Thursday, August 22, 2019

100 Albums: "Gone In 60 Seconds: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"

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

Artist: Various
Title: Gone In 60 Seconds original motion picture soundtrack
Released: 2000
Genre: tunes for cruisin'


Summer 2000 saw the release of the Nic Cage vehicle (ahem) Gone In 60 Seconds, a goofy, okay-enough-I-guess action flick about professional car thieves that featured what we used to think of as impressive stunt driving before The Fast And The Furious came out a year later. I remember enjoying it well enough for a vapid summer blockbuster, and I remember that the biggest takeaway I had leaving the theater was that I very much wanted to own the accompanying soundtrack, and that is a decision I have never regretted. It was a blend of rock, EDM, and rap that was the perfect album to listen to in the car. Who knew?

The lead track and only single is The Cult's Painted On My Heart, a slow rock 90s power ballad in the vein of Our Lady Peace or Fuel. It's a solid starter, but for my money the album really kicks off with the next track, Machismo by Gomez, a rockin' acoustic stomp with a great guitar hook. This is followed by Moby's Flower, a b-side from the Play sessions that would have been one of the best songs on that album if it had been included (it probably wasn't because it sounds a little too much like Natural Blues). And it just keeps going from there. Ice Cube's Roll All Day is a great little gangsta jam with a laugh-out-loud twist at the end. BT and Mike Doughty's Never Gonna Come Back Down is a fantastic hard-driving EDM track. Sugarless by Caviar is amazing and goofy (it samples Left Banke's Pretty Ballerina). It runs out of steam a little towards the end, with DMX's Party Up (Up In Here), which is a good song, but one that we were all pretty sick of by the summer of 2000. It ends with an underwhelming remix of Citizen King's Better Days and the obligatory excerpt from the movie score, but right up until that finale, it's a solid, rocking good time.

Further Listening: I mean, Mike Doughty and Moby have both had albums on this list already, so check those albums out if you haven't. The soundtrack to Go came out around the same time. It's not as good, but it has a similar vibe--featuring Goldo, No Doubt, and that weird remix of Magic Carpet Ride.

Monday, August 19, 2019

100 Albums: "Violent Femmes" by Violent Femmes

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

Artist: Violent Femmes
Title: Violent Femmes
Released: 1983
Genre: alternative acoustic teen angst


Violent Femmes' debut album was written by lead singer Gordon Gano while he was still in high school. The songs are goofy and sometimes childish, but they have a heart-on-sleeve earnestness that I find compelling. It didn't chart at all when it came out, but eventually went platinum in 1991 when several of its tracks found their way into radio rotation in the growing alternative movement. Gano's high, whiny voice and the stripped down arrangements--most of the songs are entirely played on acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and a snare drum with brushes--give it a distinctive and instantly-recognizable aesthetic.

It has all of the Femmes' most popular songs, including the iconic Blister In The Sun. The intro to that song is one of the first four or five things a guitar player learns when picking up the instrument. Add It Up is probably the angstiest song on the record, with Gano shouting "Why can't I get just one screw?" at an unnamed paramour. Kiss Off (embedded) is probably my favorite, with its middle counting section: "I take one, one, one 'cause you left me and two, two, two for my family..." The goofiest song is Please Do Not Go, and at the same time it's the most heart-on-sleeve vulnerable. And of course, you have to love Gone Daddy Gone with its xylophone hook and lyrics... er... "borrowed" from Muddy Waters.

Further Listening: Violent Femmes are still around and even put out an album this year, but I haven't heard much of their other material. Gnarls Barkley did a fun cover of Gone Daddy Gone on St. Elsewhere.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

100 Albums: "Thirteenth Step" by A Perfect Circle

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

Artist: A Perfect Circle
Title: Thirteenth Step
Released: 2003
Genre: alt-metal


During a hiatus from Tool, singer Maynard James Keenan got involved with a side project being orchestrated by his roommate, guitar-tech Billy Howerdel. Howerdel's instrumental demo tape was richly textured (what would you expect from an album composed by a guitar tech) but still missing something, so Keenan and some other friends--including drummers Josh Freese and Tim Alexander, bassist Paz Lenchantin, and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen--to put together an album. The result was 2000's Mer De Noms, a radio-friendlier version of the kind of art-metal Keenan was otherwise associated with. It spawned a few successful singles, but when Tool released their masterpiece Lateralus in 2001, we assumed that APC had been a one-off. But we were wrong. In 2003, APC put out a follow-up that felt less like a side-project and more like a normal album written by a normal band in the studio. It was mostly the same line-up as the first, subbing in Jeordie Osbourne White (then better known as Twiggy Ramirez) for Lenchantin.

