Monday, April 2, 2012

Eron's History Mix

(Yes, that's me from last year...)


Who hasn't wondered about how they ended up here from there? 

I was flying at 2AM to Houston and listening to some really crazy technical death metal on my iPod (actually, it's Callie's iPod... and yes, it's pink) and with all of the weird stresses and multiple months of intense sleep-deprived work-nights I got obsessed with mulling over the question of "why?" I liked the music I like now. Hell, why do I like music so much at all?

I mean, I'm a terrible musician, but along with novels, I'm at least as inspired by music as anything else in art. This mix started as a meeting between an United Airlines napkin and a ballpoint pen but ended up as an attempt to plumb the depths of that foggy past to see if there is interesting that might emerge from revisiting the path between those ruins. 

I know it's been quite a while since I've updated, as I've been buried in traveling to Foto Fest Houston to pitch my Flaneur project among other things, but I spent a couple of late night to sneak enough time to work on this epic mix to share with you all. 

This mix is a chronological history of my interest/obsession with music — starting when I was a freshman in 1995 and ending about when I started posting mixes here on Curio around 2010. And yes, I did notes for every album I included! 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this might inform my art or any other random ideas that pop up from listening to it. 


Starting at the beginning ----> TLDR --> These are the albums that have defined my musical taste:

Soundgarden — "The Day I Tried To Live" (From Superunknown)
I haven't listened to this album in at least 15 years, but I do know this was the first "real" album I ever bought. Trying to sort through the haze of my memories to find a starting point for this mix was tricky, but I am confident that Superunknown was the correct place to start. Also, it's a fantastic point to start since depending on what sociology text you read, 1981 is the last year of Gen X. What is perhaps most bizarre, since I think I bought this album at 14 or 15,  is that I basically didn't listen to much music before this. Sure, music was on. Sure I listened to the radio a bit and maybe even I owned a few Weird Al album in junior high, but by-and-large my focus was reading crappy sci-fi and fantasy novels. But this album cut through all that and, in retrospect I think, led to buying the next album on this list. 

Nine Inch Nails — "The Becoming" (from Downward Spiral)
If Soundgarden was the start of my musical journey, NIN's Downward Spiral was what got me hooked on music. This was maybe the second album I ever bought in high school and what could I say about it that hasn't already been said by the legions of press naming it one of the greatest albums in music? I will add, that I don't think I really understood this album for a while after I bought it — I initially just liked how depressing and dark and weird it was. But it did this strange thing I had never experienced before with music — it opened up and changed and got MORE interesting the more you listened to it! Also, store those metal riffs in the middle in your mind for a bit. They seemed to have fermented in my brain to pop up MUCH later.

Orbital — "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" (from In Sides)
With the omnipresence of electronic music these days both as a genre and imbedded in almost every other vein of music, it is easy to forget that the rise of electronic is a relatively recent phenomena.  I was lucky to have very quickly stumbled from industrial to electronic during it's first serious flirtation with mainstream music press. Yes, DJ culture would be what would eventually break the sound to the mass in the early 2000's, but that intellectually oriented 1996-7 wave spearheaded by Future Sound of London, Juno Reactor, Massive Attack, The Orb, Aphex Twin, The Prodigy, and Orbital were my first inroads to this neon sonic landscape (I always hated Moby btw). I'm fairly confident that In Sides and Music for the Jilted Generation were the first electronic albums I bought. 

Talvin Singh — "OK" (from OK)
I wasn't going to talk about this song, and instead just lump it in to the grouping with Orbital. But when I thought back on the fact that after 15 years I could still remember that album I figured it was owed a few words. Again, we seem to see my Japan-o-philia popping up in an early form, but also my complete inability to be cool. This is a really fun track, that in retrospect, was really forward looking by blending East Asian elements in to the music. Given how much I was obsessed with electronic music (my first musical obsession now that I think about it) rather than just crutch on Orbital to tell the story, I thought I'd include another track I loved then. I mean, I used to stay up until 3AM on school nights to catch the unpredictable electronic music video hour on MTV. Oh shit, I think I just dated myself that MTV was actually playing music videos when I was in high school. Oh well. Moving on.

