Mark Linkous R.I.P.

I was lucky enough to see Sparkle­horse dur­ing that fate­ful CMJ fes­ti­val that got past­ed togeth­er in the wake of Sep­tem­ber 11th. He per­formed in front of a gigan­tic Amer­i­can flag the own­ers of the Bow­ery Ball­room hung at the back of the stage. He seemed real­ly uncom­fort­able with that. I’m sure at least some por­tion of the audi­ence did, too. I know I did.

I’m sor­ry to say I don’t remem­ber much of the set. It was­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly long. He opened with ‘Home­com­ing Queen,’ but for­got the words. The audi­ence jogged his mem­o­ry by chim­ing in. He played the hits pas­sion­ate­ly. I’m remind­ed that he cov­ered GBV’s ‘Smoth­ered in Hugs,’ which you can lis­ten to over at Chrome­waves. It was amaz­ing.

I have to admit that I expect­ed some of the guests from ‘It’s a Won­der­ful Life’ to join him onstage. I don’t know what I was think­ing. I had only been in NYC for a year and I tru­ly believed that that sort of thing might hap­pen. He did­n’t tour much. He was in New York. What else was Nina Pers­son doing that night?

I did­n’t think much of ‘It’s a Won­der­ful Life’ at the time. I had fall­en in love with Vivadix­iesub­marine­trans­mis­sion­plot and Good Morn­ing, Spi­der over a few trou­bling sum­mers, work­ing jobs I hat­ed while sav­ing mon­ey for school in the fall. Those songs were anthems to my ears, the per­fect sound­track to any­one who’s shuf­fling along in the twi­light of job­less­ness and under­em­ploy­ment.

I’m not sure why I nev­er real­ly got his next album, It’s a Won­der­ful Life. The guy made a liv­ing off of wild­ly uneven albums, but some­thing about this one did­n’t quite con­nect. I loved songs like ‘Piano Fire’ and ‘King of Nails,’ but some of the cameos just did­n’t work for me. I shelved it.

I haven’t lis­tened to Sparkle­horse much since. I went back to those records after news broke of Link­ous’ death and found them to have the same amaz­ing qual­i­ties they did when I first lis­tened to them almost a decade ago. I can still pic­ture myself mak­ing a 120 mile roundtrip com­mute in my decrepit Dodge Shad­ow, blast­ing Good Morn­ing, Spi­der at top vol­ume and it still makes me shiv­er.


The New Spoon Album

I’ve been lis­ten­ing to Spoon’s Trans­fer­ence for the past cou­ple weeks. They’re on of my favorite bands. Britt Daniel has become a great lyri­cist and the songs have got­ten catch­i­er with every album. That is, until now.

I heard an inter­view with the band last night that made Trans­fer­ence more appeal­ing than it is. Daniel and Jim Eno made the album’s weak­ness­es sound like strengths. There’s no hid­ing the fact that their efforts to make an “ugli­er” record suc­ceed­ed, so why not embrace it?

They knew what sound they want­ed and pro­duced the record them­selves, but that’s not the issue. Trans­fer­ence is imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize­able as a Spoon record; the prob­lem is that it’s not a very good one. You’d have to go back to the dar­ing, equal­ly uneven Kill the Moon­light to hear some­thing as infu­ri­at­ing as this. Sequenc­ing, not pro­duc­tion, stops Trans­fer­ence in its tracks.

Spoon buried the best songs in the mid­dle third of the album, start­ing with “Writ­ten in Reverse” and end­ing with the plain­tive strains of “Good­night Lau­ra,” a song that veers dan­ger­ous­ly close to maudlin which would­n’t be so bad if this weren’t a Spoon album.

We’ve come to expect great things. Their sound might be best described as Bil­ly Joel songs as reimag­ined by Wire. Songs like “Sis­ter Jack” and “The Under­dog” bur­nished their rep­u­ta­tion as a band on the cusp of great­ness. There’s noth­ing of that cal­iber here.

Trans­fer­ence should’ve been Spoon’s mag­num opus, the prod­uct of two decades worth of hard work from a band at the height of its pow­er. Instead it’s the album you can tell the unini­ti­at­ed they can safe­ly ignore.


My Jay Reatard Interview

I got the chance to talk to punk phe­nom­e­non Jay Reatard after his SXSW ’08 set. He had a tremen­dous vital­i­ty and fre­net­ic ener­gy that was con­ta­gious. His reck­less aban­don and go-for-broke spir­it will be sore­ly missed.


