Queens of the Stone Age

•December 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

By Zachery Oliver

WHEN:1997 – present

CULPRITS: Current members include Josh Homme (lead vocals, guitarist and other, 1997-present),  Troy Van Leeuwen (guitarist, 2002-present), Michael Shuman (bassist, backing vocals 2007-present), Joey Castillo (drummer, 2002-present), Dean Fertita (keyboardist, backing vocals, 2007-present), and about 30 other “contributors,” if not more who are unlisted (some have been members of the band, some just on certain songs, others on live performances only) // Former member: Nick Oliveri (bassist, 1999-2004) deserves a mention, as he was responsible for the “heavier” Queens sound in the first three albums.

ALBUMS: Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age EP (1997); Queens of the Stone Age/Beaver EP (1998); Queens of the Stone Age (1998); Rated R (2001); Songs for the Deaf (2003); Stone Age Complication EP (2004); Lullabies to Paralyze (2005); Era Vulgaris (2007)

HOW: Until the coming of Rock Band, I was literally ignorant of good music in general. Around early 2008, playing “Go with the Flow” caught my attention – the repetitive riffs, the chugging pace, the weirdly sweet voice of Josh Homme, and the lyrics themselves gave the song a twisted atmosphere that I never really heard before. I picked up Songs for the Deaf a couple months later, but I really hated the album for about six months. I tried to listen to it, but I just didn’t “get it” at all. The album just switches genres at the top of a hat; there’s no real consistency at all other than these quirky radio interludes.

However, one day it just clicked. Listening to it as a whole was a thrilling experience through all the ups and downs of the songs, and it just works, even though in the back of my mind there was a feeling that this roller coaster should just fly off the tracks, but it doesn’t. Every song is catchy, and even the more abrasive songs (like “Six Shooter” with Oliveri’s screaming) are the kind you grow to love. That’s what happened to me, at least – it was a slow churn, for sure, but I subsequently bought all the albums I could buy and download all the B-sides I could find (the first Queens albums, also, since it’s out of print at the moment). I’ve been listening to them constantly ever since.

WHY: Homme is willing to try anything within the context of “rock” music. He has described it as “robot rock” (especially the first album, and probably even more so Songs for the Deaf), but later albums show a ton of variety. Lullabies evokes the feeling of a dark Brothers Grimm fairytale, while Era Vulgaris goes into the dark underbelly of Hollywood. The dark, dank, dirty, grimy atmosphere of the music really pulled through to me; they really are mood albums, especially played straight through in order (that makes a playlist especially difficult). On top of that, the chops on display are marvelous; you can totally tell these guys really love to play whatever they play, and this passion pours through on their albums. It’s always interesting to hear what kind of flourishes will pop out, as well as a random new instrument or two from guest contributors. The ever-changing lineup means that one never knows what the Queens actually will sound like, honestly. They even switch vocalists on songs from time to time. Most of all, all of their songs are catchy. They stick in your head forever, and they don’t go out, and when you want to get them out, you end up listening to another song. That, for me, is the sign of a great band.

SONGS: I basically chose songs I felt represented what I would call the three different “moods”  of the Queens. Firstly, there’s the chugging “robot rock,” extremely riff based, straightforward and damn catchy rock music. There’s some popular stuff in there (I can’t leave out “Go with the Flow,” really) but there’s also some personal favorites as well (I like “Sick, Sick, Sick,” and “Regular John” has that nice intro riff that pops up later in the song which I love). Secondly, the middle of the playlist hits around the “acoustic” side of the Queens. It’s not that it doesn’t involve any electronic equipment, but that it has that laid back vibe to it even though it still classifies as “rock.” Thirdly, the last part is what I would call the “totally weird” Queens songs. They tend to be crazy, complex, long, and generally some of the best songs they have ever put out. “I Think I Lost My Headache” is Homme’s personal favorite, so it seemed a logical choice to close the playlist. I’ll let the rest of the songs speak for themselves.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE for free on Lala.com!

