Liner Notes

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

La Dispute // Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair

Recorded in July 2008
Double LP on Translucent Purple with Etched D-side
11th pressing
Favorite Track: "Last Lost Continent"

In late 2009, I was between moving to Washington state for a computer programming job, or to Chicago to study improv. One path started at 80k and the other involved me working part-time in the position I've held since I was 18.

I moved to Chicago.


I'd wouldn't be young, debt-free, and dumb enough to think people could make a career out of improv
for very long, so I moved. I am grateful to my dad not only for volunteering to help me lug all my heavy shit to Chicago, but for the encouragement. It would have been an easy Dad move to nudge me in the direction of a real job, security, and adulthood. But he said to me, "Take your shot. Most people never do."

And it would be poetic if the next part of the article was an excerpt from a GC cover article about the overwhelming success I've had in Chicago, regaling you with the fame and fortune I've amassed, but it isn't. Nearly seven years later, I still work part-time. I still write the same blog. And I still check my bank account before writing a big check. Success isn't binary. I think of my Dad's advice differently now. I used to imagine I'd either make my shot and get famous or I'd miss and get a real job. But a life spent chasing creative endeavors isn't measured that way. I spend the better part of my week writing, seeing shows, reading books, playing pinball, drinking coffee, listening to records, and playing my guitar. And every year I report "employed part-time" on my taxes, I count it as a win. But the specter of adulthood looms and I waiver frequently.

Music has never saved my life. I don't even know what that means. For me, music is a helpful stranger offering you a hand after you've fallen. In 2009, I didn't have a friend in 1000 miles. I watched a hundred Netflix documentaries. Read a fuck ton of big books. And I listened to a lot of music. Jeff, one of my oldest friends sent me an email telling me I had to check out this band, though I might hate the vocalist. He knows my musical taste better than anyone. I didn't hate the vocalist and ended up listening to Somewhere at the Bottom dozens of times in 2010.

They played a tiny basement in Chicago somewhere between 2010 and 2012. I don't remember how I heard about it, or what the place was called, but I climbed inside a clear fire code violation in the middle of summer and watched La Dispute. There is something special about a basement. I don't mean it nostalgically. I mean sonically. The drums aren't mic'd. The concrete and bodies are perfect insulation. Punk sounds like garbage in a stadium, but in a basement, you can hear the singer scream even when the PA goes out. Everything is immediate and palpable. Given a choice, I'd see every band in a basement. Sweat dripped from the ceiling, and I remember thinking I'd certainly die if a fire broke out. It was so packed, I couldn't even glimpse the band. But they played "Last Lost Continent" and I shit you not, I cried. I ugly cried. It remains one of the most powerful music experiences I've ever had.

I've seen them a dozen times since then, but like The Sandlot, nothing compared to that first summer. This song calls me back when I think about trading in my life for one where I have a down payment for a house. I took my shot, Dad. Or more accurately, I'm still shooting.

If you've never heard this sprawling epic, or needed to be stirred from a languid torpor, sit down the the lyric sheet and listen. I'm not going to cheapen it by telling you the parts that get me, but they do. I'm tempted to quote lyrics, but I won't.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fugazi // End Hits

Recorded at Inner Ear Studios in March and September of 1997.
Marbled Grey Wax
First Pressing
Favorite track in 1999 "Five Corporations"
Favorite track in 2016 "Break"

What's the best six dollars you've ever spent? Was it a helluva hamburger, or a novel that changed your life? I spent mine on February 23, 1999. I bought a ticket to see Fugazi at Del Mar Station in Reno, Nevada. I was fifteen and was making less than $6 an hour. I couldn't drive and didn't have many friends. But I saw motherfucking Fugazi and the show still affects me.

There was this girl I liked. She was a little older and much cooler than me, but I liked her anyway. I was learning to play guitar which is to say I could jangle my way through the main riffs of some Metallica songs. And in the era of the Teen Line, I spent an awful lot of time talking on the phone. I distinctly remember trying to impress her one night by playing a cover of Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams" over the phone. The only logical response to this Shakespearean display of affection and male virility would be to swoon and offer her hand in holding during lunch. 

