Monday, October 15, 2012

ST&SP The Formative Years Pt. 3: College & Beyond

Awhile ago I made the announcement that this site would no longer be a weekly update on current musical trends and instead turn to more introspective periodicals. This week I continue to deliver that promise with a three part introspective about the music that shaped my life through key stages of growing up starting with "Elementary School-Middle School" through "High School" and ending with "College and Beyond." Today we conclude with Part Three: College & Beyond. 
                                                                             Loyola Marymount University

I think part of the reason why I never really got into techno was that I already had LCD Soundsystem in my life, and they made my feet move more than any dubstep artist ever could. To me they are the ultimate dance band, ever. I started listening to them in high school, I remember listening to LCD Soundsystem with my dad as we were driving through a blizzard in Montana. For some reason the mix of James Murphy's infectious grooves and the fact that we couldn't see ten feet in front of us created such a vivid and exhilarating experience in my head. However, it was not until recently when I look back and see how much they dominated my college years. I saw them three times during college, more than I saw any other artist during those years. I saw them upstage Arcade Fire at The Hollywood Bowl, I saw them get the vast Empire Polo Fields to shake ass during Coachella and I saw them lastly at The Hollywood Palladium where they absolutely burnt the motherfucker to the ground. LCD are a band that humbly takes all the influence from their predecessors and channel it into something brand new and exciting. By the time LCD Soundsystem broke up they were immensely popular, even headlining Madison Square Garden for their now historic four hour long farewell. It was such a joy to follow them from their humble beginnings to where they ended up. Mark my words, LCD Soundsystem will be seen as one of the most influential bands that were active during the '00s.

Is this really a surprise to anyone? Arguably the most important rock band for more than a decade, I hold a high esteem for Radiohead. They are able to shed their skin and present a varied sound with each LP all while maintaining a familiar aesthetic. If you were to look at my charts you would notice that I listen to Radiohead a few hundred plays less than The White Stripes. I listened to them during High School as well but not with the same frequency as I did during college. I remember buying In Rainbows for a cent off of their website thinking how wonderful it was and how big of a "fuck you" it was to record labels.

I saw Modest Mouse open for R.E.M at The Hollywood Bowl a few years ago and I thought they sucked. Sure seeing Johnny Marr was fun but they lacked any sort of stage presence or fire about their performance. I hadn't listened to much of them before than other than their hits like "Float On" and "Dashboard." However, something happened I decided to give them another shot and gave their discography another try. I still have Lonesome Crowded West in my car and can say with confidence it's one of my top ten favorite records. Something about Modest Mouse clicked for me in college that hadn't in previous attempts. I couldn't get enough of their raw erratic take on rock. Issac Brock's voice is like a rat under duress and I wouldn't want it any other way. Since then I haven't been able to go a few weeks without listening to Good News For People Who Love Bad News, The Moon & Antartica, Lonesome Crowded West, or We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. 

Wilco is a group that my younger self would have slapped me for liking. Their mid-tempo "dad" rock is definitely for a more mature audience. However, that's what I love about Wilco. They have been through a lot as a band, through breakups and even death yet they still manage to record some of the most beautiful folk-rock around. Tweedy is an extremely gifted songwriter and he pairs quite well with guitar virtuoso Nels Cline. They also put on quite a solid show and I was fortunate to see them a few times during college. They know how to kick out the jams occasionally, check out "Art of Almost" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" for examples of that. However, I appreciate Wilco for the mix of different kinds of songs they manage to put together. Any Wilco record will do, but I highly recommend Being There as a prime example of their range.

My Morning Jacket is another band that I couldn't get into during high school yet has grown into being one of my current favorite bands during college. People who get to witness Jim James' voice in person tend to have an out of body experience. His voice is a chameleon, it can be the sweetest falsetto that quickly becomes a banshee's scream. I have enjoyed all of their releases although At Dawn is easily my favorite, especially the title track.

Dr. Dog are a group that slowly grew on me and now Shame Shame is one of my most heavily rotated records. They just know how to create a really good hook, they remind me of The Beatles in that regard. They harmonize very well and can craft a memorable song. All of their records are immediately accessible and are great for singing. That is one element I don't feel enough critics give enough credence to, the ability to make a song that makes someone else want to sing along to is an incredibly hard yet rewarding thing to accomplish, and Dr. Dog make it look easy.