Belle and Sebastian

•December 14, 2009 • 2 Comments

By Caitlin Flynn

WHEN: 1996-present (on hiatus since 2009)

CULPRITS: Stuart Murdoch (vocals, piano, guitar), Stevie Jackson (guitar,vocals), Sarah Martin (violin, vocals), Bobby Kildea (bass, guitar), Richard Colburn (drums, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards), Mick Cooke (horns, guitar, bass) Former members: Isobel Campbell (vocals, cello), Stuart David (bass, vocals)

ALBUMS: Tigermilk (1996); If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996); Dog On Wheels EP (1997); Lazy Line Painter Jane EP (1997); 3…6…9 Seconds Of Light EP (1997); The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998); This Is Just A Modern Rock Song EP (1998); Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A  Peasant (2000); Legal Man EP (2000); Jonathan David EP (2001); I’m Waking Up To Us EP (2001); Storytelling (2002); Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003); Books EP (2004); The Life Pursuit (2006)  // Note: All the EPs except for Books are collected in the Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation (2005)

HOW: I had always heard good things about Belle and Sebastian, although upon first hearing their name I thought they were some sort of weird Disney-character mashup. (It wasn’t until much, much later that I learned that they took their name from a French children’s story.) I had read a small review of If You’re Feeling Sinister in a Spin magazine retrospective in 2005, and at the time I thought that it just wouldn’t be my kind of music, as at the time I was heavily entrenched in new wave—see my writeup on The Cars—and thought introverted, childlike bedroom pop would do nothing for me. But I was still a little uncertain on my relatively new, wobbly music-nerd legs, so I didn’t quite know what my niche was, or if I had more than one. The following spring, I read a very favorable review of their newest album, The Life Pursuit, on Pitchfork and was immediately intrigued, and I became even more interested upon hearing little clips from the album on iTunes. I went out and got myself a copy at the first available opportunity (funnily enough, the other CD I bought that day was Arctic Monkeys’ debut, whose interest would prove very short-lived with me!). I instantly fell in love with the cheery, joyous, instantly catchy sound of that album, and I played it to death, particularly the Cars-meet-Roxy Music “The Blues Are Still Blue,” so much that although I still love it nowadays, I rarely give it more than a couple spins a year.

The thing is, I had seen from the iTunes reviews of The Life Pursuit that many older fans were angry since this album, along with Dear Catastrophe Waitress, represented a drastic change in their sound. Since I loved The Life Pursuit so much, I thought I’d take up the opposite polemic and refuse to listen to their older material, which I thought would be a little too cloistered for me anyway; yet I was still somewhat curious about it. As it were, around this time my enthusiastic older cousin burned me an enormous data disc of albums he thought I should get into, and among them was If You’re Feeling Sinister. I was unsure at first, but it had come at just the right time: I had just broken up with my first boyfriend, and although he was more like a brother than a paramour to me, it still hurt to have my relationship with him end, and musically I wanted something quiet and soothing to comfort me in this time. It turned out that If You’re Feeling Sinister was exactly what I needed, and I got to playing “Seeing Other People” on repeat at times as its charmingly stumbling piano and frank lyrics perfectly encapsulated the last awkward intimacies of a dissolving relationship. Yet the rest appealed to me too, and began to tap into a side of me that I’d suppressed since the beginning of high school, when I thought it would be best to take on a cynical and sardonic persona. If You’re Feeling Sinister was a little slower to grow on me, yet once it got its hooks into me it was stuck, and I quickly began to devour the rest of their discography—Tigermilk, especially, soon displaced The Life Pursuit as my favorite, and now is my third-favorite album of all time—only I didn’t come around to Fold Your Hands Child until this year, since it had always gotten mostly negative reviews, so I’d avoided it like the plague. But since I’ve recently gotten into more baroque-pop-sounding music, the album hit the spot for me, and I think it’s extremely underrated and definitely worthy of its place in the B&S canon.

WHY: Well, I’ve always been a lyrics person, and Stuart Murdoch is one of the best lyricists I’ve ever encountered. Some of what he writes is so eerily close to my own experiences that if I didn’t know better, I’d swear he knew me personally. “Expectations,” particularly, is something I can identify with strongly with my awkwardness and social woes during middle school and the first half of high school. (Only instead of making life-size models of the Velvet Underground in clay, I made a mosaic of the cover of The Cars’ first album—I’m not kidding!) Yet he’s just as good with escapist romanticism as somewhat wince-inducing snapshots of real life, and “Piazza, New York Catcher” most certainly turns me into a swooning fangirl, with lines such as “Elope with me, Miss Private, and we’ll sail around the world / I will be your Ferdinand and you my wayward girl.” As a side note, I was a little miffed that those two songs, being two of my favorites, were the ones picked for the Juno soundtrack—and I still haven’t even seen the movie—and I almost started to turn into one of those people complaining about them “selling out,” but then I realized that if it turns more people on to one of my favorite bands, so much the better. Musically, they’re just as strong, which is something too often neglected about them. And they’re surprisingly diverse in their music, too—from the irresistibly danceable New Order pastiche of “Electronic Renaissance” to the brief, joyous jangle of “Simple Things” to “Women’s Realm,” which goes from Vince Guaraldi-esque piano bounce in the beginning to a sweeping, lush string section by the end. Almost all of their songs seem meticulously crafted in every way, as if in listening to them, you’re opening up a package to reveal a wonderful handmade present just for you.

