Autobiographical Order No. 264: Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

I’m right in the middle of my busiest time of year (or one of them, anyway), so I haven’t had the chance to record-blog as much as I’d like to. Or, at all. But things are leveling out again so I’m easing back into it. When we last left off I was talking about Ryan Adams albums, but this is also the time when I was beginning to more obsessively fill in the gaps of my record collection. Like every Led Zeppelin album (disclaimer: I still don’t have every Led Zeppelin album, but I’m getting there, I suppose. Slowly.)

My go-to Zep album is Houses of the Holy. It’s front-to-back one of the best sets of songs they ever released. Maybe THE best. Save for one song. “D’yer Maker.” It’s terrible. It’s lame, white-dude reggae that not even John Paul Jones likes and it clutters up what’s an otherwise great set of music. I even talked about my distaste for the song in a podcast I co-host. (You should listen, it’s fun and reminds you of terrible music.)

It’s sort of a frustrating stain on what could have been a perfect album. (The funny thing is that most people hate “The Crunge,” but I like their take on funk better than their take on reggae. Also: “Where’s that confounded bridge?!”) But “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Ocean,” “No Quarter”?! These are fantastic songs and I refuse to let that one bum track get in the way.

I understand not everyone’s into Led Zeppelin. I have friends who don’t like them, and even my wife isn’t a fan. But I defend them because they’re super influential to metal, which is a genre I hold dear. Still, I can’t defend “D’yer Maker.” It’s something I guess I’ll just have to live with. But it won’t stop me from putting Houses of the Holy on the turntable.

Rating: 9.7

Sound Quality: Great


Autobiographical Order No. 263: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cold Roses

Being a Ryan Adams fan in the early ’00s was sort of weird. His personality tended to rub people the wrong way, and as a result reviews of his albums stretched from glowing praise to pans so petty, you’d almost think it was personal. (Seriously, I’d love to read a Pitchfork Sunday Review done now on Love Is Hell, I’d be shocked if it looked anything like the first one, given everything he’s released in the past 10 years has scarcely dipped below a 6.0.) But being on the side of the defenders also meant sticking up for him when he did release a lousy album (RockNRoll, ugh) or whatever press-grabbing stunt was happening at the time (anyone remember that time he released 11 joke albums with names like DJ Reggie and The Shit?).

That all sort of blew over by the middle of the ’00s when he turned 30. He didn’t necessarily stop doing goofy shit, but there was a little more focus on putting out the best albums he could, rather than just everything. (Though he did release a lot: Six albums by the time he was 30, not counting the three he made with his first band, Whiskeytown.) The weird thing was that his output didn’t slow down, there just didn’t seem to be much filler (outside of outtake compilations and EPs and things like that). Cold Roses was the first of three albums in 2005, and arguably the best. In fact, I’d say it’s my favorite Ryan Adams album to listen to, even if it’s not specifically the best one he ever released (solo: Heartbreaker, overall: Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia, which desperately needs a vinyl reissue – it’s going for over $100 right now, which makes me crazy about not buying it when I had the chance 10 years ago).

Part of what makes Cold Roses work so well is that it’s entirely in Adams’ wheelhouse. When he does schlocky AC/DC rock, it’s usually pretty silly. But when he plays music steeped in country, folk, roots rock and Americana, it’s usually great. Like this, for instance. And the fact that it’s a double album and still pretty great from front to back is all the more impressive. It has some of his best songs: “Sweet Illusions,” “Let It Ride,” “If I Am A Stranger,” “Magnolia Mountain” etc. And for a double-album, it’s not that long. That might contribute to why I end up listening to this more than any other Ryan Adams album (even though I have a lot of favorites in his catalog). Compared to say Gold, which is about the same length, it breezes by because every song sounds like a single, essentially.

After some of Ryan Adams’ youthful absurdities wore off (and, you know, fewer drugs), the dust settled and his reputation settled back into an incredibly talented songwriter that may or may not be too prolific for his own good, but we’re much better off for it. Because he’s the guy behind an album like Cold Roses, which just gets better with age.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 262: Willie Bobo – 1,2,3 (Uno, Dos, Tres)

Back at the beginning of the year, I wrote about Mongo Santamaria, and how when my wife and I moved into our house (first time homebuyers!), we started a tradition of playing some Latin jazz while we had brunch on Sundays. We called it “Latin Brunch.” Bet you wonder how long it took us to come up with that name. Anyhow, it started a period of crate digging for ’50s and ’60s albums that were either some form of Latin jazz, or bossa nova, or Afro-Cuban jazz, or something along those lines. Thanks to “Watermelon Man,” however, I also discovered boogaloo.