Duke Ellington & Count Basie — "Until I Met You" (from First Time!)
This track may seem like a really strange segue, but one of the most defining aspects of my musical life was playing in a quite good Basie and Ellington jazz band in high school under the tutelage of an amazing and demanding director. We even played a few solid gigs. Even though I only played fourth trumpet, I learned more to increase my musical literacy during the two years I was part of the band than at any other point in my life. I haven't played brass in 15 years, but I could probably still jam this tune out with a bit of practice. 

Squarepusher — "Male Pill Part 13" (from Hard/Normal Daddy)
Now things are getting interesting, eh? One of the main reasons I made this mix was because from being in the middle of my own musical interests, I was wondering if it was possible to step back and finds some threads of evolution in my taste. Well, with this and the track "Somewhere Not Here" by Alpha, it seems pretty obvious how my interest in jazz and electronic fairly quickly started to gravitate toward each other. Like most everyone, I loved Aphex Twin, but Squarepusher was my favorite. And like most everyone else I wouldn't realize until 10 years later that I was really happy that Autechre's radically organic sounds would step out of the shadows to define the future direction of the edges of electronic music.

Alpha — "Somewhere Not Here" (from Come From Heaven)
This album was the height of uncool to almost everyone around me. Not only did Madona say she was a fan in 1997, but it was organic, jazzy, slinky, sexy, breathy, slow, and quite beautiful in a smokey 3AM sort of way. It had more brushes on drums than any music outside of a retirement home was supposed to allow, especially an electronic album. But I loved it. I still love it. This was in my top 5 most wanted list of vinyl. This album along with Stargazing have held up astoundingly well over the years. This late-night hazy-but-beautiful aesthetic still permeates much of my art, even if it has to share a room with crazy tech death metal. This level of focus on loss seems to be something I find attractive in art, and probably has more than a small amount to do with my interest black metal these days. If a song from this album comes on, I still stop and listen to the whole thing. 

Sonic Youth — "Candle" (from Daydream Nation)
"Daydream Nation" is another one of those albums that has been so talked-up in the music press that I'm not really going to describe it here. What I do want to discuss is that I think Sonic Youth is my musical core. Some of what they've done is crap. Other albums are brilliant. I own a dozen of their albums and have seen them live more than any other band. A big part of this is that there are so many connections into other avenues, histories and futures of music from Sonic Youth. Noise, No Wave, Avant Improv, Indie, Punk, Hardcore, even John Cage and Yoko Ono! Also, as I started to realize I was a crappy musician, it was a huge inspiration that they are so involved in the visual arts. Sonic Youth explored so many places in music that it's hard to do them justice in one song.

Miles Davis — "Sanctuary" (from Bitches Brew)
For the [mercifully] brief period I played bass in various unnamed bands — mercifully brief only because I am a much better visual artist than musician; but I didn't know that then — my various bandmates threw records at me constantly. Particularly, we were in a small-ish midwestern town so there was rarely a rhyme or reason for what would be in anyone's collections. King Crimson would follow Merzbow would follow Foo Fighters would follow Throbbing Gristle would follow Tool would follow Einsturzende Neubauten…  and then Bitches Brew? I was lent a vinyl copy of this album and I won't lie, I kept it for like two years before returning it. Not because I liked it though. Because it confused the hell out of me. All that other stuff I liked well enough (except Tool — I still passionately hate Tool). But this weird Miles Davis album was so far out in left field for me that I couldn't even decide what it was trying to do.  One piece of advice I got from a jazz drummer friend cued me in to one of the many ways to listen to this record — listen for the rhythm section, listen for the notes that aren't played. I eventually returned the vinyl and bought a CD copy and many years later (in my mid 20's) I still felt like new, strange passages opened up from that album. One of my favorite albums of all time, to this day.  