SONGS: To be fair, I tried my hardest to mix “old sound” and “new sound” B&S in here, as I’ve quite obviously gotten over my old prejudices and want to please anyone who’s a fan of the band, although personally, I’ve also put in a good portion of their mid-period, what with my newfound fondness for it. Although really, it’s not as if they started doing speed metal or opera starting with Dear Catastrophe Waitress, they just got a little perkier and a little less melancholy, but for the most part, the lyrics remained the same. There are also many songs from their EPs, since the material really is just as strong, only since I got to know those songs through the Push Barman To Open Old Wounds compilation, it’s still somewhat hard for me to separate the EPs in my mind instead of seeing them as part of that giant compilation. Although I’m a little sad that I didn’t get any songs on here that Stuart doesn’t sing at all—the only other voices to be found on here is Monica Queen, the guest vocalist on “Lazy Line Painter Jane” with whom Stuart duets, and Isobel Campbell on “Sleep The Clock Around” and “Women’s Realm”—what I aimed for the most here was to get as many songs on here that summed up their essence, with a particular emphasis on story-songs. May their tales, such as the teenage-prostitute troubles of the aforementioned “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” the art-student escapades of “Sukie In The Graveyard,” the religious inquiries of “The State I Am In,” and many, many others, draw you in and leave you hungry for more.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear BELLE AND SEBASTIAN for free on Lala.com!

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Caitlin Flynn is a 19-year-old college sophomore, calls both Springfield, IL, and Ithaca, NY, home; which one she is in depends on the conditions of her life and the time of the year. She is perhaps a little too obsessed with both music and linguistics — as the vast majority of her income is spent on something related to one or the other — but that’s just how she likes it. Some of her favorite bands include The Cars, Destroyer, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, Roxy Music, Stereolab, and the Magnetic Fields.

The Smiths

•December 10, 2009 • 1 Comment

By Marius Messinese

WHEN: 1984-1987

CULPRITS: Morrissey (Vocals, Piano), Johnny Marr (Guitar, Keyboards, Mandolin, Bass, Harmonica), Andy Rourke (Bass, Cello), Mike Joyce (Drums, Backing Vocals), Craig Cannon (Bass, Rhythm Guitar, 1986)

ALBUMS: The Smiths (1984), Hatful of Hollow (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways, Here We Come (1987), Louder Than Bombs (1987)

HOW: The first time I’ve heard about The Smiths was on some “50 essential albums” list of a French magazine in 2002. The Queen Is Dead ranked 48. I was at this time of my life in my quest of having good musical tastes so I tried hard to find all those 50 albums. I bought it some months later and give it a listen with enthusiasm. Meh. I didn’t like what I was hearing, it lacked manly power (!!), Morrissey’s suave voice was hard to appreciate after a first listen, at least in my case, and I guess I was too young to fully appreciate the lyrics. Years pass and one night Alain Delon on the sleeve of The Queen Is Dead won’t stop yelling at me: “Play me! Play Me!” OK, OK, you certainly deserve another try. This time again, not a particularly good listen — I really enjoyed the eponymous song though.

The revelation  came not so long ago; I guess it was in May of this year, discovering my favorite Smiths song, “The Headmaster Ritual.” From that moment I had a totally different vision and understood all the catchiness and true essence of The Smiths. I came back to all their releases, and they became one of my top 5 bands. Funny how things can change.

WHY: First of all I must say: I love The Smiths entire discography, and there’s very few artists in this category. Every single they’ve released is a pop gem. And believe me, I don’t use to word “gem” lightly. Their songs are gems because they catch perfectly the atmosphere of the UK at the time with a great sense of humor.

I must confess Morrissey’s lyrics are really among the greatest I know, and his neo-romantic, full-of-emotion voice is at first disturbing, then you get used to it, and you’re in love with it.

Johnny Marr is in my opinion the greatest pop guitarist, because of his shimmering sound and for his ability to find catchy melodies that go perfectly with Morrissey. Dare I say … poetry!

Behind this hypnotizing guitar-voice combo you’ll find one of my favorite rhythm sections, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Rourke is my favorite in The Smiths — his sound enhances the whole poppy perfection and his bassline are always on the top; plus he can get really funky (“Barbarism Begins at Home“). Mike Joyce is just perfect and solid behind the drums. Together they are the best band making pop. To me, they are the definition of pop.

