In a weird twist on posthumous success, Iggy Pop’s first solo record is often jarringly romanticized as “the one Ian Curtis was listening to when he killed himself.” For one: how tacky! All you can really say about that: Ian Curtis was really digging the new Iggy Pop record. Anything else, like actual Youtube comment arguments on what song was playing the moment he hung; put it to rest! The record itself: man, is it something! Holed up with David Bowie in Berlin watching episodes of Starsky And Hutch (their only contact with America at the time! (Something’s interesting about that, but I don’t feel like investigating. We’ll leave it at fun trivia!)), the punk rocker and the glam rocker stepped into the studio and then came the only logical result: art rock!
People also call this a David Bowie record, a speculative “first” of what would then be a Berlin Quadrilogy(?). “China Girl” would later become a song performed by Bowie on his own record. Add in the fact that this particular long player (and, to a degree, the also Bowie-produced Lust For Life) sound seldom like the Iggy Pop world-renowed for almost five decades. But, he was world-renowed not just because of his New York Stooges, as damn good as they were. His friendship with internationalist David Bowie, and his link to other global sound-trotters David Byrne and Brian Eno, is what pushed him to superstardom.
Iggy, just recently released from a mental institution, seems years and years beyond the band he laments on “Dum Dum Boys,” just before the new session band he fronts, directed by Bowie, belts out the most cathartic and razor-sharp riff ever. Usually, a song that starts on such a high note is going to really suck. The crack team of musicians rides the high point in and out of plateaus for seven minutes. God bless Iggy. God bless Bowie. God bless Eno. God bless Byrne. God bless Berlin. God bless cocaine.
Listen: “Nightclubbing” (A recently hospitalized rocker and a recently should-have-been-hospitalized rocker ditch their bread and butter to walk like ghosts (I assume it was the lithium) through Berlin nightlife.)
I gotta admit, I don’t know much about Ariel Pink. I know he was accused by electro-pop artist Grimes (who I quite like, actually) of being a misogynist for not personally caring for Madonna’s later musical output, so of course that was enough to get me interested in his music. I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but just a few weeks later, Pink released his first record atributed solely to himself, without a band. At first (and second, and third) glance, you get the impression that he is one of these lo-fi bedroom weirdos deconstructing the Western pop music of yesteryear a la Person Pitch-Panda Bear. By the fourth impression, you realize, hey! He seems to have Done It First! So, props to him for that, and props to him for pom pom, which sounds about as California as you can sound now that everyone responsible for that recognizable sound is physically dead, in prison, or spiritually dead.
pom pom is jokey, posh, self-referential, off-putting, nostalgic, ironic, dark, cheery, amongst other things. I’m really digging it. There’s a lot to dig, here. There’s a number about Jell-O that manages to be a believable Jell-O jingle before delving into what I can only register as a snippy, tongue in cheek dig at the modern middle American diet (“Everyone eats white bread/that’s why they’re all dead”). Oh, well — you can hire him or not, Kraft! That he gets a children’s choir to sing these facetious digs about junk food and sobering stories about reminiscense in a pension-less iCloud future is kinda nuts. But; this is the guy.
The one Ariel Pink thing I remember prior to discovering this album is his Haunted Grafitti track “Round and Round,” which touches on the same retro elements on full display here. The telephone (a telephone, for goodness’ sake!) rings; Pink picks up, says “Hello? Hi” and the band launches into a hell of a chorus. Oh, and the single cover art is a drawing of a man making out passionately with a dog. Man, this guy’s fuckin weird! I love it. I’m gonna go listen some more!
Listen: “Lipstick” (There’s something simultaneously cutesy and creepy about this music.)
Something bugs me about Guitar Center, man. Sharing an apartment and/or a building with other people for my entire life has conditioned me to be a Decent Person when doing Things That Are Meant To Be Loud. So, I sit down in front of an amplifier or an electric drum kit and play just loudly enough to hear my own feedback — and just softly enough so as not to disturb those in earshot. Now, if you’re an adult, you probably know that some people are just not this considerate. For some reason, they need people to hear them tap out their favorite hard rock/metal guitar solo they’ve been working on for weeks, praise be to ultimate-guitar.com. It fills them with pride to know that someone sees and hears them murder-stomping the double-bass and murder-hammering speedy fills onto the toms and snare. Jeez, dude. There aren’t even girls here.
Television — the punk band for then-adults who understood that if The Man didn’t give a fuck about exploiting them, He probably didnt give a fuck if they weren’t willing to play along — happens to be the best antithesis to the virtuosic, vaguely rhythmic, Slash-ian aspirations of middle America’s Guitar Heroes. For the same reason your guitar-playing or rapping friend — who can dazzle house party guests with their respective shredding or bar-spitting — will never be famous — the smooth, creative, and respectful interplay of Television’s four members is why they’re one of the few CBGB bands that didn’t suck, and why Marquee Moon is still today considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are great guitarists in the same way Kurt Cobain would later be called a great guitarist. In other words, they’re not fucking shredders, dude. You won’t see musicians of their ilk drowning everyone out in the Guitar Center. In their world, spontaneity and exploration is a hell of a lot more fun than cabin fever, never leaving the guitar tabs loaded up at your computer desk to just fucking try to not try; to just play any note and build a rope from there. Sit down and try to play “Marquee Moon” on the guitar, and you might get a little confused. “This is boring!” “This solo sucks.” Nah, buddy, that’s The Devil — of all people — calling. He’s telling you to stop being so fucking selfish. Trust me. I speak Devil. I’m from Hell.
