Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists compiled by our favorite artists. This week: Austin indie rockers Shearwater and New York Times reporter Ben Sisario.
Listed: Shearwater + Ben Sisario
This ambitious art-rock quintet from Austin has been making music in one form or another since 2001. Singer and songwriter Jonathan Meiburg started the group with fellow Austin musician Will Sheff, then his bandmate in Okkervil River. The two made three folky albums together before Sheff left to concentrate on his other group’s growing popularity. Strangely enough, Sheff’s exit corresponds with Shearwater’s rise to prominence. In 2006, Meiburg and Co. recorded the multi-faceted Palo Santo, hailed by NPR as the best album of the year. The album earned Shearwater a contract with Matador Record, which released the well-received Rook earlier this year. Meiburg, Kim Burke (bass), Kevin Schneider (keyboards), Jordan Geiger (trumpet) and Thor Harris (drums) all took part in this week’s Listed.
1. The Wire
I’m way behind the curve on this one, but I just watched the entire series, only to discover that I’d had dinner with Bubbles (Andre Royo) a couple years ago and had no idea who he was! It’s the best serial writing I’ve encountered; a great way to while away the hours spent in the tour van. (Kim)
2. Joni Mitchell - Blue
After years of agonizing, I have finally started a vinyl collection. My first purchase was Blue (because how else was I going to start a vinyl collection) from Zulu Records in Vancouver. Great store with tons of classic vinyl as well as new CDs and a super helpful staff. (Kim)
3. Hard Skin - Hard Nuts and Hard Cunts
A brilliant record from 1996. "Oi Not Jobs!" (Kevin)
4. White Denim - Workout Holiday
These guys are brilliant. The best in the biz. (Kevin)
5. Suzannah Johannes
The most promising new songwriter that I’ve had the pleasure to see perform in a long time. She writes really wonderful indie-folk songs and has a beautiful soft voice, sort of like a playful and warm Midwestern Nico. Totally endearing. From my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Her debut EP comes out in Sept. on Range Life Records. (Jordan)
6. Black Christmas
Also from Lawrence, this is an amazing, amazing instrumental band. They’re obsessed with horror-film soundtracks and effects pedals and they fucking rock! Dark, powerful, loud as hell, and intense. They’re working on their debut record right now. (Jordan)
7. Henryk Górecki - Symphony No. 3
This might be the most beautiful piece of music in the world. Dawn Upshaw, the soprano on the London Sinfonietta recording is great, but the strings on the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra recording sound much richer. Buy them both. (Thor)
8. Porn from the ‘60s & ‘70s
The women are heavier & hairier, more natural looking. Pre- fake stuff. Jonathan’s gal Annie gave me a crate of her step-dad’s old porn. A treasure chest. (Thor)
9. Eyelids of Morning: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Alistair Graham and Peter Beard (reprint by Chronicle Books, 1991)
Alistair Graham, a Kenyan biologist, first published this astonishing book in 1973. It’s a wild, discursive chronicle of a crocodile study he undertook at Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in the unfriendly and fascinating deserts of northern Kenya. The study required that he kill FIVE HUNDRED CROCODILES, which meant hunting around the clock on the edges of the spooky, brackish lake for months in an environment that was by turns terrifying, amusing and mind-numbingly dull. That he survived at all seems a miracle; that he did it with his sense of humor intact even more so. Eyelids of Morning is one of the most affecting and exciting books about the natural world I’ve ever seen, both for Graham’s choleric, funny and deeply intelligent take on humans’ interactions with so-called "wild nature" (and the degree to which our projections and fantasies figure into it), and for the innovative and whimsical graphic design of the book, which somehow crams Beard’s iconic photographs together with woodcuts, cartoons, illustrations, clip art, etc. Really, there’s no other book like it; it’s a huggermugger of a thing that somehow works organically and beautifully. (Jonathan)
10. Afghanistan by Roland and Sabina Michaud (Thames and Hudson, 1980)
The poignant images in this book, which depict daily life among Afghanistan’s eerie, rugged, and romantic landscapes, were mostly taken between 1965 and 1979. As it turned out, this was the end of about 40 years of relative political stability in the country, years which must now seem like a golden age for a place that has since been used as a football by the U.S., the U.S.S.R., homegrown warlords, N.A.T.O., and the Taliban. But in these pictures, all that had yet to happen. Turbaned faces peer out at you from what seems to be centuries ago, possessed of an ancient fierceness, humor and dignity. There’s not a Predator drone or an AK-47 or a Soviet prison in sight – just camels, horses, deserts, stark mountains, cities of mud, elegant patterns woven in silk or laid in tile. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this place, and these people, were the keepers of something very old and very precious, and that to have betrayed them so thoroughly is unforgivable. Shame on us. (Jonathan)
New York Times readers are probably familiar with the byline Ben Sisario. The 34-year-old reporter covers music and culture for the Paper of Record, something he’s done well since 1998. During that same stretch of time, he’s contributed to Blender and Rolling Stone, and authored the 33⅓ series books on the Pixies’ Doolittle. Sisario currently teaches at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, helming classes on Rock Music in Historical Context and Writing for Popular Music. You can also catch him Tuesdays on WFUV 90.7 FM in New York (his podcasts are located here) and anytime on his blog, Crimes Against Music.
I decided to take literally the directive to dig deep in my crates, and so devoted this list to some favorite indie/underground 7-inches (and one 5-inch) of the 1990s.