SONGS: I try to sum up here the essence of The Smiths. The songs come from all their studio releases, I only excluded Rank (1988) — being a live album it doesn’t seem to fit in.

I also did my best not making a “singles list,” as you probably know how hard it is to find a Smiths song that’s actually not a single. Of course you’ll find here classic Smiths songs because they simply cannot be avoided, but you’ll also find poppy B-Sides and juicy non-single material. I must have missed a lot of essential Smiths songs, but hey, 80 minutes is the rule! So here’s 80 minutes with the Smiths. Hope you’ll enjoy this perfect introduction!

LINK: Click on the list below to hear THE SMITHS for free on Lala.com!

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Marius Messinese is a 22 year old creator from France, making funky and colorful shirts who loves to have everybody on the streets wearing great clothes ans listening to quality music. He spends all of his time finding new songs and artists and all of his nights listening to them.

Iron & Wine

•December 7, 2009 • 2 Comments

By Brad East

WHEN: 2002 – present

CULPRITS: Sam Beam

ALBUMS: The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002); The Sea & The Rhythm EP (2003); Our Endless Numbered Days (2004); Woman King EP (2005); In the Reins EP (with Calexico; 2005); The Shepherd’s Dog (2007); Around the Well (2009)

HOW: I came to know of Iron & Wine like a lot of people, when Garden State came out in 2004. The next year I got his (I’ll keep the “his” instead of “their,” although who knows what’s better) second LP, Our Endless Numbered Days, and … enjoyed it as background music. It was enjoyable, and there were a few great tracks, but I just couldn’t get myself into it.

But, I kept putting OEND on to study, and it grew on me. And grew on me. At some point, I realized that there was more to this than just plucked guitar and a soft voice. I actually remember sitting in an apartment in Tomsk, Russia, in June of 2007, and deciding spontaneously to download all of Iron & Wine’s EPs and B-sides on iTunes. I was greatly anticipating the release of The Shepherd’s Dog that August, and I wanted to expand my I&W vocabulary. The combination of the EPs and Shepherd’s Dog finally did me in. I got it.

WHY: More than most bands, Iron & Wine takes time to learn. Sam Beam is a quiet force of nature, and in order to come under his yoke, you have to submit to the discipline of learning the themes, the images, the habits and characters that make up his music. The simplicity that lies beneath the complex guitar picking and multiple harmonies, in concert with the southern narrative poetic style of his lyrics, is extraordinarily compelling, and often beautiful. This is not even to mention the remarkable consistency of quality over the decade comprising his work, much less the diversity of instruments and styles on display. In many ways Sam Beam is one of the most exciting musicians working today, and he is at the peak of his powers.

SONGS: I wanted, of course, to draw not only on I&W’s three LPs, but also from the myriad compilations and EPs, and thus the whole of the mix is pleasantly diverse and cohesive together. Some of the non-LP/EP songs were gathered into this year’s Around the Well double disc collection, but I put the original location to find them. Some favorites include the more or less perfect “Resurrection Fern,” the percussively biblical “Woman King,” the heart-wrenching cover of “Love Vigilantes,” and the brilliant outro “Dead Man’s Will.” As well, see the couple representative collaborations with Calexico, “Dark Eyes” (a cover of the Bob Dylan song) and “History of Lovers.” “The Trapeze Swinger” is epic, profound, and whenever I listen to it I imagine a short film adaptation of Wendell Berry’s short story “Making It Home” as directed by Terrence Malick or David Gordon Green. And “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” is, simply, gorgeous.

I hope you enjoy.

LINK: Click the list below to hear IRON & WINE for free on Lala.com!


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Brad East is co-creator and editor of 80 Minutes For Life, and blogs at Resident Theology. He is currently in the middle of his Master’s of Divinity at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and loves Wilco, Mexican food, the San Antonio Spurs, and attending midnight showings at the Alamo Drafthouse with his wife. Also, he is from Texas.

The Dresden Dolls

•December 3, 2009 • 2 Comments

By Alexandria Brown

WHEN: 2000 – present (on an unofficial hiatus since 2008-ish)

CULPRITS: Amanda Palmer (vocals, piano, harmonica, ukelele, guitar) and Brian Viglione (drums, percussion, guitar, bass guitar, vocals)

ALBUMS: A Is for Accident (2003); The Dresden Dolls (2003); Yes, Virginia… (2006); No, Virginia… (2008)

HOW: Is your punk lacking cabaret?  Do you often lament the lack of performance art in rock concerts?  Need more music about masturbation, sex, break-ups, rape, abortion, stalking ex-lovers, gender identity issues, LGBTQN debates, the sad state of the world, and people slowly going mad?  What about mimes: sexy or really sexy?  Does your coin-operated boy look nothing at all like Brian Viglione in a dress?  Well, look no further, dear reader, for I have the band that is sure to solve all your woes!