The album is themed around addiction and recovery in both literal and metaphorical senses. Opener The Package is quite literally about scoring something you want, although whether it's drugs or sex is left ambiguous. The Outsider takes the perspective of someone trying to understand, and failing quite badly, why someone they care about is trying to "disconnect and self-destruct one bullet at a time." The lead single Weak And Powerless (embedded above) has the feel of a love song but is being sung not just about but to drugs, with references to "China White" and "chasing the dragon" right there in the lyrics. The Noose has some of my favorite lyrics penned by Keenan:

Not to pull your halo down around your neck and tug you off your cloud
But I'm more than just a little curious how you're planning to go about
Making your amends to the dead

The album includes an off-beat cover of Failure's The Nurse Who Loved Me that is downright eerie and a gorgeous closer in the form of Gravity. Again, this is an album largely composed and produced by a guitar tech, so the guitars sound amazing. Freese is an incredible drummer who is allowed to cut loose from the typical metal-drumming mold--most notably on The Noose with its stagger-stop verses. A few of the songs are a little math-rocky, and you sometimes wonder if the man is in fact a machine sent from the future to lay down complex percussion patterns. And while the title of the album is a clear reference to the twelve steps of recovery, it never explicitly states what the thirteenth step would be. The only clue we get is in the final lyrics of the album: "I choose to live. I choose to live."

Further Listening: I waffled between including Thirteenth Step or Mer De Noms on this list. MdN has some of APC's best songs in Judith, Orestes, and Three Libras, but it's a little weaker in the back half. Still a considerably good album, though. They also put out an album of mostly covers called eMOTIVe that includes a spell-binding a cappella rendition of Joni Mitchell's Fiddle And Drum and Passive, which was a reworked version of a Tapeworm song. For those not familiar, Tapeworm is a now-defunct supergroup that included Keenan and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and was active for the better part of a decade. It's probably the most famous band to never actually release any music.

Monday, August 12, 2019

100 Albums: "Bargainville" by Moxy Früvous

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

Artist: Moxy Früvous
Title: Bargainville
Released: 1993
Genre: folk-pop


It's the kind of project that can only be created by bored college kids: a not-quite-a-cappella satirical band who sing about progressive politics, ecology, Spiderman, running a video store, and everything in between. The band formed in 1989 in Toronto and named themselves with a nonsense phrase that was difficult to remember, impossible to spell, and adorned with a heavy-metal umlaut. Bargainville is a charming goofball of a record in the vein of They Might Be Giants--although a bit more straightforward than TMBG.

The highlight is definitely King Of Spain in which a prince-and-pauper story ends up with the literal king of Spain becoming a pizza chef in Canada. The Drinking Song was the lullaby I sang to my kids for years and is one of my absolute favorite songs ever. River Valley is an excellent opener that sets the tone perfectly and the album closer Gulf War Song--the only purely a cappella song on the record--is a delightful meta-commentary on writing political songs. I also enjoy the hopefully downtrodden BJ Don't Cry, the storytelling My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors, the ode to armchairs The Lazy Boy, and the jazzy I-also-have-listened-to-Manhattan-Transfer Darlington Darling. It slows down in a few spots, but for the most part it's a bouncy fun record.

Further Listening: I've found their other studio albums underwhelming, but 1998's Live Noise is fun.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

100 Albums: "In Absentia" by Porcupine Tree

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

Artist: Porcupine Tree
Title: In Absentia
Released: 2002
Genre: prog-rock


Once upon a time, a friend handed me a burned copy of this CD, saying "You like Tool, right? Check this out." That was my introduction to British prog-rockers Porcupine Tree. While the comparisons to Tool are fair, PT is a little poppier and a great deal more mellow. I went with Trains for the embed because it captures a little bit of both worlds of what I like about this album. It's got a little of the precision math-rock chicanery, but a little of that smooth atmospheric low-key vibe as well, despite its brisk tempo.

The hardest-rockers are this album are probably the single Strip The Soul and the mid-album instrumental Wedding Nails, and they're also my least favorite songs (not bad songs, but my least favorite). The best songs are Trains, Collapse The Light Into Earth, Blackest Eyes (as solid an opener as any album could ask for), and the self-aware almost-parodies The Creator Has A Mastertape and The Sound Of Muzak. And I'll throw out some love for super-atmospheric downers Gravity Eyelids and A Heart Attack In A Layby.

Further Listening: I tried to listen to the follow-up Deadwing and just couldn't get into it. They have a well-regarded album called Fear Of A Blank Planet that I need to give a shot, though.

Monday, August 5, 2019

100 Albums: "Yes, Virginia..." by The Dresden Dolls

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

Artist: The Dresden Dolls
Title: Yes, Virginia...
Released: 2006
Genre: Brechtian punk cabaret



Before Amanda Palmer was Amanda-Fuckin'-Palmer, she was the pianist and frontwoman for a bizarre dark cabaret duo who wore white grease paint and bowler hats on stage and gained momentum in the early aughts. They put on energetic shows (I've seen them three times, and they're just incredible live) and sing about back-alley abortions, transitioning, evolution, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and even Holocaust deniers. Their music was dark and yet hopeful, bright and poppy despite the oftentimes cynical subject matter.

