Cake – Fashion Nugget (1996)

Now available sans the “Parental Advisory” sticker. What, you can just say ‘fuck’ now and it’s okay??

Until now, I had a big Cake-sized hole in my record collection. Not that I was yearning for more “uhh huhs” and “all rights” in my life but let’s face it, you only get so many bands that were truly important to you. And for a few years, this band meant everything to me. Not that they were #1 in my personal headcanon but they hit this sweet spot. Not too old, not to obscure, not too dorky, not too European. In other words they were a band I could actually talk to my classmates about. Everyone knew who they were and had an opinion on them. Cake were a band that drew a lot of weird reactions out of people and I didn’t really get why. Like most teenagers, I felt like every band I was into deserved to be the biggest band in the world. With Cake all I could say was, how could you not like them? It didn’t occur to me that they were, in fact, pretty strange.

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Tim Heidecker – High School (2022)

There’s a quote I read recently that I liked: “getting older doesn’t necessarily make you wiser, but it does give you an understanding of the passage of time”. Well it was something like that anyway. I read it on Twitter. I’ve thought about it a lot when listening to Tim Heidecker’s new record High School, a look back at a past life; the person you used to be but barely recognize anymore. What’s cool about the album is that it’s very easy to identify with – songs about old friends who turned out to have real problems, botched summer flings, and music that meant the world to you. All hyper specific to Tim’s life, but you can fill in the blanks.

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Orbital – Monsters Exist (2018)

It’s not often that a band gets to make consecutive comeback albums, within the same decade no less. But somehow this dysfunctional band of brothers pulled it off. I mean, I get it…brothers fight, but you can’t exactly break up with the guy you have to see every Christmas. Plus, Orbital is an institution, which the Hartnolls can’t exactly replicate on their own. Maybe they could go the Kraftwerk route and replace one of them with some guy they met scouring 12 inches at the record store, but that would make family reunions awkward. Nah, they’re in it for the long haul.

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Klaus Schulze – Moondawn (1976)

We unfortunately seem to be reaching a period where legendary musicians are dying quicker than I can keep up with, which is why I haven’t written anything about Vangelis or Alan White yet. In the case of Klaus Schulze it’s because I didn’t own any of his records. You see, I have sort of a fraught relationship with his catalogue; I love the idea of Klaus Schulze, this cosmic synth pioneer who cranks out albums like they’re the daily newspaper, jamming on his endless banks of keyboards until there’s no more space on the record. And I do sometimes get utterly captivated by his work. But the thing is that every album he does is like a space shuttle launching; sometimes you’re on board, sometimes you’re just standing there on Earth wondering when the hell that thing’s coming back down.

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Sparks – Balls (2000)

Sparks are in the midst of a reissue campaign aimed at (in their own words) keeping all their 21st Century albums in print, which is awesome because they’re great albums which were previously fetching stupid prices. They also reissued Balls, which is technically not a 21st Century album, a distinction which shouldn’t be important but for this band it kinda is. Their 21st Century work is really its own thing, a hybrid of several of their best qualities (plus a sudden interest in orchestration) which arguably makes up its own genre. These albums are excellent of course, but from a narrative point of view 20th Century Sparks is more interesting. Not only did they hit upon a ton of different album archetypes but they also occupied this odd space where they were never really with the times. Either they were several years ahead or they were hopelessly behind. And they did this all without really changing their core sound. There’s almost like this element of fashion to it – so many different outfits and angles but at the end it’s the same band.

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Kraftwerk 3-D in Boston: 6/11/22

EINS. I’ve had pretty bad luck with concerts lately. King Crimson came to Milwaukee, and my daughter wound up in the hospital with appendicitis. Sparks in Chicago, family event in the opposite direction. Animal Collective in Madison, the whole band got Covid and had to reschedule. Now Kraftwerk in Chicago, and it just so happens to be the same day my in-laws come to town. But I did have an upcoming trip to see family in Boston and one morning I woke up with the thought “they might actually be there that weekend”. And it turned out they were, on a Saturday no less. Well if that ain’t destiny I don’t know what is. No way in hell was I missing this. Massachusetts is a recreational state, by the way. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this.

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The Books – Thought for Food (2002)

See if you can guess the reason I’m revisiting this album today:

  1. Today (June 3, 2022) is the album’s 20th birthday.
  2. I’ve been in a “folktronica” mood after the last two entries
  3. I read the word “aleatoric” in an article somewhere

The answer, of course, is #3. You already know. Same reason why hearing the phrase “dental plan” reminds me of the Simpsons and the word “scorcher” makes me blurt out “you said you’d call Sears yesterday!” To tell the truth the other two factors don’t matter so much. This is an album that exists outside of time and genre. Sure, The Books were probably famous enough to be influential, and they do vaguely fit into the same tortured genre descriptions as stuff like Four Tet, or Sora, or Cornelius, or even The Avalanches. But they’re very much their own thing, which is a thing that can’t really be replicated. If I had to describe them in a sentence it would be “what if Penguin Café Orchestra swapped two of their members with The Bran Flakes?” But that doesn’t really cover it either.

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Sketch Show – Audio Sponge (2002)

One cool thing about vinyl collecting is the endless cycle of reissues which give you the opportunity to revisit albums you may have already “made up your mind” about. When I check my Discogs “upcoming” page I see a lot of same old stuff that seems to get reissued every month but occasionally there is something there that surprises you – in this case, both LPs and the mini-album by the short-lived group Sketch Show. Similar to the Sora album I wrote about a couple weeks ago, the work of Sketch Show has such a 2000s-era CD vibe to it that I never imagined they’d be reissued. Especially since these albums are not particularly well-known in the West.

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The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)

When I started my first music review site in college, I had one rule: no Beatles. Nothing against them, just seemed like everything there possibly was to say about the Beatles had been said already, so to write 5000 words about whether or not these albums were “great” or “the greatest” seemed like such an incredible waste of time. But also: Fuck the Beatles. As someone born in the 80’s there’s no better band to develop an irrational hatred of than the one that every single person older than you likes. Particularly when said band just so happened to have a zillion-selling compilation CD that would be advertised during virtually every commercial break. Growing up my knowledge of the band was limited to 3-second snippets from the commercial plus hippie junk like “All You Need is Love”. Certainly I knew more but I just didn’t care. These guys are from Liverpool and who gives a shit? So much cooler to be into the Kinks, or Led Zeppelin, or even Herman’s Hermits, who at least were so fucking lame that they were actually kinda hip. But as you grow up, and at some point in college I wound up buying a bunch of the Beatles LPs anyway, figuring that one day in the privacy of my own home I may actually want to hear them. And the earliest one I’ve got is Rubber Soul from 1965, which I suppose is a good one for someone like me. It’s one of the first modern rock LPs and marks the band’s transformation from a singles group to an albums group.

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Sora – re.sort (2003)

Usually when writing these I take a look back at old reviews or blog posts I remember reading, which I think gives me a sense of what I thought of it at the time. It’s hard to admit this sometimes but when you discover something via an enthusiastic blog post that really does color how you hear the album. Ditto with say, a lukewarm Pitchfork review. Revisiting these albums years later I do sometimes wonder why I liked or disliked them so much and often the reason is just “I read something about it”. That doesn’t happen so much anymore but when you’re young it’s very easy to be influenced by people who know a lot more than you. In essence that’s kind of what this blog is all about; the music itself doesn’t change but how you hear it does.

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