I’m going to guess that most people know the phrase from Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo. Though the style of music was a hybrid of R&B and Latin jazz in the 1960s that originated in New York City. And Willie Bobo was an artist who released a lot of boogaloo records in his day, most of which were high-energy takes on standards and pop hits of the day, and 1,2,3, (Uno Dos Tres) was one of them. I bought the record for one specific reason: “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries.” This song is just too cool for its own good. It’s a somewhat more psychedelic take on boogaloo that’s danceable, catchy and just a little weird. Awesome stuff.

The rest of the record is fun, too, with covers of Beatles and Fontella Bass songs, Latin jazz style, and a variety of other highlights. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of music, since it does lean heavy on crowd pleasers, but it’s a lot of fun to listen to. And it goes well with pancakes.

Rating: 8.5

Sound Quality: Good

Autobiographical Order No. 261: The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

I feel the need to clarify something now that we’re into the 200s and there’s still hundreds more to go. I don’t buy records because I think they’ll go up in value. I think that’s an absurd reason to buy anything. (Except for maybe a house, but even that would be absurd if it was the sole reason somebody bought a house – you should want to live in it, I would think.) But as the vinyl boom sort of took off in the ’10s, people started to get the impression that these were collectors’ items that appreciated like Faberge eggs or something, and that’s generally not true. Yes, records do go up in value, but not to the extent that they’ll put your kids through college. And yes, somebody wrote that dumb article.

Still, for the past few years I’ve become somewhat obsessive about updating my Discogs collection. I don’t have everything entered into it, but I’m getting there. And I’m always fascinated by what albums are actually more valuable than I realized. I never buy them because I think they will be one day worth something—I actually have no way of knowing that, and as much as you think you can figure it out by preordering all the colored vinyl, you’ll be surprised to learn that your black standard Shearwater vinyl from 2008 is worth about $15 more than your red 2xLP Boris album.

Lost In the Dream by The War on Drugs is one of those albums. I bought it because I like the band a lot. I was going to get this even if it depreciated to 99 cents. (And at 99 cents, what a find!) But the band’s dreamy, shoegazey Springsteen-style rock has long been something that resonated with me, and Lost in the Dream is arguably their best album, the best possible mixture of Adam Granduciel’s songwriting and a big, swirling production sound.


I bought the album at The Casbah, at the last show they’ll probably ever play there (their next San Diego date is at a venue five times as big) and honestly, good for them. But they had vinyl at the merch booth, specifically the purple vinyl edition. And I probably paid more than the standard $20 or what have you, but not much more. Fast forward to four years later and it’s, according to Discogs, the fourth most valuable record in my collection at a median price of $71 (and a max of $195, but it’s not mint, so you know, it’s not THAT).

It’s cool that it’s worth something, but it doesn’t really matter. I love listening to it, and that’s why I have it.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 260: Depeche Mode – Violator

Universal appeal is overrated. If something manages to appeal to absolutely everybody, then it’s that much harder to make a personal connection—at least that’s how I feel about it. Things that everybody absolutely loves tend to receive some level of skepticism from me. If something is for everybody, is it for anybody?

There are obviously exceptions to these things, and I’ve already written about The Beatles, so these aren’t hard and fast rules. But I’ve found myself becoming disillusioned with stuff that under other circumstances I should probably like. I’m at the point where I can listen to “Hey Ya” again, but for a while I just couldn’t do it. It was everywhere, and I needed a break.

But “Enjoy the Silence,” well, that’s a song that’s pretty universal. Everybody knows it. Everybody likes it. You can’t say that about every Depeche Mode song, but that song is undeniable. It’s one of the biggest hits that Depeche Mode ever had, and yet it’s also arguably the best song they ever wrote (runners up: “Never Let Me Down Again,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “Everything Counts”). “Master and Servant” might get people moving on the dance floor, and “Personal Jesus” might be the one that everyone knows the words to. But “Enjoy the Silence” is the one everybody absolutely adores. It’s proven fact. Even Pitchfork, who’s generally wishy washy on Depeche Mode, declared it one of the best songs of the ’90s.

In 2015, my wife and I started a goth night in San Diego that lasted through Halloween 2016 (it was a lot of work – fun! but a lot of work, and we were having trouble keeping up). While being on a Wednesday meant sometimes having slow nights, they were usually pretty fun and had a good stream of people coming in and out, if not always consistently. One night there was this weird group of dudes that kept on acting like fools to be funny and impress their friends, doing ridiculous dances and generally annoying the hell out of my friend Craig, who was tending bar. But as douchey as they were, one of them came up to me while I was DJing and thanked me for playing “Enjoy the Silence.” So maybe they weren’t totally irredeemable.