*Not Included: DJ Harmless 
Yeah, I DJed in late high school and the first couple years of college. I actually booked a few gigs here and there playing a strange combination of jazzy house and tech trance. I was never that skilled, but aside from keeping my flame for electronic dance music alive, the one thing that being a DJ did was totally turn me off the the club scene. I know it's old hate to hate on club kids and ravers, but I was just in it for the music, and all of the weird social baggage and posing just pissed me off. I mean, take a look at the couple of following albums — could it be any more clear I was finished with popular, feel-good music? 

Merzbow — "Munchen" (from 1930)
Other than a super-awkward date to see a documentary on noise music and another really funny guerilla gig in my college's music school courtyard, I don't have too much to say about my interest in the genre called "noise music" but I felt it necessary to acknowledge that I had a dabbling interest in these fringe non-music musics because it informs much of what comes later. This was really the flavor of the music I was digging on when I was a senior in highs chool and a freshman at Northern Illinois University. I just wanted piss off all the "normal" people so badly, I guess. 

The Locust — "Nice Tranquil Thumb In Mouth" (from The Locust)
On that note, oh, The Locust. By far the hardest band I had ever heard of to up to this point. I won't lie and say that I was a punk or hardcore kid since birth. In fact, I still don't really like punk that much. But the evolution of straight-ahead hardcore into a weirder, faster, more esoteric form caught my attention out of nowhere. I've been trying to piece together how I even found out about The Locust, Dillenger Escape Plan, Botch and Converge, but I can't remember. I'll hazard a guess that it was the internet — which being that it was around 1999, is part of what makes this step in my musical evolution a major step. Not many people were even on the internet yet, let alone using it to research and find new music at this point (mostly the net was used to argue about Robotech, as far as I can remember).

Yoshihide Otomo —  Unknown Track Title (from Plays The Music of Takeo Yamashita)
Since he, and especially this album, are almost unknown outside of a certain stripe of experimental jazz fan, let me give some background. Otomo is one of the premiere avant jazz guitar players from Japan. Yamashita was the composer of dozens of famous Japanese TV show theme songs from the 60's, 70's and 80's, including Lupin III and Giant Robo. I was fascinated (obsessed…) with all things Japanese in my early college years, but this album, which was bought by a friend with no real knowledge of what it contained, would remain a complex musical-mental challenge for years. I just couldn't figure out what to do with it. It broke genres and styles relentlessly. It reveled in both the most cheesy pop culture and the harshest of avant guard play. In a way, it's clash of high and low culture became a defining part of my own art practice. 

*Not included Masayuki Takayanagi & Kaoru Abe's album Mass Projection 
This CD is one of the harshest, most complex, most challenging albums ever recorded. It requires a depth of fortitude and a serious level of dedication to even try to understand. This album is two songs, both near 30 minutes long, with just the duo of electric guitar and alto sax, recorded live in a Japanese club in the 70's. It was sold to me from under a counter in a CD store when I was asking about noise and jazz in Minneapolis. It was hidden so that random people wouldn't buy it. This album alone could have kindled a decade of interest in avant jazz. But as is, it expanded my musical horizons so far so fast I think I had culture shock for years. 

His Name Is Alive — "Last American Blues" (from Ft. Lake)
Another record that really expanded my notion of what an album could be. Ft. Lake was tricky to track down at that time, but when I finally got to hear it, it's expertly mingled history of Americana music and early rock with hints of R&B and eclectic studio work really set the tone for what I would search out in rock music going forward. This album reminded my that rock could have the sonic depth of something like "Downward Spiral" since I think I was getting a bit to focused on extreme-for-extreme-sake musics at this time (in art school, big surprise…)  If you're not familiar with this album, grab it for sure, since the context of each song in the scope of the album is vital. 