1. Melvins - “Love Canal”/“Someday” Slap-a-Ham 13, 1990)
Perhaps the ultimate Melvins record, which means its heaviness and glory are directly related to how fucked up it is: Two Flipper covers on a clear/greenish 5”, with no identification on the vinyl and only two small, Flipper-style stickers on the transparent sleeve. The songs, dominated by a menacing, overdriven bass, are rough even by 4-track standards, yet seem far too massive to be contained on plastic.
2. Palace Contribution - “Big Balls” from Sides 5-6 (Skin Graft 26/Gasoline Boost 13, 1997)
Tribute albums are contrived bores that always fail, but occasionally there’s a nugget of brilliance hidden there. As Palace Contribution, Will Oldham and crew performed an inspired reconstitution of “Big Balls” for the second volume of an otherwise forgettable AC/DC comp. (Sides 1-4, with Shellac, U.S. Maple, and I can’t imagine anyone cares who else.) The original is throwaway hokum, but Oldham goes to town Palace-izing the song with creaky Appalachianisms and cryptic pronouncements on cultural extinction: “When the races rise against us ‘cause we’re modern and weak / They’ll say we’ve got the only balls of all.” Total genius.
3. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - “Train #3”/“Train #1” (In the Red 109/Explosion Juke Box Series #3, 1993)
I predict a JSBX rediscovery around 2011. Spencer’s legacy of ultra-high-concept blues-grunge has had little relevance lately, given the dance-punk/neo-Graceland 1980s worship that defines indie’s cutting edge. But with the inevitable Girl Talk sample, soundtrack placement and deluxe reissues will come remembrance of the raw groove obsession, allusive complexity and canny performance irony that made the Blues Explosion great.
4. Cupid Car Club - “Join Our Club” EP (Kill Rock Stars 215, 1993)
Post-Nation of Ulysses and pre-Make Up, Cupid Car Club was so short-lived that the band made only this four-song EP (OK, plus a compilation cut), and for those 257,746,000 of us who never had the chance to see them live, they seemed almost mythical. This is the garage-rock bridge between Ian “Spiv” Svenonius’s two major projects, and as such it’s his most concise and brutal statement.
5. Unrest - “Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl” b/w “Hydroplane”/“Feeling Good Fixation” (Kill Rock Stars IPU-17/Teenbeat 42, 1990)
Unrest was constantly evolving, and this single caught the group right between its racial-provocation juvenilia (q.v. Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation) and the light-touch experimental pop of its creative peak. “Skinhead Girl” is the last remnant of the early trickster style, a prank on racist themes (“Yes, she is my skinhead girl / Yes, she is whiter than a pearl”), while “Hydroplane” is a Neu!-esque drone on a single note that could go on forever; in Charlottesville, Va., on April 8, 1993, they played it for I think half an hour, and I still wanted more.
6. Hose Got Cable - Antidisestablishmentarianismesque EP (Tenderizer 6, 1993)
When I was in college in Virginia in the mid-’90s, the biggest sounds in Richmond and Washington, D.C., were Fugazi and math-rock. Hose Got Cable, from Richmond, fused the two with focus and urgency. I remember many shows where the whole room seemed to bounce to an aggressive locked groove, and listening to this six-song double 7” now, it feels just as potent. They also made a vinyl LP, but broke up in 1995, hardly known outside their home turf.
7. Pastels - “Thru’ Your Heart”/“Firebell Ringing” (Paperhouse (U.K.) 11, 1991)
Belle and Sebastian gave Glasgow’s venerable twee scene (Vaselines, Yummy Fur, etc.) its permanent boldface name, but in some ways were unrepresentative: too polished, too ambitious, way too on-key. The Pastels, on the other hand, perfected a homely romanticism with records like this, which balance clear, warm tone with tuneless but disarmingly honest singing by Stephen Pastel, Aggi and the adorable Katrina Mitchell. Many bands of this era got lost feigning innocence, but the Pastels found a way to be both childlike and passionate.
8. Flat Duo Jets - Jet Set EP (Norton 47, 1996)
Textbook garage-abilly, with scholarly taste. “Surfer Joe,” on the “mental” (electric) side, was originally Side A of the 1962 Surfaris single whose flipside was “Wipe Out.” It’s as charmingly, wholesomely pre-rock ‘n’ roll (“He’s got a green surfboard and a woodie to match / And when he’s ridin’ the freeways, man is he hard to catch”) as “Wipe Out” is archetypal rock idiocy. The “gentle” (acoustic) side of this four-song disc features “Mr. Moonlight,” the gorgeous Roy Lee Johnson tune covered on Beatles for Sale/Beatles ‘65.
9. Papas Fritas - “Friday Night” b/w “Smash This World”/“Angel” (Sunday Driver, 1994)
Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe because technology has made all culture a shitstorm, but too rarely do I feel genuine surprise. Papas Fritas, from Boston, became a decent second-tier indie-pop band, but when I saw them at Bard College on March 12, 1994, they were just another opening act (for Jon Spencer, actually), and I remember being transfixed by Tony Goddess’s sharp, trebly guitar and by the calm presence of Shivika Asthana, the drummer. The band is not fully formed here, but its scratchiness and warmth give me a taste of that memory.
10. Teengenerate - “Sex Cow”/“Bad Boy” (Estrus 749, 1994)
Teengenerate was perhaps the most prolific of the Japanese garage-punk greats (Guitar Wolf, Thee Machine Gun Elefant, etc.), and there was a conceptual elegance in the way they flooded their micro-market with such crude product. “Sex Cow” might not have the lowest production standards on their discography, but they’re down there, and yet the kinetic force here doesn’t feel diminished one bit. I still occasionally stumble across a Teengenerate split or compilation track and marvel at their trail of noisy breadcrumbs.
By Dusted Magazine