A Sad Hello From Sarasota

Holidays are great. Holidays in nice houses surrounded by lovely greenery in a nice, friendly town by the sea with great beaches, restaurants and shopping are even better. Sarasota is a marvelous place, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it even more if I was about, oooh, 78.

But we had some bad news the other day. Wandering into Sarasota News and Books, we saw the sign on the door stating that they would be closing their doors on August 31st. This was, to put it mildly, a real shock. Every time we came to Sarasota (this is the fourth time in three years), we’d always come to this great bookshop, and I’d always buy a few books1. There was a good selection, a nice cafe, and the staff were friendly and kind and let our errant son run around causing chaos. What’s more, it always seemed busy; people were always buying something or other, or sipping latte’s in the cafe, and it had the feel of a shop at the centre of its community.

So it’s a terrible shame that the owners can no longer afford to keep it running. It was the heart of a Main Street that’s so rare in modern America – with cafes, independent shops, and only a few random tramps sleeping on the elegant benches. This was one of the shops that kept Main Street alive, and I can see the whole street is going to struggle now. If a great, popular shop like this can’t stay in business, what about that little t-shirt shop? The antiques shops?

I’m lucky that I live in a huge city with such diverse bookshops as the labyrinthine Foyles, the superb John Sandoe, the elegant LRB Bookshop, and the dependable Daunt Books. And this is why I feel so sad that a great shop like Sarasota News and Books is closing, because in a small city like Sarasota – famed for its culture – there’s only Circle Books in St Armands Circle, or the chainstore monoliths of Borders and Barnes And Noble (not that I have anything against chains per se – Waterstones, back in the day, was marvellous, and some stores are still excellent).

Anyway, Creative Loafing has a personal take from MC Coolidge on the closure.

Well, I was going to post “Myopic Books” by American Music Club, but as I don’t have that with me, you’ll have to do with “Cornerstone” from the new Arctic Monkeys album, which I’ve been rather enjoying. Not exactly a one-trick pony this lot, are they?

MP3: Cornerstone by Arctic Monkeys

1 I only brought a couple of books with me on holiday specifically so I could get a few more from this place. That’s how much I loved it. Sniff.

Buy Arctic Monkey’s “Humbug” (CD/MP3)

Grizzly Bear, Live

Koko is a lovely venue. Opened originally in 1900, the spirit of old-style music hall is alive and well with the ornate balconies and the rich red paint; the new bar at the back works wonderfully with the period detail. The bar staff are friendly, the loos aren’t completely horrific, and there’s one of the best Japanese restaurants in London on its doorstep.

But whoever writes the bumpf on their website needs shooting. “Grizzly Bear have gone massive really quickly, the jury is out as to whether they are merely Animal Collective copyists or are ploughing their own field” I could just see them writing in the 60’s: “the jury is out as to whether The Rolling Stones are merely The Beatles copyists or are ploughing their own field”. And “gone massive really quickly”? Sure, no-one noticed them back in 2006 when they released what was widely regarded as one of the best albums of the year1. As the current vernacular states, seriously, dude, wtf?

Ranting aside, there is something about Grizzly Bear’s meticulously constructed Beach Boys chamber-noise pop stylings that really suits the venue. The sound really helps; pretty much clear as a bell all night, even during the furious wig-out at the end of “I Live With You” and “Fine For Now”. That latter song was one of the highlights of the night – on the album it’s maybe too constrained, too mannered, but live it bursts into life. Daniel Rossen’s guitar onslaught was beautifully controlled, just the right side of outright noise.

Lovely Lights, A Bad Camera

Lovely Lights, A Bad Camera

“Ready, Able”, with its baroque stylings, was a perfect example of what makes Grizzly Bear so great, and yet so discombobulating. Starting off with edgy drum rhythms and Daniel Rossen’s discordant guitar stabs, it suddenly switches to a beautiful Cocteau Twins-esque chamber-pop section, before changing yet again to reach ever more gorgeous heights. On record it’s beautiful enough, seeing the transformation happen live is almost transcendant.

And I wasn’t prepared for quite how much was involved in making their songs. Chris Taylor played bass, some kind of glockenspiel thing, a flute, a bass saxophone, and possibly a clarinet (my view was somewhat obstructed). During “Lullabye”, drummer Christopher Bear seemed to do some mucking about with an electric drum pad that involved a bass so heavy it made my trousers shake in a way they haven’t done since the Notting Hill Carnival in 2004. As for the singing; any of these guys could happily be the lead singer in any band you care to mention. Their harmonies put the likes of Fleet Foxes to shame. Chris Taylor’s heavily altered singing during “Knife” was stunning.