Yes, Virginia... is the quintessential The Dresden Dolls record. It has seat-of-your-pants rockers like Necessary Evil, jarring stagger-stop piano in Sex Changes, heartbreaking pathos in Delilah, and unrelenting optimism in Sing. Although, optimism in a very Dresden Dolls mould: "you motherfuckers will sing some day." I always enjoy Palmer's lyrical loop-dee-loops. She turns phrases with the best of them on this record. There are lines like "The first orgasm of the morning is like a fire drill" (First Orgasm), "There's no hell and no Hiroshima, Chernobyl was a cover-up, the world is really all in love" (Mrs. O), and "She's the kind of girl... who tells you she's bipolar just to make you trust her" (Dirty Business).

They only put out three albums, and the final one, No, Virginia..., felt very much like a collection of leftovers. It's kind of a shame that they didn't do more--Brian Viglione in particular, as he is one of the most expressive and talented drummers out there. They occasionally reunite for one-off performances, and if you ever have a chance to see them, do it.

Further Listening: Palmer's solo career has produced a number of interesting records, and she is constantly putting out new material. Who Killed Amanda Palmer has my favorite of her songs, Leeds United, and Theatre Is Evil has probably my second-favorite, Do It With A Rock Star. I also rather like No, Virginia... despite its unevenness, especially for the demo of The Mouse And The Model from when they had bass and guitar in the band.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sale: "Autoimmune" (And Related Updates)

Hey everybody!

DreamForge Magazine have purchased my story Autoimmune for an upcoming issue. They are a print and online magazine, and it's likely the story will be paywalled to anyone without a subscription. This is one of my favorite of my own stories, as well as being the second-longest one I've sold, so I'm very excited to be able to make this announcement. I don't know when it's going to be running, but expect me to post more details when they are available.

Because I'm nothing if not a ferocious braggart!

In other news about things I don't know, I also don't know when Carpools & Coworkers is going to run at Daily Science Fiction, other than "soonish." However, A Punk Rock Future (with my story Wailsong) has been sent out to Kickstarter backers, so a number of people (myself included) already have their copies. Print and ebook copies are available for pre-order on Amazon and should be out in early October.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

100 Albums: "Rockin' The Suburbs" by Ben Folds

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

Artist: Ben Folds
Title: Rockin' The Suburbs
Released: 2001
Genre: piano-driven alternative jazz-rock with jokes


Ben Folds is one of my favorite artists. I've seen him in concert I want to say six times now and will be seeing him again in February. Every show is a little bit different--I've seen him do a 5-piece rock production, a stripped down 3-piece, an 8-piece jazz ensemble, once accompanied by an orchestra, and twice solo with a piano--the most recent of those shows without even a complete set-list. The last half of that show was requests delivered via paper airplane. He's a brilliant musician and unapologetically silly. After his band Ben Folds Five split in 2000, he started work on a solo project that would become Rockin' The Suburbs. It's a weird hodgepodge of a record, although all of it sounds unquestionably like it was written by Ben Folds. The arrangements are... unorthodox. Fired and Zakk & Sara feel like they could have been on a Ben Folds Five album, lacking only Darren Jessee's and Robert Sledge's backing vocals. Others, like the opener Annie Waits, are filled out with all manner of blips and whats-its, a piano composer playing around with song shapes since he no longer has to make room for only drum and bass.

Three of my favorite songs in Folds' entire repertoire are on this album. The first is the title track, in which he tears apart the tropes of what was considered modern rock in 2001. It opens with the line "Y'all don't know what it's like bein' male, middle-class, and white. It's a bitch, if you don't believe, listen up to my new CD." The closer is another favorite, The Luckiest, which is just a gorgeous love song. I also have a ton of affection for The Ascent Of Stan, about a former hippy having to deal with the fact that he is now "the man". Folds tends to write songs about interesting people or stories from a detached perspective, always with humor and sympathy. Zakk & Sara is about a girl going with her boyfriend to buy a new guitar and having an out-of-body experience (or something) and discovering the future of EDM. Not The Same tells the story of a friend who climbed a tree while dropping acid at a party and while he was up there found God and converted to Christianity.

It's an odd duck, but a compelling one.

Further Listening: Between his solo work and his albums with Ben Folds Five, Folds has quite a catalog. They don't all work for me, but I recommend Ben Folds Five's eponymous debut or Folds' solo Way To Normal, an album that was accompanied by a "leaked" version, in which he and his band made up and recorded a bunch of songs in like a day with the same titles as the ones on the official album in order to befuddle downloaders. And I'll be damned if the leaked version isn't nearly as good. It includes Bitch Went Nutz, which is easily his second-most-offensive Christmas song.