The Magnetic Fields helped me get through a really rough breakup. I feel like we all tend to lean on music during rough times, and Stephin Merritt was my buddy during that time. I recommend 69 Love Songs for anyone. It's really a huge achievement for a songwriter to write an a triple album about one topic. Yet Merritt did and showed the vast and wide varieties of love. The highs, the lows, the little insignificant things "Papa Was A Rodeo" and even big picture ideas like "Grand Canyon." I can't thank The Magnetic Fields enough and next time they're in town I will be front and center.

Sufjan Stevens was the soundtrack to my summers during my college years. During roadtrips home Illinois would be playing with the windows down through the California desert. I regrettably haven't listened to any of his other stuff that often because that one record is so important to me. There was a study done once that showed people who listened to Sufjan Stevens were the smartest music listeners. It's no surprise to me, his orchestral chamber-pop is so complicated and takes the listener down so many different paths that it really takes a dedicated listener to really enjoy him. That being said "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is the most hauntingly beautiful song I have ever heard.

It seems as I look back that there has always been one stand out hip-hop artist that defined certain periods of my life. Elementary school it was Eminem, high school the Beastie Boys and college it was without a doubt Hova. Jay-Z is the Elvis of our generation like it or not. What I love most about him is his confidence as a performer. He knows he's the best and doesn't have to do a goddamn thing except keep on being himself. He was the most electrifying performer when I was at Coachella. However the one memory I will never forget is going for an early morning jog in New York City listening to Jay-Z, it just felt so right.

I unfortunately just missed Sleater-Kinney when I first began to listen to them. I have a vivid moment of hearing "The Fox" on the radio for the first time and stopping in my tracks. These three ladies from Portland created some of the feistiest rock I have ever heard. They are in my mind the best of the feminist Riot Grrrl scene that started in the 90s and has continued today most notably with Pussy Riot in Russia. I also have a mad crush on Carrie Brownstein. She is in my mind the perfect woman. She's not only one of the best guitarists alive (go see a Wild Flag concert and prove me wrong) but she's also one of the funniest, as a main cast member of Portlandia. In fact it wasn't until Sleater-Kinney went on their indefinite hiatus for Brownstein to come out of her shell as a well known individual artist. So on one hand I'm sad they're not around, but if they hadn't broken up I probably would have never found my one true love.

Fugazi are a 90s D.C. punk band that I completely missed until my college years. They are now my favorite punk band. Their music isn't necessarily the fastest of their brethren but in my mind they are the most intense and formidable band of that era. They just did it right. They would rather play in high school gymnasiums or in some basement and charge their fans $8 rather than some big concert hall that costs an arm and a leg. Fugazi hasn't done anything for about a decade but they still say they are together. Here's hoping they come roaring back to life soon.

There's a bar on the outskirts of Culver City in Los Angeles called the Cinema Bar that I used to go to during college. It was a completely unpretentious place, a diamond in the rough of all the douche bars in Los Angeles. It's a total dive filled with nightly regulars that pile in to drink and listen to some of the best live music around. At that time I was already a bluegrass fan, but hadn't yet given Country-Western a try. This bar is what won me over to the genre. Country is like every genre, the shit artists float on the top while the really good stuff seems to be at the bottom of the barrel. There are some great country and southern rock artists out there today, you just have to dig a little deeper. The one band that has been pointing the light in the right direction for quite some time now is Drive-by Truckers. These guys have been steadily on the road since the early 90s. They are the ultimate bar band, and some even say they are the saviors of the entire southern rock genre. I have never been to the south, though I desperately want to so Drive-by Truckers are sort of like a window for me to see into that world.

I say "College & Beyond" because I'm still actively seeking out new music even after college. Case in point, Ty Segall. If you haven't heard of Ty Segall this year you've been living under a rock. He is the poster boy of the San Francisco slime-garage rock scene. This year he's released three albums and has done two world tours. The guy is a machine that churns out some of the most exciting rock I have heard in a long time. I'm seeing him in December and cannot wait.

Finally, we come to Reggie Watts. Whenever someone asks me for new music recommendations he is at the top of my list. I respect him on so many levels, as a musician, as a comedian and as an improviser. He improvises all of his songs! He loops his own beatboxing as percussion and uses occasional keyboards for added effect. The man is able to improvise on a whim better pop hooks than most pop bands can make. In my mind he is the most creative, innovative and inspiring artist currently working today and it's baffling why he isn't a household name. Listening to him doesn't do the man justice. You have to see to believe.

So this concludes this trip down memory lane. It's always fun to look back and see how far you've come as a person and I believe music is a good way of staying connected to one's past. Still, the main question I have is, what was the music of the day that you listened to when you were in College?

Below is a Spotify playlist where you can listen to all of these songs uninterrupted.


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