Autobiographical Order No. 413: A Place to Bury Strangers – A Place to Bury Strangers

Success stories like A Place to Bury Strangers aren’t as common now as they were during the mid-’00s. Thanks to a short lived explosion of blogs, more under-the-radar acts began to get noticed, some for better and some for worse (not naming names, but a lot of bands were still not quite graduated from the sounds-pretty-good-in-an-actual-garage phase). But it was an interesting move away from the mostly mainstream coverage of music from the early part of the decade, in which The Strokes were about as underground as coverage got. (Which is not at all.)

A Place to Bury Strangers’ first album came out on Killer Pimp, a DIY label essentially, and kind of blew up after getting coverage on Pitchfork and blogs, and within a couple years they ended up on Mute, the label that released albums by the likes of Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and so on. Not bad. Not bad at all.

And with good reason: APTBS’s debut album is one of the best noise-rock/shoegaze albums of the 21st century. Catchy, tuneful songs with an inhuman amount of noise and effects, thanks in large part to Death by Audio, frontman Oliver Ackermann’s boutique pedal-building business and former DIY space (like everything in New York, it’s been gentrified out of existence because of condos or something).

The first time I heard this album it sort of blew my mind. It was everything I loved about My Bloody Valentine, Big Black, early The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain in one exploding ball of shrapnel. “To Fix the Gash In Your Head” and “I Know I’ll See You Again” are dark and menacing and hit all the right notes. I spun ’em a few times when I was doing the goth DJ thing, and I don’t know if anyone cared, but I enjoyed it. The band also puts on one hell of a live show; we caught them in Austin at SXSW back in 2008, and nothing came close.

All of the band’s records since have been solid, though nothing quite hit that “holy shit!” level like this one. Few things do.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Good

 

Autobiographical Order No. 412: PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love

So it just kind of worked out this way. Today is PJ Harvey’s 50th birthday, and this album came up next in the autobiographical sequence. Wild, huh? I have more writing that I’ve been doing about PJ Harvey of late, which will be revealed soon, elsewhere, but for now, let’s talk about this splendid record.

To Bring You My Love is, to date, the first and only PJ Harvey album I’ve purchased on vinyl. And that’s because most of them are out of print. Her two most recent albums, Let England Shake and The Hope Six Demolition Project, are available because she’s since moved on to a new label, Vagrant, while most of her albums were released on Island (or Too Pure), and presumably she and they haven’t reached any kind of reissue agreement. Or, possibly (but hopefully not), the masters were destroyed at that Universal Studios fire a decade ago. If that’s the case, that would be a huge bummer. Hoping it isn’t though.

It’s kind of odd, considering just about everyone else in the world has seen their catalog reissued on vinyl, and some time ago certain online shops began showing preorders for all of her albums, but nothing came of that. So as of now, some of the best rock records of the past 30 years have been long out of print, selling for $150 or more on eBay or Discogs. (Even the bootleg copies sourced from a CD are going for $75 or more. It’s madness!) If you were to ask me what my number one most wished-for vinyl reissue was, it’d be Rid of Me. Followed by Is This Desire? and Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

But I have To Bring You My Love, and it’s fantastic. This was my introduction to PJ Harvey—I heard “Down by the Water” on KROQ when I was around 13, and I was hooked. It was so different than anything else on the radio. Bluesy, dark, dirty, it caught my attention on first listen. And bluesy, dark and dirty is a pretty good way to describe the album as a whole. The production sounds bigger than her previous two records, courtesy of Flood (Nine Inch Nails, U2), and it’s pretty massively heavy. A song like “Long Snake Moan” is PJ Harvey in overdrive. But the subtler moments, like the haunting title track or gothic ballad “Teclo,” are no less enchanting. There’s an argument for this being her best album. I still lean toward Rid of Me, but this album is too good for me to put up a fight.

I don’t know why this is the sole holdout for Island Records—if there’s demand for this album, there certainly is for her others. But we’ll just have to wait and see if any of those end up happening. I know I’ll be the first to pre-order when they do.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 411: Bauhaus – In the Flat Field

Back in 2015 when my wife and I came up with the zany idea of starting a goth night—which was a lot of fun but too exhausting to keep up every month (DJing, booking guest DJs, plus decor, movies, stunts, etc.)—we reached something of a stumbling block when it came to the name. The problem with naming a goth night is that whatever clever thing you come up with will almost certainly have been used by someone else somewhere. Corrosion? Taken. Stigmata? Yeah. Disintegration? Yup. Shadowplay? Uh huh (and that one’s super fun, if you ever find yourself in Portland). Honestly, pretty much think of any phrase used in a goth song and it’s likely been adopted as the name of a DJ night somewhere.