Formed in the heady, seedy, quirky, and totally unorthodox era of the Boston music scene in the early aughts, The Dresden Dolls are a uniqueness unto themselves. Like Nine Inch Nails does with Industrial, The Dolls pretty much has the market cornered on punk cabaret (well, them and the utterly awesome Two Ton Boa). This is a band that demands headphones. Layers upon layers, secret chords, whispering chains, vocals on top of vocals on top of vocals. Plug ‘em in and crank it up to 11.

Staffed only by Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, The Dresden Dolls sounds absolutely unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.  Neither are anything like anyone else but themselves: Brian is a transvestite and often skirts it up on stage; AFP doesn’t shave her underarms or legs but shaves off her eyebrows and paints them decoratively instead.  She resides usually on the keyboard and he on drums, but the sounds that come out of the two of them is akin to an orchestra. Though they are no longer a couple (she’s currently madly in love with Neil Gaiman and their relationship – christened “Steve” – can be chronicled through their adorable Tweets to each other) they have continued to use that passion to drive them musically.

WHY: It was the spring of 2005 and I had spent the last half of the semester staying up all night, waitressing all morning, and going to class all afternoon.  My thesis and about 8 squillion other papers were all due in space of two weeks and college graduation just after that.  It was 2:00 am and I was shaken out of my statistical analysis induced stupor by “Coin-Operated Boy” on the radio.  I was, needless to say, completely bowled over. That summer I saw them live for the first time when they played a local festival as an opener for The Violent Femmes.  Maybe two dozen people were there, it was deathly hot, I was drunk on cheap, watered down beer, and the music was so moving I thought someone spiked my drink.  Watching them join The Femmes later on was even better.  Now at least twice a year my best friend and I see them (or just AFP) perform live and each show KO’s the previous one.

Why are they so amazing?  Because they love what they do.  They really, truly love it.  And by putting their hearts and souls into their music, into their concerts, they don’t just play on stage, they perform.  They both have backgrounds in theater, performance art, and street performance (as living statues) and that desire to put on display something they and the audience are proud of, something both can experience, create, and alter together, something profound and interesting and artistic and creative presides through everything they do.  They have no pretensions and no egos.  These are rock stars who will hang out with their fans at the bar before their set, who buy flowers for people waiting in line to be let into the venue, who willingly and eagerly sign autographs and take pictures with their fans.  AFP is known for hanging out online for #LOFNOTC, auctioning off her belongings, and showing off creative fan art.  Sadly the band is currently on a quasi unofficial hiatus (mostly due to their continued battle with evil Roadrunner) so AFP can be found on her never-ending world tour or on Twitter while Brian teaches drums and guest-spots on other albums.

Watching Brian drum so hard he breaks his sticks, hearing AFP hit the piano keys so intensely her whole body quakes, feeling my heart race faster and faster with each chord, it was like I was listening to music for the first time.  It was the same experience I had when I first read Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, when I first saw a Hayao Miazaki film, when I first heard Nine Inch Nails, Death Cab For Cutie, and Nick Drake.  The Dolls shifted my perception of reality by showing me new ways of experiencing life and new ways of interpreting those experiences.

SONGS: I covered every studio album, but no EPs.  A For Accident is mostly just a collection of live songs, but I included it so you can at least hear them live if nothing else.  But I urge you to drop what you’re doing and go see them (or AFP) live next chance you get.  On a personal note, their self-titled record is my favorite of theirs and if you ever need to track me down just look for the car blaring “Girl Anachronism” at the top of its stereo.

SIDE NOTE: If you do find yourself wanting to get your grubby little hands on some Dolls, please buy directly from The Dolls themselves. They’ve been trying to extricate themselves out of their contract with Roadrunner for ages and whatever you buy from any other source (like Amazon.com or Target) goes to the evil corporate entity rather than the two hardest working musicians in the business.  She self-financed her solo record (Who Killed Amanda Palmer — which is excellent, by the way), solo tour, and music videos and she still hasn’t seen a dime of it.  And if you can track it down, buy a copy of the WKAP book; it’s chock full of photos of dead Amanda and short stories by Gaiman.