Violator is a lot more than “Enjoy the Silence,” though, and pretty much every track is excellent. 10 out of 10 as they say, even if they’re sharing space with a 15 out of 10. It’s a perfect album, the band’s career peak, and that rare album (and song!) everybody can agree on.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 259: St. Vincent – St. Vincent

The mark of a special artist is that they grow with you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they know you intimately and you collaborate together or what have you. Just that as your own expectations change, so does the art that they deliver. Maybe it doesn’t change to your expectations, but you engage with the art with a renewed interest, and perhaps that challenges you. And it should challenge you. Not all art has to be something that provokes a long period of philosophical thought, but the greatest of it has always made me think differently about it after I have engaged with it.

St. Vincent is an artist that I’ve admired and listened to for more than a decade, and as a listener, I’m always being challenged by her music. With 2009’s Actor, she showed me that music that’s both pretty and ethereal can be unabashedly badass. I saw Annie Clark play with her band at a matinee at The Casbah that year, and it was easily one of the best shows I saw all year, Clark shredding her way through some exquisitely written songs, including a solo tear through 2007’s “Human Racing.” With 2011’s Strange Mercy, she showed that genre really couldn’t constrain her, as seemingly every track revealed something new, all the while proving that her songwriting was as strong as ever. It’s my favorite of her albums, and remains so. And for that matter, if you ever see her play “Surgeon” live, holy cow. You try doing that.

This year’s MASSEDUCTION was the first of her albums (not counting her David Byrne collaboration) that I thought was pretty good rather than great (I hate “Pills” and a lot of it feels a bit too superficial, but “Hang on Me” is outstanding, plus some other jams). I still like it quite a bit though, and I’m thankful that I’m still having this sort of thought process about St. Vincent as an artist. Though her ascent into art-pop stardom essentially peaked with her self-titled album in 2014.

Some consider this Clark’s best album, and there’s definitely an argument for it. It deserves an A, no doubt, and has a lot of my favorite St. Vincent tracks, including “Every Tear Disappears,” “Digital Witness,” “Prince Johnny” and “Huey Newton.” It expanded her capabilities not just as a songwriter and a musician, but as a presence. Here’s Annie Clark the pop star (in a sense—more Kate Bush or Bjork than Lady Gaga, which some of the MASSEDUCTION stuff feels like to me in a marketing sense). I even got a chance to interview her after this album came out and she definitely didn’t disappoint as an interview subject.

I didn’t see St. Vincent on her most recent tour since it was the same night as Converge, and I had already seen her three times and Converge only once. And they fucking killed, so no real dilemma there. But I did have to think about it for a minute. Seeing the dynamic that Clark’s been going for of late—just her in front of a screen—I don’t regret my decision. I’m sure the spectacle is cool, but I want to see a rock show.

On her 2014 tour, that’s exactly what she gave, albeit with the touches of art-pop weirdness that made it unique. And I’m sure next time it’ll be different too. I’m just thankful to have this ongoing relationship with her music where I can be surprised, elated, disappointed, critical or an unabashed fan, and it’ll keep on changing and never change at all.

Rating: 9.2

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 258: The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow

More Smiths? More Smiths! I went on a bit of a binge in the spring of 2014. Basically once I started with their debut, I had to keep going, though I realized the UK tracklists on the vinyl reissues meant certain tracks were missing, such as “How Soon Is Now?” for instance. The answer? Hatful of Hollow! Which contained that essential single along with a bunch of other singles, b-sides and BBC tracks, including one of my all-time favorite Smiths songs, “Handsome Devil.”

There was only one small problem. When my copy showed up, it…smelled funny. Specifically, it smelled like smoke. I, not being a smoker, find the smell of smoke super gross. I’ve never been a smoker, never seen the appeal and once threw up when I was a kid because my friend’s dad’s car smelled like smoke. So yeah, not a fan.

I wasn’t really sure what to do about it. I began Googling solutions for records with unpleasant smells, and I took a few suggestions to see what would work. One was to put the album cover sleeve outside to let the smell air out. So I left it outside in the shade one day to try it out. When I went outside to check on it, it seemed fine. I put it back in the mylar sleeve and went about my business. I checked on it the next day, and somehow the smell had returned. I threw away the plastic cover and aired out the gatefold sleeve another day. The same thing happened, and I started to get frustrated. It was like living in my own Seinfeld episode where the valet gave Jerry’s car permanent B.O.

The next thing I tried was putting dryer sheets in with the album. So I did that for a day or two, and it worked. The problem was that it made the album smell unusually fragrant, which was an odd side effect. I didn’t really want my records to smell like detergent either, so I ended up airing it out again outside, and spent a solid week just trying to get this damn thing to smell like cardboard. It still retains some of the dryer sheet smell, but it’s at least muted now. And the seller gave me a half-refund because I complained about the smell. (And before then, I had never even considered that this could be a problem. Lesson learned!)

So  the record’s great, essential, etc. Just make sure when you buy something that it doesn’t pick up strange odors.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great