’t think she does, but my analysis was interrupted when, for some reason, Case yelled “We’re living on the Edge,” into the microphone, reminiscing the old Aerosmith song. This made me laugh, even though I had no idea what the context was. But I started to think about Aerosmith, mostly Aerosmith’s legacy. I can’t help but wonder how I would feel about them as a band had I been born ten years earlier.

This is how I recommend taking in a Neko Case show. Listen to the songs, but while she’s talking about the Reaper, just let your mind wander. After they played “The Tigers Have Spoken,” I started thinking about Tiger Cubs and whether that was as far as I got, or if I ever attained the title of Cub Scout. This soon took a backseat to regretting the fact that I wasn’t positioned in the balcony or sitting down. I was close to the stage, but was starting to get a sore back and neck that comes from standing in the same place for two hours with your head slightly tilted back. I’m convinced this is why every music reviewer past the age of 40 has awful posture.

Neko Case and Co. wrestled away my attention from Steven Tyler and the Pinewood Derby when they played the Harry Nillson cover “Don’t Forget Me,” which is also from Middle Cyclone. It sounded just as soothing and well orchestrated as it does on the album. Soon after, even though the show wasn’t over, I left because I had work the next day and I am lame. I can’t help but wonder if I would have left early had I been born ten years later.

Probably not. But in the end, it doesn't matter, I had heard enough and was ready to go. And I wasn't the only one. The Reaper was on the 92 bus back home.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums: The Final List

This is the finale. After an enduring selection and weeding out process, combined with a very scientific poll (results are to your right, I voted four times), we present NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums. If you have not been following along, and want to know how we arrived here, I urge you to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. When we first embarked on this journey, we had no idea we would be filling such a huge void left by the now-defunct Blender Magazine when it comes to mindless music lists, but we couldn't be happier to do so. Although the first three parts were divided into each contributor's selections and deletions, we now stand as one. And with that spirit, we present the top 50 deserted island albums:

Abbey Road by The Beatles
Ænima by Tool
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
At Dawn by My Morning Jacket
Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones
Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River
Chairs Missing by Wire
Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins
Closer by Joy Division
Clouds Taste Metallic by The Flaming Lips
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
Doolittle by Pixies
Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen
Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Furnace Room Lullaby by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends
The Futureheads by The Futureheads
Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams
Here Come the Warm Jets by Brian Eno
Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
I See a Darkness by Bonnie "Prince" Billy
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
Kid A by Radiohead
Kill the Moonlight by Spoon
Laughing Stock by Talk Talk
London Calling by The Clash
Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse
Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths
The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
Maggot Brain by Funkadelic
Mclusky Do Dallas by Mclusky
The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit
Off the Wall by Michael Jackson
OK Computer by Radiohead
On Fire by Galaxie 500
Perfect From Now On by Built to Spill
Rabbit Songs by Hem
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie
Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins
Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
Stankonia by Outkast
Stop Making Sense (expanded edition) by Talking Heads
Sung Tongs by Animal Collective
Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits
Tago Mago by Can
Tidal by Fiona Apple
Tim by The Replacements
Weezer (the blue album) by Weezer
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
You & Me by The Walkmen

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Mountain Goats--Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana

Monday night I saw The Tallest Man on Earth, John Vanderslice, and the Mountain Goats. It was tight.

We missed most of The Tallest Man on Earth, which sucked (since when do concerts start on time?), but the three songs we caught were great. He voice is strong and clear, but I learned that The Tallest Man on Earth is most certainly not: he's tiny, as high as my shoulder, so 5'5" maybe 5'7" which I guess is "average" but it's relative because I'm huge.

John Vanderslice. I wasn't expecting much out of John Vanderslice because I'm not that familiar with him (although he did play "Trance Manual," from his album Pixel Revolt, which I haven't listened to since roundabout '06, and which is one of two songs of his I possibly would've ever recognized), but he was fantastic. Good songs, funny stories, generous stage persona. A nerd king among nerds, Vanderslizzle accomplished the astonishing: he made me want to listen to more of his music. And I gather that Vizzleslizzle is decently popular--a goodly number of the audience were singing/mouthing along with his songs.