Vandermark 5 — "Full Deck" (from Simpatico)
I think I bought "Simpatico" at the local record store because I had had Vandermark's work with the Flying Luttenbachers recommended to me but couldn't find it. I won't say Vandermark always makes great albums, but this album was brilliant and is probably the core source of my interest in contemporary jazz. Honestly, I don't think I knew anything about the contemporary jazz scene before this. Mass Projection and Otomo's work were distant, isolated islands for all I knew. Discovering Vandermark was the compass I needed to start making sense of the tumultuous headwaters of the jazz underground since the 70's. 

Lightning Bolt — "Assassins" (from Wonderful Rainbow)
For all that I listened to Lightning Bolt durring undergrad, I don't think their studio records have held up well. However, this track was included because it cued me in to a shadowy sub-geography of underground shows, warehouses, and art spaces. The first time I saw Lightning Bolt live it was at a noise music "festival" at 3AM. But what was so odd was that it was held in a closed sports bar in St. Paul. It blew my mind that something so cool could be out in the world, but be so hidden in plain site. Venues like Gillman Street and Fort Thunder, and their little siblings all across the world, blurred art and music and audience. (Lightning Bolt wouldn't play on a stage, so they set up in between two pool tables.) I guess what I'm saying is that this was my first introduction to what gets lumped in the category of "loft scene." 

Aesop Rock — "Labor" (from Labor Days)
This was the first hip-hop album I ever feel in love with. Bleak, hyper-literate and very cold toned. I'm not sure if I would have ever really understood the value of rap if I hadn't spent many dozens of listens jamming this album. Out of this I really got hooked on Mr. Lif and the whole Def Jux crew, and even knew enough by the time I left undergrad to pick out that the weird dude at the coffee shop was Atmosphere. I haven't kept up much with hip hop, but I still think it's the best party music in the world. 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs — "Art Star" (from Master EP)
Raise your hand if you weren't in to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in, like, 2003. Anyone that didn't raise their hand is lying and/or only likes pop-country. End of story. Well, not really. You see, while the Strokes and the YYYs started to obviously suck almost immediately, this one weird band called The Liars that were acting like giant pricks (like everyone else in that Brooklyn scene was doing since Sonic Youth first said they loved Madonna in an interview), but would, a few albums later, somehow turn out to be the most forward looking bands in the world...

My Morning Jacket — "Death is the Easy Way" (from At Dawn)
At Dawn is easily one of the most depressing albums ever recorded. It was so bleak, such perfect 4AM-whiskey-drunk-heartbreak-in-January music that I didn't care that it was technically country. It was an album that seemed to mirror what I was going through finishing up undergrad, having a messed up relationship and traveling to a town I had never even visited to start work. It really was my ingress point for investigating everything roots and country flavored, from Wilco to Steve Earle to...   

Calexico — "Black Heart" (from Feast of Wire)
If My Morning Jacket was the side of the coin expressing utter darkness and despair (seriously, black metal dudes could learn from At Dawn), the other, representing blossoming awareness in a new, seemingly bleak landscape, would be Calexico. Socially aware, outward looking, playful even in the midst of tragedy, Feast of Wire as an album really stuck with me. It probably also helped that I was living in New Mexico at the time? 

The Mars Volta — "Son Et Lumiere / Inertiatic" (from De-Loused In The Comatorium)
If you want a band that everyone has opinions about, you need look no further than Mars Volta. Unfortunately, like many musicians who get clean later in their career, I don't really think their new work holds up, but holy hells, De-loused In The Comatorium and the following Fancis The Mute are shimmering, rocking, polyrhythm gyrating beasts of albums. Unabashedly esoteric and technical but with solid hardcore roots and a Latin flair, some of these tracks still give me shivers. Thinking about it, Mars Volta probably opened up my mind to these more technically forward musicianship and writing components of music in such a way as to pave the road for my later interest in metal.

Wilco — "Via Chicago" (from Summer Teeth)
t this point I had moved to Los Angeles and started grad school at Cal Arts. I think because school was so intellectual, I really started to gravitate toward more emotionally and compositionally direct music. Also, I was drinking a lot of cheap beer at the time and had just moved in with my girlfriend at the time which was a huge first, so I think it was the first time that someone else's musical tastes were as influential. As such, Wilco and White Stripes were always on the player.