Brian Viglione has just started using Facebook and has been posting links about upcoming shows there.  AFP has a blog but is more likely to be found on Twitter.  There is also a Dresden Dolls website but neither Brian nor AFP have anything to do with it and it is run by Roadrunner.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear The Dresden Dolls for free on Lala.com!

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Alexandria Brown is a librarian by day, writer by night, and archivist in training.  She was born, raised, and still lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when she’s not at work or procrastinating on her homework for an ongoing Master’s degree you can usually find her at the beach, driving to the beach, or setting up iPod playlists to listen to at the beach.

New Order

•November 30, 2009 • 1 Comment

By Ben Rose

WHEN: 1980- 2007

CULPRITS: Bernard “Barney” Sumner (vocals, guitar, synths, programming, melodica; 1980-2007), Peter “Hooky” Hook (bass, drum pads, occasional mullet; 1980-2007), Stephen Morris (drums, synths; 1980-2007), Gillian Gilbert (synths, guitar; 1980-2004), Phil Cunningham (guitar; 2004-2007)

ALBUMS: Movement (1980); Power, Corruption & Lies (1983); Low-Life (1985); Brotherhood (1986); Technique (1989); Republic (1993); Get Ready (2001); Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2005)

HOW: I first learned about New Order from a girl I fancied in high school. I had heard “Blue Monday” in movies and what not before and always loved it, but I admittedly didn’t know who had recorded it. The aforementioned lass introduced me to New Order while I was discovering a lot of other disco-influenced records, by the likes of Front 242, Pet Shop Boys and such. I bought the US CD reissue of Power, Corruption & Lies largely because it had “Blue Monday” on it, and instantly fell in love with “5 8 6.” From there, I purchased the US CD version of (The Best of) New Order, where I flipped out over “True Faith” and “Dreams Never End,” although I still didn’t love the band as a whole. After a few years of this not quite “getting” them — let’s face it, they’re a weird, weird group — I became a huge Joy Division fan. After a bit, I finally realized that they were all I’d ever wanted, and I bought as much of their catalogue as I could, and began collecting shows. I’ll be honest — I virtually never listen to studio New Order. The live stuff is just too incredible, too raw, too macaw. There’s nothing I’ve ever heard that touched live New Order, ca. 1982-1989. Seeing them in New York City and Manchester in 2005 just cemented it for me. Admittedly, I can only offer a limited perspective on them, being an American born shortly after their inception who didn’t really become an obsessive fan until near the end of their career, but my love for them is, I think, extremely genuine.

WHY: “[T]he truth of Zen is absolute in which there is no dualism, no conditionality. To speak of ignorance and enlightenment … as if they were two separate objects which cannot be merged in one, is not … expressing the ultimate truth. Everything is a manifestation of the Buddha-Nature, which is not defiled in passions, nor purified in enlightenment. It is above all categories. If you want to see what is the nature of your being, free your mind from thought of relativity.”

-Hui-neng, The Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism

“I’d like to dedicate this set to Caroline and Peter, who should’ve been here tonight, but Caroline’s not here because she’s dead. It’s not a joke and it’s not funny. Then again, we never are.”

-Barney, at the beginning of their Finsbury Park gig, June 6, 1987

Think about being, matter. What is it without non-being, or apparent nothingness? If there was no nothingness, there would truly be nothing; 1=0. All that is, is defined by being and non-being, equally. Being is both itself and not-itself, just as light appears to consist of both particles and waves, matter and non-matter.

So what is sincerity? How would we define it without insincerity, or even without the possibility of cheekiness? The genius behind New Order is that they reveal and render sincerity to be both itself and not-itself, for at nearly every moment, they are both completely sincere and completely taking the piss at your expense, and the difference is indistinguishable. Their mode of expression asserts and denies paradox, resulting in the use of paradox to refute the possibility of itself. If Johannes Scotus Erigena was even selectively correct when he asserted, “All that is, is light,” then that explains why the music of New Order feels more genuinely essential to me than that of any other artist; they are both, neither, and one or the other, all at once. And if ol’ Hui-neng is onto something, and Zen is in fact expressive of some sort of ultimate truth, then that is why I love New Order. Their music, their message, is not one thing or another, it merely is what it is. It is pure and categorical in its eschewing of category.