So this took some time, but eventually my wife came up with a perfect one: St. Vitus Dance Party, named of course after the Bauhaus song, “St. Vitus Dance.” Weirdly enough, we somehow managed not to pick up In the Flat Field on vinyl throughout so many years of buying records, so that was at the top of the list by the time we got this thing off the ground. (Whenever I told people the night was all-vinyl, they usually thought that was pretty cool, but its drawback is that some stuff is really hard to get on vinyl. On the other hand it’s the only DJing I do, so…)

And while we’re on the subject: This is one of the greatest post-punk albums of all time. It’s not perfect by any means, but its highs are astronomical. The title track alone makes this an all-timer. As a guitar player, I’ve definitely learned a few things from listening to Daniel Ash, and as a singer, I work hard to have the kind of presence that Peter Murphy does. And as a listener, I find songs like “St. Vitus Dance,” “God In An Alcove” and “A Spy in the Cab” a lot of fun to listen to.

Now, the flipside of naming your goth night St. Vitus Dance Party is that a lot of people will ask about the doom metal band, St. Vitus, which we never played. There is, however, another band with a song called “St. Vitus Dance” with a fun story I’ll get to later, but I’m not there yet. I’ll just leave you by saying if you have even a passing interest in post-punk, buy this record. It’s essential.

(It’ll also get you put in Facebook jail for the cover art apparently. ugh.)

Rating: 9.6

Sound Quality: Great

 

Autobiographical Order No. 410: Algiers – Algiers

November 9, 2016 was a rough day. It felt like some kind of accomplishment to have not vomited the night before, after several drinks and stomach-dropping return after return confirming that yes, actually, America is worse than you thought it could be. Not that it had a stellar record to begin with, but we decided to take it a step further and elect a TV game show narcissist who can’t speak a word without massive and comically fictional exaggeration. A thin-skinned blowhard who somehow made a fragile ego a winning strategy. A man who looked white supremacists and neo-nazis in the eyes and said, “hey, what you’re doing is good, and I’m going to make this country more hospitable to hatemongers and less hospitable to everyone else.” That guy. We elected him president. I don’t know how I didn’t throw up…

More than half of America felt that way (stupid Electoral College…) when that happened. And most of us didn’t have any particular illusions that things would all of a sudden be fixed had the election gone a different way. There’s a lot that’s wrong with America, too much for one presidential term to fix, even two, three, who knows. But making things worse? Well, it felt like we’d never recover from this. I don’t necessarily feel that way anymore, but it’s not pretty.

The next day at work had basically turned into a sick day for everyone. The weekly editorial meeting was canceled on account of depression. I really couldn’t do much of anything, personally. I think I did a little writing. But by and large I just kind of sat there.

I wanted to listen to music, though, and I didn’t know what to listen to. After already being beaten down by the deaths of Bowie and Prince, and a generally exhausting year overall, I needed something that would put me if not in better spirits, at least in the mindset to be ready to fight back. So only one record came to mind, naturally: Algiers’ self-titled debut.

I credit my friend Steve with turning me on to the band, based on his description that they were somewhere between Mahalia Jackson and Suicide. And I was pretty much sold based on that description alone. It was also somewhat accurate, though they’re a hard band to encapsulate into a simple description. Ostensibly they play post-punk with traces of apocalyptic gospel and blues, though it goes well beyond that, and it leads to some pretty absurd reactions (as heard in their recent track “Can the Sub Bass Speak?“). They have a defined aesthetic, but it’s not an inflexible one, which is what makes them one of the most interesting bands in the past decade.

But they also have a lot of songs about injustice, racism, oppression—the kinds of things that a Trump presidency essentially guaranteed. And I needed to hear a voice that would tell me that being angry is better than despair. It was a good choice. We’re not out of this mess yet, and one clown with a lot of power is only one small piece of a gigantic trash heap of problems that, as of now, spans the globe (Brazil’s president might be even worse, though most countries are run by absolute dipshits at this moment.) But it helps to have a soundtrack to remind you that the way out isn’t by retreating into hopelessness.

Oh, and also “Irony. Utility. Pretext.” was fun to play at goth nights.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 409: Jamie xx – In Colour

I’ve been keeping track of my vinyl listening habits for the past two years, and I’ve noticed that there are a lot of go-to records in my collection, some of which I didn’t realize I listened to as often as I did. Elder’s Lore, Songs: Ohia’s Ghost Tropic and Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen is a Reptile have been some of my most-listened-to records of the past couple years, to a degree I didn’t even realize. (These haven’t been written about here just yet, since they’re more recent acquisitions.)

Doing so also brings to mind the albums that I don’t listen to very often. In fact, there’s quite a few that I haven’t returned to in a while, and it’s not because they’re not good, or that I don’t like them. Sometimes I can’t honestly say why. Jamie xx’s debut is one of them, but I think it has more to do with the band that gave him his name, The xx.