White Stripes — "Party of Special Things" (from A Part of Special Things 7")
This was at the point where I was out at bars a lot (I think I was using music as a way to cut lose from all the hyper-specialized conceptual art talk at school). I'll skip the story about seeing them play a three encore show at the Greek, which was the most I've ever paid for concert tickets, but 6th row dead center, hell yes, hell yes, that was amazing. But in short the White Stripes are the perfect jukebox jam. Noisy just enough sloppy so that it was perfect soundtrack for getting a bit sloshed. I won't lie, I listened to a lot of the White Stripes for a couple years there even if it's been a number of years since I listened to anything by them. I was originally going to put in "Ball and a Biscuit" but while I love that track, this weird bootleg rip of a 7" was my house-party pick for a couple of years. 

Dillinger Escape Plan — "Sunshine The Werewolf" (from Miss Machine)
You might wonder why this is so late in the list, and the answer is simple and stupid. I thought Dillinger was a damn light-post-rock band like Tortoise and had refused to listen to them. I don't know why I thought that. But once I actually listened to them, I was hooked. Yes, it's mathy, but it's HARD and ANGRY music. Again, and even more clearly than Mars Volta, this really set the stage for my eventual interest in metal. "Miss Machine" is a very cathartic album. If you asked my friends from this period they would probably pick this out as the track that most represented my musical taste. Crunchy, metallic, screaming. I guess I needed lots of catharsis? 

Liars — "It Fit When I Was A Kid" (from Drum's Not Dead)
While maybe this whole mix could be read as a slippage toward metal, I wanted to make sure to include the Liars as a way to show that the vein of experimental rock in my musical interest was (and still is) alive and well. Particularly what I think has been so long-lasting from the Liars has been their relentless pursuit of interesting new realms of music. Even more than the flitting changes of Boris, the Liars especially in their use of two drum kits and a single guitar during live shows and their near-bedroom recording has been really mind-expanding.  

Isis — "False Light" (from Oceanic)
So, I'm going to ramble even more about my life and avoid talking about this album for a moment — At this point I was just out of grad school. I had been listening to most of the same stuff, like Sonic Youth and Wilco for a long time. Yeah I had a few jazz and hip-hop albums, but only a handful. At this point my first real relationship was falling apart. When I was younger I made a promise to myself — that I would never be one of those people who listened to the same music they liked in high school. If you were to draw this musical history as a line, with the left side as 15 years old, and the right as the current, and each album as a point, you'd find a huge density of points clustered from 16 to 21, but that from 22 to 27 there was a significant lack of new albums and new bands in my library. I found Isis when I was looking for music to kick-start my slowing musical interest. It was the first time I went out systematically looking for something new, unfamiliar and cool rather then just randomly stumbling on to a band via a recommendation. In this process of searching, I found out about Pandora, Allmusic, music blogs and that whole realm of online music sharing. Isis's Oceanic was the first success. I had never so much as listened to a single album of metal before this, and didn't even know there was a genre called "sludge metal." I just thought it was super heavy music that was also intellectually sophisticated. I still love this album (and own a copy on vinyl!)   

Mastadon —"Blood And Thunder" (from Leviathan)
I would be a liar if I said I liked this album when I bought it. I didn't. Isis was accessible to the non-metal-initiated, but Mastodon was just f***ing metal and it kind of annoyed me. The reason I got it was because everyone who I told about my newfound love for Isis recommended Mastodon. But, as is obvious by the rest of this list, and also like kimchi, with enough exposure I came to love it. It took a while for me to be able to admit that I liked metal (I didn't hardly know anyone that liked real metal… in fact most everyone I knew overtly hated metal or at best/worst liked cheesy power-metal-trash.) Metal is a very guarded, esoteric, closed society of music initially. But this album gave me a visitor's pass to that speedy-kick-drumming, thrashing, growling, head-banging and screaming city. 