There seems to be a prevalent conception that for a piece of music, a book, or a work of art to be profound and truly significant, it has to be dire; a portrait of suffering, angst and unhappiness. This strikes me as a huge part of why Ian Curtis is revered as such a genius, the music of Joy Division the most essential portrait of fractured modern life from the late 70s/early 80s. And while I’m not trying to pit New Order against its prior incarnation — both are excellent — I would argue that the Ian-less group is actually even more significant, more powerful, and more fully human than the band driven largely by the personal aesthetic of their producer, Martin Hannett. I think that, for both groups, the live performances of their frontmen largely define what was going on with them. Ian, with his frantic “dead fly” (shouldn’t it be “dying fly”?) dance and inhumanly cold blue eyes, revealed this heroically repressed energy that had been fatally sublimated into something resembling a machine (I think this is evident throughout their music, too), struggling to either break free and embrace itself — or die (which is what actually happened, in Ian’s case). Barney represents the exact opposite: personal freedom of expression, which also shines through on nearly every record they made (I’m thinking particularly of Temptation here). Listen to virtually any recording of them live, and you’ll hear a man overcome with childlike joy — or at least bursting with humor — whooping and grunting and transforming his own lyrics into spontaneous infantile rhymes about his favorite body parts (and no, we’re not talking about ear lobes or dimples here). What most deride as childish buffoonery and the result of the supposedly copious quantities of drugs Barney ingested throughout the 80s, I champion as the unfettered expression of self, a spontaneous reaction to one’s own reality with courage, honesty and humor.

To me, what you get when Barney acts like a drunken child is pure spontaneity, pure being, in which emotion and sensation transcend the song’s lyrics, written long ago in an entirely different context, transformed by the purity of the moment. Late in New Order’s career, Barney notoriously used a teleprompter when playing live, and he would still screw up lyrics. A brain destroyed by drug abuse? Sure. But beyond that, I think it reveals that the words he used to express himself meant very little to him, or at least, their meaning changed over time, losing relevance. And when you listen to the whole band playing live, you really get the sense of one organism, working together, sending out waves of pure, unfiltered consciousness — they make mistakes, they change the song’s melody at will, they make jokes and Barney hoots and hollers while he dances like, in the words of one reviewer, “someone’s embarrassing dad.” But isn’t that the way people really are, and isn’t that what music makes you do? Instead of being these statuesque, carefully rehearsed harbingers of God-tinged music as many performers try to be, New Order treated their music almost as if it wasn’t their own, as if the fact that they had written it and originally recorded it meant nothing, getting swept up in the moment by what they were making in that same instant, acting and reacting with no discernible difference between the two. And in those infinite instants, what they expressed was a kind of honesty that transcended any artificial duality of sincerity and cheekiness and truly became what it was — nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else: a fluid expression of an essence beyond language through language, where what is said means nothing and everything, is material and immaterial, revealing light, laughter, and a group of adults who still view the world with a sense of pure fun that, in some bizarre and unexpected way, just might channel exactly what Hui-neng was talking about, all those years ago.

SONGS: Attempting to create an introductory compilation of New Order is particularly challenging, since very little of their work is necessarily synecdochic. Virtually every New Order single stands alone, drastically different from the last, as are many of their finest album tracks. With this list, I attempted to provide a look at the essence of the band’s output, with emphasis on accessibility for a New Order newcomer. I imagine that I didn’t bring that many particularly unique things to the table here, but I think this list provides a good look at who New Order was (almost wrote “is” there — still can’t believe it) and why they were so unique. Certain tracks are, in my opinion, a bit more dispensable here; “Bizarre Love Triangle,” in particular. I know that everyone loves a good “BLT,” but I just don’t think it’s one of their better or even more representative studio tracks (although it’s a total banger live, what with Barney’s dancing and lyric changes). Certain other inclusions are fairly obvious — who wouldn’t include “Blue Monday,” “Regret,” and “Ceremony”?

Some of the less obvious inclusions — most notably “5 8 6,” “Love Vigilantes,” and “Every Little Counts” — reflect fundamental aspects of the band’s music. Perhaps the most important of the trio, with respect to my reading of New Order’s music, is “Every Little Counts.” The closing track on Brotherhood, “ELC” reflects perfectly the strange and seamless union of cheekiness and sincerity essential to their musical program. The song seems to express a genuine tenderness and affection through what can only be called an extremely insensitive joke (Barney even laughs at the beginning). But is it sincere? Is he taking the piss? The two are completely inseparable; he is doing both and neither. Even the music itself supports both — it is sincere and pretty for the majority of the song, until the end, when it all falls apart, leaving you confused. In live performances — particularly of the monstrously awesome “Face Up” — from the mid-80s (around the time of Brotherhood), Barney was quite fond of lyrics like these, in which a woman for whom he seemed to care was the object of ridicule (“I’ve known you for such a long time now / You have always been such a dirty cow”). If you can find any of these, they are well worth a listen, if not only for how emotionally confusing they are in their patent purity.