Now the Mountain Goats, my reason for going. Stunning, courageous, engaging, confident, and hilarious are just a small number of ways in which I might encapsulate John Darnielle (pronounced, come to find out, dar-kneel, not darn-yell) and his character. Darnielle's high-nasal voice^ pierces my chest like a saber--one of few that does--because it's completely affectless, just like his songs--which Monday included "Dance Music," "Love Love Love," "Woke Up New," "Autoclave," "No Children" ("a song about hope"), the obscure "Ox Baker Triumphant," the unreleased "Cutter," and a few songs from a forthcoming EP**, along with a slew of others from his vast and unknowable canon. But the songs he played don't matter so much as how he played them: intensely, intently, true, prefaced with long, rambling-yet-germane stories relating to inspiration/provenance which displayed Darnielle's fierce intelligence and keen memory. To try to recap the show with more specificity would be futile and would not do it any justice, so I won't/can't even try, except to say that Darnielle/Mountain Goats now sit near the top of my "people to see in concert at any/every opportunity" list. Just awesome.

^To anyone who views Darneille's voice as an impediment, I say get past it. Instead of letting him be "one more alt hero," turn him into "some kind of new Dylan." This guy deserves much more than a "far-flung cult."
**Darnielle and Vanderslice will release this year a concept EP entitled Moon Colony Bloodbath, about a secret government-sponsored organ-harvesting program . . . on the moon. There is no way this could be bad.

--Brian Herrmann

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sure, I'll Say It: Daydream Nation Sucks.

In 1988, Sonic Youth released Daydream Nation. Any level-headed fan of rock music is supposed to love this album, but I have no idea why. Most of the songs are about two minutes too long. Four of the songs eclipse the seven-minute mark, and only one of those has a slight ounce of charm (“The Sprawl,” and that charm runs dry around the four-minute mark or whenever Kim Gordon is singing the chorus.) A majority of the songs are completely tuneless (“Silver Rocket”), boring (“Eric’s Trip”), or nearly unlistenable (“Trilogy: z) Eliminator Jr.”). I would do more of a track-by-track analysis, but that means I’d have to listen to Daydream Nation all the way through. Maybe even more than once.

So why is Daydream Nation considered to be immortal? Perhaps it’s as good as advertised, and I am simply wrong. Possible, but ultimately unlikely (and certainly not fun for discussion). Maybe this idea that the media perceives Daydream Nation to be a masterpiece is something I conjured up in my mind. Again, that’s not it. Just ask All Tomorrow’s Parties and Michael Azerrad. Or better yet, read every review ever done by a respectable music outlet that gives it a damn near perfect rating. But there is a theory that I think ultimately works, and here it is.

If your college experience was at all similar to mine, perhaps you once found yourself in a dorm room with a group of people, and someone brought up the idea to turn out the lights and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. It seemed like a good idea. You all had plenty of beer, there weren’t many girls around (or at least, let’s hope not), and it’s allegedly one of the greatest movies ever made (not to mention directed by Stanley Kubrick). There’s only one problem: the movie is awful. Oh, sure, I guess it was ahead of its time, and probably broke some sort of new ground. Whatever. You start watching the movie, and it’s only a tad longer than two hours, but you could swear it lasts the entire semester. You get about ten minutes into that scene where the astronaut is just floating around and you’re hoping to God he just spontaneously combusts, followed by credits, or that one of your friends has the stones to do what no one else does, which is get up, and turn the movie off. You see, I’m not sure people really like 2001: A Space Odyssey. They just feel like they should like it. Similar to some self-loathing American who claims to enjoy soccer, they’re watching the movie so they can hopefully find themselves at a dinner party in the near future and discuss it intelligently. Well, Daydream Nation is the musical equivalent to 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s what’s going on here.