Wolves In The Throne Room — "Crystal Ammunition" (from Black Cascade
Wolves is another band that is very controversial in the music world, but undoubtedly one of the most important to my evolving musical taste. If Mastodon gave me a visitor's pass, Wolves convinced me to get citizenship and a nice forested lot in the sprawling city of metal. My introduction to black metal and extreme metal as a whole was a total accident. I took a bunch of friends to see Pelican (always a fun, loud-as-hell show, even if I'm not a huge fan of the band). Being the type who always watches all the opening bands, we drank beers and laughed at the crappy local  metal bands playing. We saw a bunch somewhat squat guys with glasses, beards, wavering black hair and kind of dorky Metalica-fan cut-off jean jacket clothes and guessed that they were probably an opening band. A few more beers and many jokes about Dungeons & Dragons later they did indeed turn out to be the opening band. Called. Wolves In The Throne Room. Holy shit. They blew my mind. I had never even heard of black metal, let alone watched four guys tear through a blistering, winding set of music like off of Two Hunters and Black Cascade. This was it. This was what I had gone out looking for to revitalize my music taste. I immediately bought the album from the merch table a proceeded to research and download and buy music like crazy. If you have a problem listening to this kind of music, really try to zone in on the guitar melodies and harmonies. They are stunningly lilting and beautiful in a twilight-sort of way. 

Electric Wizard — "Return Trip" (from Come My Fanatics)
After starting to explore the various abodes in the metropolis of extreme metal, one of the first genres I gravitated toward was actually doom metal. Slower than slow, heavier than heavy, this style of stoner-Black Sabbath worship held my attention for a couple of years but hasn't been such a prominent theme of late. But I've included this because I know it's the first doom record I ever heard, I have been really interested in the whole field of bands using some of the doom sounds to their own ends, from the punk hybrid of Thou to the death metal elements of Hooded Menace to the shoe-gaze shimmer of Angelic Process to the bleakest, slowest oceanic depths of Ahab. If you have a subwoofer, turn your stereo up and annoy the hell out of your neighbors with this one. 

Xasthur — "Prison of Mirrors" (from Subliminal Genocide)
Wolves might been my first love in what is known as extreme metal, but finding Xasthur, along with Weakling, Behemoth, Blut Aus Nord, Negura Bunget, Trist, Primordial, and a slew of other black metal artists was a treasure trove of strange music. One of the most important things that happened owing to my poking around online looking for more stuff in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room is that I stumbled in to the online extreme metal communities. Tons of blogs and review sites gave me an ability to catch up on older stuff I had missed as well as a sense of context for new music I was hearing. That online community, even with some of it's weird and esoteric quirks, has been hugely influential in how I approach music now. Also, this album got me interested in buying vinyl again. I spent most of my life around vinyl in one way or another, since I grew up playing my parents' records since we didn't really own CDs until I was 10 or so. Yes it's nerdy, but whatever, it's a fun way to help support my favorite artists! 

Have A Nice Life — "Bloodhail" (from Deathconsciousness
You know, I was going to end with Xasthur, but that would be an impoverished suggestion of what I'm up too these days — In fact, that was really the start of my most serious musical journey — Deathconciousness is one of those grand, inimitable albums that stick in your brain and grow more powerful and profound over time. Not only that, but albums and artists like this really got me interested in vinyl and small esoteric record labels (like Enemies List, Handmade Birds and Brutal Panda) that have become my main focus in music lately. Check out Crooked Necks, Sutkeh Hexen, Circle of Ouroborus, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Atlas Moth to see some of the strange, esoteric musical hybrids coming out in recent years. 

From here, most of my interest in music is accessible from all the mixes I've been making for the blog! From weird jazz to bedroom recordings to ambient to death metal, the floodgates to new music broke open. The last three years have been a really fun and rewarding process filled with surprises and some truly great live shows. I hope this has been a bit entertaining and informative for all of you to wander along the paths of the past with me! 

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