The tracklisting is fairly simple: I opted to kick things off with what many consider to be the ultimate New Order track, “The Perfect Kiss,” partially because I think it worked well as a setlist opener. It also features what may be, in my estimation, the greatest line in pop music history: “Tonight I should have stayed at home, playing with my pleasure zone.” What a beast, right? The playlist’s ending is crucial too, with the final trio of songs some of the band’s most powerful and uplifting. I chose to end with what I think is their biggest bang: “Regret.” Pop perfection and their greatest song, I say. I hope you agree.

LINK: Click the list below to hear New Order for free on Lala.com!

Spacemen 3

•November 16, 2009 • 6 Comments

By Marilyn Roxie

WHEN: 1982 – 1991

CULPRITS: Jason Pierce/J. Spaceman (guitar, vocals), Peter Kember/Sonic Boom (vocals, guitar), Pete Bain/Bassman (bass, 1982-88), Nicholas Brooker/Natty (drums, 1984-87), Stewart Roswell/Rosco (drums, 1987-88), William Carruthers (bass, 1988-91), Jon Mattock (drums, 1989-90), Steve Evans (guitar, 1990), Mark Refoy (guitar, 1990)

ALBUMS: Sound of Confusion (1986); The Perfect Prescription (1987); Performance (1988); Playing With Fire (1989); Recurring (1990); Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To (1990); The Singles (1995)

HOW: I was recommended Spacemen 3’s Playing With Fire by Jakob Battick (a quite talented musician and artist who is part of the Tea and Oranges collective) sometime in 2008 because he’d noticed I had been listening to Suicide (70s electronic pioneers) a lot and thought I might like them as well. I noticed it was in Robert Dimery’s 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which I’ve been soldiering on to finish for some time, so I thought I might as well … and I was blown back entirely!!! I wondered why I hadn’t heard of them before, why didn’t everyone know about them (only just now approaching 100,000 listeners on Last.fm, at the time I’m writing this). The Suicide association made sense, because of the drone-riff repetition throughout, and of course an 11-minute jam called “Suicide” as an homage to that band. Some months later, I obtained The Perfect Prescription, which is now one of a very few albums I’d give 5/5 stars. I hesitated a bit before getting Sound of Confusion, since people seemed not to think highly of it, but I absolutely loved it, despite the fact that much of it is covers (13th Floor Elevators’ “Rollercoaster”, Juicy Lucy’s “Mary Anne”, and The Stooges’ “Little Doll” — “O.D. Catastrophe” might as well be a cover since it’s a lift from The Stooges’ “T.V. Eye”), as well as their last album, Recurring, which is curious to listen to because of it being split between a Sonic Boom/Peter Kember side and a J. Spaceman/Jason Pierce side. I had previously heard Spiritualized’s (J. Spacemen’s band, post-Spacemen 3) Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and Lazer Guided Melodies a couple years prior; Spiritualized is certainly more well-known than Spacemen 3, and both are further still more listened-to than Spectrum (Sonic Boom’s post-Spacemen 3 band), which is a shame, because I love them all!

WHY: Spacemen 3 have quickly become one of my most-listened to bands and part of an elite club of music that actually makes me somehow more relaxed and even help me to fall asleep (The Kinks and Natural Snow Buildings also often do the trick). As much as the band were linked with and lyrically/thematically revolved around drugs, there is also a more profound spiritual element and unabashed sensuality in the music and words that one would be hard-pressed to ignore. To me, Spacemen 3 are nothing short of musical magic.

SONGS: The song selection here comes from highlights on their studio albums (chosen with assistance from polling people on Tumblr), as well as an alternate version of “Hey Man” (“Amen” from Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To), a Perfect Prescription demo (“Walking With Jesus“), the single version of “Transparent Radiation” (Red Krayola cover), and a live track (“Things’ll Never Be the Same“). It was tough to narrow down the essentials, but I think this better than any singles/greatest collection around previously — it’s the best compilation of Spacemen 3 you’re apt to find anywhere!

LINK: Click the list below to hear our 80MFL SPACEMEN 3 iMix.

Click the list to hear our SPACEMEN 3 iMix

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Marilyn Roxie is a 19-year old music blogger at A Future in Noise and an electronic, instrumental composer. She’s just released her first single “Zug der Krautrock” (a tribute to the genre that Can and Kraftwerk both share) and is getting ready to launch her own record label, Electronic Angel.