This lot are seriously talented. I have a recurring image of them in lab coats, cackling like mad scientists, whilst they write songs. There’s some very odd things going on musically, such as the odd guitar tunings to create lots of diminished sevenths and the like (ok, I don’t know, I’m making it up – if you know, feel free to comment!). I have no idea what tunings Daniel uses, but whatever he’s doing he’s obviously not doing it to make his fretting any simpler.

Grizzly Set List

Grizzly Set List

Sadly, there was no “Marla” (the creepiest song since Smog’s “I Was A Stranger”) or “Deep Blue Sea”, but you can’t ask for everything. The night ended with their cover of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”, another song that works far better live than on record. A quick rushed goodbye, and they were gone. I can’t wait for the Barbican show, with a full orchestra and everything. If it’s half as good as the Koko gig, we’re all in for a treat.

One last thing. What is it with London gigs and people talking? Seriously, can people not shut up for 90 minutes? You’re not at home watching it on TV, you are surrounded by people who have waited months to see a band live, and they did not pay good money to hear you shout at your friend. Seriously, shut it. Funnily enough, after the gig, in the lift at Mornington Crescent tube, someone went “SHHH!” to everyone talking. At least it’s not just me.

On the way home, we saw this:

Another Bear

Another Bear

As one friend said, “That advert is a hundred times better than the actual place”.

MP3: He Hit Me by Grizzly Bear

MP3: Fine For Now by Grizzly Bear

1 As previously noted, I did of course miss them. Look, I was tired, ok?

Buy “Veckatimest” (CD/MP3)

Buy “Friend EP” (CD/MP3)

The Les Paul Special

Les Paul, the man who did so much to build and develop the solid-body electric guitar, died Thursday at the age of 94. Famously giving helping design the Gibson Les Paul, his name is as synonymous with the electric guitar as Leo Fender. The thick, heavy sound his guitar made when being pumped through a Marshall stack is the sound of pretty much every RAWK record you’ve ever heard (or at least, until ‘80’s poodle rock came along). And if you want to hear loads of those songs, you’ve come to the wrong place.

There's Only Two Les Pauls

There's Only Two Les Pauls

Sorry, that was a bit abrupt. But I’m not a huge RAWK fan. Whilst I’m always partial to a bit of Led Zep or Guns’N’Roses, my thing’s always been at the more esoteric end of the rock spectrum. So, when I heard the news of Les Paul passing away, my thoughts didn’t go to Slash, they went to The Pixies, Manic Street Preachers, and Low.

Yes, Low.

Because Low, one of the quietest bands ever to grace this fair earth, play Les Pauls (or rather, Alan Sparhawk does). Seeing them live some years ago, they came on and started playing “When I Go Deaf”. As they suddenly kicked off into the loud part, Alan started sawing and pulling at his Bigsby-rigged Les Paul for all it was worth, and carried on even after the drummer and bassist had stopped playing. A fantastic moment.

Alan, A Les Paul, and a Bigsby

Alan, A Les Paul, and a Bigsby

For a band whose whole ethos is pretty much the negative image of the Les Paul-toting rock gods, it’s a great trick to use the same instrument to create slow, (mostly) quiet beauty, as they had used to play songs like Kashmir.

It’s the same with The Pixies. Although Black Francis used a Fender Tele (with the occasional Strat), Joey Santiago was a Les Paul man. And it was unlikely that such a truly unique sound had ever been made before Joey strapped on his plank. I can still remember hearing “Bone Machine” on John Peel one night, back in 1988. Sounding like nothing I’d ever heard, the lead guitar was discordant and twisted, screaming in unison with Black Francis.

Joey, A Les Paul, and a Bigsby

Joey, A Les Paul, and a Bigsby

And more was to come, with Doolittle taking Surfer Rosa’s twisted goodness and adding a huge hit of pop nous.

Mmmm, a gold Les Paul.

Last off, The Manic Street Preachers exploded out of Blackwood, South Wales in the early ’90’s. Can’t say I was a massive fan of them at first, what with me not liking The Clash and all that, but eventually James Dean Bradfield’s fantastic singing and playing, and their great way with a tune, won me over.

