Autobiographical Order No. 219: Swans – The Seer

A triple album takes commitment. You have to flip that sumbitch five times! And it also means you probably want to plan to hang around for at least a couple hours to hear the whole thing. Now, me, I don’t actually have that many triple albums, only around six maybe? (for some reason I’ve never gotten around to picking up All Things Must Pass, though there aren’t that many must-buy triple-albums overall…) But the ones I have, I rarely hear the whole thing in one sitting. That’s pretty intense.

And yet, I’m not sure there’s another way to listen to Swans’ The Seer. It’s six sides of vinyl, more than half of which are taken up by just three compositions. Yeah, they’re long and intense and overwhelming, and require more patience than the average listener will likely give them. My brother once described their music as kind of like listening to a car alarm. He’s not that far off, but this is music that I find rewarding and compelling in ways that much other music isn’t.

I didn’t know much about Swans before they started back up in 2010 after a long hiatus, and discovered them through a record-club type feature that used to run on Treble called For the Record, wherein we’d each listen to five albums each month that we’d never heard before. It wasn’t that popular as a feature, but it was fun to do, and it introduced me to some cool stuff. Like Swans, whose Soundtracks for the Blind was probably not the best introduction (it’s really fucking weird) but then again, if you want to learn how to swim, maybe you have to be dropped into the deep end.

A few years later I ended up really loving their second post-reunion (if you can call it that) album, The Seer, and while on a shopping excursion in Portland I was hell-bent on finding it. I came up empty handed, so I ended up buying it on Amazon Prime from the hotel room, and it was on our doorstep when we got home.

I already knew the album, but listening to it on vinyl is an unusual experience. The tracklist is in a different order, and three of those super-long tracks are split in two on opposite sides. It’s almost as if they’re separate “songs” in that sense, often divided between abstract ambient pieces and more intense art rock numbers. There are also shorter songs, which feature members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Low, but they’re not quite as powerful as the big ones. And to commit yourself to hearing the whole thing in one sitting is like being in a sweat lodge or something. In a good way. It’s hard to explain.

This album isn’t necessarily for first time listeners, but it’s awesome, regardless. And a few years later, my band Blood Ponies ended up opening for former Swans drummer Thor Harris’ new band, and he said he liked my band, so that was pretty great.

Rating: 9.2

Sound Quality: Great

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Progress Report: Third Quarter 2015

Another quarter down, and it’s time for my periodic rankings of all the music I’ve listened to this year. In July I was up to 100 albums. This time, it’s at 151. Now, it’s actually higher than that, but basically I’m at a rate of 50 per quarter, so I should be up to 200 by year-end list time. So far I’m lucky enough to have not listened to anything that was a total disaster, but I did give three C minuses, and that’s basically a failing grade. But who knows, maybe I’ll hear something truly awful in the next two months. I can tell you that there are a couple As that haven’t been included yet, just because they’re not yet out. But so far, a strong year.

Rankings are approximate and subject to change. I’ve included links to my review of the album where available.

C-

Slayer – Repentless
Wavves/Cloud Nothings – No Life for Me
Ryan Adams – 1989

C

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
The Vaccines – English Graffiti

C+

Desaparecidos – Payola
Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin
Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars

B-

Call of the Void – Ageless
Liturgy – The Ark Work
Publicist UK – Forgive Yourself
Xibalba – Tierra y Libertad
William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death
No Spill Blood – Heavy Electricity
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
Mas Ysa – Seraph
White Hills – Walks for Motorists
Girl Band – The Early Years EP

B-/B

Drake – If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late
Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
Heems – Eat Pray Thug
Bully – Feels Like
Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home
Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man
Superheaven – Ours is Chrome
Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

B

Ypsitucky – New Old Lady
Young Thug – Barter 6
Best Coast – California Nights
Death Eyes – s/t
Jan St. Werner – Miscontinuum Album
Ought – Sun Coming Down
Hot Nerds – Strategically Placed Bananas
Ultragash – Is This Love or Confusion
Death and Vanilla – To Where the Wild Things Are
Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
Shady Francos – That’s Gabe
Abyss – Heretical Anatomy
Buddy Banter – I Am Nothing EP
Sledding With Tigers – Come on and Slam
Christian Mistress – To Your Death
Watkins Family Hour – s/t
Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth
Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
Wire – s/t
Calexico – Edge of the Sun
Indesinence – III

B/B+

Twerps – Range Anxiety
Griever – Our Love is Different
California X – Nights in the Dark
Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages
Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
Mystery Cave – Natural Mind EP
Retox – Beneath California
Failure – The Heart is a Monster
Battles – La Di Da Di
Vanum – Realm of Sacrifice
Ditches – Scraped Off EP
Caina – Setter of Unseen Snares
Bit Maps – On Demand Living
Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects – No Wrong No Rights
Cherubs – 2 Ynfynyty
King Woman – Doubt
A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
Valkyrie – Shadows
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Beach House – Depression Cherry
Chvrches – Every Open Eye
The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness
Young Fathers – White Men are Black Men Too
Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
Lucifer – Lucifer I
Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes
Kylesa – Exhausting Fire
Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder Sweet and Other Distress
Hope Drone – Cloak of Ash