She answered quite dryly and without malice, as if stating a mundane fact, "My brother is a much better guitar player than you." First of all, fuck that guy. And second, how am I supposed to compete with an older brother, someone with a 1000 day head start of guitar playing? Needless to say, I hated him (He really is a phenomenal guitar player, though. Just stupidly good.).

Fast forward about a year to PE at Hug High. My largely apathetic instructor blithely rambled through the roll. Then I heard a familiar last name, the one belonging to my goth crush. As I turned to spy her in exercise shorts, I instead saw a scraggly, skinny dude. It was him. My nemesis. The brother. He was not the swaggering casanova of the guitar I had imagined. He looked like an alley cat. 

She must have said something to him because a few days in, he came up to me and said, "So... you're trying to bang my sister." What do you say to that? Still, miraculously, Jawsh and I became friends. He made me a series of mix-tapes which served as the foundation of the next decade of my musical love. The first one was entitled "You Will Hate This Tape" and had a hand drawn sketch of a male inspecting his testicles. The Misfits, Bikini Kill, DI, and Fugazi were on that first tape. I think I own a record from every band on that tape. 

Fast forward a year. Jawsh and I were going to Fugazi together. We wriggled our way to the front row. The sound was deafening. I had never heard drums so loud, but inexplicably clear and powerful. It was incredible. No less incredible were their politics. Their DIY ethos helped shape every project I've since been a part of. If you want your record to come out, you put it out. No one will help you. When I pay $60 to see a band now I think, I saw Fugazi for $6. Is this band ten times better than Fugazi? The answer is always no.

End Hits came out that year and they opened with "Break." Our tiny rib cages were being assaulted by the intersection between the sweaty mass behind us and the unyielding barricade in front of us. I had just purchased End Hits and was praying for "Five Corporations" as I was only interested in bangers at that point in my life. I wanted "Merchandise" and "Sieve Fisted Find." 

It was just after they ripped through "Merchandise," I looked down at my watch in horror. It was 10PM. A thousand feet from Fugazi was my Dad sitting in his Toyota 4-Runner waiting for me. I was devastated as I shuffled through the crowd who couldn't fathom why I was leaving. I lingered in the door for a moment to see if they were going to play "Five Corporations," before departing. The best $6 I ever spent was on half a Fugazi set. I would never know if they played my song. 

Jawsh, the next day at school, "Hahahah, you pussy. They totally played 'Five Corporations' right after you left." 

I love that man. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

At The Drive-In // Acrobatic Tenement

Recorded at Commercial Soundworks in Hollywood, CA in July, 1996
2013 Reissue
Translucent Red
Standard Gram
Favorite Track "Ticklish"


The album that introduces you to a band will be your favorite. I have found this to be true again and again. Is it possible you heard the band's best record first? Sure, but it's more likely you've developed an emotional connection to that particular sound and developed expectations of their future records.

My buddy Steve got me into ATDI in my junior year of high school. He was a big proponent of In/Casino/Out, but my local record store didn't have it so I bought Acrobatic Tenement instead. At the Drive-In's first LP is rough, raw, and pretty goddamn punk. The recording is technically a mess. There's a second guitar buried under there somewhere, but I can't be sure. But holy hell do I love this record. It's almost like listening to the record Minor Threat would have made before starting Fugazi.

When this record starts, I find myself in the parking lot of PetSmart in Reno, Nevada, in my '92 Pontiac Grand Prix eating Famous Amos cookies. I would listen to the A-side of this CD...


... more often than the B because my breaks only lasted fifteen minutes. I pushed carts and the girl I liked, who worked in the fish department, was dating the asshole manager, Mike, so I sat in my car and listened to this album. It's deep in my bones. I'm sure if I went back through the records I recorded when I was younger, you'd find enough ATDI-DNA to convict me of copyright infringement.