James, A Les Paul, and No Bigsby

James, A Les Paul, and No Bigsby

They always said they wanted to sound like Guns’N’Roses, and on “Motorcycle Emptiness”, they sound like what Guns’N’Roses would have been if Slash had spent his childhood listening to Nick Drake.

So, three bands all using Les Pauls in ways that probably made Les Paul himself come out in a rash. Rest in peace, Les, and thanks for making music so much better.

MP3: When I Go Deaf by Low

MP3: Bone Machine by The Pixies

MP3: Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers

Buy Low’s “The Great Destroyer” (CD/MP3)

Buy The Pixies “Surfer Rosa & Come on Pilgrim” (CD) (What, you haven’t got this already?)

Buy Manic Street Preachers “Forever Delayed: The Greatest Hits” (CD)

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Local Heroes – The Xx and Hot Chip

I was reading an article in the Grauniad the other day, which mentioned a little studio under Putney Bridge. I thought to myself “I’ve walked past that!”. And so my curiosity was rather piqued about the subject of the article, The Xx. Living about five minutes from that studio, on the north side of the River Thames, in a charming if somewhat musically bereft suburb1, I’ve always looked a bit enviously at the south side, where such luminaries as Hot Chip and Burial are from, and Grace Jones now lives (seriously, I’ve been hoping to bump into her in the Putney Exchange doing her shopping in Waitrose).

And The Xx do indeed hail from Putney. Will the majesty of the Lower Richmond Road be translated into some glorious music? Will the dark dankness of the High Street inflect their music with a dour emptiness? Well, a bit of both, really. At first listen of “Infinity” there’s a real Portishead meets Chris Isaak vibe – not a bad mix at all, in my humble opinion. Just the sort of thing to listen to when you’re taking the District Line from East Putney to Earls Court. “Crystalised” is rather nice too:

The debut album is available for pre-order from here, and if it’s anything like the first two tracks released, should be a damn fine listen. Let’s hope they do live up to the hype.

The band are playing a whole bunch of shows, and are at Rough Trade East on Wednesday. Would go myself but sadly I’m already out that night (I’d strongly recommend you go to these shows when they are on – The Hold Steady were fantastic last year).

Whilst I’m on a Putney tip, I’ve got to admit my huge soft spot for Hot Chip’s “Ready For The Floor”. I always thought this lot were from Brooklyn or somewhere, so imagine my suprise when I found out they are from round the corner. Love the video too:

1 We do have a Reasonably Well-Known Rock Star living round the corner, but it would be remiss for me to say who he is.

MP3: Infinity by Xx

MP3: Ready For The Floor by Hot Chip

Buy “XX” (CD) (From Amazon)

Buy Hot Chip’s “Made in the Dark” (CD)

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Whisper From The Past – Lambchop

It’s been a long while since I listened to Lambchop properly. Yes, I got “OH (Ohio)”, and played it more than a few times, but years have passed since I last put “Nixon” or “Is A Woman” or even “What Another Man Spills” on.

I’d forgotten how good they were. Really, stunning, proper good, not that seems-good-for-a-while-until-the-novelty-wears-off good. Now, one day in the dark distant future I shall do a whole 1,000 word Pitchfork 500 Missing List spectacular on Lambchop, about why they are so fab and why everyone who doesn’t think so is wrong, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few old live tracks.

The Wondrous Mr Wagner Himself

The Wondrous Mr Wagner Himself

Recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2000, on their Nixon tour, these three songs show how wonderful a band they are. Gentle, richly textured songs, with more hidden depths than the Dale Hollow Lake, you find yourself drifting off into a world of strings, softly strummed guitars, horns, and a guy hitting a paint can with a torque wrench. Lovely.

In other news, hasn’t the football season come around quickly again? By the way, I have it on good authority that Mr Kurt Wagner is, as all the best people are, a Gooner.

MP3: Nashville Parent by Lambchop (Live)

MP3: The Old Gold Shoe by Lambchop (Live)

MP3: Theone by Lambchop (Live)

Buy Lambchop’s “Nixon” (CD) (And a right bargain)

Buy Lambchop’s “How I Quit Smoking” (CD)

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Wilco (The Blog Post)

I finally got round to buying the new Wilco album the other day, cunningly titled “Wilco (The Album)”. And then a little thought struck me, and that thought was “You’ve hardly listened to their last album yet”. So I listened to “Sky Blue Sky”. And then I listened to it again. And then I thought, it’s actually quite good. Sure, not “Being There” or “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” good, but much better than “A Ghost Is Born”.