B+

Mount Eerie – Sauna
Petite Noir – The King of Anxiety EP
Fell to Low – Low in the Dust
Sannhet – Revisionist
Napalm Death – Apex Predator-Easy Meat
Tau Cross – s/t
Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
Ufomammut – Ecate
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
False – Untitled
He Whose Ox Is Gored – The Camel The Lion The Child
Krallice – Ygg Huur
Brian Ellis Group – Escondido Sessions

B+/A-

The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – s/t
Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia
Dam-Funk – Invite the Light
Wild Wild Wets – 14th Floor
Bjork – Vulnicura
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
Minsk – The Crash and the Draw
Tame Impala – Currents
THEESatisfaction – EarthEE
Dorthia Cottrell – s/t
Torche – Restarter
Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
Author & Punisher – Melk en Honing
Meat Wave – Delusion Moon
Birdy Bardot – s/t
Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
Torres – Sprinter
Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution
Envy – Atheists Cornea
Thundercat – Where the Giants Roam
Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Shamir – Ratchet
Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
Petite Noir – La Vie est belle/Life is beautiful
Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down (reviewed this for American Songwriter but it’s not online…)
The Soft Moon – Deeper

A-

Natalie Prass – s/t
Holly Herndon – Platform
Pile – You’re Better Than This
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Viet Cong – s/t
FKA Twigs – M3LL155X
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Vattnet Viskar – Settler
Metz – II
KEN Mode – Success
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
HEALTH – Death Magic
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Miguel – Wildheart
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

A

Myrkur – M
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Jamie xx – In Colour
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Bosse-de-Nage – All Fours
Vince Staples – Summertime 06
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
D’Angelo – Black Messiah (2014 release, technically, but c’mon…)
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again
Destroyer – Poison Season
Algiers – Algiers
Tribulation – Children of the Night
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Progress Report: 1st Half 2015

The year is officially half over, and since I did an update after the end of the first quarter, I’m keeping up with my status with this progress report for the halfway mark. Last time I had listened to 48 albums, and now I’m up to 100. I’ve listened to more that haven’t yet been released, but I’m saving those for when it’s time. So here’s all the albums I’ve heard from the first half of 2015, luckily with nothing that’s been totally awful.

C

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
The Vaccines – English Graffiti

C+

Desaparecidos – Payola
Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin
Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars

B-

Call of the Void – Ageless
Liturgy – The Ark Work
Xibalba – Tierra y Libertad
William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death
No Spill Blood – Heavy Electricity
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
White Hills – Walks for Motorists
Girl Band – The Early Years EP

B-/B

Drake – If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late
Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
Heems – Eat Pray Thug
Bully – Feels Like
Chastity Belt – Time to Go Home
Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man
Superheaven – Ours is Chrome
Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

B

Young Thug – Barter 6
Best Coast – California Nights
Death Eyes – s/t
Jan St. Werner – Miscontinuum Album
Hot Nerds – Strategically Placed Bananas
Ultragash – Is This Love or Confusion
Death and Vanilla – To Where the Wild Things Are
Screaming Females – Rose Mountain
Abyss – Heretical Anatomy
Buddy Banter – I Am Nothing EP
Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
Wire – s/t
Calexico – Edge of the Sun

B/B+

Twerps – Range Anxiety
Griever – Our Love is Different
California X – Nights in the Dark
Mystery Cave – Natural Mind EP
Retox – Beneath California
Failure – The Heart is a Monster
Caina – Setter of Unseen Snares
Bit Maps – On Demand Living
Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Cherubs – 2 Ynfynyty
King Woman – Doubt
A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
Valkyrie – Shadows
Young Fathers – White Men are Black Men Too
Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
Lucifer – Lucifer I
Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder Sweet and Other Distress

B+

Mount Eerie – Sauna
Petite Noir – The King of Anxiety EP
Sannhet – Revisionist
Napalm Death – Apex Predator-Easy Meat
Tau Cross – s/t
Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs
The Soft Moon – Deeper
Ufomammut – Ecate
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
False – Untitled

B+/A-

The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – s/t
Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia
Wild Wild Wets – 14th Floor
Bjork – Vulnicura
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
Minsk – The Crash and the Draw
THEESatisfaction – EarthEE
Dorthia Cottrell – s/t
Torche – Restarter
Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – Surf
Author & Punisher – Melk en Honing
Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
Torres – Sprinter
Shamir – Ratchet
Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