Listen: “Venus” (Complete with Greek mythology and psychedelic themes, orgasmic singing, non-sequitur call-and-responses, and exploratory guitar solos that would probably now get you kicked out of most high-school/college kid bands for being too “gay.”)
In our Apple Music/Spotify/Youtube-ified world of musical consumption as current, you can definitely listen to the fifteen tracks on Another Green World in any order, but I’d like to think that Brian Eno — pop music extraordinaire — would want you to play it from front to back in one sitting. Which isn’t too much to ask, if you ask me! It doesn’t run very long. After ten or fifteen minutes, they — wildly variant instrumentally and structurally — begin to take one shape.
You don’t wanna “chill and listen to music” with me unless you want to listen to the title track of Another Green World eighty five times in a row while we ask ourselves: why did he fade this composition in and out? Is the audible symmetry of this track a statement on industrialism, or ourselves? Is it both? How is it that this piece can simultaneously function as background music and something to be so deeply engaged in? Is this concept from 1975 worth replicating? Can we replicate it in an original way? Has everything needing to be said in music already been said? Can you get out of my house so I can focus?
Eno would go on to craft what is now called “ambient music,” beginning with works such as Discrete Music and Music For Airports, the latter of which was actually played in an airport or two at a point in time. Now? I don’t know. I haven’t boarded an airplane since the summer of 2001. Things have changed since and before then. Now, I’d imagine they play the same things they do in the shopping mall or the supermarket. Most of these things, interestingly enough, produced after Eno’s experiments. Did he succeed? That’s a tough one to answer, but I’ll answer it as best as I can. In the Green World of 2017, if you dig what is playing over the loudspeakers (at a (hopefully) tasteful volume), and you’d like to engage it beyond its current status as background music, your phone can tell you what it is. Industrialism! High technology! Information! Yes!
Listen: “Golden Hours” (I don’t even know what to say about this one, man. Just listen to it.)
Depression Cherry/Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015, Sub Pop)
“Here, we continue to let ourselves evolve while fully ignoring the commercial context in which we exist,” read the press release accompanying Beach House’s late summer announcement of their then-new LP, Depression Cherry.
I saw Beach House in Cincinatti just after Depression Cherry dropped, and just before they revealed a second LP of songs from their Depression Cherry sessions. Their performance showed that — above the media praise, the now-darling critical status, the plagiarism by advertisers — they are, in fact, just a two-piece dream pop band (the occasional third or fourth member on stage for live performances), an excellent dream pop band at that, working and evolving within their own bubble. I always found it interesting to hear from others that Beach House “sounds the same on every record.” On one hand, you could invoke a platitude from some artist I can’t quite remember (and I liberally paraphrase) — “A great artist says the same thing over and over” — on the other hand, nah, they just don’t. Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars marks Beach House’s longest stride away from “Beach Houseisms” that typify criticism of the band — ethereal vocals, droning organs, wistful guitars — since their self-titled debut.
Take “Sparks,” for instance, with Alex Scally’s guitar cutting through the aether like a saw, while Vicky Legrand robotically sings “And when it’s dark again/Just like a spark.” There’s definitely more of a coldness and calculation behind these two records. Or, the drum machine, the heavy bass, and windy voice of Legrand blowing around on “10:37,” a track that works well when Scally’s ascending melody pushes through; and then, pulls everything out of the track, excepting a snare (on the 3(!)), some “ahhs” and “oohs,” and a “10:37” sung as a second hook that sounds a lot like how the “verses” start. Pop music is evolving, and so are Beach House, in their own way.
The second record, Thank Your Lucky Stars, is a lot more shoegazey. Theyve always seemed inspired by shoegaze (particularly MBV/Cocteau Twins), and they carry the experience to occupy that space quite well without carving into something that isn’t theirs. That’s pretty neat! With DC/TYLS, respectively, Beach House has done a great pop record and a great shoegaze record. They were obviously thematically different enough to justify separating them, and I applaud them for so gracefully recording two cohesive but different records. Vicky plays steps away from the keys to play guitar on a few of these songs. The rhythm track she plays on “One Thing” sounds like something she’d play on the keys anyway, but who cares! It’s something new; something more jagged and rough; it’s Finding A Diffeent Way To Say The Same Thing, and it’s a success!
If you like any of Beach House’s previous output, you’ll have no trouble getting into these two choice records. They may just become your new favorites. I listen to Beach House almost every day; Teen Dream is probably my favorite (Silver Soul is the best song of 2010) but Depression Cherry is slowly creeping up there with it (Levitation is the best song of 2015).
Listen: “PPP” (Quite possibly the heaviest track of the Beach House catalog, and that’s saying something. What’s it about? Some kind of romance, of course. Spoken word prefaces the verses, like an address from one angel to another. A freakin’ heavy ass solo that drones on for like 3 minutes and never loses luster. (If you didn’t notice, I really like musicians that do things like this. (You know, I listen to these songs so much, and yet I’m a proud loner; about as far away from the romantic archetype you could ever get. What does that say about me? Or, better: what does that say about the music?)))
Listen: “The Traveller” (See above. Also the thing about Saying The Same Thing Over And Over is that you begin to reach Perfection Levels. All of the best elements of Legrand’s singing and Scally’s skyward guitar work are exhibited here. And, look — if the thing you’re Saying Over And Over is just great, why stop saying it? Why overthink it?)