The usual Wilco ingredients are here; the up-tempo stompers, the downtempo meditations on love and depression, the one or two absolutely and utterly dreadful songs (I’m looking in your direction, “Shake It Off” and “Hate It Here”). And Nels Cline really is cementing his position as best alt-rock guitarist around, isn’t he? Check out the solo here, on “Impossible Germany”:

Which is, of course, all rather nice and what you’d expect of me by now, what with my total inability to listen to stuff when it’s actually released. And yes, I do feel old listening to this. It’s music for the middle-aged part of us, and frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Anyway, I thought I’d post a song from “Sky Blue Sky” and one of my favourite older Wilco songs, featuring the late departed Jay Bennett. Jay’s departure from Wilco was covered heavily in the film “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and let’s just say that no-one came out of it well. I remember seeing the film and feeling bad for Jay; he seemed like a decent chap, stuck in a band that was moving away from what he’d wanted it to be, with Jeff Tweedy’s passive-aggressiveness bringing out the worse in everyone. He’ll be sadly missed – a great musician, and writer of some truly great songs.

MP3: The Thanks I Get by WIlco

MP3: Can’t Stand It by Wilco

Buy “Sky Blue Sky” (CD)

Buy “Summerteeth” (CD/MP3)

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Oh What A Fool I’ve Been – The Magnolia Electric Company

Regular readers will be thinking to themselves “What the hell’s going on here? Four posts in as many days?”. Yes, folks, I’ve decided to finally get round to posting some of the stuff I’ve been blithely listening to over the past few weeks. This is, in part to rectify the situation in which the post-stuff-on-the-blog bit of my brain has been going “La de dah de dah!” and looking at the trees and the flowers and the sky and whatnot rather than concentrating on bloody posting.

Stupid brain.

There’s something irredeemably dour about The Magnolia Electric Company. Their final album as Songs:Ohia before changing their name to The Magnolia Electric Company, called, er, “The Magnolia Electric Company”1, was a gloriously maudlin number, in which even the upbeat numbers sounded like they were giving up the ghost and wanted to go and lie down and sob gently for a little bit.

Needless to say, I rather liked it, “I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost” in particular, which drifted back onto my iPhone the other week2. But for whatever reason I haven’t quite got round to ever buying anything else of theirs.

This is a situation I hope to change with their new album, “Josephine”. The title track is another lovely downbeat affair, a tale about a man who’s gone and done wrong by his woman. It’s had me wandering around the house dolefully wailing “Oh what a fool I’ve been” in a cod-Americana accent. If we had a cat, it’d have run away by now.

If you like your Americana as gloomy as a November night in North Dakota, this is just for you. They’re out and about touring too, including two shows in London. One is at the marvellous Bush Hall, the other at the nearly as marvellous ICA:

8/27 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – Paradiso
8/28 – Berlin, Germany – Lido
8/29 – Aarhus, Denmark- VoxHall
8/30 – Malmo, Sweden – Debaser
8/31 – Hamburg, Germany – Knust
9/02 – London, UK – Bush Hall
9/03 – Brighton, UK – Duke of Yorkshire Picture House
9/04 – Leeds, UK – Brudenell Social Club
9/05 – Stradbally, Ireland – Electric Picnic 2009
9/06 – Porthcrawl, UK – Seascape Festival at The Grand Pavillion
9/07 – London, UK – Institute Of Contemporary Arts
9/09 – Stuttgart, Germany – Schocken
9/10 – Zurich, Switzerland – El Lokal

There really are far too many dates to post here, so please visit their site to see the whole tour.

That’s it for today. I’m out a-drinking tomorrow so I very much doubt I’ll be posting anything except a garbled 3am post about how I was forced to sing “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley.

1 I wish more bands did this. Mew should definitely think about changing their name to the title of their new album.

2 If anyone at O2, Apple or Carphone Warehouse fancies sending me a nice new 32Gb iPhone GS, that would be lovely thanks. In the meantime I’ll just have to keep shuffling my 80Gb collection around.

MP3: Josephine by Magnolia Electric Company

Buy “Josephine” (CD/MP3)

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New Music – Arctic Monkeys and Chateau Laut (Again)

I’m so behind the times. Mucking around on the web last night, I found the video for the new Arctic Monkeys1 song. And I thought, “Oooh, a new song, I’ll bung it on the site in the next couple of days. Nice to have something new and fresh”. This morning, getting more info from the ever-reliable Wikipedia, I discover that it’s been out a month.