A-

Natalie Prass – s/t
Holly Herndon – Platform
Pile – You’re Better Than This
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Viet Cong – s/t
Vattnet Viskar – Settler
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Metz – II
KEN Mode – Success
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Miguel – Wildheart
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

A

Jamie xx – In Colour
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Bosse-de-Nage – All Fours
Algiers – Algiers
Tribulation – Children of the Night
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
D’Angelo – Black Messiah (2014 release, technically, but c’mon…)
Vince Staples – Summertime 06
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Best of my writing, May 2015 update

I try to periodically update this blog with some of the best writing I’ve done of late, and I feel like the last couple months have been pretty good for me, personally. I’ve profiled some great bands, done a few discographical surveys, taken a dive into some of the best albums and songs by some of my favorite artists and such. Anyhow, here’s my latest hits collection. Enjoy!

Waxahatchee cover story (CityBeat)

An interview with Metz (Treble)

Wire albums from worst to best (Stereogum)

Interview with VA hard rock outfit Valkyrie (Noisey)

Young Fathers feature (CityBeat)

Celebrate the Catalog: A thorough review of every Converge album (Treble)

A roundup of The best Ryan Adams songs (Treble)

Interview with heavy psych group Ecstatic Vision (Noisey)

Lightning Bolt feature (CityBeat)

That sounds... comforting

Introducing: Autobiographical Order

Last week I noted that I’d be embarking on a new blogging project this year, and this is where it begins. Starting this week, I plan to write about my record collection in — wait for it — autobiographical order.

Now, I can’t take credit for the idea. For that I owe John Cusack’s Rob Gordon in the movie High Fidelity, who periodically reorganizes his record collection for therapeutic reasons. So if he wants to listen to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” he has to remember that he bought it for someone in Fall of 1983, but decided to keep it for personal reasons.

That sounds… comforting.

So, it’ll begin with the records I obtained from my parents, and the earliest bargain-bin vinyl I picked up after graduating high school, and on through my abandonment of CDs and up to where I am now. It’s going to be a long process, and perhaps one that never actually ends (seeing as how I keep buying records). So why am I doing it? A couple reasons. For starters, I made a goal to listen to vinyl every day this year. Or at least every day that I’m at home. And as I’ve been listening, memories of where and when I obtained these records have come flooding back to me. Sometimes there’s an interesting, inescapable context to listening to them for the first time. Sometimes it’s just a good record that deserves a few extra words. For the extra nerdy audiophiles and such, I’ll include a few notes about sound quality and my personal rating, but this is mostly a personal exercise. I have other outlets for more professional music criticism. This is just me talkin’ ’bout records, for the most part, and getting closely re-acquainted with all the LPs in my collection.

One final note, before I begin with the project, I’m sure some folks will think this might be inspired by the My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection blog. It isn’t. Coincidental if anything, though I have found that blog to be funny and charming (despite the critiques about gender politics, which I understand but don’t necessarily think are intentional — and if you’re wondering, a bunch of the records I’ll be writing about were my wife’s before we smooshed our collections together, so keep that in mind).

More than anything, I’m doing this for fun, and I hope you enjoy reading along.

So, Did I Make It?

It’s been almost six months since my last blog post — I’ve been busy. And forgetful. And any and all excuses you’ll accept for my not being so productive in the blogging dept. And that means I never actually posted an update on my 300-album-review challenge for 2013.

So, you’re probably wondering, did he make it?

No, he absolutely did not. My grand total came to 211 reviews. And I probably heard a total of 250 albums when all is said and done. But yeah, trying to do 300 reviews in one year is harder than it sounds. And it sounds pretty hard.

It was a fun experiment, and when you challenge yourself to write that much about so many different records, it requires you to step outside of your comfort zone a little. And that’s always something worth doing, especially when it means you can potentially be building up to becoming a better writer.

For 2014 (which is a couple months in now, I realize), I’ve got a new challenge, which I’ll blog about later this week. It involves vinyl. I won’t be eating records, like I’m doing in this blog’s header, but I will be writing about them. Stay tuned…

Summer/Fall Clipstravaganza

It’s been a really busy five months, writing-wise, and I haven’t posted any of my clips here in a while, so I’m doing a quick and dirty roundup of some of the best material I’ve written since June or so. Hoping to do this more frequently.

The Top 25 Morrissey songs – American Songwriter

Deafheaven feature (cover story) – San Diego CityBeat

The White Buffalo feature – American Songwriter

The Annual Hot 100 Survey redux – Treble

Baroness feature – San Diego CityBeat

Neko Case: The Worse Things Get review – Treble

Kim Gordon feature (cover story) – San Diego CityBeat

Chelsea Wolfe: Pain is Beauty review – Treble

Bill Callahan: Dream River review – American Songwriter

Beginner’s Guide: Swans – Treble

Hall of Fame: Baroness’ Blue Record – Treble