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September 27, 2011

By Mister Marlowe

While music singles certainly get artists their face time there’s only so long he, she, or they can stay in the limelight without a full body of songs. And without that full body of work a persona is destined to look like a shallow gimmick rather than a lasting statement. Hence, albums remain the corner stone of modern musicians.

But what about those odd one offs and EP releases that are generally fan only affairs? Non-album tracks usually appear as movie soundtrack filler or spring from odd collaborations and are often best left in mothballs. However, from time to time hidden gems emerge from an artist’s leftovers and make a different statement than any previous or subsequent album.

Here are some of my favorites from the past twenty-four years. Let’s travel back in time…

Crystal Castles featuring Robert Smith – Not in Love (2010)

Though a different version of this song can be found on Crystal Castle’s second self-titled album, it is this rendition featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith that truly soars.  A cover of an early ‘80s song by Platinum Blonde, Not In Love takes the old, mixes it with the new, and shows the way for music’s future.  Quite simply, this track is brilliant.  

The Strokes with Regina Spektor – Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men (2004)

From the single Reptilia off The Strokes’ second album, Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men is a tremendous collaboration between two of the most interesting artists of the 2000s.

Belle and Sebastian – Your Cover’s Blown (2004)

Belle and Sebastian is a band that bored me greatly throughout the early 2000s. However, their discoteque style Your Cover’s Blown track from the Books EP is great. If Saturday Night Fever took place in the decade of The Strokes, Eminem, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga this would be the best song on the soundtrack.

Interpol – Precipitate (2001)

From their 2001 EP of the same name, Interpol’s Precipitate is the band’s very best song. It feels both too brief and epic and is one of those rare songs that makes you want to play it again immediately after it ends. In fact, it is my favorite song of the entire decade.

Oasis – Whatever (1994)

Appearing as part of the Whatever EP between Oasis’ excellent debut album and even better follow-up, the single Whatever shows Oasis doing exactly what they do best- that is simple yet snarling verse-chorus-verse pop laden with bombastic strings and a 6:30 running time. Whatever is indulgent yet familiar, breezy and memorable and one of Oasis’ best songs.

Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (1992)

Though I have never been a Pearl Jam fan I have always been a big fan of Yellow Ledbetter. Other than U2’s One, Yellow Ledbetter was probably the song I listened to most during my high school days. Was it the nearly indecipherable lyrics? The guitar solos? Or maybe it was some kind of instant nostalgia the song brought to me as I listened in 1992 and felt my youth speeding away. Whatever the case, Yellow Ledbetter is the definition of a legendary non-album track.

The Digital Underground – Same Song (1991)

This Is An EP Release is a brilliant collection of six Digital Underground songs. Featuring a handful of remixes and a pair of cuts from the little seen movie, Nothing to Lose the best of the bunch is Same Song. Featuring Tupac Shakur’s debut performance, some excellent piano noodling, and a handful of awesome rappers doing their early ‘90s west coast best, Same Song is am amazing gem from one of the very best and least appreciated rap groups of all-time.

U2 – The Sweetest Thing (1987)

Throughout their career U2 has been known to release well-received B-sides on their numerous singles. Their best is The Sweetest Thing, the B-Side to the Where the Streets Have No Name single. The song doesn’t quite fit the vibe of their The Joshua Tree album so it’s no wonder it wasn’t included. However, that doesn’t change the notion that it remains more than twenty years after the fact a fan favorite and one of their best songs.

Although it has been nearly 16 years since the Smashing Pumpkins double CD opus, the debate lived on a few weeks ago when a bunch of us became heated over which of the discs was better?  The red one, which contains hits like “Tonight, Tonight”, “Zero” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings?  Or the blue one, which contains “33”, “1979” and the either massively under-rated or much-maligned song “We Only Come Out at Night“?  Vote away!

Full track listings of each disc can be found here.

Wax Idols on Myspace

This song is awesome- definitely has that nostalgic-psychadelic feel to it that is kind of prevalent these days, but I like it all the same. Can’t wait to hear more by this band.

side note: Let’s go Caps!



I’m currently unemployed, and finally getting around to listening to a lot of the crappy albums that I didn’t even know had been taking up space on my external drive for the past several years. Why not write a weekly column about them, right?

Squirrel Bait – Squirrel Bait (1985): This album reminded me of that special magic power that only the greatest and most obscure indie albums possess: the ability to make me feel totally awesome for having heard it and act like I’m way cooler than anyone who hasn’t, even though I’m 30 years old, wear the same black hoodie every day, and still live with my parents.

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011): Has Foo Fighters finally become so corporate that they hire unpaid interns to write all their songs? At least it’ll look good on their resumes!  Oh wait, no it won’t.

Owl City – Ocean Eyes (2009): I hate it when people use the word ‘saccharine’ in music reviews. Instead, just close your eyes and imagine a naked Willy Wonka watching home movies of a 300-pound Sour Patch Kid raping Charlie Bucket.

The Strokes – Angles (2011): When I was 14 I had a weird lesion on my scrotum and I didn’t know why.  I was too embarrassed to tell anyone so I just secretly dabbed it with hydrogen peroxide every day after school for 3 weeks. Then one day I tried using Lubriderm. Turned out it was just dry skin! What a relief!!

