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Showing posts from June, 2019

100 Albums: "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Fiona Apple
Title:Extraordinary Machine
Released: 2005
Genre: adult contemporary jazz pop


I was a fan of Fiona Apple's album When The Pawn... but had kind of forgotten about her by 2005. So when I happened to spot a new album from Apple--her first in six years--on the rack at a Best Buy, I excitedly picked it up and popped it into the player. I listened to the eponymous opening track, and my initial reaction was "What the hell did I just listen to?" After that song, the over-compressed drum machine kicked in and it started to sound more like the Fiona Apple I was familiar with, and by the time I got to the end I was completely won over. It got me wondering why there was such a gap between the two albums. It turns out Extraordinary Machine was finished and ready to be released in 2003, but it sat on the shelf for a few years. The reasons aren't known, but it's widely believ…

Sale: Water Seekers

Hey y'all,

My story Water Seekers has been purchased by Nature Magazine for their Futures feature. It should be appearing in the next few months. This is my third sale to Nature and I can't wait for y'all to read it.

For Science!
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100 Albums: "Dookie" by Green Day

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Green Day
Title:Dookie
Released: 1994
Genre: punk pop


Green Day was one of the standard bearers for the second wave of grunge, playing music that wasn't technically grunge and completely eschewing all of the movement's faux sophistication. (Remember when Smashing Pumpkins came out against moshing? Yeah, that was a thing!) Instead, Green Day broke with a dry punk aesthetic, a lead single about masturbation, and an album named after poop. Green Day got major label interest after their second album Kerplunk made waves in the indie scene. The demo for Dookie landed on the desk of producer Rick Cavallo who immediately recognized that it had potential to be huge. Supposedly (read as: I read this somewhere and can't remember where) he recorded most of the album during the band's rehearsals and tracked all of singer Billie Joe Armstrong's vocals in two days.

Dookie has one of the gre…

100 Albums: "Crimes Of Passion" by Crocodiles

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Crocodiles
Title:Crimes Of Passion
Released: 2013
Genre: lo-fi indie rock


Crocodiles was born out of the mid-aughts punk movement, tied to bands like Some Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower. They got some buzz in late 2010 with an instrumental song called Kill Joe Arpaio, which drew the ire of the actual Joe Arpaio, who thought he would show them by tweeting his disdain at them. You know, like an idiot. (He also misattributed the song to Alligators. You know, like an idiot.)

Crimes Of Passion is a breezy thirty-four minute jaunt through lo-fi noise pop. The songs are a soup of guitars and horns, held together by catchy guitar leads and staticky vocals slathered in reverb and delay. In the garage rock tradition, the writing has just the tiniest hint of surf-rock in it, enough to give it a little bit of old-timey shimmer that belies the stylistically rough production va…

100 Albums: "Seal (1994)" by Seal

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Seal
Title:Seal
Released: 1994
Genre: adult contemporary


Seal came to international prominence in 1991 with the song Crazy off his self-titled debut. He followed it up with another self-title album three years later, one that propelled him to superstardom, featuring Kiss From A Rose, his best-known song that was also features on the Batman Forever soundtrack and promoted alongside the movie. Seal is almost the textbook definition of adult contemporary. If you scaled back the R&B influence, this could almost be a Sting album (Sting being the actual textbook definition of "adult contemporary music"). It's got a lot of inventiveness buried under a ton of polish, but if you don't mind a record with some gloss on it, this one is solid.

Seal's got an incredible voice and puts together some very strong music here. The best tracks are the singles, and if you like them, you'…

100 Albums: "Playland" by Johnny Marr

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Johnny Marr
Title:Playland
Released: 2014
Genre: post-punk britpop


Best known as a guitarist and co-writer for the Smiths, a band that broke up in 1987, Johnny Marr has had a long career in the background of rock-and-roll. He was briefly in the Pretenders and Modest Mouse. He did a lot of session work. He produced a few albums, did a stint with the Cribs. And then in 2011, he started putting out solo albums. And... this is one of them. And it's really quite good.

Playland is the sort of album that gets written by a rhythm guitarist. The leads are slow and thick and melodic. The rhythm parts are densely layered but still pop and jangle. There's a definitely britpop sheen to the whole thing: solid hooks, simple structures with lots of tiny variations over the course of a song, a bit of the old post-punk jangle, and a healthy dose of reverb on everything. Although, for as atmospheric as its…

100 Albums: "Third Eye Blind" by Third Eye Blind

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Third Eye Blind
Title:Third Eye Blind
Released: 1997
Genre: post-grunge power pop


The late 90s were a weird time for rock and roll. The second wave of grunge was on the ebb, the pop renaissance was just around the corner--the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys had their first commercial hits in 1996, although bubblegum wouldn't completely dominate until Britney Spears' debut in 1999. All around there was less appetite for self-serious angsty music, and the rock acts that broke during this era embraced their fun side. Two bands in particular stand out to me, Third Eye Blind and Incubus. Both broke around the same time and constructed their sound from a lot of the same component parts, even though the end result was quite different. The both wrote up-tempo pop songs that were infused with punk and hip-hop influences. They both wrote lyrics that specifically de-glamorized the culture of party…

100 Albums: "Even Worse" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Title:Even Worse
Released: 1988
Genre: comedy


I first heard Weird Al's song Dare To Be Stupid when I was maybe seven years old and it was a revelation. For a kid like me--coming from a very conservative background but with an off-beat sense of humor--this was eye-opening. He was subversive, but in a family-friendly way; Yankovic identifies as Christian and has always kept his material PG and free of swearing. He makes fun of people, but only after getting their permission. His whole MO is to take everything you think is "cool" and shift the context just a little in order to make it silly. He's a virtuoso musician, a comic craftsman, a consummate goofball, and beloved the world over. He's supposed to be a first-rate showman (I haven't seen him in concert yet, although that is going to be remedied later this month) and, by all accounts I'…

100 Albums: "The Dark Side Of The Moon" by Pink Floyd

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Pink Floyd
Title:The Dark Side Of The Moon
Released: 1973
Genre: psychedelic rock


Pink Floyd was always a deeply experimental band. It wasn't always successful, but even their older weird stuff that doesn't quite work (I'm looking at YOU, Ummagumma) is still at least interesting. They were able to evolve their sound over several years, and DSotM is where all the pieces come together in just the right way to form something magical. And by "magical" I mean one of the greatest-selling albums of all time. As Floyd albums go, it's fairly straightforward. It runs a little over forty minutes and has eight-to-ten tracks (depending on whether you separate Speak To Me/Breathe and Brain Damage/Eclipse), all of which have run-times that are under seven minutes. The tracks with vocals run a little long and the instrumental interstitials run a little short, but that's pretty sta…