I like The xx. I even have their debut on vinyl, which I bought on a honeymoon trip to Spain(!), but there’s things about The xx—few them of them their actual fault—that I definitely don’t like. Take, for instance, “Intro,” the first song on their self-titled album. Been to a yoga class in the last, oh, 10 years? You’ve heard this track probably hundreds of times. You’ve also probably heard their songs in car commercials or NPR breaks or basically any platform where someone would want background music that sounds moody, but with a slight edge.

Again, not their fault, but I hear xx-like music all the time, and a lot of it is kind of bad and boring. (I’m sorry if you’re a fan of Cigarettes After Sex, but…) So perhaps that’s why I’ve spent a couple years, whether intentionally or unintentionally, not listening to Jamie xx. But that’s not really fair to him; it’s not like he made everyone basic. And in truth, I enjoy this album a lot. It’s a dance record! It’s fun! It’s meant to move you. Physically. And there are jams on here—jams galore. When I played this for the first time in a couple years, I enjoyed the hell out of it. So I don’t know. Perhaps it’s psychological.

Maybe I just have to remind myself that external factors shouldn’t influence how much I enjoy something. Or maybe, given time, I’ll just forget the whole thing and go back to listening to records I like without any baggage.

Rating: 9.0

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 408: Austra – Feel It Break

In recent weeks, I’ve written about the Cold Cave and Zola Jesus records from the early 2010s that, to me, came to define a kind of modern wave of goth that showed it could evolve into a new era without making carbon copies of old Cocteau Twins albums. So did the second Crystal Castles album, which got an assist from none other than Robert Smith. But then years later it was revealed that Ethan Kath was an abusive scumbag and, well, I have trouble listening to that record now.

But I don’t think it was until I heard the debut album by Austra that I realized This Is A Thing. It was one of those “two’s a coincidence, three’s a conspiracy” situations, where Austra really put it over the edge. My recollection of discovering them was as follows: A publicist representing them, before their album was even released, hit me up and said, “If you’re going to SXSW, check this band out, you won’t regret it.” Me, trusting that publicist, said, “sure, why not.” And it took only a song or two after seeing them at a Domino Records day party (at least I think that’s what it was), to be convinced.

The funny thing about it was how weird and out of context it all felt. This Canadian group works best at night when there’s plenty of gloom to go around. But like I said, we caught them during a day party, in a mostly white room full of hipsters in captain’s hats, where everyone was probably severely hungover and the bar staff was saying out loud to each other, “Only one more day and it’s over!” (I imagine if you live and work in Austin, SXSW can be a nightmare.)

But the band was great regardless. I remember being utterly blown away by “The Beat and the Pulse,” which has held up well after eight years (Eight years? Good lord.), and of course I added it to the goth DJ playlist. As I recall, it typically went over well, as did “Lose It.” But I’m not sure if they’re as major a figure in contemporary goth as they were to me personally. In fact, this was one of those groups that made me think, “I wish more goth nights played stuff like this.” And so I did.

Rating: 8.9

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 407: Ministry – The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

A while back in this series, I proposed the idea that Depeche Mode is the one band that we can all agree on. They’re a band that unites rather than divides—whomst among us can’t feel some Depeche Mode, am I right? In fact, I’m not sure that I can really hang with someone who feels otherwise. Get down with Depeche Mode or get out. (I’m not really this rigid…)

Ministry is not that band. If anything, Ministry is the inverse of Depeche Mode. In my two-plus decades of listening on and off to Ministry, I have yet to find anything resembling a consensus. For a long time I assumed everyone disliked their debut album, With Sympathy (Al Jourgensen himself doesn’t like it), but I’ve discovered that it’s reasonably well liked, cheesy New Romantic funk and all. (It has good songs, but I don’t know if I’d say it’s a good album. No album with “Work For Love” can be called as such.)

I also kind of figured that everyone considered The Land of Rape and Honey their best, though The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste is definitely a contender. But more often than not, I find people prefer Psalm 69 (which is good, just kind of a continuation of a theme to my ears). And for how inessential their more recent albums have been, they still have their staunch defenders.

All of which is to say, there’s no unifying opinion of Ministry, and that’s fine. As one of the most influential bands in industrial music, they’re certainly regarded as an important band, but their legacy has been complicated, if mostly because they’ve kinda repeated themselves a bunch over the years, from the puns to the riffs. But there arguably wouldn’t be a Nine Inch Nails without Ministry, and when they were on, they were on.

Ministry hit their stride in the mid-to-late ’80s and kept it up through the early ’90s. Which means four bona fide classics in a row. The Mind is the third of those, their first real industrial metal album, and it features some of their most ripping singles. In particular “Burning Inside,” and if I’m being straight, I picked this record up more or less just to play that track at the goth night I hosted. But there’s more good stuff where that came from, like the post-punk-y groove of “So What,” or the grinding “Thieves.”

Everybody has a different take on Ministry, and mine is by no means the hottest. But I dare say I’d be shocked if any Ministry fan didn’t have a soft spot in their hearts for The Mind.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great