A New Year in Music

2009 was a dis­as­trous year for me and music. I was real­ly turned off to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that I might like any­thing. I revert­ed to old habits, lis­ten­ing to a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of met­al, with­out real­ly explor­ing fur­ther. For some­one who in the past prid­ed him­self on catholic taste, it was some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment. Worse, I’ve not felt a part of the music scene for a while now and that real­ly trou­bles me. I mean, my title is music edi­tor, right?

With­out get­ting bogged down in all the hows and whys, I’m real­ly excit­ed for 2010 already. Two of my favorite bands, Spoon and Liars, have albums out this Jan­u­ary and it’s the time of year where I obsess over these releas­es, often at the expense of ignor­ing wor­thy albums that come along lat­er in the year’s pro­mo­tion­al cycle.

I used to think it was stu­pid for bands to release albums this time of year. Boy, was I wrong! When LCD Soundsys­tem releas­es albums in the dead of win­ter, they cap­ture more atten­tion than they would if they tried to shoe­horn their stuff into the March and Octo­ber gluts. It’s the per­fect time of year to real­ly get famil­iar with a record. You’re trapped in the house or car any­way, so you might as well crank up the stereo.

I cel­e­brate the new year in music by delet­ing every­thing in iTunes and start­ing over fresh. Right now I’m lis­ten­ing to Spoon, but I’ll be check­ing out new music from Yeasay­er, Ted Leo, Liars, Blood Feath­ers, Vam­pire Week­end and Gil-Scott Heron (!) soon enough. What a great way to start 2010!


Jay Bennett: 1963 — 2009

I heard the news ear­ly Mon­day morn­ing, but it did­n’t sink in until I read Aquar­i­um Drunk­ard’s post this morn­ing: Jay Ben­nett has died. There are times that I’m embar­rassed to admit it now, but once upon a time I was a pret­ty rabid Wilco fan, and I always had a fond­ness for Ben­net­t’s con­tri­bu­tions to the band’s sound. The leap they made between the time he arrived and Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot is a con­sid­er­able one, and it’s hard to imag­ine Wilco ever amount­ing to any­thing with­out his influ­ence, espe­cial­ly on their break­through album Sum­mer­teeth.

Wilco played the sound­track to a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant moments in my life. I was floored when I saw them with Helen at Coop­er Riv­er Park in Sep­tem­ber 2000 (setlist here). As the sun set behind the stage, I knew I’d seen a band on the cusp of big­ger things. Lit­tle did I know that he’d be out of the band with­in a year. I con­tin­ued to love the band, and saw Son­ic Youth open for them in 2003, but it just was­n’t the same. I stopped lis­ten­ing to their music short­ly there­after. The cult of Tweedy proved too much to take.

I winced when I first saw Sam Jones’ I Am Try­ing to Break My Heart. Now I just feel betrayed by it. Is it pos­si­ble that both Ben­nett and Tweedy were mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal jerks hell-bent on their per­son­al vision for YHF, nei­ther bet­ter than the oth­er? Jay Ben­net­t’s char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion in that film will for­ev­er pre­serve the notion that he played Hed­wig for­ev­er after to Tweedy’s Tom­my Gno­sis, Ben­nett often play­ing — coin­ci­den­tal­ly? — the same town on the same night as Wilco, albeit at a much tinier venue.

Ben­net­t’s fall was the only truth Jones cap­tured. Watch­ing him rein­vent him­self in tiny clubs after con­tribut­ing to a band on the verge of their great­est suc­cess still feels like a punch in the gut.

Now I’m lis­ten­ing to his last album, What­ev­er Hap­pened I Apol­o­gize, which you can down­load free from Rock Prop­er here. Like his oth­er solo efforts, it’s a stripped-down affair that isn’t exact­ly my cup of tea, but one can’t help but lis­ten to the song “Talk and Talk and Talk” and think that he’s address­ing Tweedy, though that may be over­reach­ing a bit. If he is, it only points up how pro­found­ly hurt he was by their split. Now they’ll nev­er be able to rec­on­cile what­ev­er dif­fer­ences they may have still had.

I may be inter­view­ing Wilco as they do press for their forth­com­ing record, Wilco the Album. I’m hope­ful that they’ll be able to talk about Jay and help us bet­ter under­stand who he was.

Jay Ben­nett died Sun­day. He was 45.