Mew – No More Stories… (2009): If I were asked to direct a music video for any of these songs, I would film two attractive young female sales associates locked in a slo-motion late-night pillow fight in the bedding section of a dimly lit department store as swirling pockets of light reflect off a broken disco ball, dancing across the delicate elfin features of their perfect enraptured faces.  The big surprise twist at the end will be that it’s not a music video at all, but a JCPenney’s commercial for pillows.

 

The first time I saw Explosions in the Sky was in October of 2001, when they played in an ex-frat house on my university’s campus. Their live performance gave me chills that night, and I’m happy to announce that nearly ten years later they continue to do so.

Their show at Radio City Music Hall on April 6th was great, and not only because I got to actually sit down the whole night (though this was a big factor in my deciding to go to the show, I’m not gonna lie). They played a good range of songs from all their albums, but the highlights were the songs they played off their first two (and in my opinion, their best) albums- “Yasmin the Light”, “Your Hand in Mine”, and the best of the night, “The Only Moment We Were Alone”. It’s one thing to hear their signature quiet-loud-resolution sound on recording, but to hear it live is really an intense and unforgettable experience (and one your eardrums won’t soon forget either- I had no idea the sound in Radio City could be SO LOUD!)

One thing I did notice from the new songs is that they seem to be playing around with the drumming a bit, stepping away from their standard march-like beat and loosening it up a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with bands trying out new things, but the marching spirit of their songs was one thing I’ve always liked about them, so the new songs were just a little odd to me. The new album “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” comes out on April 26.

Set list according to Spin Magazine:

Postcard from 1952
Birth and Death of the Day
Yasmin the Light
Last Known Surroundings
The Only Moment We Were Alone
Catastrophe and the Cure
Let Me Back In
Your Hand in Mine
Trembling Hands

 

Though if I’m being honest, I was almost more excited to see Low open for them. My appreciation for Low is a recent phenomenon, partly because I like to play some of their quieter albums (“Long Division”, “Secret Name”) at work. It’s only recently that I’ve discovered that, despite their “slow-core” label, they can actually rock pretty hard- and that definitely came through in their set that night. (Side note: apparently I own eight of their albums. EIGHT. How does that even happen? I thought they were totally lame until a year or two ago!)

They played a number of songs from their new album, as well as a couple older “hits” (most notably “Silver Rider”). The new stuff was pretty good- “Try to Sleep”, “You See Everything”, but their closer “Nothing but Heart” was an absolute show-stopper. Eight minutes of building intensity with the words “I’m nothing but heart” repeated over and over, it is a stunning track that I haven’t been able to stop listening to since that night. I listened to it 11 times the next day! And I don’t want to stop! Now you can listen to it a million times too:

I was disappointed that their set clocked in at only a little over half an hour (I think- or maybe time just flew because of how awesome they were), but they’re headlining their own show at the Bowery Ballroom on April 27th, and I am definitely going to be there. I don’t get too excited about shows anymore in my old age (I have to stand all night? The show is ending how late? etc),  but I am very much looking forward to this one!

 

I’m currently unemployed, and finally getting around to listening to a lot of the crappy albums that I didn’t even know had been taking up space on my external drive for the past several years. Why not write a weekly column about them, right?

Years – Years (2009) – This album should be called ‘Reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond’. Because it sounds like he invited a string quartet over to jam in his living room but everybody was distracted by the tv.

Blood Red Shoes – Fire Like This (2010) – At first I figured they must not have seen The Man with One Red Shoe, or they would have tried harder to avoid making it sound like they named their band after it. Perhaps I was wrong. Because listening to this feels exactly like watching that movie.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World (2010) – I get the feeling that all these gossamer, gospel-steeped songs are secretly about how sad he is that Disney still hasn’t released Song of the South on DVD yet.

Buke and Gass – Riposte (2010) – Ok, if she wants to change time signatures every 10 seconds on the ukulele that’s fine, as long as she knows that’s not how you play a skin flute.

Efterklang – Magic Chairs (2010) – Unfortunately I can’t say objectively whether this album is any good or not, because I was listening to it and watching Predator on AMC at the same time. Turns out everything sounds epic when you’re watching Predator. See?

It’s March 9, 2011 and I’m currently unemployed, and finally getting around to listening to a lot of the crappy albums that I didn’t even know had been taking up space on my external drive for the past several years. This is the first in a weekly series of brief and candid thoughts about them.

Al Di Meola – Casino (1978) – sounds like the type of music really rich mexican drug kingpins play on their bose stereo systems while they’re having sex with prostitutes that they pay extra not to talk.

Belle & Sebastian – Belle & Sebastian Write About Love (2010) – reminds me of the feeling you get when you’re enjoying the perfect summer day in the park and then you try to use the park bathroom and all the seats are covered in feces, but one has slightly less feces than the others so you use that one.

Deerhunter – Weird Era Cont (2008) – this sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a movie about a high school valedictorian who gets addicted to cough syrup in college, drops out, and then, instead of getting professional help, goes on a cross-country road trip across europe on an epic quest of self-discovery and more cough syrup. Which is why I can’t relate to this album: I’m not very bright, I never do drugs, and I hate to travel.

Handsome Furs – Plague Park (2007) – All these songs sound like “Dancing in the Dark” slowed down to half-speed. Actually this is probably what Born in the U.S.A. would have been if Springsteen had been born 3 months premature on an ashram and grew up with lots of food allergies and then ran away from home in 1997 because he was so devastated by how bad the Spawn movie was.

Tapes n’ Tapes – Outside (2011) – This is the kind of album people who have forgotten about 9/11 make for other people who have forgotten about 9/11.