I may be in the minority, but I always liked this band more than Sparta or the Mars Volta. Cedric and Omar get a little too noodley for my taste when left to their own devices. Jim Ward's songs end up too straightfoward in Sparta. At the Drive-In was my perfect bowl of porridge. To borrow from Gestalt psychology, which I studied the semester I heard this record, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

At the Drive-In is reuniting (again) this year and I have tickets to see them next month. Just before heading out on tour, Jim Ward left the band (again). My friends assure me they still rock so I'm not terribly worried, but I wish he would join them for recording. His contributions will be sorely missed.

I saw them in San Francisco on their tour with the Murder City Devils on the Relationship of Command tour. They were ferocious live, but to the great detriment of their playing ability. I didn't realize they were playing "Embroglio" until the chorus. It was that noisy. It split Reno in half.

Were you there for indie/emo/post-hardcore (categorizing ATDI was never easy) or rock 'n roll? To quote a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, "You're either a Beatles man or an Elvis man." Though I love both bands, I'm a Beatles man.

They reinvented themselves on every record. You can hear a b-side and know exactly which era it came from. I still own my Relationship of Command hoodie and I'm proud to announce it still fits. I'm looking forward to their new material, and promise I won't hold them to the impossible standard they've set with an incredibly strong discography. Glad to see them moving forward and creating. It would be easy for them to keep touring on the jukebox hits. They've provided the soundtrack to my adult life, so to get more music is a gift. Also, I'm grateful to them for helping me recognize a few headliners at Coachella.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Nirvana // Unplugged In New York

Recorded on November 18, 1993
Pressed at the Pallas Plant in Germany


Mastered for vinyl from the original analog master tapes at Bernie Grundman Studios

2013 Reissue 

Favorite track "Dumb"

I can identify this record from the crowd's applause before a single note is played. I must confess I only recently acquired this album, though I've owned the CD since the mid 90s. Kinda. I acquired  this album as part of my Dad's Columbia House CD subscription service. Why I can remember that is beyond me. I loved the little stamps that represented each record. I used to make my dream lists of records and then systematically eliminate the ones that I didn't want. Even at twelve, I was insane.


My Dad was great at fostering a love of music. He let me choose one CD from his subscription service each month. My hair was absolutely blown away by Nevermind, so I expected this record to be equally as magical. But young Nick didn't give a shit. Gone was the raw fury of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the vicious drumroll which kicks off "Breed." At this point in my life, these were the hardest, gnarliest songs I'd ever heard. I was young and angry and wanted shit to be loud. Nirvana was everything. I would mosh around my room trying not to knock over my drip candles and lava lamp.

But this fucking record was nothing like it. It was sit-down, acoustic bullshit. At least that's what I thought at the time. I gave the CD back to my Dad who loved it. I was getting the pick scratches down for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the guitar my Dad bought me. I wasn't having any of this quiet shit. I wanted bangers. I wanted to shake my fists at the sky. I would soon turn my back on Nirvana for many years because it wasn't punk rock. It was "corporate mainstream poser garbage."

Look, I was wrong about a lot of things, okay?

It wasn't until college I discovered how wonderful this record was. And after many years of careful contemplation, I submit it is a nearly perfect album. It is a flawless listen from start to finish. Few records calm me in the way this one does. Maybe I was tamed by old age or maybe I stopped thinking of Nirvana as a one-dimensional rock jukebox, but this record might be my personal favorite in their discography. I stole back the CD from my Dad who promptly insisted it be returned, and so I repurchased it.

But the part of this record that hits me in the chest is "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." It absolutely destroyed me. I was a massively insecure boyfriend through all of high school, most of college, and a fair portion of the early 2000s. This song is the anthem of my dread. I don't hear it from the same place anymore. I'm more interested in the emotion Kurt puts in it. Dave Growl called it Kurt "boiling nails in this throat." They asked Nirvana to play another song after this, but Kurt said "you and I both know I can't top that."

I love this record because it is raw and riddled with mistakes, and feels infinitely vulnerable. They let down their shields of distortion and showed you they could make something beautiful. And it once again reiterated that my Dad is usually right about things.