A month.

So whenever I say that I’m not very good at being up to date, you can refer back to this article. A month for the new Arctic Munkehs song. Sheesh. Still, the song isn’t released in physical form until August 17th, which gives me a bit of an excuse.

An Arctic Monkey Relaxing With A Nice Cup Of Tea

An Arctic Monkey Relaxing With A Nice Cup Of Tea

“So, dreadfully slow blog type person, what’s the song like then?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s not quite as brutal as “Brianstorm”, not quite as frenetic as “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”; in comparison it’s almost relaxed. Or at least as relaxed as anything to do with über-rock god Josh Homme is ever going to be. If anything I’d call it mid-tempo oompah-inflected stomper. Sort of. I like it though.

On another note, I posted something by Berliners2 Chateau Laut last night, but the ID tagging went a bit odd so it appears in Hype Machine as “Chteau Laut”. So here it is again, so people should be able to find their unique brand of bonkers noisiness far more easily (and I hope they do, they’re fab). If you’re forming a band, don’t use umlauts or circumflexes or any other type of accent because the brave new world of music aggregators will just ignore you3



Oh, and you can buy the Chateau Laut album here or here. Go on, do it.

1 Is it just me that always thinks of them of the Arctic Munkehs?

2 Yes, yes, I know Berliners aren’t really called Berliners, but I was reminded of that classic Simpsons moment when Mayor Quimby steps up to the microphone and says “I am a jelly donut”. Sadly, I can’t find a clip on YouTube. Stupid Fox.

3 If you’re bored, go to Hype Machine and do a search for “Hsker D”. At least it’s not just me. I do love Hype Machine (and Elbo.ws), but I wish ‘puters were better at dealing with the intricacies of European languages. I’ve spent enough time living in Germany and Switzerland to know how to get umlauts – I just wish file formats were better at handling them. Sigh.4

4 I do, of course, realise that these footnotes are longer than the blog post itself. It’s my tribute to David Foster Wallace.

MP3: Crying Lightning by Arctic Monkeys

MP3: Song for Ape Sue – Chateau Laut

Pre-Order “Humbug” (CD/MP3)

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New Music – Chateau Laut and Edward Sharpe

Getting recommendations from friends and contacts can be a difficult thing to handle. Someone says, “Hey, listen to this, you’ll love it!” and you listen to it and it’s Austrian techno-pop-oompah-rap. What the hell do they think I like listening to? But other times you get some real gems. One of my favourite bands of the last five years I only know about thanks to a tip from someone I’d only ever talked to on thar Interwebs (ta, Searsy), so you’ve always got to give them a try.

So here’s a selection of bands that people have said “Hey, give this a try!”. And I have. And they are good. Oh yes.

First off, it’s Chateau Laut1, from sunny Berlin. Occasionally taken to wearing Art Of Noise style face masks, they make a quite marvellous noise which is reminiscent of Sonic Youth back when they were good, on huge amounts of happy pills. Maybe like Mogwai relocated to Ibiza. I’d suggest you give Song for Ape Sue a try (below) – it’s really rather good. I especially like the odd Cramps on methadone bit near the end. It’s about 26 zillion songs in one and is over before you know it.

Their first album, Chateau Laut, is out now on Blunoise Records. I’ve certainly enjoyed their sweet, sweet noise. And make sure you watch this beautiful video for “When Sound Is Light”, made by Con Men and Stefan Fähler:

Second off, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. I love Mariachi horns. I’ve got a real thing for them. They start up in a song and my heart just melts. Now, I’ve had a little listen to their new album “Up From Below” and there’s all sorts of mariachi horns in there. And string sections. And an accordian. And handclaps. And many, many other things that made me go “Ooh! This sounds a bit like Devendra Banhart and Calexico meets Arcade Fire down an alley where The Band Of Holy Joy are having a picnic”. That’s a good thing, by the way. The one that really got me thinking of Band Of Holy Joy is the opener, “40 Day Dream”:

See what I mean? Joyous, rampant chaos. Enjoy, and there’s more to come from this lot.

I like new music. It makes me smile.