Now, in the interest of fairness, allow me to reconcile a couple of things: First, the album doesn’t actually “suck” in the literal sense of the word. It’s actually just “okay.” But it does suck when you compare its merits versus the heaps of praise that has been levied on it from every direction for the last 20 years.

Second, “Teenage Riot” is one of my favorite songs ever, and one of my favorite “Track 1’s” ever. The song is amazing, but so what. We’re talking the entire album here. They kicked off Daydream Nation with a face-melter to serve as a nice piece of subterfuge. Smart idea, but hardly novel.

Third, I was only nine-years-old when this album was released by Enigma in 1988, and Sonic Youth was nowhere near my radar. Ozzie Smith was. Therefore, maybe I just don’t “get it.” I first listened to Sonic Youth early in high school when I got Goo through some horrible Columbia House deal. (I’m sure I still owe Columbia House money, even though they had to be aware deep down they were ripping me off, and ripping off every naïve 14-year-old in America.) If 15 years from now some snot-nosed kid born in the 90’s is shitting on Chutes Too Narrow, I would probably call him a moron and play the, “You weren’t there, man,” card. But, be that as it may, there are plenty of records on my shelf circa 1988 that have aged much better than Daydream Nation. If the reverb-heavy vocals on Galaxie 500’s On Fire is like fine wine, then the incoherent noise that makes up 1/3 of Daydream Nation is Carlo Rossi. Furthermore, there are plenty of people young enough to be the offspring of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon who strut around and claim Daydream Nation is amazing. Certainly I’m entitled to do the exact opposite.

Fourth, as some may know, the very first post on this site (before I knew how to use commas) had me at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival all excited about seeing Sonic Youth playing Daydream Nation in its entirety. So how do I now explain this? Simple. I hadn’t realized how much the album bored me yet. I was still trying to convince myself that I liked it (see paragraph that explains the 2001: A Space Odyssey paradox). That could sound shallow. The idea that I was trying to convince myself to like a record because I had been told I should. But it’s not really like that. I’m usually more trustworthy than skeptical when I hear about a record or a band that is supposed to be essential. Whenever a friend or a trusted media source tells me I will like a record, guess what? I usually do. If things don’t click right away, I’ll keep at it. Usually, I’ll come around. Sometimes I won’t and I’ll bail. I bailed on Daydream Nation not long after that 2007 festival. And if you read what I wrote, I didn’t actually stay and watch the whole set. Half-way through I drifted to the back of the park and just laid down and listened/napped. Does that matter? Maybe. I know I wasn’t thinking about leaving the stage when Slint was playing Spiderland. Fine. But what about when I wrote this: “Laying in the grass in Union Park watching Sonic Youth close out Daydream Nation was an experience that won’t be soon forgotten.” Overkill. Looking back, what I really meant was, “Man, I’m about to embark on a weekend filled with live music. And, some of my friends that I haven’t seen in awhile will be arriving tomorrow. I’m excited.” The actual music was inconsequential to the scene. Replace Sonic Youth and Daydream Nation with Pearl Jam and Binaural and things wouldn’t have been much different.

So does this mean Sonic Youth is a bad band? Of course not. They are a very good band, with a couple of great records (Goo and Dirty come to mind). I just don’t think Daydream Nation is one of them. As to why I am thinking of this now, I don’t know. It’s not like Daydream Nation is celebrating a seminal anniversary anytime soon. I guess it will be old enough to buy a case of Budweiser come October, but that’s about it. (This was originally going to be an “Everyone Has One…,” piece but 1,300 words later, I realized it had to be its own beast.) So, here I guess is my point: Your friends, and even rock critics, usually know what’s best for you. They really do. But not always, and the final arbiter on whether or not a record is great is you. And even more importantly, I’m writing this so the next time you’re at a party, and someone slides in Daydream Nation, be the guy with the stones that casually turns it off. Oh, sure, people will throw you unbelievable looks of disdain, but deep down, they’ll love you for it.

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