MP3: Song for Ape Sue by Chateau Laut

MP3: 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

1 I’ve had to remove the circumflex (sp?) from the name, as it freaks out aggregators like hypem and elbo.ws.

Buy Edward Sharpe’s “Up From Below” (MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Alt Rock 101 Part 2 – Replacements to REM

So here’s the second part of the Alt-Rock 101 article I started last week. We’ve had Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and The Meat Puppets, now it’s time for these three:

The Replacements – I Will Dare
Minutemen – History Lesson (Part II)
R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)

The Replacements, like Hüsker Dü before them and The Hold Steady after them, hail from Minneapolis. There’s a reason I mention The Hold Steady. In this great article, Craig Finn talks of how they saved his life. As an awkward, slightly geeky teenager, he found The Replacements and they set him onto the path he’s still on today. There’s a great story in which his dad takes him to the local record store to buy “Let It Be”, from which this song stems, and the guy behind the counter turns down the sound on the stereo, points at his dad and him in turn, and says “Cool dad. Cool kid”. You know what? You don’t get that kind of thing downloading MP3’s from iTunes or BitTorrent.

So, after hearing so much about them from bands like The Hold Steady, would the real thing stand up to scrutiny? To repeat a phrase I used in part One, hell yes. It’s not quite as bad as the feeling you get when you read a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book and realise that Salman Rushdie and Louis De Bernieres are plagiaristic hacks, but this more than stands up to some of the best bands around today. And it kicks the ass of the landfill indie currently clogging up the airwaves in the UK.

This is one great, great song. It fairly grooves along, mixing Squeeze and Bruce Springsteen, with a devastatingly catchy chorus in which the singer appears to be trying to get a younger lady to do something inadvisable. Better still, it features a fantastic guitar solo before going off onto a REM-esque jangly bit. No shock there, given that the band’s Peter Buck plays it.

I like it so much I’ve played it about 25 times in the past few weeks. It’s fantastic. It’s power-pop heaven. It’s the best bar-room rock you’ve ever heard. Listen to it now and see if you disagree; I’m sure you won’t. And it’s the same with this next song, by The Minutemen.

Now, I always assumed The Minutemen were a bunch of shouty shouty earnest US hardcore punks, but this came as a massive shock. Over a lovely, jazzy guitar line, singer D. Boon chats laconically about the history of the band, starting with the immortal line “Our band can be your life”. Indeed, for many people they were; part of the hardcore scene that exploded in the early ’80’s, The Minutemen would show up in your town, play, drink and sleep on your floor. Understanding that there was a huge number of disaffected teens in an uncountable number of towns round the US, The Minutemen spoke directly to them, and went out of their way to reach out to them.

And even with 25 years between recording and now, it’s fresh as a daisy. Like all great songs it speaks directly to you, and even though my “fucking corndog” pogoing days are long, long gone, I’m taken straight back to jumping around like a fool to the bands of my teenage years1, and the friends I had then. Tragically, D. Boon would be killed in a van crash a year after recording this. What a waste of a great talent.

And going back to The Hold Steady, here’s their own tribute:

Up against these two songs, REM’s “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” really doesn’t stand up well. It’s that mid-tempo jangly alt-rock with opaque lyrics sung in a slightly irritating way that REM would release from 1983’s Murmur, right through to the present day. Whilst you simply can’t argue with the presence of “Radio Free Europe” on the list, I can’t think of a decent reason why this is on here. Maybe American alt-rock fans of a certain age look back on this song fondly, but for me, a number of their later songs would fit far more comfortably on this list than this song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good song, but one of the top 500? Nah.

That’s the Alt-Rock 101. These bands are influential beyond measure and there’s not a guitar band around today who doesn’t owe something to at least one of them.

On a personal level, I’ve gone from not knowing three of these songs, and not knowing anything by two of the bands, to absolutely loving the three songs I didn’t know. If I could go back in time, a thirteen year-old me would get a visit from a taller, slightly overweight, and rather older version of me, clutching vinyl copies of “Let It Be”, “Double Nickels on the Dime”, and “Zen Arcade”, along with a note reading “Play these. Play them every day, get a better guitar and practice it every day, and start that band.”. I dearly hope the thirteen year old would listen. This is music that can change your life, as the song says.

And now I’m off to Amazon to buy the CD’s for the adult me. I suggest you do too.

1 Dinosaur Jnr and The Pixies, since you ask. “Freak Scene” would get me out of a coma.

MP3: I Will Dare by The Replacements

MP3: History Lesson – Part II by The Minutemen

MP3: So. Central Rain by REM

The whole Pitchfork 500 series of articles can be found here.

Buy The Replacements “Let It Be” (CD)

Buy Minutemen “Double Nickels on the Dime” (CD)

Buy REM’s “Reckoning (Deluxe Edition)” (CD/MP3)

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